Peepo!

Here’s a little baby

One, two, three

Stands in his cot

What does he see?

morning

And so begins one of the most deeply moving books in Sam’s growing library collection.

We turn the page, and we are right there. It is early morning. We can sense the silence and stillness of the room, that sweet time just before the alarm goes, and it is time to get out of the warm bed and face the day. The baby’s parents are still asleep. This is such a familiar, ordinary bedroom. There is a suitcase under the bed (just like at my grandparents’ place, where my grandfather stored his archives). Baby and adult clothes are strewn across the floor and hang off the chest of drawers and bed railing.

There is something very timeless about the ‘shadows moving on the bedroom wall, and the sun in the window’. Those are the sorts of things we used to notice as children, whiling away time as we waited for adults as they were doing whatever it was that needed to be done. The sun and the shadows it creates are signaling the beginning of the day.

These details remind me of sitting in a park with my grandma, when we would go to meet a friend of hers who had a granddaughter my age (I was probably around 4). We would all sit on a bench and my grandma and her friend would talk. I remember looking up to the sky and hearing cooing doves. Just that sound, and that languid warm late afternoon air, and just sitting there listening, stayed with me. Time passing, but also standing still. Or when I was at home, trying to fall asleep, examining the patterns on the carpet on the wall next to our bunk in my and my brother’s room. All the delicate swirls and geometric shapes, following them with my finger, looking at the colours.

Here’s a little baby

One, two, three

Sits in his high chair

What does he see?

porridge

The day had started. Grandma had already done a wash of the whites and is hanging them out; some colours are still left to do, waiting near the sink. Dad is bringing in a bucketful of coal for the stove (my granddad used to have to get coal at the break of dawn to start the stove at my grandparents tiny flat after the war). A box of toys sits, spilling them out on the floor.

 

Here’s a little baby

One, two, three

Sits in his pushchair

What does he see?

bonfire

Now this one, what is it about it that brings tears to my eyes every time I turn to this page? ‘He sees a bonfire smoking, pigeons in the sky, his mother cleaning windows, a dog going by’. It is a dull grey day. Mum is doing her housework, the sisters are looking for something to do. Another ordinary day. The bonfire might be for burning autumn leaves, and you can almost smell the acrid smoke in the stillness and quiet. The only sound is the pigeons cooing. Nothing much is happening; life is happening. Time is passing. This is how we pass our time, our days.

 

Here’s a little baby

One, two, three

Sits on the grass

What does he see?

Sam always gets restless at this point, and I wonder whether it is because it is my least favourite page. Why is that? The baby is now in a park with grandma, watching his sisters fishing in a pond. Maybe there is something a bit jarring about the sisters’ ‘dresses tucked in knickers and legs shiny wet’. Or maybe it is because we are temporarily out of the domestic space, and in the open. There is too much space here. It reminds me of when Sam just started to walk, and I would take him to the park thinking he needed wide expansive spaces to be encouraged to take longer walking attempts. But what I quickly found was that to find his freedom in walking, he actually needed defined spaces between objects, so that he could have the safety of going between one and the next. He needed boundaries and limits, to gain confidence. Much of the baby’s life is spent in reference to, working with and against the confines of enclosed spaces. The freedom that completely open unbounded space offers is an acquired taste.

 

Here’s a little baby

One, two, three

Sits on his sister’s lap

What does he see?

dozing

It is afternoon now, and the day is now on the wane. Mum is exhausted, dozing in the easy chair, with a cup of tea going cold and a magazine in her lap. Dad is gesturing us to stay quiet, while pouring afternoon cups of tea. Grandma is now ironing the clothes she washed in the morning. It is the dreaded ‘witching hour’ – the sisters are squabbling, the baby’s biscuit is crumbling on the floor, the doggy who is not allowed in the house has made it inside. The day inexorably draws to a close. The cup of tea and cake will galvanise the adults for the last work that is to be done for the day.

 

Here’s a little baby

One, two, three

Sits in his bath-tub

What does he see?

bath

Dad is kneeling with his sleeves rolled up. There is a flannel on the table and soap in a cup. The nightie is warming on the oven door.

Mum is doing the wash-up after tea, hunched over the sink. A stack of clean dishes and the baby’s bottle are drying on the rack.

There is something so comfortingly unpretentious, so grounding, about the details of this scene. Nothing about soap in a cup or flannel is glamorous, picture-perfect. This is not the fantasy world of gorgeously made up mothers frolicking in a beautiful impeccable home with flower arrangements, with not a speck of dust or a dirty nappy in sight. This is the mess, the puddles on the floor, the raggedy towels, the improvisation and making do that goes with the territory of babies.

 

Here’s a little baby

One, two, three

On his way to bed

What does he see?

mirror

This picture brings tears to my eyes again. It is an interesting image. ‘He sees the landing mirror with its rainbow rim and a mother with a baby just like him’. When I was reading about the Ahlbergs, I read that Allan Ahlberg saw himself as the baby in the story. This picture makes sense of that.

Under the mirror, there is a handbag with a purse peeking out, a crystal cut vase, a jewellery box sitting on a doily, a safety pin. Familiar objects reminding me of my grandma’s place. An ordinary messy hall stand.

The baby is looking straight at us smiling, reflected in the mirror, held by his mum also looking at us and his dad kissing him. In the background reflected in the mirror, we see the very same bedroom where we started the day, and the cot made ready for sleep. Grandma and the sisters are looking up from downstairs. Because we are looking at the reflected image head on, we must be part of the scene. Who are we? Was this book about us?

Here’s a little baby

One, two, three

Fast asleep and dreaming

What did he see?

Another day had passed. I am reminded of a day being so much longer proportionally in relation to the baby’s short life. Days in our childhood sometimes seemed to last an eternity, though just the same 24 hours on standard clock-time. Every day holds experiences that may be mundane to us, but absolutely new and fascinating to the baby. This is the time to dream and store away memories. Another day awaits tomorrow.

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