Tennessee has been off colour the last few days.
Constant chundering – before 8am this morning, Little Miss T had gone through more costume changes than a West End star.
Bouts of inconsolable crying – a newborn’s tears are saltier than the red sea: dip your finger in and have a lick next time you encounter a wailing babe.
And her night sleeping (which had fallen into an acceptable pattern), has gone to pot – on Saturday night she woke every hour, on the hour. We always knew that Tennessee wouldn’t be one of those easy, tractable little girls – sleeping through is simply too dull for her – but she had begun to adopt 5-6hour stretches which allowed me to function as something more than a zombie.
When, like every new mother, I type her symptoms into google or scan the index of one of my many baby books, I get the same answer: ‘it’s a growth spurt’. A wonderful cover-all explanation for any hiccup in my little one’s life.
My sense is that babies are on a permanent growth-spurt – isn’t that what those first days, weeks, months and years are about? But it seems that there are certain weeks when those growth-spurts are particularly acute – and so particularly disruptive. Which means that just when I think that I’ve found a groove – a rhythm, some level of predictability as regards eating and sleeping and pooping – just when I change gear and pick up speed and commit the cardinal jinxing sin of whispering to myself this baby stuff isn’t that hard after all – WHACK! – I hit a sleeping policeman.
Why this disruption? Because it’s hard to keep sailing along when your mind and your body and your emotions are in turmoil – when you’re growing. So, when Tennessee’s limbs are stretching out, when her eyes are coming into focus, when she’s learning to smile for the first time, when the world becomes closer, sharper, louder – she can’t quite manage to focus on the routine things (like eating and sleeping and popping and not crying, which is much, much harder than crying you understand. And I could (and I do) moan about what this does to my daily life: sleep-deprivation, another load of washing (thank you Hugh – my lovely washerman), frayed nerves. But really, we should be celebrating these times because it turns out that disruption is necessary for growth.
And what’s true for babies is true for books too. In a few days, Manpreet Grewal, my editor at Little, Brown, will send me the edits for my second novel, Home Again. She’s a rigorous editor. She’ll want me to chop, chisel, mould, add – and chop some more. And it will be painful. And frustrating. And disruptive. But it will help my novel to grow – it will get it closer to it’s goal: a reader’s hands. Some best-selling authors (who are sufficiently rich and influential to act like pre-madonnas with their editors) refuse to redraft – and, in most cases, their novels are the poorer for it. Their stories are sent out into the world stunted – they haven’t gone through the disruptive process that allows them to grow. And so I’m grateful that I’m a debut author without a name, without fame and without enough pennies in the bank – because it keeps me from being proud or stubborn to let my work evolve. It keeps me listening. It allows me to face the bumps and jolts that are necessary for my story to grow.
And so, when I go home to my baby daughter later this afternoon, I’ll try not to mind if she throws up in my hair or if she cries a little longer than my ears can tolerate or if she refuses to sleep – because I know that it’s a sign that she’s growing into the most wonderful little creature in the world.