Harry has been crying. "What's up little man?" I ask, bending over his cot, and tears instantly transform into an enormous, gummy, open-mouthed smile. "Hoo!" he laughs, "Ahoo!" and I turn my head aside so he can't see me smiling, because it is night-time and all the books say not to engage babies in play during the night, so that they can learn when to sleep.
A frantic scuffling is heard and I turn back around to see Harry now grinning fit to burst, head wiggling from side to side and both legs kicking around like socks in a washing machine. Cotton blankets and muslin wraps are flailing everywhere.
"Now look here, it's 4am," I tell him, though I can't help smiling too. "Ahoo!" Harry responds, never taking his eyes off mine. It is a laugh exactly like his sister's at the same age. I ditch the books and pick him up and cover his dimples with kisses. There is nothing, nothing in this world, like the smell of a baby. They should find a way to bottle it and distribute it and there would be no more war.
"Oh my god," breathes Mr B drowsily from beside me in the bed. We look from Harry to each other and back again, both overcome with wonder. Neither of us can quite believe that we made this chubby, cheeky, loving little boy. It just doesn't seem real that he is ours. That of all the parents in all the world, we and only we get to be his Mummy and Daddy. That the universe has trusted us with the task of loving Harry and protecting Harry and teaching Harry for the rest of our lives.
: : :
I am making Madeleine's lunch when she interrupts me and asks to be picked up, little hands reaching, beseeching. I take her into my arms and she rests her head on my shoulder, the way she has done since she was one week old. Then she tilts back until she can look me in the eye. Places a sticky hand on either side of my face and pulls me in for a big, hard, sloppy, on-the-mouth kiss. Then another, and another. Madeleine is kissing me almost fiercely, gripping my ears to make sure I don't get away. As if I would ever want to.
I can't. I can't even. There are no words. What did I do in this life or 100 others that was so good as to earn this reward? To be loved by Madeleine? To be her Mummy? How is that even possible?
: : :
Harry is crying again. This time the sun is up and he is wiggling in his rocker in the playroom. He is hungry. But before I get a chance to pick him up and feed him, Madeleine takes control. "Harry!" she cries with glee. She wobbles over and rests her head beside his in the rocker. He stops crying. She stands up and faces him and when their eyes meet, both of them smile at each other. I feel a blast of pure happiness that is almost painful. "Harry! Harry!" Madeleine cries again, and then she twirls and tap-dances around his rocker and around the room, to entertain him. His eyes never leave her.
: : :
The house is steeped in rare quiet. Both of my children are asleep upstairs, and so is Mr B. I am alone in the lounge room, reading, and it is surreal and precious and quite beautiful because I am almost never, ever alone these days.
There is a baby monitor in Madeleine's room and it is not emitting a peep. There is another monitor in our room, where Harry sleeps in his cot beside our bed. Through it, I can hear two soft snores in tandem: both Harry and Mr B are dreaming.
A lump forms in my throat and I am so filled with love for these three that it takes me quite by surprise.
I think of all the little things I've been complaining about and dwelling on lately. The kids have both been sick. Mr B has been working a lot of nights, leaving me to handle the dreaded bed-and-bath hour alone. Money is tight, until I can get back to a bit more work. I am tired all the time. Bone tired. An aching, dragging, brain-fog weariness that never lifts. I am approximately three hundred and eighty-four years old. And I look it, too. My body feels like I am pushing through mud just to walk from room to room. I forget almost everything, and confuse the things I do remember. I'm snippy and impatient with Mr B, though he doesn't deserve it.
But on this night, all I can think of is how insanely lucky I am. How those three sleeping upstairs are my FAMILY. I can't quite comprehend how that came to be. This much love. I didn't even think this much love existed.
Absent-mindedly I rub my aching feet, curled under me on the couch. This perfect family, it's like I'm looking in at someone else's life. The realisation that this is MY life and MY family doesn't come easy. I don't feel deserving. Surely someone else would do all this much better than me? I feel like I won the lottery.