We are like babies, forever reaching up to be lifted out of our fatigue
Laura Kennedy: Sometimes you have to opt for change when you’d really rather not
Looking for safety: the baby plonked down and extended its arms towards its mother. Photograph: iStock/Getty
“Why do babies do that?” J asked as we wended our way through a busy park on an unseasonably warm spring day. The air had that fragrance to it, as if it were full of burgeoning. Above, in the highest trees, crows were roaring at each other like street vendors: the heat had flipped a switch in their mysterious, prehistoric brains, and suddenly all they seemed interested in doing was building nests, frenziedly flinging twigs about and shrieking at one another. Below, their droppings came down from the sky like viscous, broken wishes.
They have only the one tailpipe, as it were. Crows, I mean. Both kinds of business blast suddenly from the one orifice, so you’d better get out of the way. People knew it, and the ground below the trees was destroyed. It looked as if Jackson Pollock had been under those trees, finding himself.
The baby J was referring to was doing that thing babies do when their tender little legs fatigue under the weight of their lollipop heads, and they keel on to their heavily padded behinds. The child plonked into a sitting position, reached towards its mother and then opened and shut its cobby little starfish hands in the pick-me-up motion that is more urgent than spoken language. The baby was whisked up, to a height that, relatively speaking, must have made it feel as if it were one of those crows ascending to the treetops.
Babies are efficient when it comes to ensuring other people meet their needs. It’s the main skill they have, really
“I don’t know why they do it,” I answered J. “I suppose they do it because they can. Whether it is learnt or instinctive, it gets the job done. Babies are efficient when it comes to ensuring other people meet their needs. It’s the main skill they have, really.”
We sat on a bench as people milled by. Nearby, I saw a cockapoo – one of those sweet-faced raggedy dogs that look a bit like kind-eyed mopheads – share an ice cream with a small girl while her parents looked at their phones. The dog’s name was Peanut. I know because the girl was saying over and over to the dog: “I love you, Peanut. I love you.” But at that moment Peanut mostly just loved ice cream.
A park is a good place to go when you don’t know what you are doing, an oasis you can walk through and sit in for a while before you step back through the doorway of reality. Life is quietly, monotonously dramatic – there is an epic quality to the regret, anxiety or uncertainty we can all feel.
Sometimes, though, your life bifurcates in a way that is overtly dramatic, and you find that things cannot stay as they are, and all you can do is choose one change or the other when really you would rather not have any major change at all.
We are like that baby, reaching up towards something, our hands opening and closing like the beaks of angry crows, complaining of fatigue and wishing to be lifted out of it
In those moments we are like that baby, reaching up towards something, our hands opening and closing like the beaks of angry crows, complaining of fatigue and wishing to be lifted out of it.
These sorts of decisions are not clean. They are never the type you can make and then feel completely confident in: they entail kicking the door shut on one potential life and trying to jam your foot through the gap in another.
At these moments we have to make the decision before knowing how things might turn out either way – to move or stay put, to become a parent or not to, to embrace one side of ourselves and leave another to wilt, untended.
When we are young we reach out and someone picks us up. As we age we reach out from habit, even when no one is there but ourselves.