Paul Simon and Simon & Garfunkel were the soundtrack to our son’s first month. Their music was all we played. I have been listening to them for almost all of my own life.
I don’t recall when I first heard them, though I do remember being small and staring in awe at the cover of the Greatest Hits album. A portrait. Breton top, jeans, desert boots. An iconic look which imprinted my own idea of style. Over the years I fell deeply in love with their voices and the harmonies. And the melodies and Simon’s words. The sounds and the rhythms they made. The stories, the imagery, the detail. Joy and sadness at the same time. Poetry. It seems to me that these songs have always been a part of me and Simon & Garfunkel have always been there. They will never rot. Bohemians, lightly stoned and travelling the New York City subways and sidewalks for the rest of time.
One of my favourite moments since our son arrived was watching an impromptu dance with my wife, one evening. He was three weeks old, she was in her dressing gown. I think it may have been the first moment since he was born when I felt I could relax or, at least, consciously realised that I was not quite so tense.
He had been crying and restless but was completely soothed by music and motion. In a warm orange light they rocked gently around the living room, floating together on the sparkle of Paul Simon’s Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes. One of those pure moments when nothing else exists somehow, and the music is inside the feelings and the feelings are inside the music. I’ll never forget it.
Two weeks earlier my wife and I were gathering up the bits and pieces which had sustained her through six nights in hospital. Our son was lying in a transparent plastic crib, a week and twelve hours old. I will return to them there in a little while…
All but one of his first seven nights was spent in the hospital. We’d managed to bring him home for a mere twelve hours, in the middle of that week. They’d been discharged late one night and the following morning there was a midwife appointment to attend at the local medical centre. We’d expected it to be pretty routine.
Due to the restrictions in place because of the UK’s second lockdown, I had to wait in the car outside. After the appointment, when my wife crossed the road from the centre to the car, I could see from her expression that something was not right. “We have to take him straight to hospital,” she said.
The midwife had been unhappy. We’re still not sure, looking back, quite what happened and why we were able to bring him home only to then have to return straight away. But, in any case, we went back to the hospital and were given a private room on the children’s ward. The so-called Disney Ward.
A succession of nurses, doctors and consultants traipsed through. It feels, looking back, like there were scores of them but I think that’s my brain playing tricks and there was actually no more than a handful. The situation was heavy and serious despite the best efforts of Mickey Fucking Mouse, grinning from the wall opposite through the porthole window of the door.
Our son had a problem with dehydration and his weight. It turned out that, though he was happily going at the breast, my wife’s supply had not been sufficiently ‘up to speed’. He’d also developed an infection of some kind following mild jaundice, and needed a course of antibiotics which required delivery by cannula.
The doctor who was going to fit the cannula suggested this quick and easy procedure should take place in a different room. I picked up our tiny son and walked with a nurse to rendezvous with the doctor in a small examination and treatment room down the corridor. He was so dehydrated that the procedure was not quick and nor was it easy.
I had never experienced anything like this moment, before. It took six attempts and two different doctors to find a suitably responsive spot on his body to fit the cannula. Though as gentle as possible, they twisted him, prodded him, pricked the needle into his body over and again. Though they were closed, our son’s eyes inflated like balloons and pushed through the sockets to the outside of his head. I clenched my jaw tight as he screamed. I was completely reduced to being absolutely useless. The nurse said “Don’t worry, don’t worry. He won’t remember.”
His right arm was bandaged around the elbow, with the cannula feeding into him under the dressing. A plastic junction unit about as big as his fist dangled from it. Tiny bruises were already beginning to form on his arms and legs in the places where the needling had been unsuccessful. When I returned to the room off the ward, I laid him on a blanket on the bed and took a photograph. My wife picked him up and held him in her arms and she sat and sobbed. I slumped against the wall across the other side of the room and took a picture of this scene, too. Looking back at both of these photographs now, as I write this, they are staggeringly three-dimensional images. “Raw,” my wife says.
On the one of him laying on the bed, he doesn’t look quite like one of the withered and shrivelled children in Michael Burke’s infamous 1984 TV report from the famine-plains of Ethiopia – but he is small and feeble, and that is about the only reference from my life that I can muster to get anywhere near.
An intensive few days of medical attention for him and support for my wife from the hospital’s breast-feeding team sorted things out. A plan was developed, actioned and observed. A new feeding routine. On the breast but supported by formula and expressed. A pumping machine was brought in, and my wife’s dignity all drained away. However, over the next few days that was forgotten as the plan really began to succeed. Like a prize fighter, our son made up his weight. We were given the all-clear to bring him home for good.
My wife was very upset, that first week or two, as she felt that by not getting him up to weight direct from her breast she’d somehow ‘failed’ our son. Though that does still have the potential to upset her if she thinks about it for too long, almost five months on she is more-or-less at peace with things not having gone how she wanted. Pumping is part of the routine each night now, and our son is thriving on his triple-combo. So she’s reassured and confident. Plus, this great catch-all diet means I can play a part in his feeding.
Anyway, there he was. Restless in his plastic hospital crib as we packed. I slipped my iPhone into his blanket and The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel played. That was the very first music our boy heard in his life here with us. He immediately calmed down and drifted off. Who knows where that magical duo took him?
But we took him home.