November 4, 2013

Baby Bedtime

Illustrated by Emma Quay

Channel 7 interview about Baby Bedtime


No book of mine is as suffused with love as this one. When I was writing it I was almost leaning into the desk so the love could pour more easily from my heart on to the paper. It’s a book that will, I hope, help babies and young children to be lulled into a safe, secure and happy sleep. Sleep-deprived parents may get some sleep too! And parents who want to express their absolute, complete adoration of a child will be able to do it through the simple words of this book.  It starts like this:

I could eat your little ears.

I could nibble on your nose.

I could munch your tiny fingers.

I could gobble up your toes…

The entire book takes about 30 seconds to read, from start to finish. Parents—I’m on your side!

The story started with the birth of Theo, our grandson, who was born 8 weeks premature and was in a neo-natal ward for the first two and half months of his life. Looking back objectively we can see that he was neither gorgeous nor handsome—no premature baby looks lovely. But to those who love the child, as we did him, that scrawny little mite is as perfect and as exquisite as the most beautiful baby on earth. I read to him daily. I sang to him daily. I talked to him daily.

It’s hard to describe the love that grandparents feel for their grandchildren. It’s  so intense it’s close to overwhelming. Of course we always adore our own children and we would lay down our lives for them, but when we’re young parents we’re always haring around with the duties of home and work, school and social activities, and our children join us for the ride, hanging in there somehow in the shared, hectic race to the future.

With grandchildren we can stay in the present. It’s the ‘now’ that takes over, enabling us to put all of the rest of our life on hold while we are in the presence of that worshipped child.

One day when I happened to be alone with Theo (in an otherwise madly crowded neo-natal ward) I noticed that his ears didn’t stick out. Mine do. I was so happy for him! I LOVED his ears. I loved his nose. His fingers. His toes. The whole of him. I wanted to eat him up, I loved him so much. So I opened one of the round windows of the humid crib and whispered: ‘I could eat your little ears. I could nibble on your nose. I could munch your tiny fingers. I could gobble up your toes.’

I realised I’d accidentally written the first verse of a love poem to a baby. I didn’t have pen or paper with me, so I said it to him over and over again, hoping I wouldn’t forget the words and also hoping that he would begin to feel, and to know, how deeply I loved him.

Over the next couple of days I finished the poem, typed it up in tiny font on half a page, and took it up to the hospital every day after that, to read to him. I felt like sobbing each time I read it. I think it might have been the memory of my own mother’s love for me, in this verse, that really killed me off:

I could stroke your silky hair.

I could sit you on my knee.

I could sing you all the songs

that my mother sang to me.

And now, almost four years later, as you see, thanks to my beloved publishers at Penguin, Baby Bedtime has become a book for all babies. Emma Quay’s heart-stopping illustrations have removed any worries about the gender and race of the baby by turning the mother and child into an elephant mother and her baby. (Emma, I kiss your feet!) When this book first arrived, all complete and perfect, in the pile of post on the kitchen table, I read it and felt like lying on the cold tiled floor and howling. Apologies for being so emotional about yet another Mem Fox book. It’s not just ‘another book’ to me.

I sort of hope you’ll love it too.

Mem Fox November, 2013