Home Sociology Infant Observation: Creating Transformative Relationships
Recognition and denial
I want to emphasise that part of the observation material where, following Mother's recognition that there really is a problem to be taken seriously by her, let alone by Kim, she then quite physically seems to turn away from me. I recorded in my notes after I had left the house that day, as the observation material describes, that I felt Mother had valued this very brief but direct conversation with me. Leaving aside for the moment her relentless need to speak through her children (e.g., Kim now sees that baby is taking up mummy's time and Kim resents it etc.), I do think there were many moments like this throughout the year when I felt the mother to be helped by my presence. They were almost without exception followed by this "turning away" quality. Sometimes by exclusion during the remainder of the hour—a sort of "show yourself out" ending, or not being in when I arrived for the observation (despite Mother's busy dentistlike approach to arrangements and ritual checking most weeks in a huge diary). It might be short notice announcements of holidays or periods away from London, or interest in my view or opinion one week followed by a disowning of it the next, etc.
In essence what I am describing is a feeling that there was usually a sequence to these experiences prototypical in nature to the negative therapeutic reaction found in the psychoanalytic treatment of children and adults. She would invite or allow me to be helpful or supportive, in practice mainly by listening to her. This seemed then to establish me as important, containing, and valued by her, however briefly. This was usually to be followed by her denial of the experience as something good or helpful and perhaps quite welcome in this often very tense and demanding situation. In turn I would be invited to feel I had imagined being useful and was very much aware that a quite different kind of contact had set in. This was so marked throughout the year that I came to expect it. I noticed how I didn't expect something achieved between us to be sustained or to be felt as a relief, or enjoyable, for very long—either in the actual hour or from one week to the next. I saw too how I was very much sharing the same fate as all other professionals in contact with this mother—the health visitors, the G. P., the hospital, the playgroup leader—it was as if we were to be relied upon or valued as a last resort and then subsequently viewed with suspicion. Most telling for me, though, was the realisation that I might be experiencing in my relation to the mother what I observed in Lucy's experience of her contact—this precariousness, the sense of things not lasting, of being interrupted—of never really knowing what was to happen. I think that Kim was also probably displaying an entitlement to this kind of anxiety.
Mother had invited me through to the kitchen complaining as we walked down the hall of all the mess she was having to clear up following some woodwork undertaken the previous evening by the husband, and how he'd been content to go off and leave all the wood-shavings everywhere. As I followed Mother into the kitchen Kim tried to go through the door first and in so doing she tripped over my leg and fell flat on her face. I had helped her up but she ran screaming to her mother and looking at me in a very "it's your fault" sort of way she told her mother: "Anthony made me hurt my leg". Mother said that this was a promising start to my visit.
Mother told me that Lucy was still asleep and she would get her up very soon, and offered tea. Kim brought me at once her cup and saucers from the toy box and asked me to hold the cup. Mother poured the tea and told me how well last week's dinner party had gone. The special and new recipe she had used had been, she said, very successful but she had really enjoyed eating the leftovers the following day when the guests weren't there. Kim fetched now a dolly from the box, one with long blonde hair. She held the dolly up in front of me by the hair and when I showed interest in it she pulled away and started to furiously swing the doll around her and above her head. Mother told me that Kim had been worrying her quite a bit because of the excessive scratching she inflicted on Lucy and other children. She reminded me (as if I could have forgotten) that Kim had already scratched Lucy very badly around her face. She said it was rather difficult when she went to other people's homes where there were other children, as Kim would scratch them too. Mother said that it was made additionally hard because sometimes she just couldn't be sure of Kim's intentions. At the playgroup for example she would put her arm out near another child's face and when Mother thought it was about to result in injury to the other child Kim would only be trying to stroke the child's face. Mother asked me to imagine how confusing this was, and that she didn't know what to expect or do.
Mother added that Kim did this particularly when another child had something she wanted as if she was convinced that the thing belonged to her alone. When she said this I felt it had been such a perfect description of what probably goes on in Kim's mind in relation to her mother and the threat that Lucy must represent to Kim, that I was puzzled why Mother couldn't think about the things that go on between the three of them from this angle. I felt quite frustrated. Very quickly Mother seemed to need to defend this picture of Kim by telling me that Kim was really very fond of Lucy and Lucy fond of Kim. She told me that the Health Visitor had given her a bit of a 'ticking off for feeding Lucy with some Soya milk as this had caused some constipation; the mother felt instead that it was more probably the result of ceasing to breast feed Lucy. She said that she had been told to give Lucy plenty of orange to loosen her up.
Kim continued to swing the baby doll quite violently by the hair and Mother turned to her and invited Kim to imagine how she would feel if Mother picked her up and swung her by her hair around the room. Mother said that what she was doing was hurting dolly. Kim ignored this and approached me but still carried on swinging the doll. She created a sort of arc for the swing and I noticed that gradually she was getting nearer to my leg. Soon the doll crashed against my shin. I moved back a little and told Kim that "I don't know if that dolly feels anything but I do" and I rubbed my leg. She moved closer and did the same thing. Mother saw this and stood there smiling at me and then at Kim. When the doll hit me again, and it did hurt, I put out my hand and caught the doll and said to Kim that I didn't like that and that I would hold dolly. I think Mother then sensed my irritation and she said that now she would start to get Lucy up and feed her. As Mother went out of the kitchen to fetch Lucy, Kim started to say "feed her, feed her." Mother called back to me from the stairs that nowadays Kim was remembering and repeating the last words of sentences used by her and her husband.
We moved into the front room and Kim came over to me with a ball and two of her books and gave these to me. One of the books was about "Mummy's new baby." Kim sat next to me on the sofa and started to turn over the pages of the book and began to point to different pictures. She looked intently at one double page spread of a mother feeding the new baby and opposite sat a little girl feeding her dolly at the same time. I felt so strongly that Kim meant to talk to me through this lingering over this illustration, and the way she kept looking up to me and then around over her shoulder. I didn't know but felt something happening. I also felt that a minute or two earlier she had been doing something very different with her dolly and my leg! Mother came back with Lucy over her shoulder. She looked over the back of the sofa at the book and picture Kim and I had been looking at. She at once exclaimed what a good idea that would be. I asked her what she meant. She seemed a bit surprised, I think, by the question as I had the feeling she thought Kim and I had been thinking the same as her. She announced that she would find a spare bottle in the kitchen cupboard and then Kim could feed her dolly whilst she fed Lucy. She turned to Kim and asked her whether she would like that but Kim just turned over the remaining pages of the book. Kim then went over to her toy box and Mother sat down on the sofa next to me and whispered that this plan, of the extra bottle, would help minimise the disruption whenever she fed Lucy with Kim around. Mother spoke as if really greatly inspired by this plan.
Lucy was meanwhile still a bit asleep but slowly waking up. Mother very gently spoke in Lucy's ear and whispered that Lucy had awoken especially for her feed and was she hungry. Lucy managed a little smile but seemed very sleepy still. Mother went with her to the kitchen to get things ready. When she returned with Lucy she smiled to me and said with a lot of satisfaction that it was going to go well with Kim and the idea of a second bottle. She had given Kim the bottle and told her what to do. She sat down on the sofa and started to feed Lucy. Kim came over and squeezed in on her left side, so that she was in the middle of Mother and me.
As she looked down the sofa at the three of us Mother asked herself why hadn't she thought of this idea before, especially as she'd looked through the book so many times with Kim—indeed had even bought it in the first place. I was so aware of the enormous investment now being made in this idea by the mother as if this was the perfect remedy. In fact the whole thing was feeling very odd as I sat there watching Kim furiously trying to push a teat into the face of the doll and the water going everywhere all over the sofa. Mother was turning to Kim saying, "Are we feeding our babies now, Kim—we both have bottles don't we—are you feeding dolly nicely?" Kim just replied "yes" but soon she became restless when the bottle was empty. She started to push the teat of her bottle into the plastic of the sofa and make patterns with the remaining few drops of water that came out. Mother tried to get her to carry on but she started to complain and interfere.
Until this point Lucy had fed comfortably. There had been a couple of minutes when it had felt blissful, with nobody speaking. I noticed how fixed Lucy's gaze on her mother's face had been during this time. She seemed, unusually in my experience of her, to feed slowly and easily. Between some gulps she would seem to pause, look up at Mother and just manage a flicker of a smile. I know that I felt this was particularly pleasing to observe. Mother told me that she was now using the medium sized teat and unlike the early experience of trying to use this size Lucy now seemed able to accept it. She did say though that she had a feeling that there was something still wrong with the actual teat because she could hear noises in the bottle when Lucy sucked.
At this point Kim stood up and appeared at first to want to try and kiss Lucy and, like Mother, I was thinking this was her intention; but suddenly she flung herself down on top of Lucy, particularly on her legs and knees. It was a shock all round. Lucy seemed to shoot the bottle out of her mouth and with the fright and pain of what had happened burst into screams. She seemed very frightened indeed. I thought that Mother was also frightened by the action. Without shouting, though I thought she was on the verge of doing so, she said very firmly to Kim that she had hurt the baby by doing this and that she must in future be careful. She told her that she must be gentle with baby's little legs and not jump on them in that way. Kim got off the sofa and flung herself down on the floor, and started to cry in a very distressed way. Mother then turned from comforting Lucy to look after Kim. She said that it was now all over and alright and she was very sorry if she had upset Kim and that she did really understand that Kim hadn't meant to hurt Lucy. Meanwhile, Lucy now seemed to be more in distress due to the interruption in the feed rather than any pain.
Lucy looked terribly agitated; she had gone very red in the face and her eyebrows were drawn together. She was whimpering and very unhappy. I felt it was so hard to sit there and watch all this. I thought I could perhaps offer some distraction to Kim which might help mother resume Lucy's feed. I offered Kim her doll but she pushed it away. After a while Mother did seem to placate Kim but only with the invitation to come and join her as she fed Lucy. She said "you can help me Kim to feed Lucy." Kim sat next to Mother on the sofa and the feed resumed and I saw how quickly Lucy went for the teat as it was offered. She sort of pushed her head up from the neck to almost catch the teat as it was coming towards her.
Kim seemed to settle but not for long. She leant across and yanked the bottle from Lucy's mouth. Mother snatched it back and just said "Kim" in a very cross tone. The bottle was offered once more to Lucy. Again Kim pulled the bottle in such a way that a lot of milk came out—both from the bottle and Lucy's mouth. The milk from the bottle shot across Lucy's face and some into her eye, which obviously distressed her, and she flung her hand to the eye and started to cry. I felt again that I should do something. I kept on thinking: "why doesn't she (the mother) act?" More, I think, to try and help with my own impatience at this moment I turned to Mother and said, "It must be very hard to try and manage both children at the same time on these occasions." She agreed with this and said in a very helpless voice that "things seemed to have got a little more difficult but this occasion was the worst."
She seemed to wait for a response from me as if I would endorse this view. I did think that there was something about this present occasion that seemed particularly fraught, though I did not agree that things had got "more" difficult. Instead I believed that there had been real problems for some time now. Then Mother told me that Kim had earlier in the morning fallen down the stairs. I showed such surprise (or alarm) that Mother immediately qualified her remark and said it had only been the last five stairs. She at once went on to tell me that she knew they should have fitted a gate at the top but hadn't done so because Kim had appeared reasonably confident about the stairs from a very young age. Mother then said she would probably put Kim back to bed and maybe that would help. She added that Kim had woken up in a "bad mood and nothing was going to be easy today." She told me that Lucy was now going right through the night and this was "good news"; but Kim was not. As mother was talking Kim again attempted to get herself into position for a second "squash" of Lucy while she was on her mother's lap, but Mother did seem to anticipate this and she put out her arm to stop her. Kim leant forward and twice slapped Lucy's head. Mother implored her to be gentler. Mother stood up with Lucy and took away the bottle. She announced she'd had enough and was going upstairs to get Kim's comfort blanket for her to hold. When she returned with the blanket she gave this to Kim and then she and Lucy settled away from Kim and me in the armchair. As soon as Kim had the blanket she put it to her mouth and sucked. She seemed to become relaxed at once.
After only about a minute Kim went over to the armchair. She tried to climb up on the chair and get behind Mother and Lucy. It was clear that Lucy wasn't happy and seemed to have difficulty in feeding again. Mother pushed Kim away saying, "Now you stay there, Kim, with your blanket otherwise poor Lucy will never finish her bottle." Kim then punched Lucy's back very hard and did so three times. Lucy cried and winced; Mother took Kim's hand as it came down again for the fourth time and said firmly to Kim, "You're not to do that." Kim pulled away her hand and slapped her mother twice in the face. Mother just whispered "Kim" in a sort of disappointed tone. Throughout all of this I was aware of how in some way Mother wanted to give the impression of being quite unflappable and not once did she seem drawn by Kim to respond in an appropriately angry way.
There followed more interruptions and Mother seemed then so frustrated that she just abruptly stood up, pulled the bottle away and announced that she was going to put Lucy in her carrycot for a while and take Kim up to bed, which she did. Very quickly she was downstairs again saying: "Right, that's Kim dealt with." She took Lucy from her carrycot (she was not crying or evidently complaining in any obvious way) and looking at her as she lifted her out said "now let's start again, shall we?" She sat in the chair and offered Lucy the bottle, and whispered very closely to her, "This is much better isn't it?—A nice quiet feed—I bet you can't believe your luck, Lucy." However Lucy showed no interest in the bottle this time and pushed the teat away with her tongue. Mother seemed to be receptive to this and I noticed how she waited a little and then gently re-introduced the teat to her mouth. Lucy took it but didn't suck immediately; she stared at her mother with a long gaze and then rolled her eyes around the room. I wondered if she was looking for signs of Kim. Mother said to her, "It's O. K., Lucy, now we can have a bit of peace." The baby started at once to gulp the milk down in a very rapid way. She went at the bottle so quickly. She put up her right hand and held the side of the bottle. Mother said, "So you want to hold it as well." Lucy moved her hand and it went over Mother's and in this way it was a picture of the two of them holding the bottle. I had the impression that Lucy was afraid the same thing would happen again with Kim and she was hanging on to the bottle. But as I watched the feed I didn't have the impression that the baby was very relaxed or displaying any of the calmness that had been apparent at the beginning of the feed. The baby looked and behaved as if anxious.
Mother said to me she felt that Lucy "probably took in some sort of a pattern of frustration about all of these feeds that got spoilt when her sister was around." I said nothing. She continued, again as if to reassure herself, that "Kim really thought the world of Lucy and that Lucy enjoyed Kim."
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