Monday, October 30, 2006

My baby can lick your baby

I have recently noticed a pointed and competitive edge amongst certain mothers, something I thought was reserved for middle class women at boarding schools and grandmothers outside Sunday schools. I have quickly to add that none of my close friends or my ante-natal friends are included in this because the display of this edge immediately eliminates the offender from my circle.

I am talking about improbable mothers who are endlessly blurting about how much their baby sleeps, how early it smiled, how it's laughing already and is only 3 weeks old, how much hair it has, how it grasps it's little rattle when the midwives say it shouldn't have any control over it's hands (rather like it's mother and her mouth)... and these boasts are always couched as worried questions 'I don't know if this is normal ha ha but little Fluffypootykins is already spelling four syllable words. Should I take her to the doctor?' My Ass. Normally little Fluffypootykins is a doughy blob with a dummy shoved into it's wet little mouth and too many frills on it's socks.

A few scant months ago I had no idea that that this was a competition - and apart from the inevitable 'I'm so glad Charlie doesn't look like THAT' I had nothing to say on the very private matter of how ugly most babies truly are... but I realise now I was sadly deluded. In fact, I've noticed some Mums being competitive about everything from the birth to the length of their baby's toes.

Having had what is universally accepted by everyone except me as an easy birth it would be terribly bad form for me to go on about it and those of my friends who've had genuinely awful births speak about them in hushed tones if at all - however there are those out there for whom every contraction was The Worst Ever and every stitch was Ten At Least and every pound of baby was doubled because I'm So Small. It's inevitably those same women who go on to talk about how their three-week-old snookums is smiling and nearly potty trained and oh dear is Charlie really not rolling over yet? Little Wonder is sleeping 20 hours at a go and eating a three course meal and he's half Charlie's age, Have You Spoken To The Health Visitor About It?

In fact it seems to me that those Mums are the same ones still receiving visits from the Health Visitor which always makes me think of nits and rats and babies at risk. I have to swallow my tongue to stop myself from saying 'If Snookums is so perfect, why is there a civil servant still coming to your house to check on it's progress?' because... well er... because perhaps secretly I am worried that they are right and there is something wrong with Charlie not being able to hold a toy at 8 weeks old or not sleeping through the night or not having all his hair.

It's really pernicious this competition and even though I genuinely do not care if Charlie is sitting up before or after any other baby in the world, I do find myself being glad he doesn't have a big fat head, or being narked that his hair fell out - or looking at babies in massive bourgeouis strollers and feeling superior about Charlie's sling.

In fact, I can't see the point in being competitive about anything, I mean, Charlie is doing fine. He was holding his head up from the day he was born, you know. He's taller then any baby the midwife ever saw, we had the fastest birth, he's stopped pooing in the night and he's already trying to stand up.

To be honest in fact I think he's already trying to say 'Mama'... but you can't be sure, you know, it may just be 'my mama's mad'.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Swiss Army baby

Luckily for my sanity I have discovered that babies are not just all about eating, sleeping and dirty nappies. They're not just for cooing over and worrying about, they actually have a few alternate uses which make them rather more practical units to have about the house.

The first and (sadly for me) most often utilised function I've noticed recently is their ability to normalise. 'Well Charlie' I say as I walk through the crowds 'They didn't have ink in that store did they, but then they didn't look like the sort of place that stocked ink did they? Oh, I know, Mummy wants a coffee, shall we go for a coffee? Should I buy these shoes? Where's that shopping list? What do you think we should do next, should we have lunch? Did we leave the coffee pot on?' etc. etc. All people see is a nice lady talking to her baby. They have no idea that an insane muttering person has just passed them by.

Next, and very usefully is their ability to launch one to the head of selected queues and make people be nice to one, not unlike being pregnant - airlines, for example, although we have yet to try that one out. Bus queues. People still stand up for me on the tube. In fact, while being pregnant is a 'get out of jail free' card for many things in life, it is after all, temporary. All those women you see being pregnant in commercials and on magazine covers and in the bus queue - they're not professional pregnant people, it's temporary for all of them. I used to think I was merely a usurper to the pregnant throne but in fact I was a fully crowned queen... hence the current status as 'mother of baby' which is a much more long-lived state than pregnancy. As a member of the Least Exclusive Club in the world (see previous posts) there's a lot of sympathy out there from other members... and crucially, unlike members of the 'pregnancy' club, members of the 'parenthood' club are normally in a much better position to actually help one out by virtue of the fact that they are not completely incapacitated. So, doors open (literally), crowds part, queues shorten.

Next, having a baby is a ticket to one of those handy 'close to the door' bays in supermarket and shopping mall parking lots. Yes, those extra-wide bays where nobody can reach your car's fender with their door are reserved for the handicapped and parents (clearly indicating society's opinion of parents). All one needs is the business, in the form of said baby. Yes folks, no more carting heavy bags of shopping across an acre of lot while hunting for one's car - it's wham-bam-in-front-of-the-door-ma'am for me.

Next, and this is one for all you shut-ins out there, having a baby is a guaranteed way to get people talking to you. Particularly Grandmothers and other Mothers. 'How old is he'. 'I remember when mine were that age'. 'Isn't he cute'. 'Look, pumpkin, it's a baybee!!!' 'What's his name?'. What's his name? What freaking use is that snippet of information? Have you any idea how many perfect strangers are out there prowling the streets and asking baby's names? Is this some sort of hunter-gatherer poll system whereby information about the decline of society is accumulated by the examination of random baby names? What? I mean, I go to some sort of baby-related event on a weekly basis now and I have no inclination to find out the names of any of them.

And, having a baby is a freebie ticket to all sorts of goodies. The parent-and-baby market is cash-rich and exploited ruthlessly by all sorts of big and small businesses. By this I mean all The Stuff we are convinced that we need. You know, baby baths, baby wipes, top and tail bowls (no, I don't know what they are either). Washes, oils, creams, organic cotton squares for £10 a shot, muslins for £2 a shot (do you know how many muslin squares one can get out of a £5.99 yard of muslin? Plenty, that's how many), baskets, buckets, brushes, plastic doohickeys, protective nets, mirrors, seats that bounce, seats that vibrate... all The Stuff. Well, all the people who make The Stuff want you to buy THEIR stuff and not anybody else's Stuff and so they give you free samples. If you know where to go, there's quite a haul to be had. 'Parenting Clubs' everywhere (clearly even the club itself is not exclusive). Join the club for store 'A' and get a whole box of freebies. Join the club for store 'B' and get another one. Sign up for a baby bank account at Bank 'A' and get free money. Free money!

If you're on the ball there's hardly anything you need to pay for in the first few weeks - companies are lining up to give bags of the stuff away to you before you even leave hospital. Of course, it's all crap, but at least it's free crap. In the last week I've got free nappies (disposable unfortunately) free wipes by the ton (which you can wash and re-use) a free teething gum massager, free baby food, a free baby spoon, a free nappy bag with changing mat, free creams and lotions for me, free baby wash, free lotion for the baby and free breast pads by the score. OK, so without Charlie there would be no need for all these particular freebies and thus the joy is rather tempered with the knowledge that one is rather a captive market but it does levy the experience with an amusing competitive edge and I can happily play 'Hunt the Freebie' with other mothers for hours.

Finally, there are all the 'Mother and Baby' amusements such as, oh bliss of bliss, the 'Watch With Baby' film screenings at our local art house cinema - matinees for half price! And, you can't get in without a baby. So, while you have to tune out the odd squawk, there are no irritating youths shouting at the screen and crucially, no 8 foot fat blokes in hats blocking the view. Any bloke who does venture into the cinema with his baby however is treated to a stunning array of naked breasts so this is a treat the boys can enjoy as well, provided they don't mind seeing their favourite toys put to other, less frivolous uses.

So, there are some useful advantages to be had out of little Charlie of which he is blissfully unaware. And, while he's hardly paying his own way, fixing my back or giving me a tummy tuck and a boob lift, it does make life a little simpler. Now all I need to do is to have him cast in rubber so that when he's older and doesn't want to be seen with me I can carry around a fake Charlie and I will never look like a mad person again.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Friday, October 20, 2006

rockets in the night

It is amazing what crosses one's mind in the tiny hours. Bearing in mind that I've not slept for more than 4 hours in a row for the last 7 weeks and that I spend a lot of time awake in a darkened room at 4am with nothing to do but make sure Charlie has a good mouthful of boob it's frankly a wonder that I can think at all. Needless to say there's only one subject of any note drifting through my diminished brain-pan and it’s hardly rocket science. There must be thousands of us out there, all sitting alone in the dark, falling asleep in our chairs, lurching awake, waiting for the baby to eat and sleep, starship Mum, sailing through the night. My marketing brain screams 'untapped market' very sadly - one does start to think all sorts of strange things when there's one's own personal baby in the vicinity.

All your cliches come true at once, particularly that old chestnut about how 'nobody will ever love you as much as your mother'. This is not, in fact, a sentence designed to make you feel guilt about leaving home and it’s not romantic love we’re talking about here - motherly love, it turns out, is something different altogether, something that hits on a more instinctive level. She's watched you breathe your first breath, she grew your bones, she's given you life and then spent it's length worrying about it. It's a tremendously protective thing. It creeps up on a mother quite unsuspectingly. One day there’s a wriggly baby who’s rather cute but perhaps nothing to do with you after all and then the next day you’d rent the fabric of time to prevent any harm drifting its little, damp, squirmy way.

Time, however, isn’t really on the side of us Mums. At the start all they want to do is to be sweet and content and curled up on a parent and it turns out that in fact parents feel exactly the same - tremendously content when he's curled up on a shoulder. This is short lived however and despite having spent the best part of a year as one unit, soon he will be able and willing to crawl away, and then walk, then run and eventually, take the car keys and drive. And if it wasn’t bad enough that the child itself will depart, economics force the ultimate betrayal by sending him off into the arms of a carer in order for Mum to waltz back to work before he can even talk.

Meanwhile, back at 4am I hold onto him while he snores into my ear and hope that one day his shoulders will be big enough for my head - and then I hope again that he won't be too averse to giving his old mother a hug. It's hard to hold onto something who you know is potentially going to cause you more pain, more trouble and more worry than anyone else and still love it but that, I suppose, is another function of this motherly love thing.

It's at these times, in the gloaming, when one starts thinking about all the possibilities, all the futures, all the lights and all the darks.

Having a baby is a bit like sending a rocket off into time. For a while you can hold it, light the fuse and watch it while it goes but in the end, if you're lucky, it goes on into the un-imaginable future and leaves you behind. Time, however, has no final destination. Everything on its rocket gets off at some point, gets left behind, gets further away. Eventually, we get off ourselves. Sometimes when Charlie is fretting I can lull him to sleep while stroking his little bald head and I hope that at the other end of time for him there is someone else stroking his head, loving him and lulling him to rest. I have hope of him or her for when I'm not there - I send messages to them across the years.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Poppin' fresh

You would think that centuries of experience dressing babies would have provided the human race, or at least the manufacturing industry of the West with enough knowledge to create clothing which was not only well made and good-looking, but which was easy to get on and off of a flailing infant. You would think. You would think that we could even get two out of three.

The truth is that even with hundreds of thousands of shops selling the stuff, millions of mothers every year buy it and don't complain. One assumes therefore that civilisation has achieved the acme of baby clothing design and there is nowhere further to go on our ascent to garment excellence. This is mind-boggling however as clearly, there are three gaping flaws in this argument.

One: Most baby clothes pull over the head.

Two: All baby clothes for boys are blue and covered in bears.

Three: Pop studs.

Firstly. Babies have soft bits on their heads that one normally steers clear of and that are largely in the way during the descent of bear-covered cloth over body. Babies' heads are ungainly lolly things which are difficult to stuff through an 'envelope' neckline no matter how large the opening. Babies don't actually like having cloth dragged across their face, bunched around their necks and then tugged down their bodies even if ever so gently. A sleepy baby who has dozed quietly through a nappy change can be instantly rendered a flailing red ball of rage if he happens to open his eyes just as the 'vest' is being pulled over his head and a quiet wakey baby instantly goes all quivery-bottom-lippy. Interstingly, all the clothes we bought in France wrap around the body, so what's up with the rest of the world?

Secondly. Why can't we have stylish fabrics? What's with the bears? What's with rainbow bears? He's 5 weeks old for crying out loud, he can't even focus on a bear let alone actually want one printed on the trousers he's just peed on again. And what's with all the blue? The other choice is white - a brave choice to put on an individual whose main occupation is the production of bodily fluids. Other pattern choices stretch to stripes or trains and to have a simple, plain, non-blue-or-white (or pink or yellow for girls) colour is clearly a taboo-breaker, likewise any patterns unless, crucially, they have a bear in them. Or a train. Or both. If you're very lucky, you may get a tractor. Again, the French have it right with back-fastening khaki, beige and some good browns.

Finally and most puzzlingly... pop studs. Everwhere, pop studs. Down the legs. Down the front. Down the side. Pop studs, pop studs, pop studs. Have you ever tried to fasten pop-studs down the length of a baby's legs when he's kicking like a bronco? Well have you?

With up to a dozen poppers per outfit it must be an absolutely massive industry. Pop-stud pressure groups lobbying the garment factories, bribing key baby-design officials, carpet-baggers slinking around the warehouses pushing money into maw of the developers while the crippled and prematurely-aged hands of a miilion seamstresses work overtime attaching pop-studs to cotton. OK so they probably have a machine for that now.

Meanwhile, millions of mothers bend tearfully over changing tables begging their enraged offspring to 'just hold still a moment' while trying to guide a bucking foot into the end of an open 'leg' and attempting to not only fasten a dozen poppers up the inside leg but to not pop-stud a fold of baby-skin in the process. They certainly don't have a machine for that. It's possible to turn a footed sleep-suit into one long tube with a baby inside it and there's always one left over once the baby has been popped into submission. There he is, lying angelically in his little blue suit with one leg shorter then the other and a gaping hole somewhere in the region of his belly where one half of a pop-stud blinks seductively at you and you realise there's been a pop-stud wife-swap and the ugly one has ended up on its own. Even getting him undressed is difficult - some of these studs are like super-glue and take forever to get apart. Even the French haven't gotten this one right, the pop-stud lobby group is clearly international.

The mystery bit is that there are plenty of other fasteners on the market. Why not short ribbons that can tie at his sides? Why not velcro for crying out loud? He's got a little wrist-rattle which secures with the softest, most delicate velcro you've ever seen (which doesn't seem to catch on other fabrics). Why can't we have that sewn into his clothes? Just run your finger up the gap and hey presto - clothes fastened.

In fact, why have fasteners at all? Anyway 'fasten' is a bit of a mis-nomer as it's actually quicker to pull a pair of elasticated trousers over his legs then it is to pop all those studs. And since we're pulling things over his head anyway... t-shirts will do just fine thank you, I just need some first-class bears on that envelope neck.