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.