Golden Boy has started cruising. If this conjures up images of him cruising with his homies in an approximation of a scene from ‘Pimp My Ride’, I assure you it is nothing remotely like that. Rather, he is making his first tentative steps at navigating his way across any room using the furniture to forge a route and leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.
I am thrilled at his newfound foray into the realm of independence; not least because of the sigh of relief my back is breathing at not having to heave his almost twelve month’s of body weight around in his every waking hour. This is offset slightly by the extra hours spent hunched over retrieving toys and other paraphernalia from nooks and crannies in the house I was previously unaware existed.
Secretly and shamefully, however, I am somewhat wistful for my baby boy. As he takes each more confident step away from me, I feel increasingly redundant. Soon (well, probably not that soon given he is yet to turn one) I will be a discarded crutch with about as much remaining use as firewood.
There are days where, though I never resent my children, I resent the drudgery that now consumes my life as a result of choosing to have children. That is, until my ingratitude slaps me in the face and thoughts of the friend with two failed rounds of IVF under her belt drown me with guilt.
It strikes me that being a mother is a bit Dr Jekyll/ Mr Hyde – we can’t stand the relentless requests and being on call 24/7, tethered by the ball and chain of our children. Yet equally unbearable is the thought of becoming surplus to their requirements. It’s like the proverbial rock and hard place and I am officially stuck.
This article was first published on 20 January 2011 on http://life.hereisthecity.com/2011/01/20/tiger-tiger-shining-bright/
Babybel has started speaking. Well, strictly speaking, not fluent adult-speak per se but rather reiterating any of a dozen words she has mastered in a loud and sometimes nonsensical fashion. Most of her words begin with the letter ‘b’ curiously – bear, ball, bus, bike, balloon, boy – though she has a tendency to drop the b when saying (ba)nana.
She is now en route to deciphering the difference between ‘boy’ and ‘girl (initially all children were indiscriminately labelled ‘boy’), though I am yet to be convinced that her correct labelling is not simply a byproduct of inordinately good guesswork mixed with a good observation of hairstyles (ponytails and/or hairclips = girl; inverse = boy).
This morning as we walked less than a foot behind a woman veering on the hirsute side of humanity, Babybel stretched out her arm, finger pointed, and armed with the confidence of unwavering certainty, declared ‘Man!’ Hoping against hope that the (wo)man was either hard of hearing or at least deaf to the English language, I tried to quieten the over-excited Babybel. Instead, she assumed it was me who was hard of hearing and embarked on a repetitious and really quite loud monologue consisting solely of the word ‘man’, in the manner of a dysfunctional record player.
Grimacing as the woman turned round, I realised Babybel might be more perceptive than I gave her credit for.
Call me a fool for not only entertaining the notion but embarking on the nightmare of flying solo with a 1 year old Baby-Bel on a 12 hour plane journey (followed inexorably, 5 days later, by an even longer 13 hour flight back). Mr A tells me it defies belief that I declined the offer of alcoholic beverages throughout the period of confinement – apparently he would have drunk the cabin dry in order to survive the ordeal.
I recall craving the numbing effects of a vat of wine only once – at the point when we took our seats and having barely clicked closed the seat belt, with Baby-Bel squirming and screaming reluctance at relinquishing her freedom, the occupant of our neighbouring seat had already summoned over cabin crew to demand a change of seat. Crimson-faced and unable to appease a deliberately delinquent equally red-faced Baby-Bel, it was tempting just to disembark and face the prospect of staying long term in Shanghai just to avoid the flight home. As it turned out, our neighbour took his preferred choice to downgrade a cabin class rather than sit alongside us.
Take off and landing aside, the flights though wrist-slashingly arduous, were actually not intolerable. Tears were remarkably few and fellow passengers (and even the pilot) commented on Baby-Bel’s good behaviour – gold stars all round. Providing 10 hours of uninterrupted entertainment for a small child in a confined space is a task few I know would voluntarily choose to undertake. But the few hours when she slept allowed me the privilege to at least pretend to be like all the others around me – transfixed by a small flickering screen of questionable picture quality, while wrapped in a statically charged polyester blanket, eating food that would on land be deemed unfit for the family dog.
Notwithstanding the drama and trauma of what some have described as self inflicted torture, I am wondering if indeed I don’t prefer that turbulence to my current surrounding state of calm. I have realised that life is not worth living without a challenge, adventure, seeing and being. It has been so long – too long – that the default easy option of habitual comfort and fear of rocking the ritualised baby routine has morphed into lazy listlessness. So much so that blindness to the beyond had set in and settled.
The mini adventure Baby-Bel and I embarked on was worth every tedious airborne minute. Because that is the other thing that dawned on me as I stared blankly at my flickering screen and prodded at my dodgy tray of airline delicacies with a plastic fork: life is meaningless without people we love. The world is a big place – as I’m sure Francis Drake would attest to. Family and friends are scattered too far. To those in Shanghai – you know who you are – we wish you were closer. We miss you.
While juggling with a 9 pack of loo roll falling out the back of the buggy; a screaming Baby-Bel engaged in a wrestling match with her rain cover; MiL (mother in law) on the phone making arrangements for a 90th birthday celebration and shopping bags in both hands, I came face to face with the ultimate insult. A cashier with clearly little else to occupy her time summoned me over (yes – she actually said, ‘Come over here’, in the assumed persona of a strict school marm).
For a scary second I thought I was experiencing the beginning of the process of prosecution for shop lifting – the thought closely following was that I don’t have child care so who will assume the role of slave to Baby-Bel while I am undergoing my persecution by the law. But no – a swift rewind and fast forward of my previous 30 minutes reveals no need to panic – every item is paid and accounted for. We didn’t break anything or sneakily put back on the shelves any crushed/ torn/ nibbled at items.
So what does she want? Instinct tells me to run – the last time anyone issued a summons like that was at school and it spelt inevitable trouble ahead. Obviously, I can’t confess to having been on the receiving end of it but witnessing it aplenty is enough to make me shift uncomfortably. Curiosity gets the better of me. Plus it’s hard to make a quick getaway with a laden down buggy in tow, like a morose mule. I’m still puzzled. She gestures to the packet of batteries Baby-Bel has developed an inseparable attachment to over the last few minutes. Relieved, I’m about to tell her they’ve been paid for as the receipt will testify. But before I even get started, she says threateningly, ‘Take that packet of batteries away from your child – she might eat them’.
I am positively affronted by her implication that I am irresponsible, stupid, or lacking in concern for my own child – or indeed all three. Stunned by the brazen and uninvited assault on my maternal abilities I mumble something apologetic and stumble to snatch the offending item from Baby-Bel’s grasp. Needless to say, she starts screaming even louder than earlier and I make my hasty retreat towards a walk of shame out the door.
The fact is the batteries were fully encased in their packaging and I never let her out of my sight AND my child is not one prone to sticking indiscriminate objects into her mouth. Though I admit it’s unlikely to be a contender in ELC’s top toy hitlist any time soon.
It occurs to me that being a parent leaves one in the position of a sitting target for uninvited criticism and comment from any coincidental passerby. Indeed my child rearing skills may leave a lot to be desired but show me a perfect parent and I’ll eat that 8 pack of Duracell myself.