When I was pregnant I went along to NCT classes and got to know a small group of very nervous, very middle class people with whom I had nothing in common, except the fact that we were all having babies at about the same time.
There was an effort to all stay in touch afterwards, for mutual support I suppose. So once the babies were born and the menfolk were back at work, we women began to meet up once a week. Typically we would attend some god awful baby themed event, (which the babies were indifferent towards at best) followed by a few hours of fascinating baby comparison and analysis in someone’s extremely tasteful living room.
I didn’t last long.
There were a few reasons for this
First, they all seemed to live places completely inaccessible by public transport. Second, I find babies on mass are slightly unnerving and sinister (the dozens of baby eyes peering out of the dark at baby cinema will live with me for a long time!) Third: Even in the short time it took me to bail, things had begun to get a little competitive.
This was most obvious in the hospitality. The last thing I went to: our hostess provided an expensively constructed Jamie Oliver salad; with an air of studied casualness air as if to imply this is how she eats all the time. The time before that, we’d been treated to nibbles, salad and homemade quiche (by someone who’d given birth 2 weeks before!) I contributed a box of Greggs Do-nuts. They ended the day untouched.
But it was also starting to seep into the baby talk.
I could understand it, really I could. These people were new at being mothers, they were keen but they were also scared. They wanted to do everything right. They couldn’t let themselves off the hook for a minute.
There can be a terror to motherhood. The natural desire to protect, set alongside the unpredictability of fate, mixed with exacting and contradictory social expectations.
I went the other way and affected nonchalance. I told myself I wouldn't mind if I couldn't breast feed or if I didn't bond right away. I aimed deliberately low- aspiring to adequate parenting and expecting that to be hard enough.
But deep down I was no more together than they were. The same anxiety was waiting for me. Too much time around it would drag me down there with them. And this, more than anything else is the true reason why I backed away.
Instead of trying to fit in with the mum crowd, I hung out with my existing friends, carried on with my normal life and took my baby to a lot of places babies aren't meant to go.
So Jimmy went to conferences and meetings. He went to the pub and stayed for the lock in. He got passed about in radical book shops and restaurants. He travelled up mountains tucked inside my raincoat and across the country sleeping in my suitcase at night. He developed an almost adult sleeping pattern, midnight to 9.00 am, unhindered by any “bedtime routine”
And everyone said how relaxed I was everything and how little motherhood had changed me. It was a funny kind of non-compliment if you think about it, because in fact being a mother is incredibly important to me.
And then one day, it wasn’t enough. We went to a meeting and he couldn't sit quietly. He began to crawl and started to crack his head against all those chair and table legs that I hadn’t really noticed before but which, in our small living room, are everywhere.
It was time for baby activities. So a few days ago, we went out to Jungle in the City, Partick’s fantastic soft play centre, where he could crawl off in any direction and I could have a cup of tea and a ham sandwich in peace.
|The baby ball pit at Jungle in the City. This is a lot of fun.|
While we were there, I got chatting to another Mum with a baby of the same age. She’d recently moved into the area and was looking for places to take her baby. Reaching back to the last time I thought of such things, I remembered that you could get a list of baby groups from the GP’s surgery.
She was way ahead of me. Her baby already went to Baby massage, sensory play, soft play, bounce and rhyme, swimming. The list goes on. Apparently you “have” to take them to something every day to make sure they get enough stimulation. Oh, and change their toys every two weeks so they don’t get bored.
I looked down at Jimmy, who appeared to be meeting his milestones unassisted by this level of organisation or attention to detail. (Almost as though evolution had primed him to do so)
I looked back at the earnest face before me.
I did what Mumsnet has taught me is the only correct response. Nod and smile. Smile and nod.
“My God” I thought, “here we are again. The baby circuit.”
And even though I have need of it now, and I can acknowledge that: I was so, so grateful to be dealing with it now, with 9 months experience behind me. Not back then: When we were both so vulnerable and new.
And it was in that moment, that I knew for certain:
Fucking off the Baby Circuit was my best goddam parenting decision so far.