Squeezed Middle: The milestones that passed me by

I knew all along that Moe was beautiful, of course I did. It’s just that a lot of things were obscuring my view.

It’s 10am and I’m snuggled up in the big double bed with Moe. If there is anything better in life than having a little morning nap with a lovely warm, squidgy baby in your arms, I’d like to know what it is. Outside, it is grey and cold but I don’t mind. It makes being here in bed all the nicer.

I open my eyes so I can drink in Moe’s sleeping face. It is the vision of a soul at peace: his eyelids are perfectly still, his forehead smooth. His arms and legs are thrown out wide, like a tiny skydiver. I wish I could sleep like he does. There are a lot of things that adults could learn from babies, if only we didn’t keep insisting it should be the other way around.

The problem is that to learn them you have to be patient and you can’t be distracted. I am very impatient and always distracted. If I don’t start paying attention soon, he won’t be a baby any more and then it will be too late.

Poor Moe. He’s been the calm in the eye of the storm over the past few months. It’s only now I have calmed down a bit that I can see it. Curly and I have been whirling around with our worries about money, life and each other. Larry has been whirling around with his scooter and his Tree Fu Tom martial-arts routines.

And all the while Baby Moe has been quietly, unobtrusively learning how to live in the world. All those milestones that I made a huge song and dance over with Larry – his first solid food, first tooth, first crawl – have slightly passed me by this time around.

Perhaps that’s partly why I enjoy our naps so very much. They are my new guilty pleasure. Larry is now going to nursery every morning, which means that while Moe is asleep I potentially have a whole hour every day in which I do not have to look after any children at all.

I have made many, many plans for that hour. I am going to completely redesign the garden, for a start. Paint the front door. Do a thorough comparison of prices at Ocado, Sainsbury’s and Asda. Oh yes. And, of course, make a start on the novel . . .

Every day as I walk back home after dropping off Larry, I run through my to-do list in my head. By the time I open the front door I am so exhausted from thinking about it that I need a little rest. So, I have a cup of hot chocolate, put on my tracky bottoms and then Moe and I get into bed.

The thing about having been through the Tunnel of Doom is that, once you emerge, everything looks better and brighter than it ever did before. I knew all along that Moe was beautiful, of course I did. It’s just that a lot of things were obscuring my view.

Now he’s here, right in front of me. I reach out and stroke his perfect, plump cheek. His eyelid flickers. I draw my hand back – I don’t want to wake him up. I lean in so close to him that I can feel his wispy baby hair against my lips. “I’m sorry, Moe,” I whisper, so gently it’s almost just a breath. “I’m so sorry, my darling.”

 

Is there anything better than napping with a warm, squidgy baby? Image: Getty

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 07 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The last days of Nelson Mandela

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle