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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.