If middle-class babies could talk, what would they say to their parents?
Were I such a baby, there are a few things I’d like to chat through. First, clothes. When it’s just us at home, I am perfectly sensibly dressed in stretchy, comfy, all-in-one baby outfits. No waistbands, loopholes, epaulets, belts or extraneous buttons. Perfect. Then there’s a social engagement and I am suddenly kitted out like a Ralph Lauren mannequin. Those buttoned shirts, faux-cords and sleeveless jumpers – everything collects and gathers in inconvenient ways around my arm-pits. Might look nice enough from your perspective but very restrictive of my new rolling technique.
Food. I don’t like avocado. More generally, can’t we relax about food, just a tiny bit? I’ve got my whole life to fondle aubergines at Waitrose and worry about sourcing and organic credentials. In the meantime, how about a nice rusk? Overhearing my menu, you’d think I was having lunch in a Michelin-starred restaurant. You also imagine I’ve got a rather more precise memory for food than I do. The fact I ate a slice of pear 28 hours ago doesn’t mean I don’t want another one now. Don’t change a winning formula, I say. Having spoken to Granny, I gather your generation ate pretty much exclusively Frosties sprinkled with extra sugar until you were 13. So are you absolutely certain about this diet-IQ correlation that’s currently touring the Sunday supplements?
Why do you guys find it impossible to make even short journeys in the car without packing the entire house into the boot and back seat? Acres of books, stacks of toys, bath seats, my activity gym, high chairs, enough monitors to supply the SAS, various beakers and several allegedly sleep-inducing blankets. No wonder I’m feeling claustrophobic. You’re indulging the neurosis of control. Mummy and Daddy convince themselves that if they do X, Y and Z – after all, it worked once before – then I’ll definitely fall into line in the future. Pure narrative fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc. I’m a lot more contrary than you give me credit for. Even sensing the existence of a long-term plan – a military-style operation with my co-operation at the heart of it – sends me cheerily in the opposite direction.
When you’re next invited to a social engagement that you’d rather miss, try to be honest about it and say, “Sorry, no.” I resent being used as a dinner-party avoidance strategy. You say, “We’d love to come, of course, but sadly it’s proving impossible to arrange childcare.” Really? Exactly how many babysitting options have you tried to make this work? Man up.
Teething. What’s so bad about admitting that I’m not always in a brilliant mood? Like everyone else, I have good days and bad days. This has nothing to do with my teeth. Yes, emerging teeth are uncomfortable. But as a causal explanation, it is being rather stretched. Can’t you rummage around for another excuse or two to explain away my latest tantrum? Long before I’d sprouted any teeth, “teething” was being trotted out to justify even blatant attention-seeking. I like a good excuse as much as the next person but can’t we just accept the occasional mood swing?
Calpol. It tastes fantastic. Works a treat. Helps me to sleep. All round, it’s a winner. It’s the pre-Calpol debate that bores me. Same every time: should we, shouldn’t we, didn’t we last night, isn’t there a hint of a dependency culture, what about his little liver . . . blah blah? Just pass the syringe, dispense the dope and spare me the guilt. After all, I’m teething.
Other children. Why this presumption that I will be pleased to see other children? It’s baffling. They’re self-absorbed, attention-seeking and unforgivably uninterested in me and my inner life, so what’s to like about other children? I much prefer the pandering attentiveness of multiple adults. The presence of rival children reduces the staff-baby ratio most uncomfortably.
I’m with Philip Larkin, who said he had initially thought he didn’t like people in general, then he realised he just hadn’t liked other children. How much clearer can I be? I’ve tried hair-pulling, eye-gouging, ear-tugging and general bullying but still you insist that it’s a ham-fisted effort to make friends. Nope. Trying to get rid of them.
Apparently, someone called George is doing similar kinds of things to me right now. Why should I be interested? Never met him, though he is doubtless quite like all the other children I’ve recently poked in the eye.
I’m also rather tired of being used as an excuse for unfulfilled parental creativity, as though if I wasn’t around you would inevitably be writing Anna Karenina. I blame Cyril Connolly and his convenient little aphorism, “There is no more sombre enemy of great art than the pram in the hallway.” (Good book, though, so do read the other chapters of Enemies of Promise.) Perhaps the problem, Cyril, is always leaving the pram in the hallway. There’s nothing I like more than being wheeled outside, into city parks and along country lanes, during which time I invariably fall deeply asleep for an hour or two.
What more do you want? You get to claim the domestic moral high ground – pulling your weight on the parenting front – while actually drifting off into your own creative space. Nope, sorry, look elsewhere for your excuses. After all, J K Rowling and J G Ballard were both single parents.
Do pass me a rusk on the way through the hallway.
Ed Smith’s latest book is “Luck: a Fresh Look at Fortune” (Bloomsbury, £8.99)