People love babies, don’t they? And what’s not to love? For starters, they can’t talk. A baby isn’t going to drain the life out of you with several minutes of inane conversation. It’ll probably just sick-up some milk on your shoe and then nonchalantly crawl away. Also, they’ve got low entertainment thresholds. Adults are notoriously difficult to impress, but you can usually send a baby into nappy-shitting hysterics with some basic gurning and self-abuse, like maybe hitting yourself in the head with the receiver of a Fisher-Price telephone.
Of course, babies are also adorably cute. You could probably send a mother with a carrycot into a Taliban-held compound in Afghanistan, and before long the insurgents would be completely pacified and playing peek-a-boo behind each other’s beards. Babies bring people together, and make us all talk a bit funny as well (hewwo widdle baba!).
They also have that distinctive ‘baby smell’. It’s the kind of aroma I’d happily fill my lungs with during my morning commute to work, if it were legal (and in no way morally reprehensible) for me to buy a baby from Halford’s and dangle it from my car’s rear view mirror. A pleasant alternative to my Magic Tree (until it craps purée all over my centre console).
So I think we can all agree: babies are great.
Up until a few years ago I was dead against having children. It wasn’t that I was anti-babies as such, I just didn’t feel grown up enough to be responsible for anyone other than myself. There was also the state of the world to consider. I couldn’t knowingly bring a child into a world where there was war and destruction, George W. Bush, detention and torture, George W. Bush, tube trains and buses exploding, George W. Bush, and any number of deadly pathogens that could potentially ravage the world’s population (like SARS and Bernard Matthews Flu).
However, I’m now at an age when most people I know are either on the verge of trying for a baby or already have miniature, dribbling versions of themselves lying about the place. And as I’ve now largely got over my refusal to procreate in a world of violence, greed and injustice, I’m fairly sure I’ll be joining them sometime before I hit 40. My concerns about the state of the world – even though it’s still a rough old place – have since given way to general curiosity about having and raising children. I have questions.
For instance, I’ve always been curious about people’s reactions to the birth of their child. I mean, when fathers witness the miracle of childbirth, are they simply overwhelmed with emotion and intense feelings of love? Or do the odd few have a rare moment of clarity, when their faculties suddenly return, and they think: “Shit. I think my baby might be ugly. It looks a bit like Paul Daniels with a pair of sheer tights pulled over his face. They’re pulling Paul Daniels out of my wife’s vagina! Help!“.
Are parents pre-programmed to adore their newborn offspring regardless? Or do they sometimes fake their exhausted smiles, while they contemplate asking the doctor to continue rummaging around until he delivers something cutesier (perhaps with smaller ears and more of a button nose).
Another thing I wonder about is how easy it is for mothers (or “carers” if you want something non-gender specific) to lose their inhibitions and cynicism after having a baby. For instance, it now seems de rigueur for new parents to take their child to a plethora of activity and development groups, such as ‘Jolly Babies’, which cultivates early social skills, speech development, baby and parent bonding, and rhythm and co-ordination, through music. (Alternatively, there’s ‘Bauer Babies’, which teaches hand-to-hand combat, counterterrorism and weapons handling – to a backdrop of nursery rhymes and aromatherapy.)
From what I can glean, ‘Jolly Babies’ seems like the kind of activity where parents have to leave their cynicism at the door and just surrender to the happy-clappiness of it all. But I’ve wondered lately just how easy that is to do. Going from a regular ‘no baby’ situation – with all your inhibitions and cynicism intact – to singing alliterative gibberish in a roomful of strangers, is a massive leap. How is it done?
Only a few weeks ago a friend of mine was telling me about her time at ‘Jolly Babies’, when she suddenly started singing a song from a recent class she’d been to (it was a bit like watching someone performing an overly enthusiastic rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ for a trigger-happy dictator). There wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with that. It was just that, as I know her to be a wonderfully cynical person with a rapier-like wit (she’s extremely funny), I was sort of weirdly shocked to see her singing a song – like a proper mum – without adding what a load of old bollocks it all was.
But I suppose if she can park her cynicism and just get on with it, then maybe there’s hope for me when I have children. I might even be able to resist the urge to turn off Mr Tumble on CBeebies’ Something Special and sit my baby down in front of Question Time or 6Music instead. Maybe.
Anyway, like I said, I love babies. What’s that? You do too, but you couldn’t eat a whole one. Very funny. Kids love that.