Friday, 24 February 2012

The portable baby

Today is going well.  Surprisingly well. 

 Suspiciously well. 

I have yet to disintegrate into the yelling, sweating, frothing mess that lurks just below the surface of the organised, calm veneer I occasionally attempt to put on.

 In fact, this week hasn't been too bad at all.  Perhaps karma is paying me back for the last couple of Thursdays which have passed into legend as The Day From Hell and Broken-Toe Thursday.  Or perhaps it is just because I have remembered what it was that made life easier when Thomas was small, something that an older friend and mother of two teenage children told me.  Babies are portable - make the most of it.

She was right.  Babies are surprisingly portable, once you strip away all the unwieldy equipment that Mothercare and its co-conspirators would like to convince us we need.  It didn't take long for me to realise that, living in London, a pram had very few benefits other than being a place to put the shopping.  Once I had tipped our Stokke over a few times by doing just that, I decided that this benefit simply wasn't worth enduring the negatives.  Simon was relieved since he had always maintained that the Stokke resembled nothing so much as a bright green Dyson and that he looked thoroughly daft pushing it around south-west London.  We ditched the Dyson in favour of a Kari-me sling and never looked back.  Suddenly the world opened up once again.  I no longer had to plan every shopping trip based on whether there was room to fit a pram between the displays.  I could use the Underground without trying to work out a complex and lengthy route based on the location of lifts.  Bus queues stopped being places of stress and angst where women eyeballed each other menacingly, ready to leap into action and sprint for that coveted buggy-spot. 

The Kari-me went everywhere.  On the beach.  Up the side of a Cumbrian mountain in search of the home of some of my ancestors. 

In short, life went on as normal.  Not quite the same as before Thomas arrived on the scene, but certainly not the logistical nightmare that we had feared it might be.

The Kari-me was gradually replaced by a collection of woven wraps, mainly by the German manufacturers, Didymos, and Thomas moved onto my back, much to the horror of the local elderly ladies who seemed convinced that I was doing my best to suffocate/drop/bash my baby.  On one notable occasion I was pursued through Waitrose by a frantic woman, who kept assuring me that he was going to fall out.  "Hold on, baby!" she kept gasping, clutching at him.  Finally, in the cereal aisle I had had enough.  I entirely lost my head and performed a little dance to demonstrate how securely he was fastened on my back.   I suspect that the CCTV tape of that moment is probably played back at staff parties.

 Whatever south-west London thought of the slings, they made my life with one child so much easier than it would otherwise have been.  They featured heavily in our ability to make our complex commuting/living/work arrangements work.  There is simply no way I could have managed a bus/tube/train/bus commute across London with a pram.  With Thomas on my back it became not only do-able, but actually almost enjoyable.  And it wasn’t just in London that the slings proved their usefulness.  Thomas saw the world from my back and, as he grew bigger, from his dad’s much broader shoulders in an Ergobaby. 

And now, with two children, they are coming back into their own once again.  Ben pretty much lives in the sling.  I can sit and type this at softplay while Ben feeds and Thomas plays.  When I inevitably need to go and haul Thomas out of the ball pool where he is hiding and refusing to leave, I won't be looking around for someone to hold the baby.  I can take Thomas to his gym class and have my hands free because Ben can go on my back - although, once again, I am the target of a few horrified looks!  I can be fairly sure of being able to make Thomas's tea during Ben's grumbly time because the sling will work its magic and he will sleep contentedly. 

Whenever I sing the praises of the sling to my colleague, Florence, she falls about laughing.  She is from Ghana where babies are almost all carried about by their mothers, from morning to night.  She is highly entertained by my ongoing astonishment at how easy it makes everyday things.  As far as she is concerned, a sling isn’t the mini-miracle that I paint it to be, it is just a fact of life.  Her response always reminds me of this article about a UK-based Kenyan woman trying out the parenting practices of her parents and grandparents.  Clearly I am not quite up to the level of Kenyan non-crying baby nurturing as Ben does cry.  Loudly and angrily, with a definite undertone of ‘bloody hell, woman, what do I have to do to get a decent meal/change/entertainment round here?’  But put him in the sling and all is right in baby world.

But the sling’s main benefit is that it makes Ben into the ultimate portababy.  It means that I don’t have to sweat about the logistics of herding two children through daily life, I just have to worry about one – albeit one who is capable of producing a level of carnage usually associated only with the arrival of a marauding horde.  I work out the Thomas-logistics – Ben just comes along for the ride, snoozing, feeding, occasionally leaning out backwards to stare about him with his wrinkly-browed look of bemusement, as though he is wondering what all the shouting is about.

Once I discovered slings, I also developed a mild obsession with portable parenting.  All my sewing and craft projects for a while were focussed on how to make getting around even easier.  I discovered that one problem with full-time slinging is that you don’t have anywhere to put the baby down when out and about, should you need to do so.  So I made this – a changing mat with a quilted backing.  Problem solved. 

I then became slightly carried away with my own creative genius and Thomas found that he had more mats of various shapes and sizes than he knew what to do with.  I have considered making some of these mats for craft sales or Etsy, but I suspect that not many people are quite so obsessed with all things portable as I am…….

I have recently become an occasional pram-user once again, having reluctantly accepted that there are times when Thomas is going to need to be transported at a pace faster than the average toddler-perambulation.  I am not the most proficient pram-user.  I run into people and things with tedious regularity.  I hang things on the handles and tip the buggy over.  I have entirely failed to master the art of folding and unfolding without getting down on my hands and knees and yanking on various parts of the chassis while muttering profanities.  I am willing to accept the pram as a necessary evil, but I won’t be giving up the slings any time soon.

Particularly since the day is showing signs of degenerating.  Since I have been typing this post, Thomas has decided that I have had things too easy and is currently sitting in the middle of the soft-play, wailing, removing his socks and using them to wipe snot and dribble from his face.  This is a situation that will almost inevitably end with me tucking him under my arm and carrying him out of here screaming ‘please don’t put me in the boot, mummy’, a line he recently trotted out in front of the health visitor.  Fortunately my hands are free, the baby is contained and I am ready to face the wrath of an over-tired toddler.

Have sling, will win.

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