I’m back, by popular request (well, one request anyway)

One of my friends has recently announced her second pregnancy almost ten years after the birth of her first child.

“I’m not worried about childbirth, sleepless nights or starting all over again with a baby,” she told me, “what I can’t face is the bloody Mother and Baby group again.”

It brought it all back in hideous technicolour.

Twenty women leaking hormones in a draughty church hall with only a packet of shortbread, a leaflet on meningitis and their howling, shitting, puking babies for entertainment; you think it’ll be a place to share stories and swap advice, you discover rapidly that it’s actually a place for Lottie to boast about the clockwork regularity of Merlin’s poo.

Mother and Baby groups are, in fact, one of the most compelling reasons to be born a man, alongside periods, sports bras and netball.

When I had my first child, I made the mistake of going to several such meetings, the high point of which were a grim session where our babies were weighed by a hatchet-faced crone who looked at you accusingly if your baby hadn’t put on “enough” weight.

In between weighing sessions and tear-soaked mobile phone conversations to our partners about being inadequate because little Tarquin had only put on three ounces instead of four, we ruthlessly competed to see which of us had the best baby.

I say “we”, I mean “them”. I didn’t need to compete – I had the best baby.

There is a certain kind of mother who always manages to convince herself that her child is “exceptionally gifted”, despite all evidence to the contrary.

You can spot them a mile off: prone to wearing Birkenstocks, spent her early 20s travelling in India and the next 15 years banging on about it, uses organic tampons, drinks herbal “infusions” and spends a fortune on dressing her kids like miniature Greenham Common protesters.

Little Raphael may only be three years old, but  his paintings are already reminiscent of Matisse’s early work. Jocasta has been reading Trollope since she was 18 months old. Felix the baby sees dead people. 


Ok, write this down. He says to increase our investment-grade corporate bond exposure, but that equities represent a stronger return profile over the longer term.

Ok, write this down. He says to increase our investment-grade corporate bond exposure, but that equities represent a stronger return profile over the longer term.

To the outside world – with their untrained eyes – Raphael, Jocasta and Felix are crashingly dull, ordinary, average and normal; to their mother, they represent a trifold manifestation of the second coming. 

Such people, as Vic Reeves used to say, could never let it lie.

If your baby was crawling, theirs was Riverdancing and competing at a county level in the 100m. If your baby had just started eating rusks, theirs were eating bruschetta and asking for stuffed vine leaves. If your baby was saying “Dada”, theirs was quoting Chaucer and pointing out spelling mistakes in the Guardian.

In a very short space of time, I realised that the Mother and Baby group was only serving to make me bitter because my daughter wasn’t bilingual, suggesting uses for the unidentifiable produce in organic vegetable boxes or playing the harp. 

Not even my assertion that she had cornered the market in producing textbook “up the back” nappies, explosive creations which leaked from nappy to hairline and required an entire bottle of baby bath to remedy, was enough to impress my peers.

Unable to compete any longer, I stopped going and from then on had no idea what my child weighed (although she felt heavy enough when I had to physically remove her from the crisp aisle after an incident at the Quavers section in the supermarket some months later).

After a few minutes reminicing about the fun we’d had at Mother and Baby groups, my friend swiftly decided that this time round she’d shun the weekly humiliation at any such covens of competitiveness.

There are some very sensitive digital scales at supermarkets these days – and none are operated by a judgemental harridan with a face like a lemon (or if they are, it’s because the aforementioned face belongs to you).

**** Apologies for my prolonged absence from the coalface. It’s been a mother (and baby group) of a week and there are still many more words to write before I can relax this weekend. Sometimes I think being a reporter is the hardest job in the world. Way harder than sulphur mining, for example. ****


24 Responses to “I’m back, by popular request (well, one request anyway)”

  1. April 25, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    I have a theory, WiB.

    It goes a little like this:

    Woman’s first child is the most important child in the history of the world. Ever!
    This child’s coming will be heralded with lots of shitty books, meetings, classes, speeches, conversations, etc. This child shall be wrapped in swaddling designer clothes and laid in an expensive manger.

    Woman’s second child is important but only if it turns out to be a different sex from the first and therefore different enough to warrant the pain and suffering. If it turns out to be ‘the same’ it gets put in the corner. This child will have more freedom and be allowed sneeze without being rushed to the emergency ward for treatment.

    Woman’s third child is unimportant and was ‘created’ purely out of frustation at getting older and wanting to ensure that she’s got her ‘money’s worth’ of children.
    Third and subsequent children are like crappy ornaments – nobody likes them or cares what happens with them. Long ago given up hope of any children becoming useful.
    They end up wearing the shitty, torn, out of date designer clothing of the first and second child.

    I expect to be whipped for this by pregnant women….and over-sensitive males.

  2. April 25, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    “you think it’ll be a place to share stories and swap advice” I would think it would be a time to wait for Virgil and Dante to walk through the door.

    You were missed.

  3. April 25, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Oh dear God…yet more blathering about babies. (Not to mention you ruined a hot Asian chick photo by making her fat).

    Babies are horrible. They do nothing and look hideous. They should all be kept out of sight on a farm until they are at least 5. That’s when they start to have some value.

  4. April 25, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    JB – the proof is in the photo albums. Child one: pictures of absolutely everything: first smile, bath, meal, fart etc etc. From child two onwards, barely any pictures at all. You’re too tired to unscrew the lens cap by then.

    Gryph – Dante and Virgil: don’t go giving those middle-class mothers any more ideas for names. Actually, I know two Dantes. The mind boggles.

    TL – I am a woman. I am duty bound to blather about babies. You’re lucky I haven’t done a period post. Yet.

    • April 25, 2009 at 5:07 pm

      Yes, Europeans and American Hillbillies for some reason have a similar fondness for Mediterranean names. Not a lot of Dantes in the States as far as I know, but Virgils abound. (“Virgils Abound,” btw, is the working title of my next Musical Comedy.)

  5. April 25, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    I think all my children are third children, since I’ve done absolutely nothing about documenting their existence and I mostly let them do their own thing. I like to think I’m raising independent thinkers, since their mom is so bizarre and misguided it’s rare to have anything so normal as a mommy meeting on the calender.

    Here in the states, they are all about feeding baby organic foods, avoiding plastic, and making sure you wear them in a sling until they graduate from law school. I’m not against any of those things, but the pressure to conform! Good god, just give me a bottle of wine. It’s enough to make me want to start smoking again.

  6. April 25, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Virgil is, I think, a step too far. I speak as a former classics student who was bored to death by his witterings.

    barelyknittogether, I’m with you. I dropped off one of mine to a sleepover the other day and the parent asked what ‘rules’ I had about wii playing and television. I said I let them do both freely until it looked as if their brain was frying, at which point I sent them to bed. She said: ‘I’ll let them have half an hour of each’. Ye Gods.

  7. April 25, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    “A beetle is beautiful to its mother”. That is the truism I use to get proud mothers to can it.

  8. 9 Dee
    April 25, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Good to have you back. Only I didn’t wish it would be to drown my desire to have babies… sigh.

    Being a Hindu, and having never mothered a prodigy so far, I am not aware of any Mother and Baby meetings in my community; but you cannot miss those proud distant relatives of second cousins who’re always kind enough to let you a free viewing of their baby’s special talents – pointing at the right part of the body.

    “Where is Sona’s nose?” Clap clap.
    “Where is Sona’s head?” Clap clap.
    “Where is Sona’s daddy?… Not that one honey, the official one…”

  9. April 25, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    GB – I shall remember that one. A double whammy: a truism AND a covert put-down of the baby. Result!

    Dee – don’t be put off having babies. They are marvellous. It’s their friends’ parents who are a gigantic pain in the butt.

  10. April 25, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    see? abstinence isn’t such a stupid idea.

  11. April 25, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    I had a friend tell me that his five-year-old son’s paintings captured the allegorical qualities of a real artist’s brush strokes. “And all done in crayons!” Then he showed me a sample. I think it was a drawing of a sun with a smiley face. I said, “Wow, this is a statement of emotional turmoil and dispassionate anxiety.” It didn’t go over very well.

  12. 13 pinnythewu
    April 25, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Yay! You’re back!

  13. April 25, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    As the father of 2.5 children, here’s what I know about raising kids:

    That being said, I often am invited to various social events which I turn down because I do not have a babysitter available. They often say, “Bring the kids,” which only means that I’ll spend my time watching my children in an unfamiliar environment.

    It’s not that I’m afraid that my children will be worse than the other children, it’s just that I’m pretty sure they won’t be any better. So, a nice social event is now mostly ruined by a few well-meaning parents who let their kids play under the table and rifle through others’ possessions while they take advantage of the open bar.

    And those few parents who had the foresight to coerce a local teen into watching their misfits (with piles of cash and vague threats to forward the teen’s myspace page to their parents)are now forced to cope with other unattended children instead.

    And as for the overacheiving parental units, enjoy your kids and their second languages and their ability to order “off the menu” at age four. I’m sure there’s a good reason you named them Vicarious (Dean’s List, president of school co-op) and Proxy (freshman starter for football, basketball and street luge teams).

  14. April 26, 2009 at 12:08 am

    WIB — This post was brilliant. I gave up on mommy groups last summer. True, the constant comparisons were a bore and a cause for needless worry, but for me it was more about the mothers’ incessant intervention in their children’s “doings.” Overparenting should be a crime. When it comes to my sons, I only get involved if somebody is about to be asphyxiated or harpooned.

    Today I had a party at a bowling alley for my five-year-old son. Astoundingly, every parent and child there (most of whom I did not know) were as shockingly average and laid back as me and my kids. Hope springs eternal.

    barelyknittogether — I did start smoking again (everyone calm down — not in the house and not when they’re awake). I definitely don’t recommend it — seriously, I don’t — but it does somehow make everything more bearable. Any suggestions for a replacement vice?

  15. April 26, 2009 at 3:36 am

    Somehow I managed to miss those sweet mother/child-mother/child reunions, not on purpose mind you but perhaps in hindsight I had a sense of what I was gaining.. er, I mean missing. My baby was skinny, not an ounce of “baby fat: from the get-go, I surely would have been made a mockery of.

  16. April 26, 2009 at 7:33 am

    Is a breastfeeding post in the offing?

  17. April 26, 2009 at 8:59 am

    BD – I discovered that. Two kids down the line.

    Alantru – all children’s art is rubbish. My favourite of my son’s was a huge, foot long turd. Sorry, I mean ‘sausage’. It’s on the wall. In the bathroom, of course.

    PtW – You better believe it, baby.

    CLT – Don’t get me started on parents that lug their kids along to social events. Normally I find myself looking after said kids when the parents show blithe indifference to their offspring eating cigarette butts and creating towers out of wine glasses. The deal is that kids get the daytime, grown-ups get the night-time.

    Ana – overparenting is a crime against nature. How are they going to learn that the oven is hot until they’ve half-baked their heads? I have found parents of my kids’ friends to be by far the most vexatious part of having children. Some of them shouldn’t have a goldfish, let alone a child.

    Barelyknittogether – that’s how this whole parenting thing began in the first place. Apparently you can get pregnant if you do it standing up in the shower. They could have told me.

    1writegirl – Oh yeah, my group would have hounded you down like a dog for not having a baby that precisely stuck to the weight chart averages.

    Fundamentaljelly – you sound hopeful…Actually, I kept my nips to myself. The very idea caused me mental anguish. Write a post like that, and I’ll have the tit police hunting for me day and night. Which is why I may do it some day. Bring it on, breast Nazis!

  18. April 26, 2009 at 10:06 am

    “…pointing out spelling mistakes in the Guardian.”

    Oh, come on! Let’s have something at least a little challenging.

  19. April 26, 2009 at 10:58 am

    You’re right, NobblySan. Although I’d like to point out that my children starting writing for the Guardian in the womb. Not that I’m competing or anything.

  20. April 26, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    @ fundamentaljelly : “Is a breastfeeding post in the offing?”

    – Yeah, what that guy said!

    Whatever happens to babies anyways?
    You never see much of them after a certain time period. They just kinda ….vanish…

    Do they return to where they came from?

  21. April 27, 2009 at 10:24 am

    I want to host an ante natal group giving mothers-to-be advice on how to give birth to a homosexual. I’m not 100% sure how I managed it but he was conceived on satin sheets and I spent the next 9 months eating Cherry Ripe bars so that may be the right recipe…..

  22. April 27, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    A. What is a netball?

    B. I was the last kid so there is a picture of me that the hospital took when I was born and the next one was a year later that they took at Sears (b/c my siblings were getting theirs taken too) My siblings all had bunch of pics during that first year so I kept asking my mom if I was adopted.

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