I’m the quiet storm (Mobb Deep)

Last week we went to see my parents back up t’north.  It was just lovely to be welcomed back into the warmth of the familial bosom, and I am not going to lie, it was even better to have someone else clean the high chair (the high chair is officially my nemesis, constantly crusted in the concrete that is dried Weetabix).  But what wasn’t so good about being with the ‘rentals was that they couldn’t pick Bella up and cuddle her any more.  In the six weeks since they last saw her she’s developed full on stranger danger and separation anxiety.  My parents aren’t complete strangers, but they live so far away that they are definitely on the “stranger spectrum.” So every time they tried to lift her she would look back at me with confusion brimming in her eyes and then switch to full on red-browed squall within moments.  This is sad for them, as they just want to shower her with affection, especially my Dad, who turns from gruff northern gent into PUDDLE OF GOO whenever Bella smiles.

 

I have found separation anxiety really hard to deal with over the last couple of months even though I know it is JUST A PHASE and I know it won’t last forever.  Part of this is frustration that it’s so traumatic to hand her over to other people, when she used to be so happy to be passed like a parcel around a group of big cooing adult faces.  People don’t seem to be very understanding of this behaviour in a baby. Some take it as a challenge.  It’s like when you go out with a playa and you think you will be THE one to change him. “He just hasn’t met the right girl,” you say as he tries it on with every Lycra clad vagina in the immediate vicinity. People also think they will be THE one to change Bella, THE one she won’t cry on, so they keep on trying to pick her up. And trying.  It turns into the oh-so-fun game of who can make my baby cry the most.  Or they back off so fast they trip over their own feet, with a look of horror in their eyes, like she is a wild mustang to be feared, and ask me if she’s always been this difficult and clingy.

 

The separation anxiety has also made me start to ask what kind of person Bella will become, and wonder if she will be introverted or shy.  Now, there is NOTHING wrong with this, nothing at all, but I am nervous because I used to be introverted and found it very difficult.  “WHAT?” I hear those who know me cry. “Introverted!  YOU? You could talk wallpaper off the wall.” And that is true now, but this wasn’t always the case.

 

When I was at school I was a figure of fun. Why?  Well, because kids can be mean and I gave them plenty of fodder, a) I was aggressively tall and skinny, all elbows and knees, with snooker player spectacles (prompting the nickname “stick insect”), b) I had a MULLET and I only washed it once a week if it was lucky (prompting the nickname “chip pan head” and c) I was introverted…and introverted was always said as if it was a VERY BAD THING.  At one point my teachers even had a quiet word with my parents about this.  So it always seemed to me that my self-contained way of dealing with the world was just wrong, and that I should be trying harder to pass myself off as an extrovert.  All this pressure was dumped on a poor adolescent riddled in hormones who looked like a cross between Billy Ray Cyrus and Timmy Mallet.

 

mullet
Chip Pan head in action

 

Over time I learned to adapt and change how I interacted with the world (and lost the mullet), but the idea that being quiet is a stigma has stayed with me.  Even now I find it hard to leave my entire personality spread eagled on the table at first meet.  So with this pedigree I worry about Bella.  I keep descending down my own private ‘what if’ rabbit hole.  What if she can’t talk to anyone at school, has no mates, and spends her time locked in her room listening to mournful EMO music, with too much eyeliner on, wearing waistcoats with small mirrors sewn onto them (flashback alert)? What if she LIKES REM??  What if she ends up getting called Big Bella?  I mean she’s going to be tall with us as parents.  You can’t fight genes.  What if she never leaves her own bed,not even for custard creams, having to be winched out aged 30 as I look on wringing my hands, clutching my pearls and wailing “if only…”

 

Before I reach for the gin (read as I reach for the gin), I need to have a strong talk with myself.  Why does it matter, so what if she is quiet?  Apparently over a third of the population are introverts.  Not only that, we need introverts.  They are some of the most creative and powerful people driving society forwards, and that’s a whole different blog post in itself.  Whatever Bella ends up becoming, all I can do is support her and love her.  I will save her from strangers until she is cool with them again.  And I pledge now to never make her feel wanting or guilty for how she is.  Unless she is listening to REM, then judgement will be passed and words will be had.

 

(PS. Try reading Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’)

Summer, summer, summertime (DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince)

So it seems that the great British summertime, that fickle friend, may finally have arrived. I say this whilst crossing all my digits, as I am well aware that in the UK we can go from bikinis to galoshes in the space of 24 hours (obviously I will not be wearing a bikini. No one deserves to see that. There isn’t enough mind bleach in existence to erase such an image).  So as the mercury hits 24 degrees I have unveiled my pallid, nay blue flesh. My legs look like uncooked turkey thighs complete with thickets of unshaved hair.  Despite my hirsute unreadiness I have always LOVED summers and I particularly enjoy them in London.  They are so very different to the summers of my ‘youf’ spent up t’north.

In SW17 you know summer has landed when you head to the common and there are a wealth of neon inflatable chairs, far too many people playing that inexplicable game where you lob sticks at other sticks and some dude flying a drone, who you suspect is somehow looking up girls’ skirts.  In Blackpool we knew summer had arrived when we got sent to Gran’s house to play next to the canal with the feral cats whilst she cooked us liver and chips in Trex followed by a generous helping of Neapolitan ice cream. And maybe if we were lucky after all that we got a trip to Kwik Save followed by a game of Spot The Ball.

Summer with a baby is fraught with all sorts of new conundrums. Foremost amongst them is protecting Bella from the sun. Being out in it is fine for my chamois leather skin (when I am proper old I want to resemble a shrivelled tan handbag) but she must be shielded at all costs from the FIREY ORB. Added to that she has a vampiric reaction to sunshine, shrinking back in her pram seat, squeezing her eyes shut and growling like an angry Shih Tzu. Growing up in the 1980s we had a somewhat laissez-faire attitude to being in the sun. My parents used to lather themselves up with sunflower oil and vinegar before hitting the beach; yes they were one piece of tinfoil away from actually frying themselves. Sun tan cream was for pussies. We even had a sunbed in THE HOUSE. Once on a family holiday to Spain I burnt my shins so badly I could see my face in them. I am determined this fate will not befall Bella, so I smother her in layers of Factor 50 until she looks luminous. Her big-gal pram also has a woefully inadequate sunshade (it seems to cover her forehead and that’s about your lot) so I end up darting swiftly from shadow to shadow like I am the only player in some weird, shade hunting game. When we go on holiday and it gets even hotter I am going to have to pour her into a head-to-toe wetsuit, like a neoprene baby ninja.

As well as what to dress Bella in, another issue is what on earth to dress my post partum body in when the sun comes out. Straight after having Bella I lost loads of weight quickly as the water left my body and I deflated like a sad lilo at the end of the holidays. But then I reached equilibrium and since then I can’t seem to shift the post labour “gunt” (an unholy union of gut and… yep, I don’t have to say it), a wobbly, pendulous, needs vacuum packing into jeans, gunt. What to dress this new body part in when the temperature soars is a problem. Thus far my answer has been dungarees and I own ten near identical pairs with varying leg lengths. I basically have the wardrobe of a 90s children’s TV presenter. I half expect Ed the Duck to launch out of my closet every time I open it to bemoan my lack of sartorial choice. I tried to buy a playsuit, the slightly flashier cousin of the dungaree, to hilariously awful results. I ended up looking like a big fat baby with a camel’s hoof.

summer dressing
The only dress I have found that successfully conceals the ‘gunt’

Then there is summer’s rampant insect population, all of which seem to make a beeline (see what I did there) for Bella. The worst are those limp bluebottles the size of baby birds who act like they have had a few too many tequilas, crashing into everything and sliding to the floor in a heap. And then there are the bees. We have all seen My Girl. Macaulay Culkin’s character was killed BY A BEE. Our flat also seems to have been hit by a coordinated attack from a moth army, who, when not eating holes in my favourite items of clothing, are leaping out from behind the nursery curtains, flapping their massive moth wings with what seems like gusto and scaring the bejesus out of me. This all means constant vigilance when it comes to protecting Bella from these vicious and ubiquitous creatures. (Thank god I am not raising a baby in Australia, or somewhere with ACTUAL insects, I would probably lose my mind.)

So although I bloody love summer, I fear that I may spend this year in a state of high alert, ready to leap into action. Ready to apply sun cream, dive for the shade or defend from rogue insects at any given moment. Summer, summer, summertime, time to sit back and unwind? Not so much.

 

bella in the grass
Grass…fraught with danger…it gets in the mouth…it conceals a hostile insect population

 

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