Those mornings brought my mother and me so close. It was wonderful to have someone to share it with, someone who actually got it, and wasn’t just listening to be polite, while furtively scanning the room for a gun to blow their heads off. I’ve seen that glazed look in people’s eyes when I talk about my children. At first I felt bad about it, all awkward and embarrassed to be boring them. Not anymore. These days my approach is: I’ll gush if I want and you just try and stop me. If you don’t like it, please feel free to bugger off. Hey, two times natural childbirth with zero painkillers – I’ve earned my bragging rights, I’d say. I reckon all mothers should be permitted a certain amount of free swanking about our offspring.
Parental swank should be legalised, of course. But until then, allow me to offer some tips to ensure that you still have one or two friends left by the time your child is out of nappies.
Slightly Yummy Mummy’s Guide to Getting Your Gush On While Steering Clear of Social Suicide
Tip #1 Be cool when talking to other parents. Of course it’s obvious that your baby is the most beautiful, most talented, most intelligent child to ever walk the earth. I know this and you know this – but be aware that every parent believes this about their own children. It’s bad form to argue, so just indulge them. With a perfect child such as your own, you can afford to be magnanimous. Listen to their unlikely stories of how Caitlin (terrible name that, almost as bad as Chelsea) slept through from birth and little Joshua’s advanced speech development. It’s only polite. They should do the same for you.
Tip #2 Among other parents, it’s sometimes a good idea to downplay your own child’s prodigious achievements, while enthusiastically mooing about Joshua/Caitlin’s nonsensical gabbling. This is quite important. Lie if you have to. Whatever you do, for God’s sake, do not point out to Joshua’s/Caitlin’s mother that your child was using two word sentences at that age. This will only piss her off. In extreme cases, bring out the big guns and talk about how worried you are about your child’s delayed crawling/lactose intolerance/refusal to eat anything other than Flings. This will leave the other parent with a warm, fuzzy feeling of parental superiority, which should surely earn you another invitation to tea and cake. But beware. This could easily turn into a deadly game of My Life Sucks More Than Yours. Pitfalls abound as you try to convince your mothers’ group that you have it so much worse than them. They might cluck sympathetically at your dilemmas while feeling better about themselves (10 points); they could start slipping you pamphlets about postnatal depression or special needs children (0 points), or they could turn on you completely for being a whiny, neurotic, self-absorbed cow (-100 points and definitely no more coffee mornings).
Tip #3 When talking to childless friends, you are permitted to boast with impunity. Two reasons: you’re not going to offend them by implying your child is better than theirs and, more importantly, they don’t know any better. For all they know, it truly is miraculous for a baby to be able to pick up a single Rice Krispie using the two-fingered pincer grip at only six-and-a-half months. The obvious downside here is that they might not give a shit. They might find this whole baby thing terribly dull and start avoiding you anyway. Take time to decide whether you care or not.
Tip #4 A quick word about that other category: Childless People With Dogs. Not just any people with dogs, but Dog People, you understand. There’s just no reasoning with this sort. Their dogs are their babies and they truly believe it’s the same thing. My advice is, back away slowly while smiling and nodding, and you might get out of there alive. You will feel the urge to grab their shoulders and shake them, yelling, “It’s a DOG for God’s sake! It is not a human! It’s a fucking DOG! What’s the matter with you, can’t you see that?” Do not succumb. You’re better than that. Just leave them to their delusion and be on your way. Okay, bring on the hate-mail from the Corgi Club, but let me just say this – I happen to like dogs. Dogs are nice. My doggy is part of my family, while remaining… a dog. It seems obvious to me, but then, I’m not a Dog Person. Clearly I must be missing the point. (Just realised I’m not really a People Person either. Maybe I should take up gardening.)
At some point, I stopped consciously thinking of myself as “the pregnant girl”, and simply became a mom. I don’t know exactly when that happened, or how. Just by living it every day, I suppose. I know it took others longer to see me the way I saw myself. To some people I was still “that girl”, and Steven wasn’t a real boy, he was still “The Situation”. It irritated me more than it should have – I’ve always taken things very personally and, dammit, I want people to like me. I needed others to see us the way I did – an ordinary mother and child, mom doing her best, bumbling through like anyone else and getting it right, mostly.
I wanted them to see Steven as the blessing that he was – not a burden, not a mistake, not a Situation. Meant to be. Beyond responsibility, I wanted to do my best for him, to be the best mother I could be. I think I’ve done a good job so far, even though sometimes I don’t know whether it’s been good enough. For one thing, I didn’t give him the father he deserved.
I don’t know how David felt about Steven back then. Did he care about him and not know how to show it? Was he scared and intimidated? When he thought of his son (if he did), what did he feel? Guilt, confusion, any love at all? Did he think it was too late to make it right? I didn’t understand then, and I still don’t. But it’s not for me to understand anymore. It’s between Steven and his father. In some ways that’s a relief, but it’s also scary to let it go. It’s hard to accept that it’s out of my hands now. I’m standing back, leaving my child vulnerable, maybe letting him get hurt, and I can only stand by and watch. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I still don’t know if it’s the right thing.