Terms of Endearment
Tue, 01 Jul 2014
You’re cruising along, quite nicely, thank you, and then she decides it’s time for the patter of tiny feet in the house. She sails through the pregnancy, no problems...but for you it’s been nine months of sheer purgatory. What about all those cravings, those surreptitious pickled gherkin sandwiches you just have to have, even at four o’clock in the morning? You creep downstairs, muzzle the dog so it doesn’t give the game away – the parrot, likewise. The goldfish gets off Scot-free though – renowned as goldfish are for their five second memory span. They don’t tend to be exactly verbal either, except amongst themselves, possibly.
Nothing fits you anymore. Baggy ‘T’ shirts and tracky-bottoms become the norm – the bathroom scales stashed, out of sight, out of mind, in the under-stairs cupboard. Big is beautiful – don’t they tell you?
Dare I mention … morning sickness? The mere thought of tucking into a plateful of bacon and eggs plus at least two slices of fried bread, not to mention a dollop or three of tomato ketchup, sends you in a desperate dash for the loo to call Hughie down the great white telephone – if you get my drift. ‘Sympathetic Pregnancy’ they call it. Pathetic, more like, but then we all have our funny little foibles, and this, unfortunately is one of mine.
‘Natural childbirth’ seems to be the thing nowadays, or so they inform you at those weekly parenting classes you’re dragged along to. There’s nothing natural about it, not in my book. They would go out of their way to prove you wrong. It’s easy as falling off a log, if those romanticised childbirth videos are to be believed – the kind where the starry-eyed couple gaze meaningfully at each other – new-born babe, pristine and pink, cradled lovingly between them.
Realistically, it’s all about blood and guts, and at least twenty four hour’s hard labour. For instance, there you are in the delivery room, doubled up in agony and they won’t offer you even the slightest whiff of gas and air, let alone an epidural. She’s the one gets all the attention. You’re treated like an appendage; looked down on, even, for getting in the way of proceedings. Refuse to be intimidated, though. Insist they do something or you’ll scream the place down. One can take this natural childbirth thing a step too far, in my humble opinion.
Don’t misunderstand me. The entire business is utterly amazing, nothing short of a miracle, in all honesty. I’m not so cynical that I can’t appreciate that. Indelibly imprinted on your brain that crazy, out of this world, once in a lifetime feeling, holding your firstborn in your arms, umbilical cord and everything; the magic never does fade.
Euphoria is short-lived. Life has a sobering effect. Before long, you find yourself plummeting down from cloud nine, invariably with a less than perfect landing.
Miraculous as it may seem, a routine does develop. Eventually, order wins through over chaos. Surviving on an hour’s sleep, and that’s on a good night, you gradually adapt to. Fact is, you haven’t got a choice. So you tolerate the fridge stacked full of expressed breast-milk in teat-topped bottles, seeing radiators lined with soggy baby-grows and puke-stained bibs – get accustomed to taking everything, bar the proverbial, kitchen sink, on even the shortest of journeys.
No great shakes then, when after a month or two, you’re both shagged out – need and deserve, a well-earned break – an occasion which you plan with as much precision and forethought as went into the D Day landings. On the other hand, can you really go out to dinner and entrust your precious infant’s welfare to another? Doesn’t take you too long to decide – all of ten seconds and you book that new Italian, albeit with a tad of trepidation.
Nothing in life comes for free, don’t they say? Everything has its price and for these few hours of freedom you pay, dearly. Not only does said meal cost an arm and a leg, there’s also the babysitter to reimburse who, by sheer necessity, you book an hour before your expected time of departure. Eight quid an hour they charge and bloody double after midnight. When all’s said and done there is much vital information to impart.
To salve your conscience, you make a list of telephone numbers which you pin on the back of the kitchen door. Your GP, the hospital, your mother, even though she lives in Cyprus, the gas and electricity emergency service and, to cover all eventualities, ‘Zappit’, the pest control centre, should the house suddenly be besieged by a swarm of killer bees.
Your babysitter having duly arrived, you draw their attention to said list and have them recite it, line by line, ensuring they don’t misread your writing. The next item on the agenda is to familiarize them with the whereabouts of the fire-extinguisher, nappies, sterilising liquid, gripe water, wet-wipes and disinfectant, in the event the little darling does one of their ‘fountain imitations’ or, heaven forbid, a ‘Number Two’, whilst footloose and nappy-free, letting it all hang out at changing time.
Last, but by no means least, you give them a guided tour of the ‘fridge – pointing out which bottle when, how little, how much, and afterwards, how long the de-burping operation should continue before it can be fruitlessly abandoned.
You are just about to nip off and change, when you suddenly remember you have forgotten to mention the idiosyncrasies of the baby monitor. It has to be said, it is somewhat perturbing by this stage in the proceedings, that you notice a somewhat glazed expression on their face as they pay infinitely more attention to the vagaries of the TV remote control than anything else.
Drained, you drag yourself upstairs to shower, unwind and savour the evening ahead; so far, so good. Not so taxing, this parenting lark; a light at the end of the tunnel, at last. Forward planning – that’s the name of the game.
Lulled into a false sense of well-being, it hits you even harder – that moment of truth. Your partner drops a bombshell and your illusion, as you now recognize it to be, is totally shattered.
To set the scene, a few seconds prior to this revelation, you were having major difficulties shoe-horning yourself into that new pair of Christian Dior trousers you had been patiently saving for the occasion. In one final desperate attempt, whilst balancing on one leg, tugging with all your might, you fall arse over tit, and whack your head on the wardrobe. Your adoring partner finally notices your dilemma and is less than sympathetic.
“Having problems, darling? Not surprised they don’t fit you. Been meaning to mention for ages, I really do think it’s high time you lost some weight – got rid of that disgusting ‘beer belly’. Sometimes I wonder who had this baby – you or me. I’ve had no trouble getting my figure back. The pounds have just dropped off, but then I watch what I eat and drink, unlike some as I could mention. Shit! She's awake now. Listen to her, sobbing her little heart out. We’re never going to make it on time. If they don’t hold our table, you’ll be the one to blame – making that racket getting dressed. Just coming, sweetie, Mummy’s here.”
You’re at the end of your tether; completely knackered – haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in ages and you’re sick of the way the baby’s needs take precedence over yours. What about you? You were here first, when all’s said and done.
Just then, a still, small voice in your head says, “Hey mate! You know what your problem is, don’t you? Jealousy, they call it. You’re jealous of that beautiful new daughter of yours – aren’t you? Come on – admit as much.”
Well, what if you are? Ten whole weeks, at least, of ‘spanking the monkey’ becomes a touch taxing. Might as well run off and join a bloody monastery!
You are all for breast-feeding too, but before little sprog came along, those gorgeous, delectable, malleable, heavenly boobs belonged to you. Now she won’t even allow you to touch them, for fear of contamination, she tells you.
“Think of the baby,” she preaches.
How about she thinks of you for a change? And anyway, you do think of the baby. You are always thinking of the baby. You eat, drink and sleep, baby!
Things were fine … before. Not what you might call particularly dynamic or adventurous, that all-important sex life I mean. Not for the want of trying on your part though, to say the very least. She’d always been what they call inhibited, old-fashioned if you will. To be truthful, it was her naivety that was the initial attraction when you first met. A time and a place for everything, that was her motto, but you had a good working arrangement. She kept you reasonably happy and vice versa. Give and take, compromise on both sides – isn’t that what marriage is supposed to be about, or is it more a case of having made one’s bed, may as well lie on it?
You tell yourself it’s not the time or the place for a domestic and give up on the trousers – slide, effortlessly, into those ‘friendly’, all accommodating, Levis.
“Looks like she’s coming down with a cold or something,” shouts a voice from upstairs. “Best not go out – just to be on the safe side. Tell the babysitter, and better cancel the Italian – will you?”
Oh well, that’s life; the way it goes, and anyway, they probably had some stupid dress code at that Italian place. ‘Sorry, Sir...jeans not permitted.’ You look up the number of the Chinese; you’re sure they deliver. You’ll go on that diet, tomorrow. Nothing lasts forever – not even post-baby blues, and she has the gall to mention her ‘stretch-marks’. They’re nothing compared to what you’re going through right now.
Forty years on, what you wouldn’t give to hold her in your arms again...or at the very least to know somehow, someway, she could hear you when you tell her she really didn't look like Winston Churchill at all when she was born – more the bonniest baby in the whole, wide world.