“I just hope the baby is going to be OK” – that was the funniest comment on last week’s Daily Mail feature that showed us with a bottle of wine strapped to the buggy.
OK? She’s more than OK, she’s an A-grade human with a love of Octonauts and really kind eyes. She’s the kid that corrects me when I say, ‘that’s a bad man over there’ [pointing at a spitting angry drunk worrying she might be kidnapped] and she says, ‘no he’s not, he’s nice.’
A bottle of Campo Viejo Rioja 2011 nestling next to her left lughole is not going to suddenly negate all my parenting toil; it’s not suddenly going to catapult me onto a Social Services list. The biggest error in that photo is that the bottle is uncorked.
But the focus of the piece was not to encourage the parental ranks to slug back a bottle of nice ‘middle class’ (thanks Daily Mail for clarifying) red to get through primary-hued Baby Bounce in a community hall that smells of feet. The simple, clear message was that there is only one way to parent: yours.
What goes on outside of your mammaries/ mangled undercarriage is not just irrelevant, it’s no fun. Allowing my mind to wander towards someone else’s way of keeping the small humans alive is the equivalent of watching water dry on a breeze block. I’d choose 13 minutes (no more) on the Daily Mail sidebar of shame over considering Bella from NCT’s choice of nipple teat. (Bella, for the record, your nipple teat is a triumph.)
Oh and I was a serial offender. This is no holier-than-thou-bleat-fest. I would quietly seethe as one mate’s kid started sleeping through the night as mine was a procreational fog horn from 2-6am. I was so tired I couldn’t see the judgemental wood from the friendly trees and my only solace was thinking I was somehow OK because my Medela breast pump had a better sanitizer system than Natasha from Little Sprinkles Dance Class. Lord; dark maternal times.
(I also blame older ladies at bus stops quietly judging your manhandling of child into buggy – you know when they’re planking and screaming in tandem.)
But it’s more than just batting the judgement out of the playground/ bus stop and boldly parenting your own way, it’s about holding hands with the person next to you in Baby Bounce, as you inhale the smell of feet together.
It does not matter if you swathe your life spawn in paisley Laura Ashley print and have a deep love of 80s stalwart, the vol au vent. Fancy taking your 18-month-old to a Steps revival gig? Good to go; delighted ‘H’ is still banging out the tunes. Macchiato? Prosecco? Babycinno? Go for your life.
Equally if you’re into breastfeeding/ bottle feeding/ Instagram feeding who cares as long as you can look someone in the twitching peepers and feel less alone in this veritable minefield. (A minefield that you’ve had no formal training to navigate, with no colleagues and no stationery cupboard. Way harsh)
Alongside a group of women who have literally lit up my all-over-the-shop life with their grotty chat and unrelenting support, my maternal lifeline has been Clemmie Hooper (@mother_of_daughters) – a woman who has four kids to my one.
On paper the media would pit us against each other. In Top Trumps lingo: brunette midwife loved by all and gracefully navigating life with four daughters and a really great taste in lamps (bonus ball: exceptional sense of humour and killer fringe). My card would be more: blonde, slightly sweary maternal catastrophe, seeking attention and making one child look like the toughest gig in the world (bonus ball: ignites trolling comments like “your kid’s hair is really shit” which makes people laugh).
We are in the same game, blogging/ flogging/ Instagramming; we are approached for the same brand deals. We are – and it has been mentioned to me before by media folk – in competition with each other. But on paper. Paper is nothing when plonked next to a What’s App chain that starts, “I’m freaking out a bit. There’s blood; I can’t look at the forums. I think I’m miscarrying. Send me an emoji sequence to distract please.”
What ensued was not reams of emotional blathering as we tried to understand my reluctant lady parts. It was a conversation between two women who happened to be parents. A conversation that, through the pixels and emoticons, was founded on wanting to make each other feel a little less shit. We called it ‘fanny gate’; which led to us filming a series of vlogs called ‘fannying about’.
Because that’s what we’re ultimately all doing here, together – fannying about. And yes, the kids really are alright.
Clemmie’s book ‘How to grow a baby and push it out will be published February 2017’. More info to follow.
Photo: Zoe De Pass @dresslikeamum