Sunday, 18 November 2012

My daughter is my beard


My daughter makes a great beard. She really does.

I’m not talking actual facial hair, you understand. I don’t use her as a kind of lively facial toupĂ©e. That would be eccentric, to say the least. I mean she’s my beard. My mask. My disguise. My cover.

I'll explain.

Like many people I dislike small talk. I have a tendency to panic and blurt out something inappropriate or confused. Something such as: “Oh, I went to Devon once.” (Yes, it SOUNDS normal NOW, but at the time we were discussing the work of MAYA ANGELOU.) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total pariah – most of the time I pull it off. But, dear God, the effort.

Anyway, nowadays I have my beard, I mean daughter, to conceal my mortification. She soaks up attention with her wild charm so others barely notice if I jabber madly.

Some great sage (possibly Nigella Lawson, actually) once described how motherhood means a woman ceases to be the picture – her children take on that role – and instead becomes the frame. Well, that suits me just perfectly.

I like that my daughter enjoys the spotlight while I can skulk in the wings, toasting her successes with a glass of Prosecco. “Bottoms up, darling.  Yes, Mummy’s here.” *slurps*

But it’s not only about the gaze of others. My own clear focus on my daughter since her birth is a damned relief, having looked after only myself for so long. And MUCH more entertaining too.

Friends without children have achieved this state of semi-selflessness in breathtakingly brilliant ways. But I was always a bit crap at it. Ends up all I needed was a big shove from my beard, my disguise, my cover, my girl.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The baby and the backpack – Paris

Paris Louvre

It is written: travelling (alone) with a young child will inevitably lead to trauma.
Turns out that’s bunkum. It’s a far greater strain to have your world shrink suddenly at the point of giving birth than to witness toddler meltdown on the Eurostar*. Even when it’s rammed.
I don’t know how it happened but, unexpectedly, any place that could not be reached on foot whilst listlessly hunched over a buggy had begun to seem somewhat strange. It was a bad scene.
The creeping sense of claustrophobia that can come over you as a (single) parent is an insidious thing. Doing stuff is just harder than it once was. We know that. It takes longer and is more tiring. That’s parenting. But parenting on your own? That is some serious shit.
So you do less. And slowly the shrunken horizons begin to exert their pressure.
It was largely practical, really, the source of this angst. Essentially, I’d convinced myself that I couldn’t, alone, lug everything my daughter and I would need for a period longer than about 36 hours**. In my mind I’d made myself dependent on whoever it was that ‘ought’ to occupy the space beside us. And since that space was pretty vacant, we were stuck.
But that’s no way to carry on. No way at all.
So we went to Paris. It’s not Marrakesh, or St Petersburg, or Rio de Janeiro but it moved the logjam.
Still, the proposition of the City of Light with an 18-month-old raised more eyebrows than expected. Ack, people LIVE in Paris with toddlers, it’s not Gotham City. And the French – whilst not the Italians, I grant you – DO like children, they just choose not to indulge them, or their parent(s), with anything so patently bourgeois as a highchair, or a ramp… or a damned lift.
The Metro is no good with a buggy; buses are better. Walking is better still. And the Batobus down the Seine is great. A budget cruise. A hop-on, hop-off floating sardine can of fun. If you are a toddler.
The Eiffel Tower, magnificent from afar, is of course hellish up close. But not so for the very young. Its great height and vast sturdy legs elicit gasps of pleasure from my daughter and she is compelled to find new ways to express her approval. “WOW!” she says. (Her first “wow”. I am very proud.)
And THAT is why, despite all the lugging and bawling and heaving and wailing, travelling with a toddler is really okay. Enthusiasm is contagious.
So we had fun. And I came home with my head readjusted.

*Flying is easier than Eurostar – counterintuitive but true.
**This is actually a reasonable concern – I now resemble a small, tired packhorse when we travel. And I do not like that.

An aside…

Overheard on the Batobus: possibly the most middleclass preteen dispute ever. What exactly DOES constitute a decent vegetarian sausage recipe? I can tell you it does NOT involve Quorn. (Times change. Our school French trips were largely spent discussing the procurement of butterfly knives (boys) and Gauloises (girls).)