Friday, April 08, 2005

Bringing Up Babies

One of the less delightful aspects of bringing up babies is just that: bringing up. It’s amazing how much they puke. The minute they start drinking milk, they’re loaded sick bombs, just waiting to go off.

There are times when you’re prepared. Burping after a feed is one of them. You expect a little milk to reappear. Your lap or shoulder is probably covered in a muslin, a towel or an ‘urp cloth’ and urp the little one obligingly does. The Victorians had a cute word for it: posset. Reminds me of dairies and clotted cream.

But you’re never prepared for the big one.

Remember the following formula:

man X holding (baby Y)


puke P
(over) clean shirt Z

It’s an incontrovertible law of nature.

Certain people seem to attract posset. Every single time my sister-in-law holds either of our babies, she gets covered in it. Maybe it’s the perfume she wears?

The most alarming sight of all is the projectile vomiting of a whole feed. Most likely when the baby has a cold, it’s a truly remarkable phenomenon. Like ‘old faithful’ in Yellowstone Park or wherever (forgive me, American friends) it begins with a distant rumbling which increases in volume to a roar and then suddenly there’s a geyser of yellow milk reaching a good foot vertically or, if the baby is at an angle to the floor, travelling two, three or four foot.

When we moved into our new house, two weeks before we had our first baby, it was fitted with plain cream carpets. Now in every room in the house somewhere on every single carpet there is a pattern a bit like a sunflower. They’re faded by scrubbing, of course, but the marks are still there months later, a little reminder of Jack and Nancy in full flow. What do they put into formula to make it yellow? I think I’d rather not know.

The milky days are on the way out now. Only yesterday Nancy dropped (by which I mean wasn’t interested in) her afternoon bottle. All too soon I will be able to walk around the house or down the street in a shirt which doesn’t have the tell-tale sign of fatherhood, a little splash of regurgitated milk on the over the left shoulder. A badge of honour? I like to think so.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Power of Puppy

Jack chose Puppy. Admittedly he’d shared Jack’s bed since he was in the plastic tub they put babies in at the hospital. But Puppy was pretty obviously Jack’s favourite toy from day one. What we couldn’t see back then was that Puppy was blessed with special powers.

To understand Puppy, you need a brief description. He’s a bean bag dog with a smile, dots for eyes, floppy legs and velvety soft ears. He wears a light blue all-in-one with a picture of a train on the pocket on his belly. He sits. His lies down. He is dragged along in the dirt, bounced, thrown and generally abused. Most of all he is dribbled on. His ears are sucked. At night when Jack goes to bed, he sucks a thumb, holding puppy’s ear in his clenched fist and plays with the other ear with his other hand.

From just a few weeks old, from a vast selection of stuffed bedfellows, Jack always chose to play with Puppy as he went to sleep. Quite often we'd find that he had gone to sleep with Puppy actually on his face. Pretty soon, whenever we gave Jack Puppy, he knew it was time to sleep. We knew we were on to a winner.

Even now, at almost two years old, when we give him Puppy his eyes glaze over and his head lolls. He relaxes. He can’t fight it. It’s Puppy’s magical power. The best thing is that it doesn’t matter where Jack is - at grandma’s house, a friend’s house, the pram, a blanket in the garden – Puppy’s sleep-inducing effect seems to work just about anywhere.

Like all magical charms, the user has to pay the price. Oh yes, there is a dark side to Puppy’s power.

Sometimes in the middle of the night Jack wakes up and can’t feel Puppy next to him. He's fallen out of bed. A wail like the end of the world lets us know this. We duly tramp blearily into the bedroom and pick Puppy off the floor.

Every time we go away, Puppy has to come too. He’s an essential item on the packing list, often hidden in the glovebox of the car ready for Jack to get fractious in the back.

We try to keep Puppy in the bedroom as much as possible, to enhance the Pavlovian effect. But sometimes Jack sneaks him into the pushchair or carries him out the door, only to drop him halfway down the path. “Oh-Oh” says Jack. The Teletubbies have got a lot to answer for.

We pretty soon realised that if Puppy were ever lost, so would we be. Like the ravens leaving the Tower of London, doom and destruction would rain down upon us. Worse than that, we wouldn’t ever sleep again. That’s where Imposter Puppy comes in.

For months we scoured the nation’s supermarkets until finally we found another Puppy. The manufacturers have changed the design, so he’s not quite the same. The train picture is a little bigger; the smiley face not quite so endearing. But the subterfuge worked: on the first night Jack looked quizzically at Imposter Puppy, but went off to sleep as usual. We gave a silent inward cheer.

Real Puppy has been washed about twenty times in the two years since Jack was born. He sits in the airing cupboard with his train suit hanging on a peg next to him looking for all the world like an overweight businessman in a sauna, naked and proud. I don’t blame him. I’d look smug if I had special powers.

And next to him on the pine shelf is Bunny. At six months old, our daughter Nancy won’t sleep without her. They’re like Batman and Robin, Puppy and Bunny, preservers of the peace, keeping the night hours quiet, defenders of our sanity.

Now I come to think of it, it’s about time we started looking for Imposter Bunny.