Maternal instincts

I got to play happy families this weekend – sort of! In the wake of Kashin’s death (the zoo’s beloved Asian elephant, who’d been there 40 odd years) the zoo had free entry on Sunday. We bundled up T’s nieces and little brother and packed them into the backseat for what we anticipated would be a fun day out.

It wasn’t, by the way. 17,000 people had the same idea; the lines ran from the entrance to the end of the carpark, and were standing still, it started pouring down buckets and we had to take shelter under a puny shrub while T sprinted all the way back down the street, round the corner and up a massive hill to where the car was parked.

I did get a bit of a kick out of taking the kids out, though. We blended right in with all the other parents and their offspring around – walking from the car to the entrance was no mean feat, as it involved navigating around countless prams and toddlers running loose (if your child isn’t old enough to be at school, they should be firmly attached to your hand, IMO). At the same time, though, I kept looking around to make sure everyone was keeping up. And I was terrified of turning around and finding one of them gone. There are a lot of things I never want to go through, and one of those is most definitely telling someone that I’ve lost their kid…

I never used to have much of a maternal instinct. I couldn’t stand crying, screaming children and babies terrified me. I made snide remarks about parents bringing tots to restaurants, events or even on the bus and comment on how they should leave their offspring at home (which of course I realise is unrealistic, but we’ve all experienced frustration at a meal out being ruined by someone’s whinging toddler).

Somewhere along the line that changed, though – pretty rapidly in fact! Now when I see babies and little kids out and about I ooh and ahh and gush about how cute they are. I get the warm fuzzies when I see their dads carrying them around on their shoulders. I still sneer at baby-size Crocs (why would you inflict those on your child??) and mock designer baby gear (why would you waste that much on stuff they’ll outgrow in a heartbeat?) But now, instead of thinking “God I never want to have to deal with that”, it’s more like “I hope that’ll be me one day.”

I don’t by any means approach strangers and start admiring their babies. Hell no. Babies still scare me. I don’t know how to hold them (T will testify to that) and I sure as hell don’t know how to change a nappy or feed them (see previous parentheses).

The other day I was handed a bottle while I was watching T’s latest niece in her walker, and not wanting to look like a complete loser, I gave it a go. I didn’t want to drown her, you see. I was tentatively holding it to her mouth at about a thirty degree angle, expecting a stream of milk to gush out at any minute and flood the poor baby. Little did I know that the baby actually has to such on the teat to get anything out.  (Cue laughter from onlookers at my pathetic efforts and removal  of milk bottle from my hands.)

Spending time around her made me realise babies don’t, in fact, spend every minute of every day squalling. She’s actually pretty quiet. I could watch her for hours – she’s so entertaining, and so cute, despite the fact that she can’t talk yet.

In fact, I’d wager she cries less than one of her older sisters. Observing the sibling dynamics between two little girls only a year apart is almost painful. You’ve got the big sister syndrome – the smarter, classically prettier one, who also happens to be stronger and can inflict more pain on the little one when they get into fights. I never really know what to do when that all ends in tears – try to comfort her, or just let her cry it out?

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