Design flaws: what Planet Earth II taught me about babies

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Images of these crawling dickheads come via the BBC’s magnificent natural history unit, obvs.

Well, 2016 was a tough one, right? All kinds of horrors. But I’m pretty sure we can all agree that the most bone-chilling thing we all saw last year, the crowning horror, was Iguana vs Racer Snakes on Planet Earth II.

Lest we forget, the baby iguana here is, like, in its first few moments of life beyond the egg when it must outrun infinite slithering hellbastards (who are called ‘racer snakes’, FFS, not ‘dawdling, you’ll probably be alright little lizard, snakes’) just to get to a pretty shitty looking piece of rock. At which point it will already be able to swim, leaving the snakes to mutter “whatevs, we weren’t trying anyway,” as they skulk off.

Now, that’s a serious amount of living in your first few minutes. By comparison, Kitty’s first few minutes of life involved me hamfistedly cutting the umbilical cord, burbling something incoherent about ‘just like bacon, hurrhurr’ as I did so, and then being wrapped in some nice blankets. An iguana should be so lucky.

Her life skills extended as far as oozing out some treacly meconium and a half-hearted cry. Maybe the odd fist waggle. Reflecting on baby / iguana comparisons, I couldn’t help but think that babies – beautiful though they may be – do come with some unhelpful design flaws.

Like:

  • Inability to outrun bastard fucking snakes. Not essential in the UK, but, you know. Still.

  • Faulty feeding mechanisms, pt1. It took eight weeks to persuade Kitty that food of any kind is in fact delicious. We tried feeding cups, breast alignment contortions, lunatic support pillow architecture, a tongue tie operation and some profound sobbing. Once she got the hang of it she rewarded Dr T’s infinite patience and perseverance by reaching up and twisting her nipples during feeds, as often as possible.

  • Faulty feeding mechanisms, pt2. Give a snow leopard cub some food and it will know what to do. Babies? What they’ll do is throw pasta behind them with such force that it hits the TV screen on the other side of the room. They’ll also secretly mush avocado into your jeans at the crotch, so that when you eventually notice that you look like you have a festering martian STI leaking out of you, you’ll have been at the playgroup for half an hour. But bowl to mouth? Forget it.

  • Being unable to walk, despite being a biped. Elsewhere on Planet Earth II, box-fresh little Nubian Ibex gleefully scramble up and down near-vertical cliffs, outfoxing, well, a fox, while they’re at it. Meanwhile, despite being born into a species whose defining feature is walking upright, babies spend months trying to climb up the dog and faceplanting on sharp edges, with no sign of walking. Three months and counting, in Kitty’s case.

  • Waking the goddamn hell up for two hours in the middle of the miserable winter night. Do you see bear cubs pulling that shit on their hibernating mothers? That’s a one-way ticket to ‘Wow, it sure is noisy out here in the snow with all these wolves.’

There are, of course, a few genius design elements that offset these flaws and serve to further Kitty’s existence:

  • The smile and head-tilt. Whenever I’m inclined to lob Kitty into the recycling, she deploys the smile and head tilt, which renders all previous rage empty and useless.

  • The infertility stomp. An upgrade to the passion-killing sleep deprivation trick, the stomp incapacitates my gentleman area and guarantees there will be no siblings to threaten Kitty’s dominion over our lives.

  • The emotional amplifier. In the nine months or so since I became a father, I have entirely lost control of my emotional failsafes when it comes to anything dad/child related. I’m sure this is down to some hormone babies secrete. So, when the spider monkey baby fell from the tree and its dad had to rescue it by building a bridge with his body, there I was, blubbering on the sofa and sobbing something about ‘I’d bridge the gap for you, too’ as all my Dad Gauges soared up to 11. Well played, baby.

I daresay other design flaws will be revealed as we go along. In the meantime I’ll keep reminding Kitty that, while it is indeed unfair that she’s not allowed to pull all the magazines from the shelf down onto my head, it could be worse. She’s got me to pick her up if the Racer Snakes come.

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Encounters with the Mole People, or, trying to leave the house with your baby for the first time

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Our first outing. Just out of shot: a goose with a switchblade

Kitty was nine days old when we attempted our first walk and it was an unmitigated disaster. Karaoke nights down at the Monastery of Profound Vows of Silence have been more successful.

In my head, I’d imagined a serene stroll, lulling her to sleep in the pram, dog trotting alongside us, taking it slowly and getting some air and sunlight to help Dr T with her convalescence. Instead, the dog contrived to fall down the stairs as we attempted to leave the house, Kitty wound herself into a purple faced whirlwind of hissing fury, we couldn’t work out where to go or how to drive the pram and we made it one hundred miserable yards – in tears – before giving up and scuttling indoors in case the guys on the building site several streets away complained about the noise.

As we got inside, I swore to the old gods, the new gods and the gods yet to come that we were never setting foot outside again. We’d simply be one of those mole families you hear of, living in bunkers and gradually learning to love their rickets. Also, the dog didn’t speak to us for days.

It’s not an unusual experience, I’m sure. We all know the benefits of getting out with baby fairly soon: the fresh air, the vitamin D from sunlight on the skin, the lovely serotonin kick from exercise, getting to see all the nice 3D people…but the Voice of the Mole People points out the reasons not to go:

“Where will you go? What, there? There are ROADS there, with CARS, you THOUGHTLESS MANIAC. Anyway, what if you’re out for too long and an ice storm hits, while baby is only wearing a sleepsuit? Why are you risking her life? What do you mean, it’s April? WINTER IS COMING. Plus, those geese in the park definitely want you DEAD and I’m almost certain the kids on the corner are into airborne ANTHRAX at the moment. OK, how many blankets is enough? No, that’s not enough. Ooh, too many, are you trying to overheat her? You’d best put two on her, one on your shoulder, another on the stroller handlebars and then take nine spares. You only have six blankets? Jesus wept, sit down. Look, if it rains, even for a second, she will DIE, or at the very least spawn GREMLINS. Are you certain you know how the rain cover works? Like, properly certain? And actually, have you checked that she’s breathing while we’ve been having this conversation? She looks very still to me. We’d best stay in and Google ‘TERRIFYING BREATHING CONDITIONS’. Look, you’re bound to inadvertently spill something on her or simply blurt out something so savagely ignorant that she’ll be ASHAMED and embarrassed by you forever, and besides, the stroller doesn’t look well maintained enough. The police are going to stop you and she’ll be in PROTECTIVE CUSTODY by the end of the day. Yup, I can DEFINITELY smell EBOLA in the air this morning…”

And so it goes on. It’s very easy to succumb to this sustained campaign of self-undermining doubt, but in the end it benefits no-one. Of course there was no rush to take Kitty out, but it turns out babies don’t come with a ‘Remove From House On This Day’ sticker, so we had to start somewhere. And on reflection, rickets didn’t sound great.

So we decided we wouldn’t, after all, spend Kitty’s first month in semi-darkness behind locked doors and ventured out again the next day, which is when we took the picture above.

The key to success was, as with all baby things, not trying to do too much at once. Walk Kitty to the park and back, don’t take the dog this time, wait until she’s been fed and is sleepy, and aim to be out for about half an hour.

Sure, we were twitchy as all hell as we sat in the cafe and I burned my mouth trying to neck the coffee before she woke up, and I’m not convinced that the geese weren’t harbouring murderous thoughts, but we managed. Nothing broke. No-one died. Things felt vaguely normal out in the sunshine.

It broke the spell that the previous day’s misadventures had cast. A great piece of advice we received before Kitty was born was ‘don’t beat yourself up over the little failures,’ and this was the first time we managed to put that advice into practice. We accepted the first failure, and realised that there’s no such thing as a perfect outing. You just do your best and sort of muddle through.

As Kitty has got bigger the Voice of the Mole People hasn’t gone away (more of that another time), but we’re gradually learning to tune it out. Because if she’s going to enjoy the world, she’s got to see it first-hand.

Still think we needed one more blanket, though.