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.

The Stroller Invasion

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Oh god they’re coming they’re coming

So here I am writing this at the yoga studio, while Dr T and Kitty do whatever it is mums and babies do at Mums and Babies Yoga upstairs. So far it sounds like they gurgle and gossip, although it’s hard to tell which is the mums and which the babies amidst the mellow hubbub drifting down to me.

Not that I’m mellow, because I’m fenced in by a silent guard of GIANT BASTARD STROLLERS. Look at the size of a baby. Then look at the size of these things. They have the grace, subtlety and turning circle of tanks and are about as easy to put in your car. And now they’re watching me in steady, coolly malevolent silence. It’s like being kept company by HAL, if he were fitted with an isofix base.

Which makes me wonder if these things have a plan. You need only spend about nine and a half seconds with one to understand that there is no earthly reason for them to be this big, unless we were somehow using them to confer status, and we wouldn’t do that, would we? That would be like making needlessly big cars in order to project a hefty sense of self worth into the world. Madness.

Even if there was something as horrifyingly shallow as self-validation to strollers (ours has lovely chunky tyres and a red seat, BTW), this wouldn’t explain their basic impracticality. They disguise themselves as useful with enabling terms such as ‘system’, ‘interchangeable’ and ‘collapsible’, but what they really want is to snap your wrists, or your will, or both, which they can do in seconds. Plus, they come to us via advertising campaigns so truly monstrous in their emotional manipulations (I saw one sunlit stroller billboard with the loathsome tagline ‘Perfect Family,’ making it clear that to choose a different option was to effectively admit you intend to punt your firstborn into a lake) that they can only, surely, be agents of a dark power sent here to destroy us.

They’re doing it through psychological warfare. Consider any parenting situation involving leaving the house. Shall we go to the coffee shop? Or the supermarket? It’ll be OK, we can put baby in the stroller and use the hammock underneath for storage. Except that will render it non-collapsible, heavy and awaken its innate desire to crash headlong into things. The certain knowledge that – even if you put it together without succumbing to the seductive longing for death as you wrestle with the grey buttons for the sixty-third attempt – your trip will be accompanied by an uncooperative leviathan that will be difficult to park and impossible to leave anywhere (it’s bad enough with just the baby) fills you with a kind of creeping existential dread until you drift into silence, staring at the front door, unable to go outside.

Should you make it across the threshold, they infect the driver with a false sense of virtue and self-importance. I find myself swooshing along the pavement with the Imperial March playing in my head, almost daring people to get in my way so I can toss out a vituperative ‘EXCUSE ME’ as the cattle-ram-like front of the Quinny Destructor (or whatever the hell it’s called) nerfs them into the traffic. Jesus, I wonder, is this what driving an Audi is like? It’s exhausting. I lost hours last week in a battle of wills with another stroller-driving dad coming the other way on the pavement, butting into each other like mountain goats.

Mentally weakened, the next stage is to physically chasten us. Think you’re strong? Able? Effective? Now lift this seat off the base of your Cruz Apocalypto. What’s the matter? Can’t press a few buttons and defy your own centre of gravity, you maggot? GET DOWN AND GIVE ME FIFTY.

Oh, sure, they’re safe, stable, secure. They said that about the banks. But alone in a room with twenty of them it’s clear: these are our overlords-in-waiting. They’re on a slow, silent mission to subjugate us. Lots of them have three wheels now and, well, you remember how splendidly the tripods worked out for humanity, right? Slowly, surely, they’re drawing their plans against us, one despairingly full car boot at a time.

Be warned.