I’m back. How long I’ll be back for, or how regularly I’ll post remains to be seen. But I’ll try. (If I can remember how to upload this, that is.)
Lots has happened on my planet since my last musing. The most important, exciting thing, though, is that I’m a granny. Well, a Nana. My gorgeous grandson arrived on 31 March 2018 and I’m besotted. But, because of all the crazies out there, and because he hasn’t reached the age of reason and consent, I won’t post photos and I won’t give out any of his personal information. GDPR goes for babies too, you know, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that he’s the cutest, cleverest, most good-looking, most sweet-natured child that ever was born. He is a wonderful, miraculous mix of both his parents.
His arrival, though, has made me remember and reflect a good deal. It’s natural, I suppose, to think back to the days when this baby’s mum was a baby herself, and to remember one’s own ineptitude and, comparatively speaking, one’s ignorance. It’s clear to me now that, back then, I knew nothing. It’s a miracle my children made it to adulthood. Much, gentle reader, has changed. And, while many of those changes are excellent, some of them are, perhaps, not so cool.
In terms of impressive changes, I have to put the whole baby paraphernalia up there. Most baby accoutrements these days are impressive. Top of my ‘most improved’ list is the business of sterilisers. The microwave steriliser is a revelation to me. A drop of water in the bottom of it, a few minutes on full power, and … bingo. Job done. When I think of the old process of making up a solution of Milton in a huge big orange buckety thing and waiting 24 hours for it to be ready. And all the clothes you ruined because you spilt the Milton in your sleep-deprived state. Penance and torture.
Next up is nappies. Disposable nappies existed way back when, but they were pretty much unaffordable for everyday use. If you were going visiting grandparents on an overnight or a weekend, maybe, you’d splurge on a packet of disposables. The norm was terry nappies – which had to be laundered and sterilised, all of which was quite an unpleasant process. The nappy liners – which were the big advance of my generation and a revelation to my mother’s generation – were certainly a help in containing the (sometimes very liquid) bottom matter, but they only contained so much. And sometimes, a very wriggly nappy change could result in the liner working itself off site, so to speak, leaving the next nappy change quite interesting.
Dirty nappies were consigned to a large bucket filled with a solution of Napisan, and the sight of bits of poop de jour floating in the bucket is an image that is difficult to lose. They were then washed – with more Napisan – at the hottest wash your machine could manage (and my first washing machine was a twin-tub … which I still miss). Mind you, there was something very rewarding about seeing a washing line full of snowy-white nappies blowing in the breeze (no dryer at that point), but it really was quite hard work. I believe there’s a trend back to terry nappies these days for environmental reasons, but I don’t buy that. I reckon I wrecked the ozone layer and warmed the globe all by myself such was the amount of chemicals I used to sterilise things. And the amount of energy I used heating water to a million degrees to wash things was definitely not environmentally friendly or economical. And then, of course, there were the horrible, non-biodegradable plastic pants.
Baby furniture too has become sophisticated in its design, and is comparatively affordable. With a visit from my little prince in the offing, I’ve bought some gear to make the visit comfortable for everyone. I was absolutely wide-eyed at being able to buy a decent-quality high-chair in Ikea for €14. OK, I know he’ll grow out of it at some point, and something else will be required. But, for the moment, the €14 one is safe and easy to clean. There’s also a travel cot in situ which is sturdy and comfortable and didn’t cost the earth.
The next category is a mixed-feelings one. I love it and hate it in equal measure. I applaud the advances, but I long for the simpler days. I’m talking about baby transporters – buggies and car seats specifically. I’m all for the focus on increased safety, but holy mother of the little baby Jesus himself, have they ever gotten complicated. And big. If you’re new to grandparenting, or if you think grandparenting might be in your future, just go to your local supermarket carpark and observe the inelegant ballet that is getting a buggy and a child into and out of a car. The buggies are like lunar modules with adapters and extensions and add-ons and clip-ons and baskets and windows and sunshades and more besides. Some have three wheels; others have ball-like wheels; some have interchangeable moorings to take the car seat or the pram top depending on the voyage; some face baby in; some face baby out. Some probably make tea, for all I know. But they are all HUGE!
And modern-day car seats – although significantly safer that those of bygone days – are another minefield of engineering and moorings. There are separate bases with lights and beepers that need to be fitted just so – that is always assuming that your car has the proper receivers in place. As with the buggies, there’s baby-facing-front and baby-facing-back ones which, after a little bit of reading and research, seems to me to be a vexed question as to which is best. And there are rules and regulations about baby ages, heights and weights, and booster seats and seatbelts and all to that.
And then, when you finally figure out what kind of seat you need to suit your size and shape of baby, and it’s all fitted and ready to receive the poor bewildered dote, the fastening straps and buckles are the work of the devil himself. I know I should support the safety advances – and I most certainly do – but it’s just all so different, so fiddly and so comparatively difficult. I challenge the designers of these items to maintain the advanced safety features, but make it all a little more intuitive and manageable.
Mind you, when I think about the car seat my grandson’s mother was placed in as a baby and toddler, I have to admit its safety features were lacking. Once she figured out – at about age 2 – how to open the buckle, we were screwed. We were alerted to this new skill on a car journey where her daddy was driving and I was in the front passenger seat. All was going swimmingly until, like lightning and quite out of the blue, the driver felt two little hands covering his eyes. Herself had engineered a dextrous escape and decided it was a wonderful opportunity to play a game of hidey peep with her daddy. After that, we were merely going through the motions. We’d strap her in, but it was anyone’s guess when she was going to free herself. Long journeys thereafter meant many stops and many re-strappings. And toys. And books. And we sang a lot. Anything to distract. There were no iPads or in-car DVD players in those days.
In-car child restraints in my own childhood didn’t exist. Seat belts didn’t exist, even. On a Sunday afternoon, we all piled into the family car – unbelted and unrestrained – and my place, as the youngest of the family, was on my mother’s knee in the front passenger seat. That was normal and acceptable back then. And, in the summer, my brother and I helped our uncle on the farm. Our Da would drive us out there in the morning and Uncle Gerry would drive us home in the evening, him driving and us sitting – untethered – on top of the bales of hay in the back of the lorry. In those days, a normal, charming, folksy summer sight. These days, reckless endangerment.
So yes. Things sure have changed here on Walton’s Mountain. The year since my little prince’s birth has been a revelation. I now know what a tummy tub is – basically a big, clear plastic bucket for bathing your baby in. It’s impressive. It allows the baby to assume the fetal position, and because they’re quite contained, you have more control. And you can put it on a table top and save your back. Very cool. I also know what a snot sucker is – basically what it says it is … a tube to suck snot out of your baby’s nose. Most will come with the title of ‘nasal aspirator’, but it’s basically a snot sucker.
FridaBaby call it just that. And if you don’t fancy using your own suck power, you can get electronic ones. Not so cool. I’m also now acquainted with grobags, foot muffs, electric breast pumps, room thermometers, baby gyms, baby wraps, baby slings, soft play centres, ball pools, and nappies that have a line on them that turns blue when your baby pees.
I have also become well acquainted with the series of ‘That’s not my … ‘ books. Millions of them. That’s not my giraffe, That’s not my bee, That’s not my unicorn, That’s not my puppy, That’s not my zoo. Heaps of them, I tells ya. Otters, meerkats, owls, squirrels, cows, foxes, hedgehogs, goats. And on and on and on. They’re published by Usborne and the series has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. I would have said that any old brightly coloured book would be much the same as the next to a small baby, but, I have to admit, this series with the addition of tactile, textured patches included in its very durable pages seems to engage the little less-than-a-year-old souls more than other nursery tomes.
So I have really spent the last year in wide-eyed wonderment at a lot of the changes – and not just the changes in the kit and caboodle; the changes in thinking and practices too. It seems to me that much of what I was told to do years ago has been overturned. Perhaps I’ll revisit this soon and bore you with another post that will likely start with the phrase most often on my lips these days … ‘In my day …’
In the meantime, if you intend transporting a baby or small child in your vehicle, you could do worse than check out the Road Safety Authority’s Guide to buying a child car seat. There’s some very good information and illustrations that might help you work your way through this minefield.
So, till next time … safe travels.