‘Home Alone’ scenarios can happen to the most responsible of parents. Been there – almost. It’s simply called being human.
I don’t propose to pronounce on David Cameron as a politician or pass comment in any way on his policies or leadership skills. I do, though, feel a bit sorry for him today. The media are having a field day about the fact that himself and his missus forgot their kid in a pub.
On the face of it, it sounds outrageous. You conjure up a mental picture of Dave and Sam staggering out of the pub, weaving an unsteady path home via the kebab shop and forgetting all about the sprog in the loo. A bit Royle Family. Dave and Denise. You start tut-tutting and thinking about putting social services on speed-dial.
But it wasn’t like that. When you read on a bit, you get closer to the truth of what happened. It was quite a human error. A bit like Jesus on the day out with his Ma and Joseph. They went home without him – each thought the young lad was with the other. It can happen. It does happen. And it doesn’t necessarily mean the parents or designated minders are irresponsible pissheads. It could happen to the best of us.
I have to say all that because I did it myself. The circumstances weren’t quite the same but the child was forgotten nonetheless. It was back in the day when travelling with a baby was akin to packing for an Antarctic expedition. Babies these days are way more portable than they used to be. Modern baby accoutrements are either neater or collapsible – or disposable. (With the exception of modern baby buggies. WTF is going on there? They’re like small tractors). Back in my baby days, everything was huge and cumbersome and impossible to fit into the back of a normal car.
On the occasion in question, we were bringing baby on her maiden voyage from Donegal to Kildare. That meant we had to bring three days’ supply of nappies, baby food, bottle-warmer, bottles and the wherewithal to sterilize them. We also had to bring the cot (which had to be dismantled), the bouncy chair (which couldn’t be dismantled), the playpen (a wooden affair that folded but was still bulky), a high chair (again, wooden and uncollapsible), the buggy, the changing mat, the bag (big bag) of baby toiletries and toys and gallons of gripewater. We were terrified we’d forget something essential and we set about packing like it was a military operation.
The real problem was that we were doing this in the early ‘80s. Two major factors made it particularly difficult: First, everything was huge and unrefined then. Solid and sturdy, to be sure, but big and awkward and unyielding and a pure bastard to pack. Secondly, it was the ‘80s – we were in the throes of recession and on a budget. And the budget didn’t run to niceties or the convenience of disposable nappies, travel cots and the like. Not even for a weekend. We had to stick to the normal terry nappies – which meant we had to bring the nappy bucket, the industrial-sized box of Napisan and a box of nappy liners. Most of you reading this post won’t even know what they are.
The same went for the bottles. The bottle sterilizer was the size of a small barrel and, even though you tried to be efficient by packing stuff into it, it was still huge and awkward. And, of course, the economy size bottle of Milton had to go in too. Really – it was like moving house.
On the day of the voyage, we went at it with a will. He looked after the stuff that had to be dismantled; I did the clothes and supplies. We broke sweat over the course of a couple of hours and finally felt we were ready for off.
We sat into the car and ran through the checklist:
Complete with the bag of nuts and bolts to put it together again? Check.
Nappy bucket and Napisan? Check
Bouncy chair? Check
Dummy? – Oh Jesus, don’t let us forget the dummy and a few spares – Check
Toys – Pooh and Half Pint? Check
And so it went on for many minutes. The interior of the car was dark such was the volume of paraphernalia packed into it. I couldn’t move. There was even stuff packed around my feet. We finally reckoned we had everything. House locked. Engine on. Ready to rock.
Except for one, quite important thing. The child. I turned around to check that she was OK before we finally set sail, and there she was… gone, so to speak. Inside on the bed in her huge, not-very-portable carrycot (which was the top of a huge, not-very-portable pram) lay the source of all this precision packing. We had all but driven off and left her behind.
The tale has been recounted many times over the years and I think of it every time I see one of those ‘Baby on board’ signs on car windows. We laugh about it now and marvel at how well designed and portable baby gear is this days. But, at the time, I was riddled with guilt. I couldn’t believe I’d ‘forgotten’ my own child.
But I only had to deal with my own guilt and self-censure. I didn’t have to deal with the media sensationalising and scandalising and making me look, at best, ditzy; at worst, negligent. I’m neither. And I never was. I was stressed, sleep-deprived, busy and anxious. In other words, a normal, human person.
So, all politics and celebrity aside, I’m sorry for the Camerons as human, fallible parents. Sorry for their daughter, Nancy, who’s a pawn in this media game. Sorry for them as a family that a misunderstanding was made so public and that so many will pass judgement and rub it into them. Happily, there has been a groundswell of support and empathy from parents all over the UK. But there will be always be the finger-waggers and the nay-sayers who’ll be only too happy to pass judgement and point fingers.
So I offer the Camerons empathy and understanding. The best of parents have the worst of moments sometimes. It’s how they learn. It’s how they get their experience.
It’s what makes them great.