Sunday, 11 November 2012

Other People's Problems

I warn you now: this is liable to turn into a ramble.

Still with me?
More fool you.

Phoebe is becoming more and more mobile these days.
At home she trots about merrily and has to be kept away from the stairs at all costs, lest she dash up them like a mountain goat spotting a deliciously rare and endangered herb.
Out and about she's still in the sling*, but I don't think it's going to last much longer: She's tall enough to kick me in the legs when I walk, and she's taken to trying to climb out** whenever she sees anything interesting.
 So slinging has become a little more awkward, which has made me somewhat nostalgic for the days of having a tiny, portable, snuggly thing that, however enormous she seemed at the time, was unlikely either to climb on top of my head or to kick me in the shins.
It has also left me oddly reminiscent.
 You see, most people these days don't have to worry about these things: their kids are in prams or buggies, and in order to kick your mother in the shins from a pram, you'd need legs like one of the Harlem Globetrotters.
They don't have to worry about getting the knot in the wrong place, or catching their breastfeeding-necklace*** in the folds, and winding up with a crick in the neck either.
 So when I innocently mentioned this problem at the kids' playgroup**** one day I was met with an incredulous stare and "Why don't you just use a buggy?"

This was also the question when I had trouble managing my heavy bag while holding Eleanor's hand in one of my hands, and a paper plate full of drying clay things in the other.
It's true, the journey home was somewhat awkward, but how exactly it would help to replace my comfortably slung and unburdensome baby with a pair of handles, bringing the total number of hands needed to four, I have no idea.
 When I pointed this out no-one else seemed to have a very concrete idea either*****.
Everyone just assumed that my sling must be the problem.
In fact it was probably the only reason I got home with both children and the wretched plateful of abstract lumps more or less intact.

The thing that I have noticed is that whenever one makes choices that are different to those of the majority, it is automatically assumed that those choices must make things more difficult.
 In fact it is usually the reverse: My sling means that I can communicate easily with Phoebe when we are out and about, yet still keep in touch with Eleanor as well, it means that I can hold Eleanor's hand and carry Phoebe while still having a hand free to manage my bagful of cloth nappies and anything  my offspring see fit to present me with.
 It means I can feed Phoebe wherever we are, whatever I'm doing, without having to stop what I'm doing and sit down.

When I look at a buggy, on the other hand, all I see is problems.
 You can't see what's happening in a buggy, you can't talk to your baby and see them smile, you certainly can't breastfeed in one.
Wheels aren't as agile as legs: our playgroup is up a flight of stairs, which the buggies can't climb, so they have to use a ramp.
For buildings without a ramp, the buggy has to be heaved awkwardly up the steps in the poor parents arms, or else bunny-hopped up the steps more awkwardly still, jolting the child within with every step.
Buggies are bulky: at playgroup they have to be left outside lest they take up all the room, on buses there is room for only one or two, even folded they take up too much space.
I have watched, feeling ridiculously guilty, as a woman was ejected from a bus we rode on, along with her two children and their buggy, to make room for a wheelchair.
I was sitting comfortably on a seat, with Phoebe on my lap and Eleanor curled bedside me.

But imagine how someone would react if I went up to them, as they struggled to fit their buggy into a tiny space, or to heave it up the rainslicked stairs without it slipping all the way down again, and asked: "Why don't you just use a sling?"
Once they'd recovered from the mind-numbing rudeness of my question they would probably come to the conclusion that I was completely potty.
 Because buggy-users don't really see these problems.
Obviously they acknowledge them, they encounter them frequently enough after all, but they don't perceive them as the ridiculous, near-insurmountable barriers to normal function that they appear to me.
Because they aren't.
They're just ordinary, day-to-day annoyances, problems that most people face, no more burdensome than a traffic jam at five in the evening, or finding that there wasn't as much milk in the fridge as you had thought.

When a thing seems normal and natural the problems associated with that thing seem normal too
  To me it is normal to throw nappies into the washing machine when enough have been used, it seems normal, too, to let a baby use a potty as soon as they are able.
To someone who uses disposables that daily wash may seem a terrible lot of work, the trouble of helping a baby onto a potty ridiculous, just as the cost and trouble of buying packet after packet of nappies, of disposing of them all, and of continuing this for what my filtered vision views as an interminable period, seems a ludicrous amount of trouble to me.
To me breastfeeding my child****** is normal, natural and obvious, but to someone who bottle-fed their child not by necessity, or even by choice, but from the plain assumption that that is how babies are fed, the very idea must seem as alien and improbable as making up formula feeds does to me.

Many of our decisions are not truly decisions, they are the results of cultural conditioning so subtle that we don't even know it's happening.
We see, and learn by seeing, we hear, and learn by hearing.
We learn and we do, and so teach in our turns.
We create our memes, our norms, we shape the world around us.
 We live in miniature tribes, in nations not shown upon the map, what the people of our culture do, we do too.
When a foreigner crosses our borders, with strange exotic traditions and peculiar practises, we stop and stare.

 I'm not too worried when people blink at the visitor from Hippybeatnikland, with her silly customs and her funny ideas.
I don't want to convert people, I mean, obviously I believe my way is right or I wouldn't do it, but I don't really care if they aren't naturalised Hippybeatniks themselves*******.
 But whether I want to or not, every time I do something differently, every time somebody sees me do something differently, I change their perception of the world.
I shape the world as well, and the more I am seen to wear my sling with a smile, to feed my child with happy confidence, to do whatever else I do that makes people do that weird double-take when they talk to me, I remind them that there are other ideas out there.

So I don't really mind if they stare.
Besides, I can't wait to find out what problems I'm having when they hear we home educate.

*Not all the time, I mean not in the car, and not at playgroup and things like that, just on the way.
You know what I mean, why am I trying to explain this?
Sorry, I said it would be rambley didn't I?

**More pour-herself-out-backwards-and-land-on-her-head really, which isn't the best idea.

***Breastfeeding-necklace: a cunning device designed to stop the baby from pulling your hair by giving them something else to pull.
Apparently this "something else" is, in fact, my nipple.
Who knew?

****Also known as Lowestcommondenominatorland: parents here embody the antithesis of every parenting ideal I hold dear, except the one about loving your children.

*****Except to say that the paper plate could go "in the tray underneath".
 I didn't know that buggys had trays underneath, the foldey buggy thing that came with our car seat doesn't seem, on inspection, to have one anyway.
Even assuming this innovation however, that would still leave me needing three hands to manage everyone safely, which is still sufficient hands to have me shipped off to the post-apocalyptic badlands.

******Probably the most emotive parenting choice there is, I don't want to go into too much detail here as plenty of people (like, say, my friend Nicky) already do a better job of discussing it look: a penguin with a hat!

*******Disclaimer: actually I care quite a lot about some of it.
Sometimes I even say something.

1 comment:

  1. All well said and quite enlightening to someone who has no clue about small children! I always was impressed by you home educating, it's something that's always made sense to me. The sling seems to make perfect sense too, now that you've explained it!

    Debbie xx