Everyone knows the whole ‘British aloof’ thing. We get on the train in the morning and are greeted by absolute silence. We walk down the street briskly, looking ahead, the only permissible sentences, “excuse me” and possibly a quick and apologetic request for the time, or in dire straits, directions.
So what changes when we have kids? From the minute our bump is noticeable, we become public property. During my pregnancy, despite having what has been referred to as a “moody default face” (by one of my best friends believe it or not), I was talked to, prodded, poked and lectured multiple times. I had countless people who I’ve never had physical contact with before touch my stomach, I had a total stranger attract my attention and wait for me to remove my headphones, only to kindly mention “That’s a boy in there, and don’t think it will be an easy labour!” (The fact that she was right on both counts gives me less joy than you may think.) I even had Rhod Gilbert address a crowded television studio with a microphone pointed bump-ward and his hand ‘wondering if he would be able to feel it kicking.’ Is that normal in Wales Rhodri?
I had thought it may be typical of the ‘bun in the oven’ experience, and true, I have many friends who have equally shocking and violating stories of their own time as an incubator. But it didnt stop just because he’s now out here with the rest of us.
I have done extensive research into the subject, and I am definitely asked more questions and engaged in more chit chat than the childless strangers around me. It is always me that finds myself informing people when the last bus came, or being forced to listen to some old dear’s plans for the weekend. I dont mind if you want to tell me how cute my boy is, but do I need to hear about how difficult it was for you to cut your own firstborn’s locks? Or how now, 30 years on, he never calls and you’re not that fond of his wife? Truly, I sometimes feel I could legitimately charge at the end of a conversation.
I’m not sure whether having a baby makes me look more approachable, or gives people an easy ‘in’ to a conversation. If that’s the case, maybe there is a clever answer I could give to the obvious first questions, that would get me out of being engaged in pointless chatter.
“Oh, isn’t he precious?”
“Thank you. The doctor said I should keep him in another few days, but he cant be THAT contagious”
“Oh, look at that hair!”
“Yep, nearly no lice at all this morning”
I’m reminded of a great Michael Mcintyre joke I could use to my advantage. When I see the pointed smile towards R which I know will lead to the opener, all I need to do is smile at my baby, and say…
“Look at the nice lady smiling at you.. Can you say hello? Come on Adolf, don’t be shy.”
I may try it.
Perhaps it’s just that without a child it is so easy to hide ourselves from communication. We walk around with headphones in, or with our mobile phones glued to our ears. We find friends to take walks with, ignoring everyone around us in case they turn out to be ‘chuggers’ or want to God forbid hand us a leaflet. If someone smiles at us in a public place, we either think they are crazy or spend the rest of the day frustratedly trying to work out if we know them from somewhere.
With a kid however, we let out more of ourselves. By smiling in their direction, we show the world we have a human side. By showcasing our choice of more human products like buggies and nappy bags and baby food, we provide topics of conversation on a platter for hungry conversationalists. Parading around with the most important and most precious part of our lives on display, truly wearing our hearts on our sleeves, surely shows a vulnerability in ourselves which trumps even the most heavily armoured of defences.