I wonder if anyone else has ever laughed, as I have, at that poem by Eleanor Farjeon called, `When I Live In A Cottage`?
The poet lists what idyllic things she would like to have in her dream cottage, including dogs, cows, goats, apple trees, and rosebushes, cats with kittens, and beehives.
`And one blessed baby in a basket.`
I mean, how many babies would stay conveniently in the basket? To me, the picture is so picture-book-perfect – and so daft. But I must admit that I shared such illusions about babies as the poet, until I had some of my own.
I had a vision of babies cooing in the basket until they were five, when they would get up and go to school. I expected inert docility, followed by instant independence, even maturity.
Let`s face it, she can`t have one blessed baby in a basket forever, never growing, never demanding, a permanent fixture like the apple trees. No baby of mine would have agreed to staying in the basket, to make up the chocolate box scene, while the cottage dweller enjoyed her kittens and honey. Right from the start, the cows would be disturbed and the peaceful air shattered by its screams. In a matter of months that basket would be seen to be rocking and then turning right over. Then, how long before baby was off and away into those rosebushes?
What a coming down to earth experience my four children have been. Far from settling for basket cooing, in less than a year they were crawling up the stairs to my dressing table to have a go at my lipstick, or trying to get out of the upstairs windows.
After two years of iron willed screaming obstinacy, dynamite all day and jumping over your head all night, my children reached full conversational maturity and social confidence. That means never stopping talking to you all day and all night – and your having to have half the neighbourhood in most of the time.
Grown up by five, yes. In so far as they expect the same clothes and bed-time as you. Mature, no.
After all those years of gentle example, of explanation as to why they should not draw on the walls; after turning a blind eye, covering up for them – tolerance and forgiveness – they will tell tales, point the finger – ` look what he`s done` – and beat each other up!
Somehow, in your pre-baby days, you picture a child as a delightful addition to your life, fitting into your established pattern, to be enjoyed like a book when you felt like enjoying
- Taken out like a dog when you wanted something to show off. Life will be the same but there will be a pretty baby featuring at your parties and dinners, just there like a doll and smiling at your guests. For your theatre, dance or hobbies` outings , it will be cooing in the basket while a very efficient, easily obtainable and almost free, baby sitter takes over.
But the truth is that you don’t feel like parties when you have been kept awake all night. What friends do you have left to invite anyway after baby has been sick on their best dresses a few times? And you won`t bother at all after the first baby sitter who wants ten pounds an hour, is so late you miss the first half of the show, brings her boyfriend, eats all your food, and expects to be sent home in a taxi.
And what about that `pretty baby` one dreamed of showing off? They decide at about a year what they like wearing and, if they choose their garden dungarees when you really want them to wear that gorgeous Victorian print, then they will wear their garden dungarees no matter who is coming to tea.
My last baby would not even stay still long enough for me to get the nappy pinned. And, after the struggle to get her clothed in any way at all, and her speedy escape as soon as she could by jumping off the bed and running away, I kind of gave up ideas about pretty hair styles, sashes tied into bows, or fiddling with rows of tiny buttons. They are never convenient, that is the point, whether you want them to coo in the basket or just keep out of the way when you are busy. And when you are free to enjoy your child, feel you want to get close to him, do a bit of modelling clay perhaps, have chat about school, he will react with, `Not now I`m watching the box.`
Oh, you mums-to-be may well think that you are going to fit in hair appointments between feeds, leaving baby cooing in the buggy. But baby will just happen to get wind that day so that your longed for morning of pampered luxury becomes a nightmare.
You will find what it is like to try and sit still for the stylist while restraining the struggling wriggler and save from his searching grip the rollers the scissors and all those expensive bottles of potions near enough to his pudgy fist. Arrange with your child to stay with your neighbour while you go to an appointment and, with only five minutes to go before you will miss the bus, he will decide he does not like Auntie Jane after all, or her little boy, and tell her so unmistakably. With seconds to go, he will be screaming. Tearing at your skirt, and at your heart.
Another one is, just as you are off to meet your friend in town, the school will ring to ask you to come and pick up Johnny as they think he has measles. And you can bet your life that the very day you are going to Buckingham Palace for The Garden Party – or even an award – would also be the day of the Scouts or Guides Annual Sports Day and a reproachful face would round on you with, `But, Mummy, you promised!`
If, in spite of all, you do manage to have a hobby or even a job, and your children are neither sick nor on holiday, something will happen to spoil it for you. Should you actually get as far as the front door, on the way to an evening class, without someone falling down the stars and you having to take them to have stitches, then one of the children will be sure to stick a knife in your abandoning back with, `I never see my mother,` just so that you know you are the most wicked mother in the world.
How mothers of the non basket-cooing variety of babies ever manage love affairs I would be interested to hear. To the romantic suggestion of, `Can we meet?` you would have to reply, `Can we make it the swings?` Cunningly invite him round during toddler`s midday sleep, and toddler will wake half an hour early, red faced and smelly, with those difficult back teeth.
Oh, you may manage fun and frolics. Yes. And peek-a-boo and pillow fights too. I suppose the only thing left would be to lie back and enjoy the fact that at least you are not doing the ironing. And be grateful for the breathing space, while your lover entertained your blessed babies.
Take a look at Neverland and have a think about what Brenda would make of this poem!
ENDORSEMENTS for NEVERLAND:
‘A born writer.’
‘Your poor, plump, odd-girl-out, is unbearably true to life.’
Dame Jacqueline Wilson
‘It would be enough for me to have written it.’
Lucina della Rocca
Member of the National Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Print makers
‘A period piece of social realism.’
‘Should be compulsory reading for everyone.’
‘The more I read, the more engrossed I became.’
Pamela Pickton‘s novel Neverland is on sale on amazon now, and on all good ebook websites, and read about her travails and worldly challenges in her Zitebooks collection of short stories, Reasons, which is also available to download from Amazon.