As Baby A lives in Belgium, it is important to us that he remain in contact with his roots. As such, we bring him back to Ireland with alarming frequency. We were there last weekend, we will be there next weekend and then again two weekends after that. During these visits he can get to know the place he was born - a country that, unlike his current residence, values children more than yappy dogs. In Ireland, he can accidentally eat black pudding, listen to people grumble about the weather and bemoan the state of the economy. He can take long walks, wear woolen jumpers and track his ancestors around the house (I’m not sure my mother will take kindly to being referred to as his ancestor but it might make her rethink her aversion to ‘Granny’). In Ireland, he commands the attention of large swathes of people who hang on his every gurgle and watch admiringly as he eats bath bubbles off his forearm. He loves the way of life, the cheering crowds and the big, brown dog that licks his face when no one is looking.
In truth, we go back to Dublin a bit too frequently but it’s so close (a 1hr 20 min flight) and there are people in Dublin who will hold Baby A indefinitely while we nap. Then, they make us tea and sandwiches and hold Baby A some more. Baby A loves it because he gets to shout at new people who don’t ignore him when he makes irrational demands (“Take me to the tree…now back to the house….to the tree again…oh look fish, we must see the fish…and back to the tree…in the pram now, in the pram…and lift me…good, now put me back down…give me a toy…back to the tree, don’t forget the toy…okay and nap….no, no more napping…let’s dance!”).
The Dublin-Brussels flight isn’t particularly baby friendly - possibly because babies don’t generally go to Brussels. It’s full of lackluster civil servants with dull eyes and cross faces (much like the way I was before I discovered maternity leave). The good passengers of Aer Lingus don’t know how lucky they have been - he has never once cried on a flight. Were he to start, they would all be wishing they were back in the EU working group on dust particles or wherever they were for the previous 8 hours that day. They are very, very lucky that Baby A doesn’t seem to mind planes. I’m pretty sure a few more months of sitting on the lap of his semi-hysterical mother as they bump through cloudy turbulence together should put an end to that. For the moment though, planes are ok.
Cars are a different story altogether. You hear stories about babies who fall asleep as soon as they get into the car. The only time Baby A sleeps in the car is when he has screamed himself into such a state that he is unable to cope with life and collapses into a protest coma from which he intermittently awakens to loudly register his objection to being stopped at a red light. It’s actually deeply unpleasant driving alone in a car with a baby who seems to be under the impression - so great is the force of his hysteria - that his limbs are in the process of being cut off by invisible elves.
Last week, I was pulling out of a car parking space and Baby A had reached Level 9 in the screaming stakes, i.e. crying so hard that he sounds like he’s choking. I thought ‘I’ll just keep driving because we’re only five minutes from home’. Two seconds later the screaming abruptly stopped and the car went totally quiet. I didn’t think he had calmed down because he usually gives a woe-is-me howl of resignation before falling silent. With the car half in the middle of the road and half in the parking space, I pulled on the hand brake and lept into the back seat with a speed and dexterity that would have impressed a Chinese gymnast. What I saw was most shocking. Baby A’s entire body was clenched in paralytic terror, his eyes were wide open, his face dark red, his little fists were bunched around his car seat straps as if trying to rip them off, his mouth was open but, quite alarmingly, there was no air going in or out. Baby A was not breathing. It was as if he had become so upset that he was no longer able to draw breath and he seemed quite taken aback by this sudden development. I pulled him out of the carseat and as soon as I picked him up he drew a great big breath and started sobbing into my shoulder. I think he’d gotten as much of a scare as I had. As babies do, he fell fast asleep about 20 seconds later. I popped him back in the car seat and drove home. It was four hours before he was ready to wake up and do the world thing again. I spent the rest of the afternoon being traumatized and wondering how I was ever going to drive anywhere again.
Each car journey since has become a careful balancing act to avoid the kind of hysteria that makes Baby A stop breathing. I have gone from a sane person to the lunatic belting out Nelly The Elephant with the windows down in November at traffic lights in the car beside the confused Belgian people. Or alternating brake and accelerator repeatedly in order to jolt the car slowly towards a red light rather than stop and risk a baby meltdown. Using a car as a giant rocking device is probably not the best idea I’ve ever had and it’s only a matter of time before I get arrested and Baby A is motherless. Poor Baby A.
We’re going to Mother and Baby yoga in an hour…we have to go in the car. I want to cry at the thought of it. We were at a dinner party last week and I mentioned that the baby didn’t like the car another guest (who was Austrian) said, in her Arnold Schwartzenegger accent, “Vell you cahn’t just stop driyhving because ze bébé doesn’t like ze kah”. That’s the kind of thing I used to think before I had a baby. “I’ll just drive right through that crying…I ain’t stopping this car for no pissed-off baby.” Hah! That’s like the time I said “I want a natural labour without pain relief because that is how the earth means for us to give birth”. I was stupid back then. We say these things before we have the baby because we don’t know how much that shit hurts. Labour hurts like hell - take the drugs. Next time (if there is one), I’m going straight for the giant needle in the spine, it hurts too but it hurts so much less. Listening to your baby scream himself blue in the back of the car where you can’t see him and he can’t see you…that hurts too. Sniff.