10 10 / 2011
Suck It And See
Within a few hours of birth, many animals are not only feeding but standing up and walking around. I remember watching a baby foal being born on Countryfile once and marveling at how quickly it was up and drunkenly gambolling about on its long, wobbly legs. By these standards, I think it’s fair to say our baby is pretty useless. He can’t walk. He can’t crawl. He can’t communicate in anything other than the most primitive of fashions. And he’ll never win the Grand National. (Unless it’s on the back of someone else who’s actually putting in all the effort.)
I don’t want keep banging on about this, but Albert still can’t even fall asleep without some fairly substantial assistance. I would have thought sleeping was a pretty basic human instinct – right up there with eating, breathing and laughing at farts. This is stuff that should come pretty naturally, right? I mean, seriously, who needs to be taught how to fall asleep? You just lie down and close your eyes. It literally takes no effort at all. I realize the world can be a strange and scary place for a newborn, but you never see horses furiously pacing round a stable with a foal strapped to their chest singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star until their throats crack, do you. You don’t see cows forlornly pushing prams across moonlit fields at three in the morning. Or maybe you do? I don’t really get out of the city that much.
A few weeks ago, we finally gave up on getting Albert to settle himself and went out and bought a dummy. I know, I know, it’s not something we’re proud of, ok? In fact, for the first few days it was a downright guilty secret. I don’t really understand why. Babies have been sucking on dummies since time immemorial but both my wife and I have been brainwashed into believing this is somehow wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.
Maybe it’s a middle class thing. There’s nothing we love more than pointing out the failings in others – and nobody fails more than parents. You can’t take your baby for a walk through the park, without somebody secretly tutting that you’re pram is too big, or that you’re dressing your child inappropriately, or that you shouldn’t be drinking before 10 am. I know this because up until two months ago I was the person doing the tutting. And now, of course, the shoe’s on the other foot. (In related news, I was so tired the other day I literally put my shoes on the wrong feet. I spent an entire tube journey with my legs crossed hoping nobody would notice.)
There seems to be a number of reasons why most people frown on dummies these days. The first reason is there’s a danger the baby will prefer sucking the dummy to sucking a nipple and then stop breastfeeding. The second reason is that they might grow up to suck their thumb. And the third reason is that it just looks a bit chavvy. (I suspect the third reason is by far the most powerful.) Having taken all these things into consideration however, I’ve decided that it would be better for Albert to be raised as a formula-fed, thumb-sucking chav than to have his parents blow their brains out. You might think differently, of course, and I respect you for your honesty, but that’s the way it’s got to be.
Anyway, the dummy has changed our lives. Or at the very least, given us our evenings back. Previously these would be spent trying to do everything with one hand, while cradling a crying baby in the other. I find chopping vegetables a maddening experience at the best of times but clumsily chasing a carrot around the kitchen with a large knife while a small child screams in your ear is unwise in the extreme. Now however, we can cook, eat, wash up and, if we’re feeling particularly adventurous, talk to each other safe in the knowledge that behind our bedroom door, Albert is curled up in his carry cot with a drool-slicked dummy hanging from his gaping maw.
Thanks to that little plastic piece of magic, getting Albert to sleep is now so straightforward it feels like we’re cheating. Simply swaddle him up, put him down and then, just as he opens his mouth to scream – BOSH! – in goes the dummy. A couple of sucks on that bad boy and he’s cruisin’ for a snoozin’. In fact, sometimes it works so quickly I wonder whether my wife is secretly dipping it in chloroform.
It wasn’t an instant success, I should stress. The first dummy we bought was no good. No good at all. For some reason Albert was unable to grip it in his mouth and it kept falling out. At first, I held this against him as evidence of yet another basic baby skill he had failed to master. However it turns out that dummies come in two different shapes – flat teat and round teat – and Albert is definitely more of a round teat man.
I realize, of course, that we might be making a rod for own back with this dummy business. The temptation is to use it more often than is strictly necessary. We’ve been to a lot of weddings in the last few weeks so it’s practically been strapped to his face like a miniature gimp gag, lest he ruin someone’s perfect day. In fact, I fully expect that in a year’s time I’ll be lamenting it as the devil’s work and that Albert goes batshit mental whenever we try taking it away from him. That’s next year’s problem though. Hopefully by then he’ll be old enough for cigarettes and video games.
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