14 5 / 2012
Here’s a top parenting tip: don’t have a sick baby. Better yet, don’t have a baby at all. That one piece of advice alone should ensure you many years of happy contentment – but if you really must insist on saddling your life with a squawking, little flesh bag, for the love of god, don’t get a sick one.
It was inevitable really. I’m not the healthiest specimen of humankind myself, suffering, as I do, from chronic asthma, tinnitus and the kind of immune defence system which makes Heathrow Border Control look like Checkpoint Charlie. My wife, on the other hand, is made from much sterner stuff. She runs. She swims. She climbs mountains. She loves all that outdoorsy stuff – and by outdoorsy I don’t mean sitting around in a beer garden (something I’ve come to learn from regrettable personal experience). So when it comes to making a baby, you might think her strong, healthy, mountain climbing DNA would trump my weak, feeble, sofa dwelling DNA. And you would be wrong. Like a single rotten apple I have spoiled the whole baby.
Albert doesn’t get sick – sick is his default setting. Occasionally he might come down with a mild bout of wellness, but it never lasts longer than a couple of hours. Our doctor (a rather familiar acquaintance these days) has told us most babies will get, on average, ten colds in their first twelve months, but Albert passed that milestone with half a year to spare. Add a couple of ear infections, chronic reflux, persistent eczema, sporadic wheezing and a severe bout of flu to the mix and I think it’s fair to say we’ve got ourselves a wrong ‘un.
This suspicion was all but confirmed recently with the unwelcome news that Albert is allergic to milk. And eggs. And nuts. Oh, and dust. We weren’t really planning on feeding him that much dust but the other three are a big blow. I try to keep the tone of these blogs fairly light and breezy but I’m struggling to put a brave face on this one. I keep thinking about all the things Albert will probably never get to eat and then I start getting a bit teary. Let’s face it; all the best foods contain one or more of those ingredients, right? A childhood without chocolate is no childhood at all. Jelly and ice cream without ice cream is just jelly, people.
I know there are alternatives out there, and I suppose he can’t miss what he’s never had but it breaks my heart all the same. It’s only a matter of time before he’s at a friend’s birthday party surrounded by other children, all voraciously destroying a rocket-shaped birthday cake – great fistfuls of victoria sponge oozing between their chubby fingers, ice cream smeared through their hair, chocolate dripping from their demented little faces – while he sits alone in the corner, staring dolefully at his bowl of dairy-free soya yoghurt, trying in vain to mould it into a space ship.
Which brings me to a slightly more selfish concern. How are you supposed to control a child without resource to the usual stockpile of dairy inducements? That was going to form the central plank of my parenting strategy. “Finish your dinner and you can have ice cream for dessert.” “Clean up your room and I’ll buy you a Snickers.” That kind of thing. “Stop strangling that pigeon and I’ll give you a breadstick” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, sadly.
I used to be pretty sceptical of people with food allergies. To my cynical mind, it was all a bit of a modern affectation, a bit… trendy. I’m sure nobody had them when I was a kid. But somehow, over the last 20 years or so, everybody developed a lactose intolerance. Then they decided they couldn’t eat nuts anymore either. Or shellfish. Or eggs. And then, finally, wheat and gluten were off the menu too. Pretty soon, I thought, all they’d be allowed to ingest would be meat vapour and plant dust. (“That plant dust is particle-free, yeah?”). Except, shockingly, it turns out that I was wrong and the doctors were right. Maybe this is some kind of karmic retribution for my smug dismissal? If so, it’s poor Albert that’s paying the price. That boy is going to get spoilt rotten – with all the dairy-free soya yoghurt he can eat.