According to many theorists, human babies are born too early. Most mammal species manage to drop their sprogs when they are fully formed and ready to skip along with the herd. If we were to align with normal mammal behaviour, gestation should be 21 months rather than our paltry 9. Hence the first three months of a baby’s life are sometimes referred to as the forth trimester. Our helpless little newborns still have more in common with the foetus that blossomed inside us, than they do with the independent individual they are destined to become.
On the bus this morning, a very special moment happened. I became aware of a strange noise behind me. I turned to find that a couple of ladies were busy entertaining my daughter, and being rewarded with big gummy smiles for their efforts. As she left the bus, one of them turned to my little girl and said “bye bye baby, your smile has made my day”.
Two things struck me. Firstly, that my baby was now capable of making new friends, of her own choosing, all by herself. Her days as a helpless newborn were behind her, and she was beginning her journey towards fully fledged personhood. Secondly, babies really do bring out the best in people.
With mini-me in tow, the world becomes that little bit friendlier. Yes, even in London. I know. From Grannies on the bus telling me all about their Grandchildren, to heroes on the Tube helping me up the stairs with my pram. One man even offered to help me up the stairs when I had my baby in a sling. I’m not sure what he had in mind – perhaps giving the both of us a fireman’s lift to the top? Still, it’s the thought that counts.
Basking in the reflected sunshine of my baby’s smiles, even the parenting police can be thought of as a force for good. For those that have not yet been apprehended, the parenting police are plain clothed officers that masquerade as members of the public, constantly on the lookout for wayward parents in need of corrective action. I have only been stopped on two occasions so far. One was for the classic “Baby not wearing hat when outdoors” offence (she had a hood, and it was a quick trip between warm shopping centre and warm bus). The other was the slightly more obscure “baby must have hood of pram up on bus to prevent things falling into her eyes”. I never quite understood what the officer in question was expecting to fall from a (frankly quite solid looking) bus ceiling.
It’s easy to feel affronted when someone takes it upon themselves to critique your parenting skills. But then I realise that these strangers have looked at my baby girl, and decided that they care whether her head is warm enough, and they care whether unspecified objects attack her on buses. In a world that can be harsh and indifferent, that’s a nice thing.