The trouble with Christmas is that every Tom, Dick and Harry that you may or may not be related to wants to spread the festive cheer by having their say about your parenting skills.
Take yesterday, for example. Mother and I had been out with Piglet, running errands, and on the way home passed the house of a friend of hers. We went in, to find that my mother’s friends were entertaining a friend of their own, one of the Older Generation.
My mother’s friend kindly offered us a lift home and I wanted to walk home with Piglet in the sling, so declined the offer, citing the fact that we didn’t have our car seat as a reason. I could have told the truth, but saying, “actually as nice at it is for you to offer, I hate accepting lifts from people who are not members of my immediate family, as it makes me feel like a carless pleb reliant on the charity of others,” but that might have been considered a weird answer, so the car seat was a handy excuse, and also factually correct so unlikely to offend.
Then Older Generation chipped in with the obviously well-thought out point, “well, what do you think people did in the days before car seats then?”
I don’t know. Die horribly in car crashes?
Sorry Fire Brigade, it was nice of you to offer to install one of those new-fangled smoke alarms, but I’m going to pass, thanks. If there’s a fire, it’ll be OK. I’ll just burn to death, like in the olden days!
No Doctor, no need to use any of that modern medicine on me. Just leave me to die in wretched agony. It’s what people did in the olden days!
And while you’re at it, you can forget that anaesthetic too. I love the pain, me! Everyone knows things were better in the olden days!
I might add that Older Generation had already at this point come out with a few non-child-rearing related gems, including a denial of climate change (“I’m sure it’s getting colder. They just don’t want to admit they were wrong!”) and the astonishing possibility that the hole in the ozone layer may have been caused by spacecraft flying through it (“funny how there was never a hole until after they started going into space, isn’t it?”).
I shot back that it was the law to put your child in a car seat, thank you very much, which led to a few discussions about whether it actually is the law. I can only assume that if seatbelts are mandatory then surely so are car seats. Anyway not only am I not planning on testing it out, but surely they wouldn’t pass a law against smoking in cars with children if it was still OK to be driving about with a baby sitting on your lap, even though I’m pretty sure that Britney Spears managed to do just that a few years back without being arrested. Only in America. Thinking about it, it’s remarkable that the police over there didn’t shoot her.
Anyway, if I had thought that being criticised for wanting to make sure my baby travelled in relative safety rather than on my lap, Spears-style, just like it was in those halcyon days of the 1970s when Britain’s roads were so much safer, everybody left their doors unlocked and beer was 10p a pint, was the only critique of my parenting skills that I would have to put up with over the holiday, I was sadly mistaken. On Christmas Eve, despite being a godless heathen, I suddenly developed a nostalgic urge to go to church. Probably something to do with the pretty candles and nice, cosy Christmas carols, rather than any of the Word made flesh, Jesus came to earth to deliver us from our trespasses, God stuff. And also I do have a bit of an affinity with the Virgin Mary, especially at Christmas with all that virgin birth stuff, what with Piglet being an immaculate conception, and all that. And also I once saw her, in a Renaissance painting, spraying milk out of her breast literally across the room into the mouth of a kneeling saint, who looked absolutely ecstatic with joy at the privilege. And I can now do that. I sprayed Piglet right in the eye the other day. He wasn’t quite as happy about it as St Bernard of Clairvaux seemed to be, in fact he screamed, but the point is I have magical Virgin Mary-style breastfeeding SKILLS.
What was I saying? Oh yes, so I decided we were going to church. Me, Piglet and my mother, off to the church where my mother got married thousands of years ago, to sing Away in a Manger with the lights off whilst holding symbolic oranges.
I thought my mother would approve of my sudden religiosity. She did not.
“IT’S TOO COLD OUTSIDE!” she thundered, as if I had just suggested taking Piglet to the South Pole in a re-enactment of Captain Scott’s ill-fated voyage, complete with authentic equipment from 1912. “HE’LL CATCH A COLD!”
I pointed out-wisely, I thought-that one did not catch a cold as a result of being somewhere cold. One caught chilblains and frostbite, yes, but not the common cold. In fact, a cold is a virus that one catches from another infected person. Reluctantly, Mother agreed to join me at church, but not before berating me throughout the entire journey for my fecklessness in taking Piglet in the sling instead of the (“much warmer”) pram. Once we got there, we took a seat right at the back, Mother reasoning that it would be easier to make a quick exit in the event of the relentless screaming that she obviously thought was going to be the outcome of forcing a five month old baby to sit through a church service. Piglet, clearly his mother’s son, did not seem to enjoy all the sermons and Jesus stuff, causing a small child who was sat in front of us to turn around and say to me knowledgeably, “I think he’s tired.”
Yes I know, I’m a terrible mother who has dragged my poor long-suffering baby to church against his will, when he’s tired. Which he always is, BECAUSE HE CAN’T SETTLE HIMSELF TO SLEEP GODDAMIT! ARGH!
There was one moment when I thought I was going to be launched into the role of Pushy Stage Mother when one of the vicars (there were, like, three. Times have changed since I was last in church) asked if there were any babies in the church and I waved Piglet enthusiastically above my head, thinking he was going to get to play the coveted role of the Baby Jesus in some sort of Christmas nativity play, but sadly all I got was to say his name and age into the microphone, while the vicar looked at me slightly puzzled, clearly thinking she had never heard of a baby called that before and why wasn’t his name Alfie or Harry or some other sort of popular baby name, and was it a boy or a girl, one can never tell these days.
Anyway, despite my mother’s best attempts to save the day by grabbing Piglet off me every time he whimpered and trying to exit the church in a dramatic fashion and prove that her silly daughter was a far inferior specimen of mother as she couldn’t even keep the baby quiet in God’s Holy House, we managed to last until the end of the service. Long enough, in fact, for me to get to go to the front and collect a special candle stuck into an orange for Piglet, leading one of the vicars to remark sniffily, “He’s a bit young!” as I did so, clearly thinking he hadn’t spent the best part of Christmas Eve sticking jelly babies on the end of cocktail sticks so that inadequate specimens of motherhood such as myself could pretend to take them for their babies and then eat all the sweets themselves, and then never darken the door of the church again until next Christmas Eve, for the free sweets and nostalgic Away in a Manger singing.
He obviously didn’t know about my immaculately conceived child and special Virgin Mary breast milk-squirting skills. We would have been PERFECT for the nativity play.