MY DAY STARTED at 4 a.m., at 6 a.m., then again at 7 a.m. and finally at seven forty-five. The baby used to sleep from late night until early morning without much trouble, but now he screams in the evening and cries in the night and I’m back to falling asleep feeding him by the light of my phone. In the morning he was suddenly very much awake, and we juggled cups of tea and morning baths and tried to stop him from launching himself, face first, from our bed onto the hardwood floors until everyone was more or less ready for the day.
My partner left the house to go to an appointment and I decided to feed the baby some Ready Brek for breakfast, which involved boiling water, and so he had to go back into his cot. He was not happy about this, going from grumbling to crying to screaming, lying on his back as tears pooled in his eyes and rolled down his furious red cheeks. I stood in the kitchen down the hall, mixing banana and ginger into porridge for us both, alternating a muttered sorry-sorry-sorry-sorry with the occasional bright, parroted You’re OK! You’re OK! You’re OK! By the time breakfast was ready, he was hysterical and I was deranged.
He fed himself his porridge with his fists while I tried to eat mine with a spoon. My partner got home—Covid having pushed his office into our spare bedroom, theoretically the baby’s room—and so the baby and I took our noise and our mess to playgroup.
Playgroup is in our local church, a beautiful 12th century building that is now ministered by enthusiastic, sincere evangelicals. I keep waiting for an attempt at conversion, but so far there has been no religion, only free brownies and coffee. The group is reflective of our local area, attended by middle-class parents (mostly mums) from the nice terraced houses as well as poorer parents (mostly mums) from the local housing estate, and it is in fact so not-Christian that a bunch of mums in hijabs also bring their little ones along.
Every so often one of us references something from our before-lives and we remember that we all have careers and jobs and interests outside our babies, but right now the babies are more consuming. These spaces are overwhelmingly female, except for the occasional dad or grandad, which breeds a rapid sort of intimacy; I sat down next to a mum I’d never met before and after five minutes we were talking about episiotomies.
At the end of playgroup they handed out snacks for the children in little plastic bowls and we sang some nursery rhymes. The baby army-crawled with intense determination to every bowl on the mat to try to secure a coveted slice of banana, which ended up squished in his little fists and smeared all over me, and him. (I found small, sticky chunks of banana on my leggings and in my hair for the rest of the day).
We walked to a supermarket with another mum friend and her baby, talking of weaning and sleep and maternal anxiety. The baby was asleep by the time I left, and I realized we had no plans for the rest of the day. The sun was out, a good reason to stay out of the house. We got on the Tube and the baby stayed asleep; I misjudged getting off the Tube with the buggy and nearly pitched the baby onto the platform but it was fine, he stayed asleep. We emerged into the City.
We had coffee (me) and a doughnut (me) and more sleep (him) in a coffee shop that was all wood panelled walls and signs telling people that they had to share tables unless they were planning the next Libor scandal. And then we meandered to the Barbican, taking the high walkways and admiring the view.
The Barbican is a beautiful example of postwar architecture, a world-class arts venue with the strong and comforting scent of the welfare state. And it’s brilliant for children! There are toilets and wide open spaces—including indoor public spaces, the dream—and nobody seems to mind if there is crawling, crying, and running around. The baby woke up in time to see Soheila Sokhanvari’s Rebel Rebel exhibition, which is gorgeous and thought provoking and also has big pink cushions on the floor that end up being ideal for breastfeeding. Then we ate some falafel (me) and went on the swings (him).
We headed back home on the new crossrail underground line, which is all swish and clean and accessible and feels like an event in itself. We were a little bit earlier than the commute and missed rush hour by minutes. We walked through drizzle to our flat, burst through the door in a cacophony of sound, the baby went to his father and I carried the buggy up the stairs, we all had some tea.
When you have a baby your days are both longer and shorter, somehow. And your city changes completely. My London is a London of the welfare state and civic society now, of networks of mothers and babies on buses and in coffee shops, and of walking miles and miles and miles under city skyscrapers, pushing a buggy past scurrying crowds of people in business dress, in spaces that aren’t designed for us but which we somehow force to make spaces for us nonetheless.
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