As the royals prepare to welcome a new baby, Alex Payne recalls how his daughter greeted her new sibling…
Some very dear friends took delivery of their third child earlier this week, which has prompted a lot of sentimentality from my wife. “There is something so magical about having another baby, about adding to the family,” she purred. Despite my better judgement, for a moment I found myself caught up in the warm, soft focus glow she was creating. We had both agreed that we’d settle as a family of four. “But that’s too perfect”, everyone would comment. “Exactly!” was my well-thought out response. But for some reason, I was bending towards her nostalgia. Was she suggesting…
But the moment was punctured by a wail: “Mumma, I need some loo roll!” “What do you say?” we shot back in unison. “Pleeaaasssee,” came the response. How quickly the world can start turning again.
I’m always amazed by how unflustered children are. I’m not sure if it is admiration or jealousy that they are on straight tracks from breakfast to lunch, to supper to bed, or whether it is the fact very little knocks them off course. There may well be squabbles, tears, rages and meltdowns but it is nothing that a biscuit or a piece of toast won’t sort.
Bizarrely, toast is a very prominent memory when I recall what was meant to be the most seismic event in my daughter’s life: the arrival of her younger brother. My wife is something of a control freak, and managed to go into labour once she’d done bath and bedtime. We sat down for the glass of wine at heaven o’clock, and she duly groaned and growled her way through the next few hours. For some reason, when the time came to drive her to the hospital I took with me two slices of toast and peanut butter.
When I headed home the next morning to tell child one that there was now a child two, the toast was still on the dashboard. It wasn’t delicious 12 hours on, but I remember it vividly. Perhaps it was the clutch of the inner child – toast means everything will be okay.
I walked in through the front door, a little dazed and confused after the night’s events, to find our daughter chomping on her cereal, wonderfully oblivious to how everything had suddenly changed for her. The fact that neither parent was there when she’d got up that morning didn’t seem to have registered, nor the fact it was her godmother who greeted her and got her dressed. Perhaps best explained by the fact her compass was set to breakfast and everything else could wait.
If truth be told, the lack of recognition was a little frustrating after months of build-up. We had carefully taken the time to explain about the growing tummy, discussed why the Moses basket had re-emerged, why the baby clothes were back out again. We took time to think about possible speed bumps, such as why she would be moving bedrooms and why she’d be heading off to nursery a week after his arrival. As parents, we had read books on how to handle the transition, worried about what the knock-on effects might be, and about how she’d react to far less attention. It dominated the agenda, obviously.
But I think it is fair to say our daughter would beg to differ on the whole ‘something magical about welcoming a baby into a family’. It kind of just fitted in between an episode of Dora the Explorer, a splash of colouring-in and lunchtime.
We drove back to the hospital to introduce her to her new wingman. He seemed to have a vague appeal, but of far more interest were all the buttons in the room. Particularly the one that folded the bed in on itself with mummy inside while simultaneously lifting her feet up to the ceiling. Nothing like rigorous abdominal exercises hours after childbirth.
Those precious first few moments were dominated by our daughter changing channels, dimming lights, summoning nurses and whacking up the volume. The ‘warm glow as a family of four’ came mainly from the fact she boosted the electric blanket to level 10.
It wasn’t that she was actively disinterested in her new brother, more that she didn’t have time to stop. There was zipping about to be done, which actually is the reality of it. Because after the initial ‘magical moments’, your foot hits the accelerator and off you go. A blur of night feeds, school runs, sterilisers, homework, baby monitors and uniforms. The world doesn’t remain in a soft focus for long, particularly when there is a nappy to change or a lunchbox to prepare.
At times it was hard not to envy her simple outlook on life – she had treated this seismic event rather like a train that skips through a station without stopping. The bulletproof attitude of little people amuses me even more when you consider the countdown that is happening around Buckingham Palace. A family of three going through all of the above, but with the small matter of the world watching and waiting too. For all the intense press attention and media overdrive, and away from the bookies and the bunting, I’d be happy to bet that what the third in line to the throne will be most concerned with, is when he’ll next be climbing into his highchair.
While the nation prepares to toast another royal baby, Prince George’s will be toast preparation of a different kind. “Mumma, I want peanut butter on it… Pleeaaasssee!”
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