SUZANNE HARRINGTON: When left holding the baby isn’t (as much) fun anymore

MY fortysomething friend’s twentysomething daughter has just had her second baby.

My fortysomething friend, although overjoyed with her grandchildren, is not quite as ecstatic at being a grandmother. Not because she has issues with being called ‘nanny’, but because she has issues with being called upon on a Sunday morning to take the children to the park so that her twentysomething daughter has some space in which to argue energetically with her partner, then have a long lingering reconciliation. My friend was happily doing the very same with her own boyfriend before the phone rang.

Youthful nanny meets up with older mummy – they are the same age — at the park. Older mummy, until quite recently serenely groovy and laid back, has become something of a train wreck in the past two and a half years. She has been repeatedly run over by a toddler. “Jesus,” she whispers, half to herself. “If I had known it was going to be this hard I would have just got another cat.” Her once glossy hair hangs limp, and her face is baggy with fatigue; she doesn’t even realise that her t-shirt is inside out, or that there is a Ben Ten sticker on her collarbone. Luckily for her — and her toddler — her oxytocin levels bathe the shock of late mummyhood in a mildly rosy sheen. Otherwise the kid would be on eBay.

Youthful nanny, pushing her grandkids on the swings back and forth, back and forth, and singing baa baa black sheep on a loop, has a slight look of bewilderment. It’s like she knows exactly what she’s doing, but can’t quite figure out why she is doing it. There she is, playing clap-handies with the older one, and wiping organic puréed slime out of the baby’s hair. Reading the ‘Hungry Caterpillar’ story in a sing song voice. Hunting frantically in the sandpit for a missing Sylvanian Family member, as the older one howls. Hoisting the baby into the buggy and rocking him to sleep with one hand as she does a puppet show with the other. She’s a pro.

“I never signed up for this!” she bellows later, after the grandkids have been given back to their glowing, satiated twentysomething mother. “If I’d wanted more babies, I’d have had them myself!” Older mummy looks confused, as though she is listening to a sales patter that has gone off topic and is now urging her not to make the purchase.

Youthful nanny warns her that by the time her toddler goes to university, she will be more than ready to reclaim her Sunday mornings in bed. That moisturising her neck and reading long, complicated novels will resume importance, as the ‘Night Garden’ and ‘My Little Pony’ become a distant memory, the way you forget toothache once it’s gone. Older mummy, pulling a piece of rice cake from her hair, nods vaguely, her gaze directed into the middle distance. You can tell she’s not convinced.


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