Southerly by David Haywood

103

Nine Months of Baby Hell

Listening to other parents talk about their babies is like visiting a foreign country. "Our daughter can quietly amuse herself for hours watching her baby-mobile," claims a member of our Plunket group. "We're actually getting too much sleep now that the baby's arrived," says another. "I was planning to take three months away from work," asserts a third, "but I had so much time on my hands that I decided to go back early. I've also put my name down to foster some teenagers with behavioural problems, and I thought I might study for a Ph.D."

What a bunch of f**king show-offs. Never once has our son been amused by his baby-mobile for so much as a nanosecond. Over the last four months he has slept a maximum of five hours a night, and seldom longer than an hour in a row. And he screams and bellows to such an extent that our former neighbour, a German earth-mother who adores babies, is on record as saying: "Gott im Himmel! If I had ever seen a baby like Bob, I never would have wanted children in a million years."

In fact, Bob-the-baby's behaviour is so utterly beyond the pale that it gives us a certain cachet in parenting circles. Members of our antenatal class call up to hear his latest outrage. "He urinated all over our G.P.," says Jennifer. "Then when he got home he threw up on the floor, rolled round in his own vomit, and smeared it over the furniture."

Above: Bob at age four months (warning: baby may be less angelic than he appears).

On the day that Bob was (sort of) expelled from the local Plunket group, Jennifer and I basked in the glory of his reflected badness. We subsequently had to take him to a special Plunket centre: basically a Parrie Max for bad babies. "At least he won't be the worst baby here," said Jennifer hopefully.

No such luck. Bob announced his presence by demonstrating his 'wall of sound' abilities. By the end of the session the other parents were looking harrowed but visibly cheered-up. "Well, of course, I now realize that our baby isn't so bad," said one of them, casting an eye at Bob.

Bob's outré antics also include a trick that our paediatrician lightly refers to as "the constipation issue". At first blush, this actually seems like a good thing -- no dirty nappies -- but, as the days turn into weeks, Bob eventually begins to resemble nothing so much as an unexploded bomb.

The inevitable detonation is appalling beyond belief. I can only liken it to a fat man stomping on a jumbo-sized tube of brown toothpaste. Excrement comes cascading out of every opening: Bob's trouser cuffs, his sleeves, and even his collar. On one occasion, the event occurred when he was in bed with us -- deluging parents, duvet, pillows, and mattress with a week's worth of faeces.

But all of this antisocial behaviour is inconsequential in comparison to Bob's really difficult trait. You can probably guess what I'm going to say, and it's every parent's worst nightmare. Yes, I'm afraid that Bob-the-baby likes country music.

As a new-born we attempted to pacify him with soothing classical CDs -- but he simply wasn't having it. Brahms made him scream; Mozart turned him purple with rage. Any kind of rock or pop reduced Bob to a blubbering wreck. And a brief encounter with jazz left him more distraught than the occasion when a mid-wife stuck a giant needle into his bottom.

Curiously, it was only when Bob was accidentally exposed to his parents' most hated genre of music that his true inclinations were revealed. The transformation was astounding. He stopped screaming. A beatific smile crept across his features. He began to grunt in a manner that indicated he wished to be held next to the loudspeakers in order to enjoy country music at maximum volume.

And so, to our intense horror, we have become a country music-playing household. God knows what it's doing to Bob's mental development. If classical music is supposed to enhance children's intelligence, then one can only theorize that country -- at the very least -- might make them inclined to vote for Winston Peters.

Even more worrying is the emotional impact of those country lyrics on Bob's impressionable young psyche. If you believe the newspapers, teenagers are always topping themselves after listening to depressing tunes on their iPods. And I defy anyone to come up with a musical genre more depressing than country. In evidence, I quote from a song called "No Depression" (presumably an ironic title) recorded by the Carter Family in 1936:

This dark hour of midnight nearing,
tribulation time will come.
The storm will hurl the midnight fears,
and sweep lost millions to their doom.

Bob usually gives a huge guffaw of laughter when he hears that last line -- a response which, I fear, is already not a good sign.

The peculiar thing is that now I've heard the song about 500 times, I'm beginning to think that Bob might have a point. It does have a certain something. In fact, I've even begun to twiddle round with some of Bob's favourite country tunes on my guitar. Bob falls into a state of absolute bliss when I do this: his face lights up with pleasure, he sways joyfully, and he waves his little hands in the air. When I stop playing, his face crumples up, and he breaks off into heart-rending sobs. It's such a shame that audiences never did that when I was a proper musician.

Above: The author plays country music while his fan club looks on adoringly.

At any rate, despite his dubious taste in music, Bob appears to be otherwise normal. Between bouts of screaming (which are gradually getting less frequent), he leads a busy and action-filled life.

Perhaps his happiest moments are spent rifling through the recycling bin in order to drink the dregs from my beer bottles, but he also enjoys such pursuits as: poking paper-clips into electrical sockets; crawling precariously down flights of stairs; and having protracted 'my parents don't understand me' conversations with his close personal friend, Adrian the Rabbit.

Above: Deep in conversation with Adrian the Rabbit.

All in all, I think that things could really be much worse. Now that he's out of his Rodney Hide phase, Bob has returned to his original good looks. In fact, impressed with Bob's movie-star appearance, an eminent academic pointed out to me that it's much more sensible to have handsome badly-behaved babies than well-behaved ugly ones.

Behavioural therapy, she explained, will almost certainly fall under the umbrella of the public health system -- whereas cosmetic surgery is still very much a privately-funded procedure.

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