Not much has been written about the effect of parenthood on eyesight. It is profound. It happens straightaway. As soon as you first see your baby, you cease to see anything else at all clearly. I’ve heard a brand-new father, still glowing from the heat of the labour ward, describe his first-born as, ‘very wrinkled and cross, a sort of purplish colour, like a pansy, really — she’s exquisite’.
How the other mothers can bear
to have such plain ones
I‘ve met a mother who’d just delivered a long, thin baby with an extremely pointed head and a shock of black hair so sticky-out that it resembled nothing so much as a loo brush. Her view: ‘I’m so lucky, I’ve got the most beautiful baby in the ward; I don’t know how the other mothers can bear to have such plain ones.’
Love is, as they say, blind. And just as well. Mothers are programmed to adore their offspring uncritically, to be blinded by everything except what their new baby needs. If you look round any maternity ward you can see that indoctrination taking place: each newly-delivered Mum (backache, labour pains, piles, stitches and personal anguish forgotten), staring intently at her new infant, unwrapping it to inspect all the perfect little bits, cooing to it, telling it how its nursery at home has been decorated and what the neighbours are like. The pair of them just lie there, looking at each other, bonding to a band playing.
Once the whole process is complete, the blinkers are on, the visual handicap is incurable. Tunnel vision. It’s Nature’s way, isn’t it? If you think of how demanding a new baby is, how much you and your partner have to sacrifice, it stands to reason. You couldn’t do all that for an ordinary baby (let alone a beastly one), so Nature makes sure you’ve been given a special one: a really gorgeous, intelligent, talented, potential world leader.
What seems worth bragging about…
‘Ours fills her nappy four times a night’
Then parents will start competing, boasting about their own baby’s merits. You’d be staggered at what seems worth bragging about. ‘Ours fills her nappy four times a night.’ ‘Well, ours does it six times.’ ‘After a feed, our daughter can posset as far as your shoes.’ ‘Huh, ours can throw up right across the carpet!’ ‘When you change his nappy, our boy can pee all over his vest.’ ‘That’s nothing, our lad can pee straight up in your face!’
Beauty, you see, is in the eye of the beholder. And in cases like these, there are probably one or two other bits in the eye of the beholder, too.
Looking at your own child from this perspective, through parental pince-nez, you realise you have double vision, or rather, double standards. If your infant has achieved any milestone earlier than most — like smiling or digesting egg yolk — you’ll steer the conversation round so you can drop in that piece of quite wondrous information.
But if some other parent is showing off about her baby sleeping through the night, you may find yourself relating an article you’ve read that says intelligent babies need less sleep. (This condition is called night blindness.)
Children who walk too early
grow up bandy–legged
If some other kid is up and toddling while yours is still bottom-shuffling, you could catch yourself saying you’re sure there’s no truth in the old wives’ tale that children who walk too early grow up bandy-legged. (This is called an optical illusion.)
Go straight from the obstetrician to the optician if you’re guilty of any of these. My baby is bonny or well-covered; yours is fat. Mine is advanced; yours, precocious. Mine is mature; yours is a little old man already. Mine is cheeky but charming; yours, cocky and ought to be put in his place. Mine is biddable and obedient; yours, cowed, over-dominated.
But what do you do in the unlikely event that your superior child does do something reprehensible? Say yours grabs a handful of another baby’s hair. Remarks like: ‘He only wants to touch her hair because it’s so pretty’ will not do. Mothers who do apologise for their babies (‘Sorry, my Kevin bit your Katie’) find the other mother unplacated (‘Not half as sorry as Katie is — nor as I am’).
If the other Mum doesn’t correct her own child, it’s left to you. Do you endure watching your child being bullied, or do you intervene and appear to be overprotective?
You can get caught in one of those unsatisfactory one-sided conversations. You go to comfort your own battered child, saying through clenched teeth, ‘I expect Jake feels sorry and wants to apologise,’ when you know in your heart, Jake isn’t and doesn’t and is planning another attack.
We’ve all got our blind side. You may be the one whose child is visited by rough, insensitive, ill-disciplined oiks who bounce on all the beds and break up his carefully constructed Lego farmstead. Or you may take your kids to a house where they have an inordinate regard for the furnishings, and a little wimp of a child who bursts into tears when yours are trying to create a Lego space station. Depends which end of the periscope you’re peering through.
Limit it to manslaughter
with time out for good behaviour
Correcting kids presupposes that there’s some agreed code of behaviour, which there isn’t. In their own homes they can get away with murder; at least in your own you can limit it to manslaughter with time out for good behaviour. Look around at your friends’ kids and think what you might have had. Just consider yourself fortunate that yours are beautiful, bright and infinitely lovable.
Lucky, isn’t it, that love is blind or at any rate supplied with rose-tinted specs? Beauty is in the eye of the bifocals.