I have only just discovered that there is real competitiveness and judgment amongst mums, about what your baby’s name is, how your baby sleeps, eats, crawls, walks, poos, looks, interacts etc. I have spent the last 6 months in a blissful little bubble of naïveté. Ever since this bubble burst, and I have realised that everything I say about Betty, there are often judgments or comparisons being made, I have become hyper-sensitive to it, and haven’t been able to relax when talking to other parents I have never met before. I have been too scared to engage in any kind of conversation which is even remotely baby-related, for fear of appearing smug, or defensive.
This fear started after a liaison I had with another mother at the village hall playgroup last Wednesday, which almost pushed me over the edge and made me want to runs for the hills…
Betty and I enter the village hall at 9.15am. Betty is wearing her little khaki combat trousers and a red and white striped top. We go and sit next to a lady who introduces herself as Sandra, and her eight-month-old baby Jade. First off, Sandra asks me what my baby is called. I tell her that her name is Betty. ‘BETTY’ she bellows in total shock. She then thinks for a few seconds (she obviously can’t bring herself to lie and say that she likes the name) and says: ‘Well as long as YOU like the name that’s all that matters.’ I feel like telling her that Trevor (worst driver in the world) almost got clobbered by my husband a few weeks ago for handing him an article from the Daily Mail showing the top 20 baby names of 2006 and said: ‘Here is some idea of what you SHOULD have called your daughter’. My husband was extremely offended, not only because he can’t stand the Daily Mail, but also because surely a name in the top 20 baby names of 2006 is a reason NOT to name your baby one of them. Instead I tell Sandra that Jade is now a very ‘popular’ name and that she won’t have any problems finding door plaques, mugs, pens, toothbrushes etc with her name on them. She looks chuffed about this and then gives Betty a sympathetic look, as if to say ‘poor little you’.
Sandra then goes on to ask me if I’d considered the bullying and picking-on that Betty will endure when she starts school because of her ‘unusual’ name, and have I prepared myself for the fact that Betty will end up hating me for giving her this name. To which I just smile, and tell her that I certainly hoped that Betty wouldn’t get picked on at school (by Jade probably), and that if she hates her name that much she could change it. I feel like telling her that we hoped to raise Betty in such a way that she will become a very creative, open-minded, and imaginative little girl who will hopefully love us for giving her an interesting and pretty name. But I keep my mouth shut.
Sandra then starts eyeing Betty’s outfit. She asks me why ‘my baby’ (she can’t even bring herself to say ‘Betty’) isn’t wearing any shoes. I tell her that I don’t see the point as she is only 6 months old and can’t walk yet. I notice that Jade’s little podgy feet have been squeezed into some really uncomfortable-looking shiny red shoes and lacey pink socks. ‘They’re pretty little socks,’ I say to Jade. I am lying. Sandra then asks me why I have dressed Betty like a boy. I tell her that I didn’t realise I had. She says: ‘My advice is: always go for pink, then there is no mistaking that she is a girl’. I tell her that I would bear this in mind. I feel like telling her that if I’d wanted her advice I would have asked for it, and that I wouldn’t take advice off someone who dresses their baby like a bloody doll anyway. The conversation about baby clothes goes on and on. Sandra is appalled that I buy some of Betty’s clothes from supermarkets and car boot sales, and that they don’t all come from Mothercare. For my own amusement I ask her when she is getting Jade’s ears pierced. To which she proudly lifts up the pink furry flaps of Jade’s hat to reveal two little gold studs.
It is now 9.30am. I have just had 15 minutes of torture. In this time Sandra has also managed to fit in remarks about how Betty is not able to sit on her own yet, how Betty doesn’t smile much (Betty smiles all the time, just not at idiotic women), and how it would be better to start giving her formula instead of breastfeeding her now that she is six months. I am desperately trying to work out a polite way to get the hell out of there. Thinking on my feet (which I’m not very good at) I tell her that I am actually feeling quite tired (tired with her), and that I am going to go home. Sandra gives me a sympathetic look and says: ‘Ahh, the little ‘un not sleeping through the night yet?’
At this point I am worried that I am about to have a massive freak-out in the middle of the hall. I feel like saying: ‘Yes, Betty does sleep through the night actually, and has done for months, and no I don’t put holes into my baby’s ears and cause her unnecessary pain, and I would never buy one of those awful cheap plastic personalised door plaques (even if the name ‘Betty’ was on every single god damn one), and pink fluff… yuk yuk yuk, and plonking your 8 month old baby in front of those weird teletubbie characters for hours on end wrong wrong wrong, and yes I do still breastfeed my baby instead of giving her some disgusting artificial animal milk - surely HUMAN milk is best for a HUMAN baby, and Sainsbury do some very cute little baby clothes, without those ridiculous glittery slogans plastered all over them and that in fact most of Betty’s clothes come from Gap and H&M, and no Betty can’t sit up completely on her own yet, but she can feed herself with a spoon, which in my book is pretty advanced... BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH…’
But I just smile, and as calmly as I can, walk out of the hall, with my nervous waddling walk. Later, fuming, I realise that Sandra not only made me snap, but she has turned me into the most evil, judgmental and competitive mother EVER!