There’s something pretty amazing about your baby’s firsts. Like, the first time they smile at you and you nearly drop them in surprise and delight. The first time they try to imitate your laugh. The first time they experiment with sounds (and then never shut up). The first time they realise they can use their hands, or move about. Even their first solids poop is kinda cute (though that grows old fast). You want to gush about it all like your baby is the first in history to ever do these things. You feel a bit gooey inside, like a Cadbury crème egg, which happily for most is out this time of year.
Actually, this time of year is part of the problem. Because along with the firsts come things like baby’s first Christmas, baby’s first Easter, baby’s first birthday.
I’m not so bah-humbug that I have an issue with people making a big deal of their baby’s first events, if that’s what they want. The photos can end up really gorgeous, of babies in outfits that make you just want to eat them. (Not a sentiment I ever expressed until I actually had a baby and realised how yummy they can be and that I do have a maternal bone in my body.) But it seems to me as though the Commercial Bandwagon strikes harder than usual with mothers. It’s another form of mummy guilt – if you don’t spend an exorbitant amount of money, buy costumes they will only wear once, and hire professional photographers for each occasion, your baby will be forever scarred by the fact that they don’t have memories (of being under one?), or at least photographic evidence of it (even if it’s one cajoled smiling moment in a day of tears).
Okay, I am a bit bah-humbug. But I have always been concerned at the Commercial Bandwagon, how it sinks its claws in and creates worry and stress, sucking the joy out of what should be a happy occasion for those who are guilted into succumbing. I just didn’t realise until now how much it applied to mothers of babies in their first year.
First event for Little Miss and those around her age was Christmas. I started to feel guilty because other mothers talked about buying not just a walker, or a jolly jumper, or an activity centre, but the lot. The cost of Christmas presents for some was starting to run easily into the hundreds, for babies that weren’t even yet crawling. And here we were, telling everyone that we weren’t fussed and that Little Miss had plenty of toys already. I started to feel as though our baby was Harry Potter in the broom cupboard, watching while Dudley got only 36 presents. I was surprised no-one called DoCS, what with that and my lack of a Santa photo. We had foolishly thought waiting in a queue and then paying for a pic of her crying with separation anxiety in a stranger’s arms would not be “cute”, but apparently, as I was informed in shock many times when I stated my decision, “A Santa photo is how you get to see how much they’ve grown each year!” I guess the other daily photos of LM didn’t count.
As if our behaviour already wasn’t bad enough, whilst other mothers tried frantically to appease both parents and in-laws or thought they should hold two Christmases, my partner and I decided last-minute to bugger the whole thing and go away, just us three (and Peanut, who we didn’t know about yet thanks to a faulty pregnancy test), staying near a quiet beach. I kept an eye out to see if LM showed any signs of missing pine trees or tinsel, or distress at her lack of reindeer antlers, but she persisted in practicing her rolling, ignoring the presents others had given her to make merry with the wrapping, grinning her head off. On New Year’s Eve, she even somehow fortuitously decided to fight sleep and got to see the town’s nine o’clock fireworks from the balcony, a “first” we didn’t expect but which turned into a nice surprise, shared by just her immediate family.
Then Easter hits straight after Christmas these days. Frankly, I never gave it a thought. When asked what we were going to do for Easter, I blinked and said surely a baby that’s still commando crawling and not eating chocolate wouldn’t be going on any egg hunts? But again, the Commercial Bandwagon through its mouthpieces told me everyone else was buying bunny toys and bunny books, and look it wouldn’t hurt to also pop her in a basket in a bunny costume in hopes that a professional photographer could capture a smiling moment without her trying to eat the bunny ears and crawl out. I ended up feeling like Petunia Dursley again for saying, “Well, we don’t really celebrate Easter, and actually, she has more things than she knows what to do with, and I don’t want her thinking the year is an endless parade of presents.” I felt too guilty to explain that she would probably throw any gifts aside to play with the mobile phone, TV remote, laptop mouse, well anything she shouldn’t, really. As for books, she ignores the hundreds she already has to pick the same one every night for Daddy to read. (Apparently she loves his silly Wombat Stew voices. Me, I just get handed the same five-page counting book over and over – “Oh, look, one puppy. Two puppies. Three puppies. Four … oh, you want the beginning again? One puppy.” Sometimes I vary it by saying, “That puppy’s brown,” but I’m running out of options.)
And then comes … The First Birthday. The Event To End All Events.
I naïvely thought this was all about the baby and what would be least stressful for her. Maybe an informal little backyard gathering, a few friends and rellies, organised a couple of weeks in advance, everyone brings a plate. She can have a nap in peace and quiet when she needs it, and not be poked and prodded and overstimulated till she cries. Because it is for the baby, right? OH, HA HA HA.
The amount of talk about first birthdays has actually had me confused as to whether we are, indeed, talking about birthdays or weddings. I think some parents are taking out a second mortgage for it. They are planned months in advance. You need to pick a theme, complete with themed custom-made invitations, and hire a theme-decorated hall for hundreds of friends, relatives, and acquaintances, and organise activities to keep their own children occupied. (I have no idea what theme Little Miss would prefer, considering a highlight of her day is being cheered when she does a poop in the potty – yes she’s only 9.5 months, but we’re trying elimination communication, okay.) You again need a professional photographer to dog your baby’s every move. And you need to order, not just one cake insanely expensively decorated, but two. I had never even heard of a “cake smash” before I had a baby, but apparently the major thing is for them to be photographed bashing their way through one. Even mothers who originally hadn’t been going for it have been guilted that “everyone’s doing it”. Anyone who dares to suggest that it might be wasteful, or possibly even unfair as the baby can’t eat the cake (unless it’s made sugar-free), gets lambasted severely for being “negative” and wanting to ruin the memories of babies everywhere, and just for good measure, they probably drown kittens and tie the ears of bloodhounds together as well.
I’m really glad for the few mothers that have secretly confessed to me that they actually just wanted a backyard BBQ with a handful of people. It makes me feel less like the ruiner of my baby’s psyche. I did make it to my mid-thirties before it occurred to me, with all this happening, that there are no photos of my first Easter, Christmas, or birthday – although I’m not sure if that can be tied into any of my life problems. Maybe I should ask my therapist. Then again, it’ll be nice to explain to Little Miss that her bank account remains open and intact, as she sucks on the laptop mouse whilst banging the phone and remote together.