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Peek-a-Boo

1
My sister said that one of the worst things about the end of maternity leave was getting on the tube on her first day back, and being normal again. Because she had not been normal, for well over a year.

It was only when I was pregnant that I properly understood.

First there was the bump, prompting knowing smiles and invasive but well meant questions, unsolicited advice, offers of seats and lifting and help, and departing cries of “good luck!”. My bump became the world’s bump, and there was something almost tribal about this unexpected

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community wanting to share your baby.

And then the bump became a baby, with its fearless unwavering stare, and ability to make complete strangers contort their faces in the hope of coaxing out a giggle. And the questions continued, almost always the same ones, from well intentioned bus drivers, tourists, grannies, and men in suits, missing their own small person whom they had wistfully kissed goodbye before leaving at dawn that day.

But it didn’t matter, really, that I said the same answer over and over again because, as a result of being the

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mother of this small, chirping, waving thing, ready to reward those who persevered with games of peek-a-boo and coquettish glances and clapping hands, I became the most special person in the room.

Sometimes the conversations were banal, about puree or playgrounds or bedtime routines, other times they were intimate, and confessional, as though, because you have shared the same promise and pain of birth, you are now confidents. Sometimes they were not even in a common tongue, but rather in the language of smiles and gestures and picture on phones of

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babies in far off lands, separated from their mothers for reasons I was unable to ask and could not begin to understand.

And when the baby was wailing and kicking, hungry or bored, and I was forced to break the heavy silence and, with everyone listening, talk about trains or spot bicycles or read Peppa Pig books or steal time with rice cakes and raisins, when I dared to look up I could see indulgent smiles amongst the blank faces.

On the occasions I went out without my son, I realised something else. The shield that I wore before the baby would

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begin to close in again – my head went down, my pace quickened, my mouth was tighter, my heart faster. I was in a hurry, and I didn’t want to talk: I had so little time and so much to DO. I realised I used to rather enjoy this hum of impatience. It was as though because my purpose was more urgent, my time was clearly valuable, and therefore I was more important. I would push myself through the doors of the carriage, eyes darting for a seat, slide into it, and look without looking.

Before I had a child, I would catch a rising irritation if there

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were babies around. Particularly in what I considered to be an adult space. Rush hour. Planes. Restaurants. Galleries. Don’t get me wrong: I still think there needs to be some hallowed, silent spaces where those without children, either permanently or temporarily, can enjoy the stillness.

But what I had failed to understand was this extraordinary thing that children could do: they could take a bunch of strangers and turn them into friends.

The next time I went out alone and marched to the tube and slunk into my seat, I noticed on the opposite

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7
side of the carriage a woman with a baby in a sling. She was rubbing the sleeping child’s back with the palm of her hand. And I caught her eye and smiled and she smiled back and I felt immediately better.

So this was what children did: they united you, humanised you, connected you – they gave you an excuse to smile and share fleeting intimacies in between bus stops.

So, to all you strangers, sitting on the Number 52, all that’s left to say is “….peek-a-boo!”.

SelfishMother.com
Sarah Langford

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- 7 Mar 16

My sister said that one of the worst things about the end of maternity leave was getting on the tube on her first day back, and being normal again. Because she had not been normal, for well over a year.

It was only when I was pregnant that I properly understood.

First there was the bump, prompting knowing smiles and invasive but well meant questions, unsolicited advice, offers of seats and lifting and help, and departing cries of “good luck!”. My bump became the world’s bump, and there was something almost tribal about this unexpected community wanting to share your baby.

And then the bump became a baby, with its fearless unwavering stare, and ability to make complete strangers contort their faces in the hope of coaxing out a giggle. And the questions continued, almost always the same ones, from well intentioned bus drivers, tourists, grannies, and men in suits, missing their own small person whom they had wistfully kissed goodbye before leaving at dawn that day.

But it didn’t matter, really, that I said the same answer over and over again because, as a result of being the mother of this small, chirping, waving thing, ready to reward those who persevered with games of peek-a-boo and coquettish glances and clapping hands, I became the most special person in the room.

Sometimes the conversations were banal, about puree or playgrounds or bedtime routines, other times they were intimate, and confessional, as though, because you have shared the same promise and pain of birth, you are now confidents. Sometimes they were not even in a common tongue, but rather in the language of smiles and gestures and picture on phones of babies in far off lands, separated from their mothers for reasons I was unable to ask and could not begin to understand.

And when the baby was wailing and kicking, hungry or bored, and I was forced to break the heavy silence and, with everyone listening, talk about trains or spot bicycles or read Peppa Pig books or steal time with rice cakes and raisins, when I dared to look up I could see indulgent smiles amongst the blank faces.

On the occasions I went out without my son, I realised something else. The shield that I wore before the baby would begin to close in again – my head went down, my pace quickened, my mouth was tighter, my heart faster. I was in a hurry, and I didn’t want to talk: I had so little time and so much to DO. I realised I used to rather enjoy this hum of impatience. It was as though because my purpose was more urgent, my time was clearly valuable, and therefore I was more important. I would push myself through the doors of the carriage, eyes darting for a seat, slide into it, and look without looking.

Before I had a child, I would catch a rising irritation if there were babies around. Particularly in what I considered to be an adult space. Rush hour. Planes. Restaurants. Galleries. Don’t get me wrong: I still think there needs to be some hallowed, silent spaces where those without children, either permanently or temporarily, can enjoy the stillness.

But what I had failed to understand was this extraordinary thing that children could do: they could take a bunch of strangers and turn them into friends.

The next time I went out alone and marched to the tube and slunk into my seat, I noticed on the opposite side of the carriage a woman with a baby in a sling. She was rubbing the sleeping child’s back with the palm of her hand. And I caught her eye and smiled and she smiled back and I felt immediately better.

So this was what children did: they united you, humanised you, connected you – they gave you an excuse to smile and share fleeting intimacies in between bus stops.

So, to all you strangers, sitting on the Number 52, all that’s left to say is “….peek-a-boo!”.

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Sarah Langford

I used to work as a Barrister but nowadays am judged mainly by my two small boys. We shuttle between London and Suffolk. 'In Your Defence' is published by Transworld on 28th June 2018 and available here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Your-Defence-Stories-Life-Law/dp/085752528X https://www.amazon.co.uk/Your-Defence-Stories-Life-Law/dp/085752528X/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1524691844&sr=1-1

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