I grew up as part of a large family.
Mum is the only girl of four children, and Dad is one of six (also with only one girl – what was in the water back then??). I am one of fifteen grandchildren on my father’s side, with our ages ranging from 35+ to 14. On Mum’s side, I’m the eldest of nine grandchildren – the one and only time that I’ve ever been first for anything in my life. Our ages vary between 26 to 5.
I love children and babies. (Teenagers, on the other hand… yikes. That’s a whole different playing field.)
It would seem that I was not born with this love, but it grew as I did. According to my parents, my affection for my baby brother when he was born was both spontaneous and sporadic. If Mum tells it correctly, he was placed in my arms at the hospital, I made the obligatory “Awww.” noise, kissed his rather large head, then said, “Here you go!” and attempted to toss him at Dad. Thankfully, I wasn’t a toddler Hulk, and my two and a half year old upper body strength was not enough to move him any serious distance. It still got both my parents moving pretty quickly – I like to think I kept them on their toes, to keep their parenting senses keen.
I have no children of my own yet, but at family gatherings, I’ve generally got a child on my hip, in my lap, or I’m rocking a pram. If your child isn’t in your line of sight, give me a holler – it’s a safe bet that they’re in mine.
Very early on in my relationship with my partner Dave, my best friend of eleven years had her first child. When I received the text in the morning announcing her arrival, complete with a photo of a squishy little blanket-wrapped potato that bore an uncanny resemblance to my friend, I burst into tears of joy. We visited that afternoon, where Dave requested (*ahem* begged) that nobody hand him the baby. I cuddled and cooed, and threw in a few fist bumps for the parents on a job well done. Dave situated himself as far away from the baby as possible. While offering sincere congratulations and agreeing that my friend was incredible for her delivery of a tiny human, he wasn’t having a bar of this baby malarkey.
Dave has had little to no interaction with babies or small children through his entire life. In fact, he actively avoided them if he could. Babies made noise, could not be reasoned with logically, smelled and vomited frequently and broke easily. Why would he willingly want to be anywhere near something like that? So when he realised just how maternal I was, I think it worried him a bit. I’m not sure how I got this impression. Maybe it was the look of barely supressed terror in his eyes whenever he went near someone with a baby or small child. Or maybe it was the fact that he started having… peculiar dreams.
“It was so weird! You were babysitting someone’s kid. They dropped it off. But you wouldn’t get out of bed, and you asked me to shower it. So I took it into the bathroom, sat it on the floor and started the water – but when I turned back around to pick it up, it’s face had started melting off! Please don’t make me shower anyone’s kids!”
Yes. Dave referred to the imaginary baby as ‘it’. Yes, he still does that quite often about real babies. Yes, I promised to not make him shower anyone’s children.
And yes, I definitely still tease him about that dream.
My friends who have all settled into parent life, regarded my darling boyfie as some sort of alien creature, with his fear of children and adamant refusal to go near them. He was both fascinating and confusing, and soon became a subject for further testing between one of my best friends and I.
A few months in, Dave and I decided to have a games night at our place. It’s not unusual for my friends to bring their children with them if they can’t find a babysitter, as they’ve always been welcome in my home.
My friend of around fifteen years sat beside Dave, nursing her then-ten-month-old daughter on her lap. She’d been casting glances at him sideways for a little while when she finally spoke up.
“I just… I just want to try something. Can I try something and see what happens? Ok… here we go-!”
And she dropped her child into my unsuspecting boyfriends lap like a grenade that she’d just pulled the pin from. Dave automatically put his hands around Little Miss’s waist to stop her toppling to the floor, which I give him brownie points for.
There was a beat, in which the small child and Dave both blinked at each other.
And then the grenade blew.
Dave claims his tears were put on for comedic effect, but to this day, we still aren’t entirely sure if that’s true.
“Relax,” I said, pushing my words out through giggles and snapping pictures. “It’s not like her face is going to melt off.”
Dave has become slightly less anxious about small children as our relationship has continued. Slightly.
He no longer wails when a small child enters his personal space bubble (now it’s more of a soft whimper). He might even go so far as to give them an experimental poke on the foot before withdrawing quickly. Watching him interact with a particularly small child is actually a bit like watching a cat playing in a cardboard box.
He coped with having my cousin’s child, Miss One, in the apartment for three days straight. He amuses my cousins children with funny noises, passing them off as magic tricks. I know that he is most likely silently cursing me for telling them in the beginning that he was a wizard, because now Miss Five expects sorcery all the time. His funny noise repertoire has been cycled through extensively. As far as I know, he’s had no more dreams about babies with melting faces.
Here’s the thing that really baffles both of us though – despite his discomfort about and around children, they love him.
Seriously, they fricken adore him.
And we cannot figure out why.
He still isn’t comfortable picking any of them up and carrying them around. He will sit beside them on the lounge or on the floor, (or he won’t move away if they come and sit by him, at least) and engage in conversation, generally initiated by the child. He will tentatively allow them to hug him, throwing panicked glances my way over their heads. He draws the line at having a child in his lap, or being kissed. He still points them in my direction for every little need that needs addressing, and pales at the thought of nappy changes or bath time. None of this bothers me. It’s important that, at the end of the day, he’s comfortable in situations with small kids tearing about the place. These things take time. Until then, baby steps (ha, get it?).
Despite all this – kids flock to him. They hang off of his every word. Not only do they listen when he asks them to do a task, but they actually do it.
And they love having his attention.
My cousin’s little boy, Master Almost Three, met him for the first time last month. They instantly bonded over their t-shirts (Dave with Pokémon, and Master Almost Three with Batman). They were best friends for the rest of the evening – at one point, Master Almost Three yelled “DAVO!” across the servicemen’s club entertainment area, waving maniacally, just to ensure that Dave was still present and hadn’t abandoned him. Dave was even lured away from the adults table to play with young Master Almost Three, until he tripped and hurt his leg, and came running back to Grandma for comfort
Recently, I had my cousin’s three children at my house for the weekend. Dave was working on-call, and it was an especially busy period for him, so he was hardly at home. The girls were asleep before he got home, and he saw them briefly in the morning, before heading back in to work.
Those ten, half-asleep minutes were all that Miss Five needed.
“When is Dave coming back?” She asked me. “Can he come to McDonald’s with us? When does his work finish? Can he come to visit Nan too? Can we go and see him at work?”
Once we were at Nans, Miss Five set about very busily drawing a portrait of Dave and I in a boat, drinking chocolate milk. She then studiously copied his name onto the paper, asking for reassurance that she was using the right letters. She made it explicitly clear that this masterpiece was a gift for Dave, and I was given strict instructions to deliver it promptly.
She was very upset when she had to leave without seeing him again that day.
When I told Dave this, he fixed me with his ‘But, why?‘ expression, coupled with a baffled silence. I shrugged.
“She thinks you’re the bees knees. Oh, and she drew you this. It’s us in a boat drinking choccy milk.”
Despite himself, a small, pleased grin spilt over Dave’s face as I handed him the drawing.
“Well,” He said. “I do like chocolate milk.”