I’ve lifted the one-woman boycott I’d been maintaining against a nail salon that began when the person doing my nails asked me if I was pregnant when I was not.
To spare what I anticipated being embarrassment for both of us, I told her I wasn’t pregnant but that I’d just had a baby. There was a modicum of truth in this line. I did have a baby but the “just” was probably misleading. So, when she congratulated me and asked how old the baby was, I was sitting there picturing the bouncing and robust seven-month-old child at home while responding: “Oh eh . . . a few weeks.”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realised my mistake. Nobody who has just had a baby is that vague or unsure of their age. They know it almost down to the day and will proudly answer “3 ½ weeks” or “eight weeks” – inexplicably refusing to round up to the next (and commonly used) unit of measurement (being months). I knew as well, that my lacklustre response was curiously devoid of the unabashed pride and gushing that accompanies talking about so new a baby. A whole seven months later, the sheen had worn off mine.
I was so clearly lying that the woman thankfully asked me no further questions, avoiding the natural follow-ons, like “Is she your first? What did you call her? What did she weigh? Are you getting any sleep? What hospital did you go to? How long was the labour? How many stitches?” You know, small talk.
We fell into an uncomfortable silence that lasted the rest of the appointment.
I’ve only felt confident enough to return to the salon now, two years later, with a small baby in the pram beside me. It’s a sort of baby sensory class for the maternity leave class of 2021/2022, in the absence of any actual baby sensory classes. Breathe in those nail varnish fumes, baby – that is your sense of smell.
Another good baby sensory activity is bringing them along to the glass recycling. The buggy is a wonderful way to store and convey the bottles and you cover at least three senses: holding the empty wine bottle up to the light like you’re some sort of connoisseur, trying to discern if this bottle is brown or just a very, very dark green (sight), the smash of the glass on glass (sound) and of course, that unique bottle bank smell – putrid on the nose, with undertones of mould and hints of decay.
David flying with a five-week-old.
On maternity leave in 2019 by comparison, I went to every class going. Living my best mat leave life. There was baby pilates, baby yoga, baby massage and baby cinema. Baby afternoon tea, baby lunchtime wine in town, baby trip to New York. She was a hedonistic baby and I was just adapting to her needs. That child had a passport at three weeks old and had used it more times in her first six months than most of her grandparents had used theirs before they were 20.
On our last flight in February, 2020 (coming home from a weekend in London), while sitting in my seat, I held the baby up over my head. Having owned the baby for six months at that stage, I should have known better than to whoosh her around after she’d eaten. Yes, she vomited straight down on to my head from a height. If I had seen it, I would have laughed my head off. So I hope for anyone behind me whose last flight it was also, that it at least brings them fond memories when they think of it.
The child born into a pandemic did not have a passport at three weeks or even three months. It finally arrived when she was eight months old but you don’t need a passport to go to Roscommon and that is the furthest she’s been. Does it matter? Absolutely not. Does she care? Same answer.
As I left the office for my first maternity leave, a colleague advised me to do only one thing a day and to spend one day a week where you don’t leave the house. This was good advice. More recently, I received further unsolicited advice as I walked down my own street. An elderly neighbour, who I had never met before, was standing out in her garden and she said to me: “Keep treating yourself and see that smile? Never lose it.”
While this was also good advice, she was preaching to the converted because I am never not treating myself. At the very moment she was speaking to me I was on the way back from a manicure (see above). Indeed, the only downside to my husband working from home instead of the office is that he occasionally bears witness to the decadence of my mid-morning baths and though he says he isn’t judging me, it somehow feels like he is.
The best thing about baby classes had always been 1, that they get you out of the house and 2, that you get to eat cake after.
The part in between 1 and 2 (the class) I’d take or leave and I gladly skipped it this time, instead, going straight for the cake.