Maternity leave. One day you’re a fully-functioning member of society, heading up meetings at work and studying Stylist magazine for your next fashion splurge; the next you’re watching Homes Under The Hammer in crumpled pyjamas with two-day-old baby sick in your hair. It’s frightening how quickly the descent can happen.
Fortunately, there’s no end to the amount of baby-orientated pursuits your days can be filled with: baby bonding, baby sensory, baby rap, baby massage, baby yoga, baby bungee.
Okay, so I made the last one up. But it’s got ‘baby’ in front of it so mums would probably pay good money to come anyway.
And if the tag line said something along the lines of: ‘Baby bungee has been proven to strengthen your little one’s core muscles; the increased blood flow to their head created by dangling upside down encourages accelerated brain development, while providing a unique mother and baby bonding experience…’, well, they’d be queuing out the door.
But first up, how about something just for the moms…
My first thought on hearing about ‘baby cinema’ was that it sounded horrendous. Why would I want to watch a film with hordes of rugrats crying in the background?
So it was with some trepidation that I headed down to Everyman cinema on Tuesday morning.
However, it wasn’t half as hellish as I’d thought. Everyman, in case you haven’t been, is a great cinema – all fancy furnishings and sink-into sofas (perfect for clandestine nappy changes). Coffee and cake is brought to your seat (Yep, more cake. I take issue with the fact that people feel the need to constantly feed women on maternity leave cake. It’s incredibly patronising, as if they’ve thought, ‘hmm, what can we give these frumpy mums? Yes, let’s feed them cake – that’ll keep ’em happy’. But still, I’m not one to pass up a slice of lemon drizzle…).
The only slightly unnerving part of baby cinema is the amount of interest the baby takes in the film. My own little pudding is absolutely transfixed and sometimes I feel like I should be shielding her eyes from certain Cert. 18. scenes. Forget Peppa Pig… She’s far more interested in seeing Leonardo DiCaprio get mauled by a bear in The Revenant and Tilda Swinton’s legs akimbo in The Bigger Splash.
It’s the stuff of nightmares. But boy does she love it.
Then I figured that as our daughter had spent her early days being raised on back-to-back episodes of Game of Thrones, what’s a bit more gratuitous sex and violence during her formative months.
I’ve yet to be convinced by baby sensory. Like all of these structured classes, the baby has to be actually in the mood for said sensory experience. This is tricky. If you sign up for a regular class like this, there’s a high chance the baby will be otherwise engaged in one of their main activities, namely feeding, sleeping or pooing. In the early days, the window of opportunity for any level of entertainment is preposterously small.
Baby sensory starts with a cheesy ‘Say Hello to the Sun’ song. It’s the kind of event that if – as a non-parent – you happened to stumble across it you’d probably run for the hills. I feel like fleeing the minute we sing, ‘I love the flowers because they gladden me’. Then I remember I’m actually here of my own free will. And not only that, I actually parted with money. I must have lost my mind. I probably HAVE lost my mind.
But there’s no time to dwell on that now. The pace is fast; the activities relentless. One minute you’re attempting to keep up with ‘Tommy Thumb, Tommy Thumb, where are you…’, the next you could be crinkling foil, blowing bubbles and learning the sign language for ‘milk’ – all at the same time.
Despite the baby lying on a mat right in front of you (part of the bonding experience), the reality is they’re always far more interested in the person next to you. Otherwise, they spend most of the session gazing gormlessly out of the window or strangely fascinated by the ceiling lights. Basically, doing anything that does not involve participating in whatever activity your £6.50 has paid for.
Still, I shouldn’t complain. Since our six-week sensory course, the baby has really excelled at chewing on her own foot.
Not set foot in your local library in the last decade? Nope, I hadn’t either. Now I’m in there several times a week. I’m pleased to report the slightly musty smell remains, the librarians are still largely sporting beards and Birkenstocks, and there’s the usual strange, greasy-haired people surfing the Internet for hours at a time.
The reason for my frequent visits is the library’s free ‘rhymetime’ sessions. Yes, note the ‘free’. You’ll be pleased to know your taxes are providing half an hour of light relief for frazzled mums across the country.
Rhymetime is like baby sensory but without the surcharge and none of the fanfare. Actually, what am I saying… it’s not like baby sensory at all. But the free part means scores of parents descend on the library every Thursday morning.
You’d think with this level of interest, the library would pull out all the stops – perhaps getting their best and most entertaining employee to lead the sing-along.
I’m afraid this isn’t the case. What we do get is a rather weary librarian, clutching a sad-looking teddy bear. She leads a few mono-tonal renditions of ‘Alice the Camel’ and ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ and then she looks in desperation at the assembled throng of mums and babies and feebly asks for requests. Someone usually pipes up with ‘Wind The Bobbin Up’ and then off we go again.
Now don’t get me wrong: I like a hearty rendition of The Wheels On The Bus at the best of times. And I’m not suggesting for one minute that the librarians are in any way trained in children’s entertainment but the half an hour rhyme time can often be a little, well, unimaginative.
That is until the Gruffalo came to town.
The Gruffalo made a guest appearance at the library three weeks ago and he was absolutely brilliant. He’s a theatrical 40-something year old with boundless energy and bags of songs up his sleeve. I have no idea where the city council found him.
He charged around the room booming out, ‘Twinkle Twinkle, Chocolate Bar’, occasionally tooting on his orange trumpet, and releasing bubbles from his special bubble machine.
Next up, he donned bunny ears and bounced on one leg for a round of, ‘Hop Little Bunny, hop hop hop…’
And at the end of all this giddy fun, he announced he would be coming back again next week. Hurray!
Who needs baby sensory when the Gruffalo’s in town?!
The following week he had a lot to live up to but he didn’t disappoint. Week 2 saw him lose his Gruffalo disguise and pad around in giant panda slippers, singing, ‘I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor’. Out of his special prop bag appeared a furry pink and yellow puppet called Rhubarb And Custard, which occasionally pecked people, à la Emu.
This was supposed to be his last week covering for his weary predecessor but then he announced he was coming back again for a third time… (goodness knows what’s happened to the original librarian – maybe the boa constrictor ate her!).
By week 3, news of the best library rhymetime in the country had begun to spread across Leeds.
The library was full to the rafters as the artist formerly known as the Gruffalo bounded around in a tiger onesie, complete with oversized spectacles.
We sang ‘Wind The Bobbin Up’ really, really fast and then again but this time really s-l-o-w-l-y. He pranced around in a floppy hat for ‘Dingle Dangle Scarecrow’, led an uplifting rendition of ‘The Woman Who Swallowed A Fly’. before he announced he’s going to be back for one final hurrah next week (the final week again? Talk about dangling the carrot!).
Talking of carrots, he’s actually coming dressed as a carrot for the next session. No, really. It’s going to be the highlight of my week.
Now pass me some cake.