The day of the coffee meeting with Bar came, between a nappy change and a bottle it was already tomorrow...
By the way, I am not sure if it only applies to me, but having a baby really, I mean REALLY speeds up the clocks. You know the expression "Awwww, they grow up so fast..."? That means also "Awww, I am skidding towards old age/knitted hats and ugly grey tweed coats/dementia/incontinence".
But seriously, I can't believe how quickly time passes by. Little G is already 6 months old. It feels like it all happened in a flash. If I close my eyes, I can see his little face, still covered in gunk, as Little G first came out of our surrogate and into our lives. It feels like it only happened yesterday.
But I am digressing again.
Me and Little G got ready for our coffee appointment, we make quite a good team. We were supposed to meet Bar and Fergus, her little son, at the restaurant in Peter Jones. Normally I hate department stores, especially during the Christmas season. It's all a big mess of tinsel, fake snow and some stupor-inducing carols blaring from the loudspeakers.
Bar explained to me however, that this was the only place in Chelsea where one did not have to worry about manoeuvring a stroller, it offered plenty of space and lovely views over the London skyline. It did sound appealing to me, always paranoid about getting stuck in a gridlock of prams, chairs and tables in the impossible (not really...) quest for the perfect place to have lunch with a baby in tow.
We arrived at 10.30 and we were half an hour early, so I decided to venture into the Early Learning Centre, just next door to Peter Jones, to check out small toys to fill Little G's Xmas stocking.
My little man was peacefully sleeping in his stroller, his dummy halfway out of his opened mouth. I was making my way through a corridor of boxes of toys, stacked up almost to the ceiling and stopped to pick up a musical 'Winnie the Poo' toy that caught my eye.
All of a sudden, from behind me, a woman in a yellow coat, also pushing a stroller, overtakes me, getting the back wheel of her pram stuck into mine. Without a glance to me, she forces her way through pushing me aside. The resulting jolt wakes up my little angel. For a fraction of a second I look at the back of this 'lady', expecting her to turn to apologise (we are in Britain after all, here you apologise even if it's your foot that has been trampled on, just as a reflex....).
When I finally realise she was not going to, I shout "HEY!"
And the woman, turning towards me with an expression of bother on her face, clipped out an "Excuse me?"
"You just pushed me aside! Didn't you see?" I tried, politely.
Her thin eyebrows now raised almost two feet in the air "Don't you comment to me on what I did or did not do young man!"
I could not believe my ears. I was flabbergasted.
Then, as she turned her back on me to keep on walking, I yelled at her
"You must be fucking joking lady!"
She turned immediately with her mouth opened in disbelief hissing "I beg your pardon!?"
"I BEG YOUR PARDON MY ARSE! You bumped into me and need to apologise!"
She wasn't having any of it. She turned to another woman, obviously interested in out spat, saying "Can you believe this one? He is getting all hooty with me..."
And then, looking at me with a smug expression on her face "Let your wife take the baby out from now on, you obviously need more experience..".
That was it.
"I DON'T NEED ANY EXPERIENCE TO RECOGNISE A RUDE BITCH WHEN I SEE ONE!"
She snapped at me with a patronising "How dare you using this language! THIS IS A CHILDREN SHOP!"
Here we go, another of those mothers hiding behind the 'child welfare' smoke screen to carry on indulging in all sorts of anti-social behaviour and get away with it. Like the selfish bitches that jump into a packed bus with their stroller and, instead of realising that is full and impossible to fit into, they opt for ramming pram and child up your ribs, in the knowledge that you won't dare to say anything. I don't care who I offend at this point, but the very, very few men I saw pushing a pram seemed to be far more considerate. Again, I am digressing... Must stop this annoying habit.... Anyway, as I was saying, mother Twat was reprimanding me for calling her a bitch, but my back was already turned and, as I walked away, my middle finger was raised high for her to see. And boy did she see it!
"Did you see that?" I could hear her screaming at the onlooking woman, "It's outrageous, I will report him to the shop manager!"
"Cut it out lady! You did push your way through, you should've apologised to the young man!"
I heard a man saying.
"Mind your own business!" she replied, sounding hysterical.
"Don't tell me to mind my own business you rude woman!"
The argument was ongoing....
As I exited the store I happened to notice that the young guy behind the counter was literally crying with laughter, part of me was too. The other part was furious.
Oh, well. Not a good start of my social day.
I was really shaking with nerves (so gay...). I don't like confrontation, even less in a public place where everyone looks at you, but sometimes you need to grow some nuts and put those bitches into their place.
It's Bugaboos at dawn out there!
Little G was back into the land of Nod as I entered Peter Jones through the very stroller-unfriendly set of double doors.
My mobile buzzed in my pocket, it was Bar.
"Hey you!" I answered, "We just arrived! We are queuing up for the lifts now... Are you already there?" I tried to sound cheerful.
"Yes, I am here! I have asked my friend Patricia to join us as well, I hope you don't mind.." she said, shouting into the phone to overcome Fergus screaming in the background.
"'Course not! I need to build up my social network!"
"Super! She'll be here in a minute as well! See you in a sec!"
She sounded so excited to meet up! Bless her, I never stopped to consider how hard it must be for an expatriate to re-build a life in an unknown city! Bar was from Boston, she married a British banker and moved to London six months ago. For the past six months I had been feeling like new-in-town myself!
Although I have been living in London for the last 12 years, having a child had forced me to reconsider and revise all the things I thought I knew about this city. London changed for me, from being a familiar place easily manageable by bus, to an obstacle course I had to tackle whilst pushing a stroller. I was seeing things through the eyes of a parent and analising every daily task with a new set of paranoias and concerns, previously unknown and found out at the same time that insecurity brings people together. You know... Together we are stronger.
The lift came and we got in. Nobody inside. Great. It stops on the third floor, the children and nursery floor. Upon the doors opening, I don't even get a chance to look at the displays as three women, each pushing a pram, come barging in one after the other. Now, the lifts in Peter Jones are ridiculously small, you can barely fit two strollers and their pushers side by side. Obviously the three women were friends, in the middle of a conversation and with every intention to carry it on without interruption. The first one came in, the second struggled, but with me almost in the pram with Little G, she managed to get in, the third was furious that she had to wait for another lift. Her friends trying to convince her that there was still some room left, that we could have squeezed in a bit more and holding the lift forever.....
You see when I say that some of these women use their strollers as a weapon of mass destruction? I was about to head-butt the three of them. Luckily, the third woman desisted and just said
"I'll see you upstairs I guess girls..". The other two didn't look impressed, but let go of the lift-hold button and we were on our way.
"Do you think she's lost any of that baby fat yet?" Woman 'A' asked
"No... Not really... Poor thing, she is really struggling.." Woman 'B' replied
"Must be in the genes of the family.. Wasn't her sister huge as well when she had her baby?"
"Yeah.... She still is... Well, their mum isn't exactly on the thin side either..."
"Poor things.... Hopefully the little one wont inherit her figure..."
Gosh, what bitchy friends in woman's world..... Three generations thrown into the fire in ten seconds. I suppose that the division line was clear to these two: if you fit back into your Seven jeans on your way from the delivery room, then you are a Yummy Mummy, if you don't then you are a Soccer Mum, sister to a Soccer Mum, daughter to a Soccer Mum and so on and so forth. Being a Soccer Mum is genetic and being cursed with this inability to shed weight after birth deserves the sympathy of your 'friends'.
I was laughing to myself.
The doors opened with a shuffling sound, and the open expanse of the sixth floor restaurant made me breathe a sight of relief. Out of the crush at last.
I spotted Bar immediately, as she was waving her arms frantically at me from the huge glass wall on the opposite side of the room.
She looked very pretty. Her blonde hair in a ponytail, light grey turtleneck sweater and skinny jeans. She looked every inch the yummy mummy!
"You look lovely!" I winked at her
"Awwww, thanks... You are sweet." she said, straightening up Fergus on his high chair.
"Where is your friend?"
"She is just taking the lift. Patricia is an old friend of mine from Boston. She is from London, but she was in the US with her american husband, also a banker and a colleague of my husband."
And then, in the best Bridget Jones tradition, she proceeded to introduce me her friend with all sorts of meaningful details.
"She is a very dynamic person you know, back in Boston she was president of the Conservative Parents Association and leader of the Red Cross Parents Training Camp. She is great at organising events and parties. Pat had quite a social calendar back in Boston. Sometimes I wonder how she ever managed to fit all into her schedule and raise three kids.... Some women really are amazing!"
Boy, I thought, this one really sounds like supermum. But I simply remarked
"Oh, must be nice having a familiar face around in a new town!"
"Tell me about it! She is a lovely person, you'll get along beautifully, you'll see!"
Now, I am and have always been one for meeting new people, expanding one's social scene and so on and so forth, but I would have never expected things to turn out the way they did in a matter of minutes.
As Bar was speaking to me, I saw her gesticulating and trying to get the attention of someone in the distance, behind me.
"There she is! HI PAT! WE'RE HERE!"
As I turned around, searching among the crowd, the sight of a sadly too familiar yellow coat made me audibly gasp for air. My smile drained away from my face. The lady, now known as 'Patricia', stopped in her tracks, instantly recognising me from the 'exchange of opinions' we had had not ten minutes earlier at the Early Learning Center.
I was still holding my coat, waiting to sit down, and my first reaction was to pack up and leave.
But then I realised that I wasn't the one who had to hide his face in shame. I thought
"Let's see if Patricia is wearing her butt on her face this morning" (this is an italian expression by the way, wearing your butt on your face means that you don't care about anything that may embarrass you enormously... Cute no?).
But then maybe, the one that needed a good size butt to replace my face was me.
Pat straightened up her face and forced a smile whilst approaching our table. She was carrying an early Learning Center carrier bag.
"So glad you could make it Pat! What a coincidence to find you in the area this morning!" Bar was gushing.
Pat was trying her best to act normal with her friend, whilst eyeballing me. Was she going to say anything?
Man I was ready to come down to her like a ton of bricks.
"Pat, this is Marco, my new friend from the Health Visitor's office!"
"How-do-you-do." Pat clipped out icily, stretching her arm forward to shake my hand, her gaze fixed on to mine. It was the most ridiculous moment of the year.
"Haven't we met already?" I taunted her
"No, I don't believe we have" She hastily dismissed me.
Here I am again,
this time I should be able to write with no interruptions as my little one just had his last bottle for the day and has nicely settled in for a night of sleep.... Not that those are hard to come by: little G started sleeping through the night at just 7 weeks!
Anyway, I don't mean to brag (..I do really....), I still empathize with those poor parents, scraping around at night for an hour of sleep....
And I am sorry if I sound patronizing, but since I became a father, I came to realize that parenthood-world out there is always ready to measure your skills as a parent on the basis of how successfully you manage to strap your little one to a routine as early as possible.
Furthermore, this is an achievement every parent DOES brag about, either to make good conversation or simply to score points with the Health Visitor's appointment crowd.
Now, in every book I have read about child care, there seems to be an underlying statement that says: thou shall pay no attention whatsoever to how brilliantly everybody else seems to be doing with their babies; thou shall not be disheartened if you seem to be the only one awake at night, trying to convince the Antichrist to fall asleep, for every baby is different. Amen.
This is like saying: do prepare yourself 'cause just around the corner there is a stroller-pushing bitch ready to take you out and make you feel like shit, 'cause she is supermum and you are barely capable to change a nappy without breaking into a sweat.
Bollocks to that.
Just today I took little G to his routine health visitor appointment, I was running half an hour late, so I had to share the lobby with a dozen of other parents and their pushchairs.
It's encouraging to see that there are quite few men accompanying their wives/girlfriends and baby to the visit, but even more so was the presence of two other men on their own with their little ones. At the beginning of my experience as a dad, I was dreading the health visitor's appointments, as I thought them to be a woman-dominated environment, with the occasional breast-feeding tits-parade....I found myself surrounded instead by a rather heterogeneous group of people in various degrees of distress and no boobs on show: some could not redress the baby without him screaming; some others were juggling a baby, a red book, a mobile-phone call and a nappy bag; another one was trying to change a rather messy (and smelly!) nappy in the pram with disastrous consequences and an unspecified amount of wet serviettes scattered all over the floor.
I was in baby hell!!!
Luckily, my little angel was fast asleep in his pushchair, oblivious to what was going on. As I settled down into an empty seat, a tired looking lady, struggling to keep her bundle of joy on her lap, smiled at me and asked:
-He sleeps so soundly doesn't he?
Pointing at Little G in his cosy pram,
-Yea, he does... He loves his afternoon nap...
-Oh, but that's dangerous.... He will keep you up tonight! that's why I keep mine entertained.
The woman added with a glimmer of triumph in her eyes (ok maybe I have imagined it...).
-No... Not really.... He has been sleeping through the night since he was seven weeks old....
It's just his routine: two hours nap in the morning, two hours in the afternoon and eleven hours sleep at night.... I guess I am lucky! By the way, your little one has just spewed up two days worth of baby sick on your hair.
The woman's smile faded, replaced by something like a defiant grin (ok maybe I have imagined that as well...)
-Your wife has done a great job.... Is she at work today?
-You nosy bitch!
I thought and started laughing... The lady seemed confused by my reaction, so I proceeded to shock her a bit more, while she tried to wipe off the sick from her blonde hair.
- Lady, you are talking to the wife!
She was crestfallen.
- Me and my husband had Little G through surrogacy and egg donation and are both very proud of what we have achieved.... Little G is such a good, happy boy.... But, you know, we are both very relaxed guys and he is obviously benefiting from a relaxed, loving environment... I guess we don't have to deal with all the post-partum hormonal imbalances of a woman..... I can hardly imagine the effects of post natal depression coupled up with a husband that doesn't understand and only thinks of jumping your bones as soon as you don't look so depressed, or fall asleep, only to complain afterwards that 'down there' everything has gotten somewhat loose and that you look always frumpy and miserable.... But I am digressing... What did you say your name was?
I smiled.... She was listening with her mouth open and the eyes at half mast, like in a trance.
-Uh erm.... Mrs Collins....
-Well, nice to meet you Mrs. Collins, my name is Marco.... But you can call me Mr. Platti-Newey... You know, when two man marry they give birth automatically to a double-barrel surname....
The poor woman did not know what to think or say.... She picked up on my sarcasm and now looked embarrassed, so I helped her out of her misery, because, after all, I was not wearing a 'Gay Dad' badge and she only wanted to make conversation.
-Just kidding!!!! You look... Erm... Disturbed!
I laughed, patting her arm.
-Uh..What...Oohh..... No...Not really.... It sounded like you were talking about me for a second...
And my name is Barbara... My friends call me Bar.
-That's cute.... I hope I did not offend you....
-What? Oh no, I hope I did not offend you!
She cut in.
-Not at all... It's probably me in fact. I am still a little nervous and insecure about this fatherhood thing.... You know, the gay thing...
-Oh...So you were not kidding! You are gay and married....
She said wide eyed.
-Come on girl! You gotta keep up.... I thought we got that straight. And hun.... You are not entertaining your pride and joy, you're just letting him abuse you!
I answered in my best ghetto fabulous accent, snapping fingers on her face.
Bar looked at me for a second, as if trying to digest something (probably my humor), then bursted out laughing, her son bursted out crying and Little G woke up.
By then, everyone was looking at us, apart from that poor woman still trying to wipe off baby poo from her stroller.
This is how I met my first Chelsea mum, we both survived the encounter, she doesn't think I am a monster and I don't think she is a bitch.
Tomorrow we'll do coffee.