I’ve got that feeling again. The sinking one. The one where I’ve committed to do something, realised I don’t want to but am too polite to say so. Oh dear.
A couple of weeks ago I saw that the local university was recruiting babies for their research into language development. Being a bit of a geek myself, and having possession of the requisite baby, I signed Baby E and myself up. I had visions of us in a high-tech lab being observed by white-coated boffins, all of whom would marvel at this textbook example of mother-baby interaction. I would display my best baby-whispering techniques and Baby E would babble back, chatty and contented. Back out into the autumn sunshine we would go, smug in the knowledge of our contribution to the world of learning.
And then I read the email from the researcher. Yes, we’ll spend 5 or 10 minutes in the lab, but the bulk of the experiment takes place at home. Our home, and wherever we take the baby over that period. Baby E will wear a listening device in her vest for 48 hours. A tiny spy in nappies, she will observe and record everything that happens in our household – and beyond – for two whole days.
Apparently the idea is to see how much we interact with her and how it affects her language. I was assured that they wouldn’t be interested in the general chatter of our days, but I’m not so sure. Being a nosey curious soul, there’s little I’d enjoy more than hearing how another family functions (or fails to). Everyday family life provides humour and horror in equal part; just look at the success of brilliant comedies like The Royle Family and Grandma’s House. God only knows what they’ll think of us. I’m all too aware that what we consider normal within our four walls is probably not. Surely not all families end up in the same bed every night, not all toddlers insist on taking their shoes off at every restaurant they visit, and not all mums have to bat away daily advances from the ninety-year old neighbour while juggling a toddler and baby. All in a day’s work for me, and all observed by Mini-MI5 from my arms, her cot or bouncy chair.
Unfortunately I suspect the researchers will hear little that impresses them in terms of interaction with the baby. Her noisy brother dominates, so she’s missing out on a lot of the one-on-one baby chat that he enjoyed. What they will hear, however, is a lot of nonsense. To help them decipher what they’ll pick up on the recording, I’ve devised a handy guide to some of the sounds of our day:
- Pitter-patter of footsteps down the stairs, rustling duvet, parental groans and a promise that ‘I’ll be quiet’ Likely to be heard any time from 2am, this is Little Boy making himself at home in our bed. It will be followed by muttered grumbling from H that he’s taking up too much space or jabbing us with his elbows or feet, and sundry threats about being taken up to his room if he doesn’t go back to sleep. At some point the baby will wake up and all hell will break loose.
- Snap! Crackle! Pop! In my ideal world, Little Boy would eat organic porridge and berries for breakfast followed by a wheatgrass shot. The reality is that it’s Rice Krispies or nothing.
- Psssssssht. Thirty minutes later, pssssssht. Repeat throughout the day. Anyone who thinks a stay-at-home-mum just sits around drinking tea all day is much mistaken. I rarely seem to be able to complete the tea-making process, so this is the sound of the kettle going on at regular intervals for a cup of tea that is never made. In the unlikely event I manage to make one, it will probably be cold before I get around to drinking it.
- Boing! Little Boy bouncing off the walls if I haven’t taken him for his daily run-around.
- Waaaaah! Baby E showing her appreciation for her brother’s overzealous displays of affection.
- Chitty chitty bang bang. If it’s been a particularly hard or rainy day, the jovial strains of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang may be evident. If I’m being responsible, it’ll just be the soundtrack playing while we do something constructive. If I’m losing the will, it’ll be the whole film (all two-and-a-bit hours of it).
- Flick, rustle, thud. The Sunday newspapers hitting the recycling box as I finally finish them. This sound is most likely to be heard on a Friday.
- Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. Bedtime!
- Clink, clink, fizz. G&T.