‘I’m just going to come out and say it: small babies are boring’
Tanya Sweeney: After a few minutes of ‘oh, this is new’ suspicion, my baby took to the water like pro
We would walk into the swimming pool and the baby would burst with excitement. Photograph: iStock
I’m just going to come out and say it, because Lord knows no one else is likely to: small babies are boring.
They can’t talk to you about reality TV (mainly because they don’t know who anyone is, and they can’t talk); they can’t get a round in (owing to not being allowed to drink, plus no money); and they don’t laugh at your jokes (which I suppose makes them like everyone else).
I’m nostalgic for the days of maternity leave, when Isola was a tiny, non-crawling, non-jumping-off-the-changing-table thing. It was hard work, certainly, keeping her fed and changed, but once the visitors scattered to the wind, filling the days seemed to require a degree of effort. After a couple of hours, we’d both be tapped out on cuddles and cooing. I’d look at the clock, and there would be four more hours until B was due to walk in the door. It’s a strange kind of benign solitude, but we certainly needed something to do.
A friend had mentioned Water Babies as a potential activity and lo, there were beginner classes in the next neighbourhood over. The baby would learn to swim, I would get some semblance of exercise, and best of all, we’d be doing something together. There was nothing not to like in this plan.
She didn’t even hold it against me when I sent her underwater a couple of times
Except on the first day, I damn near gave up on the whole thing and fled in my half-on, half-off swimsuit. Have you ever tried to dress a baby in a swim nappy and too-tight shorts, while also trying to get yourself into a swimsuit? On the first day, a half dozen of us were trying the same polite, tricky feat. I’d been running late, so was already sweating like I was due in court. I peered into the bag. In the rush of it all, we were one clean pair of knickers down.
“I’m never leaving the house again,” I shouted, exasperated. Finally, and with much ado, we were ready for the water.
Reader, the baby absolutely loved it. After a few minutes of “oh, this is new” suspicion, she decided that she was fully committed. She splashed and flailed, trying to break free into the big blue. It was such fun, seeing my fearless little adventurer want to become independent and give this swimming lark everything she had. She shrieked and laughed and screamed and it was wonderful. She didn’t even hold it against me when I sent her underwater a couple of times.
The Water Babies classes are roughly a half-hour of gentle water aerobics, singing cute nursery ditties and, after a while, dunking the babies so they learn how to deal with being underwater. All told, I was a little self-conscious of breaking out the Twinkle Twinkle in public, but after a few minutes I, too, was fully in.
The changing/showering/drying got easier in the end (top tip: have a rice cake to hand). The exertion and excitement of the morning would send the baby straight to sleep, meaning I could have a peaceful post-swim coffee. In the weeks that followed, we would walk into the swimming pool and the baby would burst with excitement.
This has been one of the most gratifying parts of becoming a new mum: watching this tiny personality unfurl and bloom. Seeing her react to small challenges and new experiences. Standing back (well, not in the pool as such) as she becomes her own little person.
And what a person she already is. At the risk of sounding like one of those insufferable parents, she is already a cooler person than both her parents put together. She stares at all strangers, hoping to catch their eye and lob them a charming smile (this, I suspect, is a trait she inherited from B, who starts conversations with every stranger he can, even on the Luas). She is a keen watcher and appraiser of people; she enters every room with her head held high, uninhibited, looking for the action. I hope it will always be this way.
Best of all, she glares in an “absolute state of you” fashion at toddlers having tantrums in the supermarket who are in the midst of a biscuit-aisle meltdown. This gives me no end of hope for the near-future.
The year has felt molasses-slow in some ways, and like a finger-snap in others. Isola changes all the time; behind my back and then right in front of my eyes. She is burbling now, and the words are doubtless the next thing to come.
What a time that will be.