Emma Townshend: The best thing about having a summer-time child? Napping outside...
But, warns Emma Townshend, your garden will never look the same again…
Sunday 29 June 2014
What's the very best thing about being a baby born in June? Well, you could plump for looking forward to a lifetime of outdoor birthday parties. Sweet little photos of yourself at picnics on sunny days. But I'd argue that the number-one advantage for the summer newborn is getting to take your naps out in the garden for those first precious months of your life. (When it's not pelting down, that is. Sorry, babies who hold UK passports: it literally comes with the territory.)
Babies always used to be put in a pram to sleep in the garden. It was a "thing". Ask a grandma, or perhaps a great-grandma, and they'll tell you about the golden times of garden napping.
These days, though, we are increasingly worried about bee stings, killer wasps and pollution; not to mention maintaining Gina Ford blackout, cats that might curl up to sleep on our child (Mothercare sells a Pram Cat Net for £5.99) or urban foxes (remember Roald Dahl: you're just going to have to stand next to the pram the entire time they're asleep to be sure on this one).
Nonetheless, the garden is still a happy place to nap, in the shade and the (relatively) fresh air.
New mums will probably be so desperate for sleep, and for their child to sleep, that they won't care much when or where it happens. But a couple of months in, once stuff seems more settled, the garden can become a place of pleasure for lazing mum and snoozing child both.
It doesn't require a garden, either. My son spent much of his first year outside, at Kew, sitting under the same shady sweet chestnut every day, being fed and then dropping off to sleep with sun playing on the grass and shining through the dark glossy leaves above him.
If you have a garden, the arrival of a child is going to batter it, in more ways than one.
First off, you may want to root out anything dangerous. People take this to varying levels. My neighbours removed a magnificent white rose that covered their entire shed, treasured by a previous neighbour, because "it had thorns" and was therefore too dangerous for their little girl.
To me, this smacks of too much Sleeping Beauty. But the funny thing about having a baby is that everyone has their own weird fixations. I know more than one person who has let their child sleep in a crazily overheated room because they were so fixated on night-time abduction that they couldn't leave the windows open.
At the other end of the spectrum, I incautiously took out no plants at all, leaving everything, including the very poisonous oleander; but then I couldn't get my child to eat anything green even if I paid him in pure gold Lego.
Second, your lovely borders will be trashed by dinky feet; tiny hands will mismanage the sprinkler; little chefs will prepare Michelin-starred mudpies; and there'll be endlessly re-practised kicks from a penalty spot that is right by your best peony. Tough.
Some other neighbours have just finished saving up for artificial turf. Personally, I roll my eyes at the stuff, but there are certainly some good-looking products on the market, very soft and lush, and if you're lying on them, you can't tell it's not grass, and it never needs mowing. In fact, I'm starting to think I don't really know what I was making a fuss about.
And finally, you will have no time at all. You will not even have one minute free. And if you do have a free minute, you will want to spend it crying or sending some birthday cards you just found at the bottom of a big pile that dates back six months, or trying to save the 2,000 phone photos you've taken of the baby on to a hard drive; not gardening. So don't do a big bulb order (you'll have to draft in your mum for two November mornings just to get them planted – believe me, I've been there).
But there's still this: get the basic weeding done in an hour; make someone else mow the grass; put the baby in a pram for a nap; and there you go, a patch of bliss.
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