When Finn was 3 months old, I enrolled us in SPACE: a playgroup recommended by Angela.
You know? Angela. Lovely woman. I regret our friendship was so fleeting. It started auspiciously enough, when I bought some cloth nappies from her at the Oamaru Opera House. Unfortunately the second time we met – at the inaugural meeting of the Book Club – I hugged her inappropriately. My excuse – actually, I have two – were: 1) pregnancy hormones; and ALSO 2) she looks cuddlesome.
Angela never invited me to any subsequent Book Club meetings – which was actually fine by me because even still I’m vaguely traumatized by Monique’s recounting how she explained menstruation to her five year old son. Shortly after Finn’s birth, Angela visited the house with some lemon cake and we conversed awkwardly. I couldn’t stop thinking about hugging her, and I could tell the poor woman was terrified I might fling myself on her at any moment for snuggle time.
I never heard from Angela again.
I still miss her.
Anyway, playgroup. Around the fourth session, I discovered SPACE starts at 1:00pm, not 1:30pm. Of course I’d noticed Finn and I were the last to arrive, but had assumed the other mothers were unusually – in fact, retroactively – punctual.
Finn and I had been missing the singing. SPACE kicks off with ‘The Welcome Song’ in Maori. I’m convinced the words change every week; after the first line, ‘Te aro ho(?)/ha(?)’, it’s an organic jumble of ‘wha’, ‘ka’, ‘pa’ and ‘po’ noises.
The rest of the songs – in English – generally involve actions. I never realized how difficult it is to simultaneously sing and mime. In particular, ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ makes me almost appreciate Justin Bieber. (I have no idea why Incy Wincy couldn’t have been a possum – or a seal. I can do a wicked seal impression.)
Singing is followed by a ‘thought for the day’, which generally places a sinister emphasis on ‘fun’ and ‘play’. For example: ‘Your baby will remember having fun with you, not whether the house was tidy’.
Quite apart from the fact that I’m pretty sure Finn will remember neither for quite some time; but, where is a child supposed to learn a work ethic? The sense of satisfaction, achievement and self-worth derived from welding, or preparing tasty snacks for his mother?
Here’s another: ‘the most precious gift you can give your child is time.’
Well, there are 86,400 precious gifts in any given day, and frankly I don’t want to spoil him. Or, you know, bore the shit out of him.
Then we have activities. At first, these were about refining our motor skills, e.g. making mobiles out of ice-cream containers while trying not to drop the babies or stab them with scissors.
Now our crotchfruit are a little older, activity time appears to be geared towards generating the greatest mess possible. Because ‘messy play is important’ according to Ailsa with no supporting rationale.
I try to enter into the filthy spirit of it all, but honestly: every time one of the coordinators says, ‘Yay! Next week painting!’ or, ‘Slime! Yay!’, my heart sinks. It was only when pregnant that I noticed how many people interject ‘yay!’ with the same enthusiasm I apply to swearing; I presumed it was a symptom of morning sickness and would wear off, but if anything it’s getting worse.
Three weeks ago they brought out the pits.
“A few babies try to eat the sand,” said Ailsa.
“That’ll be Finn,” I said, grimly. “If he poos rocks, I’m holding SPACE directly responsible.”
Sure enough, Finn munched through half the sand pit. Otherwise everything was fine – until Ailsa added water, when it turned into the sort of footage you see on the evening news when a landslide has taken out an entire city e.g. Toronto.
Then Ailsa built a sand ‘volcano’, adding vinegar to red food-colouring and baking soda so that it frothed and bubbled over. Swept away in a paroxysm of joy, Finn flung himself on the volcano and licked it.
The week after, the coordinators made up vats of foam (Lux soap flakes whisked with warm water and some food-colouring) and slime (cornflour mixed with water and the playgroup staple: food-colouring). For half an hour, I held Finn literally at arm’s length, between my index finger and thumb.
The coordinators had supplied a bucket of warm water for the purpose of washing the babies’ hands. Well. I had to strip Finn down to his nappy and basically bathe him in the bucket. I even washed his hair, which was covered in pink goo.
Of course Finn loved it. But to put that in perspective, he also loves when I click in his ear – or shake my head. That’s the latest thing; it’s as if my purpose on this planet is to say ‘no’ for Finn’s exclusive entertainment. I should enjoy it before he realizes I say ‘no’ to RUIN HIS LIFE.
Thing is: Finn is a boy. There are already holes in the toes of his socks and muddy fingerprints on all my clothes. Before too long, it’ll be skidmarks on the lintels and slugs, snails and tails in my crockery. What I’m saying is: it’s innate. He hardly needs my endorsement to be messy – never mind ENCOURAGEMENT.