As Baby H lies in the pram, his eyes widen at the sight against a grey sky of peoples’ heads as they zoom in and out of shot, and of all the other sights to see on Dunedin’s George Street. The sound of a bus’s hissing brakes, the sudden rataplan of a motor bike, the yelping bip-bip-bip-bip-bip-bip of the signal to cross, don’t seem to faze him at all. It may have even got a little boring, because he soon drops off to sleep.
We are off to a Mothers and Babies Group - not that I am Baby H’s mother. As his Nanny, I can be nothing more than a facsimile. Mothers of young babies are like a foreign species to me now. It’s been twenty years since I’ve been anywhere near a meeting like this.
I pass a poet/magician I know and laugh at what must be to him (who only knows my writing-side) a rather incongruous sight: me wheeling a pram. I explain that the baby is not mine, or even related. I don’t know why I feel the need to explain, but it has happened before - if I meet someone I know, I feel compelled to explain. I guess I’m a little embarrassed, at my age, to be wheeling a pram.
He says, “I need one of those.”
I say, “What? A baby?”
“No,” he says, “The pram - for my magician’s gear.”
At the next intersection, across the street, I see someone I know I should know. The hat. The stance. Is he a painter? The pieces slowly assemble until it’s not a male at all, it’s K, Son M’s fiance in her paint-splattered working jeans, her hair shoved under a cap. Lately she’s been painting houses to earn money, but not for much longer - she shows me the new, black top she’s bought herself for a job interview.* I wish her luck.
* She ended up getting the job.
As I suspected, I felt ancient at the Mother’s Gathering (they used to be called Coffee Mornings in my day. And there were no such things as flat whites or long blacks either - just plain, instant coffee, New Zealand being for the longest time the backwater of any coffee culture.) Plus, all my babies slept on their tummies, their noses buried in a sheepskin. I was never as paranoid about germs or the sun as these mothers are. I never had a friendly mid-wife to grow so attached to I cried when it was time for her to ‘cut the cord’, so to speak. I only had a formal relationship with an aloof, although well-mannered, doctor - which, I hasten to add, was quite enough for me to handle at the time. And, I am happy to report, that ‘nipple confusion’ was not a term bandied about over our early-80's brown, pottery coffee mugs.
The terror was beginning to build. Luckily, I spotted yet another poet (what was this? Poets Outing Day?) and so I scuttled over to escape the talk that had turned to the merits of ginger and rhubarb to relieve wind. Together we lamented the lack of poetry readings in Dunedin at the moment. I was grateful for this distraction and the reminder of another world outside of babies.
After what I deemed to be a respectable amount of time, I made my exit and happily wheeled the pram back along George Street, back to the apartment where Baby H and his parents live, with its seagull colours of grey, black and white, its orange accents, its hermetically-sealed interior; its quiet cover. I could relax. That was more than enough exposure to the outside world for one day, thank you.
At the moment in NZ there is a bit of a buzz about a book just published called '8 Tribes, The Hidden Classes of New Zealand' in which the writers expound the theory of there being in NZ society, 8 tribes, which they have duly defined and named according to the suburbs or areas which best portray the tribal characteristics. Their website has a test you can do to find out which tribe you belong to. I am always a sucker for these sorts of things (Why is that? Maybe because I am still self-actualising.) Anyway, I took the test and it was as I had suspected - I belonged to the Raglan tribe - the free spirited tribe that likes to live by the sea. As well, I closely affiliate with the intellectual tribe - called the Grey Lynn tribe. Thankfully I had nothing whatsoever in common with the Remuera (upwardly mobile and materialistic) or the North Shore (well-heeled, well-mannered and well-schooled) tribes. Which probably means that as well as being a free spirit, I'm also an inverted snob.