Boys on Tour

At first I felt like Batman, donning his utility belt, as I clipped each section into place. Then, as the more robust safety catches and bolts were locked down, I mentally promoted myself to Iron Man. Tooled up, baby. Ready to go.

Of course, I was neither: I was a relatively new dad, attaching my son securely to my chest with a Baby Bjorn, which was even better.

David, for his part, gurned a little as we found the right position. Once he realised that he was being plastered to my manly bosoms, all the fight went out of him – this was essentially a prolonged and artificially reinforced cuddle. What was not to like?

Slightly frosty ground crunched under the soles of my trainers as we took to the road, the boy wrapped up like an arctic explorer and dozing serenely while I alternated between grinning stupidly and awkwardly squinting downward to ensure that I wasn’t somehow smothering him.

This was going to be great.

Ever since the little man was born, I have been looking forward to the experience of carrying him about in a papoose. We were big on hugs in my family and I’m an almost offensively tactile person; I literally can’t think of a nicer way to move him around.

Of course, there are some downsides:

  • It can be hard on the lower back, a region of my body which already absorbs a lot of punishment since the onset of fatherhood.
  • It’s not an all-in-one solution if you’re travelling by car, in the same way as the indispensablecar seat and wheels combo.
  • It’s ghastly to start walking somewhere with your child harnessed under your nose, only for them to shit themselves all but immediately.

Still, I think one would have to be particularly curmudgeonly to write off this fabulous bonding tool entirely on the basis of spinal trauma and vile odours.

David was slightly heavier than I had expected; evidently I had grown too used to thinking of him as a ‘wee baby’. At 9 weeks, his weight had almost doubled. This was cause for celebration in every area of my life except my lumbar curve.

As we reached the main street, heading toward the shopping arcade, a more steady stream of Broxburners passed us on their way. From some, I had nods or smiles, even some cooing. This, I felt, was understandable, given that David was dressed in an all-in-one Bear suit. What I couldn’t understand was the approach of those who strolled by without so much as a glance. I was a man with what looked like an Ewok strapped to his chest… such a thing is worth a double-take.

The Bear suit has become such an iconic part of David’s early life that I’m certain I’ll actively mourn once he outgrows it. It’s a veteran of his first trips out from home, at which point he was unable to fill the arms and legs and simply inhabited the abdomen of the thing, curled up into a fleshy ball like some baby/hedgehog hybrid.

It may well serve some other child in due course, but I’m loathe to part with it. Do not be surprised to hear tell of a madman in Broxburn, who has mounted a tiny bearskin on his wall.

Arriving at Greggs the bakers, I got my proud-papa moment in spades. The ladies behind the till fawned over David, while I used this distraction as cover to buy more iced buns than a man in my shape really should. Of course, this came after the gymnastic performance I put on in order to remove my wallet from my inner-jacket pocket without removing my son from his papoose. A brighter man would have transferred the wallet to his trouser pocket before setting off; but by the same token, a brighter man would not have identified the potential alternative career of strait-jacket escape artist as one for which he had a born talent.

As I made my way back toward the house, the definitive encounter of our trip was sprung upon me. An elderly lady accosted us mere steps from the bakers’ shopfront and, sporting kindly eyes and a manic grin, began to grill me on every detail of my partner’s labour and my heir’s early life.

No sooner had I begun answering than she stepped right in with #sickbrags: “The smallest baby I ever held was 1lb 2oz,” she informed me in response to my remark that, at 5lb 11oz, David had been a diminutive newborn. “It was one of triplets. It fitted right into the palm of my hand.”

Caught between the divergent approaches of engaging in some kind of Baby Top Trumps (“The midwives said David was the most alert newborn they’d ever seen! What’s the most alertness-related praise you’ve ever heard for a baby, EH??!”) or simply smiling and nodding, I chose the second and more cowardly option.

I was rewarded with a narrative covering every labour and birth which had ever occurred in the female line of the lady’s family. While, at times, I wondered if I would be able to get David home before we both perished of hunger, the experience did make me glad that I hadn’t gone the Top Trumps route – she had me beat on everything from shortest labour to hairiest head, I shit ye not.

A note to new fathers: it’s nice when old ladies take an interest in your bambino, if only because they are the only constituency outside your blood relatives who will unfailingly volunteer gushing praise about them. However, it doesn’t take terribly long for such experiences to start inspiring trepidation; I have been known to cross the street at the mere sight of a pensionable female, stuffing the wee man desperately beneath my jacket and affecting the kind of forced, nonchalant whistling one sees only in old cartoons.

There will only be a small window in which I can carry David around like this, strapped to my chest in an enduring hug. Once he has outgrown it, there will be only a few scant years before he decides that any kind of hug from his father is embarrassing and I’m restricted to stiff, formal handshakes with an awkward tween-to-teenager. For now though, he not only permits such hugging, he is visibly calmed and reassured by it.

I mean to enjoy every minute.

As I approached our driveway, I was flushed by cold air and success. We had done it – our first ‘Boys on Tour’ moment, out by ourselves away from our traditional female authority figures. We’d have many more such moments, I hoped, up to and including my eventual, ill-fated participation in David’s Stag weekend in Magaluf… but this one would take some beating. I allowed myself a brief stop on the doorstep to plant a kiss on the wee man’s head, before bustling inside to make a start on those iced buns.