The consequences of aging are well documented. Impossible hangovers, hair loss, lower back pain, wheezing, man-nappies… followed by a long slow death, postponed by medication and surveyed by increasingly impatient relatives.
But there are other, rarely discussed, side-effects of being within touching distance of the reaper’s scythe. Most interesting among these is a growing appreciation of young families. While I’ve never wanted children myself (the urge to voluntarily take responsibility for another life is alien to me) increasingly, all around me, I’m seeing the unfettered joy that comes with youthful parenthood.
I’ll give you an example. On a recent train journey, a boy across the aisle was playing a game on his iPad. He chose to play at top volume without headphones, so the entire carriage could enjoy the experience. At one point his spoilsport father suggested he turn the sound down a little, but the boy simply ignored him. Due to that lad’s generosity of spirit, all of us traveling that day were treated to over two hours of looped hyperpop. Now, when I’m trying to nod off, I can still hear that Japanese avatar screaming, ‘WHOOO, YOU’VE DONE IT!’ I consider it a gift.
London seems more rammed with young families than ever before. Everywhere I go, there they are. Often I’ll happen upon a tiny artisanal cafe, just a handful of chairs, a couple of patrons, one reading a book, the other quietly tapping at their laptop, and I’ll think, what a shame there’s no young family in here to liven things up. And then, seemingly on cue, a young mum and dad will appear in the doorway and have a nose inside, before dragging their giant buggy up the slim aisle, followed by two shrill infants moaning about it not being McDonalds.
The buggy might be more like a rickshaw covered in duvets, and sure, it will bang into people’s legs and barge into tables so lattes rock and spill. But just sit back enjoy the vibe change. There’s the howl of dissatisfied children and vocal argy-bargy around deciding what to order. Then a debate around finding an acceptable table. Then a debate about who’s going to collect the food and bring it to the table, followed by a foghorn-like insistence that the children actually eat what’s been ordered. It’s all so damn adorable.
I’m also completely supportive of those parents who, throughout the entire proceedings, loudly continue their passive-aggressive bitching about another young family, they pretend to like, who apparently never take their children to independent cafes.
As I say, I don’t have kids of my own, but it’s a privilege to have other people’s forced upon me. Even it it means I can’t concentrate on my book and have to leave.
Often I find myself hurrying along a pavement only to find myself behind three families, with three huge buggies, inching along, three abreast. Now some might think they could be more considerate, maybe walk in single file say, so others could more easily pass. I couldn’t disagree more.
By walking side by side they can catch up on valuable family time, maybe some loud passive-aggressive bitching about another family, they pretend to like, who apparently never take their children on walks. In comparison, I know my life is worthless. And if I was to grow impatient and dash into the road to pass them and get hit any a car, I would deserve it.
It brings me great happiness to know that if I choose to venture out into the world, an untethered child might spill, spit or dribble on my £300 shirt and I’ll have to pay for the cleaning. That gruesome babies with chocolate smeared faces will gurn at me on the bus and it is considered my social duty to pull a funny face back.
I couldn’t be more pleased that our cities have morphed into giant soft play areas where children never get told off and passersby risk getting splattered by milkshake, or have their eardrums perforated by the glass-shattering screech of a toddler denied.
So you can imagine my disappointment when, on a recent Sunday morning trip to Notting Hill, I found it devoid of young families. With no market on, there weren’t any giant plastic barrows covered in bulging bags of nappies, blankets and squash. There were no screaming autonomous midgets kicking empty Fruit Shoot bottles about. I was horrified.
My girl and I had to sit quietly and completely undisturbed at a table outside the Electric Diner and try our hardest to enjoy our brunch. Afterwards, we headed around the corner to the Garbstore sale, again, no families, just the odd individual quietly pondering a purchase. OMG dull.
As you can see from the pics, I went full Sage Nation — a fact that didn’t go unremarked upon by the sales staff. But as happy as I was with my fit (and the discounted Goldwin bucket hat I picked up) something was missing. My shoes hadn’t been bashed by a buggy’s wheels. My ears remained hungry for the wailing that follows a dropped ice-cream.
Every day 385,000 babies are born. And even though it often feels like they’re all in the same branch of Pret, everyone still loves them. I know I do.