Out on the town

There is a belief, which people ram down your throats while you are pregnant, that once a baby arrives your evening social life heads into rigor mortis. From that point you will be stuck at home for the rest of your life until you are willing to give up your child to the care of a babysitter and even then you will only get your pre-baby life back at most once a week.

But it doesn’t have to be like this, at least not in the beginning, because young babies are surprisingly good wingpeople.

Ever since Elphie was a couple of weeks’ old, she has been living it up out on the town. I cannot recommend it more highly with a newborn baby; newborn babies sleep a lot and if they aren’t sleeping often they are pacified by eating – both of which can be achieved easily using a sling in the pub or restaurant of your choice (assuming they allow babies – always worth ringing to check in advance but most places do). We went out with Elphie so much to one local pub that the waitress commented that Elphie got out more than she did!

It is incredibly easy if you have a summer baby as gardens and street seating are perfect locations for a baby – it is really hard for anyone to be upset when you have the general hubbub of street life occurring around you. If opting for inside then the louder and bigger the better because a) it drowns out the noise of any squawks and b) it acts as white noise which soothes the baby and in Elphie’s case sends her to sleep.

Sometimes it doesn’t work and you have to accept the risk that one of you might spend most of the meal having a walk round the local park or scoffing down your food so you can cut your losses and head home. But I’m happy we’ve taken that risk and enjoyed more nights out with friends than we’ve lost.

An article in The Independent from a while back quotes chef Aldo Zilli as recommending the more mediterranean practice of dining out with your children:
“”People here seem to be so much more – what’s the word? – so much more disciplined than they are in Europe,” says Aldo Zilli, the celebrity chef and restaurateur born and bred in Italy but a resident of England for the past three decades now.

In Italy, he continues, it’s commonplace for people to eat out with their children late into the evening, especially during the summer months. Why coop them up at home with the au pair when they could be out enjoying dinner with us?

“And if they don’t eat until nine or 10 o’clock at night,” he says, “then so what? They’ll sleep later the next morning. But here, we have this obsession with them being in bed by seven, so that they can get their precious 12 hours sleep. Why?” He shakes his head. “How else are we supposed to teach them how to behave in social situations if we don’t actually introduce them to social situations early on?” The man has a point. In the UK we still prefer our children to be seen and not heard, especially in public.”

The reaction of others to a baby in the house has actually been mostly positive – a lot of “good for yous”, some inquisitive stares and a few disapproving looks, but generally if your child is not screaming the place down then people don’t seem to mind.

With the Christmas party season upon us, our attitude has allowed us to embrace the season to be jolly with Elphie in tow. She was the star of Fred’s office party (office parties not being so different to wedding receptions after all), entranced by the speech and loving the music (through her ear defenders) and the dancing. A whole evening dancing in Mummy and Daddy’s arms – complete bliss for a baby!

I do fear our window of opportunity to take the social world by storm may be closing – the ratio of successful evenings out to ones rushing for the exit is steadily decreasing. Where once she was instantly calmed by being fed, now at six months too much external stimulus can distract her from the job in hand so she complains of hunger but won’t eat unless you can find a darkened corner. A memorable occasion where this occurred was round at Alex’s: sitting with Fred in the dark in Alex’s bedroom nursing Elphie while eating roquefort and drinking sauterne, when toddler Evan bounces in and finds us there in the dark, turns around and tells his mother in no uncertain terms, “that was not what I was expecting!”.

We will see – I hope that by exposing Elphie to evening life early on that it may actually help socialise her as Chef Zilli suggests. When down in Dorset and forced to eat out in a quiet country pub where of course Elphie took to squawking, the barman spoke of a legendary little girl who had been in the bar since she was a baby and who now played quietly there as a toddler sitting in the corner colouring while her parents ate supper.

It may also be even easier if your baby has a more normal sleep pattern than Elphie and isn’t awake for such adventures. Anna speaks of a night in Australia when baby Kylie was bathed, fed and tucked up ready for the night, but put into her buggy rather than her cot and transported to a fancy restaurant for a meal with friends. A short mid-meal outing to the park was required but overall it was a success. Similarly, Lev, the other baby at Fred’s office party (the baby’s invites were mainly achieved through my and Juliette’s conspiring) slept through the whole thing, ear defenders and all!

For now, we’ll just enjoy it while it lasts and when it passes remember the good times that rolled in her first few months.

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