I get to the Natural Café before the Otha Mothas and surreptitiously close the door. I pop Mister Baby in the ‘play corner’ and order a sandwich and cappuccino. There’s only one other kid there with his mother so I figure Mister Baby can’t do too much damage. I return after two minutes and the Otha Mutha tells me that Mister Baby has gone into the bathroom area. I find him ‘helping’ the workmen who are sawing and drilling a new door. He sees me coming and scurries away, almost upsetting the open container of vegetable oil that is propping open the dish room door.
The waiter brings my sandwich but delivers my coffee to a table outside, latching open the door. Mister Baby wanders over and plucks some chicken from my sandwich. Meike arrives with Anya. In the commotion of hellos and hasn’t he/she grown and when was the last time I saw you, the waiter brings the cold foamy coffee to our table and Mister Baby slips out of the open door. I lure him back inside with fragrant chicken in my hand and close the door.
I get in two bites of sandwich in while Meike passes around some dry oat cakes to the kids. Mister Baby rejects his, steals Anya’s, rejects that and grabs more chicken. I slurp some coffee and get in another bite. “I just had my lunch but maybe I’ll get a coffee,” says Meike. I nod, my mouth full of baguette. Mister Baby follows Anya to the play area where they find some remaindered focaccia on the floor and start parcelling it out. We remove it, proffer more chicken in its stead and go back to trying to have a conversation. The Otha Mutha’s baby starts squealing. My back is to the play corner so I look at Meike: “Was that Mister Baby?” “I don’t think so,” she says. I go over: “That wasn’t mine was it?” “Oh no, he’s fine,” she says, crooning to her son. I know Mister Baby’s fine, he’s always fine; it’s the other kids I have to worry about.
Helen belatedly shows up with a serenely napping Isabella so Mister Baby decides he wants to play with her. He’s just kissing her which is sweet and as she’s asleep she’s being more receptive than usual but I can see his dirty mitts heading for her face. We want Isabella to stay asleep despite the fact that when she’s awake, she just sits in her mother’s lap - lucky old Helen - but more importantly, we don’t want her to undergo scarification at the tender age of 19 months. “Here’s some more chicken,” I distract him.
Helen kindly offers to look after Mister Baby so I can eat the rest of my sandwich which now consists of lettuce, tomato and bread. Thank you, thank you, I munch while I watch Helen not see Mister Baby go behind the counter and then back to the door. The waiter, with an exasperated look, latches the door open again, not seeing Mister Baby merrily slip out behind him. An old man, on the other hand, does see him but can do little to deter Mister Baby from running toward his beloved cars rushing to and fro on the high street. Helen gamely fetches him a time or two until my coffee is done and I’m back on duty.
Mister Baby grabs an orange from a basket conveniently at his level by the cash register and takes a bite. As we’ve now bought it, we may as well eat it and since it’s messy, we may as well eat it on the street. Mister Baby picks the back alley and it’s a fun game chasing him out of the back of the MacDonald’s dumpsters and away from the pile of puke: “No, Mister Baby, that’s pavement pizza, not eating pizza.” I herd him into the parking lot of an adjacent building where he hands me the chewed and sucked husks of orange segment and blackens his hands on car wheels and then we return to the café.
Isabella still hasn’t woken up but Anya, as per usual, is following Mister Baby in every mischievous move out the front door and as many times as we close it, the hapless waiter opens it again. Mister Baby grabs another orange and before I can stop him, bites through the skin. Helen has the bright idea of going to the playground so they’ll be at least corralled and maybe we can chat. Fat chance, but we’ll give it a whirl.
The nearest playground, otherwise known as Needle Park, is only popular due to its location. The jungle gym is fine and the slide is nice enough but there are only two swings for babies and behind the boarded up canteen is littered with used condoms and the odd syringe. I know this because Mister Baby is inexorably drawn to this disgusting corner and it’s a lot of work to flurry him away. My efforts are hampered by the fact that there’s a line for the swings and the nannies in possession seem to be impervious to the glares of the polite English moms and squealing toddlers.
We stand in mommy formation with our backs to each other, facing our respective toddlers and occasionally darting out to spot them as they precariously scale the jungle gym or muscle their way through to go down the slide or try to climb up the slide as a four year old is barrelling down. We are fast coming to the conclusion that perhaps we should go out for dinner some night so that at least one of us can complete a sentence. Personally I have my doubts about this; I think my brain now only works in 30 second spurts, anything more than that might be too much pressure and I might just freeze up. However, I’m sure there will be wine to grease the wheels.
Anya is trying to scale the jungle gym but is too slow for the Great White toddler who has lumbered up behind her. He grabs her mop of blond hair and tugs her off the first rung. She lands in a ragdoll heap on the ground behind him. Mieke leaps across the playground to her howling bairn.
Helen and I stare stricken at the wreckage. “The good thing about that,” I say to Helen, “is that it wasn’t Mister Baby.” She can barely hear me over the din.
I leave while the leaving’s good and reflect upon another successful day: no maimings, no hospital visits.