Well, that's probably a lie, seeing as for the first year of that I was a baby, and I'm presuming due to my thriving eyesight, strong, powerful bones and ability to conduct conversations with people without clawing at their face in a mixture of terror and wonder, that I wasn't kept on my own in a shoebox for my formative years. So let's assume, unless my parents were radically unsuccessful psychopaths, that the last baby I encountered was when I would have been similarly wholly obsessed with my next rusk without the wherewithal, motor skills or intellectual clout to go about obtaining it, so around 27 or 28 years old.
I'm setting a humourous tone now so you're cushioned for further down the page. Sorry. The humour is deliberately terrible so you don't empathise with me too much, and for no other reason, and I'll thank you to stop loudly proving otherwise.
So being, as I am, an only child with a tiny family and a tendency to only socialise with people I meet reflected in a pub mirror, and having, as I do, seemingly very sensible and neat little ovaries that keep themselves to themselves and don't kick about the place spewing mucky pools of hormones everywhere, I have managed to go the vast majority of my life without encountering, touching or thinking about babies. Of course, they exist in the world and that is fine for all concerned who want to deal with them, but I am just not one of those people. Which puts babies on about the level of carpet steam cleaners, pensions and conversations that start "For Christ's sake, Jules, can you just stop doing that stupid voice and listen to me? This is serious." I can even go to a Caffe Nero at 3pm on a Tuesday, aka baby Thunderdome (incidentally, I have my suspicions that collusion is beginning to appear in these enforced baby box socials, and we're just a few accidentally spilled lattes on soft baby skulls away from post-naptime rebellion and weaponised Baby Bjorns. I leave this as a note of caution for history to judge. Those literal suckers are sneaky) and emerge none the broodier.
But then I have of late got a lot of practice at not thinking about things that utterly surround you. Pretty shifty of them to join forces.
See, this feckless parade of Great Gatsby hedonism that can sum up my life thus far - assuming, of course, that Gatsby gave the whole carousing with flappers and champers vibe a rest in his later years in favour of piling up equal stacks of Xbox achievements and loneliness - had to come to an end some time, as the inevitable happened and the babies started their gummy incursion into my inner social circle. The time had come to lose my baby virginity. Which is, by the way, a turn of phrase it's very difficult to shake out of one's brain when one thinks of it on the way to meet a baby, and even more difficult to not fire like an offensive shotgun into the proud parents' faces on greeting their new arrival.
And here's what I was expecting: that I would find said proud new parents happily befuddled, claiming exhaustion-related social malfunction, apologising for being terrible addled hosts; and that that would all be utter nonsense, as they were glowing, radiant, amazing, together, inhumanly impressive, ethereally serene, as natural and perfect as if they'd just tumbled sexily out of a Kooples babywear advert. And so it went. And I was expecting to have this surprisingly hefty bundle of hot skin and freshly formed puddingy flesh and tiny fingernails and flailing unpredictable limbs dumped into my stupid, unknowledgeable arms, and that that would cause a catastrophic chain reaction from newborn's gaze to primitive brain stem to nuclear explosion in the womb area; and by the time I'd flung him back into his father's professional care, I'd be bug-eyed and broody and simply batshit for babies.
But nope. Nothing. The usual amounts of happiness for the obvious joy he had brought to his little family, the vicarious sense of wonder that he existed and was here and real and how insane and fantastic that all was, but that was it, that was that, and there was nothing more to be done than have a cheesy picture taken with the squiggling little chap and move on with life, and this is where the story gets mucky, because I looked at the picture expecting to see me, and underneath the shaggy mop of mousy hair, the garish cocktail ring, the scruffy jeans, all the accoutrements she would never be seen anywhere near, all I could see was my mum.
And it was like 33 articulated lorries that had been quietly lurking at the edge of sight all slammed on their accelerators and careered into me at once. It was like a comically big plug being plunged into place and the whole sky filling with a huge neon sign, blaring through my retinas, screaming "Do you get it now?" See you? That's her. See that baby? That's you. Feel that? That's a lifetime of maternal instinct all arriving in a big confused heap, and that's you finally working out the difference between being a daughter and having a mother, and that's you snapping out of the narcissistic millennial teenager sulky groove you've been treading for the past 20 years, and that's the realisation that she was not just an abstract collection of admirable characteristics for you to pick through and shove together in a random jigsaw to explain your place in the world. She was a person who suddenly found herself with a squirming, fresh little creature in her arms and for the rest of her life, no matter how big that creature was, or how far away it was, or how much it moped and whined and thought it was such a sad little girl that no-one could ever ever love, it would still be in her arms. Always there. No matter what superhuman things she did with her life. No matter how annoyed that creature got with having to answer another phone call or think up another birthday present. It would always be an invisible hot weight on her chest that she would forever guard, that creature, you, until one day you blinked and she was gone and the safety net ripped apart and that's probably something you can think about now.
All of which is quite an obvious and stupid thing to realise by looking at a picture. The brain can be a prick sometimes.
(By the by, if by some really peculiar circuitous route you have arrived here and read this far - my sympathies - and don't know me personally or don't recall the details or just, due to a weird perversion, want to read the two-year-old ramblings of a grief-stricken 31-year-old white woman from Essex, then you'll find background to all this here and here)
Loss is a strange sensation. Especially in this case, losing someone in a manner so engineered for tragic effect; almost comical, in fact. Not dying on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve - too on the nose, too Hallmark Movies. December 23rd, on the way to the Christmas holiday she'd always dreamed of. Out of the blue, bang, gone in a second. So close. "Oh, chief, it was such a shame. She was just two days from retirement." That kind of loss is a beam of light suddenly focused on you, out of nowhere, where it feels like the world holds its breath and waits for you to make the first move and you're paralysed because you're having to recalibrate your life to an amended set of natural laws and there's too much of it to think about at once. But eventually, the world starts shuffling its feet and coughing and whispering about the possibility of missing the last train home, and the beam of light fades away and everyone moves on. But what if the recalibration doesn't work? What if you just carry on like before, wilfully ignoring the massive gap in the system, forcing yourself to keep running while the error messages pile up? What if every time someone sympathises with you or mentions that it's a hard time of year, you're angry because you're having your head forced into that gap again and again until you realise that what's missing was your back-up, that feeling that you can always lean slightly and there will be someone to rest against, and there's nothing that will ever fill it?
I don't know. I don't know. I honestly don't know.
But I do know this: that big pile of error messages feels a lot like extraordinary amounts of guilt. And I think that's made me act in some troubling ways towards lovely people over the last two years, and for that I am truly sorry. I also know this: tonally, this piece has really veered about all over the fucking place. It started off about babies, didn't it? Jesus, what a mess of words. If anything, for that, I'm even more sorry. Priorities.
This was my mum, and I never said thank you. If there's a message anyone can take from that, take it. If not, hell, that's all right. I wasn't trying to put one forward anyway. Hey, though - this is too late, way too late, but thanks, Mum. Merry Christmas.