It must be hormonal, this certainty from birth that ours is the most beautiful baby ever born, that all the others, in the post-natal ward, or born to the ante-natal peer group, are just pale imitations of his or her perfection. On the mumsnet threads they call it Precious First Born syndrome and quite properly take the piss. The best self-mockery I read on the subject was a mum’s confession of her former reluctance to join new mother-and baby groups, out of the genuine consideration that her so obviously matchless child would make all the others feel inadequate.
I didn’t quite go this far, perhaps out of a lesser sense of fellow-feeling. I wasn’t troubled by the discomfort the unfair comparisons would cause. Instead I focussed on my baby’s obvious physical characteristics and made them into supreme virtues. He was brown, slight, skinny, and thick-curly haired; in short, the most gorgeous creature ever. Though I joined as best I could in the admiration of the inferior rest, in my gut I harboured a profound antipathy to large, pudgy, whispy-haired white babies, of the kind regularly featured on Pampers packets. They were boring, pale and uninteresting, and there were far too many of them.
This is a reflection of the circles in which I moved at the time. Mine was the only non-white baby in Baby Massage, Baby Swimming et al., and only one of very few at the local toddler playgroups, even the free ones; and of course, if he stood out, it was to his advantage. That stage is over now, my former antenatal associates have mostly decamped to the suburbs or private schools, and my son’s present schoolmates are, in fact, like him overwhelmingly brown. He may still be the cutest of the lot, but I can’t put it down to skin tone any more.
The most disturbing aspect of this, though, is realising how this whole process must cement any existing prejudice, and I can quite see how other new mothers similarly enamoured with their pure white-blond babies can, despite previously impeccably liberal credentials, effortlessly remark on the need to move away from the schools with “all these black kids” because, after all, their blue-eyed little angels would stick out like sore thumbs rather, and, well, everybody likes to be with their own kind, don’t they?
One further note on mixed-race family life: Well-dressed middle aged lady on station platform in posh London suburb addresses me, a few feet from my (then) toddler. “Excuse me. I am a little concerned. I can’t see the mother of this little boy anywhere.” I don’t think I was being that neglectful at the time.