This Side of the Pond – Jan. 16

By Sarah Pridgeon

While I was in England, I met a brand new person. She was smaller than average, not particularly talkative and stared at me in bewilderment when I asked her for a cuddle, but she still won her place as one of the most important people in my world. This is because the little lady who I spent a great deal of my vacation gazing at was my beautiful newborn niece.

Her name is Amelia Rose, though she is more commonly addressed as Millie Moo, and she is the first to be born into the next generation of my family on the English side of the ocean. My American niece, who first taught me the unparalleled joys of being an aunt and is no further down my list of favorite people, was excited to learn that she now has an English cousin.

Just four months old, Millie Moo is already displaying the classic signs of our family tree: willfulness, curiosity and a strong belief in one’s own opinion. At the same time, she has the sweetness and good looks of her lovely mother, so things are definitely boding well.

Mike Burnside photo

Mike Burnside photo

It being the holiday season, I followed the example of the three wise men and took plenty of gifts with me as an offering. It’s always a good idea to make a good impression, even if the person you’re hoping to impress can’t actually see you when you stand too far away.

The problem is, I’m not very good at babies because I haven’t got one to practice on. I toured the aisles at the baby store and quickly realized that I had absolutely no idea what most of the items were or did, let alone why my niece might want them.

With the help of my similarly confused husband, I eventually ascertained that the bunny head with a blanket hanging from the bottom was a comforter and not a stuffed toy that had been squashed flat during transit. I also learned that teething beads are to soothe a poorly jaw and are not fashion accessories to help bring together the colors and lines of an outfit.

But even once I had navigated my way to understanding, making an actual purchase was a goal that continued to evade me. Does a four-month-old baby need a pair of shoes if she’s not planning to hike anywhere? At what point does one begin eating out of bowls rather than mothers? And why do some baby outfits feature sleeping bags where there ought to be feet?

The day was saved when I spotted a set of bibs emblazoned with the message, “My Aunt Loves Me.” Obviously this is a sentiment that I wish for Millie Moo to be reminded of on a daily basis, and I can think of no better time for her to think of her far-flung family members than when presented with delicious food, so into the cart they went.

I added a Minnie Mouse plushie with a blanket clutched between her paws and turned my attention to the toys. My husband, who pointed out that the best person to send into the fray when choosing a toy will always be still a kid at heart themselves, volunteered his services. He performed scientific comparisons of the size, texture and rattle-ability of the various items on display and we eventually settled on a little rabbit perched on a bead-filled ring.

Three down, one to go and things were looking good, but I should have known that the final addition was fated to not go well. After all, it involved baby clothing, which requires knowledge of infants and lateral thinking that was far outside my wheelhouse.

Knowing that Millie Moo’s mother is a keen follower of all things Disney, I scoured the clothing section for something appropriate. I settled on a tiny pink outfit that bore the words, “Princess in Training,” but my inexperience was exposed when I proudly displayed my efforts for my own mother to see.

It turns out that you can’t stuff a baby into a piece of clothing too small for it, even if babies are squishy around the edges. You are also not advised to dress a baby in a summer outfit in the dead of winter because apparently they get chilly without a coat. It had to go back to the store, but three out of four isn’t bad for a first try.

Millie Moo herself seemed happy to accept my offerings. Huge blue eyes fixed on her treasure pile, her tiny fingers proved perfectly capable of ripping the paper from packages.

I was not the only one to go overboard on the gifts. By the time we were done, the plethora of brightly colored boxes had to be contained in a gift bag that could easily have doubled as a summer home for the baby and her parents. If she’d been old enough to crawl inside, we’d have travelled all the way to Narnia before we caught up with her.

I spent many hours in my little niece’s company and I’m pleased to report that she took to me better than I’d even hoped. She seemed content to perch on my lap and spent a great deal of time clutching my finger, whether or not I’d had time to seat myself in a comfortable position.

I neither dropped her nor held her by the wrong end and I maintain that she only cried every so often because she happened to be teething. I kept her entertained with the aid of a crinkly toy and, whenever that proved insufficient, handed her to my brother for emergency treatment.

This usually consisted of a panicked cry of, “Where have I put my car keys?” followed by several hours of jangling. Millie Moo, who never ceased to be fascinated by the noise, lay quietly on a fur rug that was once a sleeping place for both myself and my brother, many years ago. Her favorite trick while in that position was to kick the baubles from the Christmas tree, so I think we may have a future soccer player on our hands.

Since my return, I am told that she has made use of her new bibs as a canvas against which to throw mashed carrots. She still clings to her bunny toy while in her travel seat as though anticipating a journey on the subway. This is very good news indeed because, with a bit of luck, my nefarious plan will have worked and I will still be her favorite aunt when next I make the long journey back to England.