Monday, 22 July 2013

Week 5: The circle of friends

This week, I made carrot cake for my friend Jaspreet, and took it round to her house on her birthday. We ate big hunks while our children played together, and when I left, I took a piece back with me, to give to my partner D.

This cake was my gift for this week. It may sound unexceptional, and it certainly felt that way. Especially in the face of the remarkable generosity I've experienced, from Jaspreet and others, over the last few years.

As I've written elsewhere, "Since becoming a mum, I've noticed altruism everywhere. Virtual strangers give each other baby and maternity clothes, and share kiddie snacks in the playground." And, within the circles of friends that I've been lucky enough to find myself in, it feels as though the people in my life have been sprinkled with some kind of pixie dust that sets off a cascade of giving.

When I was at Jaspreet's house, she reminded me that I need to collect the chair she's given us to help furnish our new loft conversion. This is remarkably generous but, even more memorably for me, when I was experiencing complications following the birth of my second child, and struggling - really struggling - to look after a newborn baby and a lively two-year-old, she would often turn up unannounced at our house, walk straight through to the kitchen, and start clearing up. 

There are many other friends who've brightened my life in similar ways. Like stylish Anna, who loaned me bags and bags of beautiful maternity clothes. And then promptly forgot all about them, registering faint surprise when I handed them back a few months later. Or Laura, who gave so much that I can't even begin to list it here. But it did include a big stack of maternity bras, and books to help our son deal with the trauma of a new addition to the family. And then there's Claire, who turned up at the hospital after I'd given birth to our first child, with a pile of baby blankets and clothes. We had to stay in for longer than intended, and we'd run out of clean stuff.

I count myself as extremely lucky, but I don't think this kind of support is out of the ordinary. As I wrote on my parenting blog, the Pigeon Pair and Me, motherhood often "brings a greater sense of commitment to the wider community and the ties that bind us together...looking after little people is tough. With the decline of the extended family as a means of support, we increasingly turn to friends and neighbours, giving the sort of help we would like to receive. Even if that individual wouldn't necessarily be the one to help US in turn."

What causes all this kindness? Could it be the extra oxytocin brought about through childbirth, lactation and the cuddling of our offspring? This lovey-dovey hormone has long been associated with empathy, and altruistic gestures.

Or perhaps children and new babies just make people happier, and more likely to be generous. I've never encountered as many smiles as I now do on a daily basis, just by walking along the street with children in tow. A baby comes into the world blameless, with a world of hopes resting on its shoulders. Human nature (if it's working properly) makes people want to do whatever they can for that child, regardless of their opinion of its parents. So, it's natural to offer the child and its family a hand to help them out into the wider world.

A helping hand, or a wedge of carrot cake. Nutritionists would no doubt disagree, but I felt that, this week, I was doing my tiny bit to help our youngsters (and their parents).

And I enjoyed my own big slice, of course.

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