My friend and her husband mind their two grandchildren one day a week and enjoy it immensely, even though they find it exhausting. The baby has a sleep around lunchtime, and they have been told to put him in a room that’s heated to precisely 22°C. He’s zipped up in his sleeping bag (blankets are forbidden), and needs to be woken at a particular time, definitely not later than 3pm. There’s a long list of instructions and they follow them to the letter.
When my children were babies, I argued endlessly with my mother-in-law about how my children should sleep. She always wanted to put them on their tummies, but I thought I knew better. The SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) advice at the time was that babies should sleep on their backs, and I insisted that this was how I wanted it to be. I’m sure she probably still put them on their tummies when I wasn’t around, but fortunately they survived!
My mother once told me she enjoyed having her last baby the most. When she had her first baby, she worried constantly about doing the wrong thing, but by the time she had my baby brother (her fifth child), she had learnt to trust her own instincts and ignore the advice of experts. The nurses at the Baby Health Centre were terrifying and there were many rules to follow.
In the 1950s, the number one rule for a healthy baby was fresh air. “An abundance of pure, cool, outside air flowing fresh and free day and night” was how they described it in the baby manual. In the 1930s they took this edict to ridiculous lengths with the invention of baby cages. In London, they literally hung babies outside buildings to ensure that they had enough fresh air. In his book, The Care and Feeding of Children, Dr Luther Emmett maintained that babies needed to be aired to ‘renew and purify the blood’.
Even though baby cages went out of vogue, the idea that babies needed both sun and fresh air persisted, and in the 1940s and 50s, mothers were told to put their babies outside in the sun so that they could soak up some of the sunshine. Not only was sunshine an antidote to nappy rash, it also helped prevent rickets. Scientists were aware of the relationship between sunshine and Vitamin D deficiency, but I suspect that most ordinary people just thought that the warm rays of the sun had some special life-giving properties.
And maybe they do.
In Kazuo Ishiguro’s book, Klara and the Sun , the sun is characterised as benevolent and he also has mysterious healing powers. Klara, an empathetic and wise robot, asks the sun to intervene and provide his “special nourishment” to Josie, her human, when she is unwell. It wasn’t until this week, when I was sitting out in the sunshine, that I realised that the AFs (artificial friends) in the book are solar powered. For them, and perhaps for me, the sun is indeed magical.
This is a sad, wise, and funny book. It made me think a lot about friendship and about the mysterious healing powers of the sun.
You can read a great review here.