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And they say babies don't come with a manual… – Lizzie Harwood
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And they say babies don't come with a manual…

Lizzie Harwood / Pep Talk  / And they say babies don't come with a manual…

And they say babies don't come with a manual…

Baby Manual à la the 1970s in New ZealandAh, the ’70s.

That’s when I, and most of my friends, were babes. We little Generation Xers had a fun time, didn’t we? No seat belts in cars. Relaxed attitudes towards pregnancy & smoking. Interesting drugs being prescribed to help mums with nausea that caused birth defects.

When I had Bunkeroo I unearthed my Plunket Book (see picture). I particularly love the shade of blue on this little book. Sky crossed with cerulean. It makes me think of fine china and swaddling baby blankets.

As Bunkeroo grew I constantly compared her weights and heights and motions (bowel movements) to my own – getting my head around pounds and ounces versus kilograms (that’s for weight, not motions), deciphering the odd comment that Mum added to the Plunket Nurse’s comments: 8 weeks, 6 days ‘Visitors living in‘ Mum wrote. 10 weeks 6 days, ‘Too many visitors‘ she adds. ‘Noisy breathing‘ she writes a few times. At 13 weeks and 5 days it’s still noisy breathing plus:  ‘Always drooling. Lady and 2 boys visiting until 20th December.’

What I marvel over is the advice of the Nurse. Fruit puree prescribed at 10 weeks of age. Cereal for breakfast encouraged at 3 months. She lists options for me to chew on at 5 months old (under supervision, I’ll grant you): Smooth Bone, Piece of Apple or Twice Baked Bread.

I also love the Suggested Daily Schedule for Baby. This is presumably from day one as it comes at the beginning of the Plunket Book.

Arent you intrigued as to what Hold Out means?

They were big on leaving your baby out on the verandah, deck, porch or garden to sleep in the sun.

You may notice it suggests fresh juice is fine for babies. Nowadays you’re not supposed to even give water for at least 3 months.

And what’s this ‘Hold out‘ business? I had to ask Mum – I imagined it was either some sort of arm-exercise to get mothers back in shape or a snazzy technique to wind/burp your bubba. But no. It’s potty training.

They suggested you hold your newborn mid-air over a potty or toilet to get him used to peeing and pooping in the appropriate place. Mum scoffs that she never bothered with this. I’m sure she didn’t have time, I’m the 6th out of 7 kids. But how mental is that????

I also love the illustration of a Mum feeding a 1 month old. Doesn’t she look just so relaxed?

Feed baby with an iron grip and your hair coiffed...

What’s with the 1970s secretarial look? The striped collared blouse and long skirt. Couldn’t she be allowed to sit in a comfy armchair for this task?

That particular illustration was glued into the Plunket Book and reads ‘Printed and donated by the Crippled Children Society.’ Like a Google ad I guess, from 35 years ago.

And there’s Advice to Mothers – in particular telling them to ‘Make time for an afternoon rest – read, knit or have forty winks while baby is having his afternoon sleep. Adopt an early to bed policy.’ While for Dad it says: ‘Be punctual for meals.’ (Yeah, when you’ve cooked all afternoon there’s nothing worse than hubby coming home late to sit down and eat it.)

It spells bonding instructions for Dad, like they’d be clueless if they didn’t get told this stuff: ‘Get to know your baby and enjoy him. Changing napkins (diapers/nappies), tucking him down, bathing him at the week-ends, and bringing him to his mother to be fed in the evening or early morning provide opportunities for you to lend a helping hand and learn about your baby.’ Presumably before the fathers head down to the pub to discuss world events over a pint. Or sat in the comfy armchair to read the newspaper while Mum fed baby in the hard chair with her death grip.

And the book doesn’t gloss over Sibling Rivalry either:

The Ex-baby: Bring him into the family picture as much as possible to help him to adjust happily to a new situation.‘ What the heck does that mean??? Don’t leave your oldest outside on the verandah? Bring him inside? Get the Ex-baby to cook so he feels part of the family since Dad doesn’t have to do such tasks?

It’s all a little unclear to me, this shorthand for 1970s family dynamics and how everyone’s role was. Dad was Dad. Mum did everything with her eyes closed grimly and her elbow cocked like she’s wielding an AK-47. The Ex-baby lurked beyond the frame somewhere, to be hauled back into the ‘family picture’ when somebody remembered him. And Newborn pees and poops in the potty from birth if you hold him out, when he’s not sleeping outside in the sun getting melanoma from the New Zealand sun.

Beautiful stuff.

I do love the cerulean blue of the Plunket Book because it also reminds me of blue cotton candy we ate at fairs, and somehow of my blue and white spotted blankie that I slept with until I let it drift away and Dad used it as an oil rag on the Holden station wagon. I’m sure the sky in New Zealand was that cerulean blue when I slept out in sun. Today it’s a much harsher, piercing blue because of the big hole in the ozone layer in the Southern Hemisphere.

But we all survived the Smooth Bone & Twice Baked Bread to chew on, the Fruit Puree at 10 weeks of age, didn’t we?

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