Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

Bear with me

So I could blame my recent blog slowdown on that convenient old wives’ catch-all “preggy brain,” but that would be... um, true. Even Busyboy has noticed. The other day he boasted “My daddy has a SSSSSHUGE brain, and I have a great big four-year-old brain.” I waited for the rest. He patted me on the shoulder and said “And you have a medium-sized brain.”

In my quicker-witted days I might have clipped him round the ear for that, but under the circumstances it felt like a massive compliment. Really? Medium-sized? Awesome! That’ll get me through till Christmas.

He's making it really easy on me too, with a new mania for giving extensive and very explicit clues and hints as to what he's thinking about. A recent sample: "Do you know what season it is right now, Mummy? I'll give you a clue. It starts with 'wint' and it ends with 'uh' -- can you guess what it is?"

Even with such generous help, I confess I still sometimes end with 'uh.'

Is pregnancy-related dopiness a real biological phenomenon? I don’t know -- even with the help of the all-powerful Google, both hands, and a flashlight, I can’t track down any reliable scientific studies on the subject. Not just because I’m a bit medium-sized in the cranium department, either: “preggy brain” “scientific basis” returned NO RESULTS.

Now that I think about it, though, I doubt it only applies to bio-mums, or indeed only to mums in general – it stands to reason that anyone anticipating an impending child of any kind would be a bit, as it were, preoccupied.

Actually that’s a useful image, with its toilet cubicle overtones. Maybe I need a T-shirt that says “Vacant” on one side and “Preoccupied” on the other. Except I probably don’t, because I finally have a tummy that signals that for me... and with only seven weeks to go. Something to show for it, at last!

It is rather handy to be what the old lady next door called “a tidy carrier,” squeezing into my most forgiving pair of stretch jeans until a month ago, and able to clip my own toe-nails and shovel snow as of yesterday. But on the other hand, I miss out on the reflexive chivalry that comes to those whose tummies precede them majestically into a room by a good few minutes.

I remember last time, when I was about eleven million months pregnant, a fellow shopper in a New York deli with an armful of groceries dropped their topmost packet of Rice-a-Roni, and asked “Pick that up for me, wouldya doll?” And I cheerfully did, although it took me a good five minutes to return to the upright position. Impatience, and then a second look, led to a flustered apology from my queue-mate. No probs -- squats are good for you when you’re pregnant. Even if I nearly did go into labour on the spot.

So what keeps the expecting brain so very very busy in such a foggy, misty way? I would love to say it’s all the long lingering wordless conversations with the burgeoning miracle within, but mostly I stick to the Alcatraz model. Couple of taps on the plumbing a couple of times a day means you’re still alive in there. When it turns into more complex volleys of Morse Code, I’ll know the escape plan is underway, but for now it’s one kick for yes, two for yes all right I heard you the first time, now lay off my kidney.

I did read a nice book about Your Amazing Fetus and Its Thrilling Intra-Uterine Life, which suggested I might like to try transmitting some warm, affirming dreams to my unborn lovechild. Maybe not such a great idea, considering I don’t tend to go in for lavender-scented dreamscapes, but rather obsess about whatever I just read. I spent all night last night, for example, tossing and turning about Ian Frazier’s kookily brilliant piece in the New Yorker on wild hogs (not online alas, but absolutely worth hunting down in print). Can see how well that would go down in wombland dreamtime. Oink! It's your mother here. Vote Democrat! Oink!

That, and the other freaky side-effect of preggy brain -- or is it just me? -- which is the worst case of ear worms in your life: random songs that stick in your brain for days, and nights, and days, and nights, and weeks and months at a time. Aaaargh. Make it stop! Make it STOP!! Or the baby will emerge singing “Right Said Fred” word-perfect from start to finish.

But one very eye-opening claim in the amazing fetus book was that not only do babies like to play with the umbilical cord – which makes sense, as it’s to hand, and sturdy, and you could practice sailors’ knots and such – but allegedly they sometimes like to deliberately squeeze it and let go, to give themselves a rush.

That stopped me cold. You mean, I might have a regular little Michael Hutchence in there, dangling off the wardrobe door to while away the lonely evenings? Oh dear.

I mean, really?? How on earth would you know this was going on? Do they all do it? Do some do it more than others? Could you get advance warning of whether you’re incubating a teeny tiny auto-erotic thrillseeker, or just a regular old person who will one day stand idly in a queue at the bank, running their hand up and down that looped lane-divider thing and musing at a totally preconscious level about the good old days when the only toy was an umbilical cord, nothing more, nothing less.

God. See where your medium-sized preggy brain will take you, if you’re not too worried about the deadlines for your loftier prose projects?

One of the other things you think about a lot, when you’re pre-occupied, is of course names. You think about all the baby name books, and how they’re premised on a lie, because what you’re trying to name is not really a baby, per se, but a human being with a lifespan of three score or more, and those are two very different things.

The right name should work under all circumstances: from blowing raspberries on a fat six-month-old tummy, all the way up to the Presidential swearing-in ceremony. Ah, but that’s me being conservative. The right kid, of course, will make any name seem right in any place, regardless – ask Tokyo Sexwale, or our own Che Tibby. And goodness knows I’m in no position to cast stones at whimsical names that you have to spell over the phone. Although if you do like to slow down as you pass traffic accidents, you might want to peruse these lists of imponderable naming choices.

Of course, anyone who’s named a child lately knows that your perfect, secret, and totally unique name will also be the one chosen by your cousin, your next-door neighbour, and the postie’s daughter. If you’re canny, you scope out the name lists and see what’s popular so you can rule those ones out. But the zeitgeist moves in completely mysterious ways, and never more so than when you’re trying to elude it. For Busyboy, we picked a nice old standard, not too popular but by no means obscure, halfway up and down the US top forty. And of course it turned out to be the most popular name in New Zealand that year, blah blah cousin, blah blah neighbour, blah blah postie’s daughter. He has made it his own, though, and so far hasn’t shared a class or a playground with a namesake, so we’re all right.

If duplication really keeps you up at nights, I suppose you could start at the other end of the list and deliberately pick a highly unpopular name. The Social Security Administration keeps track of American baby names for the last century, and here’s a handy variation that groups the 2004 names by spelling variations to give an even more accurate picture (what is up with all the –aydens? Aidan, Hayden, Jayden, Kayden, Brayden? Note that Fayden and Gayden are still up for grabs... also Spreydon, if you’re looking to reprazent the Garden City).

Taking it up a notch, Baby Name Wizard's Namevoyager is an extraordinary resource that animates the raw data to let you track the meteoric rise of Connor and Caitlin, and the inexplicable decline of Dorcas and Elmer. The accompanying blog has some fascinating analysis of where the name trends come from: hint, it’s all about the vowels and consonants, and the celebrity babies.

Name trends tend to skip a generation, too, so the current crop of baby-bearers are more or less duty-bound to use what their parents think of as rest-home names, ones that smack of kindly moustachioed aunties in faded pinnies and nice old soldier uncles with beer breath and a chest full of medals.

I’ve noticed an expat trend as well: using names that speak eloquently of the home country. I know of several Baxters and Seddons and Kowhais out there, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a Mansfield or two (but again, Savage and King Dick and Hamilton Jet are mysteriously still up for grabs). And in the Aussie contingent, keep an eye out for Matilda (Heath Ledger's new baby), and Adelaide and Banjo (courtesy of Rachel Griffiths).

But this can get you coming or going, depending on whether the children will flap godwit-like for the homeland, or spend their lives abroad. For a while, Tui was at the top of my list, for a boy or a girl. Gorgeous name (Niki Caro agrees!), gotta love the birdie. But American friends thought it sounded a bit too Wookie, and New Zealand friends all managed to chortle some version of “Yeah, right.” You can’t win.

The sibling preference is definitely worth taking into account, to a degree. I really wanted to call my little sister Bernina, and I could still sing you the jingle that inspired me, but I won't because Gemma doesn’t like being referred to as “so easy and so versatile.” Whether or not you plan to take advice from juniors, it is useful to run your test-names past a small pair of ears, as they are that much closer to the ground and can certainly fill you in on any playground resonances you may have missed yourself. Busyboy, for example, says that Finn reminds him scarily of sharks, and vetoed the venerable Piers by noting that to a child’s ear it is just one consonant off a male body part. Oops.

He also suggested Rosebush for a girl, but I’m damned if any child of mine is going to share a syllable with the guy who was responsible for the Titanic disaster. And he optimistically has a bid in for some version of his own name, although that’s taking the Bob the Builder recycling thing a bit far. To be fair, he also came up with a rather excellent moniker that we may yet use as a middle name. And in the end -- as the poet who spelt his name any old way reminds us -- a Rosebush by any other name will surely smell as sweet.