Health · Home life · Notes from West London

Low Maintenance, High Maintenance: Baby Milk, Beards and Smoking

Some things are high maintenance and some things are low maintenance. Maybe this doesn’t bother you. If you have a car that needs constant attention you might be the kind of person who enjoys tinkering with cars, so that’s just fine. I prefer it if things just work and don’t need to be tinkered with. Even simple car-related tasks like re-filling the water bottle for the windscreen wipers, or checking the tyre pressure, are a real bore, but they need to be done every now and then. I think a lot about whether something is likely to be high maintenance or low maintenance.

We went through a time, when the children were babies, of bottle-feeding. They were breast-fed, mostly, for the first six to eight months (low maintenance), but once they were weaning, we made the transition to bottles and then “sippy cups”. My wife expressed milk a few times, using a breast pump. We’d sit there and say “Moo” while the milking machine was pumping away. Then after six to eight months we started the switch to formula milk. Once the babies got their first teeth, breast-feeding was pretty much off the menu. I’ll spare you the details. Most of the work with sterilizing and preparing the bottles fell to me, a nightly task involving a sterilizer, boiling up the water and making up the required number of bottles for that night and the next day. At least, that’s how I remember it. It was years ago. It was, unquestionably, a chore. Compared to Mother Nature’s theoretically simple business of breast-feeding, bottle-feeding is distinctly high maintenance. Sterilizing bottles, boiling up the milk, measuring out the powder, warming up the bottle when it’s needed: all of these things take time. And it’s more expensive: there are start-up costs (bottles, teats, brushes, sterilizing equipment) and the extra cost of formula milk.

One thing that made the nightly chore of preparing bottles of baby milk more enjoyable was recalling Bob Dylan, in his “Chronicles”. He described the early years of his marriage to Sara, living out in Woodstock, years of making up bottles for the babies. Some nights I’d put on a CD, usually one of the “Biograph” CDs or “Blood on the tracks” and sing along, but most nights I’d sing unaccompanied. “Don’t Think Twice (it’s alright)” was the song that came to mind most often. Those years of making up bottles were a phase, long gone now, but if you asked me to make up a bottle of milk now I’d probably start singing “Well it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why babe / If you don’t know by now …”

Last Monday, as anticipated in an earlier piece, I shaved off two weeks’ worth of beard. It’s only the third time in my life that I have gone more than a week without shaving. In theory a beard should be low maintenance. If it were I might have been tempted to keep it, but it ends up being high maintenance: you still have to shave your cheeks, and you have to trim the moustache and beard from time to time, and work out what to with the hairs on your neck. You have to make decisions. I don’t enjoy shaving any more than I enjoy checking the pressure on the car tyres but on balance, for me, it’s lower maintenance. You just shave everything off, no need to decide on anything else. Men who grow those intricate beard-moustache combinations must have more time on their hands than me, or they’re just better organized.

Smoking, too, would be a high maintenance activity for me. I have never smoked, not even a single drag, and have never been tempted to. Even if I were, the thought of planning ahead for the day’s smoking would be enough to put me off: a packet of cigarettes (or, worse, the paraphernalia of roll-ups), matches or lighter, an ash-tray, breath freshener for afterwards (because, let’s face it, even if smoking were cool – and it’s not – it makes your breath stink), probably an anti-bacterial spray or wipes to get rid of the stink from your fingers as well. Even if smoking were a healthy activity (and, again, it’s not) I would find all of this extra work enough to put me off. Anything for an easier life, and anything for a longer life too, as long as it’s not too much trouble.


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