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Giving up appearances

March 22, 2010

Parents will be familiar with the sacrifices we have to make for our little ones – from much alcohol during the pregnany (and breastfeeding) for mothers; to scaling back financial plans to buy enough nappies.

Most of these things I’d expected.

A male model i.e. not me...

A male model i.e. not me...

One I hadn’t quite thought about was my appearance.  Now, I’m no strutting peacock of a guy, who spends more time in front of the mirror than my other half (not that she over does it either you understand) but I do like to take pride in my appearance – or at least, I did.

Then I had a child.

The first few months, nay, even the first year or so – the impact on appearance is minimal.  The dried pale stains of puked up milk on your shoulder, arm, face – they’re almost endearing.  They’re practically a badge of honour.

Now ‘B’, my son, is past his second birthday the size of the hurricane he causes has increased in proportion to his size – as has the wreckage it leaves behind.

I noticed it the other day when I put on my coat to go to work.  I’m not one of these people that has a wide selection of coats.  My coats fall into two categories: ‘Chilly’ and ‘Damned cold’.  There is one coat in each category.

It was a ‘damned cold’ day and as I pulled on my winter coat I noticed the front was covered in a brown powder.  On closer inspection this turned out to be dried mud.  It was around mid-chest height, just above my bellybutton and, as I walked to work, trying to brush myself down I tried to remember how it got there.

The answer was, of course, from ‘B’.  We’d spent a lovely weekend day tramping around our local woods, both of us getting a healthy amount of mud on our shoes.  Note, on our shoes where mud is supposed to go; hence leaving said shoes at the door when you get in.

A child's muddy shoes

Guess where these a going Daddy!

However, half way around the woods B got tired and the refrain of ‘Daddy carry!’ soon had me buckling and lugging him around the rest of ‘our’ walk.  Merrily swinging his legs, chatting and singing away to us as we pointed out birds, trees and the like my grubby little urchin’s shoes were leaving their imprint on the one coat I have to wear when the temperature drops.

So, wearing an otherwise clean outfit, suit and tie no less, (these are stored away from jammy fingers, in a wardrobe) I was wearing a coat which gave the impression I’d spent the night on a park bench.  A dirty park bench.

The best thing is, I didn’t care.  I’d have swapped a hundred coats to be back in the woods with my son at that moment – or any moment.  But it made me think.  When had this transformation taken place?  I hadn’t noticed it.

I’d gone from being a fairly well-dressed, moderately fashionable guy in my late 20s, to being a Dad in my early 30s who wore whatever came to hand and whose first thought when dressing in the morning wasn’t: ‘Which t-shirt/jumper/shirt goes best with these trousers?’ but ‘Which t-shirt/jumper/shirt will show the fewest stains?’

The things that are important to us change pretty often during our lives, none more so than when we have children.  It’s just so many things change, sometimes you don’t even notice.

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The importance of thumbs

January 18, 2010

Yesterday I managed to cut my thumb.  Quite badly but also quite stupidly.  I did it trying to squeeze the lid of a tin can into another can, so I could put them both out to recycle.  Somewhat inevitably I slipped and sliced my thumb open.  Ouch.

All very annoying (it bled for ages) but like a brave soldier I plodded along – with my arm in the air above my head to slow the bleeding, all of which ‘B’ found very confusing.

Of course, yesterday was Sunday and today is Monday.  If you’re a regular reader (bless you!) you’ll know that Monday is ‘Daddy Day-Care Day’.  My wife’s at work and I’m in sole charge of our little rugrat, known here as ‘B’.

The progression of man - from blogspot.com

The progression of man - but evolution can't stop stupid or clumsy

Science has never been my strongest suit but it is only now I realise that Darwin was right.  Opposable thumbs are an amazing piece of evolutionary development.  We’re scuppered without them.
With a rather sore and heavily plastered right thumb (I’m right handed, of course) I’m almost disabled.  There are so many things we rely on our thumbs for!  Just today I have found it extremely difficult and therefore takes ten times as long to do:

  • Any form of button, popper, zip or the like (getting ‘B’ dressed and in his coat this morning took eons – when it normally takes merely an age)
  • Enough to make a man almost entirely useless (or at least more useless, eh ladies?)

    Enough to make a man almost entirely useless (or at least more useless, eh ladies?)

    Changing gear on my bike (stick shift mounted on the handlebars – change gear with a mere flick of the thu… ouch!)

  • Any sort of eating or cooking – here’s an experiment for you: try buttering a slice of toastwithout using your thumbs.  Even opening the margarine tub is a challenge!  Throw in a baying two-year-old, demanding “Toast an’ Marmite!” only cranks up the difficulty

That’s just in the first few hours of today.  I’m sure there are more challenges to come.

Practically the trickiest thing though was last night.  I’d bravely battled on throughout the day (I know, I’m a trooper) and heading for bed, I had to take my contact lenses out.  For those that don’t wear them one normally takes them out pinching the lens between thumb and forefinger.  Between thumb and forefinger.

I ended up doing it left-handed.  My thumb had better heal soon, before I gouge my own eyes out in my left-handed incompetence!

The indignity of Daddy-hood

December 9, 2009
Unimpressed baby is unimpressed

Is that the best you got?

As a parent you have no dignity anymore – or any shred you do have remaining will soon be eroded away.

Mothers, fathers – all will be familiar with this but I only recently learned the full extent of the impact fatherhood would have on my dignity.

I’m way past the singing silly songs in public or dealing with a terrible-twos-tantrum in the middle of a busy department store packed with unsympathetic Christmas shoppers.  Way past that.

I have no qualms with screeching out my own versions of ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’ at the checkout in Sainsbury’s.  If it will keep my son happy (after he’s sat through an hour of loading things into a trolley) to hear about a farm that has a police car/fire engine/dinosaur then that’s what he’ll get.

But recently things went to a new – I hesitate to say ‘low’ – let’s stick with ‘level’, a new level.

Bathroom based episodes

I’ve been a little unwell recently.  Nothing major, certainly not debilitating – no man ‘flu here I’ve bravely soldiered on.

Suffice to say I’ve discovered two things: one, a food to with which my intestines disagree strongly; and two that as a result I can produce both wind and ‘stuff’ of a nuclear grade which should have the Iranian regime beating a path to my door as they look for new ways to irk the UN.

Bathroom door - from tripadvisor.com

No-one needs to see what goes on in here...

It was during one of these ‘bathroom based episodes’ I discovered the final tier of my dignity.  These moments are best endured alone – as we all know.  My son was fed, watered, safe and content with toys so I slipped away for a silent (ish), gut-wrenching moment alone.

Moments later there was a banging on the bathroom door.  “Daddy?” came the plaintive voice that more yanks than tugs on my heart-strings at the best of times.  “Daddy?”

“Daddy’s in the loo – I’ll be out soon.” I explained “Go and find a blue car…” or something to distract him.  Seconds passed…

“Daddy – in the loo?” he mimicked.  Much to-ing and fro-ing ensued the result: he wasn’t budging.  Worse – he wanted in.  He wasn’t to know what was going on inside that white tiled room.  How do you explain that?  Would you even want to?

After many (many) more heart-wrenching “Daddy!”‘s I did the mournful trousers-around-ankles-shuffle and opened the bathroom door.

My son then joyfully stood there, playing with a toy taxi watching (and listening) to my struggles – occasionally chipping in with useful comments like: “Daddy… doin’ a poo.” and the smirk-enducing “Daddy’s bum – go beep beep!”

When even moments that you’re nearing your lowest ebb have to be shared, dignity is a thing of the past.  And, odd though it may seem, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Taking the mimic-y

November 30, 2009

Kids are a blessing aren’t they?  My son (let’s call him ‘B’ – it’s easier) is nearing two and getting more and more chatty by the day.  He loves talking and sometimes just cannot get the words out quickly enough.

Child & parent talking (image from http://betterkidcare.psu.edu)

If Daddy asks you learned it from Granny, ok? (image from http://betterkidcare.psu.edu)

As most parents will know though – once they get to this stage they’re like little sponges.  They’ll take anything they hear and repeat it – often over and over again;  sometimes at the most inopportune times.  Some parents will have felt the sting of this when they accidentally swear in front of their child and spend the next few hours trying to convince them not to repeat the expletive they’ve now latched on to.

‘B’s own skills as a mimic had a more surprising (yet nearly equally embarassing) side effect recently.

‘B’ and I reguarly go to the park to play on the swings, slides or just run around the field depending on his whim.  There are often lots of other kids there and he loves people-watching – often contentedly sitting in the swing for an age just watching all the other kids climbing the equipment, chasing one another etc.

At this age he rarely plays with another child, the closest he’ll get is jumping near them or just staring at them and smiling.

The other day, as he climbed up one climbing frame/fort as he neared the top another boy had climbed up from another ladder.  This other boy’s Dad called: “Be careful Luca.”  That was it.  ‘B’ latched on.  He looked up, looked at the boy and said: “Luca.”  I smiled and said “That’s right.  His name is Luca.”  ‘B’ grinned: “Luca.” he said again, then: “Allo Luca… Luca.   Luca.”

At this point Luca himself had gone from the smile of recognition of his own name to being slightly disturbed by the repetition.  I tried to distract ‘B’, with the slide, puddles whatever was closest to hand.  As any parent trying to erase the swearword from their child’s memory will know this was useless.

“Luca.  Luca.” ‘B’ chimed on.

At this point Luca’s Dad headed over, looking a little surprised but smiling and examining ‘B’ closely as he carried on repeating his son’s name – even as he trotted around doing other things, it had become mantra-like now.

Children hugging (image from www.bigelowcoop.org)

Honestly, they don't know each other (image from http://www.bigelowcoop.org)

“Do they know each other?” Luca-Dad asked.   “No, no I don’t think so.” I replied “He’s just copying what you said.” I explained.  Luca-Dad persevered: “Where does he go to nursery perhaps they do know each other?”

I didn’t want to be rude, but I knew they didn’t.  Luca was clearly several months older than ‘B’ and whilst I’m terrible with names, I’m good with faces (I often see famous people and think I ‘know’ them as I cannot remember their name but know their face) – I knew we didn’t know Luca.

I continued to try to explain away ‘B’s parrot-like tendancies all the while underminded by a background echo of “Luca… Luca… Luuuuuuu-ca.  Luca-Luca.  Lu-Lu-KA.  Luca. Lu-ca-ca.” from ‘B’.

I still think Luca-Dad thought I was in denial.  Still – there are worse things kids can latch on to and repeat.  I just wish they wouldn’t do it so publicly!

‘Daddy solidarity’

November 25, 2009

Just what is “Daddy Solidarity”?  I found myself thinking about this when confronted with the phrase recently.

I had taken my son to a toddler singing group. The term should be used loosely as it is generally the parents feeling liberated to sing songs, clap hands, bang on the floor etc. – whilst the kids run around the room.

Image from adoptivefamiliesofmichiana.com

Mothers & babies: An intimidating sight for any Dad!

This was on another of my all too rare (and fleeting) Monday’s off – my Daddy Day-Care-Day as I’ve mentioned in previous posts.

Now I’m used to the fact that on a weekday, with a child I’m a rarity.  Much as we like to think about what a modern country we are (and we’re getting there) Mums still outnumber Dad’s on the toddler-social-scene – and I like to think I live in a particularly ‘right on’ (think Guardian-reading) area.

So, at this singing group I was one of two Dad’s.  The other Dad was a belting stereo-type of the aforementioned Guardian reader – bearded and wearing what I’d bet my life  was a shabby-chic, Oxfam bought jumper.  However, we’d exchanged the faint nod of recognition that, of those above the age of three – we were the solitary representatives of our gender.

The ‘group leader’ – we’ll call her Vera – noticed this and gleefully announced to the group: “At least we’ve got a bit of Daddy-solidarity today.”

Polite laughter and smiles all-round – but I was slightly put out by this.  It was as if it was prejudged I’d be incapable of having solidarity with some mothers.

I know, I know – from Mars & Venus and all that but since the arrival of my son I’m quite good with mothers – one even lives in my house.  Heck, I grew up with another one!

It wasn’t meant as an affront – perhaps I’m too sensitive.

Stubbornness & cold stares

If I am its only because of scarring, still raw from my first foray onto the toddler social scene.

My son (now nearing two) hadn’t even reached his first birthday at this point.  Poor lamb was suffering terribly from teething pains but ignorant of the world-stopping power of teething I’d gone ahead and at my wife’s insistence, taken him to a play group style event at a nearby village hall-style venue.

My son was already in a dangerously fragile mood when we arrived.  The sight of a room-full of strangers, singing, shouting and general toddler mayhem (which he’s a more than noisy part of now) tipped him over the edge.

Image from http://www.supercoolbaby.com

This t-shirt sums-up my son's feelings!

I’d lost him from that point already – but it was the patronising looks and pity-filled stares that made the stubborn arse in me blunder on.

The room was full of mothers (I was the only Dad on this occasion – a far more frequent occurence) and I could see it on all their faces: “Oh – he probably never looks after his son – doesn’t know what he’s doing.  No wonder the baby’s crying.”

I tried everything: toys; cajoling; cuddles; talking; reassuring; milk; in the pushchair; out of the pushchair; in a quiet room etc. etc.  (parents will be familiar with the plethora of options one comes up with when trying to soothe a crying child!)

None of it worked.  Of course it didn’t – my poor son was in pain from his teeth and I should have taken him home to bed.  I did in the end and Calpol’ed up he slept for an eternity.

There wasn’t much solidarity that day though – Daddy or otherwise.

‘Pregnancy brain’ or parenting brain?

November 23, 2009

My lovely wife often blames lapses of memory or just plain common sense on ‘pregnancy brain’.

For those uninitiated in the world of baby-bump related brain-freeze allow me to explain.

Image from www.maternity-wedding-dresses.com

Now, what was I doing again? (image from http://www.maternity-wedding-dresses.com)

Pregnancy brain is, so my wife insists, a medical phenomenon caused by having what used to be termed as one in the oven.  From misplacing keys to going to the shops in her slippers the blame is all layed at the pregnancy brain door.  Many other expectant mothers may sympathise – others with children may remember it, fondly or otherwise.

I have a new slant to place on it.  I don’t think it’s related to the cycles of the moon, the hormones or the blood flow required by a placenta.  I think the cause may be parenting – even if the parenting of a first-time expectant partent may be in-eutero.

I feel this is the case as (at this point imagine me standing up in a circle of chairs in a church hall-style venue)… I am a sufferer.  I have pregnancy brain.

My six-pack is long since lost to my (manly) curves but despite appearances I am not pregnant.  I don’t have a placenta and despite my protests to the contrary, I don’t have a monthly cycle – suspended by pregnancy or otherwise.

Yet still I insist I am a fellow sufferer.

I forget things.  And not just normally.  I have a habit of forgetting things at crucial times (my wife would, I’m sure, be able to fill a book with my memory mishaps alone).  A favourite example, oft told around the dinner table is my cooking dinner – tuna and pasta bake… and forgetting the tuna.  Yes, I made a bowl of cheesy, baked pasta.

But I forget things even more under the pressure of parenting.  It’s not just my memory either.  Logic, of which I’m usually such a fan, deserts me when I’m confronted with my child.

Let me give you some examples.  My son is nearly two.  For about 18 months of that we’ve been in a (glorious) routine.  Despite this, almost every night after his bath, as my wife carries him up the stairs she has to remind me to bring his bottle of milk.  No matter how many times this happens it just will not stick in my mind.

I have, countless times, carefully packed a bag of supplies to take with me when taking my son out.  Parents will know the drill: nappies; wipes; change of trousers if there’s any chance of puddles being involved; water; snacks etc. etc.

After spending many minutes going through every possible eventuallity and therefore preparing for it and packing any required remedy in the bag – I then leave the house… without it.  Not ‘every now and then’ almost every time.  I have a blind-spot with milk bottles and bags it seems.

Lost logic

Then there’s the logic.

Image from http://2.bp.blogspot.com

A screaming baby - enough to sap anyone's brain-power (image from http://2.bp.blogspot.com)

Parents will know the trouble of facing a crying/screaming child.  It can be hard to think at the best of times.  For me crying or otherwise I just cannot seem to think of the most glaringly obvious solutions to problems with my son.

During lunch he won’t be eating the meal I’ve loving crafted over the past half-hour.  As macaroni cheese is flung around the kitchen in a fit of pique (his not mine, I promise) I just cannot think what to do.  I know he needs to eat; I know I’ve prepared food… I just cannot seem to get to the step that says: “Give him something else then.”  It just does not compute.

Fortunately my wife (perhaps seeing a fellow sufferer) is very patient.  She’ll advise/steer or just flatly point out the glaringly obvious as required.

I’d like to say it’s because I’m just so excited about having fun and taking my son out to x place or y playground.  My mind is so lost in ideas of games and having fun and his heart-burstingly gorgeous giggle.  I’d like to say that.  Could I say it honestly?  Not so sure.

Maybe it’s me.  Maybe I am just a complete mental klutz and my wife’s patience is mercifully bottomless.  This seems far more likely.

To save some shred of self worth, I label myself a sufferer.  Parenting-brain sufferers – unite!

What DO they put in wet-wipes?

November 22, 2009

Not a thrilling subject for a first blog but… what the heck do they put in wet wipes?

Baby wipes - from i.ehow.com

Wipe away the water crisis?

Those things could solve the world water crisis!

Let me start at the beginning.  It was a Monday – one of my favourite days of the week as it’s my day to look after my son.  Not that my wife and I are separated or anything like that – I’m just fortunate enough to have Monday’s off.  So my wife can work, it’s our ‘Daddy-Day-Care Day’.

Things were going great, we’d done some singing, lots of playing and were heading out to the park (this is my son and me – not my wife you understand, though she likes the park too).

Poor little man’s got a bit of a cold so a constant stream of luminous snot is snaking out of his nose.  The supply of toilet roll I’d come prepared with was long since exhausted and ‘snot boy’ was starting to scare the other kids… or at least their germ-phobic parents were anxiously tugging Freddie/Harry/Alfie (or some other ‘eee’ sounding name) away from him as he clambered up the slide towards them.

Resourcefully (I thought) I remembered I’d also readied a change of nappy and some associated nappy wipes in the bag (bitter experience had taught be the foolhardy nature of ever leaving the house without them).  Rummaging through my extremely manly flowery back-pack (it’s my wife’s but it’s practical ok?) and I emerged with a wet wipe.

A quick wipe, struggle, wipe, cry, wipe, shout, wipe, hissy-fit cycle later (I had to apologise for my hissy-fit) snot was removed and fun playing ensued.  Absent mindedly I tucked the offending snotty wet-wipe in my coat pocket.

It was some time later before I lived to regret that oh-so-simple action taken in haste.

My God!  I’m bleeding!

As we were trotting back from another outing later, to the shops, I could feel a little moisture just above my hip – almost exactly below my coat pocket.  I reached under my coat and my jumper was saturated.  What was going on?

Thoughts rushed through my head.  My God, was I bleeding?  Help!  I’m bleeding!  I feel faint… no, wait, blood’s warm… this is cold.  Christ, have I wet myself?  How embarassi… no wait, that’s warm too.  Just what the hell is going on?

Eventually I traced the source of the moisture back through my jumper to my coat and into my coat pocket.  I peeled open the pocket expecting to find an upturned tippy cup or the like – but the pocket was almost entirely empty.

Tucked away in the corner I found a slightly dehydrated rag of white tissue paper.   No – it was a former wet wipe.  A wipe so far from wet now – because it had depostited it’s entire reservoir of moisture into my coat, pocket and jumper.

My son was staring at me by now, with my jumper, coat and me in general in dissarray.  “Daddy, wet.” he helpfully if accurately commented – before running off laughing.

I looked at this tiny square of paper in disbelief.  I looked against at the wet patch still spreading through my jumper.  Could this miniature marvel or moistness really have carried that much wetness?

Yes.  Yes it could – hence my exclamation at the start: These things could solve the world water shortage.  I’m tempted to mail a box of the things to Comic Relief’s African aid effort.