The end

So.  she survived!

Today is my last day as a stay at home Dad.  The last 6 months have been amazing – I’m so lucky to have been able to spend every day meandering through life with Ada.  The blog started off really as a record of what we got up to, and also as an attempt to get my head around this new life but as the months have passed I’ve become more and more comfortable with it and consequently just felt less of a need to write about it.  The last couple of months have drifted past beautifully.  I have had a lot of fun, met some great people and felt myself change a lot. I will really miss it.

I don’t know if Ada will ever read this but if you do – you were awesome.  When we started you could just about sit up and you would not sleep for more than 3 hours.  Now you can crawl, run, hop, point, clap, sing and sleep for 12 hours, its been amazing to watch.

And you just shat all over the landing.  Thanks for that.

I have loads of made-up-stories I haven’t yet posted, and other than those, I don’t plan to post anything  else – but if you have read this far, thanks, hope you liked it.

The last word:

 

Ever feel like a phoney?

In about 6 weeks I go back to work full time.  Ouch – it’s a downer, but if I’m honest, its not too bad, because I’ve not felt like myself for a large portion of the last 5 months.  Or of the last year, maybe.

Being off work, being the only man in most rooms I’m in, drinking coffee alone, having the same conversation with dozens of mums I will never meet again, all the while trying to figure out whether I’m doing ok.  Writing a blog to help with that.  None of it really feels like me.  Going back to work will be a relief in some ways because I’ll be firmly back in my comfort zone, a safe little triangle of work, home and friends, in which all is known.

Fucking comfort zones eh?  Too tempting by half.  Its new year, there is lots of talk of resolutions  new beginnings and change, and the last 6 months have certainly given me the opportunity to learn a lot about myself and what I’m comfortable with.  About what I can change about myself.  I initially assumed that 6 months is long enough to develop some new habits, to shake off old constraints and focus on things I always wanted to do.  But it turns out some things are fixed.  My novel went nowhere.  I wrote about 4 songs but only finished one of them.  Same as it ever was.

And then there’s watching a baby grow and develop.  If ever you need a lesson in personality, just watch a baby closely for a while (preferably one you have a relationship with, I’m not talking binoculars at the playground).  So much about a baby is fixed from birth.  I didn’t believe that would be the case, but it’s undeniable.  Ours is a furious, twitchy,  curious box of endless energy who will not be tamed.  She was like that at week one and she’s like that now. She exhibits the same traits in every new environment she encounters. Its fixed.

It’s convinced me that we’ve all got our defaults, and though we can learn to mitigate them, or imitate others, our basic instincts cannot be shed. Maybe that’s why my comfort zone is so attractive, and why in many ways I have felt odd, and ill at ease at points in the last 6 months.

The life of a stay at home parent is a lovely, lazy lifestyle in many ways.  It’s nice to wander through, and interesting to watch a whole different world of daytime stuff, of prams and shoppers, umbrellas, lunchtime drunks, young truants and scared old ladies.  But its not my default to be here, doing this, writing this.  I don’t enjoy passing hours making small talk with strangers because there’s nothing else to do.   I feel fake, like I’m hiding behind a front.  My mouth is saying things like “yeah she sleeps through” and “have you tried Infacol?” but my brain is sat in the background thinking “what the fuck, John, your nicotine-tampon idea would make a way better conversation than this”.

But but but,  just once in a while, the same conversation about sleep or feeding takes an unexpected turn, and I realise that today’s random stranger is someone great, someone I’d never have met if I’d stuck to my defaults and hidden in my shell, following my instincts.

They’re a trap, sometimes.

Is my baby a jerk?

So when do you reckon it’s ok to start attributing negative traits to someone?

Because, you know, us new parents sure take pride in our kids.  We love ascribing positive qualities to them, most of which cannot possibly actually be possessed by a little baby.  I hear it all the time – people complimenting their beautiful, placid, tranquil, curious, attentive babies, basically for sitting still and not doing much.   We’re almost expected to say nice things to people about their kids – and there is a knack to it, its just about choosing your adjectives carefully.  So long as they aren’t insults.  (I think there is a nice lesson for humanity in this btw – it’s always possible to find a good point about a person if you are compelled to look for it).

A lot of people say for certain that babies are just born with personality.  I always doubted this, I’m firmly on the side of nurture over when it comes to most things.  We’ve always spoken of our baby having certain traits but to be honest i think of this kind of speech as more of a comforting way of making sense of things rather that real descriptions of who she is.  I would prefer not to pigeonhole her – I saw the quote “every day she wakes up different” recently and I really like that idea.

But – we have always described her as wilful, determined and furious – in that everything she ever did was done with intense fury.  We thought of those as admirable qualities, but quietly, I’ve always been scared that she’ll grow up to be a jerk.  For 8 months, Ada was the only baby in our immediate group of friends and so she’s always got loads of attention. She’s now a very smiley kid who loves being in crowds, likes the attention of strangers, and is comfortable with everyone.  All that is nice, but what if she becomes a bigheaded little princess?  Cos that’s how we’ve nurtured her? If she is like that, how should we as her parents go on disguising it with polite adjectives or just admit it?

Also – today, we had 6 other babies at the house for a few hours. They played on the floor together.  She made two of them cry and was constantly snatching, clawing at them, shoving them over.  Of course, the other mums played this down – she’s just a baby she doesn’t know any better.  But what if she’s actually a dick?  A bully?  At what age does it become appropriate to say “that baby is acting totally up themselves”,  “He’s being a moody little sod” or “That baby is being a spiteful cow”?

Obviously it’s never going to be OK to say those things out loud, that would be rude – but at some point, those become appropriate descriptions for their behavior.  In management, we’re taught to judge the action, not the person, but sometimes, some people, like some elephants, are just jerks.

Going to work

I have to go to work today to discuss my eventual return, among other things.  I’m excited, surprisingly.  Being off has been great but work seems tempting too sometimes. I think because at work, I am given things to do and I dont have to choose what to think about.

Finding ways to keep myself entertained every day for 6 months is not as simple as you might think. On the one hand its all relaxing coffee mornings and walks, but on the other hand, it’s just relaxing coffee mornings and walks, you know? Stimulation comes in some forms – conversation, small logistical challenges etc- but i am rarely confronted with anything unexpected or that requires any real thought. I like having freedom to decide what to do but the list is fairly short once you factor in the baby.

Its grass is always greener syndrome- work has its many drawbacks too and of course I will miss this freedom once it has gone. I guess the important thing is to appreciate that the grass is green.

So I have about two months left before I return. I’m starting to feel that quite keenly and the urge to do something productive is growing again, I feel like I’ve been coasting too much recently.

Teaching versus learning. What do you teach a baby?

Do you teach them, or do they just learn?

The baby is doing new stuff.  She is crawling, standing and almost walking (I think).  She makes deliberate noises and copies us.  She moves things to where she wants them to be.  One of the nicest things she has developed is a sense of anticipation – I can count  “one…..two…..” and I can see in her fact that she knows something will happen when i say “three”.

Yesterday, she clapped for the first time (and by clapped, I mean she rubbed her hands together three times, after watching me clap and hearing me say the word, then smiled gleefully like she’d just invented rainbows).

I’ve been trying to teach her to clap for months.  Its a cracking skill to learn – you can use it to signal approval, sarcasm, joy, give encouragement etc.  It’s basic percussion and I’ve always wanted a child who is also an amazing drummer.  But mainly, I’ve been teaching her because I want the credit for it.  I know a few older babies who learned to clap when they started nursery so now I’m convinced  that every nursery employs a Director of Clapping who delivers a week long intensive clap-development course using DVDs and gloves connected by an elastic band,  just so the parents think “oh it must be a good nursery, she learned to clap”.

Anyway – the thing is, I don’t know if I can take credit for anything Ada can do.  I sure keep her mobile, I fling her around and encourage her to be physical, I stand her up and show her things.  She is pretty strong and more mobile that most babies we meet but then, she’s also smaller and lighter too.  I wonder whether some milestones are just destined to be reached at a particular time, but I asked a friend who is a pediatrician and he explained that it is basic input-output – the more they practice something the faster they develop.  So I upped the clapping training and it seemed to have worked.

With this in mind, what else can I start to teach her?  I think spoon-use would be handy because at the moment, watching her eat is like watching Bugsy Malone’s gang test their spud-catapults. I guess pointing is something else she needs to learn.  But these are all standard.  I need some inspiration – what can I teach her next?

 

Humble Pie – managing the bad times…

“If you don’t do things that question your choices from time to time, you forget why you ever made them.”

The other day I wrote about how much of a good time I am having with the baby, being off work.  I wrote it on Friday, just as I was about to go on a weekend away in London to stay with friends – no wife, no baby.

Well, now it’s time for some humble pie, and maybe a lesson.

This week, I’m not having a great time.  It’s been shit.  Nothing real has chanced – same options, same weather, same people around.  But something unreal did change – which is my perceptions.  All of a sudden, I’m not enjoying it.  And that makes it harder – I plan less, I concentrate less, and things take longer and are more effort as a consequence.

The reason for the change in perceptions is pretty obvious – I went away and had a brilliant weekend with no responsibilities.  Had a great time (missed some sleep etc) and came home totally unprepared for resuming my responsibilities as a husband and a father.  This must be how mid-life crises start.

So clearly, the trick is to restart somehow – to find a way back in to this lifestyle of responsibilities without missing what freedoms I used to have (and briefly regained this weekend).  It isn’t hard, once you realise you need to do it. In fact, it’s exactly what I did when I first started this blog – by writing aims, making commitments, and investing something in this life…

But it has made me wonder whether the break away from being a Dad was worth it.  I had a great time, but the comedown (purely emotional, not chemical I add) has been despairing.  I mentioned this to a good friend and she said the most useful thing – if you don’t do things that question your choices from time to time, you forget why you ever made them.  She is right. (Thanks, Lisa!)

So I will go away for another weekend of freedom at some point, and I will come back and feel shit, be unproductive and lame for a few days, annoy everyone I speak to with tales of existential angst, and after that, I’ll realise again why I’m in lifestyle in the first place.

So, the wider point, I suppose, is that finding it hard or not is often linked to your perceptions, and they can be controlled with some effort.   I’m a believer in action – we have to take responsibilities for our situation and if we don’t like it, we change it.  Staying positive is a cliche, but it certainly helps (twinstiarasandtantrums blogged about this today too – v interesting).

Humans can cope with anything, if we try.

On freedom, parenting and prison.

The things you forget…

Here’s another thing I didn’t anticipate when I gave up work for six months.  After a while, you forget what Monday morning is like for everyone else.  You forget what weekends are for.  You forget how working for someone else, to their agenda, can grind you down.  All these things I used to know, but I’ve lost them in the gap between the rigid parental responsibilities I have, and the freedom to structure my day however I want.

I used to work in the Probation Service, and one of the functions of that organisation is to make people who have been convicted of a crime serve punishments in the community – community service work, or education classes, drug treatment courses, anger management courses, electronic tags etc.  Prison is the obvious alternative to this community-based punishment and there is a perennial argument about the relative merits of community based punishments versus incarceration.

One of the most seductive ideas I heard in relation to this was the fact that prison is easy to cope with, because it is a total paradigm shift.  Once you are over the initial shock of being locked up and deprived of your freedoms, you (as a highly adaptable animal) will cope.  The old stresses and routines of your outside life are completely removed, replaced with highly regimented routines into which you settle. Prison replaces your life totally.

But contrast this with a community-based punishment, which interrupts your life consistently, but does not replace it totally.  You have your daily life to lead, but with extra responsibilities – you have to spend 300 hours doing community work on your weekends, you have night-courses to attend, you might have to wear an electronic tag and be at certain places at certain times.  This is hard.  Its is a restriction of freedom which requires some resilience to cope with, whereas prison removes the concept of freedom from your life so totally that you don’t even need to worry about it.

Being a full time, stay at home parent is like being in prison in that the paradigm shift is total.  Being the working parent is like being given a community punishment – you have to fit in the child-rearing stuff around your normal life.

introducing a child in to the world also has an effect on your personal freedom. Now I’m in “prison” I’ve forgotten how hard it can feel to fit in the extra child-caring commitments in to a regular day.  My wife gets up and goes to work, and in just 8 weeks I’ve forgotten what that does to you.  Adjusting to being a full time parent is not without it’s challenges, but once your kid is past 3 months, the days aren’t hard at all.