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.
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?
So, every day I put the baby on the changing mat, switch on the voice recorder on my phone, and start telling a story off the top of my head… (been a while since I posted any – transcribing is a bitch.)
This is a story about a chef who lived on a boat. A fishing boat, that was always out at sea. and his job was to make sure the captain always had the best food.
Now, the Captain was a big fat man who loved his fish, which was handy because they lived at sea and fish was all there was to eat.
But the Cook had lied to the Captain when he got his job. He had lied and said he was an expert in cooking fish, but he wasn’t – he was just a common-or-garden chef.
Now, luckily, most fish are easy to cook. The fishermen would bring them to him, from the day’s catch, already gutted, s all the chef would have to do is put them in a pan, boil them, grill them, skin them, chop them up sometimes – it was easy.
But one fish was the captain’s favourite, and the chef had no idea how to cook it. And that fish was a jellyfish!
The thing with Jellyfish is that they can sting – even when they are dead, they can sing. He was scared of being stung so he had never cooked a jellyfish.
One day after a few months at sea, with lots of nice cod and haddock, plaice, hake, sole, tune and trout, the cook’s worst nightmare came true, and one of the fisherman brought down to the galley a jellyfish from the day’s catch, and he said:
“The Captain wants this for his tea!”
The Cook was terrified. He didn’t even want to touch the Jellyfish. But he knew he was in trouble because if he didn’t cook it the Captain would be mad, and would know he had been lied to. But he was so scared he went about cooking the potatos and the veg and the starters and the dessert – he made a feast – but he never touched the Jellyfish. He just left it there on a tray on the sideboard.
He was scared – he coudlnt cook the jellyfish but he didn’t want to disappoint the Captain.
In the end he hid in his cupboard.
He herad the fisherman come in, pick up all the food and take it up to the serving quarters, and he heard them have a big feast. He stayed in his hiding place.
Much later on, he was still hiding and he heard a knock! knock! knock! at the galley door. The captain burst in and shouted
“Cook – Cook! Come here!”
The Cook crept out from his hiding place and winced as he looked up at the Captain.
“That” said the Captain “was the best Jellyfish I have ever eaten!”
The cook hoped his surprise didn’t show too much on his face, and he tried to smile. The Captain continued
“the stingers were still on, you got the flavour from them, and the worst thing with jellyfish is if they are overcooked, but i like mine raw and you did it perfectly”
The cook smiled and said “i though you would – I didn’t cook it at all”
After that, the cook had nothing to be worried about because he learned that the one thing he couldn’t cook was the one thing he didn’t need to.
“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).
About how much fun is is being a full-time parent. So why the doom and gloom everyone?
So this morning, me and the baby played in the bath, and i laughed my arse off at her pathetic attempts to eat yoghurt. In a minute we’re going to the climbing wall with some friends – we’ll relax, have coffee, climb etc.
Yesterday I spent some time in a quiet music venue in leeds, getting to know the owners. On Tuesday, i visited several friends and had a pub lunch. On Monday we were in the library for storytime with all the other local mums and babies.
So yeah – this is way better than working.
Way better. I’m no longer surprised that many women never want to go back to work full time if they can afford it, after maternity leave. This lifestyle is way nicer – more relaxing, entertaining and rewarding that working full time.
I know I’m not alone in this – i speak to lots of parents who are either off full time or working part time, and they love it too. Obviously, i don;t see any of the parents who are trapped home alone in a living baby-hell – so I can’t claim my sample is representative. But then, I’m not entirely sure that stereotype of the really uber-stressed parent who can’t even get dressed actually exists.
The point of this post is to ask, then, why do so many off-work parents seem afraid to own up to what a great time they have?