Dadinating the Country Side

The Trials and Tribulations of Living the Dream

For Granted

Do you know why your daddy cuddles you?
Because ummm… he likes to chase me!
Yes, but do you know why your daddy cuddles you?
Because he wants to put me in pyjamas!
Yes…. he does. But do you know why your daddy cuddles you?

I was doing it again. I was baiting my son, trying to extract an answer from him to make myself feel better. I don’t know why exactly, but it is something I do from time to time. I reach for those little moments of warmth and fuzziness. As I think back on them I realise that they never come if I try to force them, so  I leave it go, knowing that I shall forget again at some point.
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The power of man-stink

Apparently napping is bad for 2 year olds now*. Who knew? Our son clearly knew, because he never bloody sleeps during the day anymore anyway. Gave it up months ago, just refused to go to sleep and turned into an overemotional blob of whining after 5pm.

*I know that’s not what the study actually says, but it’s fun to use hyperbole.

These days (and we worked on this in Sleep School), we have “rest time” or “recharge time” at home. The Lad stays in bed for up to 3/4 of an hour, and if he goes to sleep well and good. If he doesn’t, at least he’s had some downtime. It’s working for now, and every 3rd or 4th day he actually does sleep. God help us all if he oversleeps…..

Once a week he has a daycare day with a local family day-carer. She’s wonderful, knows The Lad well and provides excellent care to him. She’s wonderful, and we’re lucky to have found her. But The Lad was having a lot of issues with, you guessed it, sleep.

He was refusing to nap at daycare, all the usual tricks weren’t working, and he was disturbing the other kids. Now daycare naps are about a bit more than just the children getting some sleep, they’re also about giving the educator time to pack up and do paperwork (observations) for the day. So our boy making a ruckus, crying and disturbing the others was creating such a headache that for a bunch of sessions The Mamanator was called on to collect him, where she’d have to deal with the meltdown and the ruckus until I got home from work.

It wasn’t easy, and it was getting to the point where we were going to give up on daycare, which would have been a bad outcome.

The our son’s day-carer shared a little pearl of wisdom. The kind of wisdom you get from years of working with many pre-schoolers of all kinds of dispositions. She asked if he had a teddy of some kind, then she asked The Mamanator if she had a shirt or top we could send with him next time, and the two agreed it was a good idea.

Now I was there in the room that afternoon collecting the boy with the pair of them. I thought about mornings Mornings somewhere between 5:15 and 6:00am) our boy trundles into our room, bleary eyed. Seeks me out, waits for me to pull him into bed and burrows into my armpit and sleeps for another half an hour to an hour.

Before, when he was coming into our bed earlier than that, he would always seek me out, same thing.

This thought bubbled away in my head for a few seconds as they kept talking.

But then the bubbles popped and I realised what was wrong with this picture.

“Maybe it should be my shirt?”
“What?”
“Maybe we should send The Lad with my shirt?”
“Oh, okay.”
“Well he usually sleeps on me”
“Yeah”

Fast forward to 3 weeks later and the stinky shirt is a hit. It’s used not only to keep him settled for rest time, but he asks for it when he’s upset. He even said “Daddy smell makes me feel better”. I may have choked up a bit when I heard that story.

And there it was, the power of man-stink. As distinct from woman-stink (The Mamantor won’t mind me calling it that). So dad’s out there, don’t underestimate the power of those hugs, those nuzzles and those naps together. Your bond is probably stronger than you think.

Postscript:

Apparently this worked on The Mamanator too when I had to spend a few weeks away when she was 8 months pregnant with The Lad. She spent a lot of time in my t-shirts (eating Hungry Jacks and watching The West Wing).

Postpostscript:

The cats like my stinky shirts too, one of them is currently rolling around in the shirt I wore jogging today…. Blech.

The Prime Directive

The Lad's Tower

He’s building a tower out of Duplo. Maybe it’s a crane, or a “London Bridge” or maybe a bus. It stands tall and has taken considerable time and effort. I’ve been watching. Watching and smiling. He looks back at me from time to time and smiles back. He’s enjoying himself – so far. There’s a problem. I see it, but he doesn’t. There’s a flaw, a weakness an imbalance. It’s going to fall, and soon.

My inner control-freak wants to intervene. I could fix the problem I could reinforce his structure, I could re-direct his hand. I could buttress the tower. I could hold it up for him. So many things I could do to help, to make sure the tower works. To fix it.

or…

I could keep watching, like I have been, and let the tower fall. Let his work collapse so he has to start again. Leave him to get frustrated and angry. Leave him to wail in disappointment. Leave him to learn.

Both choices come from a place of love. I turn inside to find the answer, and I find it in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek was escapism for me. Pure and simple. Watching the Starship Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) sail through the void of space, communicating with aliens, resolving diplomatic impasses and solving scientific mysteries. I loved the plot lines, loved the booming voice of Sir Patrick Stewart, loved its unapologetically optimistic view of the future and I loved the moral dilemmas that the crew faced in every episode. Well almost every episode… Some episodes sucked.

And then there was the Prime Directive. The law that banned interference with less developed cultures, even to “help” them.

“The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy … and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well-intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.” (Jean-luc Picard, Symbiosis)

Yes. Disastrous. Okay, maybe overblown. Maybe it’s melodramatic, ST:TNG was a bit of a space opera, but the concept is something worth considering before I jump in and fix that tower.

What’s the end game here? Do I want my son to build the biggest best most magnificent tower ever? Do I want to ensure he never gets angry or hurt or frustrated? Do I want him to only have fun and never experience disappointment?

Or do I want him to learn how balance, gravity, forces and mechanics work? Do I want him to learn the limits of his structures, his blocks and himself? Do I want him to explore experiment? Do I want him to learn that towers fall down, and you have to build them again? Do I want him to learn that if a tower falls the world doesn’t end and the world keeps turning?

The urge to protect our children is strong, one of the strongest impulses you’ll ever feel. Babies. They put things in their mouths, they can’t sit or even hold their head up, they can’t move to get away from danger, they can’t even control when they poo. All they can do is cry, it’s their first, last and only line of defence in the face of any danger, and they rely on adults to get them out of it.

But they grow. They grow fast. Faster than we realise. Faster than they realise, suddenly they crawl, climb, walk, talk, eat, play, sing… And they learn. It’s not always easy to learn, and it can be a frustrating process when you are still so small and the world is still so big. But they do learn, sometimes because of us and sometimes in spite of us.

So, Picard in my head, I let him go on. He surprises me and gets another two pieces onto his tower before, as expected, it topples. The blocks clatter. He screams. It’s that high-pitched yell that he brings forth every so often. He sweeps his hand over wreckage, scattering more blocks everywhere and he looks at me with tears welling.

“Oh well!” I say in a cheery voice, hoping to help him move on. “Do you want to try again?”. Seconds pass, and so does the tempest of fury. They pass quickly if you don’t let yourself get caught up in them. I help gather up the pieces and he starts again. He checks back on me every so often, but he’s mostly content to get on with it himself.

It falls again, he pushed a piece down too hard and the structure underneath breaks. More tears, more anger. It is not easy to watch. The urge to help him is growing in me, but I fight it still. I keep my hands off, let him build his own tower and watch as it falls a third time. He comes to me, passes me blocks. Wants me to get involved, so I do. I’ve waited for him to ask for me, and he did eventually.

How many times have I interfered? How many times have I fixed that tower? Or finished the puzzle? Or put the fork and knife the right way around in his hands? How many times have I grumbled at him for spilling a drink or making a mess? How many times was it really necessary?

Of course it doesn’t pay to simply be hands-off. It’s not an excuse to check your phone constantly while your baby plays around you. There’s a difference between respecting your child’s play and ignoring them. And there are plenty of occasions where parents need to jump in. When a child is in danger, when they get too far away, when they get up too high, when something they’re standing on is going to break. If he is hurting another child, yelling at his sister, throwing things at his sister, trying to lift his sister, pushing his sister over, yelling at his sister again…. (you get the picture).

Hard and fast rules quickly fall apart when you’re faced with the reality of parenting. It’s intuitive, it’s judgement calls, it’s all in that grey area. Kind of like in Star Trek. The Prime Directive is violated all the time, it’s part of where the drama of the show comes from. And as parents we intervene all the time, often when we don’t really need to. I just hope that by being mindful of it I can keep that inner-control freak of mine in check.

 

This post was, in part, inspired by a program called Watch, Wait, Wonder – something we learned about at the O’Connell Family Centre. It’s worth a look.

The first four weeks

I read something today.

I didn’t like it one bit. I didn’t like it because it used the phrase “it’s not politically correct to say these things” – a phrase I loathe. I didn’t like it because it reinforced a toxic trope around fatherhood: that dad does not count until the child is older. I didn’t like it because it ran contrary to research which shows, increasingly, that dad’s are important from day one in their child’s life. I didn’t like it because it was belittling of the role of dads, this dad included.

Then I decided to think about something I liked. Something I loved, something I remember with fondness and pride. A time of my life that was a crucible of uncontrollable love, a smattering of panic and a kind of contentment that has echoed through the rest of my days.

I thought about that first month of my children’s lives. Both of them, unique and similar at the same time. The “epic and life-changing love-in, and it belongs uniquely to mother and child”, according to MIlli Hill.

My son on the second day of his life.

My son on the second day of his life.

With both my children my first moments alone with them came early, and both for the same reason, as a matter of fact, so The Mamanator could take a shower. Yes a shower, that simple luxury that pre-parent Dadinator and Mamanator took for granted, but which simply doesn’t happen every day anymore. Maybe a bassinet would have done, but I think dad is probably better. I held onto The Lad and then The Lass with the same shell-shocked disbelief in the magnitude of what I had just seen and in the fragility of the bundle I was holding.

And I was loath to let go. I learned their faces. They learned mine. They knew my voice – kids know their dad’s voices – but they didn’t know my face, so it was time for them to learn. I held them to my heart. I breathed slowly, let them hear my breath and heart. Later I’d hold them to my bare chest, part of me worried these babies would get hairballs (I am a hairy man). Yes we did skin-to-skin, men can do that too.

And I pitty the fool that tried to pry either of those tiny globules of helplessness from my arms. Except for their mother, she could if she needed to. You see, and maybe this is the key difference between Milli Hill’s experience and mine (and probably the experience of a whole bunch of other dads out there), I liked holding my babies when they were small. I enjoyed it. Hell, I loved it. Every second of it. Even through poo, spew and crying, I loved it. I never felt useless, I never felt detached. I often felt overwhelmed. I often felt scared. I often felt incompetent. Sometimes I panicked. But my god it was an amazing feeling.

So what did I do? Honestly, I can’t remember. It was being awake for days. It was crying. It was secretly willing my nipples to kick into action and produce milk. It was singing songs, whistling and rocking. It was nappy changes, fumbling with swaddles and car seats. It was being a gate-keeper, scheduler and door-bastard. It was being a chair and a bed, a shoulder to cry on and a punching bag for my family.

An a lot of it was just staring at them, my eyes fixed on theirs. I just couldn’t stop.

It was intense. It was joyous and it was amazing. It was more than just supporting The Mamanator. It was getting to know the little guy, and it was him getting to know me. I remember wearing him on my chest as we went out for a coffee together. I remember his eyes. The way he looked at me. I remember when he fell asleep in my arms. I remember the tears. I remember laughter. I remember the eyes. Those deep blue eyes, staring at me as they learned my face.

And that was the first one.

The second one I remember distracting, I remember diverting, I remember helping him feel involved. And I remember her. I remember her needing so much and asking so much of me. Of us, because we were both there for her.

I remember a love. I love that from the big-bang of birth expanded into a universe. A universe that I thought included everything until The Mamanator brought forth another one, and it turns out that there are parallel universes after all.

I wasn’t there to give mum a break. I wasn’t there to support her. Well I was, but it was more than that. I was there for my kids, building and founding my relationship with them. I kept them safe, and feeling safe. I kept them loved, and feeling love. I kept them asleep. Sometimes.

I was there for my kids. Not just because they needed me, but because I needed them.

And I’m proud of those first four weeks. It was hard, it was epic and it was something I’ll miss forever. Thank goodness I was blessed enough get the chance to miss it.

I’m Sorry. I Just….I Can’t.

Beware, there are evil, sick people everywhere! Source: Washington Post

The Mamanator found a story today that cropped up on her Facebook feed earlier in the day. She told me about it as we were driving to my in-laws place, and watched as my head exploded. It exploded with rage and confusing as I found myself uncontrollably spitting bile and mouthing the words “What the F**K” to myself over and over again. The kids were in the back seat, which was all that stopped me screaming it at the top of my voice.

This happened. Click on the link. If the headline makes you want to rage-vomit come back here and I’ll give you the bare-bones of the story. Go on.

You back? Good. Here’s what happened:

A family in Missouri, USA decided that their son was too soft. He was too courteous or too outgoing. Maybe his soul was too good and too beautiful. His outlook on the word too optimistic. Or maybe he was too kind and too, you know, nice. Can’t have “nice” people in the world. So they had to do something about it. Toughen the boy up.

So they organised with other family members to stage a kidnapping of the boy. He was lured into a car, blindfolded, tied up and confined for 4 hours. 4 FREAKING HOURS.

Also: He was 6 years old.

6 years old

If I had the capacity to write that in flashy writing that travelled across the screen and changed colours over and over again I would because man… 6 years old. I just… I can’t….

6? Sorry I can’t seem to get past that point, because he was 6. Man…..

Being nice is not a bad thing. Being nice is not a flaw. Being nice and being optimistic about the world actually gives you the capacity to make a better world as time goes on. In the past parents focussed so much on “toughening up” our children – especially boys, on teaching them harsh lessons, making a “man” of them and all that bullshit. Why? Why would we do that to children?

Some say because the world has become more dangerous. Because there are evil people out there. Because the world is a harsh place, because they might get cheated, exploited or hurt if they are not constantly on their guard.

This is actual bullshit. Total bullshit. Because if you mistrust everyone, you can’t trust anyone and you can’t love anyone what does that make you? I’ve written about this at more length before, putting my position forward in a post which tied in the greek philosophers Plato, Socrates and cats, so I won’t repeat myself too much here.

But if they are constantly on their guard, what do they lose? What of love and friendship? What of compassion? What of care for others.

But to the parents of that kid I say this: Congratulations. You set out to show your kid that the world is a horrible place, with sick evil people who could hurt you at any time. And you know how you did it? Because you ARE the evil, sick bastards in this story. Just goes to demonstrate how in most cases of child abuse the criminals are known by the victim, not strangers in the street.

You cannot protect someone by traumatising them. Period.

And that’s my rage-vomit for the day.

Back to regularly scheduled programming soon….

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