Dadinating the Country Side

The Trials and Tribulations of Living the Dream

Anzac Day 2015

It’s the night before the dawn service, and I’m thinking of 5am wake ups, walks down the street, dim lighting and the sound of a bugle in the morning.

I remember being a boy. I remember standing, short among the men and women on the lawn of the Shrine in Melbourne, my dad next to me and the white stone structure thrusting up before me. We only went a couple of times, but still I remember.

I remember learning in uni that the Shrine is modeled on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus – one of the ancient wonders of the world located in modern Turkey.

I remember researching the ANZAC story in Australian History in year 10, arguing that we’d let the Gallipoli campaign overshadow our nations actions in other theatres in the First World War in error me essay.

I remember watching Gallipoli the 80s movie 5 or so times in school. I remember the ending. “What are you legs?….”

I remember being part of a group of school cadets at an RSL, on parade and standing to attention throughout the ceremony.

I remember learning about the trenches in world war one as we read All Quiet of the Western Front.

I remember helping carry a banner in the parade in Melbourne as part of my duties in school cadets.

I remember first reading “I saw a man this morning” for the first time, and suddenly linking the Dardanelles with the ancient epics of the Trojan War, and realising that a thin stretch of water and around 3100 years separate these two conflicts. I remember wondering if that means anything – and learning that it meant something to some of the men who were there in 1916.

I remember an overwhelming sense of sadness when I first saw images of the graveyards.

I remember the news breaking when the last surviving soldier from that campaign, Alec Campbell, died in 2002, and the events on that beach passed out of living memory.

I remember learning for the first time that my families history in the two world wars as dad showed me their medals.

I remember standing with The Mamanator, The Lad and The Lass last year at his first dawn service, wondering what the kids will remember.

I remember the morning, the grey, the walk and the tones of The Last Post. I remember resolving to do it again.

Lest we forget.

Bedtime Insanity

I’m laying down. I have no idea why I just did what I did.

Bedtime is always a bit complicated in our house. Our kids have a few issues settling down, and that’s fine, it’s something we’ve learned to deal with, and even enjoy (in a codependent kind of way).

Each night I settle the boy into bed after our stories, I sing songs (including his special edited version of the Thomas theme song – I get told off if I get it wrong). As I sing I rock my little girl. My tiny little girl. Some say she’s big now, that she’s growing, but I know the truth. She’s tiny.

I settle her in her cot once she’s asleep, and then I go over and sit with The Lad while he falls asleep. It doesn’t take that long these days. He often just falls asleep while I’m with the girl. But not always. The past couple of nights he’d needed a bit more. Just a cuddle for 5 minutes, while I told him a story about a boy in bed who was warm and safe and had his dad with him as he fell asleep.

But tonight he had fallen to sleep himself. I lay his sister down and looked at him, knowing that my job was done. I could go downstairs and be an adult again. I did a fist pump.

But then I stood looking at him.

Sleeping there.

Happy and content.

Not needing his dad.

My finger kind of twitched… Not voluntarily, my brain certainly wasn’t in control.

And still he slept. Little boy of mine.

I twitched again.

I walked over to his cot, just to check he was okay. He was, chest rising and falling and his face looking peaceful.

My arm was moving on its own, and I put a hand on his shoulder and leant in to give him a goodnight kiss. That’s all.

But my hand decided that wasn’t enough, and it gently shook him. And I whispered to him.

For some reason, that I still can’t really fathom, I woke my baby boy up. Okay I can fathom the exact reason, but it was still a pretty crazy thing to do given our children’s history with sleep….

I whispered to him and told him it was okay, and that I’d give him a cuddle. I told him a story of a boy in bed who was warm and safe and had his dad beside him. He felt peaceful, warm and loved.

I told myself the story of a dad who loved his children, who held them and protected them. And I felt peaceful, warm and loved.

He nodded off again quickly, and I lay there. I held on to him for a few more minutes, kissed him goodnight and told him a loved him.

He slept soundly, as I left the room. I stole one more bedtime cuddle for myself, knowing that the number of bedtime cuddles we have left is numbered. Knowing that it will end one day. Knowing that I’ll miss it more than he will.

A change in a toddler

My son has been watching Thomas. He watches more Thomas than I thought my hypothetical son would watch, but that hypothetical son is well and truly expired now. He was usurped by the flesh-and-blood model back in 2011.

It’s Saturday morning and we let him watch TV while we make our exhausted way around the house, I make pancakes on auto-pilot and The Mamanator has a brief lie in. He loves Thomas, especially since we discovered what he now calls “Thomas Old-School”. The original series, voiced by Ringo with actual model trains instead of freakish CGI beasts with cartoon voices of the show’s current iteration (CGI and the death of children’s television is the subject of another post.)

Interestingly since he started watching it he’s become slightly obsessed with making his own toy trains crash, bash and fall off things…. Thomas The Tank Engine has a lot in common with TAC advertisements. Should they ever appoint a Worksafe inspector in the Island of Sodor, Sir Topham Hat is going to spend a long time in jail, I have no doubt.

However, that time is upon us. Pancakes are done (sourdough with freshly milled buckwheat by the way – yes I’m a foodie hippy wanker). The stack stands in the middle of the table surrounded by condiments, crockery and cutlery. It is time for breakfast. I take a deep breath in and prepare myself, because…..

It’s time to turn Thomas off.

“Time to turn off Thomas Lad” I say, my voice quivering slightly in fear of what is to come.

Click.

Duck and cover….

I brace myself for a force 4 hurricane.

Holding breath.

Wait for it.

Wait for it.

WAIT FOR IT.

I close my eyes, widen my stance and lean into the wind slightly. Ready. Impact in 3, 2, 1.

“Thanks for letting me watch Thomas Daddy!”.

I fall over. Okay, I admit that I didn’t actually fall over, but I was shocked enough to. I stand their agog, wondering if this is some cruel toddler trick. Some form of torture. Admiral Ackbar flashes through my head.

But no. No, he smiles. I realise I’ve paused too long, that this silence could be filled with a shriek if I don’t say something fast. “Bahdahehzawitzah….. *ahem* I mean… ummmm…. You’re welcome….?…? Would you like some pancakes?”

“Oh Yes please!”.

Still suspicious I walk over to the table and he sits. “Can I have some syrup please?”

What? No reminder needed? Who is this child? WHO?

But he’s mine.

Something’s changed. I don’t know what it is or what it was or when it occurred, but there is a change. And in spite of my initial misgivings it is not at all scary.

Somewhere in his head cogs have turned, things have shifted and the brain has reorganised itself. I’m not sure if it happens in a sudden rush of if it’s incremental. I’m not sure if it is in fact incremental, but expressed as a sudden rush. I’m not sure of anything, and fortunately neither are the greatest authorities on the mind out there, so I don’t feel dumb.

Somewhere concepts such as time, consequence, commitment and promises appear to have gained a toehold. They’ve been floating around on the surface of his brain for some time.

There have been constant reminders: “remember what we discussed?”, “can you use nice asking please?”, “What did Daddy/Mummy say earlier?”, “Does screaming like that get you anything?”. There has been constant reinforcement: “That was lovely asking!”, “Well done for calming down so well” or “Doesn’t that feel better when we don’t throw ourselves on the floor”. There has been a lot of frustration, a lot of deep breathing and a lot of tears. But something has changed in our toddler.

Of course that assumes we had or have any effect at all. Quite possibly this was always going to happen, some kind of natural brain-maturation was inevitable because as he grows he can’t avoid some kind of maturation, may as well be the brain. And, of course, it is possible this is just a phase and we’ll be back to tropical cyclone Lad before long.

Believe me he has his days. I’ve been yelled at, slapped, the target of projectiles and even bitten once or twice. We’ve had tantrums over nothing, tears because we disagree on the colours of objects and howls because we’ve run out of butter (I sometimes want to join in…)

We play little games observing the world and I ask him of a red car “Is that car green?” only to get “NOOOOOOO!!!!” thrown back at me. If he can’t find a toy he will sometimes demand “FIND IT!” of me before I remind him to look for it himself. “NNNNNNO!” is the response to that piece of advice most of the time. He occasionally hits his sister. He insists that he is incapable of eating something with great gusto and enthusiasm. And sometimes he just squeals.

Yet I am optimistic. Or naive. Or a mix of both. I cannot honestly say how much or how little impact we are having. That’s not the point. There are days when it feels like we are banging our head against a brick wall – it feels about as productive and about as painful. But then there are days like this Saturday a few weeks ago, when our head seems to barrier tunnel (I did physics at uni once…) through the wall and break through to the other side – as if by chance.

Perhaps that’s why I wanted to write this, to preserve this little moment of pleasant surprise nestled in amongst the mess of life with a three-year old who is still learning how to regulate his own emotions, and how to express them.

And, if I may share this with you all, I’m very proud of him.

At the very least, I figure I’m going to bask in this little moment of glory and patiently wait for my son to grow into a teenager. Then I can remind him how charming he used to be when I get monosyllabic grunts from him for about 4 years. (I teach secondary school, I’ve seen what’s coming).

The Virtues of Fatherhood 2 – Fear

Moments of terror.

Holding him. Holding her. For the first time, wary of their floppiness and heart aching with the raw power of what I’d just seen.

The first time he cried in my arms. I panicked, looked helplessly around the hospital room and blinked. What did he want? What could I do? Part of me wanted to search for The Mamanator, set him on her breasts and have him calmed down.

The cord-end still attached to their belly buttons. I avoided it, it scared me. Then there was that moment when the last bits of tube came away with some drops of blood and we called the Maternal Child Health nurse because we didn’t know what was going on.

I cut my son’s finger-nails for the first time and the smallness of them was terrifying. The glint of light on the clippers quivered in my shaking hands. I imagined I was in surgery, with face mask, beeping machines and nurses on hand to schwab the sweat away from my furrowed brow.

The weight of a limp and heavy head. The sound of water hitting the basin wall. The cold, naked room. The inches of water sounded wet, deadly and far too deep. I was petrified, and I couldn’t do it the first time. So I tagged out and assisted. It was weeks before I could bathe him myself.

The fear you feel when your child, whose food you’ve been monitoring so carefully, gets their lolly or piece of cake.

The first time the two of them cried at once.

The hospital trips.

First falls.

Head clangs.

Drops.

Operations.

Chook deaths.

Moments when all the confidence, all the expertise and all that skill you’ve built up through weeks and months of constant care seems to just drain away from your face like blood. The first time away. The first time leaving them with someone else.

So many firsts. So much fear. And that is just the small stuff. The deeper issues linger. These slow-burners of fear. The nagging questions, the doubts and the insecurities – all rooted in fear. Fear of fathering. Fear of the task. Fear of failure. Fear of warping, damaging and distorting the young minds you hold in your hands. Fear that they’ll see your fear and become fearful themselves. Fear of your child’s fear. Fearing fear itself.

Fear is the enemy. Fear shuts down the brain, fear is paralysing, fear makes you hesitate, makes you second guess, makes you make mistakes. And that’s just on the inside. Then you become a parent and you have an audience. Then you have a life to protect. Then you have responsibilities. Then you know what fear is.

Fear used to exist to help us avoid being eaten by things bigger than us. It kept us alive, but as our lives have gotten both safer and more complex, we have found new reasons and new ways to feel fear. We have new modern names for fear: angst, guilt, self-doubt. But at the core that basic primal fear runs through the centre of it all. We used to fear for our lives, but now we fear for our futures, our careers, finding purpose, finding a house, sharing ourselves with someone else and then we fear for all these things for and through our children.

I wish I was fearless. I wish I knew what I was doing. I wish I was imbued with the decisiveness, with certainty with strength.

Imagine fearless fatherhood. Brash, daring and confident. I’d never hesitate to clip a fingernail. Never stop to question my judgement. Never be frightened by something as mundane as a bath. Never think too much about how my words or my actions might be affecting my children, because I was sure in myself and my actions. Unsqueamish and manly I’d forge ahead, knowing what i was doing was the right thing.

No.

I need my fear. My fear challenges me every day. It makes me a better dad, it makes me work harder and strive better. It makes me think deeper and longer. Fear makes me double-check the car seat. Fear helps me keep track of 2 kids in the bath. Fear keeps me alert when I am with my kids swimming, running, climbing….

And yes, of course it goes too far. Happens all the time, especially in those blurry early days, when you’re convinced that if you hold your child the wrong way they’ll snap in two in your hands.

Or later on, when your toddler climbs up to a new height on a playground and you waver between wanting to pull them down or hold them up so you kind of hover near them with your hands out not knowing what to do. Then you get scared you are being a helicopter parent, put your hands down but dance from foot to foot like you really need to go to the toilet because you don’t know if being too close is doing harm, but you don’t want to be too far away in case they fall….

Or when you realise you have sworn in front of your child for the first time and you’re convinced you’ve just destroyed their chances of being prime minister (that’s a normal and rational fear, right?).

Or when you snap for the first time and yell at your child and they look at you with hurt, scared eyes before bawling – and you are so afraid that you’ve destroyed their soul and they’ll never recover (they recover).

But you learn to deal with it. You learn to cut those finger-nails. You learn to run those baths. You learn to watch but not interfere as they play. You learn your limits as your child learns theirs. You never eliminate your fear, but you learn to listen to it and trust it without letting it take over completely.

It’s that feeling in your gut. It’s the reflexes that make us all “ninja dads“. It is there in that sense you get when your child is up too high. It’s that urge to look both ways and hold their hands as they cross the street – even if there hasn’t been a car down it in weeks.

And your kids watch you learn to deal with it. They understand that as you stop fearing things they can stop fearing them too. They learn that if you’re scared for them they’ve crossed a line and put themselves in danger, real danger. And they learn from that far more profoundly and far more quickly than any stern talking to they might receive afterwards.

So don’t sweat fear. Understand it, face it, challenge it. It’s there to help, and it’s their to teach you. Just don’t let it take over. And remember, your little ones don’t have fear yet, it’s part of why they’re so frightening to their parents.

This post is in part inspired by this excellent post by Alex at Dadrites. Go read it.

Post Sleep School

It was 7:20pm as I walked down the stairs in a flabbergasted daze of disbelief.

Both kids were asleep. I’d done it.

Mum noticed me looking vacant. “So, are they down?” she asked

“Yes…….” I said in a kind of shocked staccato. I hadn’t suspected it would be this easy on the first night, but there it was. Within me there lurked a sense of foreboding. It was not over yet.

Let me fill you in.

A while ago we went to a Sleep School,  We’ve been having major issues with our daughter and sleep, and we needed help. We got it and things have improved. We now have both kids in the one room. I settle the pair of them with a combination of reading, songs and rocking – and usually it doesn’t take too long. We also have a clear and consistent routine around bedtime that both kids enjoy, both kids have contributed too and both kids accept. Continue reading

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