Dadinating the Country Side

The Trials and Tribulations of Living the Dream

Things I miss.

23:56 Wednesday night. I didn’t know how to make it 12 hour time. 23:56 is what the computer said it was, so that was the time. 23:56 and I was awake. Wide awake because The Lass hadn’t cried out. She almost did on two occasions earlier that evening. The first time I think she was just coughing, I don’t know, but I went in to see, and she was back asleep before I entered the room. I stood there for a few minutes staring listlessly, waiting for a cry that never came. The second time was a definite grumble, but again she was asleep by the time I was in the room. Again I stood there.

My brain was expecting her to have woken at least once by now. Sometime between 9:30 and midnight my ears expected to hear a sob, my legs expected to walk over to her cot and my arms expect to scoop her up and take her in to The Mamanator.

But last weekend I had done something different. WIth no need for an early rise for work instead of giving her to her mother, I walked her up and down the house, singing a simple song I had for her over and over again:

“The Lass she wants her mu-u-my.
The Lass she wants her mu-u-my.
The Lass she wants her mu-u-my!
And I guess that’s fair enough

But*

The Lass she has her da-a-ady
The Lass she has her da-a-dy
The Lass she has her da-a-dy
So I guess life ain’t that tough

*I would change the conjoining phrase each verse with words such as: However, although, notwithstanding that, in spite of that, given that, on the other hand…. It got a shade tedious after the first couple of runs.

It took a lot of time, especially on Friday and Saturday. It took a lot of tears; hers and mine. It took a lot of sanity; mostly mine. But she settled, I set her in her bed and she slept.

And on Wednesday night, like the nights before, I was left unsummoned and unable to switch off the nagging alarm in my head and go to sleep. Part of my mind was setting off a little alarm bell, telling me not to settle into bed because that has traditionally been my daughter’s cue to start grizzling. I have been un-sleep-trained, you see, now I need to un-un-sleep-train myself. It will take time.

Strange though it seems, I missed the ritual stagger from bed to cot to fetch her.

We had always expected to be a super co-sleeping, hippy dippy, demand-breast-feeding attachment parents (who still vaccinated). But after nearly 2 years of sleep torture, a range of different approaches  offered from sleep schools, maternal child health nurses and others that simply were not working for us.

So we made a change, a sustainable one for us, by turning off the tap. It has worked (so far), but I still can’t make myself sleep before midnight. I keep waiting for her to wake up.

I remember the first time The Lad kept me awake. He was new, fresh, raw and so tiny, our first baby. I’d just sit and listen to him breath for ages as he slept. It wasn’t a relaxed look at my angel sleeping in his cot experience. It was a “WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO TAKE YOUR NEXT BREATH MY GOD YOU’RE GOING TO DIE” experience, I didn’t know that babies didn’t breath with the regular rhythm of adult folks. It took time for me to get over that.

I remember when he slept I’d wake up at night-time, expecting him to have woken only to find he hadn’t, and I was just being restless. The same thoughts flashed into my head “I CAN’T HEAR HIM SOMETHING’S HAPPENED ARGGGGH!!!!”. It took time for me to get over that.

And it will take time to get over this… It makes me think of Shawshank Redemption:

I miss things. My eldest child is only 3 and a half, and already I miss things. I miss rocking my boy to sleep, he’s too heavy now. And, if I can confess something to you, he doesn’t need it any more. I miss the songs we used to sing together that he no longer enjoys. I miss the way he used to say “Ock-kopter” for helicopter. I miss the tiny cloths he used to wear. I even miss some of the time on the change table cleaning up poo. In a strange way I do. It represented a kind of reliance, a connection between child and parent. Connections that are severed faster than new ones are made as they grow.

And her, she’s only 1. I miss the way she used to say “Mummy Peppa Pig” when we read that annoying book someone else bought for her that she no longer reads. Hell I miss the book, even though it irked me. I miss the way she could only count to 3 (she can get to 10 now), and I miss how she’d always ask me to sing “Intsy spiiiiider” over and over again, the way she lengthened spiiiiiiider had been irresistibly cute.

Turns out I miss how she’d rouse me every night as soon as my head hit the pillow.

What kind of nervous wreck will I be when they go to school? Spend the night at a friends house? Go on school camp? Will I ever be able to cope with either of them moving out?

Then again I got used to wake up calls between 9 and 11pm. Getting un-used to them must be possible, right?

I pretend there are moments of equilibrium in parenting. There are not, just a constant stream of adjustments. And just when you get used to it, it changes on you again.

Still. Sleep sounds pretty good right now, maybe I’ll give it another go. Wish me luck, fellow travellers.

And treasure what you have. You never know what you’ll miss.

Just Chill

It had taken a few minutes of negotiation, but he was in bed. “Negotiation” is a strong word for it. There was lots of “Daddy said get into bed, Lad. Come on, get into bed”. I can’t remember if there was any particularly witty rebuttal, bargaining or to-and-fro; but I certainly remember The Lad not being in bed. He had eventually climbed in and now he was sitting bolt upright, grinning at me.

I had started the process of asking him to lie down, because asking a 3-year-old to do anything can be a process, especially at meal-times and bed-time. It had been a long day, the details of which I no longer remember. I was nervous because I was going to be on Lass duty again overnight. We set ourselves a goal of night-weaning our little boob-monster who was still feeding intermittently at night-time. “Feeding” is a strong word for it. There was always lots of sucking and cute noises, but I don’t think that (at 20 months) there was much nutritional value to the habit she had developed.

Last night had taken me a while to settle her down without the aid of mammary glands, but I managed. 3 times, and had not gotten much sleep at all. I had then gotten up and run a normal Saturday with pancakes and everything. I was beat.

Inside the clunking cogs of my brain something started to give. Some little pin in there was dangerously close to cracking as I asked for the fourth time “Lie Down Lad!”. He picked up on the exasperation, he’s quite a sensitive soul, and looked at me with a perplexed crinkle of the eyebrows. After due consideration he responded:

“Just Chill, dad”.

Now it was my turn to be shocked. After a quick inhale filled my lungs with fresh oxygen, my mind processed what had just been said. And it changed my brain’s gear.

It was a high-risk strategy from the young man in front of me. Would it send me into apoplexy? It could be taken as a smart-arsed comment to a man who has already exhausted his energy and patience? Would I suddenly feel a surge of guilt at being so short with someone so, well, short and dissolve into a gibbering puddle of regret, sentimentality and emotion?

My mental clutch went on as my brain paused and shifted into a new gear. In that pause I remembered the number of time’s I’d asked him to “just chill” in the face of a threenager emotional tsunami. All those moments when I had looked at my son quixotically and wondered “what is he so worked up about?”. I recalled tantrums, stomping, collapsing to the ground. I recalled how hard it was for him to “just chill”. I recalled that I was supposed to be the older and wiser member of this team…..

My brain fired, the clutch came off, and out of my mouth came a resigned laugh. I shook my head at myself, wondered at what i was so worried about and gave my boy a cuddle, and I apologised, promising him that I would “chill” and that all would be well. I got over my tantrum – or should that be mantrum?

A 3-year-old had diffused the situation. He’d cut the right wire to make sure the bomb didn’t go off, this time. And since then, I’ve felt myself taking a few more measured deep breaths when I can feel myself drowning in my own exasperation. It helps.

Well it helps till the little buggers find the next button of mine to push. Should take them a week. They seem to manage it every time I think I’ve found parenting Zen.

But it’s important to remember that when a situation is getting out of control, sometimes it’s not the kids that are the issue….

Emerging Writers Festival.

It wasn’t going to plan….

It was late, but I was on my way. Lights overhead flicking past the screen of the dash in the odd extreeme-slow-strobe rhythm of the freeway. I was watching in the mirror to see her eyes. If I could see them, all was well. She grinned at me when she caught my face in the mirror, and I grinned back before my eyes flicked back to the road with it’s flow of reflectors and dashed lines.

It was just the two of us as whirling down the Calder together. I had noticed the petrol gauge on the car, and I was concerned. Even perturbed… Our car’s dash gives us a figure – how many kilometres left in the gas tank (LPG that is). It had been clocking down steadily, and it was clocking down faster than the distance between the car and the service station clocked down on the green signs we sailed by. It beeps at 80, 40, 20, 10 and 5. It had done a lot of beeping… I tried to use willpower to bring “The Calder” (the petrol stop) closer to where the car was via some kind of space-time bendy thing…. I was certain it wasn’t working as the dial hits single figures. I was breathing more quickly as I continued  along and watched the dial clock its way down to zero. And then…. ZERO…. I was in uncharted territory, according to the dial the car was clean out of gas, yet the engine whirred on and the wheels kept on turning. I was waiting for the engine to cut out. What happens when they run out of fuel? Do they sputter? Just stop? Do they explode?

My searching eyes then fell on a sign that told me I was 2km away from fuel. Would we make it? It was supposed to be the whole family experiencing this adrenaline rush, but it hadn’t transpired that way. That morning my son had greeted me with demands for breakfast shortly before greeting me with the entire, foul-smelling contents of his stomach spread across the dining table. Poor boy was ill, no hope of getting him to Melbourne tonight. That had meant The Mamanator had to stay back too, which was disappointing but unavoidable. So it was just us.

If the counter kept going I think it would have been at -2km by the time I pulled under the enormous canopy erected above a cluster of 30 odd petrol pumps I strained in the neon lighting to find the LPG pumps sprouting in the forest of unleaded. Found it I did, and I filled her up with The Lass’ door ajar so we could chat as I did it. We went in to pay together (don’t leave kids in the car folks!), and drove on.

We pulled up at my mum’s place and I immediately started to set up for The Lass (port-a-cot and all that), before settling down for dinner and a Mamanator-less nighttime.

I was down in Melbourne to speak at the Emerging Writers’ Festival. I was going to talk about writing and family life, and I’d spent most of Wednesday in front of students with it playing on my mind. I had things to do before I could give it serious thought though, there was dinner to feed to The Lass and then there was bath and bedtime to do. Like most of my writing, this task was going to have to wait for my fatherly duties to be done.

Once The Lass was asleep – with barely any major crises at all – I sat with a blank piece of paper and a pen in front of me and I scrawled. What did I want to talk about? How did I start blogging? Why do I write? What the hell is dad blogging anyway?

More questions flowed:

Is dad blogging a movement? Do I see myself as an advocate? Am I trying to shift or change some social paradigm I can barely define myself? Do I have a need to write because of an innate desire to express myself and be understood? Do I write because it’s a way of venting and managing the stress of it all? No idea really.

It’s all this guy’s fault… He wrote something that lit a fire under my butt a long time ago. It coupled with a time in my life when I felt trapped, when I felt that being strong meant I couldn’t talk about how I felt. So I wrote about it – only for myself.

But that wasn’t it. Or at least it wasn’t the whole story…. More thoughts came to me as I scrawled. Eventually though I had to sleep. A well-prepared zombie is still just a zombie… I slept for a while, then I got woken up. Then I slept for a while more and got woken up again. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep. The Lass was being very Lass-ish.

The morning went quickly. Shower, apple, coffee, on a tram into the Wheeler Centre.

Ready for the soiree....

Ready for the soiree….

After a second coffee I was in a room, a room with breakfast tables and some  at the front, where I was going to sit on one of them. I met Samuel and Isobel, and talked about how it was going to run. I had more coffee, ate some cereal and it was on.

I remember more of what the others said. About writing for children, writing as an expressive media, writing with a clear message. They talked about process and they talked about some of their writing stories. Sam had written a children’s book called “I think I’m a Poof” , and had done work on the relationship between fathers and their gay sons. Isobel’s work created a magical lands where there were complex problems to be solved.

As for me? It was over fast, and I can’t remember all of what i said. But I do recall talking about why telling the stories of fatherhood is important, about how so many men (like me) have not roadmap through this business of being dad because the nature of fatherhood (and motherhood) is changing. I talked about the dilemmas that sharing your life – and the lives of your family – online can throw up, how I don’t use my kids’ names on this blog and how I doubt they’ll care about it in 20 years time.

I may have mentioned coffee a few times and how a habit of staying up late helps me write after the kids are asleep. I also paid homage to all the other dad bloggers out there, and how I’d learned from them about both fatherhood and writing.

I also I talked about talking and how men don’t talk enough, and why we should talk more, and I write to encourage them to speak up. I hope it’s getting to some people out there…. Even if it’s just my own son.

And then boom, it was over. There was another event on in the space, so we had to skidaddle fast. To the festival, thanks for the opportunity. To the audience, thanks for the attention. To mum, thanks for putting me up in Melbourne for the night!

The down side: Reservoir Dad was going to come, but he thought it started at 8:30pm not am…. whoops.

Measuerment

We measure our kids. We all do it. Even if we claim we do not, we actually do. Even if we claim  we do not, we are trying to complete a reverse psychological fait accompli on the universe because we’re sure that by not measuring our kids they will do better, and will in fact exceed the measurements of the measured by a measure or two. You can’t get away from the almighty ruler.

It starts early…..

When we first found out about the existence of a little clump of cells that would later become The Lad – who is a much much bigger clump of cells – we had a scan. It was to see if he was one of a pair, turns out he was not. During the scan the ultrasonographer used his track pad to place two little marks on the screen. Between the marks ran a line that spanned the miniscule embryo. The computer told him the length of that line – it was our son’s first measurement. It was small, only a few millimetres, but there it was. A number to track his progress. A measurement to see if he was within the normal range. It was 8 weeks into the pregnancy – he wasn’t actually a he yet, but we had his measure.

Months later we were with a midwife at an antenatal appointment.  She cracked out an important piece of apparatus. She had already used the stethoscope, the fetal heart rate monitor and the blood pressure cuff. It was time to go low-tech. She was going to use the measuring tape. Nothing fancy – a simple dress-makers measuring tape. They were going to measure the belly, tracking the size of the uterus and getting an idea of the size of the baby.That way they can compare it to a chart and make sure that the baby is in the healthy range.

He was born. He was weighed and measured; measured and weighed. And then again. And again. And again over the days, weeks, months and years. To check that he was in the healthy range. We were never made to feel guilty about his measurements. He gained weight quickly, unusually quickly, from an early age. He was constantly way up in the percentiles for weight, not so much height, and his developmental milestones were not an issue.

We avoided measurement guilt. I know it happens to many out there. “Oh he’s a little light-on for his age, how does he eat?”, those probing questions that cut like knives. You get a whole green book (used to be blue…) dedicated to measuring your child for the first 4 years of their life, and for some it’s a tome commemorating all that measurement and either all that pride or all that guilt in one convenient location.

And alongside them are all the measurements we take of a child. We mark their milestones. Have they rolled? Crawled? Talked? Teethed? Walked? Made sentences? Put the shapes in the shape sorter? Built a tower of at least 4 blocks? Climbed up stairs? Beaten a drum? Use the potty? Gripped a pencil….?

I played a lot of The Sims 2 back when my nights weren’t consumed by settling children to sleep and writing blog posts about it. In The Sims 2 you controlled a family of “Sims” – simulated people – and they could have babies. Babies had to be raised and reared appropriately. They’d pass milestones: walking, talking, potty training – and as they learned it a floating progress bar would appear above their head until they got it right and acquired the skill. Like a “downloading” bar or a flask that was steadily filled with the fluid of competency. Practise made perfect, and progress was linear.

Learning to talk in The Sims 2

mea just like real life is not, as I’ve previously discussed. But sometimes we set that little gauge above our children’s heads. Sometimes we point it out to our kids, so they can see it, and can see how fast (or how slow) it is progressing… We tell them how smart they are (which is really our way of praising ourselves for being great parents), we note their progress against benchmarks, we make sure they are in the ‘healthy range’, above the 50th percentile or “normal”.

And then we start to send them off to other things. The go to playgroups, childcare, kinder, crèche. We get a chance to test our measurements in the field. It’s like moving from the lab into the “live environment”, really useful for gathering data on our children. Gauging their performance looking to see how they’re travelling and if they need support.

Then comes school, where teachers teach. Teachers who are taught that all students are different. Teachers who are taught about different learning styles and how to value student achievement. Teachers who are taught to differentiate and try to ensure that all students have a chance to succeed.

And then at the age of 7 we make them all sit an identical test. A standardised test. A test to measure their literacy and numeracy at a national level. A test which is repeated every 2 years.

And I wonder, do we measure too much?

Measuring is important. Measuring provides information that helps doctors and nurses spot problems. They are trained to measure – temperature, pulse, blood pressure, iron, blood sugar, vitamin levels etc… Measuring makes sure our houses don’t fall down. Measuring helps us identify problems and notifies us of where support might be needed, or where we need to work harder on ourselves. Measuring can give us a snapshot of much broader issues in society, in things from national educational standards to climate change to the size of the universe. We must always take measurements.

But measuring can be overdone. Measuring can cause a worry, stress, anxiety and fear.

And if we spend all our energy measuring things, are we appreciating them?

I don’t know where all this is leading, I suppose it is just something I want to make sure I am aware of as my children grow.

I want to always remember that my children are vastly more than the weighted mean of their measurements.

Days.

I am singing. I’m on about my third loop of “I See the Moon”, and I realise it is done. I check his eyes and they are closed, he is sprawled in his bed. Cherubic, angelic, peaceful and for the first time today not ignoring me, defying me or screaming at me.

It’s been a day. They happen sometimes. It was a day when the kids were sick – the second day in a row in fact. They hadn’t been anywhere, hadn’t seen anyone and they were at their wits’ end. And because wits’ end can be a lonely place, they thought they’d take their parents with them to check out the sites…. Look there’s Mt Irritability. There’s the Grizly Canyon. There’s Lake Leave me Alone. And there’s the Bay of Four Letter Words. It’s a picturesque place…

Some days I rate my parenting on my ability to be actively engaged with the child. How many times did I ask him how he was feeling? How many times did I listen to him? How deep was our connection? Did I appreciate the beauty of his soul? Did he in fact fart rainbows?

Some days…. well. There are days when the fact that you can count the number of times you raised your voice at them with one hand is a heroic victory against all odds. Days when part of you wanted to drive away. Not to anywhere in particular, but just drive away – alone (dad’s think this too mums, don’t doubt it for a second). Days when you repeat your child’s name over and over in a sing-song, birdy, whistley, Mary-fucking-Poppins voice 25 times while being ignored as they break something. Then you snap and growl at them before you find yourself running into a deep dark corner of your soul and crying on the inside as you are wracked with guilt.

These are the days when you say lots of “We don’t” sentences. “We don’t hit our sister” or “We don’t pull the cat’s tail” or “We don’t pick up knives” or “We don’t throw trains” or “We don’t pour water/flour/sand/mud/rocks/bark on the floor” or “WE #*&$ING DON’T YELL AT DADDY!!!!!”.

On days such as these, the question “Why aren’t you listening?” is asked regularly. In our house we ask “Do you have you listening ears on?” or “Did you hear daddy?” a lot….

They are also the kind of days you hear the word “Fudge” a lot…. Oh, and “Sod”. “Stop it Lad, you’re being a royal little SOD”. Or “That was a SODdy thing to do” or “Stop it you SOD head!”. I am sure you understand….

These are the days when the only thing that gets you through is the one shining glimmering prospect of some adult time after the kids go to bed.

In such days bedtime is not just a routine, it’s not an opportunity for quiet play and bonding, it’s not a restful, romantic, lovey-dovey time. Bedtime is a bungy cord that prevents you from dashing your head against the rocks at the bottom of the bridge. Bedtime is the ceasefire that you hope will hold for a while before the conflict flares up again the next day. Bedtime is the sun rising in a vampire film.

But of course bedtime always comes with a “to be continued” at the end. Like in a trashy horror film. You just know that Freddie, Jason, Michael or Chucky are going to be back for a sequel.

These are the days you are simply trying to survive. Any concept of quality-time goes out the door, and you just roll with the punches. Sometimes literally. Reason, threats, discipline, explanation, redirection, bribes – all of them are useless on these kinds of days. Sure your kid manages to string together 10 even 20 minutes of civil behaviour here and there, but the bulk of the time they are just being draining obnoxious little gremlins.

Don’t worry. We all have them.

They are counterbalanced by the days that you wish would never end. When you burst with love. When every precious second is a grain of gold dust trickling through the hourglass from future to past. When you’re out with your child, when you teach them something, when you play with them. On these days bedtime is a blip on the horizon you don’t want to face. It’s something you’re desperate to stave off. All you want to do is freeze the sun in it’s place in the sky so you can squeeze in an extra half an hour of daylight because gosh-darn-it (thanks Flanders) you are enjoying your children so much.

Tonight my son was running around with a short length of hose putting out fires in the back yard (disclaimer, there were no real fires) as my daughter chased chickens, gave me flowers to put in my hair and ripped out fistfuls of grass for no particular reason. Then the sun set and it had to end, and two days later I wish I was still there.

We have them too….

They are punctuated by the days when you don’t get home early enough and miss out, children are at the table and you’re set to eat. No monsters, fire trucks, space ships, cooking or running around in a circle. Days that leave you feeling ripped off, like the parenting part of you was swallowed whole by the concerns of the world outside. Days that give you guilt. Days where you’ll never know exactly how the kids were because you weren’t there. You were off protecting your sanity or working or running the billion and one errands you have to run…..

I get them, maybe you do too….

Still If every day with kids was the same, even if they were all “good” days, parenting would be easy and horribly horribly boring.

Variety is the spice of life, and sometimes it burns your tongue.

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