Thursday, 29 July 2010

Double or Quits

Imagine you're just recovering from flu and eat out with your partner and one year old son to save time and energy.

Conjure the scenario where you have a discount card for 50% off that you both think the other has brought, and only discover this at the end of the meal.

It's a 10 minute walk home.  You are full and borderline ill.  Your partner can't run well and you could probably walk faster.

Do you jog home yourself, take your partner up on her offer or just settle for paying twice as much at the meal?

I chose to jog home - paying double would grate too much for that distance.  Plus no matter how much physical energy you save by sitting, being "on duty" with a restless little boy would be much more sapping, never mind the anger welling up with every second your partner would be dawdling.

Now where are those antibiotics?  And the indigestion tablets?

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

TV Programmes

Television is one thing parents develop strong strategies about.
It is easy to put violent or adult programmes in the "not while the kids are in the room" category, but what else should we consider?

On the positive side, there is a programme called Special People on one of the Sky Children's channels.  It includes a few sign language gestures every episode and is aimed at children with special needs.  However because of the signing accompanying simple phrases this is ideal for pre-verbal kids and children learning one or more language from birth.  I'm certainly trying it with my son.

Again for the multi-lingual attempts we have Dora the Explorer serving us Espagnol tapas.  Similarly there's now "Ni Hao Kai-lan" a young Chinese animation that drops in a few words of Mandarin each episode.

I really feel that there should be more of these cross-cultural programmes available - hopefully there soon will be!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

What Not to Believe

Being a new parent is a minefield of conflicting information, so how do you filter out some of the guidelines that maybe aren't quite so imperative?

1) Ask where advice or guidelines come from - does the source have a hidden agenda or slight bias?
2) Ask for how long the advice or guideline has been in place - some were read as "facts" during NCT lessons yet when I asked, they said that had only been their advice for 6 months!
3) Ask your parents - okay, the world has moved on, but still we did manage to survive on their neanderthal 20th Century flimflam!
4) Use your own judgement - tricky at first but learn to back your judgement, and each other.
5) Don't read too much, it will just create uncertainty - you will find a book or approach that is more suited to you and your baby - stick broadly to that.
6) Listen to other parents with an open mind but don't let their opinions knock your confidence - use them for ideas only, as they don't know your child anywhere near as well as you do - all babies are different!  (I've been in a room with my 1 month old boy and 7 experienced older mothers who all said they thought my boy was upset because he was too cold - I felt hot, I know my boy feels heat like I do, so I took him outside to cool down and he was fine in a few seconds - that did my confidence the power of good!)

Monday, 26 July 2010

An ice-cold learning point

We're not all perfect, we all make a few mistakes.
Arguably one of my early ones with my son was on a very hot day when he was clearly overheating  whether in our flat or outside in the breezeless shade.

I was alone with him for one of the first times but knew that intuitively that if his head was hot enough to fry an egg on, I needed to cool him down - and fast.

So amidst wailing and soothing and the usual one-armed filling of the mini-bath I poured out a cooling bath.  It refreshed me, at least, as I splashed it over my over-anxious forehead.
I forget exactly whether or not their was any hot water in the bath at all - suffice to say it would have suited only penguins and polar bears.

Now remember my goal was to reduce his temperature.  Remember that and evaluate accordingly.
I caressed my boy in my arms before plunging him into the icy depths.
For a wondrous second his wails abated; more accurately they paused while the shock shook the air from his lungs.  Amid deep breaths the crying returned and I realised he did not like it at all, but also that his temperature was dramatically reduced by the 5 second dunking.

It was a tricky dilemma but one I faced with courage - I dunked him again.

Some might say I should have re-run the bath with warmer water but realistically his wailing would have continued all that time.
Yes, he was invigorated as much by the second soaking as the first, and the sobbing did continue for a short while afterwards, but the dangerously high temperature had been returned to normal levels.
Unorthodox?  Yes.  Wrong - I'd like to think the jury's still out on that one...

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Man Flu

As I hinted at yesterday, I now have a full-blown case of "man-flu".

Symptoms: slight irritation of the throat, weakness of leg muscles and severe fatigue.

The former could just have been down to excessive readings of The Gruffalo or Tiddler to my son, spiced up with zany accents that strain my delicate vocal chords.  But even overdosing on Tyrozets like they were Smarties and gargling salt water hasn't helped much.

Granted my muscles in this state are comparable to most office workers' but when carrying a toddler and pushchair up and down flights of stairs all day you really feel it.

The latter completes the hat-trick and allows me to justifiable call all emergency lines, shuffle pitifully to the nearest shop for armloads of Lemsip, and fall asleep whenever released from childcare for 5 minutes by my wonderful wife.

Now I do feel feverish which reminds me to eat as much as possible - unlike the worst cliche I've ever heard: "Feed a cold: starve a fever."

That's advice that I heard a lot from many different sources in childhood.  Advice that could kill you!  Even at a very early age I thought it tricky advice to make use of: how on earth do I tell a cold from a fever?!

Only many years later did I hear an explanation that made any sense at all: that thecliche I'd heard was an oft mis-quoted one.  The real version is, allegedly: "Feed a cold to STAVE OFF a fever".  Well, that makes much more sense, doesn't it!

And people wonder why I am slightly suspicious or sceptical of common advice!  It's got to make sense people!

I'll quickly close with 5 signs that a careful observer might have realised I was ill today:
1) My hair had that immoveable patch of bedhead from not being subject to a morning shower
2) I took the lightweight Maclaren buggy out for my walk with my son today rather than the larger all-terrain one
3) My "five o'clock shadow", often more a two- or three-day shadow, completely blurs the borders of sideburns and stubble.
4) My shorts and t-shirt combo are just a little too optimistic for today's weather - perfect for yesterday's conditions and clearly the first items I could drag on today.
5) Stumbling slowly through the park, using my son's buggy as a zimmerframe, swigging a bumper bottle of Lucazade - sure, it might be no better than sugared water, but when I'm ill I'll take even psychological factors that might improve my health (it wasn't just me who received Lucazade as a child whenever he was ill, was it?)

So yes, man flu makes me not so much lazy as efficient, conserving energy better than any left-wing recycler (who is after all completely wasting their time, as our councils are too inefficient for effective recycling - would love to be proved wrong on that point).

Off to bed now - 7.30pm is the new midnight.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Dog Owners

Dog Owners is another of those categories that get maligned for the anti-social behaviour a small minority of its members. But knowing that, I still cannot help retain an underlying prejudice against the whole group.  Much like overtly patriotic England fans.  And religious zealots.

Today we were enjoying a quiet picnic with a couple of friends in a rare dog-free grassy enclosure.  There aren't many places to let my 11 month old crawl and walk freely without being terrorised by a beast twice his size, so I'm very fortunate to live so close to this one.

Just as one of my friends sits down, we each notice a fragrance.  An unpleasant fragrance.  Now because we are in company and have two toddlers present, nobody says anything initially.  I think it might be a passing "natural" smell and leave it to my wife to check our son's nappy if she sees fit (she is currently "in possession" so has full responsibility).  Our friends without children suspect each other of passing wind and look hopefully towards the two babies to subtly lay blame.  The other mum present checks her baby's nappy, which is spotless.  A mystery!

Not so.  The mum continues her search with her shoes and see the blatant imprint of dog poo browning the soles of her shoes.  Her shoes with improbably complex tread which, in all likelihood, will now contain dog poo hereafter.

Worse still.  As she rises she shows the imprint of her sole on the back of her thigh - cream trousers with a clear dog dirt tattoo almost certainly imprinting through onto flesh.  I am almost physically sick as I calmly pass her wet-wipes and nappy sacks to attempt a clean-up operation.

We've all done it, made that mysterious mis-step.  The worst are usually those you don't notice until spotted by a "friend" in a noisy way in a very public place - my favourite was always in a school classroom for ultimate humiliation.  But getting it on your legs as well - it just makes me hate.

Yes, hate.  A strong word.  And as I began, largely mis-directed at most dog-owners.  But I can't help it and I won't apologise for it.  Dog mess ruins people's day, it is potentially dangerous to the many children who are most likely to get smeared in it, and it is just plain anti-social!

Fines aren't a bad start for offenders, but does anyone actually get fined?  Who knows.  I'd love to see a "name and shame" section in local papers for such people who refuse to clean up their dog's poo.  For that matter, such a section really should be in evidence for many other so-called "petty" crimes.

Maybe then groups such as dog-owners won't be wrongly branded alongside the worst of their creed.  Not that I see that as a priority, but at least it would be justice.

I'm cutting off the dog-hating now but will assuredly resurrect it next time I step in something unfortunate...

Friday, 23 July 2010

Good Health

It's been a long day and I'm wary about a long weekend ahead.    
Today I took JDI Son through central London on the Underground to pick my wife up from hospital (minor day surgery - all is well).  
Apart from being a bit hot and bothered on the tube, he was great: full of beans at the other end and slept on the way back.  

My wariness stems from knowing my wife needs rest - and the possibility that I might be flying solo all weekend.  Without any grandparents around at the moment that means I'm cutting out any non-baby-related exercise and getting to bed as early as possible.  Add to that eating as much fruit and veg as possible (which is mostly cast-offs from my boy - some lovely unwanted and only slightly squeezed strawberries today).  

I'm not sure how parents cope with illness - there really isn't time!  And if one gets ill the other has to concentrate on not overdoing it so they don't burn out and get sick too.  

So yes, I put my boy straight into the Babybjorn harness tonight and danced him to sleep with couple of MTV tracks, ignoring Mrs JDI's concerns about creating difficulties with putting him to sleep in the future. The difficulty is NOW, I say!  So he sleeps... and I'm going to do the same while I can!  

On my wish list before my boy came along, was To Be More Disciplined and Get Properly Organised - true, not exactly measurable but if this sort of early night isn't disciplined I don't know what is!  And all bottles, tidying done for a clean slate tomorrow morning too.  'Night 'night! 

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Must-have Items For New Parents

This will be a very individualistic list, but it's the sort of thing I asked a lot of people for when I was about to become a dad.  I'll explain why these things are so good, so you can judge for yourself whether it's appropriate for you or not.

1) Babybjorn carrier.  Get the one with the triangular back support and airtex cooling material - well worth the extra few quid.  This one is more for dads, as having a young baby on your chest can be uncomfortable for breastfeeding mothers, not to mention confusing for the baby.  But for dads wanting to be close to their child and help out as much as possible, I make it the number one acquisition.
I used ours from about 2 months onwards for long walks and even coming up to a year it is a great alternative to carrying freehand if my boy needs a few hugs to get to sleep.  At worst, in emergencies, I have lulled him to sleep and then slid onto the sofa and nodded off myself.  Usually he nods off with some rhythmic bobbing to a fast-paced music channel track.  I then leave it a minute before dancing into an adjacent quiet room, slipping off the two shoulder ties and one at the waist, gently hoist him onto the opposite shoulder and then clutch to me, supporting his head as I lay him down on the bed.  Bliss.  Very rarely fails.  Good for maintaining fitness and helping your partner put your child to sleep, utilising your strength rather than either of your patience.

2) Medicine dummy.  I include dummy (aka pacifier) in this recommendation.  Obvious drawback is that child might not take to it, in which case I say "unlucky"!  The medicine dummy has a flip cup to the back with mini-syringe that you fill with Calpol or other paracetamol or neurofen.  Easier than a spoon and gives them a slow dose in a soothing way with minimal spillage (as long as you prepare them before you go to bed - I spill loads at 3am!).

3) Moses Basket.  Short-term but soooo convenient for those first few weeks, when everything else seems so difficult.  We borrowed ours, as many people do.  Especially useful if room temperature in your home gets difficult to manage - too hot or too cold.  You can de-camp to the most appropriate nook with baby beside you.

4) Bouncing rocker.  Many babies take to these springy rockers that put them in a half-reclined, half-upright position.  Often with vibrating and musical backgrounds, they'll buy you precious time to yourself in the first few months and might even get them to sleep in the day without much effort.  Again, you might be able to borrow or buy this second hand as people only use them for a few months.

5) Bumbo.  I'd never heard of this before I became a dad.  It's like a thick rubber potty that acts as a seat to prop up babies who can't sit up straight on their own whilst also securing them in place.  From 6 months on this has been vital, taking over from (4) as the most useful.  I put my boy in the bumbo while I attend to my daily bathroom routine - great to find a way to do this while they're awake and relatively calm so that you can get presentable and ready to leave the house at a moment's notice.  Since a walk is always high on my list of ways to get him to sleep, I want to be dressed with mobile, keys & wallet firmly in my pockets before I meet the distraction of the day.  (lesson learned via a trip into Central London with little boy to get wife's spare keys in time for his next feed and before he needed a change - no pressure there then!)

There are of course all the mundane things you'll "need", but I promise you the 5 above have been at the centre of my fluid daily routines.  You'll notice they revolve around keeping your baby calm or asleep - sounds intuitive enough?!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Double Take

My wife is Chinese, I am English.  My son has subtly oriental eyes so is noticeably mixed to careful observers.
Whenever I attend toddlers' events or playgroups in London I naturally seek out Chinese parents, as I'm interested in whether they are teaching their children Mandarin and English jointly, as we are.

So at my regular Tuesday play session, a few weeks ago I got chatting to a lovely Chinese lady called Qing (pronounced something like "Ching" to my western ears).  Anyway the next week I glanced up from playing with my son and saw her again.  I said "Hello Qing, good to see you again" and, while her reply was friendly, a flicker of confusion showed in her smile.

I looked down at her child, trying to remember her name, but drew a complete blank with the girl's face.  That's not unheard of, but I do tend to have a good memory for faces - if not 100% with the dozens of mothers and children I meet every week.

After another few minutes of chatting it dawned on me that this was not Qing.  And it dawned on her that I thought she was someone else.  Mortifying for my pride at embracing the Chinese culture, falling foul of the old cliche that "they all look the same".

But then the lady pointed to her friend, Qing, who had appeared just behind her.  "This is my friend, Qing: my name is Xing."  Ah.  We shared an embarrassed chuckle in which I nervously said "Oh yes, Xing, it means Star in Mandarin."  And then couldn't stop myself from saying "And also Orang Utan."  Excellent work.

I bowed my head in disgrace and when I looked up Xing and Qing were both talking to each other.  One was slim with long straight black hair and DKNY glasses.  The other was, er, slim with long straight black hair and DKNY glasses.   At this point I made a hasty retreat to mingle elsewhere until I could speak to one of them alone.

A minute later, still disorientated I look up from my boy again and see a bowed head covered in long straight black hair.  I make up my mind to start talking to her and only mid-sentence do I realise this lady is neither Qing nor Xing.  She turns out to be Thai, called Jah.  I am rarely this dizzy.

I make my excuses and lead my son back to the bouncy castle while I remove both feet from my mouth.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

First Walk

A hot day with a picnic in the park after a "soft play" session complete with bouncy castle.
I even let my boy have a go.
And then he did his first proper walk!
He'd managed three "walks" of 4 steps yesterday but blew that out of the water with an 8-stepper after a crawl on the bouncy castle.  It must have been the good influence of all the older toddlers walking and jumping around.

The picnic ended badly with a huge bird poo on his pram seat - urgh!

My To Do list has many items around teaching my boy languages at an early age.
Today a fellow stay-at-home dad said that nursery teachers told him that there is a clear improvement in 2-3 year olds' aptitude if they are exposed to a second or multiple languages at an early age.
Well, that's what I'd expect, so I'll believe it!  Especially as it is another motivation for me to continue learning Mandarin and a selection of European languages.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Count to Ten in NINE Languages - then count to twenty!

I'll be brief today - we want our boy to be bilingual in Mandarin/English and to have the building blocks to learn several European languages from an early age.  I'm told by linguistics experts it is feasible and I know I'll only do it if I can keep it fun for us both - I have no expertise in these languages so it will be mostly fresh for me too.

So here is a starter for you new parents to sing your kids to sleep with - 180 words in 9 languages.  I believe you'll remember these after a week.  Seriously.  There are so many similarities - it's easier than you think!

     English     Mandarin Cantonese      French   Spanish     Italian    
1   One         Yi(1)             Yat           Un         Uno          Uno      
2   Two         Er(4)            Yih           Deux     Dos           Due      
3   Three       San(1)         Saam        Trois     Tres           Tre      
4   Four         Si(4)            Sei            Quatre  Cuatro      Quattro
5   Five          Wu(3)          Ng            Cinq     Cinco         Cinque  
6   Six            Liu(4)           Luht          Six       Seis            Sei        
7   Seven       Qi(1)            Chat          Sept     Siete          Sette      
8   Eight         Ba(1)            Baat         Huit      Ocho         Otto      
9   Nine         Jiu(3)            Gau          Neuf     Nueve        Nove    
10 Ten          Shi(2)            Sahp        Dix       Diez           Dieci      
11 Eleven      Shi(2) yi(1)    Sahp yaht Onze    Once         Undici    
12 Twelve     Shi(2) er(4)   Sahp yih   Douze   Doce         Dodici  
13 Thirteen    Shi(2) san(1) Sahp saam Treize  Trece        Tredici  
14 Fourteen   Shi(2) si(4)  Sahp sei  Quatorze Catorce  Quattordici
15 Fifteen      Shi(2) wu(3) Sahp ng    Quinze   Quince     Quindici
16 Sixteen     Shi(2) liu(4)   Sahp luht  Seize     Dieciseis   Sedici  
17 Seventeen Shi(2) qi(1) Sahp chat  Dix-sept Diecisiete Diciasette
18 Eighteen   Shi(2) ba(1)  Sahp baat Dix-huit  Dieciocho Diciotto
19 Nineteen  Shi(2) jiu(3) Sahp gau Dix-neuf Diechinueve Dicanove
20 Twenty    Er(4) shi(2)   Yih sahp    Vingt      Veinte        Venti  

German        Latin              Japanese
1  Eins          Unus              Ichi
2  Zwei         Duo               Ni
3  Drei          Tres               San
4  Vier         Quattuor         Shi
5  Funf         Quinque         Go
6  Sechs       Sex                Roku
7  Sieben     Septem           Shichi
8  Acht        Octo               Hachi
9  Neun       Novem           Kyu
10 Zehn        Decem          Ju

11 Elf           Undecim       Juu ichi
12 Zwolf      Duodecim      Juu ni
13 Dreizehn  Tredecim       Juu san
14 Vierzehn Quattuordecim Juu yon
15 Funfzehn  Quindecim     Juu go
16 Sechzehn  Sedecim        Juu roku
17 Siebzehn   Septendecim Juu nana
18 Achtzehn   Duodeviginti Juu hachi
19 Neunzehn Undeviginti    Juu Kyuu
20 Zwanzig    Viginti           Ni juu

Note I've included the numerical equivalents of the four tones used in Mandarin - if you memorise the above, sounding the "i" at the end of a word as an "r", and ignoring the tones, you'll be pretty close - you can hone your skills by looking at an excellent Singaporean Government Mandarin site:
Lots of excellent multilingual material once you know a little so that you can navigate to the beginners' modules (email me if you want any help as this is a really fabulous resource.

Finally, please do email me any corrections or suggestions - I may well link to further pronunciation guides at a later time.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Rest and Recovery

Surprise, surprise, my day starts at 5am!

The hangover from yesterday's Naming Day / Surprise Wedding celebrations isn't as bad as expected given my much-reduced alcohol tolerance, but still I'm not feeling too "bouncy" (which at least means I'm not still drunk!).

Once the check-list has been attended to (give son water, hug, milk etc) he is still not ready to sleep.  It is morning.  My goal is to give JDI Mummy a few hours more of recovery sleep after she was "on duty" in the night.  Out tag team working well again.

Little boy was tired and needed hugs so I tried the BabyBjorn carrier, to settle him.  Some squats and rhythmic swaying to MTV Dance soon lulled him to silence - then for the tricky manoeuvre.

I dance into the spare room, close the door silently behind me, undo 3 clips on the carrier and hoist him onto my shoulder, still rocking to the music coursing through my blood.  Then cupping his head and pressing his body to me, now free from the harness, I lay him on the pre-prepared bed next to his Flopsy Bunny (I admit I named that one, am a tad embarrassed about it, but it is apt).

Then comes the crucial moment of withdrawal as if whipping away a table cloth without disturbing the crockery.  This works about 90% of the time.  But not today.  With a sigh I return him to the carrier, retreat to the plasma screen and bob and weave as before.

He is so tired that I know he needs sleep even more than I do, so selflessness kicks in.  When he drifts off I merely melt onto the sofa, tv control and bottle of sugared water to hand.  He remains asleep!  I'm too tired to move.  if I can't have sleep then rest will suffice.

Then it's SkyPlus to the rescue and I'm grateful I recorded a few things.  I watch a full uninterrupted episode of Big Bang Theory and then settle into Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey - a classic suited to my temporary intellectual level.  My eyelids fall for a moment, I slide a few inches down the sofa, almost lying down, legs stretching into the middle of the living room.  The next second the credits are rolling and my wife is spying through the glass in the door, miming whether I want eggs?  I swat her away sleepily and drift off again.

By the time I wake and my boy starts to stir, it's amazingly 9.30am!  More sleep than I could possibly have hope for!  JDI Mummy has scrambled eggs on toast sorted and we both look fresh - unbelievable!

I'll resume items from my To Do list tomorrow, as there are days, like today, when you just need to enjoy the moment, well fed and well rested!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Some Surprises

1) Being woken up at 5am was a surprise.  Maybe it shouldn't have been and maybe it should more accurately be called a shock.
2) Attended my sister's son's naming ceremony.  Innocuously tagged onto the end of the ceremony was the marriage ceremony for my sister and her (now) husband.  That was a surprise too (can you smell understatement??!).  The paralysis on relatives' faces in that split second should really have been caught on camera but no-one could have reacted to press the button.
3) In celebrations after my nephew's naming ceremony and my sister's wedding, my uncle enjoyed a large mojito before introducing himself to the man standing next to me, saying, "We haven't met yet have we?"  The man standing next to me was my brother, not unknown to my uncle and, indeed, part of the conversation with my uncle just moments before, during the drinking of said mojito.  It's rare that my brother and I are lost for words, but we were silent awaiting our uncle's punchline, but were given only "Oh, it's you!" There began a long period of squirming and rationale for why uncle's memory / recognition have never been good, with the final, somewhat convenient sci-fi explanation being that he had momentarily slipped into a different dimension (less of a parallel universe than a hugely tangential one...).

If tomorrow brings such surprises it might even be worth experiencing it with a similar lack of sleep, though I hope not...

Friday, 16 July 2010

Weight a few months...

One more from the Wish List to give expectant parents some motivation.

I was a pretty normal early-thirties professional working long hours in The City when we had the wonderful news that we were expecting.

I say pretty normal, as I was two stone above my "university weight" and had to admit the sports and interests I often named were no more than sporadic, if not simply historic.  Waiting to be a parent needn't be just that: waiting.

My thought was that I'd want to be able to carry my kid for as long as possible as are growing up, so I would need to be more active.  And losing a bit of weight wouldn't hurt either, I thought.  In fact, surely if I could lose 7lbs before my boy arrived, I would be able to carry him 24/7(at first) because I would be used to carrying around that weight!  Going further, if I continued to lose about a pound every fortnight, I shouldn't feel any real strain of carrying my son for the whole of the first year!

Now that's easy to say isn't it?

But it is amazing what you can achieve if your motivation is strong enough and immoveable.
Mine was.
All of a sudden, pitta replaced thick white bloomers for lunch, fillings became generous slabs of turkey, chicken and beef with lashings of houmous or ketchup rather than shop-made fillings or cheese.
I would have a proper breakfast of porridge and banana rather than any fried alternatives.

But while all the above helped, I would say the following was most influential: I was more active day to day without it being manic, I mostly cut out pasta (except before a stamina exercise session), white bread and potatoes.  I mostly cut out alcohol - not too hard after the first few drinking sessions as a dad-to-be are severely "frowned upon".  And I weighed myself every day.

The last is probably contentious, but I feel it really does help to motivate.  Be consistent with timing - naked weight in morning before breakfast but after a visit to the bathroom is about as consistent as I could get!  (ok too much information)  And you will of course see your weight flicker upwards a pound or two occasionally - BUT AT LEAST YOU'LL WORK OUT WHY!!!

Ok, so all good in theory - how did it pan out for me?

Well when my wife was 6 months pregnant I came back from gorging myself on food on holiday and hit the scales at 13st 5lbs - a personal record.  By the birth I was down to 12st 4lbs.  The first 7lbs was fairly temporary binge weight, but I can still credit the remaining 8lbs as a result of a concerted effort.  My boy is now 11 months old and weighs 24lbs.  I weigh 11st 6lbs.  So as long as my strength hasn't diminished, I have muscle enough to carry him plus a 3lb surplus - that'll be his clothes and a very full nappy!

I do carry him a lot, though not excessively, and I'm glad he has been my motivation to succeed in a short-term goal that I'd failed at for the previous decade.

I hope some of you find this useful in achieving the same!

As an aside, he woke at about 4am every day this week and has not been going back to sleep - I dread to think how I would have coped with him in those early morning hours of desperation with an extra 2 stone tucked under my belt!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

For New Dads - A Sample Morning

The atypical day begins at 4.30am.  The usual tricks to get little boy to sleep - check room temperature, check his temperature, give him a sip of water, give him his dummy, check nappy, smear Bonjela on gums/teeth, feed him Calpol (via excellent syringe dummy), give him a teddy to hug, sing softly to him, give him a hug, rub back/tummy for wind - aren't working.  It's too early for milk - our personal watershed is 5am as it's late enough for him to then sleep properly and last until 9.30 for his main breakfast.

This is where I am grateful for an understanding partner.  Mrs G and I operate a Tag Team approach for these situations.  One of us goes through the list of usual suspects that stop him sleeping (as above).  The other one then steps in, usually after a brief check that all the suspects have been eliminated at least once.  The conflab is often hissed with feelings of inadequacy and resentment flowing both ways, but it is still vital it happens - neither will remember much about it in the "morning" anyway!

It's vital that if you're not dealing with the baby you are resting / sleeping.  Even a twenty minute nap is important when you are on the limit.  Of course this does assume a level of confidence and competence from both partners, probably much more likely when the man stays at home in my opinion, but always possible if both want to help as much as possible.

Mrs G waves her magic wand and he's asleep in two minutes, a good sixty seconds after me.  I am truly too tired to feel peeved at not succeeding myself and am just relieved she's not lost too much sleep time before she heads off to work.

He wakes at 6am and there is no chance of him going back to sleep or even remaining quiet - I'm confident that will change, but those are the cards we're playing with at the 11 month stage.

I check his nappy - thankfully clean - carry him down to the kitchen, flick the kettle on, tip powder into the waiting bottle, put it into an oversized coffee cup (Friends-esque) and pour in the hot water.  My boy's now 24lbs and I do have to switch shoulders a few times, not to mention trusting my balance and strength as I navigate stairgate with boy and bottle.  By the time I get us both comfortable propped up in our guest bedroom and tie a cleanish muslin around his neck the milk is warm enough.

He's a star and downs the 210ml (7oz) in about 4 or 5 minutes.  I'm grateful, as other kids seem to take half an hour to do the same.

Mrs G kisses us goodbye and we're on our own.

Fundamentals have to come first - use of the wc, a shave (optional) and a shower all have to take place at double-quick speed with my son looking on.  His Bumbo (a thick potty-like seat that keeps him safely in one place) has been a godsend for this part of the day.  Alas he now presses his footballer's thighs out of it and is standing up on draping his arm over the side of the bath as I have a quick shower.  Yes, he gets a bit wet, but if I give him a few toys and sing throughout (1 Man Went to Mow is mindless enough for this part of the morning and 20 Men usually suffice), there is usually no crying.

Once that's out of the way and I throw on a t-shirt and the omnipresent combat shorts.  
Important step - at this point my house keys, phone and wallet go into my shorts - I'll save the story of what prompted this for another time.

I then carry my son down to breakfast - my breakfast - as my 4 or 5 Shredded Wheat (5 if woken before 5am!) are quickly served and carried up to the living room.  Here the tv goes on to a suitable Children's Channel and I place little boy on the far side of a wall of toys.  Then I eat as fast as humanely possible.

After that, I can pretty much accomplish anything - I'm ready to take him out whenever he needs it and I have the energy to fuel the patience needed whatever he throws at me.

It's like the airplane advice - always fit your own gas-mask first before your child's - you're pretty useless if you run out of breath / energy.

One more thing from my To Do list - I wanted to be able to cope with fewer hours sleep.  I used to really need 7 but now I'm more than happy with 6.  By Friday though, the odd 4 or 5 hour sleep does tend to bring me towards my knees.  I often need a 2 hour Saturday Siesta to catch up.  And with less sleep overall, there's no doubt I accomplish more - all thanks to my wonderful son.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010


I did promise to share my To Do list - and I will, starting today.  I'll start as I mean to go on, with a bit of balance for all those of us who don't like to hear someone doing too well or suffering too badly.

On the down-side, little Kai woke at 4.30am today and after all the usual tricks failed (more detail another time),  I had to resign myself to staying awake.  It was a VERY long stretch to 11.30am and his first nap!  Typically, by that time I was way too wide-eyed to sleep, so after a looong day it's just a short blog tonight.

The good news.  One item on my To Do list was to write a novel - something that has been on all New Year's Resolution lists for the past decade.  This year was different.  I saw an article on Facebook on one of my favourite author's pages (Jacqueline Carey - Kushiel's Dart is a "must read") that challenged authors to "Write a Novel in a Month".  When I looked at the criteria I realised that 50,000 words wasn't actually that much - 1,700 words per day for a month - about 4 sides of A4!

As it happens I had a fruitless fortnight in January and still hit 37,000 - a huge success for a first attempt in my opinion.  In February I hit my goal and ended up with a mostly complete first draft of 55,000 words.  I'm now on a 3rd draft and the word count has risen to over 65,000 words.  Not bad considering most was done in the two half-hour daily naps my son takes and an hour as soon as he goes to bed.  Amazing how scarce time becomes a motivation!

The goal is to have a "final" draft ready for full critiques from friends and fellow authors by November... I'll let you know how I get on.

Now it really is time for an overdue sleep!  Goodnight!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A Stay-at-home Dad - won't you be bored?

That's one question I got asked a lot before my son was born.

It's the sort of question which tells me the person I'm listening to has one defining principle that is the polar opposite to mine.

I look at it this way.  If I am bored, whose fault is that?  Mine.  And what would I be guilty of?  I'd be guilty of a lack of imagination, being unable to conjure up challenging and intriguing activities to occupy myself with other than the ritualistic act of breadwinning.

I don't like leaving myself open to being criticised for lacking imagination, especially from myself!  So I know I won't be bored.

And let me reassure any female readers that I am in no way lacking the traditional male machismo and arrogance that fills my very blood with knowledge - yes knowledge, not just belief - that I will meet every challenge of child-rearing better than anyone who has ever faced it before.

That knowledge does of course require no knowledge whatsoever of the details involved in caring for your offspring - that "detail" requires mere "research" and that can be done by anybody.

So to summarise, I know I'll cope with the day-to-day business of being a dad.  With time to spare.  And I know I'll think of ways to use that "spare time".  So my first task, as I embark on being a stay-at-home dad, months before the actual birth, is to write a comprehensive To Do list.

This might seem banal after the previous display of arrogance, but hear me out.

This is the To Do list.  You see, now I'm not working I'll have time to accomplish all the things I never had time for.  And what's more I'll have a "mini me" upon which to foist any of my ambitions and goals that, for myriad reasons that I'll go into later, have already escaped me.

Not only do I get to work on my ultimate wish list, but I get to re-write history through my son!

Writing retrospectively, and before I share with you my To Do list (which is, as you would expect, ever-increasing), I should share the epiphany of self-awareness that comes from planning your son's future.  Considering what you would do differently, how you would apply yourself, how you would like to be encouraged, motivated and disciplined, it all brings into focus your own faults that have spread and grown over the years.  It makes you glance just a flicker of a reflection of what you might have achieved had you not been so lazy, negative, untravelled, risk averse, fearful, weak or short-sighted at key crossroads in your life.

It makes you realise that you could have been so much better, so much more.
And that it's not too late.
So, as I approached the birth of my son and, in the many wonderful moments since, I am not merely grateful for this rare opportunity, as a dad, to be so directly involved in my son's development.

I see it as the motivation to be a better man.

And it is with that motivation, that in the face of any difficulties, any sleeplessness or sickness, any trepidation or hesitation, I will tell myself: "Just Do It, Daddy!"