Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Transforming into a ‘Proper Dad’

So this is what its like to be a dad. Pride swelling your chest every time your progeny makes a ‘dada’ noise. Casting a watchful eye over your child as they potter around outside while you’re gardening. Offering or responding to knowing nods with other dads at the park or the pool or at the shops. I can check them all.

What else have I done now that I’m a member of the ‘Dads Club’? Hmmmm.

Well, I decisively initiated a democratic house voting structure, which James and I put to good use while still in hospital, thus enabling us to bond over a game of one-day cricket. (Baby James clearly indicated that he wished to cast his vote along gender lines in order to break the deadlock between Kylee and me).

Wisely or unwisely (time will decide which), I can also tick the following from the list:
 Encouraged son to pull finger (much to suffering wife’s horror but son’s amusement)
 Initiated wrestling as the arbitrary activity to relieve any period of boredom
 Allowed son to lick the top of a ‘brown’ bottle (of course it was empty)
 Bought son a sausage in bread from Bunnings (I got to eat most of it, therefore win/win)
 Brought out old CD’s and started playing them more frequently to expose son to good music (i.e. my taste in music)
 Timed outings to coincide with ABC Grandstand’s cricket coverage (son appears to find Kerry O’Keefe amusing too)
 Mentored son in the sweet art of raspberry blowing

I have another list too. It contains a number of activities and behaviours that I am yet to engage in, but as a dad I am entitled to exercise an option that allows me to:
o Wear budgie smugglers to ANY beach or public pool
o Assume the roll of the ‘fun’ parent (requiring Kylee to take on the role of the parent who says ‘No’)
o Wear t-shirts with ‘witty’ slogans such as Chief Jackson’s ‘Lordy, Lordy, look who’s 40’
o Grow a moustache outside of the month of Movember
o Rely upon hyperbole for humorous effect, while using the excuse of ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story’ when challenged (actually, I might have done this one already)
o Teach (by showing) how to apply finger locks or knuckle holds

I had cause to consider these lists of things that dads are allowed to do the other day. (By the way, I’m sure they’re acknowledged under international treaty and soon to be ratified in a UN Convention on Dad-hood.) Anyway, I was sitting at the library with 15 or so other parents waiting for our children to receive their vaccination when I realised that I had my t-shirt on inside out. I considered all of the errands that I had done prior to this moment. My brain, Homer-like, went ‘Oops’, then my shoulders shrugged in ‘Oh well’ fashion, brain followed with ‘maybe you could change it here’ … slight delay … ‘probably not’ … this was clearly a stroke of good fortune for those present. I looked down at the squirming bundle in my arms, had a chuckle to myself as I suggested to James that he might like to strap himself in, as I can see myself, either consciously or not, causing no end of embarrassing episodes (particularly through his teenage years) for him to suffer.

These moments though will be formative in his development, as they were in my own, for you see, I wasn’t worried by appearing in public with my shirt on inside out. Hell no, it could have been on back to front too for all I cared, because do you know what? I didn’t give it another thought until Kylee arrived home and almost immediately observed, ‘your shirt’s on inside out’. ‘Were you like that all day?’ ‘Oh my goodness, did you go out like that?’ ‘Oh, James, how embarrassing for you.’

This resulted in my sniggering, followed by the ticking of another one off the list.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Right or Left Handed

We’ve been making observations about Baby James since the day he was born. Was he a good sleeper? Not so much. Has he become a good sleeper? Thankfully, yes. Is he a good eater? Definitely. What colour are his eyes? Blue. Is he going to be a ginger? As it’s turned out, no, he’s kind of blondey haired with a tinge of brown. Who does he look like? Well, my mum said he had a resemblance to me in the early days, but comparing photos of Kylee as a one year old, James is a dead ringer for her.

We’ve made observations of James’ temperament. We’ve compared his development to other children of the same age. Marvelled at the seemingly early arrival of teeth and of walking. We are waiting for the imminent arrival of speech as he practices his chatter with regularity. We have noted his mind ticking over as he considers which of the many toy options available he will select for play time. He was playing with a calculator the other morning, which to my accountant wife was a sign that he will follow in the family trade.

Baby James has been poked and prodded from a medical perspective, weighed and measured too. Kylee and I have called to one another to decide whether red marks on his body were normal. We’ve watched his reaction as we’ve tried him on new foods. We have at times observed the crap out of our son, in fact we have made observations of that too.

So apart from taking him to a clairvoyant to predict his future, which we seem to now be doing, what else on the developmental level is there left for us to observe? Ah yes, is it to be Right-handed James or Left-handed James?

Throughout the first 12 months he has tried to trick me on this question. Disguising his preference as he explores the world of dexterity. One day he’ll be awkwardly holding food in his right hand, the next day its his left, both days he prefers to use his palm instead of any dainty or delicate finger use as he manages to mash the item of food into the vicinity of his mouth with about an 82% success rate. The remaining food that doesn’t make its way into Messy James’ mouth is then applied in face mask fashion resulting in a baby-like complexion for Handsome James.

So, anyway, the question as to which hand would be favoured remained … until yesterday.

We were playing a game where I would throw a spongey ball against the wall, Laughing James would giggle while retrieving the ball and would throw it to my general direction. We were playing this game for a while when observation mode kicked in. I did a count back, was it four, five or six in a row, yes, definitely five in a row. Five in a row where he trotted after the ball, picked it up and threw it to me with his left hand. Ok, that could be a coincidence, I mean I remember one ANZAC Day when I was on a roll with the tails call, five in a row of those before I did my dosh. Better test this observation. So again and again and again, three more left handed throws before Jimmy James got bored of this game and he ventured off to find some other shiny object to amuse himself.

So a lefty he’ll be. I had noticed a favouring towards this hand but as far as I’m concerned the clinical trials appear conclusive. And now as I write I’ve been considering this prospect too. Not a bad thing to be a left hander, apart from the fact that he’ll be constantly bumping elbows with his neighbour at school and his bookwork will be abysmal, but from a sporting aspect, it certainly seems a good thing.

Now I never played cricket for Australia … not good enough and a right-hander to boot, but there has been a proliferation of great left-handers to wear the baggy green. Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and the first of the great all-rounders, Allan Davidson. Internationally there’s been Brian Lara, David Gower, Saurav Ganguly and Sir Garfield Sobers. I mean its such a factor, even the NY Times on-line examined this phenomenon in their article Cricket: The importance of being left-handed ( Hell, I’ll bet even Don Bradman tried the southpaw stance as he knocked his golf ball against the water tank.

So, there it is, if James is a lefty as I suspect he is, I’ll have to help chart his course to the national team. Firstly, our sessions in the nets will focus on knowing where his off-stump is so he can leave the good ones. Nextly, we’ll concentrate on taking advantage of the lbw law by having a go at anything that doesn’t pitch in line with his leg stump. Both areas are the bread and butter for a left handed batsman. We might even get out the video camera for some post-net session analysis …. Uh oh, looks like Sir James Bradman well continue to be under the microscope.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Marks on the Wall

A baby’s growth is both incremental and relative. Often times over the last 12 months I have looked at James and thought, wow, you are so small. I’ve tossed him in the air and thought, you are so light. And it’s taken a visit from someone who hasn’t seen him for a month or so to comment on how he’s grown before I can see it, and I’ll go, oh yeah, so he has.

I visited my sister the other day. She has a new-born, 6 weeks old and he’s so small. I’ve noticed this before, the extreme comparison of my son to other freshly hatched kidlings. But, how do you notice something that’s under your nose everyday and grows so slowly? It’s like grass … or hair … or fingernails, it’s only when they reach a certain point you notice it and you go, something needs to be done about that.

And so it is with Tall James. When did he get so big? I didn’t notice it until the other day. He discovered his tippy-toes. And a new world of fun opened up to him. A world in which his parental fun-stoppers had previously denied him access. Suddenly he has become able to reach for things, which until now, were stored safely out of reach.

The other day I was in the kitchen when I noticed this development, I cast an eye out into the lounge/dining room to check on a quiet James and I noticed across the top of the dining table a hand was furtively searching for … what? I don’t know and neither did James. All he knew was that this was a place where goodies were stored. And so his hand, extended above his eye level and resembling Thing from The Addams Family searched for stuff, success came in the form of the computer mouse.

So in the week or two since Crafty James revealed his new talent there have been some notable consequences of his achievement. The base camp altitude for objects d’art and objects d’clutter have either risen or been relocated to central positions, i.e. the higher the better and if that’s not possible, away from the edge of the table or bench will have to suffice.

Hitherto perfectly safe and secure items such as the cords behind the CD player are now items of interest and curiosity and are subsequently pulled and yanked until the whole system comes crashing down. We have a 3 foot high Christmas tree, yet it is only 6 inches from touching the ceiling, such is its elevated status this year.

Even thought we have the red medical book that keeps a record of his weight and length progression, they’re just numbers and when kept in a table they don’t mean a lot. I mean, they’re not relative to anything. You need to be able to compare the development to something. I guess that’s why parents create those measuring marks on the door jamb in the kitchen. Personally I can’t stand them, dirty markings, scratched into the gloss with the name of the child and the date or they’re age written down. And as the family expands so the markings become compressed with more information and there might be 3mm difference between one recording to another which requires a steady hand to squeeze the new information in.

Now James’ has decided on his own unique scale and key to record his growth. It requires a set of dirty hands and his biggest stretch, with the resulting marks left behind on the wall, cupboard, fridge etc etc recording his development. And his proud as punch parents are able to marvel at the cleverness of their son. “Look honey” I say, “James can leave dirty marks just below the light switch, last month they were only on the window sill.” And My Sweet replies, “They grow up right under your nose.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I’ve just been cleaning up while Sleepy James has his morning nap. It’s a process that to an outside observer must look like I’m working in the rice paddies, but instead of bending over to plant I’m bending down reaching for the next toy. Bend over, pick up, toss in toy basket, move on, repeat process. And when I find myself on my hands and knees looking under furniture, I wonder aloud as to the origins of all of James’ toys. And every time I’ve picked something up and tossed it into the toy basket James’ Sesame Street guitar has sprung to life, punching out a tune and offering me the opportunity to ‘Jam with Elmo, Jam with Elmo’.

So, where did they all come from? Maybe they’ve multiplied like those asexual single celled organisms I remember from biology, undergoing cell division so you start with one, then two, four, eight, sixteen … and so on and so forth. Or perhaps and more likely they’ve come, mostly from China, via aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, colleagues and clients. One thing’s for sure, we certainly didn’t buy them all.

Toys, toys and more toys. Soft ones, plastic ones, noisy ones, multi-pieced ones. James has so many toys I’m sure there are many that exist in his bedroom that he’s never actually seen before. And there’s more. We have toys in the house that will randomly start up through the night as though they’re possessed and when that happens they can scare the living crap out of you. And then there are toys with sharp edges that hurt like buggery when you step on them in the dark of night as you venture to the bathroom.

And Baby James is only one year old, and we only have one child, and a cat, Keith, who also has toys.

So how do you manage them all? Well, we’ve created a toy bank, taking some out of circulation and periodically returning others. A strategy I know a lot of parents do to minimise the amount of potential mess and to maximise the life of a toy so that everything old seems new again.

I remember my mum used to get annoyed with my Uncle Jim and his choice of presents. He loved gadgets and come birthdays and Christmas we were certain to receive presents that required batteries. This would haunt mum, as no sooner as their car had turned the corner, the batteries would run out and so it would be, endless purchases of Duracels. Even the environmentally friendly idea of re-chargeable batteries didn’t work. We were little kids and little kids lose their teeth and they’re stuck in your mouth, so invariably we would lose the expensive rechargeable batteries too.

And so there it is, toys, often useful for teaching while occupying a child’s time and also allowing for exploration, yet sometimes the bane of a parent’s existence. So a big thankyou to all who have contributed to James’ toy bank, the thought is appreciated, the result sometimes is not. And finally back to the guitar, non-offensive it may be most of the time as it lies silently under the lounge, but when Noisy James has it in his hands and it springs to life over and over and over again and its just about driven me bonkers, well Elmo, all I can think is watch out because if I get my hands on you, when I jam something it’s going to make you wince a little.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stage No. 10285

I feel a blog is more than due. I’ve been quite distracted with all the end of year/preparing for Christmas going-ons. Unfortunately this will be a very quick one, not a token blog, but one to make up for my neglectfulness (if that’s a word).

I also thought a blog was due so that you can see that I didn’t jump off a bridge, my last sombre effort resulted in some sage advice from thoughtful readers. Thankyou.

Ok then, so as you know, Go Go James turned the big one (or is it, the big 1) recently, and with that came a series of changes for the big fella. The most notable change seems to have been in relation to the substitution of formula milk for other goodies in his daily nourishment intake. We are currently persevering with the introduction of cow’s milk into his diet, but he doesn’t seem to like the taste either cold or warm. Slowly, slowly on that one. Anyway, an upshot of taking away a few of his formula bottles seems to be a signal for Grown-Up James to move into a new stage. The ‘I know you think a sleep is good for me, but I’m 1 now and I’ll sleep when I feel like it’ stage.

Until recently Jimmy James and I had come to a good understanding, up for 3 or so hours, then down for a sleep for an hour and a half, and since I’m a man who loves a routine, this was perfect. The delivery of a bottle by Dad was the sign for James that we were enacting ‘the routine’. I don’t know what’s in it beyond ‘healthy stuff’ but there seemed to be a magical sleep inducing response too. By the end of the bottle I would find myself cradling a baby who was so relaxed and so close to sleep, it was like he was baby-drunk.

But now … it just seems that yoghurt, fruit, sandwiches, whatever, doesn’t have the same effect at delivering Young James to the land of nod. He’s tired, I know he’s tired, he becomes clumsy, tripping over the crumbs he’s left on the carpet, he becomes frustrated and whiney, so I put him down … and then he sparks up. I hear him chatting away and then he’ll cry for a bit, then a bit of silence, and when I think he may have dropped off … he hasn’t. The cycle continues, chatter, crying, silence, chatter, crying … you get the drift.

So, there you have it. Kids. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of them, they go and change. And as parents we have to become philosophical and say to ourselves, “ah well, its just a stage”, because when we get so used to that new stage and we come to refer to it as ‘the routine’, they’ll go and change in some way … again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Still Get the Blues

I wasn’t a very good house dad last week.

If you’d just happened to drop by, not that anyone ever does, but that’s another story or maybe it contributes to this one. In any event, if you had just dropped in, you’d have probably found the house in a complete state. I wasn’t picking up after Messy James at the regular intervals usually required. I wasn’t diligently washing and hanging and folding. I wasn’t really interested in making cook-book meals, luckily we had a few frozen left-over offerings. Non-essential errands were not being run and in reality I was probably only administering the essentials for life. And as you may have noticed, I was even neglecting my blog

So, what was the problem? I guess you could say that I was a bit blue, a bit depressed even.

Everyone gets the blues from time to time. I used to around report writing time and I would suffer from BIG TIME BLUES at the end of the Christmas holidays, when the back to school ads would appear during my summer sports viewing and they would taunt me in their reminder of what was awaiting us teachers. Perversely, I’m sure those same ads would give rise to the totally opposite emotion to at-home-parents, but alas, I still have a few years until I can experience the other side of that particular coin.

I’ve given it some thought and have concluded that in my line of work, getting the blues is probably a luxury that only us at-home-parents of one child can afford. Any more than one and obviously you need to step up to the plate more. I think having older children might make you snap out of it quicker too, I’m sure they’d be able to more easily read your mood. So, I was fortunate that Young James being only a year old allowed me to indulge myself and with the usual playing and feeding and nappy changing and smiling and talking, he seemed to be oblivious to my melancholy.

So what was the cause of my blues? Well, I’m a creature of habit and routine (anal some might even say) and the weekend before my routine was broken. Kylee and I had a fantastic few days away in Melbourne while my parents were caring for James. Kylee and I enjoyed each others company as we discovered Melbourne together. We caught up with dear friends, enjoyed good food and found our way into funky little bars that sold $17 cocktails. Now, don’t get me wrong, we missed our son, even discussing how soon was too soon to ring home to check on him, but at the same time the weekend was the complete opposite to every other normal day for the previous year. We slept in, we stayed up late, and we weren’t listening out for phantom cries. We were enjoying some time-out.

And, so there you have it, the cause of my blues, like a Sunday afternoon after you’ve had a great Saturday night out and the reality of the next day being Monday strikes you down … HARD … and all you feel like doing is lying on the lounge and watching TV to take your mind away from real world realities. My Sunday afternoon just lasted for a week.

I understand that weekends away are to be enjoyed as a break and of course if that was a usual life, then you would be searching for an alternative from that …working might even appear attractive. The break away gave My Sweet and me a chance to focus on each other and even when I was being dragged from clothes shop to clothes shop I was enjoying just being in her company. I wasn’t sharing Kylee with the routine of life, with work, with tiredness, with chores and as bad as this might sound, with James either.

Another thing, I’ve always been a person who appreciates the company of friends and when I’m in their company, I’ve been known to talk … and talk … and talk. The weekend away provided me with that company and I think that returning to a house of less conversation has been difficult.

So, the big question, have I snapped out of my funk? And the answer is; I think so. At least I’ve returned to the routine of life this week and not neglecting my blog is a good sign too.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Television, the drug of the Nation
Breeding ignorance and feeding radiation

(Drug of a Nation, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy)

I love TV. I have watched hours, millions of hours of it in my life. Reality TV, all the news I can get and of course, sport, sport and more sport …which reminds me, Day 1 of the 1st test against the Windies has been on for half an hour and I’ve been neglecting my obsession. (Quick score check – Australia 1 for 9, Watson the early man out, do you want my opinion on who should be at the top of order and omg, Channel 9 have a new technology toy, a heartbeat monitor to go with snicko et al – you get the picture) I’m sure I’m not alone in my hobby. I have actually shunned payTV because I do believe that you can get too much of a good thing.

I sometimes wonder whether I would have achieved differently had I harnessed the time I have dedicated to TV and applied it in a different pursuit. Definitely, I’m sure.

Skip forward to the next generation. Baby James seems to enjoy television too. Enjoy? No there is a better word, not quite love, but he’s fascinated by it. The movement, the colour, the changes in volume when something exciting happens, the music, it gets his attention all the time. Uh oh, is this a problem? Mmmmm, I’m not too sure how comfortable I am with this.

We’ve kept his hands off the remote control (that’s for daddy) and so there is an eagerness to get his hands on ‘the power’ whenever it’s left in his reach. He knows what it does, and when we have left it lying in a careless location, he’ll grab it, quick as a flash and he’ll press all of the buttons until the ‘magic’ happens. I’m often alerted to what he’s up to when I hear the clicking noise that our TV makes when its thinking about starting up or sometimes the volume suddenly increases, and I’ll think to myself, what’s going on here, oh, it’s the baby.

I’ve been mindful of the television factor since way back when. I had said to myself that I didn’t want to allow it to be a babysitter for Handsome James, but I had also said that as it’s a feature of a modern household, I didn’t believe that it should be quarantined. So, in the early days I didn’t believe that it would be harmful if Baby James had some exposure to TV. It intrigued him and I was controlling his viewing habits. And it suited me to plonk him down and let him be entertained by Iggle Piggle and his friends from In The Night Garden (Never seen it? Man, I’ve got mates from uni who loved the hooch and this program would have been right up their alley, maybe not the 9.00am edition, but certainly the repeat on ABC2 at Midday). It became part of James’ routine, In the Night Garden from 9.00am until 9.30am, while I stacked the dishwasher, cleaned the kitchen and picked up toys, then when the announcer told us it was time for bed, well, then it was a bottle and morning nap time. It seemed to work well.

I guess the morning TV routine started when he was about 3 or 4 months of age. Our Baby James was a star sitter, he possessed a good sized base as his platform and he was happy where he was put. As he has grown, he has learned about spatial awareness, and so too his understanding has also developed of TV’s relationship in HIS space. From the time he could pull himself to standing position and then walk his way around the lounge furniture, he has gravitated towards the ubiquitous TV. The cabinet places the TV at an almost perfect height for James. As he stands in front of the flickering rectangle he is able to take in and absorb the movement he sees in front of him. Trouble is, from my perspective, he resembles the kid from the Poltergeist who is in a zombie trance in front of the ‘snow’ on the box. That, I guess is the worry. It’s also a worry to me that James can be pottering away with his toys and if I use the remote to turn the TV on, that soft clicking noise that signifies ‘action’ will cause him to prick up his ears and he will turn his attention TV-ward.

Lately, it’s been the case that we cannot give James either his breakfast or dinner with the TV news as an accompaniment for ourselves. I thought kids hated the news, not so, maybe it’s the fact that what we watch is only masquerading as news and James is actually only tuning in to find out what’s been happening in the lives of Britney Speers, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton et al. In any event, feeding and TV do not go together as one seems to distract the other and attempting a ‘clean’ feed is nigh on impossible when the food recipients mouth is at 45 degrees to the spoon.

I’m sure all parents find it difficult to judge the appropriate amount of TV exposure that their children should have in order to create a good balance. I’ve come to conclusion that it’s off most of the time, unless it suits me … let’s hope James enjoys cricket.


As with all things, the theory of evolution can be applied. And so it will be with this blog. I have previously intimated that when writing on a semi-regular basis it can be a bit monotonous using the same reference terminology, and if it’s monotonous for me as a writer, well, I feel for the reader. So, I have moved on from only referring to my patient wife as ‘My Sweet’ and I feel liberated for doing so. It's now Baby James' term to receive the treatment.

I’ve decided that as cute as it is to refer to him as Baby James and as much as I like the James Taylor ‘Sweet Baby James’ reference, its time to evolve. Henceforth I will mix it up a bit. I’ve decided to draw a line in the sand now that he’s a one year old, so, any pre-one stories he will still be Baby James, but post one, the stuff that’s happening now, he’ll be James, Jimmy James, Handsome James, Messy James, Noisy James, or whatever other adjective best describes the moment in time I’m capturing.

So, that’s all for this post. More to come very, very soon.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Who is My Sweet?

I started this writing caper in order to keep a record of my observations of Baby James. I had started to amass too many memories that were beginning to mesh together … he was growing and doing more stuff. I wanted a written record of events like his learning to roll, the fact that he could only roll in one direction and he would get stuck against things like the couch and walls and he would squawk his displeasure at being stuck, so I would turn him 180 degrees and he would roll contentedly in the opposite direction until he met another structural object. So I started jotting words, phrases and paragraphs with the intention of expanding at a later date.

Even though I had thought of blogging my record, I was more likely to use the old pen and paper method to journal, and then I came across a blog that is written by an old school chum ( and I was inspired to use this medium, rather than proceeding with my usual Luddite-like rejection of technology.

So I got onto the blogspot website and registered some details, ever mindful of the kind of information that I was putting out into the public sphere of the www, you know security and all that, I didn’t want to be a victim of identity theft, card scammers and Nigerians, who are crafty people or so I’m told by email. So, I’m Ben, no surname, from Brisbane, with a son named James, whose birth date has since been revealed. And I’m married too, her name is … My Sweet.

Referring to my beautiful wife as ‘My Sweet’ seemed to have a two-fold benefit. Firstly, it was a lovely reference that would gain me brownie points. Secondly, it was an anonymous reference that would keep her need for a safe environment satisfied. But over time I have discovered that this moniker is a difficult reference to maintain blog after blog. I have needed a new reference for My Sweet and given some of the people who are reading these posts know who I’m referring to anyway, and given those who don’t know us are still investing their time reading our stories, well, it seems an appropriate time to reveal a little bit more about ourselves. So, the name of my beautiful darling wife, the mother of our son, Baby James, is … Kylee.

Phew, I’m glad that’s out. Now I can move into a new world of blogging. I may however need to change the locks on the house, shut down my Facebook account and cease internet banking (which I don’t actually do anyway, remember my Luddite reference previously).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What’s in a Name?

So, I’ve told you about the entry of our son James into the world and in that I wrote about how he was named. What I didn’t tell you at that stage was the undertaking that was given to My Sweet. In the umming and ahhhing process leading up to James’ arrival we had enjoyed the game that most expecting parents play, the one where you’re sitting in bed at the end of the day and you’re imaging what your life will be like when the new edition appears. And in that imagining is the ‘Name Game’. Our version of this game usually involved myself throwing up alternatives and My Sweet taking the role of the trap shooter, knocking them down with clinical precision. I set up some big targets to be sure, throwing out Hector, Manuel and Theo to test if she was really listening. Bang …. Bang …. Bang …. She was.

This game was played periodically over the months of My Sweet’s pregnancy. At times the name game was enjoyable, it brought us closer together as we wrote names on to a ‘possibles’ list or crossed them out, but at other times it felt like the impasse was akin to some of the Cold War negotiations between East and West. Thank goodness we had learned that we were having a boy because on occasion there were no acceptable boy names on the table; imagine if we were doing it for a girl too.

Eventually we worked our way down to a final two, James and Patrick. Both names had appeal as they were the sort of strong traditional names that we were looking for, both names featured in our family histories and both were solid names for a man. I was for James and My Sweet was for Patrick, in the end My Sweet, while holding our newly arrived and much anticipated cargo gave us James … with one condition. He was to be James, not Jim or Jimmy. And so I, with a great deal of difficulty and even with a contemplation to cross my fingers, agreed.

I had a chuckle when Father-in-law was introduced to his grandson and being old school he immediately referred to him as Jimmy. On occasion, I too have given it a bit of the old Jim or Jimmy, bumping my way through the annoyance that such reference creates, aware that I am treading a dangerous line close to breaking my promise. Jimmy James seems a more acceptable nickname, but from time to time I have to be careful not to catch the displeasure that this creates in the form of a good old ‘tisk tisk, that’s not his name’.

I know one thing though. And I can say it without needing to refer to any of the fine print relating to the condition laid down. If any of James’ friends choose to call him Jimmy, well I had nothing to do with it, and I might even secretly support it too.

But, I have made a promise and even though I’m not too sure about the hierarchy of promises, I’m fairly sure that the circumstances in which I gave mine would certainly rank with ‘On my mother’s life …’ or ‘so help me god …’. So there it is, we have a son named James and I am bound to my promise.

Post Script.

Since blogging and facebooking my experiences as a proud father, I have received comments suggesting that I cannot keep referring to James as ‘Baby James’ since he won’t always be a baby. I can see the logic in that. I can also see the formation of a nickname, like the reference to Baby John Burgess (a personal hero of mine) or Sweet Baby James from James Taylor’s song. So, I’m contemplating dropping the ‘Baby’ reference or replacing it with ‘Handsome’ because that he is…. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Another Side To The Story

Righto, so I’ve written a couple of blogs about myself and some of the mental hurdles I’ve had to leap in this house dadding business and I’ve got one or two more sitting around in draft form for a later date. But, instead of discussing new parenthood from that angle, I thought I might write a bit with My Sweet in mind.

What do I mean? Well, over the last 12 months I’ve been asked almost as an opening conversation starter when catching up with friends the “how’re you going?” question, or a version of it. This is great, it gives me a chance to talk about myself and even if they’re only being polite, I still have a forum in which I can debrief. If things have been good, I say so, if things are not so good, I say so too.

It’s dawned on me though, that people rarely ask My Sweet the same question. Well, that’s not quite right, they do ask her, but instead of it being “how are you going”, it becomes “how is Ben going”, I am, as a house dad, still a bit of novelty within society. Working mums, however, are everywhere. And, as I write this I actually can see why parenting full stop, can be tough. I guess those of us who are newest to parenting are still finding the transition tough, and the longer you do it, the easier it becomes because you create new routines.

And I think that’s my point, people can see the massive routine change that has occurred in my life but they don’t see the new challenges My Sweet has to overcome, and they’re present for all working parents too, but I’ll focus on My Sweet.

My Sweet, my beautiful wife has become the ‘go-to’ person in our house each morning. This came about from the early days when Baby James would wake through the night and I would take that bullet, she in turn tends to him when he wakes. She changes him, feeds him and enjoys his playful company while getting herself ready for work too. This task has become more difficult as our son has become more mobile and he is now proficient at interrupting both the showering and stocking processes.

As My Sweet hops in the car for her drive into the city, Baby James and I wave her goodbye from the drive and Baby James gives her his best smiles for her to take on the trip. I am sure this is small consolation. I would wager My Sweet would prefer to spend each day with her son having fun. I am reminded of a story My Sweet relayed about a woman she works with whose husband house dads, some days this colleague of My Sweet would arrive home to discover not a single chore had been completed and her husband and the kids were still in their pyjamas, well, you can only imagine the sort of fun that was had on those days.

And so the day goes on. Some times I get a phone call to see how we’re doing. And sometimes I get cross because the phone has woken Baby James or I get cross because he has been difficult. And I should have been more thoughtful.

And when My Sweet arrives home and I see the car in the drive, I have begun to switch off as take-over is about to happen. I don’t exactly take up a position on the couch, but heading into the kitchen to make dinner is usually the better of the two options at this time of the day, for even though I have gotten much better at timing Baby James’ sleeps so that My Sweet doesn’t walk in to find a hysterical child, the fun times at the end of the day are not as lengthy as those in the middle.

So, a bit of play time, a bit of a catch up and then it’s quickly dinner time for Baby James, either with us or by himself depending on the meals I’ve made. After dinner My Sweet baths Baby James, again a task that has become more difficult as he has become more able to stand and squirm. The second to last task involving Baby James is one that we both dread. Drying and dressing is a two part process that Baby James has objected to since his first bath in the hospital. It is made all the more unpleasant as he is by this stage quite tired and therefore in no mood for being contorted into his wonder suit. So, My Sweet usually tackles this task by herself and I can often hear the objections that Baby James is making while I’m downstairs. If they’re really loud I’ll provide a second pair of hands and some distracting singing.

From there its bottle time for Baby James and then bed. This process, at least, is pleasant, a quiet and appreciative baby snuggling into your arms as he readies himself for sleep. It is at this time that My Sweet reappears at the bottom of the stairs looking for her opportunity to relax.

As you can see, when all things are considered, I get to enjoy the best time with Baby James and My Sweet is left to steal moments here and there in between some of the tougher baby rearing jobs. And after she has read this, I hope I can be excused as I don’t ask My Sweet how she’s handling the juggle of mothering and working often enough, but hopefully I’ve shown that I understand that she has a tough gig too, equally as hard as those mental challenges I’ve had to hurdle and that in essence is the partnership needed when parenting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A First Birthday

Oops. I’ve just noticed that it has been toooo many days since I last added a blog. And here it is, not that long ago, that I was patting myself on the back for being organised and writing regularly. I know it’s been a while by the number of people who’ve told me so, which is of course a good thing for me, it means that people find my writing interesting … or useful as my brother-in-law revealed when he told me he had had a read one night when he couldn’t sleep, so if you know any insomniacs, feel free to pass on the web address.

In any event, I haven’t been resting on laurels, I’ve been gathering idea, upon idea, upon idea and am now trying to work out if I’m to write and post random events or should I try to apply some organisation. I like the idea of being organised … I’m just not so good at applying it, but we’ll see. And apologies in advance, I think this will be another long one.

So … you last read about the day that Baby James arrived into this world, well, My Sweet and I celebrated his 1st birthday last Friday.

Like all first events, there was even umming and ahhhing about the correct way to approach this one too. It was sure to include all of our love and hopes for our son’s future, that of course was a given. So what decisions needed discussion. Well, in my childhood I think I had maybe two or three birthday parties … I can actually only really remember one. The norm for me was usually a smaller family affair, still involving cake and presents and for some reason I remember apple cider too. And that experience of course has framed my world view. The opposite experience seems to have been the case for My Sweet. Lucky for us we are both Catholics, not just because we can both confess our angry thoughts.

I’m not all “bah humbug” when it comes to celebrating events. I’m just more comfortable with the smaller rather than the larger scale. I’ve heard of 1st birthdays with a hundred or more guests that turn into a giant booze-up, if that’s what you want and that works for you, great. It just doesn’t work for me. Now, I wasn’t up against anything of that magnitude. In actual fact, My Sweet and I were able to agree on most things. I did, however, put the kibosh on a jumping castle and I think lolly bags too, but I might debate that point, I just think My Sweet forgot to make them up.

We decided to ask My Sweet’s parents if they would mind hosting Baby James’ party, a request with multi-faceted benefits. Mother-in-law and Father-in-law are hugely involved in My Sweet’s life and are great supporters of us (as are my parents too) and they are also doting Grandparents to their 1st grandson. So, benefit number one was that we were able to give them an opportunity to be actively involved in an event with a great deal of symbolism.

Such a location seemed best when considering travel and accommodation arrangements. As our agreed guest list was pared down to only include direct family, even if we only considered My Sweet’s side, as my siblings are scattered, there would still be seven people needing to travel the three hours to our house and they couldn’t be expected to drive home after, so we would be opening the storage cupboard under the stairs to find an extra room. So, here’s benefit number two, general travel would be cut down (and I wouldn’t have bucket loads of washing to do too). So the major part of the plan was in place and the finer details came together too.

Now, it seems that in modern times the concept of the Bucks Night has turned into a Bucks Weekend - well that’s become my experience – so too was Baby James turning his birthday into a weekend of festivities. He had started the day with birthday presents from us, wrapped in tissue paper and with a ready-made bow on top, it seemed that we had given him two presents in one as he laughed his way through the ripping process. My Sweet organised for a long weekend on the Friday and the four of us (we had been visited by My Sweet’s Nan) drove out to my in-laws. Upon arrival it was present giving part two, same experience as the morning, two presents in one with the box providing lots of entertainment.

The rest of the day was a usual routine for Baby James, but while he was having his afternoon sleep, together with My Sweet and her parents a bottle of French bubbles was enjoyed and Baby James was toasted at precisely 2.36pm or maybe it was 2.39pm as we couldn’t quite synchronise watches.

Skip forward to the Sunday which was party day (planned to enable my parents to make it more easily). Some fretting by My Sweet that not enough was happening to get ready for the arrival of our guests was soon alleviated by a) pretending to look busy, b) light hearted humourous jibes and c) actually doing as requested. We were soon ready, but Baby James wasn’t. He had woken from his morning nap with a temperature and as much as he tried to be his usual convivial self, he couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for those who had gathered in his honour. With the exception being his enjoyment for revealing the surprises wrapped within the colourful paper that he was being given. Seems we’ve found someone who enjoys a present.

He gave My Sweet some shy smiles in appreciation for her efforts at themeing an ‘In The Night Garden’ birthday but I don’t think he even tasted the cake his aunt had produced with Iggle Piggle emblazoned in the icing on top. The old adage of not working with animals and children eh? We enjoyed the BBQ and Baby James seemed to enjoy the singing of ‘Happy Birthday to him’ but for the most part he was uncharacteristically attaching himself to either myself or his mother in koala fashion.

As late afternoon arrived people began making a move to their usual lives and we organised ourselves for our trip home. People were thanked and the car was packed and we hit the road. Baby James fell promptly to sleep and My Sweet and I discussed the success of the day, family, friends, presents for a one year old, cake, singing, party hats, balloons and blow horn thingies. So in the words of Goldilocks (and me) James’ party wasn’t too big and it wasn’t too small, it was just right.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Arrival of Baby James.

A year of firsts is set to continue with Baby James approaching his 1st birthday (3 more sleeps) and it’s got me thinking about this time 12 months ago. In actual fact our bundle of joy was scheduled on the calendar to arrive this very day, but like all good things we were forced to wait. The waiting game was pleasant enough, lazy days in the shade with cool breezes and healthy salads, and after debating the pros and cons of it, My Sweet and I also had developed a contingency plan, we would accept some medical intervention if Mother Nature didn’t kicked in by herself … she would be given an extra 3 days.

And so it was on the morning of the third day that we rose early (sounds kind of biblical) and readied ourselves for the adventure of a lifetime that was about to occur. We had received advice against answering the phone in the morning as it would likely be the hospital trying to bump you until another day. Not likely we had said, we were ready ... today WOULD be the day. In fact, the phone did ring, but who was on the other end of the line we will never know.

I had been nervous about this day for the full 9 months, we men are now duty bound to be by our wives side at the birth and I was afraid of the unknown. I had seen footage of births on TV, in movies, soap operas, documentaries, at baby school and even in an educational film in Year 10 Science. I had heard of labour’s lasting ten, twelve, 16 hours, longer even. I didn’t know how I would go seeing My Sweet in pain with our child, that was my fear.

The reality was nothing like my imagination.

On our arrival, we completed the relevant documentation, were greeted by our midwives and shown to our birthing suite. Our lovely, relaxed doctor arrived shortly thereafter, he had already brought new life into the world and it was only 7.30am. My Sweet was induced and then for the majority of the morning she sat comfortably propped up on the bed, hooked up to monitors and tubes.

Again, we had discussed the various options available to us to assist in the birthing process and we had decided that our birth plan would include the use of an epidural. My Sweet now laughs at a communication breakdown that occurred at this point. We had advised the midwives of our birth plan and they had been quizzing My Sweet about her contractions and not knowing what she was supposed to be feeling, she confirmed that they had commenced. The anaesthetist was notified and she attended to apply her skills. Looking back, My Sweet thinks that she felt two, possibly three contractions and on the pain scale, they didn’t really rate.

So, we had a pleasant day, talking to one another, discussing name options, reading the paper, drinking coffee and all the while relying upon the machine’s graph paper to spike which indicated another contraction. The experts kept telling us how well things were progressing and speculating as to which side of one o’clock we would see our son. Well, we had to wait a little longer than that, but, as the clock ticked closer to the E.T.A. I became more fidgety. Then Dr Doug appeared with his sleeves rolled up, he’d been busy elsewhere and he was about to become busy with us. (Hopefully I get around to writing a separate blog about Dr Doug, but if I don’t, he is a most relaxed professional, with his own brand of charisma inspiring confidence.) An examination was conducted and confirmation of imminent birth.

This next part is written from a male’s perspective, so please, no letters if I upset anyone.

From the time we took up battle stations, to the time Baby James arrived seemed to go very quickly. There was some huffing and puffing, there were some facial contortions and there was a sweaty brow … and that was just me. I felt inept, unhelpful and clumsy. My Sweet however, was brilliant; she focussed away from me and concentrated on Dr Doug’s instructions. As the action increased I was called into the fray to lend assistance. Now, I’m not saying I delivered my son. No siree, I’m certainly not suggesting that at all. I guess the best description of my involvement is to use a cricket analogy. Say, Dr Doug is the wicket keeper, I took up a position somewhere between gully and point, close to the action but not too close and certainly not relegated to the boundary.

Baby James was born into this world at 2.36pm on Thursday 13th November 2008. I have never witnessed anything more amazing, I have never seen My Sweet looking more beautiful and I have never felt as proud as I did at that moment in time. I’m even getting a bit misty eyed as I write about it now, but I do tend towards the emotional side, you should have seen me at the end of The Green Mile or Max and Mary.

We had brought a son into the world. We knew that he was a boy. We didn’t however have a name. Both James and Patrick were equal on our list. I leant towards favouring James and I think My Sweet was leaning towards Patrick as her favourite. In the instant that I saw him, I loved him and it wouldn’t matter to me what he was named, it was My Sweet who decided, he would be James Patrick and I was prouder still. My Sweet had given me the privilege to name our son and I love her for that too.

After, the weighing of Baby James, other medical checks and the lovely skin to skin experience we were brought to the ward where we would spend the next few nights. We were at the new Mater Mother’s Hospital in Brisbane with its modern facilities and thoughtful appointments, including a day bed for us dads to sleep on at night and meals accompanied with a glass of wine were enjoyed.

On our last night in hospital a seasonal storm cell descended on Brisbane, exploding over the north-western suburb of The Gap. It caused great devastation only a handful of kilometres from where we were nestled. In fact, as our room overlooked an internal protected courtyard, our view was merely of a dark, rainy sky, we were blissfully unaware of the trouble without, we were secure inside, perhaps an appropriate metaphor. I hope so.

We checked into the hospital as a couple and left as a family. Absolutely Amazing.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


It has been said that having children will change your life. Well whoever came up with that little chestnut was a master of the bleeding obvious. Of course, we all know that the arrival of a little bundle of joy is going to alter your experience and understanding of the world, we’re just a little unsure as to how. And as David Bowie sang,

Pretty soon you're gonna get a little older
Time may change me
But I can't trace time

I remember in the first few weeks after My Sweet and I brought Baby James home. We were both on leave from work, me permanently, and the whole baby thing seemed like a piece of cake. Our son seemed to sleep all the time, nappy changes weren’t too horrendous and as he was being bottle fed, we could both take a hit for the team when it came to middle of the night feeds. In fact, one of my strongest memories from the time is when My Sweet and I were sitting on our front verandah, both reading the paper, drinking coffee and enjoying the early summer weather and as Baby James stirred we quibbled over who’s turn it was to attend, not as it is at times now, but instead we were debating in order to be the one to have a turn with the new play thing.

So there it is, confirmation from another new parent that life has changed. That, I’m sure maintains a 100% strike rate for that particular survey. Again, Bowie sings,

Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time

(Although, I think the ‘different man’ in this chorus was a reference to his own sexual confusion or transvestism or something of that nature, but nevertheless, taken at face value, I think the lyric is appropriate for the change facing a house dad.) Anyway …

So, here’s a list of changes that have either already happened or that I’m working on. In no particular order, I…
- Walk lightly around the house when Baby James is asleep, trying to avoid the loose floor boards that squeak incredibly loudly, or so my brain tells me.
- Refer to My Sweet as ‘Mum’.
- Use a firm grip and open the door to Baby James’ room slowly to minimise noise when checking if he’s still asleep.
- Am trying to become a patient person, remembering expressions my own mum uses like, ‘there’s more than a dozen ways to cook a chook’ or ‘what’ll it matter in 10 years time’.
- Stopped smoking. Well, technically I did that before Baby James arrived. But I did it for the thought of him and for My Sweet and the rest of my family as well as myself. (Wouldn’t mind a bunger from time to time though)
- Share meals with Baby James, moving on from scrambled eggs, baked beans on toast are pretty good at the moment.
- Sing nursery rhymes and kiddy songs all the time and if I can’t remember one of those to help ‘soothe the savage beast’ that is Baby James at dressing for bed time, then a few lines of any Beatles tune will do.
- Am trying to stop using bad language (little ears you know).
- Used to find myself standing in the nursery looking down on Baby James checking that he was breathing.
- Now find myself standing in the nursery looking down on Baby James and I smile.
- Look forward to being able to bowl to Baby James in the nets and kick a footy with him.

So, there you have it, some of my changes. I could’ve added heaps more to the list, but I think you get the drift. I’m betting too, that if you’re a new parent, or an old parent for that matter, that you’ve found yourself doing some of the things on the list too and that life is not as recognisable to you as it once was.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Is There a More Enjoyable Sound?

Baby James had a bad night last night. It wasn’t a case of continual crying or anything like that. I think he just had one of those nights where he could’t find a comfortable sleeping position. I know this because his cot is on the other side of the very thin wall to our bed and I could hear him … all night.

He was moving around at 11pm, needed settling at midnight, given his dummy at 1am and after continuing to rattle the sides of the cot with his arms, legs and I’m sure the odd clunk signalled he was also using his head, I gave Baby James a bottle at 2am. And that wasn’t the end of Baby James’ efforts to give me an insight into the life of an insomniac.

I’m a bit tired this morning and I’m possibly not the best person to be an advocate on behalf of babies. Well, that’s the position I could take if I only had last night to refer to. But it’s not and I think it’s in Baby James’ and my best interests to talk about the one thing he does that always brings a smile to my face. And that one thing is laugh. There is no sound more enjoyable to hear than that of your own baby’s laugh. When Baby James laughs, it’s infectious and I laugh too.

He squeals with delight when I play hide and seek with him. I will crawl around on the floor getting Baby James’ attention and then I’ll slink around a corner or hide behind a piece of furniture. And when I sense he’s near, I’ll pounce. And Baby James’ eyes light up and his mouth forms an open smile and he’ll laugh … hard … and loud … and I’ll laugh … and if My Sweet is at home, she’ll come and see what ‘her boys’ are doing, and even though she might shake her head at us … she’ll laugh too. After I’ve pounced, I’ll sometimes tackle Baby James and hold him to my chest and as I roll on the floor with him I can feel his laugh and I can hear it close to my ear.

If I make the bed with Baby James around I can guarantee he’ll become excited. Since he has shown how much he enjoys the parachute at Gymboree I have improvised with the bed sheets. And now, he associates bed-making with fun and games. So I’ll scoop him up and put him in the middle of our bed and I’ll flap the sheet up and down, on his head or in his lap … does he LOL (that’s a reference for the Gen Y readers), you bet.

I am also becoming the master of silly voices, faces and noises, and the word ‘splodge’ said with different emphasis usually proves to be a winner. Other guaranteed winners for generating laughs from Baby James include the obligatory fatherly activity of tossing baby into the air and catching him (an interesting side-note from My Sweet pertains to the alleged fact that fathers are usually the first to drop their children, hmmm, I wonder why, perhaps it’s because we tend to be the ones who encourage risk-taking behaviour). Running the bath is usually met with excitement. I’ve also noticed random laughs emanating from within Baby James now that he has started to walk, goodness knows what he’s seen that has produced a laugh or maybe it just feels funny. And since I’ve mentioned funny feelings, rubbing Baby James’ tummy or tickling him beneath his chin or on the back of his neck often produces shrieks too.

So, when Baby James is not quite at his best I remind myself that it’s just a stage and when I find myself becoming frustrated I try to remember all the times he brings happiness to my world, because I know once he’s had a good sleep and re-charged his batteries, he’ll be ready to smile and play and laugh with me again.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Another Lesson Learned the Hard Way

I learned a valuable lesson on the weekend. It’s a lesson My Sweet learned the week before. It’s also a lesson that explains why some friends of ours have gone into a socialising cocoon since becoming parents. The lesson: Alcohol, late nights and young children do not mix.

Some weeks ago we heard from some uni friends of ours to tell us that they were going to be in town and it would be good if we could catch-up. As I had been meaning to get a few of our mutual friends together for some time I welcomed this as the opportunity for such an occasion. I had described it as a BBQ but it was soon being referred to as a ‘party’. In the background, deep in my sub-conscious, there were some alarm bells ringing but alas they were too faint and they were soon drowned out by all the other peripheral noise associated with getting organised for the event.

So, Saturday rolled around and our guests duly arrived with their children in tow and plates under their arms and eskies in hand. It became clear early on that we had all combined to over cater by a factor of at least 50%, again another alarm bell should have sounded. I know I should have been worried when a big bottle of rum and a bottle of port were placed on the kitchen bench, but I honestly didn’t think they’d be touched. How wrong I was. Friends in their mid thirties who’ve know each other since their teens or early twenties often think they’re back ‘in the day’ when re-telling old tales. Now, My Sweet was wary of the signs, as I said, she learned the lesson I was about to learn the weekend before when she was incapacitated for a day following a long-lunching session with her work colleagues.

The night went well, there were many laughs, we ate and drank in style, had some good laughs, the kids seemed to mix and play well and there were only a few ‘tales being told’ and that was just the adults. The last of the guests departed around midnight and inside I went. My next mistake was to turn on the TV and discover Australia playing England in the league, I’ll only watch to half-time I thought and so I continued to be festive … by myself.

And then the pain began.

Baby James was clearly unaware that our/my sleeping pattern had changed the night before. Had he been aware, I’m sure he wouldn’t have woken up so early and if he had, well then I’m sure he would have been happy to play quietly for an hour or three. But no, he wasn’t aware of this fact. And so it transpired that through the day, each time Baby James had a sleep, so did I.

But it was more than just the sleep issue. Baby James decided that my ‘day after’, would be the day that he might try out just how whiney he could be. I might be exaggerating a little, but it seemed at times as though nothing My Sweet or I did would satisfy our little man … he knew, didn’t he? How could he know? Perhaps it was the fact that I was lying prone on the lounge unable to move, I was a captive audience.

And so it came to pass that I suffered through my hangover with a new aspect to include, because the jobs that a baby requires you to complete on their behalf do not go away. I still had to change the nappy of a twisting, turning, grisly baby. I still had to bath a boy who does not want to sit down when I attempt to brush his teeth and I was, for the day, unable to recall a single line from any of his Gymboree tunes that seem to placate him while going through the dressing ritual.

It was quite a painful day to endure, complete with little sympathy from My Sweet as I had made the poor call of ‘encouraging’ her to take Baby James to his swimming lesson when she was in a self-inflicted state the week before.

So, it’s now the day after the day after and with a clearer mind I believe that instead of ‘OcSober’ I think I might proclaim ‘SobVember’. And as for any festive invitations that come our way, well, we might just well become the couple who avoid socialising now that we have a child.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Peanut Butter, Strawberry Jam and Cow’s Milk

Today’s breakfast with Baby James went better than yesterday’s. We reverted to the reliable old staple of Weet Bix. So why was yesterday’s breakfast so bad? Well, it wasn’t too bad, in fact it wasn’t at all what you are probably imaging. Let me provide some background for you, My Sweet has a psychological aversion to any foods that are staring down the barrel of their best before date and her ‘cautiousness’ with food has carried over to Baby James, which is probably just as well as I literally have a ‘suck it and see approach’.

I should probably take a more responsible approach to the substances that Baby James ingests, i.e. there are any number of books and magazines and probably a DVD or two lying around the house that would tell me what foods he should ‘experience’ and when. But if I’m to be honest, I’m not that interested in those types of books and I find that kind of reading tedious. Lucky for us My Sweet is the opposite to me, or maybe she just understands that if the knowledge void is to be filled in our house, then it’s up to her.

So it has come to pass that over time I have suggested all types of new foods for Baby James to try and on occasion my suggestion has been met with pursed lips, a furrowed brow and a shake of the head, I guess that’s a ‘No’ then. I am then provided with the explanation which is usually something like, ‘He has to wait until he’s 12 months old’. Ah, the magical 12 month mark where Baby James will automatically and instantaneously, on the very day of his birth, acquire his super hero defence shield that will protect him from the nasties that lurk in strawberries and cow’s milk.

And that’s kind of the back story.

So, a couple of nights ago when My Sweet suggested that Baby James might be ready for peanut butter I sat bolt upright in my chair and looked her squarely, reminded her that Baby James was still 2 weeks shy of being dipped in the River Styx like Achilles, and I asked her was she sure. My Sweet then revealed that some recent research had led her to the belief that near enough was good enough. I liked her thinking.

I awoke early, giddy with excitement, it was like Christmas Day … then again I may be exaggerating. In all likelihood I probably rolled out of bed, rubbing my eyes, grumbling about not enough sleep but that’s not the point. Down in the kitchen I put the toast down and readied myself with the breakfast spreads from the pantry, jam for my sweet and instead of vegemite for Baby James and myself, today I had the peanut butter out.

In the background, Karl Stefanovic was bleating on about something (probably still drunk from the Logies) and Baby James was playing with his toys. Both were blissfully unaware of the momentous occasion that was being organised. My Sweet, having showered, appeared at the bottom of the stairs. ‘Uh oh’, her lips were pursed and her brow was furrowed. ‘Too late’ I said. I was ready to push Baby James through this new rite of passage, I’d been given the green light and was determined.

My Sweet gave her best Marge Simpson impersonation when she said, ‘I’m not too sure about this Ben.’ I responded Homer-like with ‘The boy’ll be all right, you’ll see.’ I was trying to exude confidence, but in fact, how could I possibly know. Anyway, Baby James was put in his high chair and given his first taste of peanut butter on toast. Well, all was going well, two bites in, no adverse reaction. Then a small cough … a splutter …his eyes started to water a little … another cough – bigger this time … My Sweet looked at me anxiously, ‘Is he alright’ she questioned. ‘Of course he is’ was my outwardly confident reply, while inside I’m thinking ‘Shit, shit, shit …don’t be allergic to the damn stuff … she’ll never trust me again.’ A few more coughs, I did start to worry, was I going to be needed to perform some sort of emergency procedure. While this was happening I found that I had moved from my chair and was now at Baby James’ side seeing what I could see, at which time he stopped coughing and he was now looking at me to see what this new game was that I was playing, unaware that his biting off of more than he could swallow had almost resulted in him being consigned to a bland puree until he was school age.

After the kerfuffle, after My Sweet recommenced her own breathing and after I again located my confident exterior, Baby James proceeded to eat his piece of peanut butter toast that had been cut into three soldiers. He proceeded to tell us he was finished breakfast by throwing the pieces that were unappealing to him on the floor. And he required the usual remedial attention in the shape of a wet washer to clean his face, hands and the top of his high chair. By this time it was 7.30am and Georgie Gardner was interrupting Karl to give us a news update. A fairly normal start to the day.

Friday, October 30, 2009

How Did I Get Here?

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful
And you may ask yourself, did I get here?

(1st verse of “Once in a lifetime” by David Byrne and Talking Heads)

I suspect that all first-time parents, mothers and fathers, have thoughts similar to the ‘how did I get here’ line. Parenthood full stop messes with your head, challenges your world view. House parent and in my case, House Dad, can be altogether bizarre. Bizarre in the fact it’s so important to get right but you don’t have to do any training to do it. Then again, maybe we’ve been training our whole life-time.

So, how did I get here?

In some respects there wasn’t a deal of conversation about our decision, in others there was a lot. My Sweet and I both valued the arrangement that if possible, it would be our preference for our new-born to have one of us at home full-time. The sums were done and the numbers crunched, a job completed by My Sweet as she is the one with experience with numbers. And it was revealed that if I controlled my exuberance towards turning our home into the Taj Mahal, then it would indeed by fiscally possible for one of us to stay at home full-time. The decision as to which one of us it would be was an economic one and as My Sweet brings home more of the coin than I do, well, I could do the math on that one.

In actual fact, it wasn’t really a news flash. The number crunching had occurred some time ago, so, I knew it was the plan … we knew it was the plan … our families and friends knew it was the plan. Now, we men, by and large, are simple folk and I am a good example of that. So, when the trigger was pulled, so to speak, and My Sweet and I discovered that we were to be parents, well, I began having some doubts about the plan. A bit too late I know. So, as the timer counted down and there was no way to reverse the process that nature had taken responsibility for, well inside I began to fret.

Most of the time I was able to use logical, rational thought to override any sub-conscious fears, and when that didn’t work, I did the male thing of busying myself and burying my head in the sand. And everybody we discussed the plan with were always supportive. We and in particular I, received positive affirmations for our family choice each time it was raised. We were told how common this parenting method had become. Everyone seemed to know of someone who had taken the role of ‘house dad’ or one of its various derivatives, i.e. ‘house husband’, ‘stay at home dad’ etc … etc …, and that helped my uneasiness.

I had readied myself to the idea, or so I had thought. In the final weeks I found myself full of optimism and positivity for the challenge ahead. Mates had congratulated me on finding ‘the loophole’, the key to the gates behind which was fun times ahead, they had wished ‘if only’, but then I too found myself wishing ‘if only’, but my ‘if only’ also included the asterisk of ‘if only someone else was going to join me on this journey.’

And then on a Thursday afternoon last November, IT happened. I WAS joined by someone for this journey. I hadn’t figured on it until just now, but I’ve actually had TWO people with me on this journey, My Sweet and Baby James. I shouldn’t take either of them for granted. They’ve been with me every step of the way. When I’ve felt melancholy I’ve had Baby James to make me laugh and smile as he does his monkey impression or as he follows me around and he burbles conversation which I understand perfectly. My Sweet has been strong for me too, provided a shoulder for me to lean on, has been patient with me and most of all has understood the huge mental adjustment involved.

So, how did I get here? Good fortune got me here and I am thankful for that.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Trip, Trip to Gymboree

Ok, it’s 10am so let’s do an inventory,
- Kitchen tidied, check
- Washing on, check
- Toys picked up, check
- Baby James down for his morning sleep, check (except I can hear him singing away from his room)
- Kettle boiled, check

It could almost be a perpetual start to this blog. That’s the routine thing that I’ve come to trust but which can wear you down in a ‘groundhog day’ sense. But today is Gymboree day.

(By the way I was going to write about how it was that I became the House Dad, but I think Gymboree will be a far more enjoyable topic. I have already started trying to write about the ‘How I became the House Dad’ and it has a bit of a glum feel to it, which isn’t the emotion I want to convey because I’m not in a ‘wo is me’ situation, though there are a few challenges to discuss.)

Anyway, today Baby James and I go to Gymboree. It’s my only real concession to a strange world that is dominated by women. I couldn’t bring myself to going to a ‘Mother’s Group’. I’m extremely prejudiced on the subject. I have a mindset that thinks they’re like an ultra extreme organisation that will take no prisoners on the subjects of breast-feeding, smacking, home-births or lamington recipes. So I’ve absented myself.

Instead Baby James and I go to Gymboree. I guess it’s like most playgroups that charge a session fee, it is fairly structured with an exciting (Baby James’ description) use of primary colours, soft fall mats, song and movement, bubbles, parachutes and puppets. The group leader (Gail) is a legend for her creative ideas and enthusiasm and when she sings, well Baby James’ attention goes to her instantly.

We’ve been going since Baby James was about 4 months old, once a week for an hour. He’s moved from Stage 1, through Stage 2 and he is now in Stage 3. Oh I am such a competitive dad, believing that I have the cleverest son as he goes up the grades in quick succession. I frequently come home and tell My Sweet of all the things that Baby James can do that others can’t. Yes, it is a pissing competition and I can piss a fair way.

On their promotional brochure, Gymboree suggest that in the early stages, activities are designed for socialising babies. Well, James hasn’t quite grasped this concept yet. What he has grasped, frequently, are other babies. He doesn’t understand ‘gentle’ when he’s investigating the facial features of his peers and having been on the receiving end of some of his pulls, pinches and scratches, I can tell you, they hurt. So I’m always vigilant to my anti-social son’s actions.

Another thing, Baby James does not understand the concept of sharing. I know that it’s a concept that can create existential intellectual debate, i.e. ‘is the concept of sharing actually just another way to exercise power over another?’, ‘with whom do we have an obligation to share?’, ‘why can’t there be enough for everyone to have one, so there is no need to share?’ So, again, I’m on the lookout for situations that might be turned into ‘learning opportunities’ since we don’t want the other parents (mostly mothers) talking about Baby James or worse still Baby James’ dad.

Lucky for me Gymboree has boxes and boxes of balls. They’re different sizes, shapes, colours and textures. And Baby James loves balls. When Group Leader Gail announces that the focus of today’s session will be, say … climbing, Baby James goes, Ok, so where are those balls again. And that for me is a lucky thing because any amount of anti-social stuff can be stopped via the distraction of a ball.

So, It’s now 10.30 and we have to be going by 11am and I can hear Baby James still singing. He hasn’t had any sleep yet. Gymboree might not go so well today. I hope the humble ball is ready to weave its magic spell.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wanted: Accurate Job Title

Ok, this blogging thing is going well so far. It’s been 2 days since I became a blogger and this is now my second blog. I am officially on target with my goal, pat on the back for me.

It’s mid morning, Baby James has been asleep for nearly an hour, I’m showered and fed, I’ve vacuumed, tidied, made a bed for a guest who’s staying tonight, checked Facebook a couple of times (more thoughts on that subject later) and while doing all of that I’ve been thinking about what I’ll blog about today.

I have a need to start from the beginning. Not the Stephen Hawking version of the beginning but my version. How did I become a House Dad? (Should I keep capitalising that term? I’ll give some more thought to that later.)

Well, the question of how I became a House Dad has two elements to the answer. First of all, what were the considerations that My Sweet and I pondered about before we decided that I would stay at home full-time to care for the now-named Baby James? Secondly, what was the process of deliberation that I went through before I settled on the term House Dad as the moniker to describe my new role?

I think I will answer Question Number 2 first.

So, here I am, the House Dad. How did I choose that descriptor? Well I did consider ‘house husband’ but that seemed too PC, too the reverse of ‘house wife’, plus, too many syllables. And for that same reason ‘stay at home dad’ got the flick. A couple of people have tried to tag me with ‘Mr Mum’ or should that be ‘Mr Mom’ after that excellent piece of cinematography starring Michael (I’m Batman) Keaton. Well, for the record, I hate that term and it really PISSES me off, so without needing to consider it for long, that option went to the round file too. I have written on Baby James’ kindy application form in the space allocated for ‘Father’s Occupation’, the title, ‘At Home Parent’, but like ‘stay at home dad’, it’s too long.

I tend to over-think almost everything (I’ve just now wondered whether ‘over-think’ should be hyphenated or not, so what does that tell you about me?) So, as you can gather, I put a bit of thought into what should have been a fairly easy choice. I gave thought to the minutest piece of meaning that could be derived or interpreted from my chosen role title, but, essentially I was looking for a job title and description that wouldn’t emasculate me, that wasn’t an attempt to talk up my job (as I think the term domestic engineer does), one which in mind would be a gender equivalent to ‘house wife’. And so, I chose House Dad.

Now, as for the process that gave rise to me actually being the House Dad, well, that will have to wait for tomorrow.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Blog is Born.

I have a sense that this 1st blog is actually 12 months overdue. That Baby James is 3 weeks off his first birthday tells me this.

My strong need for symmetry and order and things in their place would have had me blogging from James’ birth, maybe even earlier as I finished working as a middle school teacher a month or so before he arrived in the world. However, the ‘yin’ that is my need for order and routine is balanced with its own ‘yang’, i.e. that I procrastinate like a champion and that I don’t always hit my targets.

But, that was the old me. I have turned over a new leaf. Started afresh.

I’ve been a House Dad for a year now and all in all I’ve enjoyed this new occupation. But in that sentence lies the downside. I’ve viewed this new role as a job and not so much as a vocation or something else on a deeper spiritual plane, you know what I mean, ‘the role of the primary carer is the most fulfilling and rewarding of any role as you guide a new born …’. I don’t always regard what I do like that. There has been a certain ‘maleness’ that comes out in me where I think about what I’ll do after I’ve stayed at home with the kids, but then I realise that that might be years … 4, 5, 6 … longer even depending on how many My Sweet and I have.

I’m writing this as Baby James potters around me and he’s just tottered up to my leg with his water bottle to see what I’m doing. He needs a nappy change so I’ll attend to that and then I’ll return…

… I’m back. Changing nappies has never been a favourite task but from time to time its not too bad. The worst is when he goes through a ‘stage’, (I now call any change of behaviour in Baby James a stage and that way I don’t get too hung up on trying to explain why he does strange things) like when he decided to investigate the area inside his nappy while I was changing him. There’s only so much you can control with your own 2 hands, one holding both legs and the other cleaning and changing, so if his two hands suddenly appear on the scene it can get messy, but hey, that was just a stage. Lately he’s taken to twisting in all directions while said nappy change is happening, again that adds a messy dimension to the experience.

But I’ve digressed, although not in a bad way. Actually its not a bad segue. I think one of the reasons I’m blogging is to give an outlet to the thoughts that go through my head on a daily basis. I frequently find myself talking to myself in my mind, thinking of things that I need to do as the domestic engineer, making mental notes to self of things to tell My Sweet when she returns home from a day at the office or coming up with solutions that I think might solve any number of local, state or international problem (I am a man after all and solutions are what we do).

So that’s it, my current life in a nutshell. Now, what’s the plan? Well, I hope to blog nearly every day. I’ve got a list of memories from Baby James’ first eleven months that I don’t want to forget and in fact I have this nostalgic streak, so I guess I’m going to record these memories for him and me and if you find them interesting, well for you too. What else? Well, I’ve always liked the idea of writing a journal and I suppose that’s exactly what a blog is, so, this is going to be a journal about the life of a bloke who’s at home raising his son and the fun and games that go with.