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.