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.