Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hey Kid, Don’t Mess With the Cat!

Before we had James, in fact before we were remotely ready to consider a child, we decided to share our life with a cat. We trundled off to our local vet who runs a cat adoption program and that’s where we were introduced to a ginger domestic long hair (cat version of a ‘bitsa’) that we were to name Keith.

So Keith had the run of the house for a good number of years before James came along. Such was his ownership of the facilities that Kylee and I often wondered whether we owned him or whether he was just gracing us with his presence.

When we brought Baby James home from the hospital we wondered how Keith would go with the new addition to the house. After all, in his mind, Keith was higher in the pecking order.

To the most part Keith wasn’t too interested in the new kid. Occasionally he would sniff at the little human in the bouncer as he walked by, even rarer he would lick the foot of the human as it dangled in the air. But to the most part life hadn’t changed too much for Keith.

That of course was never going to last forever.

As Baby James aged and his awareness of his surroundings developed, he came to realise that he not only shared the house with Kylee and me (the people who comforted him with food in the night) but there was another member of the house. From his seated positions on the lounge room floor Baby James would watch as Keith meandered from one sleeping location to another.

Sometimes as sign of his superiority (based upon his ability to move), Keith would swish his tail in Baby James’ face as he cruised past. However, sometimes as a portent of future exchanges, Keith would linger a little too long in Baby James sphere of influence and would come away from the meeting with a little less fluff on his tail.

As Baby James became mobile, we would often discover him setting a course in Keith’s direction. We still had little to worry about, as Keith not only possessed speed, and nimbleness, he was also blessed with the ability to put vertical distance between himself and his pursuer. He would look down with a yawn at Baby James on the floor as he lounged across the top of the sofa, safe in the knowledge that he could be on Everest, such was the logistical impossibility of Baby James scaling the 3 feet between them.

It would be interesting to read Keith’s blog (if he could type) to get his view of the period when Baby James learnt to pull himself to stand with the assistance of the furniture. For it was this great leap for mankind that put Keith’s safety on shakey ground.

Baby James now had legs. He could cruise around the lounge much quicker than his crawling allowed. And cats being cats, Keith was more interested to find his favourite snooze place. So, Baby James often surprised Keith with an ambush. He would slink around from the blind side and before Keith knew it, Baby James had a handful of tail as his trophy.

Now, Keith is certainly no Horse (for those who need a reminder or a point of reference, Horse is the tough cat from the Footrot Flats comics) but he wasn’t going to let a surprise attack go unchallenged. So, inevitably as an emboldened Baby James headed back for more fur samples, he often found his second foray was met with a swipe of claws across his hand. Which would then result in quick succession with the dropping of Baby James’ bottom lip, a tear (or tears) appearing in his eyes, a search for Daddy, followed up with a loud cry once Daddy was spotted in order for comforting first aid kisses to be administered. Stat.

As I type this account of Baby James and Keith’s fledgling relationship it occurs to me that you, the reader, might be thinking that I’m a bad parent for sitting back and watching these exchanges take place. Allow me to clarify. Keith was often removed before a situation could escalate. Fights between siblings are inevitable. Baby James was often informed of the possible consequences. And I was often home alone and in the kitchen preparing dinner when the events referred to happened. And anyways, things that happen to us should be turned into positive learning opportunities.

The learning for Baby James would seem obvious.

To the most part Baby James adheres to the Victorian maxim of look but don’t touch (clearly we neglected to inform him that children should be seen and not heard) when it comes to Keith. He has even taken to extending gestures of goodwill to Keith in order to ‘BFF’ the relationship.

These days James will put forward his own food and drink as peace offerings. But, occasionally he forgets that he is dealing with a wild animal and the ginger ninja strikes with speed and accuracy as a reminder to James of the previously learned life lesson. And it’s left to me to put it in human language … Hey Kid, Don’t Mess With the Cat!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

As The Days Go By

Summer is almost over. The last game of cricket is on TV tonight. It’s a Twenty20 game starting at 6.30pm so James will only get to see half an hour, should be long enough to reserve TV rights though.

That kinda shows where my head is, at the moment. Christmas and New Year are becoming distant memories and I’m getting back into the routine of life.

James has been going to daycare on Fridays, but I’m yet to pick up a supply day. Mostly my own fault since I’ve only let one school (my old one) know that I’m available. That’s by design though. I haven’t been in a class for 18 months and I’d like to get the groove again in a place I know. Its gotta help to know the kids, the layout, the timetable, the staff, where the toilets are …

Kylee came home yesterday telling me about a big win she’d had at work during the day. I feel guilty now but I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm. I’d had a nothing sort of day. My biggest achievement was hanging a swing in the mango tree and pushing James for five or so minutes. Oh, and I did get annoyed when I discovered a tissue was left in the dark wash, if that’s an achievement.

I’m taking James to his swimming lessons these days. I’m finding it similar to my Gymboree experience. He loves being in the water but it's hit and miss how he’ll take to the formal stuff. I hope it’s a stage but I’m beginning to wonder if he’s got ADD. Probably not but you do wonder.

James is communicating with us more and more. Sometimes he’s just mimicking but other times there are cognitive processes going on.

He’s learnt how to ask for things, ‘ta’ being the appropriate word. It gets re-pronounced as ‘da’ but we know what he means. Only thing is James seems to think that if he sees something and wants it, then ‘Da’ is the magic word … always. So, there it is for James, ‘Source of Frustration # 80632’.

He’ll see a knife on the bench. ‘da’. ‘Da, Da, Da, DA, DA, DA, DAAAAAAAAAAA.’ And then comes the adult explanation. ‘No, James, it’s sharp. Little boys don’t hold knives.’ A look is shared like he understands, then, ‘DA, DA, DA’ … you get the drift.

So I’m getting it more and more now. The life of a toddler is full of daily frustrations. I can’t wait until he can help me peel disintegrated tissue off a dark blue table cloth. Arrghhhh.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Rocket Man

As I sit here preparing to write this post it’s dawning on me how long ago these events occurred. We’re talking about Baby James when he really was a fragile little baby. I hardly even remember that time when his head needed supporting and his movements seemed like they were in slow-motion and he needed burping after each feed. That’s a world away to where he is now, a robust, fast-moving, eat-anything machine.

So these are my recollections around 12 months after the event.

As with all parents, and I’m sure it’s doubly so with first-timers, Kylee and I observed Baby James in great detail. We watched him in our arms, we watched him in the arms of others, while he slept, and I would smell him all the time. We were taking in his being with us. It was fantastic. I was both amazed and proud, its clichéd because it’s true. Anyway, as it was, we started noticing something, his soft head was developing a flat spot.

We had read about this phenomenon and had followed the advice of the books. We had routinely switched the end of the cot Baby James was facing, apparently this will cause the infant child to turn towards the door. He didn’t though, he had a definite preferred side to sleep on. So as we noticed the development we would ask our friends if it was normal. Of course it is they’d tell us, followed by their own experiences of their child with a slight flat spot which sorted itself out as they grew older. So we continued using our book-smarts to address the flat spot issue.

And then we went to the paediatrician for Baby James’ six week check up. Doctor examined his patient, checked his hips, did some other poking and prodding and then announced at the end that Baby James had a flat spot on his left side. Yes we know, we told him, like this was news to us, the helicopter parents from hell. Hurry up and be the second opinion to the suburban medical advice that we’ve already received and tell us that it’ll sort itself out is what I was thinking. But he didn’t say this. Instead, we were referred to a physiotherapist who specialised in infants as the doctor was concerned that the favouring of one side to the other might also result in the shortening of Baby James’ neck muscles.

This is where we met Wendy our physio. She was fantastic, and as a new mum herself, she approached her patient with the same care that she would her own. It’s funny because you would obviously prefer not to have to need a health professional for your eight week old child but I really enjoyed appointments at the physio. At our first appointment, Wendy enjoyed Baby James’ smiles. At our next appointment she commented on his sitting ability. At subsequent appointments she marvelled at his rolling and then worming ability. All the time I felt proud that I was somehow a catalyst in these events.

Anyway, our physio advice at appointment one was to continue what we were doing but to also place a wedge under Baby James’ hip and shoulder while he slept in order to roll him off his favoured side and we would monitor his flat spot for a month. If there was little or no improvement we would be referred to an orthotist who specialised in remedial helmets for such conditions. When we were being shown the type of helmet that Baby James might possibly need, both Kylee and I went, ‘oh, we’ve seen other babies at the shops wearing those. That’s what they’re for?’

We left this appointment and we tried to be optimistic that the flat spot would right itself. We tried to be positive about the remedial helmet if it was required. But speaking for myself I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the potential prospect. Again I can only speak for moi, but I guess there was an element of wanting your child to be ‘normal’, whatever that is.

Well, as the month did pass Kylee and I would often discuss whether improvement was happening. We were often subjected to the trick of the eye, one angle we believed that we could see a change and from a different angle the flat spot looked the same. Baby James’ condition certainly wasn’t helped by his lack of hair as his shiny bald scone had nothing to hide its bumps and quirks.

In the end we decided against worrying and whatever would be would be. As it turned out we did take Baby James to the orthotist, her name was Bianca and like Wendy the Physio, she took great interest in her patients.

It was during our time at the orthotists that we came to learn that the medical term for Baby James’ condition was plagiocephaly. We further learnt that this condition has become more common in recent years as one of the pieces of advice for parents from the SIDS movement has been to place babies on their backs while they sleep.

So Baby James was to receive a helmet. The fitting process involved plaster of Paris being applied to his melon, not the easiest of tasks when involving a squirming, unwilling participant. From there a mould was made and I was given a pattern book to choose a design from. I choose the gender appropriate blue with trucks, planes and randomly a ‘no dogs’ logo. And there we were, set for the next 8-12 weeks depending on how Baby James’ cranium responded to manipulation.

Kylee and I joked amongst ourselves about Baby James new headwear. At times he looked as though he was about to hop on his motorbike, other clothes made him look as though he was about to jump in the ring for a sparring session, but my favourite look was when we dressed him in his wondersuit. Baby James came across as looking like an astronaut; our little Rocket Man. And I would mangle the lyrics to Elton John’s song, singing with appropriate falsetto but tunelessly;

‘Oh, its gonna make everything be alright, cos you’re a Rocket Man.’

Baby James wore his helmet 23 hours a day for what turned out to be around three months. We took him to the shops in it and I remember furniture shopping one time when the assistant (a woman in her 50’s) came over and told us she thought the helmet was a great idea and that her grandson could use one too to stop him from bashing his head as he ran under the dining table. We had to explain the exact purpose to her, but to be fair I’m sure Baby James’ gained an undeserved confidence around hard surfaces as he avoided the bruises that would have come his way as we often heard a clunk that signified contact between helmet and house.

Mostly though people went about their business and if there was a comment it was mostly how cute Baby James looked in his headgear. Occasionally there was the odd question from mothers who had babies with the same plagiocephaly condition who were seeking information. And only once was my ire raised when some stupid Gen Y girls laughed at what they considered to be a comical look, fortunately for them they were faster moving in the crowd than I was with the pram and by the time I saw them again the heat had left me and the moment of their insensitivity had also passed.

With fortnightly trips to the orthotist improvement was discernable and Bianca was happy with his progress, as were we. At the ten week appointment it was decided that one more week would do the job, this turned out to be … hmmm …. what’s the opposite of a false start? A false end? A phantom something or other? Well, whatever it’s called, with a little bit of disappointment at having our eager anticipation dashed, we ended up having an extra week as it turned out.

Now, the end result is a much improved noggin for Baby James. Not quite perfect, but then who has a perfect nut, no-one in my family that’s for sure and that’s his gene pool. And now that he’s getting a fuller head of fair hair, nature is helping him disguise his uniquity (made that word up just now) and hopefully Baby James will have my hair genes and no-one will ever be the wiser.

‘Oh, its gonna make everything be alright, cos you’re a Rocket Man.’

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Three Is Not A Crowd.

Hi again. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? About 2 weeks by my calculations. Well, that’s the length of time that I was away with Kylee. She had a conference in Hawaii and thanks to the great deal that Hawaiian Airlines gave us I was able to bum along with her.

So, did James come along for the ride too? I have to be careful how I answer this as I don’t wish to give the impression that we were giddy school children making a dash for the gate on the last day of school and the freedom that it represented just because we were embarking on an overseas holiday to a tropical locale and we were to be childless. But, yippee, we were going to Hawaii and thoughts of nappy changing, feeding and sleep routines were to be replaced by surfing lessons, swim-up bars and Mai Tais at sunset.

I suppose most new parents would have automatically planned their overseas trip with child in mind. I mean, that’s fairly normal I guess. In fact, while we were on our jaunt, more than once we spied young couples with their young babies going about their tourist business. Us, on the other hand, well we had a precedent to follow, for you see Kylee’s parents had left her in the care of her grandparents when she was a one year old as they too had ventured to the U.S of A. And, family traditions are important to uphold and continue.

Now, I really shouldn’t be so flippant because we did have numerous conversations as to whether we should bring James or leave him with our families. As we prepared to jet off, we were able to thank our parents as we appreciated the opportunity to holiday as a couple and hoped that this would give them an opportunity to have some one on one time with James and to develop another version of their relationship with him.

Many was the time while we were away that we were asked about our family structure and whether we had children and each time it brought James’ absence front and centre to my mind. And after answering that we had a one year old and explaining where he was I found myself wondering how he was going. And at night, Kylee or I would ask the other, what do you think he’s doing, or, how do you think he’s going? Or we would entertain each other by reminding ourselves of his funny little habits, being careful to keep it light hearted lest we get misty eyed as we were missing him.

On our arrival at Waikiki we had some troubles getting our mobile phones to make a call back to Australia, which probably wasn’t a bad thing as I didn’t want to be ringing every 5 minutes like an anxious parent. As it was, my parents looked after James for the first week and we rang them a couple of times for updates. ‘All is well’ and ‘He is a delightful little boy’ were the themes of the responses we received. Well, I’m a teacher and I know how to write a report that doesn’t go out on a limb too, but to be fair, we were hardly going to get any negatives were we?

We continued our semi-regular check-ins after the hand over with Kylee’s parents and we even started receiving photos via text and email. The first one that was texted was a curiosity to us. James looked different somehow … older perhaps … a different expression on his face. I hadn’t figured on this development, but I realised then that we were missing stuff. I hadn’t been in this position before, I had never missed anything, I’m the House Dad after all, I’m with James every day, he and I are buddies. He’s my side-kick, my protégé, I’m his dad. So, what was this funny feeling I was having, maybe a twinge of jealousy or something in that area of human emotion.

I started doing some maths. Two weeks away. James is a bit over a year old, let’s call it fifty weeks for ease of doing the calculations, that’d give us 4%, give or take of his life to-date that we were to be absent for. A lot could happen in that time you know. And it did too…

We’ve returned to a boy who is definitely older, not just in the chronological sense, he’s more grown up too. James’ babblings are sounding more like language now. He interacts with more understanding now, as phrases like ‘come here’ or ‘sit down’ are resonating. He finds humour with the clinking of glass and sippy-cup teamed the word ‘cheers’ that Poppy has taught him. There is now cheesiness to some of his smiles as he plays up his facial expressions for our reactions. James has gained even greater confidence in his negotiating of steps and ‘heights’ in general. And he’s even quicker across the ground now, than ever before.

And after experiencing ‘Hawaiian’ time whereby delays caused us to have an unexpected night in Sydney both going and coming, we’re back home now and glad to be. Kylee and I had a relaxing time on our break, but we were certainly ready to get home because its not just Kylee and me any more, its Kylee, me and James.