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Friday, February 12, 2010

Fatherhood at 8 Months

I have a new state of the art alarm clock with arms and legs and a mouth that chimes “Wa wa waaaaa” every morning at about 6.30 in the a.m. The difficulty is I can’t set it to any other time and neither can I return it to the manufacturer to ask for a replacement or a refund. So I have no choice but to adjust my nightly routine of staying up with the Xbox until 3 a.m. to actually going to bed when the rest of the world does to minimize the effect when dawn comes and I don’t feel like a sledge hammer just tried to blow a raspberry on my forehead.

Some alarm clocks you just want to punch with a closed fist so that the springs fly in all directions and you’re forced to buy a new one, but this one has a smile so it’s harder to negotiate with. I wake up in the morning to its wines; transfer it to the feeding station – the mother of the alarm clock, usually half awake and dreaming of the days when she was something other than a milk processing place. When the winging turns into smoochy feeding noises and the occasional “Argh! Her nails are too sharp!” I usually take the opportunity to sneak back into unconsciousness or I otherwise get up and have my 30 minute zombie like shower and contemplate whether I’m going to shave today or ever again. Then I come back into our room and there she is, the little Koala like ball of sun polish looking back at me with a smile that could give the Tin Man a heart and make just about any young woman look at her husband and say “Sweetie, let’s have a baby!” – My wife included.

Eight months is, for me, when the fun has just begun. I mean it was still fun before. It was fun watching the Texas Birth Massacre nine months ago in 4D. It was fun for the first 6 weeks of sleep deprivation that almost had me knocking on the mental asylum with myself in a basket and a letter stapled to my temple saying “Dear Sir/Madam, please take me in”. It was fun, all those nights when I was convinced that my wife was the only person who could put the baby to bed because I thought I sucked at it.

But sarcasm aside, it was fun going to public places and just about every grandma, her dog and female of the human species’ reaction to a dad and his daughter was to suddenly give me more attention (at least in my imagination) than I ever got in high school!

It was fun, but then it got funner. I left my wife and daughter in Australia for 3 weeks after Christmas while I held down the fort at home. I missed them excruciatingly as I counted down every atomic second that we were separated. My heart felt the way mince does just before it gets turned into mince and probably just before it gets eaten as well. When I left my little girl she was rolling around on the floor like a run away sausage rolling across the patio. When we were reunited she could do something completely strange to me; after seven and a half months of not being able to do much at all she was suddenly sitting…

What an incredible difference sitting makes to a human being. We’re so expert at it after years of sitting all over the place that when your child does it for the first time you think its magic! There she was sitting on the floor like she was designed to, with a look of achievement on her face that seemed to say “I’m catching up to you Dad.” She reaches out for toys with a sense of purpose and power as she tries to eat that book or that thing that might have been fluff or a dead insect before I dive at her with my finger trying to pry those baby jaws open to fish whatever it was out again.

I’ve noticed there’s something of a scientist in her as she experiments with gravity and hurls herself backwards and then thinks about whether she is going to cry or not after the naughty floor banged her so unfairly on the back of the head. The floor is a wise teacher though; she seems to be learning its lessons quickly enough.

One thing the floor has trained her is how to mimic a praying mantis. First she sort of rolls over onto her stomach. Then she lifts herself up like a soldier doing sit ups until her diminutive hands and the tips of her toes are holding her up in a hovering pose, tipping forwards and backwards while she ponders what’s going to happen next. She thinks “Am I going to face plant into the carpet or am I going to do something I’m not quite sure what yet?” You really do get the impression that she is thinking about crawling but doesn’t quite know what that is yet, but any minute now she’s going to figure it out. So you help her along by putting something exciting in front of her like a mobile telephone with polyphonic ring tones. Very exciting; so exciting that she plonks back to the ground and waves her arms and legs about like an Olympic swimmer, only not getting anywhere. Occasionally she manages a sort of pseudo-commando crawl, although not quite registering the significance of the feat she just performed because she is too concerned with putting my singing cell-phone into her snapping and ravenous gums. I quickly take that off her as well.

Although there was the one time recently that a bottle of milk had her actually crawling two whole knee jerks forward. Just like her Dad it is clear that her remote control is in her stomach and she is being directed by a hungry tummy resolute on defying the laws of biology and physics combined to get what it wants!

One thing you learn not to do when your child is in those critical stages before taking that giant leap towards infant mobility is to clap and cheer, because the moment you do she instantly stops what she’s doing, smiles and looks at you like you’re some kind of circus attraction, forgetting all about the monumental miracle she was about to perform and concentrating instead on her bizarre parents who have suddenly turned into fin slapping sea lions, only without a ball balancing on their noses.

I hear all those who have gone before me shaking their heads and saying, “It’s the beginning of the end; once they start to crawl your life is over.” Except they said the same thing before she was born, and they were wrong then so I’m not listening now. In fact since she was born I’ve heard the following from well meaning idiots:

“Once that baby comes…

Your life will be over…
You’ll have to keep that dog outside…
You’ll have to move that book shelf
You won’t be able to go out any more
It’s hard when you’ve got a baby, but just wait until you’ve got TWO!”

Of course it’s all complete and utter ridiculous nonsense. I’ve learnt quickly that once the baby comes:

Your SELFISH life is over and is replaced by a more sacrificial one with added value!Your dog doesn’t give a monkey’s butt about the new baby in the house!
The book case isn’t going to chase the baby and jump on her and is safe where it is for the time being.
You can go out, just not until very late which is probably better for your aging body anyway. And people will use their baby as an excuse not to go to the homes of people they don’t really want to hang out with anyway!

Having two is just like having one – you love them both and can’t stop thinking about them all day!

Actually my favorite quote was from my sister-in-law, “Once they start walking you’ll lose so much weight from chasing them everywhere all the time.” She said as her child darted away from her at the zoo. That suits me fine as long as I don’t have to do my three-times-half-an-hour-cardio per week routine anymore!

So as I sit on the sofa and watch my little adventurer take her first motions forward I think to myself, “Oh my, I’m actually going to be able to do something with her soon!” I’m already planning our first trip to the park with an ice cream in one hand and a helium balloon in the other, throwing stale bread at the ducks and soaking up the grannies compliments of “Oh isn’t she just adorable”, thanks ladies!

But for now I will put sharing an ice-cream with your 8 month old on the list of things to do when you’re contemplating suicide because it’s a risk you’ll live to regret. First she sees you eating it, then she wriggles like a freshly caught snapper making those noises which in any language, adult or baby, mean give me some of that yummy stuff right now or else! You think foolishly that one bite is going to be enough but after that simple transaction of sugary creamy yummyness she now owns the rest of the ice-cream and will rebuke you every time you bring it to your lips instead of hers.

Speaking of stupid things to do with your 8 month old I did learn one other thing. I discovered that it is not a good idea to take her into the shower with the idea that you will take the nappy off while you’re in there. I discovered to my dismay that this diaper was brought to me by the number “2” and by the letter “P”. Next thing I know I’m soaking in stuff that isn’t nice stuff and resembles discolored swamp vegetation. Not a nice experience when the water pressure in your shower only comes out at a trickle.

But moving forward, the day came after 8 months of adventurous maternity leave, days filled with full nappies and conversations that usually begin with “You should have seen the poo she did today” (and no, I’m not being immature, every parent does it because no one can believe that such a little thing can produce such an enormous and alarming amount of fecal matter) My wife returned to work. Just for three days a week of course. Neither of us could stomach the idea of someone else raising our child full time while we raised our bank balance, so I rigged my Mondays to Wednesdays so I only worked in the evening and could spend the day with my baby. In my first week I learnt so very much about this little being from my wife’s belly.

For a start, after months of not sleeping for mummy, I discovered that she will sleep for me after all. It’s great. We have a little play time in the morning which usually involves trying to eat a book or my face… yes, she is obsessed with my whiskers, after all mummy doesn’t have them so they must be edible. After discovering that none of her toys, including my chin, are palatable she winges until I give her something from a jar that has names like “Fruity Porridge” or “Mango banana custard” on the label. But don’t let the names deceive you they taste like the bottom of a horses shoe.

I’m convinced that taste buds in a baby are developed later in life. Although this doesn’t explain their addictiveness to substances like ice cream it does bring light to why a baby can devour 200 mls of baby formula like a starving dog would attack a man in a steak suit. Let me elucidate further – baby formula tastes like a raw fish on a fisherman’s bait tray, or like molten copper or a coffee mug full of blood and golden syrup. Actually it tastes like all of that disgusting goo, blended together to give your child all the Omega 3 and nutrients it needs while annihilating his/her palate. In short, test the temperature of the milk on your elbow, not on your tongue.

So after she’s gulped down the mushy muck from the jar and goes back to eating her toys she reaches out to me for a cuddle. I pick her up and before I can say, “What would you like to do now?” I’ve discovered she has already used me as a decoy to her conscious state and has slipped off to whatever it is babies dream about.

Then I get to have another sleep myself. It’s great.

An hour later its more toy eating and fish gut flavored milk until its time to drop her off at Day Care.

Leading up to the first day my wife and I were more than a little apprehensive about leaving our fragile little munchkin in the hands of strangers. We thought she would scream and wail and howl like a mauled rabbit but that was just our egos.

I took her to the place where other parents had previously dumped their kids, feeling guilty at the prospect of doing the same and convinced that from here on in our relationship would be based on her desire to exact revenge on her horrible father for leaving her alone in a place full of toys, foam flooring and friendly ladies with great big smiles…

But when I got there the first thing she did was reach out to the friendly Asian Day Care lady for a cuddle. Then once she saw the box of blocks Daddy disappeared into the background of her perception – she really couldn’t care less if I stayed or went. The blocks were far more interesting.

I called an hour and a half later, hoping to hear her screaming for Daddy in the background but I was told that she was having a wonderful time. I still don’t entirely understand why that disappointed me so much. But I guess my wife and I had been projecting our own reactions on to her because as I drove away from the nursery I was the one who did the crying, heaving out a sob or three while trying not to run over anything along the way.

After I got over the personal insult of not being missed I returned to Day Care the next week with the bravado of a proud Dad who is convinced he has a baby genius on his hands; despite the fact she spends most of her day rolling around on the floor using her mouth as her primary information gathering device.

My belief in her above normal intelligence was fueled on this occasion by an event that took place early Monday morning. I lay on the floor entertaining myself with Disney’s entrancing tale – “The Jungle Book”, which surprisingly I had never seen before. Just as I was figuring out that this was not the retelling of Tarzan but a completely different story and as I wondered how a bear came to be living in the dense Indian Jungle and where did that kid get his ornage underpants from, I felt tiny hands put pressure on my knees. I looked and there was my progeny using my legs to pull herself onto her feet, and just when I thought this was the most remarkable thing I had seen her do to date she let go of my legs and stood on the floor as if she was a dessert dweller standing on a surf board for the very first time; you got the impression that the floor might fall out from under her any minute. The tremendous occurrence only lasted for about 3 seconds and as I retell the tale I like to think it was my shocked audible gasp that sent her backwards like the apple from the tree that threatened to kill Sir Isaac Newton. Unfortunately she misunderstood my reaction of share unadulterated astonishment and pride as one of something much scarier and she did that thing that babies do when they take a few moments to get their face in just the right position before letting out a great big genuine bawl. I was quick to ladle her up and tell her what an intelligent and brainy baby she was for making me regret watching the Jungle Book instead of her!

So with that in mind I went to day care where some other kid looked up at me, the bearded boogie man, and burst into frantic tears, further puffing up my super-duper-daddy demeanor. I thought now was as good a time as any to declare that we had already started toilet training her.

Interesting story actually... about a friends daughter who, if there was a potty training school, would have brought back corporal punishment. Training her to do the unnatural with the natural was like training a duck to bungee jump or a cat to brush its teeth. She was the sort of kid who knew exactly what it was she was meant to do. She got it alright, but refused to take part in the exercise unless it involved a McDonald’s Happy Meal at the other end. 5 poos in the potty amounted to one trip to the Restaurant with the yellow M, except the moment the Mc Nuggets stopped she protested with a few of her own special brand of nugget that without a nappy amounted to World War 3 erupting at home. The amazing thing was she knew exactly what she was doing. It was a calculated dropping just to spite her mean parents who had vetoed the flow of the meal that came with a toy. The same child’s mother told us about a method she wished she had used called “Communication Illumination” or something. So my wife did the research and discovered it’s all for real. There is a school of thought that if you hang around your baby long enough you can catch them before they do the deed just by reading their facial expressions. Sounds like a fun game to play on a train when you don’t have a book to read. We didn’t want to be too gung-ho about it so decided to buy a plant pot, because the only potty big enough for a 3 month old usually came with a toy doll. Then, after every nappy change we would sort of “Hiss” in her ear as we dangled her over this container (actually it started as an ice-cream container before we upgraded to the pot, for some reason that makes me laugh a little) Amazingly, like clock work, like it was just meant to happen that way we got the tinkle we desired and got as excited as a kid who just got a bike for Christmas. Just imagine how thrilled we were when she did her first “second” on the thing. Even as a 3 month old she would have this vague look on her face that sort of said, “Yeah, so what? Haven’t you seen one of those before?”

Knowing that this new Day Care was happy to participate in the Potty Training process I boldly declared that she was already well on her way.

I was expecting a fan fare to follow, or some kind of equally star warsian Sound Track to play in the back ground as I stood there like the world’s first $6,000,000 Dad. But if there was a sound track it sounded more like the Imperial March when Darth Vadar strides into the room, wiggles his finger and his sniveling underling chokes to death as if by invisible hands and falls to the floor in a crumpled and unimportant heap.

“We don’t do that here” was the response. “We’ve heard about the method and it goes against our philosophy!” I felt like I was becoming a baby myself as the care giver told me that they don’t start training a child until a child is ready and shows cues that they are so and that at the end of the day you can train a child to do almost anything if you really wanted to but that it would be improper to teach them to do something before they were psychologically ready.

I handed my micro-treasure over to the sinister forces that just pulled the cork out of my ego and sent it farting across the room. At least she said we are welcome to continue doing “that sort of thing” at home, something I was sure to do, only that would be the last time I ever bragged about it.

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