The deafening silence

Sometimes I am amazed how quickly time flies. A blog like this at least shows when the last time you wrote about your life, and I see I have neglected this blog for too long.
My son Theo is now just over 18 months old and since my last blog, a lot has happened. A lot of normal things and I guess that is why I haven’t felt the need to share my concerns with you. We have been really fortunate that our son has not fell foul of any serious accidents, illnesses or lapses in good parenting and we have been all doing really well indeed. How very boring and conventional.
Suffice to say the day to day things are running smoothly and nursery drop offs are a breeze with Theo walking into the room with hardly a backwards glance. Yes he is walking after a period of time we thought he was way behind his friends. Theo seems to only do something when he knows absolutely he can and as soon as he starts he goes from zero to sixty in seconds. It was the same with stairclimbing, he stayed on the first step for weeks and then one day scaled the lot in moments. Happy times.
Happy times indeed. When I am with my son it is the best of moments; when I am tired away from him, within seconds of being back in his company, I am revitalised – what could be better.

Pride

Pride

It is one of the seven deadly sins, if you believe in that, and something I swore I would never be guilty of in my relationship with my son.  Pride is also only a short distance from disappointment and you can so easily end up there when situations don’t quite meet expectations.

I remember my mum and dad’s whispered conversations from my teenage years about whether I was doing better at school than my brother and how they would like me to make them proud.  Later in life I recall conversations with friends, who had children way before I did, about how well their kids are doing in school, or what a great job they have now, and I admit I thought it very superficial.

I guess their attitude is to do with that whole ‘he is a chip off the old block’ mentality – that your offspring’s successes are in some way a confirmation of how amazing you are yourself.  And I hate that.  I believe we all stand or fall on our own merits, not by association.

However, as a recent father (my boy is just 18 months old), my attitude has altered a little.  Now, I am always happy to talk about my son’s first steps, or his first teeth, or how he knows his animals, vehicles and numbers up to ten.  And there is a part of me that is swollen with pride and the twisted logic that he is amazing because I made him that way… no!  He is an individual and I am constantly supportive and attentive, and maybe this has had an impact, and maybe genetically he has something of me swimming around in his DNA, but he will decide how he wants to do things throughout his life, for good or not.  I can’t take credit for everything he does that is wonderful, can I?  If so, I must equally take responsibility for all the terrible things he does too – that is only fair.

I guess I must fight this daily battle, between my emotional side that is riddled with pride, and my rational side that appreciates that I can only ever be my son’s guide through life – ultimately he will grow, as I did, in spite of the guidance of my nearest and dearest.

I have tried to have as few expectations about my son’s future direction as I can, not wishing to load onto him my own emotional baggage concerning my own ambitions and failures.  I have to stop telling myself how happy I would be if he was musical, or artistic, or whether he likes Bowie, or Star Wars, or Liverpool FC, or motorbikes.  I suppose that stems from a desire to have something in common to share with him later in life, rather than my way of judging if he is a good son or not.  And I can’t help feeling the ugly presence of pride in me, knowing that if a day comes when we can play guitars together and he is the Mick Ronson to my Bowie, my heart will explode with pride.

I will endeavour not to be too disappointed if his musical taste differs from mine, or if he prefers soap operas to movies, but I will consider disowning him should he ever support Man Utd!

I suppose at the very least I would like my son to not have all the faults I have, as if he is the new, improved version – now more dynamic, more focused and better than me, the earlier model.

Regardless of all my deluded fancies, I do think that I should be allowed to be proud of the small but important things in life – when people say how happy and content my son is, I class that as a personal victory and something I am most proud of, without any trace of shame.

The Missing Months

For those eagle eyed readers out there, you will have noticed a gap
between the entry in March and the next one in July. Thank you to all
those concerned folks out there who messaged me with their concern
that my blog had gone quiet.
You may think the silence was due to problems and lack of time keeping
up with the blog, and that is only partly true – as a new parent you
never have time to do anything. There were no problems as such, just
life. As a writer, I know that most of the work you do happens before
you start typing – it is the process of collecting your thoughts.
This generally requires moments of quiet contemplation – if you are a
new parent and you can find a minute’s silence, tell me how you do it.
So what happened in those months?
Well the most important event was learning in April that the nursery
we had planned taking him to, did not have any available places. This
was a big blow, as the nursery was at my place of work, so it seemed
extremely convenient being in the same building as Theo. We had a
Plan B luckily, but it was at the more expensive nursery closer to our
home: the one with closed circuit cameras so parents could check in
on their babies during the day. At the same time we learned we had to
rethink our nursery plans, Willy had a difficult conversation with her
manager. Originally she was told that Willy’s new working hours would
be accommodated (we had wanted 3 days), however, her manager said she
could only have 2 and a half days or full time: no negotiating.
Bearing in mind Willy was still on maternity leave at this point and
was powerless to accept anything but what she was given. Obviously
full time was not an option, as Theo would have been in nursery for 4
days, so she accepted the 2 and a half days. This meant Theo would
only be in nursery for 1 and a half days, which would clearly reduce
the cost and give him a better balance of home and nursery. It also meant our income was reduced and we would have to tighten our belts in other areas.
With that bombshell ringing in our ears, we approached the nursery
that we had visited first to see whether they could take Theo – luckily they could and we all ready to start when Willy went back to work in July.
It is interesting to note now that there have been many news stories
of high profile mothers stating they were disadvantaged or side-lined
whilst on maternity leave and treated differently on their return.
This is Willy’s experience as well. The fact is that during maternity
leave, a mother’s coping skills are improved beyond anything they
would learn at work, and on their return to work should be considered
more valuable to a team than before. It is a typical short-sighted
view of a society that gives more kudos to business than to the business of being a human being.
In June I began my reduced hours, where I do not work on Mondays and
work 32 hours from Tuesday to Friday. As Willy was still not back in
work until July we managed to have a good family June together, even
incorporating a week away in Porthcawl: a proper holiday in a caravan by the sea. Theo had a bucketful of new experiences including the sea and sand, rain on a caravan roof, sleeping in a travel cot, ice cream,
and getting washed in a shower tray. Theo loved sand and was not
scared by the sea at all. We had a couple of sunny days and a couple
of rainy ones too, when we utilised the indoor pool and bought Theo an
inflatable ring to sit in.
It was a big hurdle for us as parents, as this was our first time away
from the safety of our own home. But despite not having everything
immediately to hand, we all had a great time.
These months definitely saw an improvement in our skill as parents and
Theo was clearly thriving. Me and Willy even managed to have a night
out together, alone, and we also had a couple of nights out separately
with our friends. We even were invited to a friend’s for a meal: all
three of us (they were the first of my circle of friends to have
children and their kids are now almost adults). We felt normal again,
and I felt guilty that I had shown no interest in their children all
those years ago and understood the loneliness of the parent, who
either never gets an invite out, or has to go alone.
In July, Willy went back to work and I experienced my first full day as a daddy daycare dad. I have been doing it over a month now and it is odd that each Monday has been different: the first two were easy and Theo was on form – a perfect child. This made me feel guilty as Willy came home and found me coping admirably, as if to rub it in when she was struggling on her own with him during her maternity leave.
The third Monday Theo was in a terrible mood all day and would not be
left for a second without crying. He wouldn’t sit in his high chair
for meals and screamed until taken out. It was a hard day and Willy
had a ‘I told you so’ look when she came in from work. The following
Monday he was excellent and the one after is documented in my previous
post when he fell and cracked his head on the floor, so I spent the
whole afternoon feeling guilty. You really do not know what to expect
each time and I guess that is part of the excitement.
I will add here a comment about the unpredictability of children’s
behaviour and use Theo’s bedtime routine as an example. For a number
of weeks Theo was put to bed at night at around 7:30 by either more or
Willy, he was read a story, given a cuddle and placed in his cot with
a music/light box on to gently get him to sleep. Without fail this
worked every night and he was no trouble. Suddenly, he started crying
when you put him in the cot, and then started screaming when you turned the light off or just left the room. So much so that you had to return to reassure him and often stay until he fell asleep. A nightmare for us, as we were given conflicting advice about letting them cry, or not letting them cry, making a rod for your own back or deserting your child when they need you etc. In the end, it was really just a phase and now he generally settles himself, with only the occasional short cry as you leave the room. What is odd though is that now he is crawling (oh did I forget to mention that, sorry), we often go in to his room in the morning to find him sitting up in his cot, waiting for us to come in. What a glorious sight he is!
Ah yes, I forgot to mention Theo started crawling just a few days before he was 11 months old. He had been pushing himself from his belly to a sitting position for a few weeks, but seemed to not have the coordination to crawl once on his hands and knees, however, out of nowhere, he started to move his legs whilst kneeling and soon after
understood he had to move his arms to. Now, just 10 days later and he is like greased lightening. Up and down the hall we go, a dozen times in the morning and again in the afternoon. We spent weeks and weeks wondering why he wasn’t crawling and then a week wishing he would stop. I am 44 years old and he is wearing me out! There are days I
think I should have done this years ago, when I had more energy and fewer creaking bones.

Babies are virus magnets

I don’t think I have been ill so often as in the last 11 months. It seems that any virus within a 10 mile radius is picked up by Theo and he passes it on to me and Willy; often not appearing to be that affected by the virus himself. Colds and coughs are attracted to him
and gladly jump ship at the first opportunity of an adult host, when
his mum and dad come along. Willy seems to have had a cold
continuously since March (although some of that was hayfever) and I
have had more than my usual share of sore throats. Not only that, but
stomach bugs too – nasty ones that not only disturb your digestion but
ache every other muscle in your body.
The ironic thing is though that Theo goes on as if nothing is a problem, and me and his mum moan and feel sorry for ourselves. He keeps smiling and we grumble. He really is an example to us all.
I suppose though, when you are the carer you have the weight of
responsibility, so you never rest and have to remain alert (whether you can or not), whereas Theo carries on regardless, oblivious to the havoc he leaves in his wake.
I guess that is a baby’s privilege and after all, his company does make you feel better and forces you to just keep going. I’m glad though that today, although I feel ill, I have gone in to work as it is Willy’s day at home – at least I can have some rest here.

Daniel

I am not the sort of person who harbours ill feeling towards anyone,
and I try to find humanity in all. However, reading the recent
coverage about the circumstance that led to the death of Daniel Pelka,
fills me with rage.
How that poor boy became the subject of constant, premeditated torture
defies belief. How an adult can carry out such evil to one so
helpless leaves me sick. How a mother can either allow what happened
to happen, or take part in the torture is unbelievable. The fact that
both of his carers have been given life sentences for their part in
his abuse and subsequent death, is little comfort when you imagine
what Daniel was forced to endure.
While my own humanity prevents me from wishing their fates to include
the same tortures and horror they bestowed on Daniel, I do hope that
they are at the very least tormented for the rest of their miserable
lives remembering their terrible part in his life.
Being born is often just down to luck and timing. The family you are
born into is also something out of your control. Be thankful for your
good luck and let us be more mindful in future of those unfortunate
enough to be born into mothers and carers that are inhuman. Maybe if
those in Daniel’s company had been more forceful when seeing he was
not being cared for, he could still be alive and with a loving foster
family.
I hold my own boy more tightly than ever now, wanting him to only have
a life full of joy and love. We all should do this to remember those
that have not been granted such things.

Half A Year

Where did those six months go? It doesn’t seem like a minute since I
had sleepless nights and tear filled days. It seems like only
yesterday when our little Theo was transfixed only by our red living
room curtains and no matter how much you tried to avert his gaze from
the drapes, his focus would almost immediately return there. How our
hearts ached because he would not look into our eyes and smile. How
much pain did we feel when we couldn’t console our baby despite the
kisses and cuddles.
The journey from 0-6 months is a rollercoaster, no doubt. I have to
say now, it is a joy. Theo is a bundle of energy; rolling from back
to front and front to back, interested in everything around him and
always trying to move to the thing that fascinates him the most. He
gets frustrated beyond belief as crawling is still something that
eludes him. His legs kick out on the air as he tries to snake along
the floor, but remains rooted to his spot.
He is fascinated by our faces and as we both wear glasses always wants
to touch them and pull them off. He grabs at our noses and lips and
watches intently when we speak, when we drink and when we are eating.
We have started weaning now, which at first seemed to be a mountain to
climb as Theo was not impressed with this new style of getting
nourishment. However, after a couple of attempts, he was used to it
and enjoys every mouthful. We are trying a mix of baby led and baby
fed. This way we know he is getting food as we are spooning it in,
but also he gets used to holding a spoon and grabbing at food and his
cup. Of course this always leads to food everywhere but he is
enjoying himself, which is the main thing.
As time marches on, me and Willy also have to consider the next steps
in all our lives: meaning the day Willy’s maternity leave ends. Her
last day at work was the end of July 2012 and she is due back in June
this year, unless she can tag some holiday on to her maternity leave
and go back in July. We are both planning to reduce our hours so Theo
is only in nursery for two days, and the logistics of this are causing
headaches and sleepless nights.
The main stumbling blocks are:

1. Can we afford to live on reduced hours?
2. Does the nursery have a place on the days we want?
3. Will our employers allow us to fit around the nursery?

The nursery we want to use cannot tell us if we have a place until
early April, so we are presently in limbo. Our employers have agreed
to some kind of reduced hours for us, but there were conditions that
soured the deal slightly. Moneywise, we will also have to see.
Part of me wishes we could afford for one of us to look after Theo
full time instead of putting him into nursery, whereas the other part
thinks that being too dependent on mum and dad may have a detrimental
effect on his social skills. I just know that the first day I have to
drop him off at nursery and walk away from him, I will weep buckets.
The fact that he will only be 10 months old in July freaks me out
because he is still so small! I don’t think I left my mum’s side
until I started infant school and that felt like a big deal to me
then… maybe if I had been in nursery from an early age, it wouldn’t
have been such a big step for me as a four year old. So maybe this is
best for Theo after all; and that’s the only thing we want.

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