Staring out to sea

I found this letter I wrote home, the first time I took my daughter on a long haul holiday back in 2010. She was seven months old. As this site is as much about therapy as it is about providing a record of the parenting journey, I figured I should post it

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Yesterday I spent most of the day staring out to sea.

I did the same yesterday.

I plan to do the same tomorrow.

It’s not that it is a particularly captivating scene. Nothing much changes. It’s big. It’s blue. And apart from the odd jet-ski ripping past and para-glider coming into land, it remains relatively constant.

So why is it so captivating?

Perhaps it’s the way that the crests of the waves capture the sunlight and send shards of light twinkling all directions?

Perhaps it’s the tantalising fragrance of salt, fresh limes and divine frangipane carried by the trade winds that ventilate the island?

Perhaps it’s the fact that we have secured a spongy raised water bed, right on the beach that is the size of a small room and with as many soft furnishings as an Ikea showroom that allows Asha to roll around to her heart’s content?

Perhaps it’s the fact that there is a nice man who keeps bringing us drinks and food all day long?

I dont know.

All I can say is that for a view that changes only once every half hour or so, this is strangely compelling.

So what of Bali? Well we have hardly seen any of it. There really is no need when you have a swimming pool right outside your front door and a beach about a cricket balls throw away.

Our hut is beautifully arranged, along with 7 others nestling in the tropical undergrowth, around the centrepiece swimming pool. We have an outside shower where you can enjoy a nocturnal cool down under the stars listening to the gentle burr of the Cicada’s and surrounded by the enveloping fragrance of jasmine. 

To one side of the hut there is a massage table under a thatched Pagoda shade, and everywhere else is lush green foliage, hidden statutes, paths and God heads, bright tropical flowers and the constant sound of gongs, wind chimes and trickling, running water.

What we have seen is reminiscent of both Sri Lanka and Zanzibar.

But unlike the former that has been torn apart by conflict and the latter that has been criminally overlooked by corrupt governance, there is something balanced about this island.

From the diversity of cultures, to the gentle ambiance of the people; from the sticky warm fresh fruit served with coffee and a smile first thing in the morning to the gentle flux and flow of everyday life. This just seems to be an island that gives something back.

Unlike the happy mania of Jakarta, the people here seem more considered, down to earth.

Asha is not a celebrity here, in the same way that she was in Jakarta, but people have much more refined views. They still take her, and fuss over her, and tickle her until she smiles her smiles but you can tell people are taking her in when they look at her.

And they have time to see her in a different way here.

One man we met was captivated by her and said she had amazing charisma.

Another, after many minutes of looking at her, compared her to the Hindu Goddess Krishna.

I have been glowing with the inner pride of knowing I have a charismatic God baby ever since.

Like I said, Bali gives something back.

And despite the fact that we have forced Asha across 8 time zones, made her stay up late far too many times, dropped her on her head on a hard marble floor, made her sleep in a room where even the mosquito’s sweat and watched her vibrate for 2 hours after feeding her some chilli fish she is just loving every minute of it.

She continues to squeal, gurgle and grin her way through every day.

She is very happy here.

And as I write this next to the swimming pool fringed with mini Baobab trees with fragrant pink flowers, I know that I feel extremely content here.

And I am sure my wife, who is currently indulging in a one hour body massage, is also feeling it too.

And later today we are going to go and stare at the sea.

Tomorrow we will do the same.

I will let you know if anything has changed.

xxxxx

The Toddler Resistance Movement – Guide to the Supermarket

Fellow comrades, listen up. For the Ugly Giants, the supermarket is a necessary chore, but if you follow the guidelines below the supermarket can become your own personal playground with added food and fizzy drinks. If you follow the steps below you will be in line for a juggernaut payday from the Holy Trinity of Toddlerdome – snacks, fun and attention. BOOM!

  1. Before even entering the supermarket, seek out the children’s rides and demand a go on whatever flashing monstrosity is at the entrance. Run screaming into the carpark if you don’t get your way.
  2. At the entrance insist on riding in a shopping trolley. Subsequently demand to get in / out of the shopping trolley every 10metres or so. The Ugly Giants love the exercise. Twats.
  3. Once inside, alternate between dawdling painfully slowly in some aisles and sprinting like a cackling loon down others. If you run into other shoppers, throw yourself to the floor and scream hysterically until they realise it was their fault. This should result in a yoghurt or muesli bar payoff.
  4. Take off all your clothes and randomly distribute them around the store. Socks, pants and soiled nappies are known as #aislemines and should be deployed near fresh produce. This is just for kicks people.
  5. Find the aisle with glass jars, crockery or high value electronics and insist on spontaneous and robust play with all items. NB dropping plates on the aisle floor and then screaming hysterically will result in a snack payday.
  6. Your role is “The Confuseriser”. Create Maximum Confusion by offloading items that the Ugly Giant puts into the trolley and uploading other unwanted items. Not only is this great fun, but it could also lead to a placating bag of Minstrels. Every little helps, my supermarket warriors.
  7. Make it your priority to find the pastry, cake and bread aisle. Quickly stuff your cheeks with whatever comes to hand. Teeth marks count as possession in the cake aisle, so a half eaten croissant is effectively yours. Bite everything until you are stopped. THE PASTRIES ARE YOURS!
  8. Situational awareness is key in our struggle, comrades, so be sure to make a note of the aisles where the yoghurt and cheerio’s are kept. You will need this information for the POWERPLAY.
  9. The powerplay approaches. Prepare for the powerplay by getting properly lost.
  10. Next find a security guard and put on your best Lost Child Look – tear streaked eyes, finger in mouth, lispy, half formed words….you know the drill comrades, we are talking CHARM OFFENSIVE, defcom one.
  11. Once taken to the customer services desk, all stars are now aligned for the powerplay. As soon as staff backs are turned, grab the intercom and shout the following words “This is a customer announcement: All Gin is now three for one in aisle seventeen. I repeat, THREE FOR ONE ON GIN”. 
  12. In the resulting madness, find your way back to the Cheerios and yoghurts and GO. NUTS. You should be able to do a couple of packs before you are busted.
  13. If you and your Ugly Giant have not yet been arrested, congratulations, you are still in the game. So insist on helping* at the checkout. If denied, find a pensioner and wedge your head between their legs whilst screaming “IT’S SO DARK! I CANT BREATHE!” until security is called to break up the #pensionerwedgie
  14. Make a loud beeping noise every time the till operator scans an item. Carry on BEEPING LOUDLY. For ever. Or as long as it takes to get a chocolate profiterole.
  15. On the way out, carefully place cigarettes, batteries and alcohol miniatures in your Ugly Giant’s pockets and then alert a security guard. Again, not for snacks people, this is just for fun.
  16. At the exit, find the children’s rides and stage a sit in. HOLD. YOUR. NERVE. You know it and the Ugly Giants know it – they cannot leave without you. BOOM! Before you know it you will be riding off into the Cheerio and yoghurt coated sunset with Postman Pat and his black and white cat as accomplices.

*helping broadly defined as – “eat all consumables”

#aislemines

#pensionerwedgie

Perfect Moment

A vivid but chaotic dream is interrupted by the sound of the bedroom door slowly sweeping across the carpet.

I am bought quickly into the room by the sound.

I open an eye and can see the door opening, but as yet no figure in the doorway.

The adrenalin and dull shock from the rude awakening quickly subside. I see the hazelnut curls on the top of my daughters head bob past the end of the bed, her footfall padding lightly on the carpet.

She rounds the bed post and her full face comes into view. She is full of sleep and there is no emotion on her face.

I don’t want to wake up yet. I don’t want the embrace of sleep to leave.

I hold my hand out to my daughter and close my eyes. I hear her feet pad a few more steps on the carpet and next thing I feel is her grip tighten around my wrist as she pulls herself into bed.

She collapses next to me and snuggles in tight, breathing loudly. She hasn’t quite yet worked out the concept of personal space, and while her head lies awkwardly across my jaw, and I receive a couple of accidental knees and elbows in delicate areas, her final position is comfortable enough for me to draw her in close.

She sighs loudly, contentedly. She appears to be in no immediate rush to go downstairs today.

She shuffles a little bit in the bed and nestles finally and comfortably in the crook of my shoulder. My face is now buried deep in her forest of curls.

I love being in here. It is soft and warm and smells sweet and earthy. I gently run my face through her billowy cloud of curls.

I chance a look at her, and her eyes are shut. Her breathing is soft and rhythmic, her chest rising with every breath, her warm outbreath kissing my shoulder. She is still and content. I close my eyes and my mind starts to wander.

I can hear morning birdsong outside, carried through the open window on a warm summer breeze which gently disturbs the curtains. In the distance there is the bark of a dog and the hum of a car engine. I can feel myself drifting, the warm embers of sleep burning on.

I have no idea how long we lie together, it doesn’t matter. I am snuggled up close to my daughter and we are still and quiet and entwined. She is safe, and warm and loved.

I don’t want this moment to end.

The Last Push

“One more Peppa Pig and then it’s time to go to bed. No, I said ONE more. JUST. ONE. MORE!”

“Brush your teeth, properly. PROPERLY! Don’t stick the toothbrush THERE!”

“Put your pyjamas on. Where are you going? Put your pyjama trousers on! Not on your head! Take them off your head! Take the trousers OFF YOUR HEAD!”

The bed time routine. The last push. The eternal battle between adult and child; one party desperate to push the envelope, milk the minutes and extend the day; and one party desperate to curtail, to finish, to seek closure.

The friction. The tension. The exhaustion.

Sometime around 6:30pm our family moves into the bedtime routine. I feel it as a parent, and the children are feeling it too.

The older child might complain of tiredness, but the younger child will never let on, and will continue to run around the house, a morass of flailing limbs and wobbly sprinting.  

But he will be betrayed by the occasional flop on a chair, a rubbing of the eyes and the ultimate give away – the yawn.

This is the signal. The yawn.

It’s time to warm the milk and put on the DVD.

It’s a familiar routine, goodness knows how it started but it kind of works. Warm milk in front of 20 minutes of whatever DVD happens to be in vogue at the time.

Each child gets to choose one episode. These are the rules.

It is beautiful watching each one take it in turns to choose their episode. They revel in their empowerment, exercising their right to choose and they deliberate for what seems like an age before finally selecting their choice.

Each selection is accompanied with gleeful bragging rights and a giggly sprint back to the sofa.

The other child will take exception to the choice, but it will be only temporary. It is all part of the pattern, part of the routine.

And the episodes will finish and there will be a momentary tantrum when the television is turned off, but both children know that there are bigger fights ahead, so they reserve their energy.

The parents may have won this battle, but there is still a war to be waged before this day is out.

Climbing the stairs is another battle. The older child is quick, up in a heartbeat, mind set on the mischief that can now be caused in the upstairs domain.

The younger child delays, deliberating over each dangerous step; pausing to inspect every wood knot on the handrail, every speck of dust on the stair runner and every dead spider that resides on the Staircase of Wonder.

There are some nights when I can deal with this, and sometimes even entertain this journey of exploration. But tonight is not one of them. My objective is to complete the routine as quickly as possible, get the children safe and snug into bed and get back downstairs to whatever treasure awaits.

And the treasure could be a glass of wine, it could be a pint of beer, it could be a favourite television show, a conversation with the wife, a favourite book or just simply a sit-down-and-stare at whatever object happens to be in eye line.

It doesn’t matter what it is. It is a reward.

A reward for knowing I have made mistakes that day, but that I will grow from them

A reward for knowing that I have done the best I can, that I have been the best I can be and that I have loved with as much room as there is in my heart.

And a reward for knowing that I have got my children safely through another day, with some degree of decorum, mental health and personal hygiene still intact.

So the reward is there in my mind’s eye. It looms larger and larger, sometimes taunting, sometimes alluring. But it’s there.

And it’s there, calling like a wanton siren from the shadows, when for the millionth time toothpaste ends up smeared on my black work jumper.

It’s there throwing its hair back and fluttering its eyelids as one child escapes half naked back downstairs and the other attempts to flush their face flannel down the toilet.

It’s still there, beguiling and flirtatious, as the young one refuses to get undressed and the older one, cackling manically, does a naked swan dive into the laundry basket, sending clothes spilling over the floor.

It’s like herding cats. Crazy, psychotic toddler cats.

But soon we are reading books. Nearly there, last push.

Same rules apply, each child gets to choose one book.

Some nights the book choices are great – short, easy and quick, entertaining even for the adult.

Other nights the choices are long, deadly dull books.

Tonight is one of the latter. I resist the urge to persuade the child to choose another book, and read it for the umpteenth time, almost on auto pilot. I get no enjoyment from it, but the children are spellbound.

Then I tuck the older child up, she goes down easily and snuggles up in her duvet. The younger one is still fighting, refusing to get into his grow bag, starting to meltdown.

I am not in the mood for this, and I can feel a knot of tension rising in my chest. I start to sing and rub his chest and immediately his eyes open and his body relaxes enough for me to get his legs and arms into the grow bag and the zip done up.

I breathe a sigh of relief and pull the side of the cot up, the final signal that it is over, the day is over.

I kiss them both good night and they both make one final complaint, but I am walking out of the door, and it is a half-hearted complaint. The day is over and they know it.

I find something to do in the room next to them for a few minutes and then check back in on them.

Both fast asleep, snoring.

I allow myself a smile. I am standing there, a muddle of warm tingly emotions, fatigue and exhaustion and I watch them sleep and my heart melts.

I count my blessings that I have steered them safely through another day. One of many in what I hope will be a long and happy journey.

I count my blessings that they are safe, that we live in a country of peace, where bombs do not drop, and warmth and shelter and love are a given.

I count my blessings that however exhausted I am come the end of days, the love I feel for my children is a constant presence in my heart.

This is the bed time routine.

I make for the landing and close their bedroom door behind me, the last stage in the process.

I check my watch and make a quick calculation. I can get through the tidy up process and still have an hour or so for myself. My shoulders relax and I breathe out a sigh of relief.

The cork comes easily out of the bottle of wine.

The last push is over. For tonight at least.

 

I originally wrote this post as part of an anonymous blogger feature on mypetitcanard.co.uk, go check it out, its a great blog. Or follow on Twitter @MyPetitCanard

Breaking Bread

"You know where you can stick your noodles!"

“You know where you can stick your noodles!”

Look out for the cup, if you keep tipping it you are going to spill it! Don’t tip it, it’s going to spill. IT’S SPILT!

Sit down please. Sit down please. SIT. DOWN. PLEASE! No, not on your face, on your bottom….”

Don’t throw the fish finger. DO NOT throw the fish finger. If you throw the fish finger…I TOLD YOU NOT TO THROW THE DAMN FISH FINGER…..”

Ah! Meal times with the family.

The stress.

The tension.

The chaos.

THE MESS!

It’s not that I even like Cheerios (which is why it was so hard to explain to my co-worker that time I went into work with a phalanx of them stuck in my beard).

So why do I bother insisting on this anarchic routine twice a day (three times at weekends, goddamit)? Wouldn’t it just be easier to just leave a pile of food on a plate on the floor and let them pick at it like skanky hyenas over the course of the day?

Sure it would.

But there is something in that which goes against every fibre of my being.

And this is probably because both my wife and I come from families where food is a deity, and meal times are the closest to worship we will ever get.

My name is the Secret Father, and I’m a foodie.

There, I said it.

If it is not home grown, organic, fair trade and hand knitted I don’t want to know. And I expect this ethic to extend to my children too.

So you can imagine my chagrin when, having prepared a chickpea (organic), spinach (from the allotment) and garlic (organic, home grown) dhal, I have to sit there and watch as my son picks out all the spinach and all the garlic, and then painstakingly removes each damn chickpea, one by one, until he is left with nothing more than a bowl of dhal stained rice. 

Which of course because it is a starchy carbohydrate, with very little nutritional value, he adores.

And then the whinging starts. “Hungry. Hungry. HUNGRY!”

And this then leads to “The Discussion” between Mrs Secret Father and myself;

Mrs SF: “Well, we can’t let him go to bed hungry”

Me: “Why not? He needs to learn to eat what he is given”

Mrs SF: “But he will wake up in the night hungry!”

Me: “Just leave him. He won’t starve himself”

Mrs SF: “I’m going to get him something else to eat”

Me; (hissing) “Don’t! Don’t do that! Don’t. Do. It”

Mrs SF: *returns with a selection of yoghurts, garlic bread and Cheerios.

Me:*gives wife a Paddington Bear stare.

You get the picture.

Basically my wife comes from a family of feeders. She would be mortified if one of her brood went to bed one calorie short on their daily allowance. Because that would mean she is a BAD MOTHER.

And I come from a family where if I left anything on my plate, my father and brother would swoop like vultures within seconds and pick over the carcass of my leftovers.

And if I left it, I knew there was nothing else.

And I knew that feeling hungry was a rubbish feeling. And I learnt that when I was hungry it was harder to play football, harder to run and jump and harder to cycle so far from home that the Police had to be called.

And as a boy, that just wouldn’t do. So I ate everything I was given.

But now these days, after a long day at work, when everyone is grizzly and just a little bit short with the day, it is tempting some meal times to just give in. Because being out to work full time, there is only so much “quality time” that I can have with my children.

And sometimes, just sometimes, I don’t want to have to spend that “quality time” being strict and grumpy and stern at the dinner table. Meal times should be fun.

So I don’t want to have to spend that time repeatedly insisting, like some demented parrot, that a 2 year old child who is off their head on carbs and yoghurt, should “sit nicely at the table” for a few more minutes.

Because frankly, asking a 2 year old to just sit still is hard enough without complicating things by adding the “nicely” bit.

I don’t want to have to negotiate every damn mouthful of whatever it is that my children are refusing to eat that day. Because let’s face it, my toddlers are the SAS of negotiation and will have me waterboarding a bowl of Calpol in no time.

I don’t want to have to spend 25 minutes on my hands and knees wiping the floor clean, whilst simultaneously having leftovers poured on my head by a cackling child. Because whatever fashion is on trend at the time, squashed knee raisins and rice noodle hair is never going to be a “look”.

And I don’t want to have to keep hounding down an errant toddler who has breached the sacred perimeter of the dining room table for the 50th time in five minutes, just because they can’t possibly eat another mouthful unless Iggle bloody Piggle is sitting with them.

And because yelling “STOP twerking at the table!” is something I should never have to shout in my own home.

And so I frequently ask myself – why do I bother? Why not just feed them pizza, cake and fruit shoots and let them eat it all in front of CBeebies? Why not just let it all drop for an easier life?

Because I can’t.

And the answer is both profound and frivolous.

Frivolous because part of me (the weird-uncle-that-lives-in-the-loft part of me) actually enjoys the noise and vibrancy and chaos of meal times.

That’s not to say I enjoy having sausages squashed in my ears (because sausages are big and my ear holes are small), but there is something rather great about a noisy, colourful table, heaving with food, vitality and conversation.

Even if that conversation is just increasingly shouty, repetitive instructions.

And the answer is also profound because meal times are a celebration. They are a celebration of nurture, life and energy; of the family unit with all of its drama’s, weaknesses and foibles; and of the human condition. We may be weak and fragile and yet we are a social animal that craves company.

And what better company than those sitting around a table devouring a delicious meal together?

Food is what keeps us going, and mealtimes have been uniting people, families, tribes and clans throughout history, providing sustenance, company, rest and a chance to connect over the breaking of the bread.

Despite the tantrums, the persistent nagging and the occasional flare up, I am going to continue to teach my children the importance of eating as a family. However much they play up, my instinct tells me that this connection will be invaluable in years to come.

So that when my tribe eventually breaks up, which it inevitably will do, we will hopefully always have that one thing remaining in common.

The love of a decent family meal together.

 #cheeriobeard

#waterboardingcalpol

#squashedkneeraisins

Mental health and parenting – some tips for dads

Over February I am running a series of guest posts on Post Natal Depresssion (PND) and Perinatal Mental Health from a male perspective.

The idea for this series of blogs came about from meeting the fabulous Rosey on Twitter (@PNDandMe) during an enlightening Twitter chat on #PNDhour.

It made me realise I know little about mental health issues, and that it might be helpful for other men to have access to information on PND, at the very least to raise awareness.

This first article comes from Kathryn who has first hand experience, and has written this extremely helpful post for partners of people suffering from perinatal mental health.

Kathryn (on Twitter @katgrant30) is married to Tom and mum to James, 15 months.  They live in London with their kitten Cat.  Kathryn tweets about her experience of mental illness and mental health services (as well as her love of all things baking) and has written a blog about her recovery from postpartum psychosis on the Sane charity’s website: http://www.sane.org.uk/how_you_can_help/blogging/show_blog/592
 
You can find out more about postpartum psychosis at: http://www.app-network.org

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Whether your other half is pregnant, just given birth, or perhaps running around after an errant toddler, there is one subject many dads would prefer not to think about, but definitely should.

Mental health. 
 
The perinatal (fancy speak for pre and post birth) period is an emotional roller coaster and (unsurprisingly) women are at higher risk of developing mental illness during this time.

The good news is, there’s lots a supportive other half can do to help.  Here are some tips from someone who knows (in no particular order):
 
1. Sleep.  However much your little darling baby wants to feed, make sure you step in at some point in the first few days to let mum sleep.  Whether that means some formula feeding, expressed milk or a few minutes of putting up with a hungry baby – that time for rest is gold dust for mum and nothing else matters.  She may not be able to actually sleep, but at least she might be able to rest her eyes.
 
2. On the subject of sleep, try to keep an eye on any real insomnia developing in your partner – not being able to sleep even while baby is, or nervously waiting for baby to wake up.
 
3. Same goes for decent meals – watch out for any loss of appetite. Labour is a massive deal, and it takes a lot to recover from. So eating well is a must for good health – mental and physical.

4. You know your partner best so are best placed to pick up on any unusual moods.  Be aware though that these can change quickly, and may not present as typical depression symptoms.  Other mental illnesses that can strike include anxiety, or even psychosis – so if your partner has any history of mental health problems, be on the look-out for symptoms such as racing thoughts, mania, paranoia, insomnia as well as feeling down.
 
5. Access practical help from whatever sources are available.  If you have hands-on family who your partner is comfy with then don’t be afraid to utilise them.  Especially if you have to go back to work.  Practical stuff like food shopping, cleaning, laundry etc but also support such as making sure mum and baby get out the house every day, attend appointments, hold the baby while mum showers and field calls from visitors and well-wishers.  If you have the cash, think about hiring a night nanny.

6. Unless there’s a physical reason why they can’t, make sure mum and baby get out the house, every day if possible.  Find out what groups are running in your area (the midwife or health visitor should help here) and encourage your partner to go along.  At the very least, your local children’s centre will run groups for mums and babies.  If she refuses to go out, even if physically well, this is a cause for concern and worth getting to the root of.
 

7. Mums, especially mums who’ve been excitedly planning for this baby for months or years, often have high expectations of how they will parent.  They WILL breast feed for at least six months.  They WILL use Eco nappies.  They’ve read Gina, or the latest attachment parenting manual and they WILL follow it.  Mums who set such high standards for themselves might be in for a rough ride.  PND or other serious mental illness was not part of their plan so as well as the illness itself they also have to deal with a crushing sense of failure.
 
It isn’t always possible to breast feed, however hard you try, and those first few weeks are such a blur you won’t be able to read a sentence let alone a whole book.  Support your partner in her choices, make it clear to her what a great job she is doing – the baby’s alive!  Those baby wipes are not going to burn your baby’s bottom, so stop with the faffy cotton wool and water dance!  The milk’s getting in there so it doesn’t matter where it comes from, it all goes down the same way!   The fact you haven’t hand-washed that new babygro before popping it on him is not going to give him a rash!  This thinking won’t make the PND go away, but having such support may help mum feel less like a “failure” (although be careful not to belittle her genuine concerns, whether warranted or not they are real to her).

8. On this point, keep a weather eye on your partner’s anxieties.  It is completely normal to worry about how much the baby is eating/sleeping/puking/poohing… But there is a fuzzy line somewhere between normal worry and over-anxiety or even paranoia. Support networks from other mums can help here, whether that’s online or through NCT classes or whatever.  It’s also a good idea to develop a good relationship with your health visitor and baby clinic. 

9. Don’t assume that because your baby is approaching toddlerhood that your partner is “out of the woods”.   Also don’t assume that because all seems well on the surface that everything must be ok.  It can take some time for mums to acknowledge the problem and seek help.  You can only encourage and reassure them that all will be ok – help is out there, and it doesn’t mean you have failed!  If you can come along to that all-important GP visit, even better.

10. I can’t think of a 10th tip to make this a nice round number so will just say this – mental illness is perfectly treatable.  The quicker your other half seeks the help she needs, the quicker she will recover – so don’t go along with anyone (your partner or a well meaning friend) saying things like “it’s just the baby blues”, “you’ll feel better once the baby sleeps better” 

Moments that mattered

It wasn’t a beautiful day, but then again it wasn’t dreadful either. A typical English summer day; a little overcast, a little drizzle, the mercury hovering around 18C.

We had been invited by friends to go camping with them and their kids, which we had accepted.

The kids were excited and if I am honest, so was I.

The reason for this is that I love being outside. And I love being outside with the kids.

Outside there are no walls, no perimeters and no parameters. The kids can run free in a field and I can relax for a few hours, knowing that they are safe.

Everything is better outside.

For me connecting with nature is so important, and there is no better way to connect than being outdoors on a camping trip.

The sights, sounds and smell of a campsite are part of the experience too.

The high pitched rip of a zip, the flap of canvas and the pungent smell of fresh grass, woodsmoke and freshly brewed coffee all combine into a heady mix.

And when you are camping everything ebbs and flows with the rise and fall of the sun. And at night, as the sun drifts below the horizon, the infinite expanse of the universe unfolds with celestial majesty, mind-bending in its vastness.

Just one night out in the elements and the mind can become untethered from the daily routine, released from the shackles of the flickering electric box in the corner of the living room and the piles of bills, letters and reminders that enslave us on a daily basis.

Camping is communal living, how humans would have co-existed many hundreds of years ago, before office blocks, air conditioning and artificial strip lighting. For me this is part of the allure; to get back to basics, however temporary.

And we are fortunate in that we have a phenomenal campsite nearby. There is something magical about this campsite, nestled in the shadow of a white horse, carved in chalk on a hillside dotted with lush and ancient deciduous woodland.

Once we had arrived and found our friends, the tent went up reasonably easily and the kids got to run around, liberated, urgent and red faced, constructing imaginary universes and populating them with imaginative abandon.

The drizzle stopped and the afternoon blended lazily into the evening. As the sun went down groups of people began to gather around freshly lit fires. With the kids so content, some of our group chanced an early drink.

The bedtime routine went well, and the adults in our group had, by now, started to sink into their chairs around the fire, faces lit and glowing amber as the flames licked and danced. Only one child remained awake, my daughter.

It wasn’t the kind of awake that was problematic though. There were no tears, no tantrums. It was a gentle kind of awake, driven by curiosity and an active mind.

After a few failed attempts to settle her into her camp bed, I decided to bring her around the camp fire. It was a risk. By now we were firmly into adult time, and the addition of a child may have been looked upon dimly by my peers.

But within a few minutes it became apparent that my daughter was content to sit quietly on my lap, settling into the hypnotic soundtrack of the night;

There were snatches of conversations from around the camp fire; I could hear a story being shared, an offer of more food, a bottle being opened.

And there was also the sound of a guitar and a soft but beautiful voice singing a quiet refrain.

The sound of a tent zip punctuated the air, and a lone blackbird piped melancholy from the tree tops.

I could hear a peel of laughter from across the field, a group bonding over a joke or story, and all of this was set to the gentle hiss and crackle of our fire fanned by the night breeze.

My daughter cuddled in tight, her curls falling on my lap, and at once I felt utterly content, at peace, my heart melting into the fire.

I realised she had probably never seen the night sky like this before, pitch dark and bottomless, so I asked her to look up at the stars. She lifted her head and fixed her wide eyes on the sparkling canvas above.

It took her a minute to take it all in, and then the questions started; magnificent questions driven by the young, pure and inquisitive mind of a three year old.

I don’t know how long we spoke for, but it was beautiful. A father and daughter huddled close amongst friends, cuddling under a vast night canopy and warmed by a fire, repeating a conversation that humans have been having through the millennia.

I sat with her, talking in whispered tones, long into the night, not even moving when she eventually fell asleep on my lap.

It was too perfect, magic, and I didn’t want to move, lest the spell be broken.

And my enduring memory from the night was of my daughters angelic eyes, facing skywards, reflecting the embers of the fire, desperate for knowledge, her mind beginning to tangle with some of life’s imponderables.

And for me it was a deep and profound connection with my little baby, a truly rare moment in the normally frantic rat race of everyday life.

Since that night I have realised that my daughter is growing up fast, and these moments will become less and less.

There will become a time when she will leave my side and stride out into the big wide world on her own. And when that does happen, she won’t know it, but my heart will go with her.

But for this one night, I was able to savour this moment, a primal bonding between father and daughter, a moment so precious and pure that it will stay with me until I die.

This was for me the moment of 2013.

A moment that mattered.

This post has been created for the lovely Mummy’s little Monkey and is part of a competition she is running on her site designed to get people writing about moments from 2013 that mattered to them. If you have read this post, or any of the other posts in the moments that matter series on her site, and feel inspired to contribute your own moment that mattered, then please do. You could even be in the running to win an iPad mini courtesy of those good people at Lloyds www.lloydsbank.com who are doing a sterling job in supporting the blogging community.