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

One born every minute

It is actual Fathers Day! And this is the fourth in the series of #fathersdaymonth guest posts. This one is a second post from @dadvsthekids. You can read more from him on his new blog http://www.dadvsthekids.com

It’s a post about childbirth. And I particularly like this post because it is funny. Really funny. But also that there is a great central message here. Kids dont play by the rules. Neither should you. Stick your hands out and get them dirty.

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Hi. I’d like my coat dry-cleaned please. That stain? Yeah, it’s just my wife’s blood. Do you reckon you can you get that all out?”

Okay. Let me back up a bit.

THE KID IS IN MY HANDS WHAT THE HELL DO I DO?!?!?”

Okay. Maybe I need to go back a little bit more. Because if you’re bringing a child into this world, you need to be prepared. But not prepared in the way you think you know right now.

This is the birth of our second child. I got this. I read all the magazines. I diligently attended all the birthing classes. I even managed to get in good with one of the staff on the maternity ward (ok, it was my mother-in-law) and secured a serene, private hospital room to welcome our latest ‘miracle of life’ into the world with the aid of the finest drugs the NHS has to offer. NAILED IT.

From the Dad’s point of view, as long as you’ve picked up the TENS machine, remembered the overnight bag, your ONLY job in the delivery room is to hold your wife’s hand, offering appropriate, positive commendation whilst resisting the temptation to take a hit of the gas and air whilst the midwife’s back is turned.

We’d been through this already with child no.1 – I knew the drill. I knew my place. So when the contractions started that summer afternoon in 2006, it was like the Rocky theme tune was playing in my head all over again. All those months of training has led to this.

 Mrs DvK calls her parents and we arrange to drop off our firstborn. Because who wants to traumatise a 2yr old child with shrieking contractions and profanities, right?

“Yep,” she breathes into her phone through the mild contractions. “We’ll drop him off to you Mum, and then we’ll go home and collect my stuff before meeting you at the hospital. The contractions aren’t too bad, so we should have plenty of time.” I make a mental note to pack myself extra magazines and maybe a Mars Bar.

An hour later, we’re back at home. Mrs DvK is on the sofa, wrapped up in the TENS machine, timing the contractions whilst I make the last few phone calls to friends and family.

Informing the maternity ward of our imminent arrival, I try my best to sound confident and jovial. Don’t be fooled – judging the window between “should we go in now” and “I can’t believe that moody cow sent us back home” is another rite of passage for all paranoid new parents. If you don’t sound convinced, then they won’t be.

“Did you call the midwife?”

“Yes hun”

“Did you put my slippers in the bag?”

“Yep.”

“Have you put the car seat in?”

“It’s done.”

“Did you pack the baby vests?”

“Yes….”

“The green ones and the white ones?”

“YES.”

Apparently no one cares if I packed my Mars Bars, but whatever. I take charge of the conversation. “Right, I’ll get everything in the car.” I slip my hands into my coat, help Mrs DvK up from the sofa and march ahead for the front door. “Let’s go!”

The first scream of pain hits me with brute force. I’m not supposed to hear that until we’re in the delivery room am I?

I turn around and for the first time, I see paralysing fear in my wife’s eyes. By the Power of Greyskull: THE LITTLE GIT IS COMING NOW.

NINE. NINE. NINE.

“I can’t move! I can’t move! I have to push!” she screams. The sheer ferocity of the contraction is too much and Mrs DvK, in a hysterical panic starts to remove her clothes.

“NOOO! Not in the living room on the carpet!” My cry falls on deaf ears. But Mother Nature has taken over and gravity is the first to say hello. With one push, her waters break, spilling out onto the floor.

Imagine what you’ve seen in light-hearted romantic comedies and hilarious TV sit-coms.  But without the canned laughter. Nobody is laughing now. It’s EVERYWHERE.

“WIFE IN LABOUR! BABY COMING! SEND AMBULANCE!” My adrenalin fuelled stuttering to the 999 operator reveals I am way in over my head. This is uncharted territory.

My wife and I are alone, with no medical professional, no drugs, and no way out. There isn’t an app for this. Mrs DvK is about to endure childbirth cave-man style, and I didn’t even get to start thumbing through my fresh copy of GQ. Typical.

Despite all the odds, she’s still on her feet. Everything is a blur. The second push is more dramatic than the first.

And then it happens.

I can see my son’s head.

My stupid brain frantically tries to recall anything from the birthing lessons that can help in this situation. Nope.

One thing I can guarantee, new Dads: Time will slow down when you see your child for the first time. I don’t remember the exact moment I dropped the phone and extended my hands to catch my son. That primal need to protect him at all costs is something that you can never fully put into words. This tiny child is fighting for survival from his first breath and he’s relying on you to step up.

The umbilical cord is still wrapped around his neck. But he’s crying. That’s a good thing right? “Yes, yes that’s a good thing you idiot”, I think to myself, “that means he’s breathing.” Unwrap the cord dammit, unwrap the cord.

Mrs DvK finally crumples to the floor in a shock, tired heap. I remember I’m still on the phone to the 999 operator. “THE KID IS IN MY HANDS WHAT THE HELL DO I DO?!?!?”

“Get blankets. Keep them comfortable. Another midwife and an ambulance are on their way sir.” The reassuring tone of the disembodied voice make me think this is definitely a more regular occurrence than I’ve been led to believe. Did she just call me Sir?

Your child will shock and surprise you from the second they are born. Just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they’ll blindside you with an emotional uppercut and you’ll be left wondering why you weren’t prepared and begin to doubt your ability to keep another human being alive.

To those who have such trepidation, I say USE that. Use that fear to fuel that primal maternal/paternal bond, not shy away from it.

The books and the classes and the well-meaning (but sometimes conflicting) advice from family and friends have their place.

But you’ll be surprised what you’re prepared to do for your child when you use them as the measuring rod of your success as a parent, not the photo-shopped magazine version we all find ourselves aspiring to.

If catching my son mid-delivery taught me anything, it’s that kids don’t play by the rules. And neither should you. Stick your hands out and get them dirty.

The real professionals arrive less than 10 minutes after the delivery and do their thing.

Actually, one of the ambulance paramedics, built like brick house, and who’s probably seen more than his fair share of multiple car pile-ups, confesses he is squeamish at the sight of women giving birth. Outstanding.

He offers to make himself useful by putting the kettle on and making the bed. 

Mother and baby are eventually given the all clear by the midwife and within an hour they’ve gone, and our new son is already asleep.

Aside from the stream of text messaging well-wishers, the eerie quiet is a stark and bemusing contrast to the heart-stopping moments that preceded it.

I look at my blood-covered watch. It’s nearly 8:30pm.

“Fancy catching the last few minutes of Eastenders?”

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This was originally a guest post for @ministryofmum. Go check out her superb blog at www.ministryofmum.blogspot.co.uk

 

The day it all began (for me at least); a man’s view of childbirth

Unlike many fathers, I couldn’t connect with the growing baby in my wife’s stomach. It was only on the day that my daughter arrived that I actually began to feel like a father. And up until that point I thought that I had experienced most of what life could throw at me. How wrong I was. It was perhaps the strength of the emotional reaction to becoming a father that shocked me the most.

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Just over three years ago, I remember leaving to go on a six week, round-the-world business trip, about ten weeks before our due date.

Up until that point I had watched with fascination and joy at the changing shape of my wife, and the blooming of pregnancy as she turned from lady to woman in front of my eyes.

Unlike many fathers however I couldn’t connect with the baby growing in my wife’s womb. I didn’t sing to the bump, or read stories to it like many of my friends or peers.

However as I was leaving the house to go to the airport something compelled me to kneel down and take my wife’s stomach in my hands and say, half jokingly,

“Please don’t come out until you hear my voice again”.

I knew I was taking a risk going on a trip like this so near to the birth, but we figured the four week buffer zone was adequate.

How funny then, that the morning that I got back from the trip, totally and utterly exhausted, and was just making my way upstairs to bed, that my daughter should decide that THIS was the moment to announce her arrival on planet earth.

I remember it clearly. I was walking up the stairs. The doorbell went. It was my wife. She had come back from work. It was her last day before maternity leave. She made it as far as the office doors and her waters had broken.

And there she was, standing on the door mat looking slightly confused, a little scared, but glowing like nothing I have seen before.

The funniest thing about this moment was what she said. Here she was, standing on the cusp of the most deeply profound moment of her life, the transition from girl to woman, about to enter the exalted realm of motherhood and the first thing she said was

“My waters have broken. My boots are RUINED.”

That, right there, is why I fell in love with her all those years ago. Pragmatic, unflappable, utterly loveable, even in the face of adversity.

We made it to the hospital. It was technically a premature birth, my daughter was coming four weeks early. My wife was immediately wired up. Our birthing plan was rendered redundant.

It is hard to describe the emotion of watching child birth. It is a process like no other; nature’s nine month drum solo, reaching a glorious, crashing climax. I felt at once utterly petrified, but at the same time strangely calm and reassured, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

As the father I was out of control of the situation. My role was very much as support cast. I watched it unfold in front of me, offering reassuring words, helping ease the pain and discomfort, but ultimately folding in front of the power, grace and determination of my wife in her quest to provide life to another being.

She was amazing. Even towards the end, when the drum roll quickened to a frenzied crescendo and the room was filled with unfamiliar sounds, noises and smells. The rhythm had steadily built for nine months purely for this moment.

When she finally pushed my daughter out, she let out a scream of pain, relief and joy. My daughter slipped out, bruised purple, covered from head to toe in white vernix. For me, this was the most amazing moment in my life. A powerful cocktail of extreme jet lag, fatigue, relief and emotion rocked me like nothing before.

It was a heady blast of utter joy and relief, like the ultimate orgasm. I couldn’t stop my tears and frankly I didn’t want to, as these were the warm, tingling tears of joy. I relished every one.

The whole process had tapped into an emotional pool as old as life itself, a primal, animalistic response to the miracle of childbirth and the continued success of the species.

Being in the room for the birth was an utter privilege. I saw my wife control and master extreme pain, (without drugs). I saw my wife use every ounce of energy, strain every sinew to deliver a miracle. I saw my wife become a woman. This in itself was a beautiful thing. It created another profound connection between us, and raised the bar in our relationship.

And then there was that feeling. After the sound of the drums had faded away, and the rawness of the delivery had passed, we were on our own. Just the three of us.

We lay in a warm delivery suite, the lights faded low, the soothing sounds of the hospital faintly discernible around us and the feel-good endorphins surging around our bodies. Everything calm but heightened, like the night air after a crackling electrical storm.

And I was euphoric that my daughter had waited until I got back, before emerging into the world, because I wouldn’t have missed the birth for anything.

As I was holding my daughter close to my chest, she looked up at me, and held me with a look that only newborns can give. It was a look that went straight into my soul and took my breath away. It was a look of profound vulnerability and unconditional trust.

And it was then, right at that moment, that I felt the connection. A powerful and unconditional urge to protect, provide and nurture. An urge I had never felt before. Nature’s way of ensuring the species continues. And it was then that I knew I had taken on the most important responsibility of all.

I had become a father.

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This original post appeared first on the Daddy Cool Project website (http://www.daddycoolproject.org.uk/). I am currently blogging for them. The Daddy Cool Project (DCP) is a London-based voluntary organisation that aims to highlight the importance and positive impact of fathers and male-role models living and working in today’s society. Go check them out.

NEVER let the total amount of toddlers outnumber the total amount of parents (and other truths about fatherhood)

I am three years and two toddlers into Fatherhood. I somehow made it this far, but in case I don’t make it any further, I thought it was time to document and share this tongue-in-cheek list of truisms from my experience of being a father. So here you go, these are my 40 truths about fatherhood.

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Out and about

  1. When out pushing a pram you are giving legitimate and unconditional permission for complete strangers to come and talk to you.
  2. The MORE opinionated the stranger, the LESS children they have.
  3. SOME strangers can be hot, single, childless women.
  4. Despite what the received wisdom suggests, hot, single childless women often have the “BEST” advice for bringing up babies and toddlers.
  5. Society blindly trusts a man with a pram, despite the fact that the man might be a child-stealing pram thief.

At the park

  1. At any play park, there is ALWAYS one piece of badly designed equipment that is a toddler death trap.
  2. It is GUARANTEED that toddlers will always choose to play (for hours) on the one piece of equipment in the play park that is a toddler death trap.
  3. If there is dog poo, sharp glass, poisonous substances or hypodermic needles lying on the ground, a toddler will IMMEDIATELY find it, touch it, eat it / shoot up with it.

Car journeys

  1. Any trip that involves more than four toddler insertions / withdrawals from a car seat in a twelve hour period should NOT be taken.
  2. DONT argue with the sat-nav lady. Shouting at an automated voice robot is not a good example to set your children. Save that for your wife instead.
  3. “Are we nearly there yet?” is a legitimate question that can be asked at any point on the journey, including even before the journey has started.

Alcohol

  1. If you do decide to treat yourself to a few beers / glasses of wine of an evening that will be the night that your baby / toddler subsequently decides to wake up screaming every 45 minutes.
  2. Never fly solo on a hangover with two toddlers. EVER.

Work

  1. Toddlers will wait for your important meeting / job interview / wedding / long awaited holiday before going down with extreme diarrhoea and vomiting.
  2. Pink-glitter-in-the-beard is NOT currently an on-trend office style.
  3. NEITHER is the hello-kitty-sticker-on-butt look.

Food

  1. Although tempting, when out in a restaurant with your toddler NEVER shout “Seal the exits and set up a perimeter!”
  2. NEVER believe a toddler, especially when it comes to food. If they demand chicken, give them pork. They would have changed their mind anyway.
  3. A toddler ALWAYS waits for you to sit down at the dinner table before pointing out that you have forgotten something.
  4. When your toddler is screaming with hunger, you will ALWAYS overheat the meal.
  5. Yoghurt is toddler crack cocaine. NEVER run out. CULTIVATE a reliable dealer. ENSURE constant supply lines.

Changing nappies

  1. The parent HOLDING the baby / toddler when it has a poo is responsible for changing the nappy.
  2. If the baby / toddler is on the floor at the time of the poo, the nappy change becomes the responsibility of the NEAREST available parent.
  3. For obvious reasons ALWAYS wait for a baby or toddler to finish coughing or sneezing before changing their nappy.

Toys

  1. Regardless of the quality and amount of toys you purchase, it is GUARANTEED that at some point your toddlers favourite toy will be one, or all, of the following; a) an empty shampoo bottle b) a cardboard box c) a toilet roll d) food scraps from the floor e) dead flies and spiders.
  2. The more an adult hates a particular toy, the more a toddler will play with it.

Television

  1. Television should only be used as a LAST RESORT option to placate a melting-down toddler.
  2. The last resort is often the only resort.

Around the house

  1. Houses without stair gates are both liberating and petrifying.
  2. Football shin and knee pads ARE acceptable accessories for adults in stair-gated houses.
  3. 98% of carpet surface area in a house containing a three year old toddler is held together by stale milk, faeces, teething drool and nose bogies. FACT
  4. NEVER follow the five second rule (see 31 above)
  5. Child services FROWN on the concept of using a padlocked broom cupboard as a children’s “play area”

Birthday parties

  1. More parental love, care and attention goes into creating a toddlers birthday cake than actually into looking after the toddler.
  2. Male adults who say they are enjoying a toddlers birthday party are either a) drunk b) insane c) gate-crashers d) from the bouncy castle hire company

Communication

  1. It is perfectly acceptable and normal for a toddler to shout “I WANT TO GO OUTSIDE” and “I WANT TO GO INSIDE” in the same sentence.
  2. NEVER bank on your toddler keeping a secret. One of their primary life objectives is to bust their fathers as often, publicly and as awkwardly as possible.
  3. Toddlers are ALWAYS listening. They KNOW more than you think.
  4. Head butting a wall is an acceptable toddler method for expressing mild displeasure.
  5. You will spend the first two years looking forward to hearing your baby’s inner voice, and the next sixteen trying to SILENCE it.

And finally, the one GOLDEN universal rule applicable to all events and circumstances

NEVER let the total amount of toddlers outnumber the total amount of parents.

I would love to hear what you have learnt about being a father / mother and what universal rules you have learned from your experience.

Birthdays aren’t always about the kids; A blog post celebrating the celebrity of The Birthday Cake.

Kids birthday’s are a riot of colour, noise and fun, with the primary objective of giving the celebrating child a day to remember. But birthdays aren’t just about the kids. There is sometimes a quieter celebrity which often threatens to steal the show. The celebrity of The Birthday Cake.

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I have long forgotten how to celebrate my own birthday properly, usually perfectly content to let the event slip silently out of sight (as long as a little bit of a fuss is made for the zero ending birthdays).

So since becoming a father I have had to re-train myself to acknowledge the birthday as a key event in my children’s lives, and to re-engage in the ceremony of birthday for the benefit of my children.

As a result I have spent what seems like most weekends for the last 12 months or so, attending these wonderfully intense little explosions of colour, noise and vibrancy as child after child passes yet another milestone mark in their lives. And toddlers birthday parties are a sight to behold, populated by clumsy, wobbly zombies, each one vibrating with the raw energy of life itself; too young to really know what is going on, but old enough to know that a bouncy castle + balloons + friends + sticky cakes = best time EVER!

And the more birthdays I have attended, the more I have observed that there is a fundamental competition going on behind the scenes. Which parents can hire the best hall? Which parents can get the best bouncy castles? Which parents can get the best entertainment?

But it appears that the one factor that trumps everything else is the food. For my circle of friends at least, the more homemade, the more organic, the more wholesome the food, the better. For example a hand knitted flapjack using fairly traded sugar and Goji berries from an indigenous tribe cooperative in Latin America would score you BIG parent points.

But the thing that really trumps everything else is The Birthday Cake. Ah yes. The Birthday Cake. The ultimate symbol of the Super Parents. The Birthday Cake. The thing that shouts “Look at us. We have given birth AND we can bake. We are multi-tasking, home-baking, sustenance-providing SUPER PARENTS”

Ever since I became a father, my Facebook and Twitter timelines have become chock FULL of my friends pictures of their children’s Birthday Cakes (ironically, with not a child in sight). Some of these cakes are so utterly magnificent that the creators’ children probably didn’t eat for days whilst they were painstakingly crafting them.

And while my wife and I have largely resisted the lure of The Birthday Cake for my daughters first and second birthdays, I could see all this changing for my daughters recent third birthday.

It was a Saturday afternoon, about two months before the birthday. My wife asked my daughter if she would like a birthday cake. A perfectly reasonable question you might think, but let’s unpack it a little bit. My daughter was approaching her third birthday. Her opinions and views of the world are not yet fixed. Given that this question was her first introduction to the dialogue about birthdays, it is now likely that her view of birthday’s evermore will be first and foremost defined by the presence or otherwise of The Birthday Cake.

And in addition, it wasn’t just the question that was asked, it was the way it was asked. A glint in the eye, a conspiratorial whisper in the voice and a subliminal and very slight nodding of the head as the question was delivered. I realised my wife was, consciously or not, making it impossible for my daughter to say “no” to this question.

Naturally my daughter picked up on all the cues and gleefully replied “yes”. And that was it. Two months of discussing the party once the kids were in bed followed, with The Birthday Cake taking centre stage.

At one point, when I felt the party was in danger of mushrooming into a vast logistical and administrative undertaking that we would need an army of volunteers to help deliver, I suggested that we buy a cake from the local Posh Cake Shop to reduce the burden on the family. The frown and withering stare I received in return was enough for me to understand that what I was saying was tantamount to adultery and betrayal. I filed that suggestion into the mental box in my brain marked “Pandora” – along with the recent suggestion that we turn the kids sandpit into a raised bed for my carrots – and tried to change the subject to a safer, more mundane conversation, about balloons or something.

However, the worst thing about all this was that we decided to do a joint birthday with some of our best friends. This would mean there would be not one, but TWO cakes. And those cakes would be IN COMPETITION!

And sure enough the cake was an ongoing topic of conversation between the two matriarchs in the run up to the party. Some nights my wife would come off the phone from her friend, frustrated and grumbling about an added twist her friend had added to embellish her cake, walking off cursing into the kitchen to find something that could be added to our cake to fortify it.

As the party approached the conversations between the two women literally turned to sledging each other over their cakes. I got an insight into how men must appear when we do that blokey, sledgehammer, put down thing i.e. great fun for those of you in the middle of the banter, but extremely uncomfortable viewing for those watching and not quite sure of the rules.

Then came the day of the party. For my daughter, the party was all about bouncy castles, her friends, balloons and hilariously bad dancing to Katy Perry (can it be torture if they appear to enjoy it?). But for all the adults, underneath all this superficial colour, happiness and noise, was the underlying tension of the two cakes being pitted against each other; two houses going head to head in a glorious cake-off. The battle for cake supremacy had begun.

Someone dimmed the lights. I don’t know who. It didn’t matter. A hush descended on the room. Everyone turned to face the glow of candle light coming around the corner. The hilltop fires had been lit! The Birthday Cakes were here! CAKES!! INCOMING!!!

I must confess, while I had been, up until this point, less preoccupied by the quality of the cakes and more concerned about the survival of my CD collection (which was being frisbeed around the room), I was by now desperate for our cake to be beautiful; to be the show stopper; to resemble everything you might find in a Posh Cake Shop, and – with the benefit of the infinite love of a mother poured into it – much, much more.

The first cake arrived to a collective gasp; a deep, dark dense chocolate cake with elaborate bursts of coloured icing, crackling like fireworks against a midnight sky. The cake-makers face was lit up by the candles, a portrait of happiness and pride.

Then came our cake. More gasps of appreciation. And I was amazed! This was a lighter, pink affair over two tiers, each lovingly adorned with beautiful, delicate thin wafer flowers and studded with pink and white chocolate buttons.

And ff this cake had been a car, it would have been a pink Lamborghini. It would have come screeching into the room, exhaust throttling, tyres burning, a perfect hand brake turn at the end for the adoring crowds. It was a stunning, prancing horse of a cake.

The candles on the cake lit up my wife’s face, a pink halo burning above her head. My daughters face also lit up. She tilted her head down, beamed a beam as wide as an ocean trench and clapped her little hands together three times. Her shoulders bobbed up and down with excitement and she was squealing with joy. A burst of pride spread across my chest.

And my goodness, it tasted amazing. Admittedly it was helped by the TWO packs of butter that were helping to hold it together, but raised cholesterol levels aside, this was a job well and truly done.

So there it was, two months in the planning for both families, demolished in seconds by a hungry and appreciative audience. And it dawned on me. As the cakes were being brought through and all eyes were trained on them – flashbulbs popping and the crowds parting to let the sugary sweet VIPs through – that birthday parties are without doubt primarily about the children; but that the cakes take a certain celebrity too.

And on this occasion it was the mothers that had embraced this celebrity and gone head-to-head, two matriarch lionesses on the Serengeti savannah, circling each other, measuring each other up; each cake cub crying for attention, a symbol of life, creation and nurture. A symbol of pride, dedication and selfless giving, all wrapped up in a sugary-pink icing casing.

And as the chaos died down I decided that next year I am going to get involved. And it’s going to get serious. I have decided the cake will have turrets and minaret’s, delicately sculpted in an Arabic style. And there will be marshmallows and Lindt chocolate. And Spiderman and Winnie the Witch will be involved. And I will take photos of it, and post them on any social media site that will have me.

Oh yes.

It’s cake war.

What I learnt the night I thought my daughter was dying

Being a parent has taught me that I can cope with my own mortality; but the thought of my child’s mortality fills me with a fear that is as deep and primal as life itself. This is what I learnt from the night when I felt the bottom was falling out of my world.

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Late one night, walking up the stairs to carry out my late night baby check, I heard the grinding, grumbling noises of a boiler on its last legs. Or so I thought.

I pushed open the bedroom door and it was then that I immediately realised something wasn’t right. The noises were not coming from a faulty boiler; they were lower sounds, more guttural, almost animal. And there was another sound too, one that I had not heard before. It was a writhing, flapping, beating sound.

I rounded the door and looked to the cot. Where my peaceful, calm, tranquil sleeping baby should have been lying fast asleep, was instead a wide eyed, rigid child, rattling with violent tremors, foaming at the mouth. The noises hadn’t been coming from the boiler. They were coming from my child.

A pulse of shock went through my body. A knot of tension surged across my chest. I felt sick in the pit of my stomach.

Time stood still. A second wave of shock came over me. I went over to her cot and tried to talk to her, tried to engage her, to see my baby, to engage and soothe and calm. But her eyes were wide open, fixed in a horrific stare – dark pools, soulless, like the haunted, cold eyes of a shark. The shaking was getting worse and I noticed that she was soaking wet, and lying on sodden bed linen. I touched her, tried to get her out of the cot, but she was wooden, rigid, plank like and it proved a struggle. And she was burning up, a fever so hot to the touch, literally dripping with her own sweat, her hair plastered across her forehead. All the time a low grunting and growling was emanating from deep inside her.

I had only ever seen something like this in a horror film. I wondered if I was in a nightmare. I thought she was having a fit, maybe worse. I had no idea what to do. I tried to take her clothing off, trying to get some air to her. With the shaking it was impossible. I laid her on the floor, put her on her side in the recovery position, and shouted to my wife to come in. My wife heard the tone in my voice and came running through. She came straight over and let out a small cry.

By now the shaking had stopped and something worse had happened. My daughter’s body had gone limp and her eyes were shut. The horrific grunting had stopped. I held her face and tried to talk to her, my voice increasingly growing desperate, louder, frightened. But she was limp and floppy and quiet, her eyes closed to the world. She lay motionless. I couldn’t hear her breathing. I scooped her off the floor and ran through into our bedroom, laying her on the bed. I tried to find signs of life. I felt sick, truly sick. This could not be happening.

Then panic. “Wake up Asha! WAKE UP!!” But she didn’t. She couldn’t. The prickle of horror spread up my neck and behind my ears. My heart was racing.

But wait! There it was! There! I could hear breathing through her nose! She was breathing. We quickly established a pulse too. But she was unconscious and still burning up. 

My wife called an ambulance. We live near a hospital and they were with us within 5 minutes. They were amazing. In the back of the ambulance, after a few tests and listening to the answers to a couple of well chosen questions, they told us she was probably having a febrile convulsion. My jaw dropped. This did not sound good.

They must have seen the look of horror and confusion on our faces so they quickly told us it was incredibly common. They told us it was not dangerous. They told us it was probably nothing to worry about. Each statement was like a kiss from a lover. Each statement dispersed the clouds and bought the sunshine streaming in. Each statement lifted the darkness on my soul.

Anyone who is a parent, and has been in a drama like this, will know how reassuring it is to hear these words coming from qualified professionals. And you will also know too the feeling that accompanies words like this, words of hope. It feels like a part of your life is returning. You begin to feel complete again. The dark fog and the mist lifts and you feel strangely euphoric.

In the hospital they ran tests. Our daughter lay in a deep sleep for hours afterwards. Despite being reassured by those around us, and the fact we were in a hospital and being looked after extremely well, it was frightening as she could not be woken and was silent, immovable.

I just wanted my baby to wake up. I wanted to look into her big eyes and see the light return, the glimmer, the sparkle, the glint of mischief. I wanted to see her dimples again, and hear her chuckle. I wanted to erase the memory of the staring, dead eyes and the body wracked with convulsions. I never wanted to feel like that again – powerless, impotent, scared to death. I wanted my daughter back.

Eventually she stirred, let out a little cry, rubbed her eyes and sat up. She looked pale, drawn, white as a ghost, shattered, but she was awake, alive. She looked surprised at her surroundings and I reached across to her. The corners of her mouth turned upwards into a little grin and her eyes sparkled. She held her arms out. I went in for the biggest hug ever. I squeezed her tight, and allowed her gorgeous curls to tickle the side of my face. I cried tears of relief. I didn’t want to let her go.

In the morning we were discharged. We learnt that my daughter had had a virus which had caused a sharp spike in her temperature. This had triggered the febrile convulsion. We were told it was likely to happen again, and that while it was not serious, we should call the doctors or an ambulance for peace of mind.

She has had tests since which confirmed the diagnosis and only one convulsion since. It was equally scary, but this time we were prepared. She has been clear now for close to a year. Apparently children generally grow out of them, there is no lasting damage and they are relatively harmless.

I learnt that night to be very grateful for the NHS, the excellent staff who reassured us, the speed with which an ambulance was with us and for their overall care and commitment. I am lucky to be living in a country where this kind of service is still free.

And being a parent has taught me that I can cope with my own mortality, but that the thought of my child’s mortality fills me with a fear that is as deep and primal as life itself. This is a feeling that is so powerful, a feeling the strength of which I never thought possible until I became a parent. There are no words to describe it. Life is so transient, so temporary; we never know what is waiting around the corner. Having children has really taught me to live for the moment, embrace every second because life moves so quickly and I don’t believe in regrets.

I knew when I became a parent that it was going to be a challenge. But I had no idea that being a parent could so profoundly rattle my soul; I had no idea that being a parent could result in such unbelievable highs and such unfathomable lows; I had no idea that being a parent could give me such a incredbible reason to live; And I had no idea that being a parent would stretch me in every fibre of my being to be a better person.

And the thing about being a parent is this. My emotional capacity has grown exponentially. My capacity to love has become infinite and unconditional. And my emotions are, on a daily basis, polarised to such extremes. My children have taught me to fear; a fear so profound and primal that it cuts in such a way that I have never experienced, not even when I have been in situations where I have been fearful of my own life. And conversely my children have taught me to love; a deep profound love; a glorious love that can cut through the darkness and gloom; a love that can send a crackling pulse of energy so strong, that it feels like it could push back the tentacles of Death itself. This is what I learnt the night I thought my daugther was dying.

 

I’m travelling abroad for work, without my children – is it OK to be feeling this happy?

New parents are often subject to extremely powerful and often contradictory new emotions. The surge in hormones, the all conquering nurturing instinct, buckets of adrenalin and potent endorphins all combine to create a heady soup of emotional upheaval. Perhaps the biggest struggle I have faced as a new parent is dealing with the overwhelming urge to love, protect and die for my little crazies at the same time as trying to reconcile the daily, often hourly, desire to get as far away from the little buggers as possible. This blog is dedicated to that struggle.

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I have been away with work a couple of times since my daughter was born in 2010. Each time I found it really difficult. I took photos and videos of her on my trip and tried a few Skype link ups each time I was away. I found it hard though, particularly the Skype link ups. I found I just wanted to be there with her, bury my face in her soft curls, smell the sweet, earthy fragrance of her skin, give her a big bear hug and watch her face light up with those gorgeous little dimples.

And it is often late at night when it is the hardest, when I am sitting on my own in some desperate hotel room. It is at these times that I often find myself wondering what on earth I am doing. Becoming a parent has bought it into stark relief for me that the most important job in the world is not negotiating a new contract; it is not convincing your manager that a particular idea is worth investing in; it is not presenting data and statistics on company and staff performance; it’s not budgeting and it’s certainly not reporting. It’s none of this.

The most important job in the world for me is being there for my babies, to nurture, steer and guide; to be a stable and reassuring presence in a turbulent world; to be that person to calm the tantrums; to be that person to cuddle and reassure; to be one of only a few people in the whole world, that they can trust and rely on, and who they know will love them back, unconditionally. My company can get rid of me tomorrow, and I will likely be forgotten in a couple of years. But my family will know me to my grave and will remember me perhaps even beyond. I am working, whether consciously or not, towards creating a lasting legacy and footprint way beyond my brief physical time on this planet. This is a sobering thought and one which helps to put parenting, and its importance, into perspective.

And so there it is, those late night pangs of guilt. Yes, I know that by going on this trip I am providing an income for the family, and yes I know I am securing a roof over their heads and yes I also know I am helping to invest in their futures. But the one inescapable truth is that I am not there for them AT THAT VERY MOMENT. And for babies and toddlers it is all about the here and NOW. And when they are young they are changing all the time, and a week in their world is equivalent to 3 months in ours. One of the worst emails I ever received was during one of these trips when my daughter first became mobile. The email was from my wife. It simply said

Emily has just started ROLLING! I put her down in the bathroom, and before I knew it she had rolled all the way down the hallway! She was grinning all the way! Thought you would like to know that xx”

Now this may seem a stupid thing to get emotional over (it’s not even walking!), but reading that, in my lonely hotel room, made the tears flow. Here I was, stuck in some stupid meeting about company performance, and I had missed the moment my daughter had become mobile, my own beautiful little rolling pin! And I could imagine her little curls and dimples, tumbling over and over, gleeful at discovering this new found trick, her very first experiment with personal freedom. And I was not there to pick her up, give her a hug and tell her how brilliant she was.

And this is all true. And I love my daughter (and now son too) beyond words, both when I am away from them, but also (more so) when I am with them.

But here is the thing. There are also days when I would happily sell my children on eBay to the highest bidder. This is because they are EXTREMELY HARD WORK. Children mean the relinquishing of your own life and needs, they mean endless nappy changes, petty squabbles, change mat fights, noise, clutter, sickness, trips to the hospital, chaotic dinner times, stressful bed times and mess. And that’s not to mention the tantrums, the sleep deprivation, the teething, the colic, the screaming, the horror, THE HORROR!

In all of my adult life – a life that has at times seen me negotiating with warlords, armed rebel groups and government staff in different countries, working in disaster affected communities in some of the poorest places in the world, managing mass redundancies, disciplinary processes and fraud cases – I have never walked out of a room because a conversation is proving too difficult. Since having children however I have had to walk out of the room twice because I could feel the anger and stress surge up like a fountain. Children are programmed to be parasitic, selfish and utterly self absorbed. They have to be, otherwise they would not survive. But boy this is a drain, particularly if you have two (or more) of the little horrors and you, yourself are also having a bad day.

So in this context, trips away can take on a new, happy meaning for me. A break from the chaos, SLEEP, the return of my own personal space, MORE SLEEP, running to my own rhythm, adult conversations, the ability to just pop out somewhere, go for breakfast / lunch / dinner without having to apologise for re-painting the walls a shade of bolognaise red, EVEN MORE SLEEP and the ability to move between places without having assorted children hanging off my trouser legs – heck I could even go for a pint and READ A NEWSPAPER!

And even writing this above paragraph is starting to make me excited. In a few weeks, I will get all of this. I will be on a plane to a foreign country. Just me. No one else. And by the time the plane takes off, I will be half way through a newspaper, headphones on. The return of my personal freedom, the return of choice, the return of good old selfish me. And this is where the irreconcilable contradiction begins.

I know that during those late night work sessions, stuck in my lonely hotel room, I will be eaten up by that burden of guilt, knowing that my real job is thousands of miles away. I know that I will feel that lump in my throat as I look at photos of my children. But I also know that I will feel euphoric as I wake up after 8 solid hours of uninterrupted sleep. I will shed tears as I play THAT video of my son waddling like a fat duck, pushing his buggy, cackling like a demon as he discovers his own personal freedom. But I will flourish in the luxury of a bar meal and adult company and conversation. And I will feel pain that I can’t be with my children for the 7pm post dinner evening disco that we all love. But I will relish in leisurely breakfasts, which someone else has cooked and will have to wash up. And I will miss the morning cuddles, giggles and rough housing in bed with my kids that set the day up so perfectly. But I will embrace the silence, the space and the mindfulness as I walk on my own around unfamiliar neighbourhoods. 

The only way I can begin to try and reconcile all of this is to accept that it is perfectly natural to be excited about a few days away. And that I should be proud that I will be really sad to be away from my kids, because it means that I am an involved father, and that in turn means that when I am with them, I am 100% all guns blazing with them. 

And the thing I am going to revel in, the moment those doors close and the aeroplane is cleared for take-off, is that I can be me again. Just me. And that makes me happy. But the thing I can look forward to the most is getting home again, walking up the drive and turning the key in the lock. From there I will hear a squeal of delight and the pad-pad of running feet. It will be my daughter, she is older and quicker, and she will round the corner, out of control of her legs, a morass of smiles, curls and dimples, and she will crash into me, like a wave breaking over rocks. She will give me one of her lovely knee-high sticky hugs and will hold on for dear life.

And then, crawling as fast as his little body will allow, will come my little man, head down, hands slapping on the floor with each move, determined not to be left out, big gummy grin, arms outstretched imploring to be picked up for a cuddle. There will be screeches of excitement and a cacophony of noise as each child competes for the air space to report back, in their own unique way, on EVERYTHING they have done and seen and heard since I was away. And my wife will be stood behind this human tide, arms folded, content to patiently wait her turn. And I know she will be thinking that now there are two pairs of hands and her mood will lift and a weary smile will break upon her beautiful face. And imagining that scene, and that moment of utter perfection, brings me a happiness beyond words.