Appropriate independence

Rarely do I find myself sitting at my desk with unexpected spare time. It feels great! However, the reason I have a moment to myself is because Moo is fast asleep at completely the wrong time owing to her having her very first high temperature. We’ve been lucky with her and illnesses and ailments thus far really. Other than her heart being scrutinised by the cardiologists for months (my bad. I have the crap heart that they like to muck about with like I’m a frog in a 1970’s Biology class. They just wanted to monitor her in case they had the chance to play with her’s too. All is well though. Phew!) She also had a skin tag by her ear they removed when she was nearly 3 months old – why they waited until then I don’t know! Although I think they probably thought I was pretty weird and out of order when, in the midst of her birth, I actually said the words, “Just cut it off now! She’s screaming in pain anyway…”. Instead they waited until she was much more conscious and we had to go through the ordeal of her being taken into an operating room and placed in the hands of half a dozen, masked, knife-wielding, psychotically cooing strangers. In amongst this Orwellian nightmare she wasn’t even allowed to finish her milk. Rude!

She’s had the occasional snivel. In fact, I think her ability to produce snot is matched in volume only by China’s ability to produce pollution. But no colic, no massive teething problems, no allergies. So this current high temperature has set me all asunder. I find myself enjoying this spare moment but at the same time really worried about her and what it all means. More than likely it’s due to teething (contrary to my earlier statement that we have escaped any problems with that), but I’m just not sure and I feel pretty useless to be honest.

Moo is a very independent young lady. It’s wonderful. She’ll happily walk away from me and spend time with another adult (more so than spend time with another child at the moment. Although she’s recently developed a case of hero worship for my friend’s 5 year old daughter), and she constantly demonstrates an ability and desire to strive to do things on her own. She’s eaten everything by hand since just before 6 months old. I’ve never pureed anything and I’ve probably spoon fed her only a half dozen times – and that was either yoghurt or soup. Perfect for someone as lazy as me. Ooo, apart from I did puree her mash potato last night to see how it turned out in the Magimix. AMAZING by the way. She’s now using a fork to scoop and stab and a spoon to spread yoghurt on the table. She’s always been a self-soother and up until recently her night time wind down routine was: milk, brush teeth, put down in cot, close door, sleep.

I guess some of this may sound enviable? I don’t know. Does it? It’s certainly not easy. Don’t scoff! It isn’t, and I’ll tell you why –

When she’s in distress it’s very hard to calm her down. She doesn’t seem to want too much physical contact at those times so she’ll just sit or stand and scream her little lungs out. Her hands go out to the side and she performs her detuned aria with increasing volume and panic. It’s horrid. I am a particularly cuddly person. Always have been. I love them. It’s hard being a primary carer with a child that doesn’t seem to need or want cuddles. Earlier in her cot, she woke, sat up and started crying. So I went in to calm her. I asked her if she wanted to be picked up – No. I put my hand gently on her shoulder – she shoved it off. I put my hand gently on her back – She wriggled away from me. So I just sat down next to her cot and spoke softly to her until she lent forward and fell back to sleep.

It’s amazing to me that I hadn’t considered before I embarked on this adventure that we’d have to develop our own particular rules about how these things work. I thought it would always be a case of ‘she’s calm if she is in Mummy or Daddy’s arms’. But it isn’t always like that with her. Not at all. It’s such a wonderful demonstration of boundaries and what has to be developed as an appropriate response; and even more so when you consider I’m male and she’s female.

Yes, everything is really quite on her terms and she won’t really be pushed in to doing something she doesn’t want to do. Yes, that can be particularly hard sometimes. I wish I was her comfort blanket more often. BUT. Imagine my pride as a man and father of a girl who is already demonstrating her ability to choose what she wants physically from another person! Plus, when Moo does deem to give me a kiss and a cuddle it is the most breathtaking, heart pounding, life enhancing thing in the world. There is, however, an all too often correlation between her giving me a kiss and the moments when she wants to wipe that torrent of nose pollution on me… Less comfort blanket. More snot rag.

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A very male response

Holidays, eh! Who’d have ’em? We have just got back from a week’s sojourn in Portugal where we were joined by a lovely friend and her ridiculously articulate 2 year old. When I say articulate I don’t just mean a collection of vocabulary. No. This tiny blonde person was able to hold a conversation about anything and more than once corrected my grammar. It was like hanging out with a female Tyrion Lannister. I had to keep reminding myself not to pour her a glass of wine and engage her in conversation of brothels, politics and whether or not she thinks Jon Snow will eventually be the King. (If you don’t know Game of Thrones that really will read as a very odd paragraph).

We came to this place – a friend’s villa who lends it to us annually – last year when Moo was but 3 months old. She slept the whole plane journey both ways. When we got there she lay on her mat in the warm sunshine. She floated around with Daddy in the pool. She napped like a superhero whose superhero powers were to snooze on command (the greatest baby-superpower EVER). This year though was ever so slightly different. She was ‘one of those’ children on the flight over and basically wanted to walk around, enjoy the roller coaster turbulence whilst waving and saying “Bye” and blowing kisses to every passenger as if she was privy to the fact that some terrible airline fate was awaiting them. Her nap skipping stamina was awe inspiring and as for the baby rucksack full of stickers and crayons and exciting things I had prepared – Mmm yeah, ambivalence doesn’t even cut it.

We arrived to a torrent of rain, the likes of which Portugal hasn’t experienced since Noah was nicking two of each of their animals, just as London was being gloriously bathed in sunshine. After swimming to the hire car and Basil Fawlty-ing my way to connecting up the child seat, we made our way, aqua planing towards our destination. The villa roof leaked, the TV blew up, there was no heating and then Moo decided to grow her two biggest teeth suddenly. There were two options open to us – view the whole thing as a catastrophe, or – laugh like we were in the middle of some British Rom Com, open the wine and enjoy the lunacy of it all. However, I took a third option. I made a cake.

There in leads me to the title of this blog: A very male response. Or not, in terms of the cake.

Or is it?

The main thing you can do on holiday when all around you feels as if the sea is reclaiming the land and you are being thrust into an apocalyptic farce, is to sit around the fire and talk. So this we did. And being parents, the three adults naturally began talking about children. In between Moo’s teething screams and self-imposed sleep deprivation, and female Tyrion’s 2 year old’s philosophical musings on the state of the world, we had some mighty chats; probably quite a few blog topics worth; but I’ll try to stick to just one.

After a few glasses of Mateus Rosé it dawned on me how exciting it is to be bringing up a girl into this world. How, really, one of our main jobs is to prepare her for anything, and I mean anything as in ‘a world of possibilities and opportunities’ not as in arming her for pitfalls and dangers. She is entering a time when to be a woman is phenomenal. Powerful. Full of promise and endless chances of success. Where the female identity in the media is being redefined as strong, secure, brave and intelligent. Not where they play second fiddle to their male counterparts. A world where our leaders, champions, pioneers and providers will be women and the confidence and surety she can gain from all this will help underpin her growing character. It is a brave newer world to be a woman in.

I started to question what I would say to my son. The one I don’t have… What I would guide him towards. What I would teach him about being a man and the male place in the world. I found this to be a terrifying question. What is the future of the male psyche?  Where is his place? Being the male equivalent of a feminist is so dangerously close to misogyny and most of the time this lack of a unifying spirit isolates and separates. Understanding a world of burgeoning and developing equality is to understand that they have to unpick the world of their forefathers and reform completely what is their idea of their place in the world.

In general terms I find it hard to champion men because of all the utter bullshit they create daily. I would even go so far as to say that sometimes I hate men. I am bitterly disappointed in them and how they waste and destroy. But I also think they are brilliant and they, we, are trying endlessly to redefine our roles and what it is to be male. Take me for example, ex-ballet dancer who is now a stay at home Dad. A man who loves UFC, motorbikes, baking, cleaning, lifting heavy weights, driving, heavy rock and blues music and helping my wife choose her outfits. A man who loves to throw his daughter in the air, dance a waltz with her, sit in mud with her, brush her hair, cook for her, sing loud rock songs at her, read a story to her, catch her when she falls off a wall and teach her to climb a ladder. Insists she goes down the slide on her own but carry her in one arm for an hour through customs because he doesn’t want to put her in the buggy in case she wakes up and it upsets her. A man whose wife is the breadwinner. Am I masculine or emasculated?

I love being a Dad because it is a new title. A title I can define and shift and redefine at my leisure and this suits me and my natural paradoxical interests and views on life brilliantly. The role of the father has changed, or rather evolved, massively in the last few decades and I believe men are becoming increasingly more interested in how it can be interpreted and adapted to best serve their family. This can only be positive. Every family is different and every family’s needs are different so a steadfast set of rules and obligations for a man to fit into will never suffice. Likewise for the role of the mother. There in lies my resting, calming realisation. To be a man nowadays, to bring up a man, is perhaps to teach him that his role in the world could and possibly should be adaptable and really, his is a world full of promise with every chance of success based on a meritocracy.

Is that a very male response? Is that a female one? I guess everything needs to be a bit of both really.