Word to ya mother

Yeah it’s Moo and me but there’s also a hugely important other part to this equation. To this family unit. To our little team among all the other teams in London. I’m talking of course about our two dachshunds… No, only joking. I’m talking about Moo’s Mummy. However, let me start by talking about me though, ‘cos I’m good at that:

I’m a full time Dad. Well yes. You know that. Hence the blog. But the question I get asked most is, “was becoming one a big adjustment?” Of course it was. I now spend most of my days being dictated to by someone who sounds like a cross between a whale and Manuel from Fawlty Towers; and if I’m not picking up dog poo then I’m wrestling with Moo doing her best Kill Bill impression as I try and change her nappy. Mmmmm delicious.

Now I can go whole days hardly seeing, let alone speaking to another adult. Couple that with Moo having one of her, ‘naps are for dick heads’ moments and so, spending the whole day grizzling like a losing contestant on X Factor, well it’s a lonely, lonely time. Interestingly I often get dads saying they are quite envious of my set up. I get it. I really do. The good times (and there are many) are exquisite. Funny. Inspiring. Just plain silly. Seeing so much of your child. Just so lucky! But the hard times, and there are many of those too, are really, really hard. Harder than anything I’ve done before and I’ve had to wear a jockstrap, tights and makeup for a living, so there. Sometimes Moo is the only person I see and I feel like I am the last person in the world she wants to see. I see Mums looking at us in the park and my paranoia takes me to, ‘oh that poor girl crying. She needs her Mum’.

Yes she does. And her Mum needs her. I can’t imagine how hard it is for my wife to deal with this set up and her adjustment to it must have been incredibly tough. 9 months (well 18 if you count the time she was cooking in her tummy) and they hardly left each others side then, thwack. Mum and daughter are apart and my wife is head first back into a corporate world dealing with things that I have no concept of. Is it easier for a Dad to go back to work? I dunno. I haven’t done it. All I know is it must kill my wife to miss bed and bath time so much and there I am, checking my watch, wondering how long it will be until I can crack open a bottle of wine. Then we come to the task of getting through the ‘only Dad will do phase’ and my wife must come home with a very heavy heart indeed.

But know this Moo’s Mum. When you come home and your daughter is sitting with me in the back room and she hears the front door, the look on her face is one of pure joy and excitement. At no other time is she that happy. It’s beautiful. She doesn’t help matters by then being a bit grumpy with you, I know. But she’s frustrated. If she could talk to you, and she will soon, she will delight in telling you every inch of her day. About the stag beetle we found and watched for 15 minutes. About the bees and the fact that they have hilariously big bums. About the lycra clad cyclist Daddy shouted at for nearly hitting one of the dogs. About how she has learnt some new words that daddy was shouting and that, apparently, she is not allowed to say them… About how ice cream really is the best thing and that she doesn’t actually get the argument about how she has to eat something else.

She needs her Mum. But not just for the moment that she is absorbed fully in. But for every waking moment for ever more. She needs her Dad. She needs the dogs. Her world is both tiny and infinite and you are the Captain of her ship. Of our ship. Pretty soon we’ll have the ‘only Mummy will do’ phase and that’s gonna be a whole heap of japes for me to circumnavigate. Oh holy hell

You know what though, I hear so much about ‘guilt’ from so many people. Particularly women it has to be said. Guilt about not being around enough. About doing too much. About not doing enough. That guilt lingers and permeates the very moments when you could be doing the things you are feeling guilty about not doing. It’s toxic. Don’t give yourself a hard time. You are immeasurably amazing and, for goodness sake, we can only do what we can do! I’ll finish with this: an Australian friend once laid it out succinctly for me when he said,

“Guilt is like a fucking back of bricks mate. Who the fuck are you carrying it round for anyway?”

Delicately put I think you’ll agree.

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Mum and Me Ballet…

I used to be a ballet dancer. Feels like a long time ago now (nearly 10 years since I stopped!) and you know what? The more that career becomes a distant memory well, the better I was anecdotally… So much so that occasionally, just occasionally, I like to turn up at a dance studio and join in a class, fully kitted out as if I am just warming up ready to leap across the Coliseum stage. No lycra clad, bearded, middle-aged cyclist can compete with my supremely snug outfits let me tell you! However, rather than a lean, mean, strong, youthful dancer in tights I look like a balding man doing an impression of jelly wrapped in cling film. Nothing can prepare you for the crushing disappointment of having the expectation in your mind being so woefully and flaccidly unachieved. And don’t get me started on the pain. Oh dear God it hurts the next day. And that’s just the ego.

I haven’t been anywhere near these thoughts since Moo was born. In fact I have hardly been to the gym and so recently I thought I better start shifting back into that mindset to try and look less Who-d’ya-nick-a-cake-off and more Baryshnikov

So far, with the exception of one slightly crazy movement and music class in a cafe led by a lady who is Sue Pollard’s doppelgänger, I haven’t done many classes with Moo.  I’ve just not really seen the need as of yet as I have just kind of felt that she wouldn’t get that much from them and they would, perhaps, be more for me and socialising than her. When you consider that my area of London is very Mum-centric and those classes are filled with lovely ladies conversing on topics such as: expressing milk, comfortable clothing, vaginas (I assume), then I guess it’s obvious to see why I may not feel comfortable joining in.

But, I must now caveat all that with the fact that I have recently noticed Moo shift up a gear in her ability to copy me and others and also her interest in other small people. Small as in child. Not garden gnome. So it filled my heart with joy when, upon visiting Parsons Green this week I stopped to have a look at the world’s poshest, most expensive cafe (they had a child’s push along pram toy for £50, I shit you not) and I noticed that they held classes. And one of them was for a Mum and Me Ballet class! ‘Wait a minute’, I thought. ‘Just picture all those women looking at me and my graceful athleticism in awe! I’ll be a hit!’. It’s all about me of course…

Now I’m not going to go down the road of moaning about the exclusivity of the phrase, ‘Mum and Me’. I understand that the demographic they are targeting will be Mums. It makes sense. I also understand that men doing what I do around there is very much an anomaly so I can see why the place in general is also very female dominated.

In any case, upon entering the cafe I took great pleasure from asking the lovely French waitress,

“Is the class exclusively for women and their children or can an ex-pro ballet dancer join in too, ya ya ya”

She, disappointingly, just looked at me non plussed and said,

“Oui. You can bring your daughter”

This is what happens EVERY time I bring up my dancing history with the expectation that it will be met with interest and, dare I hope, gasps of wonder and flirty glances. Nope. Just plain old non-plussed bewilderment. Always.

However, not one to be put off by this lack of interest in my tight wearing history (again, it’s all about me you know) I committed to doing the class.

 Along came Thursday with it’s heavy, pouring, torrential rain and I trotted along to Parsons Green with Moo who, quite brilliantly was dressed in a tutu, a Metallica t-shirt and wellies. With a hopeful heart that I may soon be the recipient of applause for my poise and my port de bras I was as chipper as Chris Jarvis from ‘Show Me Show Me’. And just as camp. We arrived, early, and were told to go downstairs. Giddy as a sugar plum I descended  the stairs expecting there to be a plethora of mums and their children who I just couldn’t wait to try and impress. But, no. It was empty. Just me. Moo. And the (quite lovely and brilliant) teacher. Damn.

Not being a pessimist I quickly remembered that we were in fact early and so gleefully seized upon the chance to bore the teacher to tutu tears about me and my dancing past. She listened. Attentively and, if I’m being honest, with something that could well have passed as sympathy… The class was due to start and there were still no more participants and so the teacher bravely asked if me and Moo (who is only 16 months old by the way) wanted to start anyway.

I looked at Moo and her disheveled locks of curly, scrambled egg encrusted hair and agreed that it would be good to start. Moo did the whole class just about. 30 minutes of arm floating, scarf shaking, wand waving, running and marching. I was dead proud actually that she was so game for giving so much a go. Especially when considering that it was her Dad and a stranger in a strange place asking her to do new things with her body movements. She was very trusting and courageous. I began to feel a new disappointment in the lack of class mates. This time it was because I really wanted people to see how well she was doing. I really wanted her to see other kids and to learn from them and be inspired by them and, hopefully, maybe, inspire them as well. All of a sudden, and this is a shocker, I realised that the class really isn’t all about me at all actually… She got so much out of doing that work and I swear it was the best introduction to some quite advanced concepts of body and space awareness that I hadn’t even considered for her as of yet.

We left the class and decided to offset all the lovely poised ballet with hooning through muddy puddles bare footed in the rain for 20 minutes. Divine. She was even doing some of the arm movements and singing to herself.

So. The class is at 9:30am in Parsons Green on a Thursday. We’ll be going again and perhaps you might join us? I know it would be great for Moo to see other children doing it and I promise I won’t bore you with tales of my former ballet glory. I might wear a costume though…

Collywobbles – A love letter to my Mum

My mum used to refer to the ‘collywobbles’ quite a lot when I was a kid –

“If you eat anymore ice cream it’ll give you THE collywobbles”

“No wonder you’ve got THE collywobbles what with all the rubbish you’ve been eating!”

It was always ‘THE’ collywobbles and it was perhaps the use of the definite article that led me to believe, until very recently actually, that collywobbles was indeed a serious medical condition brought on by the ingestion of certain quantities of certain foods. Foods, conveniently enough, that were always considered ‘naughty’; Pick n’ Mix, Rolos, Pickled Onion Monster Munch, Mini Cheddars (of which I still regularly gorge myself on).  So yeah.  I now realise that collywobbles is not an actual malady but a made up word that my Mum, and others like her, conned their children into believing would be a bad consequence of eating too much crap. The symptoms were never explained, but they were implied. And it was my trust in her that meant the implication was that collywobbles were a dire thing indeed. Mean, mean Mummy.

How did I come to the realisation of the falsity of this heinous syndrome a mere 39 years later? Answer: A conversation. A conversation that has now led me to doubt so many things in my life…

One day, when Moo was acting a bit grumbly and grizzly, a friend asked:

“Oh, is she OK poor thing?”

“Yeah. I think she might just have a bit of the collywobbles actually as she had an ice cream in the park”

“Collywobbles?”

“Errrrr, yeah. Collywobbles. You know. Bad tummy”

“HAHHAHAHA I think that’s such a cute word! Oh you are sweet, bless you.”

Fucker

The problem I have is, if that’s not true, what else isn’t? Am I NEVER going to be a Superhero? Am I NOT destined to play for England? Will I never find a real Gizmo in a dimly lit thrift shop? DAMMIT AM I NEVER GOING TO HAVE A TRAINING MONTAGE WITH COOL 80’S MUSIC PLAYING LEADING ONTO A FIGHT THAT I WIN AGAINST ALL ODDS AFTER THE BAD GUY DID ME WRONG?

Bollox

Lies aside my Mum was a hero when we were growing up. An absolute tour de force. Still is! She already had an 18 month old at home when she got lumbered with me in the middle of the summer of 1976. A summer that we still refer to in this country as being ‘cocking hot’, much to the confusion of our Southern European cousins who are perpetually bemused by people who would talk about a summer four decades later. That’s because Britain IS Westerors and Winter is ALWAYS coming. (My second reference to Game of Thrones. I’m not a geek. Honest!)

I was born blue. My Mum had to literally fight various GPs and ‘experts’ before one would agree with her that something was seriously wrong. A year later they finally diagnosed me as having a ‘crap heart’ (a technical term, but I don’t wanna blind you with science so I’ll keep it light) and that was fixed (ish) at the age of 13 months via open heart surgery. It was only when Moo hit 13 months did I realise what a ridiculously scary thing that must’ve been for my Mum and Dad. Especially as this was the 70’s and the only beds they had in the NHS were made of straw, and anaesthetic was a neat idea no one had thought of yet. Well, not quite. But it was a fairly early pioneering surgery. I just can’t imagine having something so small and defenceless, who trusts you implicitly, who is unknowing of what is going to happen, have to go through that. My overwhelming feeling during my wife’s labour was of how utterly useless and powerless I felt. I would struggle with the true sense of powerlessness if I had to go through what my Mum went through. I am in absolute awe of the Mums and Dads out there that go through similar situations (and worse) today.

The surgery was at the amazing Great Ormand Street which was an hour and half door to door on trains, tubes and buses from our house and even though we had barely enough money my Mum would make the journey everyday. However, as people weren’t allowed to stay over night she would have to leave me every evening at the point when I was dropping off to sleep. When she got home she would call the hospital and she would hear me crying for her in the background. If this was me and Moo it would break me. I struggle when Moo is crying in her cot to be fair, so to be so far away and knowing I am unable to help, knowing that all that little thing wants, that tiny thing who has been sliced open and has a load of broken ribs and a cracked open sternum and bruising around her heart, all she wants is her Mum or Dad and that they can’t be there until tomorrow…  Too much

Having my own child really has bought so much into focus for me in regards to my parents and how incredible they are. After all that surgery and illness my Mum and Dad never once stopped me from being the clumsy, energetic, ball of energy that I was; and trust me, I was majestically clumsy. I believe I have fallen off or down just about every dangerous obstacle in South West Surrey. Never would they get in the way of my trying to live a normal life like any other boy had. Always would they carry the worry of every bit of trouble or danger I got myself  into. Always were they taking the heavy burden of all that worry on their shoulders and never did they let me see it. In fact, they enabled me to live an extraordinary life and become a Ballet dancer of all things, even when upon trying to secure Doctor’s permissions for entry into a vocational school we had to try quite a few before one would agree that it would be OK for me.

I just hope that I can somehow match up to this and enable Moo to shine. Not let setbacks get in her way and not let ME get in her way. I don’t want her weighed down by what seems like the bottomless pit of negativity that the world presents itself as. I want to carry ALL that for her for as long as possible until she is ready to tackle it by herself. I want her to just get on and live like there’s no tomorrow as that is what I remember feeling when I was growing up.

So, thanks Mum. If I can be even a tiny bit as strong and brilliant as you and Dad are then I know I am at least on the right track with Moo.  I have no idea how, when I turned 30 and had another open heart surgery, you remained so stoic whilst having all those feelings burst up again. Only this time you were slightly more on the periphery knowing that your son was now more independent and even had another lady in his life. I still needed you though! I always need my Mum. Just like back when I was small and blue and got THE collywobbles a bit.

PS: Moo is currently sitting on my lap whilst I write this and this is her first contribution –

nyeseaQWA    M  DSAWA§ V     VI;Y N

I think you’ll all agree she’s obviously a genius child…

Age of wisdom

I’m getting older. There it is, I said it. I’m. Getting. Older. By the time you have read this I would have lost at least 10,000 more hairs. It feels as if I am on roller skates going down a hill in San Francisco at break neck speed; time seems to be flying by without a moment to take stock. I just hope there are some soft crash barriers at the bottom of this hill otherwise it’s going to get messy.

I have developed an unerring ability to fully reflect on my life at 4am and go through every scene with an overwhelming sense of regret. Regret for mistakes I’ve made. Regret for decisions I have or haven’t taken. I remember it all with shocking clarity and I feel incredibly saddened by my attitude towards these memories. Happy days… Of course 4 am is the ideal time to do this as I lie there waiting for Moo to begin her daily catalogue of shouted demands… Never underestimate the importance of being picked out of one’s cot so one can check on all the toys that have recently been thrown OUT of one’s cot.

Ageing isn’t a surprise of course. It hasn’t just snuck up on me. I wasn’t able to do a one handed handstand yesterday only to find that today I can’t even touch my toes. I can you know. Touch my toes… No, age is now a concept and an actuality that is ever present in my mind and, it seems, in the conversations I have with my wife. I guess the fact that next month I am 40 has something to do with it but I think it lies more in the fact that we (my wife and I) spend a lot of time discussing the fact that we feel like old parents. We tried for 4 1/2 years to get Moo so if we’d had her back then, then by now she would be at school! We keep counting time like this. Like an abacus of years that we can slide left or right and ruefully account for things that might or might not happen.

‘When Moo’s 20, I’ll be 60!’

‘What if she doesn’t get married until 4o? I’ll be 80 hobbling with her down the aisle!’

‘How will I keep up with her when she’s 10 and I’m 50!’

‘I don’t really see myself as a scary threat to any suitors when she’s 25 and I’m 65’

Every person on Tv; every interview with a parent on the radio, in a magazine, that we meet even – is always followed by a discussion about how old or young they are. It’s almost obsessive. We have a friend that has 3 children and is in her 20s. Her kids will be finishing their GCSEs (or whatever they will be called then) when she is my age. HOLY MID-LIFE CRISIS BATMAN!

I have an excellent in-built ‘Don’t be a twat monkey’ alarm. Always have had. I am by far my biggest critic – and I have many so, yes, you should be impressed. I know only too well that I am wrong in the way I see things. I can hear my own cosmic angels shouting from the wings their stage directions about how I am missing the here and now. That I am creating this dense fog that is blurring my enjoyment of the moment I am in. But, perhaps I am thinking about age so obsessively – focussed in on it like an unbalanced constant stream of consciousness – because I know I have to rinse my mind clean of it. Dive in completely and get it done.

I know what I have to do. I know there are things I can change and things I can’t. I am even old enough, and wise enough, to know that most of the things I can change I shouldn’t. Every single time I look at Moo I am reminded of the absolute, vital, breath taking importance of the ‘Right now’. Sometimes it’s too much. Sometimes, looking at her and seeing her explore and discover with such unencumbered abandon actually scares me. I can’t let my focus on the future ruin any moment I have with her. And so I save it for the times when she is asleep and I am alone. Perhaps that’s why, even when I am exhausted and she is at her worst, as soon as she is asleep I miss her so terribly.

There is a song by the Cinematic Orchestra called ‘To Build a Home’ that has the lyric –

And I built a home
for you
for me

I am the home that I am building for Moo. I am a part of the place that is safe and fun and happy. A brick in that wall. Everyday, in every way I seek to better myself to make sure I can be the best person I can for her. Right up until my last breath I will do this and I will constantly give myself a hard time about it too. This is the role of the Father. I will not give up on myself or seek excuses, or fall into cynical patterns of behaviour, or get staid in my opinions on things, or let myself become weak. I will work and work and work to be the home Moo can always come back to and be proud of. And I will love every single minute of it. Right then and right there. In that all too brief present. As the great Ferris Bueller once said –

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”