Still learning after all these years

We love our house. It’s quirky and unusual and a bit bonkers with unexpected nooks and crannies and secret doorways. But love it though we do, before our new little housemate was born I was concerned its very quirkiness might make it a not-very-child-friendly environment.

I needn’t have worried. It turns out it is very child-friendly indeed. Unusually friendly. Particularly in a certain corner which, to my untrained eye, is just a point where two walls meet and has a few hooks for our hats.

However, every time the boychild looks at it he starts smiling and chortling, chatting and chuckling. His eyes follow movements I can’t see and if I insert my face into his line of vision he tries to look around me. It happens without fail any time; day or night. As soon as he looks into that corner his eyes light up and he becomes thoroughly entertained.

Obviously, the plausible explanation is he can see people who aren’t there. Who they are, I don’t know – although I have tried to see them (squinting eyes, photographs, dimmed lights). Are they previous residents? Mischievous imps or poltergeist? The ghosts and phantoms of our ancestors? (I hope so.) Or is it a portal to another realm? Whatever he sees, they/it makes him very happy. So, I’m fine with it and they’re all welcome. I think.

As I write this, the little cherub is two months’ old – and not so little any more. Quite a sturdy seraph. He’s doubled his birth weight and moved up two nappy sizes. It won’t be long before he’s doing bench presses. This is entirely down to Sally’s infinite motherly bounty. In years to come when he is striding around like a Goliath, robust and resistant, bonded and attached, I shall remind him of all the sleep his mother sacrificed for his comfort – and invoice him.

Having already had three children I was vain enough to think I had all the Dad bases covered, but I was wrong. I am still learning the most basic facts about parenting, not least the astonishing absorbency of today’s nappies. Here are a couple of things I’ve discovered recently. Ever heard of cluster feeding? We couldn’t have been paying attention at the breast-feeding workshop because we hadn’t and apparently it’s very common.

‘In the early months a baby will occasionally want to breast feed almost constantly for 24 hours.’

You might want to read that sentence again. I won’t dwell on how exhausted an already tired person will be after 24 hours of no sleep, or how painful constant feeding can be on a person’s mamillae (let’s face it, I am never going to discuss family body parts in a public blog), but it’s not good. I can best describe it in terms of a sci-fi film where a benign alien is brought back to the spaceship and shortly afterwards it turns into a screaming, open-mouthed monster that eats all the crew. That’s the little cherub when he’s cluster feeding. There is no negotiating with him.

Another thing new to me was tongue tie. I thought that was just a phrase but it is another of these very common conditions – and our son had it. But it only took one fast procedure, literally seconds, and he was free. How have I got this far and not known about these things? I really like the fact I am still learning, that I am being shaken from my complacency, that having a new baby in my life is bringing me back to the beginning – which is exactly where I should be with him.

Some people have asked me how I’m coping with a new born child at my age. I try not to take offence at that qualifier because I know they mean it kindly and don’t intend to push all my buttons. The truth is, I’m not ‘coping’ at all. I am more than coping. I am positively thriving. I change his nappies with one hand while I push his pram with the other (that’s not true but you catch my drift). I bound, I leap, I lift and I carry. I’ve never been so vigorous. (Although, obviously, my knees are shot and I’m a martyr to my back and don’t get me started on my tendonitis.)

But more than any physical consideration, I have been surprised by an unexpected calmness, a mindful attitude that has come with being a second bloom parent. I think it’s because I have grown-up children and I’ve lived the journey from their babyhood to the wonderful adults they are today. I have experienced the parental transition from being the star around which their lives revolve to a supporting actor with a walk-on role.

I probably owe them a big apology. I’m sorry I wasn’t better prepared and informed and perhaps most importantly, relaxed, during their early years – not relaxed in a ‘leave the baby on the car roof’ kind of way, but in a ‘I don’t have to spoil the moment by worrying about it’ way. I want the soundtrack of this baby’s childhood to be one of ‘yes’ and ‘do’, and not of ‘no’ and ‘don’t’. He may not have the fastest dad in the playground (and I do intend to challenge that assumption at some point) but he will most definitely have one of the most mellow.

Perhaps what he sees in that friendly corner in our house are not just ghosts from the past, but a view into a happy future. I hope so (I hope even more that I’m in it). Our quirky house has turned out to be a calm-and-kind-child-friendly environment. And if a baby can find delight in a blank corner with a few hats hanging up, then that is just wonderful. I hope I can learn from him the art of finding joy in the commonplace. Knees permitting.

Categories: Don't do the Maths!

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