To The Shires

According to Instagram, I’ve been gone for about three months now, from this account, from this online identity. In that timeframe, there have been office moves, work stress, and all the pressure on a family that a house move can bring. That barely scrapes the murky barrel of anguish and crisis of the last three months, but it’s all I’ve got for you just now I’m afraid.

So now, in negation of my London Daddy identity, we’re out in the English Shires. Land of open space, cheaper houses, reduced crime, and endless pubs. Not that I ever struggled for pubs, or crime for that matter, back in West London, but space was the big issue. A two-bedroom flat can be small for two big personalities, and it’s positively minuscule with four of them.

We’ve had nursery dramas, from tears at the departure from one, to tears at the arrival of another. Then more tears trying to get to and from this new nursery, down country roads where giant SUV/tanks would insist on driving 2 inches from your rear bumper if you didn’t hurtle around blind corners at 60mph. To then yet more tears at the cost of removing Elodie from one nursery early, to settle her into a third new nursery in a month. Thankfully that’s all settled now, and there are far less tears.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs might have it’s limitations (does Wifi fit into ‘Physiological Needs’?), but we’ve spent quite a bit of time in the bottom half of the pyramid. It’s left no time for anything else, outside of the home, outside of the self.

We’re still not quite there. Just because there’s a rapprochement within the realm of ‘self actualisation’, there’s a lot to do amongst the Esteem needs. But we’re taking one day at a time.

And a misnomer or not, London Daddy is back.

…Until I Became A Father

There’s a particular phrase I hear from some dads, spread thinly throughout the year, but clustered around Father’s Day:

“I didn’t know what it was to be a man until the day I became a father”.

It’s a lovely sentiment at first glance, and I’m pleased that this realisation of how to be, finally came.

But it does make me admire the mother of your child or children: Apparently she had the foresight and trust that you’d finally learn to become a real, fully rounded person. Who can say how much of a gamble that might have been for her? To trust that, once the baby was here, you learn the required skills of empathy and responsibility.

Personally if I hadn’t, eventually, learnt how to become an actual human being instead of a travesty in shoes there’s not a chance Elodie’s mum would have wanted to procreate with me. I needed to show empathy, responsibility for my actions, demonstrate a willingness and ability to be the father of our child. But before that child was conceived, not afterwards. And it’s still a work in progress.

This, after all, instead really a dig at men who become better people due to a baby-shaped epiphany. Because we can always be better. We must always be better. Stasis is death and decay and our children deserve better than that.

On Changing Tables in Public Spaces

This tweet spoke to me in so many ways:

And not just restaurants, but office spaces, cafes, motorway service stations, the list goes on.

Don’t get me wrong, nine months in, I no longer have any shame about muscling past a queue of women, holding a screaming baby, to find the one changing table the venue has inexplicably put in a small toilet cubicle.

But it doesn’t need to be that hard. It shouldn’t have to be this hard. They don’t take up that much space!

One time, I had to dive into a pub due to a nappy emergency. The staff were so snooty, taking some strange pride in their lack of any changing table at all, that I changed the baby on one of their tables, to their utter horror.

Live by the nappy, die by the nappy.

Dads and Daughters – The Overprotective Father Trope

I’ve not posted in a while, partly because I’m a) tired a lot and b) I’m still concerned that a post on toxic masculinity in the InstaDad and Dad Blogger community isn’t going to go down very well. But this is related so I’ll just go ahead.

Everyone knows the trope of the over-protective father of a daughter. The “I’m just protecting her from boys like I was” and “she may never date”, or “I will generally hint I will intimidate, shoot or otherwise harm the future boys in my daughter’s life”. It’s pretty common, people say it a lot and, just for the sake of form, I’ve occasionally gone along with it. Nothing makes people feel quite so comfortable as fulfilling their behavioural expectations, no matter how ill-considered, wrong-brained or toxic.

Because it is stupid. First of all, parents of boys, the first bit is on you. Don’t spread your toxic, outdated gender tropes to your boys and this meme dies on the vine instantly. Boys will not be boys, they behave as they are taught is acceptable. Behaviour is a social construct. Do something about it.

But since I can’t count on a paradigm shift in social norms sometime in the next decade or two, here’s what I’m going to do for my part:

  • Keep writing posts like this
  • Including that one about toxic masculinity in social media
  • Teach my daughter about consent
  • Do my utmost to make her a confident, self-assured young woman.

Because there’s no point complaining about the state of the world. We must create the change we want to see.

Get In My Mouth – Weaning and the hungry baby

So we had a clear plan for weaning, from following books and online advice: From four months onwards, we’d give Elodie little tastes of vegetables, but she probably wouldn’t take to it until she was six months old. She seemed to like the puréed butternut squash I made for her, but we didn’t think too much of it. However, we weren’t quite explicit with the nursery when we told them Elodie had started weaning. They took it to mean that she was okay with all vegetable purées and just fed her (in addition to milk) twice every day. It turns out, Elodie will eat pretty much anything. Eagerly, hungrily, and messily. Butternut squash, peas, parsnips, she can’t get enough of them. I end up making batches, or buying off-the-shelf products due to time constraints, and then freezing the leftovers in a silicone ice cube tray. She’ll easily polish off three cubes in a sitting, the little piglet!

‘Baby-led weaning’ hasn’t been as much of a success. We’ll give her avocado or carrot sticks to hold, and she’ll stick them in her mouth. But shortly after she’ll just discard them, bored. Maybe in time.

We’ve decided, at this stage, to stay away from fruits, to get her used to savoury flavours while she can. She seems to like it, even the puréed peas, which taste too bitter even for me! We have been warned that this ravenous baby may yet turn into a fussy eater in the future, that you can’t predict future behaviours. But for now we’re enjoying her enjoyment of food.

Transition

I’ve been very lucky. Most fathers get a few weeks of paternity leave after their child is born, before their contact is cut brutally short to evenings and weekends. Instead, for the last five months I’ve been at home with the baby, interacting with her, spending time with her, singing silly made-up songs to her, catering to her every whim. It’s been tiring, a dramatic change of pace from all of my previous personas; ‘Dad’ was just something I loved being. Obviously I still have that identity, but the parameters have reverted back to the more traditional; an office-based job now takes up the bulk of my day.

I know most fathers go through this sooner than I have. I know mums go through this when they return to work after their maternity leave. I’ve been very lucky. But it’s no less of a wrench handing the baby over to strangers in the morning, to not see her again for 12 hours. I feel like I’m missing out on her development, on those little milestones that come thick and fast in that all-important first year.

I’m forever tempted to phone up the nursery, to ask them what she’s doing, how she’s feeling, what she’s been eating, whether she’s had a nap, what they’re doing with her. Are they giving her enough tummy time? Introducing her to textures and toys and sounds and languages? Will the nursery staff hear her first words? See her crawl for the first time? Are they forming a close bond with her? Will it be a stronger bond than I had with her?

What if she doesn’t recognise or like me any more…

Irrational fears, I know. And someone once told me that feelings, while real, aren’t reality.
But that’s an intellectualisation, and it’s not going to quash my fears or help me not miss the baby.
I have to learn to become a different kind of father now. Learn to rely on others.
It’s important.
But I don’t have to like it.

Baby’s First Christmas

Let’s be honest, a tiny of baby four months has no idea Christmas is happening. At best, they might see that their routine is disrupted as all the other home occupants get caught up in a fury of excitement and indulgence. There might even be guests, or travelling, resulting in the inevitable infant pass-the-parcel as one relative, friend or random passer-by after another demands ‘cuddles’, which seems to be code for ‘being vomited on’. All those visitors, as well as any children they’ve brought with them, have a chance of spreading their snots and lurgies to your little family unit, shattering what semblance of bliss you’ve managed to claw from in amongst the tiredness.

And yet…

Christmas is just better with a little one in your family, a little creature who wasn’t there before, that looks to you for everything; a little being that has no idea what’s going on, but having them there just makes Christmas more… Christmas.

There’s something quite joyous about opening up all these baby gifts, thoughtfully chosen by the diaspora of your extended family. Christmas becomes even more about the family, and less (if it ever was) about the individual. It’s even more about the joys you share; it’s about the little memento mori, like the special tree ornaments marking the occasion; it’s about the ridiculous outfit you put the baby in, whether Christmas pudding, reindeer or elf. It’s a totally new experience, and one that I’ll look back on with delight.

But, because of all those visits I’ve alluded to in the first paragraph, I’d suggest you follow a few guidelines for your guests.

Four Things for Four Months

Originally posted on The FMLY Man blog.

“Four months” doesn’t sound like a lot of time. And yet somehow it feels like our little one has been here forever, retconned into all past memories. I can no longer imagine or remember a time without her, just like I can’t remember a time I wasn’t tired.

In these four months I’ve learnt that every day is precious. So much about the little person in your life can, and will, change on a daily basis. No one day is like another, and every day is a gift. Especially the day she first woke up, saw me, and gave me the biggest grin in the world. If I wasn’t hopelessly enraptured before, I was then.

I’ve learnt that family is what you make it. Outside of your little family unit, there are a number of people related to you by blood or other means, friends, acquaintances and random passersby. From within this social circle will come the champions, the supporters, the genuinely interested parties. It may surprise you who those people are. It may surprise you who those people aren’t.

Planning is super-important and nigh-impossible. There are so many things in daily baby daycare that need to happen. And without a bit of forethought to meals, activities and schedules, they’re just not going to happen, something always slips through the cracks. The laissez-faire, ad hoc life is not for you any more! Saying that though, try not to plan too much, because that deftly crafted battleplan isn’t going to survive contact with the enemy. Running a little behind for an appointment? Surprise outfit-ruining aPoo-calypse! Need to make a quick phonecall? Screaming fit!

Time runs differently now that you have a little one in your life. I don’t just mean the inability to fully appreciate how old she is, how long she’s been with you. Things just take longer now. That might be because just going to the shops to get milk is now an epic undertaking involving multiple layers of clothes, possibly vehicles, baby bag etc. It might be because when you’re tired, time stretches and distends in ways you’d never imagined. Or it might just be that suddenly there’s nothing more important in your life than this small being, and everything else, including time, just pales into insignificance.

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving!

No, I’m not American, but people forget that Thanksgiving is the last of the harvest festivals, stemming from a time when giving thanks for a harvest was literally a gratitude for survival. Hence the feasting, from Lammas in the late summer to Thanksgiving in late November. And while our own bounty has been distracting me from writing about it, I do have a lot to be thankful for.

Thankful for my ever-loving partner, all she does and all she is.

Thankful for my extended family, and my friends who support us.

Thankful for finding my true self.

And, of course, most thankful for our little bundle of endless joy. Even when she’s robbing us of sleep, we couldn’t be luckier or happier to have her in our lives. And for that we give thanks.

And pie! I give pumpkin pie!

I essentially use the recipe from Libby’s Canned Pumpkin and it works every time. A few notes though:

  • Don’t bother using fresh pumpkin, it’s more effort than it’s worth. But don’t cheap out on the canned stuff, Libby’s is great.
  • You can buy a shortcrust pie shell to save yourself a lot of stress. This year I used pre-made sweetened shortcrust pastry; it worked, but not perfectly, pastry doesn’t come easily to me.
  • Instead of the separate ginger, cinnamon and cloves, just use a tablespoon of mixed spice.
  • Consider going 50/50 granulated (caster) sugar and muscovado sugar.

That’s it! Enjoy! And… thanks.

Recipe: Cold Brew Coffee

My last post was a bit of a rambling cavalcade of emotions, but on to more practical matters: staying awake. Sure, there are all the usual options: cups of tea or coffee. But, those are inevitably cold by the time you get to them, and when they are they’re disgusting. So, why not cut out the middleman of boiling the kettle in the first place? Bask in the glory of cold brew coffee.

sandow's coldbrew coffee

Sandow’s makes an excellent off-the-shelf or in your local cafe product. But why not make it yourself at home? All you need is some good quality ground coffee, cold water, a receptacle like a flask, and a coffee brewing device. As to the latter, I use an Aeropress which I’ve found to be easily the best maker of coffee. However, they can sometimes be fiddly, and will only do one cup of coffee at a time. You can also use a standard cafetière (French Press) or pour over coffee maker.

The process is simple:

  • Use one and a half times as much ground coffee as you normally would
  • Add cold water until the ground are just covered
  • Stir thoroughly for around 30 seconds, which releases important oils
  • Add the rest of the cold water to make the quantity you need
  • Stir very thoroughly, every minute
  • Allow to steep for twice as long as you would for hot coffee
  • Plunge the coffee, pour it int your flask, jar or bottle, and refrigerate
  • Serve with ice, or just swig it straight from the fridge for an instant pick-me-up.

And there you go: Easy, chilled rocket fuel. Perfect for when your tiny delight is desperate for something, but you’re too bleary-eyed to work out what it is yet…