Happy birthday to my son. Happy birthday to my son. Happy birthday dear Shakil. This list is for you. That’s right, folks. In honour of my son’s 1st birthday, I’m dedicating this week’s midweek list to the biggest lessons life has taught me during each month of the past year. Warning: contains one mild swear word and lots of well-meaning advice.
Month one: parenting is hard
No s•••, Sherlock. Well quite, but hear me out. My aim here is not to state the bleeding obvious. It’s to a) ram a rocket up the backsides of all the dads-to-be who have barely glanced at their copy of The Expectant Dad’s Survival Guide and b) reassure all the shattered and emotional new parents who feel like they can’t do anything right that they are not alone, as I for one have most certainly been there, done that and got the poop stained T-shirts.
Also, while I have your ear I want to clear something up. You know how everyone keeps telling you that parenting gets easier after the first few months? They’re lying. I know. What a conniving bunch of… really nice people spinning a little white porkie pie for a couple of very good reasons. First, they’re trying to stop you descending into a perma-funk. Second, they’re trying to boost your confidence, because they know that self-belief and relaxation are the foundations of good parenting.
Month two: a burp can be the most beautiful sound in the world
Colic is fun, isn’t it? In case you can’t tell, I am being sarcastic. Colic, which the NCT describes as “excessive crying or extended and repeated periods of crying or fussing in babies who are otherwise healthy and thriving”, is a living hell. Our little man got it early and he got it bad. His issue was trapped wind and it saw my wife and I spend numerous sleepless nights patting his back, while lunging, squatting or walking up and down the stairs. On the plus side, my thighs and butt had never looked better. On the minus side, I kept falling asleep on public transport and putting my porridge in the fridge instead of the microwave. Note: we eventually fixed the colic by giving him Infacol before every feed and switching to Dr Brown’s Natural Flow bottles.
Month three: nappies do not have a 100% success rate
A quick internet search tells me that nappies have been around for well over 100 years. Given this, and the fact they feature cool inventions like ‘the blue line’ that highlights when a baby has urinated, I expected them to be able to contain my child’s poop 100% of the time. It turns out I’m something a dreamer, because that this figure is more like 95%. Not bad, I suppose. But also not good when your standing in the middle of smelly baby change with a crying child who is covered in faeces and requires a complete change of clothes. If you’ve been there, you’ll be having horrific PTSD-style flashbacks right now. If you haven’t, Godspeed and remember to laugh. Otherwise, you’ll cry.
Take the kid, and you’ll be plonked on the parents’ table, where no-one sits still long enough to have a decent conversation or eat a full course. Leave the kid, and you’ll be drunk before the canapes, hungover by the speeches and crying about how much you miss your little one by first dance.
Month five: teething is the worst thing in the world ever
The biting. The drooling. The tears. The ear pain. The steadfast refusal to sleep. The difficulty when drinking and eating. The random side effects that can include fevers, rashes and changes in stool consistency. It’s difficult to decide which element of teething is the most tortuous for the child. As for the parent? Well, that’s easy. It’s the fact that it begins around five months and then, like the universe’s most slowly pulled off plaster, goes on until they are two or three. Seriously, evolution? Can’t you work on quickening things up a little?
Month six: in an ideal world, six months is too young to send a child to nursery
I appreciate that some people don’t have a choice and need to send their kids to nursery at six months or even earlier. If that’s the case, of course you should do what you have to do. But we didn’t have to do anything. We had the choice of splitting our son’s care between his grandparents and ourselves or sending him to nursery. And, despite my wife’s belief that he was too young and wouldn’t start to socialise with other kids until nearer the 12-month mark, I insisted on the latter option.
Thus at the age of six months we deposited our little man for his settling in week at Monkey Puzzle Day Nursery. I’ll never forget how sad he looked when we said goodbye, how much he cried during his first two days or how long it took him to get his personality and smile back. I’d make a mistake, but did I admit it? Of course I did. I scoffed down 172 servings of humble pie, and then got my son out of there as fast as I could.
Month seven: kids are more fun from six months on
Let’s be honest, aside from the odd smile (usually linked to a bowel movement), parents don’t get much back over the first half-year of a child’s life. Fortunately, around the seven month mark, this unrelenting, joy-free slog turns into an unrelenting, joy-filled slog when they begin doing things like pulling themselves up, laughing, pointing, clapping, high-fiving and sticking their fingers in your ears, eyes and nose. Obviously, this is also the point when you realise that your house features more plug sockets, sharp corners and easy-to-open cupboards than just about any other building on earth. To the ‘baby-proofing’ section of Amazon and don’t forget to pay for express delivery.
Month eight: it takes a while to go from cruising to walking
When my child cruised along the sofa and pulled my laptop onto the wooden floor at the age of eight months, I really thought he was going to break more than just my computer. Yup, along with any non-nailed down electronics my family record of walking at nine months was in jeopardy. Happily, confining him to his car seat for three weeks preserved my mark. Just kidding. I purchased some awesome interlocking floor mats from Halford’s and tried as hard as I could to get him to walk as soon as he could.
Unfortunately, it turns out you can’t rush these things and thus my record remains. Fortunately, the fact he walked at 10 months meant I was able to show that smug older mother who stood up and forced everyone to applaud when her 11-month-old took two steps at music group what an early walker actually looked like. And doubly fortunately, the extra time he took to get steady on his feet means we’ve yet to have a horrific head cut open after collision with the skirting board dash to A&E. Although now I’ve mentioned it, this journey’s probably in the post.
Month nine: life’s a lot easier when your kid just drinks mummy’s milk
Obviously, I say this as someone who has never experienced the pain of having her nipple savagely attacked by a teething baby on a bi-hourly basis. But I think even my wife would agree that getting breast milk into our pride and joy was less of a rigmarole than spending 40 minutes singing, dancing, gurning, asking “Where’s the fridge?” and wearing oven gloves on our head. No, I have not had a small mental episode. That is a description of what my wife and I have to do in order to get a main course and two yoghurts down our son’s gob every evening. Oh, and even then he might bring it all back up. #weaning #parenting #regurgitation #bants
Month ten: dadadadadadada is not dada
The battle to be baby’s first word is one of the feistier elements of your first year as a parent. My wife even took it upon herself to spend a couple of minutes every day holding our child and saying “mama”. Can you believe anyone would stoop so low? It’s not as if I went through every bath time saying, “A is for dada, B is for dada, C is for dada, 5 is for dada.” Okay, I might have done this. But in my defence I really, really wanted to win. And I did if… dadadadadadadada counts as dada. Sadly, only dadadadadas seem to believe it does. Thus I’ve agreed to accept the fact that the first real word he said was actually Asda. Yes, as in the supermarket.
Month eleven: getting punished for doing a good job is a real kick in the nether regions
I’m talking about separation anxiety – a.k.a the time when somebody saying, “If it’s any consolation, the fact they miss you shows that you’re doing a good job,” provides absolutely no consolation whatsoever. This vicious beast, which turns calm and considered children into panicked stress-heads within the blink of an eye, unceremoniously capsizes the Good Ship Parental Bliss when your child begins to realise that something still exists even when it isn’t visible.
If you’re trying to spin this affliction in a positive manner, you claim, “It’s proof your child is maturing.” If you’re honest, you admit, “wandering around with a whimpering 10kg weight permanently attached to my leg is a total nightmare that I want to end as quickly as possible”. The NHS highlights four ways that can help make this happen sooner rather than later. They are: leaving your baby for really short periods to begin with; talking about what you’ll do together later; employing a soft toy or blanket from home as a comforter; and smiling confidently when you say goodbye.
Month twelve: kids are really, really clever and grow up really, really fast
OMG, is he going to get emotional? Damn right, I am. And here’s why. Twenty-one months ago, my little man was a single cell. A year ago, he kicked, screamed and pooped his way into the world at a weight of 8lbs and 15oz. Today, he’s a babbling 11kg toddler, who can climb stairs, open doors, say a handful of words, point out a wide variety of vehicles, animals and household objects, turn switches on and off, recognise the numbers 1-3, unscrew lightbulbs, turn the knobs on the washing machine and make rude gestures at delivery drivers who don’t stick to their time slots. Okay, the last one is a joke. But still, how incredible is that portfolio of learning? Go babies. Go humans. Go genetics. Go outside right now and scream, “I am parent. I made baby. Baby is amazing.”