What makes a human? – Saturday 22 July 2017

Milo welcomed a baby brother into the world this week (more on that soon) and it got me pondering; what is it that makes a human? Is it our ability to dream, empathise and love? Is it music? Our unique gift to compose and experience this most wondrous form of self-expression. Is it self-awareness; the very human instinct to conceive, understand and shape the world around us?

No, the answer of course is identification; and ideally 100 points of it.

Identification begets identification. If you want anything of value in today’s world you need to identify yourself; bank loan, passport, fishing licence, Petbarn loyalty card, ‘juice-to-u’ detox smoothie home delivery membership. Our system requires all humans to identify themselves in a variety of ways, all the time. This system works terrifically well; not only do our mini-golf frequent putters cards give others confidence we are who we say we are, but they also provide the ancillary benefit of affording us yet more identification.

But have you ever thought for a moment about how you got your first unit of identification? What is the foundation of this flimsy, bureaucratic house of cards upon which we climb ever higher? I can tell you.

In Australia when your new baby finally arrives the tending midwife, after a 76 hour shift, scribbles his or her signature on two mostly-blank printed forms, adds an altogether unconvincing rubber stamp bearing the name of the hospital on each and hands them to you in a not-very-official looking white A4 envelope on the front of which can be found a giraffe, a duck, an elephant and a fourth animal the nature of which I cannot currently remember because I was somewhat bleary-eyed and distracted at the time. That’s it. It is these two forms upon which everything else is based. It is these two forms that make you a human.

The first form you take to Centrelink/ Medicare to register your new human for social security and healthcare. When you arrive the Centrelink officer, whose dense carapace of disdain has been grown and thickened over many years of managing half-truths, cajoling and excuses, does not greet you with the benefit of the doubt. However, once this officer realises you are not there to use the free public phone, and in fact have just experienced a momentus life-event they are easy to win over. You pass them the scrap of paper, toward which they take a cursory glance, and you can then literally name your human whatever you like, even foreign swear words if your rapport is good enough. The officer types those names into the system and voila, the human’s official record begins.

The second form you take to Births, Deaths and Marriages. I presume there exists some mechanism to check the name you provide at your second stop roughly matches that which you provided at your first, but I didn’t test this. You pay $45 plus postage, unless you want a novelty birth certificate which costs extra, and they send you your new human’s certificate in the mail.

What happens if you lose these forms you ask? So did I. There does not appear to be a compelling answer. I asked it of a number of medical professionals at the hospital and their answers were all derivations of “don’t lose them”. So I presume that for those poor souls who lose the forms, of which I am sure there are many – one does not receive them at one’s most lucid – they become the parents of invisible humans, forever doomed to live outside the system; a home-delivery-juice-free, putt-putt golf-less existence. I imagine the early photographs of those poor infants slowly fade over time like Michael J Fox in Back to the Future, or perhaps they drop dead spontaneously like avatars unplugged from the Matrix when the 60 day registration period comes to an end.

Whatever the process I am sure there is a voiceless, subjugated underclass of people out there who cannot rent a DVD. And we should spare a thought for them.

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A new registered human

Puzzles, trains and the way of the human brain – Tuesday 28 February 2017

Time, and the inevitable weight of societal conformity dulls an adult human’s brain to the point that we are not truly capable of genuine creativity. Even the most ingenious and innovative among us only appear so on a relative scale. When compared to the rest of us plodding dullards, operating under a false presumption of endless possibility and whimsy while absent-mindedly turning the handles of our tea cups to face the same way in the cupboard, anybody capable of demonstrating the slightest deviation from the societal code of order and predictability are declared free spirits or creatives.

Those among us who can hold a new remote control in their hand whose protective plastic coating has slightly come away at one corner, and resist the desire to sweep the whole sheet off in one satisfying and triumphant movement, are rare indeed. And that is about as liberated and free-spirited as we get.

If you don’t believe me try spending 10 minutes doing a puzzle or building a train track with a 2 year old.

When constructing a puzzle Milo cares not for colour, pattern, shape or even the compatibility of those little nooks and pointy bits that are supposed to bring the puzzle together in one satisfying coherent canvas. Completely untethered from any societal expectation of what a puzzle is supposed to be Milo will simply grasp the piece closest to him and then jam it into the piece second closest to him. A smooth joining of nook and pointy bit, or coherence of pattern or colour is inconsequential. The puzzle will simply bend to his will as he pounds the pieces together with his little fist. Once the mashing is complete, the cardboard of each piece now bent and loosely melded together, Milo will set about assimilating the next closest piece into the chaotic Borg-like organism taking shape on the floor; which looks nothing like a barnyard setting on a spring day.

I sit aghast; suppressing my general discomfort with the whole scene, reminding myself the object of the puzzle session is not in fact to reveal the lamb springing in an exuberant fashion toward its mother, but to enrich my son, and feed his creative spirit. But I cannot. I interject… regularly, offering helpful suggestions like “ah, perhaps the white cloud shaped object may go with that other white cloud shape object”. At first I offer passive advice with a helpful tone, but when this good sense is inevitably ignored I tentatively reach out a hand to guide the pieces together, then more insistently I join the clouds myself, enjoying the satisfaction of nooks and pointy bits that were designed with the other in mind. “No daddy, Boy do it” he yells, as he separates the clouds vigorously and slaps my hand away while simultaneously mashing a cockerel’s head into the nether regions of a cow. Once all of the pieces have been forced together against their will, like speed dating in a prison, a mismatch of colour, shape and genre spread out in a grotesque collage upon the floor, Milo sits back triumphantly and exclaims “Yay, Boy did it! Boy wins!” He then toddles off to explore something new while I expertly place the 9 pieces together without a single error to reveal lambs, chickens, cows and a small boy in overalls, naive to the troubles of the world, enjoying his formative years on the farm. I then quickly pack the puzzle away before I am discovered.

But this is nothing compared to the train track.

Like most 2 years olds Milo loves trains and at any point in time our living room will be home to the bustling industry of partially completed railway projects. Milo loves nothing more than to embark upon these projects with me, although mind you I am only ever rewarded for my effort by being granted permission to play with Percy. No carriages, no cow car, no barrel car. Just Percy. Milo’s train is 12 cars long at least; powered by Thomas, James, Mutombo (from Chuggington), surely far more horsepower than he needs to pull Annie, Clarabel, Toby and the cargo car, but there it is; stretching past Toby’s Windmill, the Sodor Dynamite Factory and Cranky the Crane. And if poor old Percy, driving alone, aimlessly, ever finds himself between Milo’s juggernaut and the next intersection, let’s just say Percy is not granted the time-honoured courtesies of the railway, accepted around the world, that have made train travel such a genteel way to get around.

But I digress. The real issue is not the playing; it’s the building.

Milo’s tracks have no end. And no beginning. They are non-sensical. And infuriating. Whenever we embark on a rail project together Milo will quickly pile up all of the pieces currently at our disposal, so not including those currently in the pram, or the garden, or the bath. He spends literally zero time planning the layout or trajectory of the rail network and just starts building, usually with a bridge that will obviously go nowhere. I keep a pleasant smile on my face, and a soft tone in my voice; for this is treasured time together with my beloved and delightful son. But I am watching him, and stockpiling the corner pieces I know I will eventually need to close some loops and claw back some semblance of logic to his ludicrous network.

I build as quickly as he will let me; designing an elegant figure 8 in my head and executing immediately, trying to stay two steps ahead, anticipating his preposterous and entirely unpredictable building style. I loop around, anticipating his trajectory, with the requisite corners and junctions stashed under a cushion, but as our two ends near he confidently places an unanticipated right hand bend in his track, straight into the leg of the sofa. “Boy finished! Yay! Let’s play daddy… you play with Percy”.

I look at the track; under the retractable bridge lies a single left turn piece. It starts nowhere, and ends nowhere. No train will ever pass under that bridge. Toby’s Windmill lies immediately adjacent to the Dynamite Factory, which makes no sense. Just past the Dynamite Factory there is another bridge, over nothing. Another wasted opportunity. The track then stutters its way forward, like a noodle to nowhere, all corner pieces end to end. Not even his 12 trains behemoth could generate any speed on that straight. And at the end of the noodle? Nothing. The track ends abruptly, butted up against my work shoe.

The other end of the network is worse. We have only two junction pieces and he has linked them together; wasteful. One of the two junctions simply stops and the other embarks on an audacious semi-loop which leads under the sofa (a nice touch) then back round to where it began, it then takes an unexpected and frankly illogical dog-leg to the left past Cranky Crane and then simply ends near the cats’ scratching pole. It ends. No ramp, nothing. That’s it.

It is hard to watch Milo play on this poorly conceived track but if I am caught not actively participating with my second-rate green engine I am swiftly admonished. I ask whether I could possibly add some of the surplus carriages , which are admittedly parked unused on the side of the track, to my Percy. Denied.

I watch in horror as Milo hurtles his locomotive along the noodle to nowhere. He edges nearer and nearer to the abyss. My decades-old instinct for beginnings, for ends, for rules is consuming me as I watch on, helpless. What will he do when he reaches the end of the known locomotive universe? What misadventures will befall him?

He jumps his train off the track of course and onto the floorboards, and carries on with his journey.

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Number puzzle

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How is this OK?

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Sweet satisfaction

Boy – Sunday 5 February 2017

I had several highly successful resolutions in 2016; sever ties between Great Britain and the meddlesome, terrorist producing, welfare dependent, culturally stunted, bureaucratic, dictatorial European Union, do what I could to move incrementally but steadily toward a time when all World Leaders can finally express all policy decisions and explain with nuance the complex modern interconnected world in 140 characters or less, ensure most of the best celebrities died while the entire cast of ‘Hey, Hey it’s Saturday’ remained intact, and make my own marmalade.

Given last year’s success it seems sensible to register at least one resolution for 2017; and that is to continue the internet documentation of my child (who is now 2 1/4), and our adventures together.

Many striking developments have occurred over the last 7 or 8 months. among these; Milo has learned to count to 10 although is for some reason completely disinterested in the concept of the number 7, with his ever-expanding vocabulary Milo has taken to concocting numerous pretexts to explain why he can’t go to sleep just yet, each less compelling than the last “daddy the cricket outside is too noisy, please go and get him”, “daddy the kitchen door is not closed, please close it”, “I can’t find tiny sheep/ blue teddy/ kangaroo/ blue monkey/ kiwi bird anywhere” (meanwhile all of the above have been carefully secreted under the covers), Milo has learned to sing the ABCD song, which he calls “Baby CD” and which he yells at high volume while stamping his feet, not sure why, Milo loves sweeping, and water dragons, and sweet potato and watering the driveway, and says “oh what’s that noise?” in precisely the same British accent and intonation as Peppa Pig.

But perhaps the most baffling and intriguing development is Milo’s utter rejection of his name. Milo has over the last 6 months, without exception, only answered to and referred to himself by his nom de guerre ‘Boy’; always in the third person, engaging in a form of toddler illeism like The Rock, or Elmo, or Elaine’s short-lived boyfriend Jimmy; for example, “Boy digging really, really big hole, clever Boy”, “Boy is a wriggle pot”, “Daddy is big, Boy is tiny”, “Boy wearing pink shoes today”, “Boy and daddy working really really hard in the garden”, “Boy is a scrappy little boy”, “Boy is a little bit funny”, “Please mummy tickle Boy’s back, a little bit more” etc etc. The origins of this are hazy. It is possibly due to the very beginnings of his language when he learned that he and those like him were boys, daddy and others like him were men, and everyone else was a girl. Whatever the reason, he found the name compelling, and that is what he has chosen.

He is certainly aware that other people seem to think his name is Milo, but people greeting him by this phony, legally-imposed handle are usually met with hostility. It often baffles friends and strangers alike when, meeting him for the first time, they crouch down innocently and kindly say “Hi Milo, how are you?”, or similar, and are greeted with a furrowed brow, a pout, often a stamped foot and the rather confusing and aggressively delivered sentence “Boy not Milo, Boy is Boy!”. It then usually falls to one or other of his parents to explain to the innocent that they have not said anything wrong, that Milo is actually a lovely well-adjusted little boy but that he is just tired of everybody getting his name wrong. Milo forgives immediately once his name is corrected and returns at once to being a ray of extremely high energy sunshine.

How long will it last? Perhaps for ever, which is fine with us. But in the meantime we will need to continue to live with the disdainful glances we receive at the supermarket when we say to our son “come on boy, it’s time to go home”, as he skips along behind us carrying the bread.

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Boy looking out to sea

Sleep regression… the Brexit of the bedroom – Friday 24 June 2016

We had heard about this mythical, violent phase of toddler development; sleep oppression, sleep aggression, sleep obsession? Something like that. Anyway, it didn’t matter because it wouldn’t happen to us. Like letting your child roll off the bed, or fall down the stairs, or mysteriously chip one of his front teeth, these are parenting issues for other parents to deal with. Like the Brexit; a confusing  and mysterious concept spoken about on blogs and in supermarket carparks, it was not something to worry about and certainly not something to understand in any meaningful way.

So late last week when Milo’s sleep regression emerged in all its screaming glory we were shocked, saddened, shocked, alarmed and most importantly thoroughly ill-prepared. A small Brexit playing out in our home in which Milo perhaps represented the fine people of Northern Lincolnshire and Kuepps and I embodied Jeremy Corbyn; steadfast, confident and utterly helpless.

Sleep regression looks like this; one night Milo kisses each of us in turn, drinks his warm milk with an angelic smile and a dimple in each cheek, pulls his blanket up to his chin and says “mummy, daddy thank you for a wonderful day, please switch off the light on your way out and do enjoy your evening”, the following night he is bad Sigourney Weaver from Ghostbusters the original; glowing red eyes, crazy frazzled hair, with a cavalcade of non-sensical utterances pouring out of his mouth at maximum volume as he darts around his room like a poorly played game of pinball, looking for an escape.

When the regression decides to manifest it appears sudden, unreasonable, completely unforeseen. You shrug and wonder what must have happened overnight to cause it; new teeth, growth spurt, low pressure system, Lycanthropy? But as the regression unfolds and you find yourselves with far more waking hours over night to ponder, you realise the utter predictability of your fate. It is a steady process of cognitive development and bedroom appeasement, fusing into a heady mix of willful, asymmetric protest, a testing of the rubberiness of one’s reality and the very limits of stamina. It is a battle of ideas on an uneven playing field. Uneven, mucousy and very very noisy.

It started for us probably 6 weeks hence. Milo, who had slept perfectly for about 4 or 5 months spontaneously decided the cot was no longer for him. He put forward this position forcefully and so we dismantled his bed, made safe the room and set him up on a mattress on the floor. Milo was pleased at this outcome but simultaneously decided he was no longer comfortable nor capable of falling asleep alone. And so Kuepps and I have taken turns lying with him as he thrashes around before slumber demanding to be patted on his “bum”, “gaga” (tummy) or “knee”; only these three locations are suitable patting options. This worked for several weeks but the potency of said patting has been noticeably dropping off in recent times.

Coinciding with this troubling bedroom progression has been an explosion in Milo’s language; he can now string 3 or 4 words together (like “go away daddy, door” – pretty clear) and can mimic almost every word he hears including my favourite “bulldozer”. Milo now has dozens of words at his disposal and so can communicate most desires effectively. He is increasingly enjoying this interaction and the power it gives him. However, like Nigel Farage Milo is only capable of high level, broad communication, with very little nuance. And like Farage Milo’s messaging is purely designed to stimulate an action, a response. Not to facilitate reasoned conversation or debate.

So when the regression arrived last week we should have seen it coming. We had a son who was increasingly displeased about sleep (or more accurately increasingly pleased about the delights of being awake), increasingly interested in the limits of his power, who had developed just enough tools to express himself to a point but with no real way to reason or negotiate a better reality for himself. Disaster.

The first few nights we tried everything we could think of. Stay in the room with him, leave him alone in the room, more milk, less milk. The result remained the same; high impact screaming for literally hours on end. We were mesmerized by his stamina and commitment, but ultimately released him from his room on each occasion, to break the cycle and to refresh him. His response was fascinating and infuriating. Within seconds of release he would actually giggle, climb the stairs and inquire as to whether we would like to build a duplo tower with him. Unfortunately after this period of ‘refreshment’ and tower building the process would begin again. Nobody was sleeping.

So a few days ago we decided I would be our sacrificial anode, to attempt a new technique. Two would go in, and only one would come out, no matter what. And hopefully that one would be me.

Milo is well aware of the series of little steps that lead him to bed so begins protesting each element in turn, hoping that should even one of these steps be avoided, he may enjoy an overall victory; “no bath”, “no milk”, “no book”. These are all things that he loves, but things that must be cast aside to achieve a loftier goal; like forgoing Camembert, the Eurostar and Oktoberfest to break free of the debilitating European Union.

Once Milo is bathed and pyjama’d, Kuepps switches off the light and gently  closes the door, wondering if she will ever see one or both of her boys again. Milo unravels immediately, wailing and flailing around the room; banging on the door “daddy door”, banging on the bedside lamp “daddy on” and then banging on my head “daddy up”. We had decided in advance to model my technique on dealing with a bear attack. Our knowledge of this technique is based on one viewing of the film ‘The Revenent’ and seems to involve doing nothing at all to protect yourself while the bear gores you. So that is what I did. I lay on his mattress perfectly still while Milo took turns pushing and pulling my head, clambering over me, stepping on my face in his efforts to pull open the blinds. Pausing every so often to let me blow his nose, Milo screamed for 90 minutes, offering countless other scenarios for my consideration “daddy play park”, “daddy tower”, “daddy gia mumma” (our cat Suu Kyi), “daddy book”. Eventually Milo’s protestations descended into an increasingly laboured march between banging on the door and banging on my head, looking much like the bunny who did not have Duracell batteries in those early 80s commercials, for whom I always held a lot of sympathy.

Finally after one last sobbing stagger back from the door Milo collapsed over my legs and immediately fell into REM sleep, his little body twitching from head to toe as much-needed sleep washed over him. I slipped out from under him like a spatula from an omelette and returned upstairs, largely unscathed and with the knowledge that at least we had discovered the limit of Milo’s rather impressive stamina.

Like the people of the UK we have no idea what lies ahead but our eyes are now open to the likely root cause of our recent suffering. As Milo’s language grows in nuance so too will our ability to negotiate and discuss our shared future; one in which we agree upon mutually beneficial peaceful evenings, and the occasional sleep-in.


A new sleep paradigm

Hast du kaka? – Tuesday 7 June 2016

“Hast du kaka?”

Milo’s predictable answer to this question, which of course essentially translates to “do you have poo in your nappy?”, intrigues me. Without exception Milo’s immediate, unflinching and awfully convincing reply is “no”; or in recent weeks “nein”, delivered in a perfect Indiana Jones German villain accent, which is amazing.

Of course his position, although firmly put, is completely indefensible and he knows it. A casual sniff in his direction will immediately cast doubt on the veracity of his claim, and a visual inspection will diminish his credibility entirely. Not once have I taken his word for it, despite olfactory evidence to the contrary, and said “oh I withdraw son, my most humble apologies for the unseemly accusation” before continuing with my Horse and Hound magazine. No, I check every time; and I am always right. I must have caught him out in this blatant and inexplicable lie hundreds of times and yet not once have I observed even a hint of regret or awkwardness at his treachery laid bare. He is utterly undeterred.

Last night a series of unfortunate events highlighted this phenomenon to me and convinced me the concept needs to be explored further. While the evening bath was running I denuded Milo and allowed him to frolic in front of the heater. After 19 months I am still able to convince myself that this time my child will be sensible enough not to defecate on the floor. Incorrect.

I looked over at Milo who had quickly assumed a squatting position and a fixed stare. “Milo, are you pooing?” I asked him. “Nein” he replied calmly before leaping to his feet giggling maniacally and disappearing into the spare bedroom at a great pace squealing “kaka, kaka, kaka” in an increasingly inaudible manner as more distance was put between he and the scene of the mischief.

I actually said the words “you deserved that” before scooping up the elegant log and flushing it down the toilet. I then retrieved my sinewy whippet of a son who was running wildly in circles as if he were water descending into a plughole, tucked him under my arm and we headed downstairs.

Five minutes later we were in the bath together. Milo was attempting to entice one of the cats toward him with a Captain Planet figurine while I sat calmly playing with the wind-up duck when all of a sudden I caught an unmistakable shape emerging from the depths majestically, as if it were a feather defying gravity.

Like the flash of red on a deadly spider, or the shock of scarecrow blonde hair on Boris Johnson, there are some things hardwired into the human brain that do not require processing; the image of which bypasses the cerebrum and travels immediately into the reptilian brain, causing you to recoil instinctively to safety. A poo in a bath is one of those things.

It looked like half a chokito that had been placed on a dashboard in the sun to whiten, before being soaked in water overnight. It gracefully made its way up through the water column before settling gently at its surface.

“Milo, did you do a poo?” I asked. “Nein”

“Well, what’s that then?” I countered, pointing at the offending cylinder.

Milo did not entirely discontinue his figurine taunting of Huckleberry but did pass a casual glance in the direction of the lolloping log. “Poo” he said, with no emotion, no hint of irony and an unwavering gaze which said “there are two of us here in this bath dad so tell me what you know about this situation”.

Such bold yet mystifying logic is hard to counter and you lose too much momentum to ask the next obvious question; “how do you propose to reconcile those two statements?” It’s a bit Putin-esque:

Reporter: “Vladimir, does Russia have troops in Ukraine?”

Putin: “net”

Reporter: “Then Vladimir, who are those men dressed as Russian Special Forces?”

Putin: : “They are Russian Special Forces”

Provocative yet effective. I had no further question for my son who had already returned to his task of luring Huck toward danger, and enjoying some success.

Noting Milo’s deposit still appeared to maintain much of its structural integrity I simply scooped it out into the toilet and we carried on with an otherwise very pleasant bath.

It is only under these circumstances that Milo has thus far demonstrated this determined and unashamed dedication to mistruth; but we shall be watching keenly for future inevitable examples.

One other observation I have taken from the experience of recent days is the evolution in my response to unplanned kaka incidents. As I read my response to Milo’s first carpet poo which occurred last July (Day Twenty Six – 28 July 2015) I am simultaneously impressed at my developing maturity and poise, and horrified at my complete submission to the normality of unforeseen and unprovoked appearances of human faeces in the living and dining areas of our home.

19 months

Judgement Day – Friday 26 February 2016

Like agitating Siri until he becomes impolite, brushing a toddler’s teeth is an impossible task.

Milo is prepared to: squeeze toothpaste directly from the tube into his mouth, suck the bristles of his toothbrush to extract remnant toothpaste flavour, carry his toothbrush around and stab the cats with it, brush my face with his toothbrush, deposit Kuepps’ toothbrush into the cats’ water bowl, brush my face with my toothbrush and post Kuepps’ toothbrush into the cupboard with all the candles in it.

Brushing he will not do. There can be no agitation of any kind of bristles on enamel. If such a manoeuvre is attempted Milo will purse his lips together, shake his head wildly side to side and slip immediately out of your arms and onto the ground as if he has spontaneously liquefied.

We have convinced ourselves the magic of toothpaste is such that brushing is actually a nice to have. The real benefit comes from swilling the toothpaste around in your mouth, or better still, eating it. But in the sub-cockle area of our hearts we know this to be false; and Judgement Day is coming.

As a new parent there are a number of big milestones in the first year; among these are the  4 big check-up/ vaccine delivery days (2 month, 4 month, 6 month and 12 month). These are the days when the project you have been working on at home is presented to the public; like going on a month holiday, working on a beard then unveiling it to your colleagues for assessment. These are exciting and trepidatious days.

Unlike the holiday-beard example however, the baby assessors (otherwise known as doctors) are overwhelmingly complimentary, encouraging and positive during this first year. Any vague concerns about weight, blotchiness, hygiene, ear-wax etc are readily explained away by the inexperience and fatigue of the parents. The holiday-beard example would sound something like this “Howard, overall your beard looks really terrific. Those bald patches around your cheeks and the dirty ginger/ grey mis-colouration around your chin are nothing to worry about. I am sure given time it will all thicken up and assume a homogeneous colour. You’re doing great”.

We have heard rumours however, from parents a few months ahead of us, that the ‘under 8s everybody receives a participation trophy’ attitude ends at the 18 month check-up; and for Milo that is only 6 weeks away.

All of a sudden we are growing concerned that Milo brushing my face with his toothbrush is probably unlikely to reduce or eliminate the plaque build-up on his teeth. Will the baby assessor accept the argument that he has a second set on its way so what’s the big deal?

Our self-consciousness about this major unveiling is also straying outside the sphere of dental hygiene. What is the optimum percentile for weight? Does the 90th imply we are really great at feeding him or really bad at running him?

What about scars and bruises on his legs and arms? What is the optimum number that says “I protect my child but allow him the freedom to develop physically as an independent human?”

Does a bit of skin pigment let the assessor know we are mindful of Milo’s vitamin D intake, or that we are sunscreen negligent in one of the most fearsome UV environments on the planet?

And what of language? I can only imagine there will be surreptitious language testing resulting in some kind of score being applied to our child, and thereby to us. On this metric we are unlikely to do score highly.

Although Milo’s understanding is developing by the day, and he is a master of compelling ‘non-verbals’, the three languages currently being thrown at Milo are slowing him down. His vocabulary remains as follows:

Mummy = mummy

Daddy = daddy

Ball = ball

Nani = banana

Boo-eah = dummy

Da = light or fan or thank you

Dadadada = bird

Baa = dog or sheep, but mostly dog

Gatgia = cat (a derivation of the Spanish gatita)

Dodo = car, or bicycle or truck (a derivation of the German auto)

Mimi = his ride-on fire-truck, or ride-on busy bee, or trolley

Gaga = his tummy

Moremore = More or some or do that again

And that’s about it. All adorable but unlikely to score us strong assessor points.

So where does that leave us? Only time will tell; but meanwhile we are running a tight regime of mock weigh-ins under various climatic conditions and altitudes, facilitating bare-chested solar gain but only at dawn and dusk, dressing Milo in tights before embarking on walks upon uneven surfaces and visiting the zoo a lot to practice some big ticket items like “elephant, monkey and scimitar-horned oryx”.

Whatever the 18 month baby-assessor check-up equivalent of “Howard, go home and shave that thing off immediately. Seriously I just can’t look at it” is… the three of us are working hard to avoid.

  ‘Water Dragon’ is likely to score bonus points with the baby assessors

Gluten-free muffins – Friday 5 February 2016

Milo is not overwhelmingly in favour of gluten-free muffins.

While strolling through a particularly gluten-intolerant neighbourhood of our city this morning Milo and I happened upon an organic cafe which specializes in ethically-bartered quinoa and nude-harvested linseed.

As we were on the move we were in the market for some one-handed food to share; Milo was in one of his famous ‘wander aimlessly and dangerously and certainly not in the pram’ moods. With limited choice we settled upon an oatmeal, apple and funkleberry muffin; denuded of all gluten.

Milo was suspicious. With no gluten Milo knew the muffin must be held together with trickery and broken promises. Still, he was hungry so he began stabbing his little finger at the withered, shrunken little pseudo-muffin accompanied by an insistent rendition of his ‘jack-of-all-phrases’ “moremore”.

So, while we were waiting for our change I brought the deflated nugget of mischievousness to his lips. His little mouth opened expectantly as I nudged the gnarled muffin-top toward it. Just as he was clamping his limited but highly effective teeth upon the apologetic morsel our waitress returned with a beaming, organic smile upon her face saying “I hope you enjoy it”.

Well, as soon as the gravelly, drab, slice of mediocrity touched Milo’s tongue his mouth immediately fell open. The look on his face was a mix of betrayal and incredulity as the muffin crumbs tumbled out of his mouth, somersaulted off his chest and fell upon the pristine wooden floor-boards, which of course had been hand-pummeled in order to look less pristine.

Milo then began scraping his tongue with his fingers with quite some urgency, to ensure every sawdusty fragment was expelled from his mouth immediately. Once satisfied with the physical expulsion Milo began blowing rather wet raspberries with his tongue, one after the other, spitting out the last now semi-liquid specks of oatmeal and funkleberry until his chin, his tshirt and the floorboards directly below him were covered in a thin film.

Satisfied, Milo wandered off to inspect a small succulent growing in the cafe’s window-box. Our waitress and I were aghast, paralyzed by social convention. I quickly popped the rest of the muffin into my mouth in an overt show of support for the organic cafe, and gave an embarrassing wink and a little fist pump to nobody; I don’t know why I did that. I collected my muffin-soaked child and strolled casually but swiftly back to the anonymity of the street.

Milo’s reaction was spot-on. All of the life had been sucked out of that poor little muffin; it was like eating river-sand and apple skin, wrapped in ineptitude. The organic cafe had received some valuable feedback from the only honest customer they would get that day, perhaps resulting in a tweaking of the recipe, a little introspection, and maybe even some genuine enjoyment for the poor gluten-intolerants of the future.

It got me thinking; when and why do children stop behaving with simple honesty? When do social conventions begin to overwhelm their instincts? And when it happens to Milo, will it be our fault?

Here are a few things that Milo does now that will likely not be acceptable on year 7 camp:

  • Milo chews food, removes it from his mouth and offers it, with genuine sincerity, to his parents to eat;
  • When the electrician comes to visit us Milo stares at him then runs frantically in the opposite direction until he finds a leg to hide behind;
  • When somebody Milo does not know well tries to ruffle his hair he slaps their hand away and scowls at them;
  • When Milo does something he is pleased with, like jumping on the spot or smelling a flower, he claps himself with genuine admiration;
  • Milo identifies shoeless strangers in the park, carries their shoes to them and insists, blank faced, that they put them on; and,
  • If Milo happens upon a co-traveller in the lift with their sunglasses atop their head he will insist the glasses are worn on their eyes, appropriately. The frustrated, and growing insistence often continues long after the co-traveller has stopped laughing.

There must be a moment when Milo realises behaviours like these are not common among fully-functioning adults; and he will instead choose to swallow the dry, banal muffin, smile and assume his dishonest yet polite position in society.

Questions like this baffle me as a parent; how to craft a polite, respectful, yet free spirited, confident boy. One who doesn’t take a hair ruffling when he doesn’t want one but who also doesn’t spray muffin-mist everywhere when he doesn’t like the taste. One who claps others but also himself when he does something especially clever, and one who is prepared to stand up for what matters to him most; like everybody wearing shoes, all of the time.

The streets of organic-town