Milo of Croton – Monday 4 January 2016

If the legend is to be believed Milo of Croton was a wrestler and all-round cool guy of significant regard who lived a triumphant but somewhat truncated life during the 6th-century BC.

Milo won six Olympic crowns, seven at the Pythian Games, ten at the Isthmian and nine at the Nemean Games; a kind of ancient ‘Grand Slam’ legend of the Panhellenic Athletics circuit. The dude could wrestle. According to stories of yore his winning streak ended because people stopped competing against him; rather like Usain Bolt jogging to Olympic Gold unopposed.

The most intriguing stories about Milo are, however, from outside the ring, or octagon, or mat, or whatever it is called. He was pals with Pythagoras, one of his best students, and even managed to convince Pythagoras to let him marry his daughter Myia. I think Pythagoras would be a cool father-in-law, if somewhat frustrating to play at Trivial Pursuit.

As a boy Milo was given a newborn calf as a pet. For some reason Milo carried the calf on his shoulders wherever he went, and as it grew so too did Milo. After four years the calf had grown to a full-size bull, presumably now weighing somewhere around 1000kg. Milo was still carrying this thing around, a feat which by now must have been impressive but somewhat lifestyle limiting. Anyway, one day Milo decided to slaughter, roast and devour the whole thing in one sitting. Apparently he achieved this feat with ease and asked to see the dessert menu; in the end he decided against dessert but the mere fact he was considering it was impressive. He did have a single shot espresso, decaf.

Milo of Croton just appeared to do things because he could. Once he was an Olympic legend the mid-level bureaucrats of the Grecian Olympic Committee honoured Milo by casting his likeness in a bronze statue. Milo decided to carry the statue of himself into the Stadium of Olympia on his back. Why did he do this? It must have been incredibly heavy and awkward to lift. Slaves were plentiful and many such statues had previously been erected in the Stadium with little fuss. Just doing stuff because he could.

Once he tied a leather band tightly around his head and then burst it by inhaling air quickly, causing his temple veins to swell. His daily diet consisted of 9 kilos of meat, 9 kilos of bread and 10 litres of wine. Why? Even a large wrestling man like Milo could not possibly require such a gluttonous feast every day. Strong dude, lots of time on his hands, just doing stuff.

The story which captures this aspect of ancient wrestler Milo’s personality most saliently however is the story of his demise. It would appear Milo was walking through the woods one afternoon when he saw a rather large tree trunk, partially split by ancient lumberjacks, but not completely severed. Milo, wishing to test his strength, reached his arm into the split in the trunk and tried to rip it asunder. Unfortunately Milo’s estimation of his strength was over-ambitious and his arm was instead wedged in the trunk. Some opportunistic wolves leapt out of the forest and devoured him, and that was that. The key part of this tale is that he was alone; nobody was there to witness Milo’s test of strength.

Milo didn’t eat his childhood pal the bull to impress Myia, Milo didn’t burst the leather band off his temples at a frat party to impress the Delta Kappa Gammas, Milo didn’t eat 9 kilos of meat to compliment Pythagoras’ cooking on Christmas Eve (Europeans celebrate Christmas on the 24th). Milo pursued these ridiculous feats for himself. Doing stuff because he could.

Our son is named after Milo of Croton; although we can no longer remember whether we came up with the name before or after we learned about the ancient wrestling legend. We think Milo (our son) came second, but we can’t be sure. Actually, clearly the chocolate malted drink came first, then Milo of Croton, then Milo of Sydney.

His voracious appetite aside, Milo has recently started exhibiting some very Croton-esque habits; doing stuff because he can.

Milo stands on one leg in the bath. Why? It is incredibly dangerous and not conducive to cleansing himself.

Milo shimmies under his ball pit and hoists it like a Kazakh weightlifter; a perfect dead lift which sends all the balls tumbling down the stairs like an emptying apple truck. He then directs me to retrieve the balls with an emotionless gesture of his hand.

Milo walks on his tip-toes backwards.

Milo carries his ride-on fire engine around in front of him, in a very awkward fashion which only uses his deltoids and triceps; like a mini upright row. He powers it up stairs two at a time, grunting and panting as he goes. This is a very slow process but he is in no hurry. When he reaches the top he sends it crashing back to the bottom where he retrieves it and begins again.

Milo does the same with his ride-on lady beetle and his wooden ball-trolley. Often times the ball-trolley is balanced atop the lady beetle before he attempts to lift the whole pile together. Why? Just read a book or play quietly with your Captain Planet figurines. Just doing stuff because he can.

In the last week Milo has also begun to exhibit behaviour that may suggest he has an innate desire to wrestle. I don’t know quite how it started but Milo rather enjoys me pushing him over.

Now that I have written this down it doesn’t sound great, but it’s true. Milo will sidle up to me, get down on his haunches and begin to giggle before I have even begun. But as I gently nudge him off balance Milo bursts into fits of laughter which continue as I roll and shove him back onto the ground; by his hips, shoulders and forehead. If I pause my nudging Milo will immediately deliver his phrase ‘moremore’ which is a ubiquitous signal for ‘keep doing what you are doing or keep feeding me whatever that delicious food/ beverage was’. If ‘moremore’ does not do the trick Milo will simply pretend to fall over himself, laughing just as energetically, hoping that I will follow him and continue the shoving. It’s pretty weird, adorable, but weird, and I think can only be fully explained if the legend of Crotonian Milo is understood.

If Milo begins to carry either of our cats Huckleberry or Suu Kyi around on his shoulders, we may be in trouble.

Crotonian strength

When should my toddler stop listening to Kanye? – Friday 18 December 2015

This morning something unusual and wonderful happened; Milo and I slept in. Unfortunately, however, this caused us to be embarrassingly late for an important appointment.

Given we rarely have social engagements at 0630am, we have of course not required a morning alarm for the last 14 months. This morning we had our regular gentlemen’s breakfast with Milo’s pal ‘White Lightning’ and his dad, a delightful affair that occurs most Fridays at 0730.

At 0745 my left eye levered itself open cautiously, like a Pipi checking its surroundings before burrowing feverishly into the sand. The morning light was glary and sharp, the house silent. My right eye had by now taken lefty’s cue and with my depth perception restored I checked the time.

In one swift motion I pulled on a trouser with one hand whilst texting ‘White Lightning’s’ envoy with the other. Simultaneously I hopped into Milo’s room and found him sleeping soundly, a peaceful little angelic boy who quickly turned into a snarly brute as I poked him. Milo channeled his inner teenager and turned over belligerently with the clear and unabashed intention of returning to slumber.

Having been a teenager myself in the past I quickly recalled the inhumane tactics utilised by my father in such situations and began pulling on Milo’s toes. As tiny and elusive as they were, I was able to cling on to one or two as they danced around, desperately trying to evade my pincering. Finally Milo relented and sat up, scowling.

Well we had no time for scowling so I scooped Milo up and assumed the role of Kate McCallister in the classic scene from Home Alone 1; dashing around Milo’s room, throwing mismatched clothing on him, buckling shoes onto the wrong feet, tripping over cats. Surely had we owned more than one child somebody would have been left in the attic.

We made it to breakfast and enjoyed some gentlemanly company, Milo learning important lessons about older boys, weight differentials and Newton’s First Law of Motion.

Due to our tardiness breakfast was truncated and we were soon in the car ready to execute our plan; our first drive to Canberra without mum. Kuepps was otherwise engaged this weekend so Milo and I were hitting the highway together to spend a family weekend in Canberra for early Christmas celebrations.

Milo, not a man who enjoys restriction of any kind (mental, physical or metaphorical), will only tolerate his car seat for long periods of time under very specific conditions; that is, he is asleep.

So the plan was to keep him awake until the Botanical Gardens in Mount Annan, run him around like a Hungarian Vizsla, return him exhausted to the car for an immediate transition into sleep, avoid the temptation of McParenting at Sutton Forest and cruise triumphantly into Canberra several hours later as Milo gently roused himself from a peaceful rest.

Phase 1 was fraught with danger from the outset; and failure here would almost certainly set-off a chain reaction that would lead to laps of the Big Merino with a red-faced infant not impressed by high thread-count yarn.

My solution was to turn the radio up really loud, to create a mini Guantanamo Bay in the back seat. My album of choice was Kanye West and Jay-Z, which seemed to work rather well. After three or four songs however I remembered that if you listen closely, or not at all closely, Kanye’s lyrics are really quite rude. And I began to wonder at what point a toddler should stop listening to such eloquent, but objectively inappropriate musical material.

This is another of those topics for which there is really no particularly good advice in the literature; like when is my child old enough to care for a cactus? Or, how old is too old for Crocs?

I started thinking more broadly about being a role model, how and when we as parents need to start weeding out some of our less palatable, or at least non-model habits, such as ‘borrowing’ wifi while sitting outside the First Class Lounge at the airport, mixing whites and colours in the washing machine, starting to cross the road when the red man has already begun flashing, claiming ‘home office’ supplies at tax time to an amount just below the ‘receipts required’ limit (I have never been brave enough to do this).

Clearly none of us is even close to perfect but somehow many of us still manage to raise pretty decent children. Is it a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’? Like my skin doctor who has made it his life’s work to identify and aggressively burn off the slightest hint of skin irregularity with extreme prejudice, but smokes a pack of Marlboro Lights a day. On balance I believe he is anti-cancer because of his fine work in the skin realm , but his lung work leaves a lot to be desired.

Or perhaps as a parent you need to save up your anti-social habits and perform them all at once when your children are asleep; like answering a question correctly in Trivial Pursuit and then giving some additional context to let everybody else know that you really know the answer, or starting a new yoghurt before the old one is completely finished because you don’t really like that watery stuff that tends to accumulate at the bottom, or cutting your toe nails inside and not completely worrying if a few fragments fly off into the unknown.

I don’t know the answer to this but I hope it becomes clearer, I’m a little baffled and nervous that Milo will soon learn how bad I am at drilling.

But perhaps that is the point. There is no hiding our foibles from our pesky little sponge-like infants; perhaps their very presence simply causes us to try the watery yoghurt, to just give the answer ‘Mont Blanc’ and leave it at that, to stop and wait when the red man starts flashing and to cut your toenails in the garden.

And every now and again, when the mood is right, you can listen to Kanye with your headphones on.

  Released from the vehicle

Attempts at parenting – Friday 11 December 2015

The following is a self-help checklist to determine if you are likely addicted to Crystal Meth… or Baby Einstein:

  • You have developed a dependence and tolerance to it. Do you feel like you need it to get through the day, to feel better or for any other reason?
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms, you use again to counteract withdrawal symptoms;
  • You are losing or have lost the ability to control your usage;
  • All of you priorities start to revolve around its use; eg. you are preoccupied with getting it, you have to have it in your possession to ‘feel okay’, you do whatever you can to get it including missing work, family obligations etc.

Based on the above checklist we have concluded that Milo is developing, or potentially already has, an addiction to Baby Einstein, the nonsensical, psychedelic, youtube sensation that bypasses a baby’s capacity for conscious thought and injects itself directly into his or her reptilian brain. Readers may recall Baby Einstein was introduced to Milo some months ago to counteract his regular distracted demeanour at breakfast time. We found that Baby Einstein rendered Milo immobile, save for his little jaw which pistoned up and down in an involuntary fashion, allowing a well-timed spoonful of Weetbix to be deposited.

Unfortunately what started as an innocent folly has spiraled out of our control and can now only be described as a breakfast dependence. All manner of distractions and other strategies have been employed to break this oppressive cycle; cats chasing a laser pointer, eating with novelty sized salad servers, using the baby-monitor handset as a mock telephone, dad wearing a cycling helmet, mum wearing Oma’s sunhat. None of it works. Milo points frantically at our pockets which house the Baby Einstein machine saying ‘baaa, baaa’ over and over (Baby Einstein regularly features puppets of animals, including a strange baby hippopotamus that sucks a schnuller and is pushed around in a pram. It is weird). If Milo’s efforts are not rewarded swiftly he, quite frankly, loses it. The chance of any Weetbix being deposited anywhere near his mouth is immediately forfeit, any projectiles within his surprisingly extensive radius are immediately seized and projected, and he begins to clamber his way out of his high chair with the unbalanced determination of an injured T1000.

Earlier this week I decided it was time to break the cycle. I visualized an addiction gnawing away at my poor child. I saw him shunned from sleep-overs in primary school because of the embarrassment the morning after would bring. I imagined my dream of hiking the Inca Trail with him some day shattered; no phone reception means no youtube, and no youtube means no Baby Einstein. And no Baby Einstein for three days means, well, I shivered at the thought. It was time for some parenting.

Being an expert on addiction, and parenting for that matter, I decided the cleanest and most logical approach would be ‘cold turkey’. Surely a child as hungry as mine would quickly concede defeat, return to his chair, apologise for his disruptive behaviour, daintily consume his Weetbix and then likely thank me for my provision of sustenance, and adroitly administered discipline.

Not so.

Milo bellowed as if his very world was collapsing; as if the planes would never again take off and land, as if the global supply of corn cobs had been exhausted, as if the little guy he sees sometimes in the mirror had stopped waving back, as if organic macro crackers and mini Italian bread sticks were no longer a thing, as if the little daisy buds that he loves to pluck from the sacrificial bush had just stopped growing. He was sad. And angry. And confused. But mostly angry.

As I am the adult and he the infant I held firm, reasoning with him as he writhed around on the ground, mucous and tears running in rivulets down his cheeks and joining forces just below his neckline to flow together into a damp stain in the shape of a V on the front of his shirt, as if he were a slightly out of shape middle-aged man shamed back to a lunchtime cross-fit class with his colleagues, sweating uncomfortably and wishing he’d just gone to Subway.

Eventually Huckleberry mustered the courage to investigate the cacophony, which distracted Milo momentarily and caused the bellowing and sobbing to eventually peter out. I congratulated myself on my patience and thought Milo and I had achieved a great parenting victory together. I welcomed him back into his high chair and offered him a little more Weetbix. Milo paused, his mouth firmly shut, looked at my pockets and delicately but definitively said “baaaaa”. I declined Milo’s gentle request for a quick glimpse of Baby Einstein which, perhaps predictably in hindsight, quickly precipitated a return to yelling, sobbing, writhing, injured but determined T1000.

It was about this time that Kuepps emerged from downstairs, showered and ready for the day. It was a Tuesday and therefore her day at home with Milo. Needless to say Kuepps was none-too-impressed with my attempts at parenting, and far from amused as I handed her a pink-faced, hungry, disheveled, slobbery child… but I was late for work.

Needless to say this morning (Friday, our day of adventure) Milo and I laughed heartily together at the antics of the creepy little hippo baby puppet, our jaws moving up and down with involuntary reptilian unison, as we enjoyed our Weetbix together.

 
A man sits alone; alone with Baby Einstein

The dog says baaa – Friday 27 November 2015

Readers of this blog may recall that Milo’s first word ‘dada’ meant, at least to his mind, ‘picture frame’ and so was, strictly speaking, wrong.

Unfortunately it would appear that Milo’s second clear utterance ‘baaa’ is also rather imprecise. And once again it is probably our fault.

So far Milo understands more German than he does English. Kuepps, Opa and Oma have been working hard on Milo’s teutophone and one phrase in particular has lodged well “hey Milo, was macht das schaff?” (what does the sheep say?) Milo loves to hear this question. A cheeky smile flashes across his face and with an uncharacteristically demure voice Milo says “baa, baaaaa” Of course Milo is thoroughly rewarded for this response; with laughter, clapping and kisses from anybody in the vicinity. In fact the whole sequence is so enjoyable that Milo is asked numerous times every day. His (and his audience’s) enthusiasm never wains. If you ask with the correct tone the “baa, baaaa” often drowns out the question, such is his delight in giving the answer.

But alas all of this enthusiasm has resulted in Milo convincing himself that every animal says baaa, and in fact anything vaguely related to animals, such as a tractor or a shovel.

Dogs are Milo’s favourite creature that say baaa. On our regular neighbourhood walks we encounter countless baaaing canines. Milo will point frantically at each one and waddle toward them at pace, like an elderly drunk man, repeating “baa, baaa, baaaaa”.

Thus far we have only encountered one owner who seemed slightly offended by my child’s rather odd behaviour. This man was strolling with a something-a-doodle which, to be fair to my son, looked quite a lot like a sheep. He seemed somewhat taken-a-back that Milo had mistaken his woolly dog for a farmyard creature. I tried to explain that no, Milo knows his dog is a dog, all creatures are sheep, or at least all creatures say baa, and so do shovels, and actually Milo doesn’t even really know what a sheep is. The man appeared no more enlightened, and dragged his sheep-like puppy away from my son who was desperately trying to get licked.

The delightful, but potentially confusing, baaing situation has got me thinking about how easy it is to instill bad habits in toddlers and how susceptible Kuepps and I might be to this dilemma. We are not particularly disciplined when it comes to not laughing at objectively hilarious but potentially anti-social behaviours.

Two examples: Milo has made great progress recently at drinking water out of a cup. He can do this perfectly but usually chooses not to. At some point early on in this learning process Milo picked up his cup and poured the water all over his head. Because this is hilarious we both laughed. Milo grinned, laughed back at us, then filed the experience away.

Now most times Milo is offered a cup of water he will pause, ensure a sufficient number of people are observing him, and ceremoniously pour the water over his head. The chill of the water surprises him every time; he flinches briefly and then grins broadly. Unfortunately we continue to laugh at this, because we love it, and it is hilarious. But I suppose at some point in Milo’s future this habit will begin to impede his ability to function effectively in social settings.

Secondly, as part of Milo’s walk training I encouraged him to totter back and forth between me and our staircase, taking small blocks of duplo out of my hand and lobbing them down the stairs. Again, this sequence was rather amusing at the time but has become less so as he has got taller, stronger and far more balanced. Duplo no longer gives him the thrill it once did so more ambitious objects are being lobbed; buckets, soccer balls, the plastic turtle thing whose head pops out when you push in all the different shapes on his back, Milo’s green recycling truck. I fear it is only a matter of time before Elefun is levered up and over the railing. Poor Elefun.

At some point, say before he has the strength and ambition to dispatch my laptop down the stairs, we will have to address this behaviour. But that is future Jupes’ problem; and I am sure by then our ill-discipline will have added many more amusing but questionable tricks to the list.

Oh, also, Milo had his first babycino last weekend. He loved it.

    Babycino

The delusional gene – Friday 13 November 2015

Milo thinks our cats are chasing him. They’re not.

The enjoyment derived from the relationship between Milo and our two cats, Suu Kyi and Huckleberry, is not evenly distributed. Milo thinks the three of them are an inseparable team of pals. Suu Kyi and Huckleberry seem to view Milo like a piece of dry food floating in their water bowl, growing larger by the day. All they need is patience and eventually the floater will be removed, and the water refreshed.

As the cats have climbed ever higher on the furniture, away from him, Milo has required less and less actual interaction to amuse himself. With fewer opportunities to put their paws in his mouth than there used to be Milo has developed other ways to enjoy Huck and Suu Kyi’s company.

The following is a common occurrence in our house at present: Milo will be playing quietly in the general vicinity of the cats, perhaps lobbing duplo down the stairs or bashing his xylophone with the hammer from his ‘Laugh and Learn Smart Stage Toolbox’. All of a sudden one of the cats will wrinkle a whisker in his direction or stretch a limb toward him in a feline way. Milo will spring to his feet, giggling in his lunatic way, and frantically run like a drunken zombie, quasi-upright with the assistance of his walker if it is within arm’s reach, or tumbling to the ground every three or four steps if he is unaided, such is his haste and level of excitement. Milo will not look back to confirm he is being pursued but will continue to laugh hysterically as he wobbles his way into the ‘secret room’ (upstairs bedroom) before plunging headlong on to the spare mattress, burying himself into the pile of cushions.

After a time Milo will slowly get his breathing under control, peel himself up off the mattress and clamber back to the doorway where he peers around to see if it is safe to re-emerge. The cats, of course, have not moved. Suu Kyi is invariably sleeping in precisely the same spot Milo left her, purring gently. Huck is usually licking himself, with disinterested half-closed eyes, also unmoved at the end of the sofa from where Milo fled.

It is hard to know whether Milo genuinely thinks the cats are advancing upon him, or whether he knows the truth but is choosing the fantasy because he just enjoys it so much. I have a sneaking suspicion it is the latter, and I hope it is. If so I believe it is an early onset manifestation of what we call in my family ‘the delusional gene’.

Essentially the ‘delusional gene’ allows one to interpret life as a miraculous series of events designed for your enjoyment, sometimes despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. If applied in the right measure the gene lends itself to a positive disposition, cheerful outlook and can-do attitude. If the gene is available in over-supply it can lead to a delusion that borders on narcissism, or a lack of connection to legitimate day-to-day tribulations. In our family this is known as the ‘smarty pants gene’.

Thus far Milo’s outlook on life appears sparkling, with a healthy dose of spirited, forthright determination. The cat delusion appears to be a good sign. A boy who can take enjoyment from literally nothing must have a bright future indeed.

  Drunken zombie

Five more ways Milo is like our cats – Friday 9 October 2015

It has been over a month since I returned to work four days a week, and the same period since I recorded any adventures. Milo has changed a lot in that month and much to our bafflement turns one next week. I think the best way to describe these changes is to compile a new list of the ways in which Milo is like our cats:

  • Both Milo and the cats love eating Hills Prescription Diet Dental Care t/d cat biscuits;
  • Both Milo and the cats enjoy the sensation of licking the short spiky hairs on top of my head;
  • If allowed to roam freely on the balcony both Milo and the cats will instinctively chew on fibrous plants, to help with their digestion;
  • Both Milo and the cats are able to balance unaided on two feet for up to fifteen seconds, if the correct stimulus is supplied; and,
  • Neither Milo nor the cats have any interest in bathing, ever.

Last week almost every baby we know had gastro. The phone would ring, Kuepps would talk in a hushed consoling tone, hang up then look at me with a wordless nod of her head, as if our co-workers were being laid off one by one from the coal mine. Another baby down. Unfortunately Milo was no exception.

It started Wednesday night. On Thursday morning Kuepps and I sprang awake at around 0630hrs, discombobulated and confused. Our bedroom was filled with light, streaking in through the gaps in our shutters. We looked at each other with small raisin eyes, the overnight bottle sat motionless and unused on the bedside table. “Did you….?” we both started, then realised what had happened. Milo had slept through the night. We leapt out of bed and met in the middle of our room to perform an impromptu jig, rather uncoordinated as our legs were still recalibrating from our long sleep.

We pranced upstairs feeling like super-humans. The coffee was the richest, earthiest, most free-traded we had ever tasted, the weet-bix crunchy, flaky, malty, as if the fibres had been knitted by the weathered hands of artisan wheat farmers, the blueberries juicy, tart, firm and plump as if you could lay them out in a single layer on the floor and sleep comfortably upon them for days. We felt incredible. Of course being parents to an infant our joy quickly turned to guilt so we snuck into his room to check. There he was, rousing himself, grinning in his toothy gremlin whole-faced way. All was right with the world.

I rode to work with ‘Accidentally Kelly Street’ by Frente playing on loop in my head, waving this way and that; to the milk-man, post-man, police officer on the beat, the ruffians spray-painting graffiti on the railway underpass.

Milo was in the care of his grandma (Lali) on the Thursday. We returned home to reports of a happy, energetic boy who ate well and even completed some light Gymbaroo drills in the afternoon.

Thursday night he slept through again. Once more we woke with the sunrise and a smile, overnight bottle still untouched. We were feeling smug by now, as if our careful sleeping regime was starting to pay dividends. We deserved some credit for this key moment in Milo’s development and we were going to enjoy it. The future was starting to unfurl before us; lazy Sunday mornings, toast and paper in bed (not that we have ever done this once). “We might have to start setting an alarm again” I joked in a hilarious fashion as Milo vomited his weet-bix all over Kuepps.

We had never seen that volume or vigour from Milo before but we put it down to breakfast quantity and the fact we had also given him a morning bottle, to make up for the lack of milk overnight. Friday is my day with Milo so we largely stayed home, Milo sleeping another four hours during the day.

Friday night Milo slept through again but by Saturday he couldn’t keep anything down. Our night-time dream was crumbling. Milo wasn’t sleeping because our relaxed sleep-training methods were finally yielding fruit; he was exhausted because his little body was fighting an unpleasant virus. And he wasn’t winning.

By Monday morning after one more night sleeping through, a visit from the after-hours doctor and a horrible night for the poor Milo man on Sunday we found ourselves in the Children’s Emergency Ward at the hospital, along with all those other poor babies who had been laid off from the coal-mine.

With a gastro-ridden baby it is all about fluids. Milo had lost almost 2kg, roughly 20% of his body weight in a week, which for me would be the equivalent of losing 17kg! The doctors were not concerned about this but were very keen to ensure Milo was getting enough fluids, to replace what he was losing and to start recharging his reservoir. What we had been doing wrong was giving him large volumes at irregular intervals. We were sent to the waiting room with a chart, a pen and an instruction to get 15mL of hydralyte, dilute apple juice or at least water into him every 15 minutes. This is the kind of structured challenge that we enjoy so we set about earning a gold star for our piece of paper, later to be stuck on the fridge.

Hours slip by quickly when you are so focused upon a task every fifteen minutes and soon it was lunchtime. We were called back in to see the doctor, who was not as pleased with our collective performance as we were. No gold star, nothing for the fridge.

The doctor expressed her opinion that Milo was still sluggish, not vibrant and that she would like to insert a tube down his nose to regulate the process of re-hydration. We asked how Milo would feel about that; “he won’t enjoy it” was her quite reasonable reply.

While Kuepps was pregnant we attended a course which we found quite useful called Calm Birth. One of the many nuggets of wisdom imparted during the course was to ask some key questions whenever faced with a decision regarding medical procedures. Essentially, ensure you have all the information on the procedure being suggested, seek clarification on what alternatives might be available and if you are not comfortable making a decision at that moment, see if it’s okay to buy some time.

Milo already looked so limp and traumatised that the idea of force-feeding him through a tube was a little bit heart-breaking. So we ran through our Calm Birth questions; the tube would deliver 80mL an hour, there were no other benefits beyond the reliable supply of liquid and yes we could have another hour to prove ourselves.

We were already running a pretty tight, successful regime at 60mL per hour so we huddled and agreed upon a plan to reach our new benchmark of 80mL or above. We needed to push Milo to 20mL or more every 15 minutes, knowing that any vomit failures would almost certainly result in ‘the tube’. Success would require diligence, attention to detail and teamwork. Milo gave his tacit endorsement for the plan by drinking 20mL of apple juice and not vomiting, we were away.

In the first hour we put up a non-flashy result of 80mL whilst simultaneously building rapport with the triage nurses, offering to buy them lunch. When the results were tallied after the second hour we were all delighted to see a new record, 90mL.

It was now after two in the afternoon and we were summoned again by the doctor. Kuepps strutted into the examination room, proudly flitting our results back and forth in front of her. Milo chose the exact right moment to burst out of my arms and goanna crawl across the room toward a magazine stand, flashing his first toothy grin of the day at the doctor, and engaging in a little light destruction of the reading material.

We received our gold star and were released back into the world with strict instructions to keep the liquids up, and some reasonably hazy instructions as to when solids should be re-introduced.

Milo had one more relapse on Tuesday night, probably because of an error in calibrating the timing and volume of the reintroduction of peas and ham, but when I returned home from work on Wednesday afternoon he was back; smiling at everything and anyone that glanced in his direction, bobbing up and down and babbling nonsensically at his Elefun. Only his greatly reduced little belly gave any hint of the week he had just had, but that too would return quickly.

I’m back, and I’m a Knicks fan

So we’ve learned a couple of things this week.

Firstly, it is highly risky to celebrate ‘developmental milestones’ too vigorously, and particularly fraught to take any credit for them. Almost certainly great successes will be swiftly reversed, or they may not even be what they seemed in the first place.

And secondly, it is equally nonsensical to engage in introspection on your parenting decisions, or to carry guilt for mistakes. Almost certainly our high volume, low frequency liquid delivery was exacerbating Milo’s condition days before we ended up in hospital. And even as late as Tuesday evening, after the hospital saga, we were still unsure when and how to reintroduce solids (the literature is far from consistent on this issue), and perhaps we were still getting it wrong. But they were our mistakes, made with the best intentions and with the best information we had at the time.

I can only imagine this is a recurring theme in parenting, and one that only gets more challenging: Dad why did you cultivate a rat’s tail on the back of my head for the first five years of my life? Mum why didn’t you make me go to ski camp even though I didn’t want to when I was six, now I will never be a Winter Olympian? Dad why didn’t you force me to learn Latin? Mum why didn’t you send me to the private school across town? Dad why did you buy me that ugly beige Volvo? Mum why did you have to come to every dance recital? It was embarrassing.

And, dad why did you let my big brother Milo decide my middle name even though at the time of my birth he only knew 7 words and they were all related to Pokemon?

But that’s another topic, for another time.

Day Forty-Four: The three Essential Virtues of stay-at-home daddery – Friday 28 August 2015

So just like that our first adventure together is over.

After three months and forty-four days of dynamic daytime partnership with Milo, I return to work next week. But not before I try my best to summarise how marvellous this adventure has been and why the concept of a stay-at-home dad must be normalised in Australia; for society, families and the individual.

My antennae has been rather sanctimoniously up over the last 3 months looking for any indication I was not being accepted or welcomed equally as a dad in a stay-at-home parenting world dominated by mums; at swim school, Gymbaroo, the park, anywhere. I was ready to pounce on and document any indication that I was less trusted around other people’s children, or treated as an outsider not worthy of a heads-up from the other mums when the supermarket was having a bulk sale on Covitol. I did not observe even a hint of this.

However, I did count 8 occasions when a well-intentioned member of the public approached me to offer specific praise for taking care of my son. The most predictable was an elderly lady who had just finished aqua-aerobics who told me it was so good to see a man taking an infant to the pool, the most surprising (and my favourite) was a large male employee at Bunnings who, while carrying a bag of quick-dry concrete on his shoulder, said “that’s what we like to see, a man looking after the baby”.

I have as much misplaced narcissism as the next guy so my immediate external response was always one of self-deprecating gratitude coupled with an internal self-congratulatory agreement that, yes, I am the world’s greatest dad since Sandy Cohen. My decision to sit in this cafe with my hilarious son drinking fine coffee at 2pm on a Wednesday is a wonderful sacrifice and I am to be congratulated.

No, the sight of a dad chilling with an infant on a weekday must be normalised to the point where the very kind and well-meaning strong man in Bunnings does not feel the need to compliment me. He should however offer me advice on how to fix my leaking toilet as it has been trickling for three weeks and I have no idea how to stop it.

There are many excellent reasons for all of us to hasten this normalisation, but I present below what I believe can be considered the ‘three Essential Virtues of stay-at-home daddery’:

  1. Mutual career sabotage; managing stay-at-home parenting in a baby’s first year is a human dilemma not a female dilemma. Both male and female employees should irritate their employers equally during this stage of life.
  2. Understanding the minutiae of your child leads to family harmony; shared knowledge of the most likely 15 minute windows during the day in which your child will poo brings a couple together, and both parents closer to their child.
  3. It is great; really, really great.

Essential Virtue #1 – Mutual career sabotage

Most Australians think we in Australia have a Federal Government funded Paid Parental Leave Scheme. That’s because there is a scheme funded by the Federal Government and it’s called the ‘Paid Parental Leave Scheme’. Unfortunately this scheme is somewhat poorly labeled. Like ‘Chicken of the Sea’ tuna, ‘Panther’s World of Entertainment’ or ‘New College, Oxford’ which was established in 1379, it’s just a little misleading.

Australia’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme is in fact a maternity leave scheme; for a father to take any of the 18 weeks paid leave the mother must be eligible and then ‘gift’ the leave to him. If the mother is ineligible, say because she earns more than $150,000, but the father is eligible, he cannot take the leave.

So, if a mother happened to earn $151,000 in the year preceding the birth of the child, and the father earned $50,000 in that year, the father would not be entitled to receive the payment to stay at home with his child. Neither parent could take the leave.

Eligibility for the payment is not based on a household income test however. If the father happened to earn $1,000,000 in the year preceding the birth of the child, and the mother earned $50,000 in that year, the mother would be entitled to receive the payment.

So, it would appear to me the scheme is either unconsciously or consciously biased against the possibility that a woman would be earning more than the father of her child, and certainly the possibility that the woman might be earning more than $150,000 a year. Or it is deliberately biased against fathers.

As Bengt Westerberg, the then prime minister of Sweden, told the New York Times in 1995 “Society is a mirror of the family. The only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve equality in the home. Getting fathers to share parental leave is an essential part of that.” Essentially, unless fathers begin to share the home parenting load with more regularity women will continue to take longer stints away from their careers and will experience continued job discrimination as a result. Women will continue to appear comparatively less attractive to employers; businesses that presume women are more likely to take extended breaks after childbirth will continue to systematically underpay them and overlook them for promotion. If not the answer, mutual career sabotage is at least one of the answers.

This interview was given right before Westerberg instigated key changes to Sweden’s paid parenting leave scheme, which already included a component that couples could share. The changes meant that if fathers did not take at least a month off with their new child the couple would lose a month of subsidized leave otherwise available to them. It also increased the payment to 90% of existing wages, making it more appealing for fathers to take up. The compensation now stands at 80% of existing wages.

Within a few years more than 80% of fathers in Sweden were taking extended time off to spend with their children; and now after a number of further amendments to the scheme the figure is 90%.

As a result Sweden now has one of highest rates of working mothers in the world, around 90%, Sweden’s part-time gender gap (a comparison of what share of the female and male labour force is made up of part-time workers) is the smallest in the OECD and unlike almost every other country male and female part-time workers are paid the same. The key difference is that Sweden’s parental leave policy means that most Swedish women returning to work part-time after having children return to the same job that they left, and eventually to the same full-time position, once their children start school. In 2014 77% of Swedish women had a job, the highest level in the EU.

There are other fine examples of how policies designed to entice men to take their share of stay-at-home parenting are good for economies, families and workplace equality; Iceland and Quebec for example. This article “the economic case for paternity leave” provides a useful and informative summary. It even includes a photograph of Wayne Rooney who has always done his bit for family values.

So in the absence of any government policies in Australia that encourage or even support men to take extended time at home with their babies, if you are lucky enough to have an employer that offers any paid leave for this purpose, take it. All of it. If you are not lucky enough to have such an employer, like most Australian males, scrap together whatever annual leave, long service leave, leave at half-pay and any unpaid leave you can afford and spend some time in the cafes and bowls clubs of your neighbourhood with your infant. You will not regret it.

Essential Virtue #2 – Understanding the minutiae of your child

When Milo was around 5 months old we met my family in town to take some photographs. Afterward I suggested since we had all made the effort to get together we should have a coffee. Kuepps glanced at me with calm incredulity and suggested that no, Milo was nearing his nap time and we needed to get home. I protested and said surely we could stretch Milo a little and have a quick coffee and be on our way. Kuepps escalated the matter and said she was going home and I could stay if I wanted to. We all departed and I confronted my wife somewhat on the way home, suggesting that she was not allowing Milo to develop the resilience he needs by pandering so heavily. Quite reasonably Kuepps was not impressed by my antics.

In hindsight I believe this insignificant event best highlights Essential Virtue number 2. My wife was patently correct but at the time I had no idea, and I behaved like a bit of an ass. Until I was completely responsible for my baby for hours on end, without lifeline, I found it very difficult to completely grasp what he was going through and what he needed.

I now respect and worship Milo’s schedule and would only allow an unplanned deviation for something as significant as the re-opening of Leyland Brothers World in Tea Gardens. In fact as I tell people “it is not Milo’s schedule, it is my f*****g schedule” (I use the explicit language to let them know I mean business). Of course this is false bravado and Milo does what he wants but I do know precisely the ramifications of unnecessary intervention and exactly where we’ll likely be at 3 in the morning.

Being at work while your partner is home with your baby can be difficult and stressful. Being at home with your baby while your partner is at work can be difficult and stressful. It is an emotional business and can easily lead to arguments among couples. Having both parents experience both sides of this equation does not eliminate these arguments, because it’s an emotional business, but it can help to smooth their resolution.

Here’s how such arguments are usually resolved in my house; “you don’t know how difficult it is to stay at home with an infant all day while you’re off pursuing your career and having adult conversation. It’s not like I stay in bed all morning playing NBA Jam, you don’t know how much work it actually is.” Response; “sure I do”.

Or, “you don’t know how difficult it is getting up every morning and having to leave my baby behind so I can fight traffic and then have endless meetings. And then when I get home there’s baby feeding and bathing and settling. I feel like I only get the most difficult times of the day with him. You don’t understand”. Response; “sure I do”. Of course that’s not the end of the story, but most of the heat is taken out of these usually irrational interactions before they begin, allowing more precious time to catch up on the West Wing.

In late 2011 (the year 3 BM – Before Milo) one of my friends who lives in the UK had a baby girl. He was planning to take several months leave with her once his wife went back to work but unfortunately the timing of this plan meant he would be off for a month prior to the Olympics, the entirety of the Games and a month afterward. His company, like many in London that were involved in delivering the Games, had cancelled all annual leave for that period. However, in the UK (as in Australia) every worker has the right to take a period of unpaid parental leave, and he decided to exercise that right.

As he explained it to me he had witnessed several male friends of his who had excellent relationships with their small children when everything was relaxed and comfortable. However, in moments of adversity, skinned knees, Spongebob Squarepants movie tickets sold out, their children instinctively sought out their mothers for comfort and consolation. My friend was determined to build a bond with his daughter such that he would be considered an equally palatable option when times got difficult, and he believed that would be forged before she was one. Whether my friend is correct or not he felt strongly enough about it to really inconvenience his employer; and when he returned he told me it was the best thing he had ever done. That was the moment when I started thinking about this as a concept. I renounced my membership at our local sauna, sold all my tight trousers, quit horse riding and began researching and scheming.

From my limited experience I do not believe there is such a thing as a natural-born parent. I believe there is a broad spectrum of styles, and within that spectrum perhaps a tiny minority that might be considered less suitable than others; the enormously tattooed man who lives his life as a leopard in a remote hut on the Isle of Skye in Scotland may fall into this category.

But like most things in life this is a game of repetition and a desire to win. This is Kobayashi doubling the World Record by eating 50 dogs in 12 minutes in his first Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Competition in 2001. This is Jeff Hornacek shooting free-throws, waving hello to his three children before each one. Practise, repetition and learning from mistakes. Surely giving yourself an opportunity to have uninterrupted time with your child gives you the best chance to build your skills, techniques and perhaps most importantly, your confidence.

I like knowing the best place to park at the Supa Centa to achieve easy access to the lifts, I like knowing that if you don’t pull the first leg of Milo’s tights all the way up over his knee he will simply kick it off when you turn your attention to the second, I like knowing when it is wise to wait 8 more minutes before going out because there is a 70% chance Milo is going to poo in that time period and you are better off dealing with it at home, I like knowing there is no point trying to get Milo to sleep with the pram seat fully reclined, the second lowest recline setting is best, I like knowing that before launching himself under a billowing parachute Milo will sit quietly on your knee for at least a minute surveying the environment and the other children before bellowing and charging in, etc, etc. Repetition.

Whatever the baby equivalent of figuring out the enormous time-saving benefit of eating the dog and the bun separately is, that’s what stay-at-home daddery can offer you.

Essential Virtue #3 – It is great; really, really great

I feel like more of an adult than I did 3 months ago. I think the feeling is somewhat akin to the first time you invite your grandmother around after you have moved out of home and you are able to offer her a cup of tea.

That experience was soured a little for me because my brother (with whom I was living) and I discovered belatedly that we did not have any tea. So I dashed out to remedy the situation, but given it was my first experience of such matters I did not realise one could buy tea in bag or leaf form. I was naturally drawn to the most cost-effective choice which was of course a box of home-brand leaf tea. I arrived home just in time and opened the box expecting bags. Finding leaves my brother and I looked at each other quizzically, we were out of our depth. Of course we had no straining implements of any kind so I did what any young man eager to impress his grandmother would do and strained our tea into a teapot through a white sports sock. Our grandmother complimented us on our tea and how much we had grown up.

I have tried hard to have fewer sports sock moments during this adventure with Milo, and although there have undoubtedly been some, I feel more confident and adult-like than I did at the beginning.

One of the aforementioned 8 unsolicited compliments I received was from a lady standing next to Milo and I while we all awaited coffees one morning. After we had chatted a little about our respective circumstances she said to me “it is so wonderful what you are doing”. For me this comment was akin to purchasing an ice-cream on a warm summer’s afternoon and having the ice-cream vendor (a brrrrista perhaps?) hand you the double-cone pistachio and coconut and say “it is so wonderful what you are doing”.

This comment may be controversial, but stay-at-home parenting is not difficult. I must preface that comment by noting my sample size is 1, the second half of the first year is far easier than the first, and I have to think Milo is above average on the wrangleability scale; he sleeps reliably during the day, he eats well and he is comfortable in the car and pram.

With that preface noted; if you are prepared to give in to a little chaos, set only modest daily goals and move slowly, being a stay-at-home dad is an overwhelmingly positive experience. There are no men that I know who would not thrive under such circumstances, if given the opportunity.

As this blog has probably shown our days have been spent enjoying each other’s company, planning and executing small adventures, visiting friends and family, browsing aimlessly in shops, discovering new animals and plants, walking every corner of our neighbourhood, sipping coffee while pining for positive attention from baristas, scheming, cooking, throwing food, eating, building, tumbling, chasing, leaping, learning and giggling.

With such a short time together, and with a camera always nearby, my instinct has been to record everything. And I have; thousands of photos and videos, an enormous oversupply of Milo images. However, among all of these I still do not believe I have adequately captured the joy we have shared together. He is genuinely hilarious, adventurous, joyous, inquisitive, hungry, unusual, noisy, gentle, violent, careful, reckless, athletic, resilient, boisterous and fragile.

Due to an overwhelming demand from my mum and her Bridge group I will continue to write this blog once a week on my day off with Milo but for now that is all, I have achieved my goal.

Years from now when Milo turns 14, gets his second big surge of Testosterone and wants to get a tattoo of Wario on his neck because in 2030 Wario will be considered an edgy antihero from the mid-90s much like Che Guevara’s image is used today, and I say he can have that tattoo but I am getting a matching one and he says he hates me because I am a loser and I don’t understand him, I will be able to print out this long, rambling, oft non-sensical record and present it to him to show that indeed I do understand him. That in fact I was there with him as he was figuring out how to be a boy. And he was there with me as I was figuring out how to be a dad.

IMG_3530 edit

  • Number of minutes playing NBA Jam – 0
  • Episodes of Game of Thrones – 3
  • Episodes of West Wing – 33
  • Total seconds of planking – 57
  • Number of pallets up-cycled – 2
  • Total number of push-ups – 10
  • Number of Spanish words learned – 2
  • Letters written to council – 0
  • Total hours planting trees – 0
  • Total beehives installed on our balcony – 0
  • Total items fashioned out of reclaimed timber – 0
  • Total hours researching family tree – 0
  • Total hours on bicycle trainer – 0
  • Hours spent re-oiling outdoor furniture – 0
  • Hours spent communicating with Eastern European hobbyists via Ham Radio – 0
  • Number of large Big Mac meals eaten in the car while Milo napped – 3
  • Duets sung with a stranger in the supermarket – 1
  • Minutes spent alphabetising our DVD collection – 0
  • Hours spent volunteering as life drawing model – 0
  • Hours volunteering for the ‘Urban Bee Society’ – 0
  • Podcasts listened to – 27
  • Number of total cafe visits – 52