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

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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

Day Forty-Three: Blimp – Wednesday 26 August 2015

As expected the travel cot did not go well.

Milo awoke around 2300 as he usually does, looked around and was quite displeased with his surroundings. If I am honest I cannot blame him; the mattress is thin like the pads wrapped around rugby league goal posts in the 80s, it is flat on the ground so offers no protection from the cold and when he claws at the mesh to be released he looks very much like a dolphin caught in a drift net.

Once out he was not returning so I welcomed him in with me and he immediately expanded to twice his usual diameter. I was soon sleeping on the floor adjacent to the bed, offering a human safety net should he writhe too much in his sleep and bounce his way out.

Milo slept like the proverbial baby, me less so. By 0500 I had snuck back in with him and nudged him into a more appropriate corner of the mattress. At 0530 Milo had slept enough and was up, giggling and looking for action.

I was not giggling nor looking for action so I attempted a technique I have tried forlornly many times before. I grab a handful of his sleeping bag and pin it to the mattress, and then attempt to close my eyes for another 15 minutes. The theory is that Milo will kick and scramble for a while but will soon be worn out from all of his fruitless effort. He will then decide he too is in fact still a little dozy and will drift back to sleep for another hour. This never, ever, works.

I accepted defeat and we were up. Milo had strongly resisted the shower the previous evening so I tried to bathe him in the laundry trough, I thought a good bonding activity for two chaps on a road trip. Milo did not share my view on this and refused to sit down, standing up in knee-deep water looking disappointed with me.

Milo enjoyed his breakfast with his Aba who took him for an hour so I could recharge a little in a baby free bed. Milo enjoyed rifling through papers and climbing in and out of Aba’s briefcase.

Soon we were out strolling in our travel ‘Umbrella Stroller’ which offered neither of us anywhere near the comfort we are used to from our deluxe urban tank. We were close to arriving at our destination, lunch with my cousin, when Milo’s head snapped vigorously up and left as he unveiled an ‘Inquisitor’ with a particular flourish that caused me to follow his outstretched finger immediately.

Milo was babbling and lifting his whole torso out of the pram in a frenzied bouncing excitement. I followed the trajectory of his finger and saw there, hovering right above us, a giant, blue blimp.

Milo had never encountered such a craft before and I have not seen him so excited since his first meeting with the penguins. We watched it drift gently for several minutes, Milo’s neck craning whenever it disappeared behind a tree or building, until it finally escaped the ‘Inquisitor’ and passed out of sight. Milo looked up at me with a wide toothy grin as if we had really shared something special together.

More coffees with family and friends, and meals with Aba and we were back to the airport on Thursday morning ready to fly home to a lovely reunion with mum.

Once again we had three seats and this time I was wise enough to order nothing from the trolley. Although I did bring a mandarin which seemed very foolish immediately after I gave it to my son to spray all over both of us.

Thanks to some more assistance from the overhead light and some friendly passengers behind us Milo remained calm throughout the flight. We even witnessed an aviation miracle with a short nap during descent.

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An aviation miracle

  • Minutes of plane sleep – 12
  • Minutes of trough bathing – 3
  • Number of planes spotted by Milo from the plane – 1
  • Milo lifetime blimp count – 1

Day Forty-Two: Flying solo – Tuesday 25 August 2015

If you take one thing from this blog let it be the following; ordering a couscous salad on a plane with an infant is not a good idea.

In my defence I wanted the chicken pesto pasta salad but they were out. The flight attendant suggested the couscous salad, personally recommending its deliciousness. I looked down at Milo who was at the time dangling upside down from his waist seeing what he could find to eat under my seat. “It will be messy” I said. “I don’t clean the plane”, came the quick retort. “OK then” I said, shrugging, and the disappointingly small shrink-wrapped salad was sitting on my tray in a jiffy, looking up at me in its unappetising way.

Milo immediately sensed a disturbance in the force so clambered his way upright, kicking me in the neck as I helped him up. His little face arrived smiling and chewing, always an unnerving combination when your child has just emerged from underneath an aeroplane seat.

I left it wrapped for a moment as I tried to visualize a technique that might offer some chance of either Milo or I consuming at least a little, and minimise the severity of the couscous hail that must soon rain down upon those lucky few seated around us.

Milo is used to food in paste form or cutlet form; couscous is right in the middle. I started to get nervous and considered just leaving it untouched on the tray to be retrieved when the trolley came rattling back in 20 minutes or so. There were just so many of those little couscous globules in there. Even if I were able to control 60% of them, which was ambitious, there would still be literally hundreds of errant orbs to be scattered here and there and, as the saying goes, everywhere.

Milo made my decision for me. He had spotted the small tub of future mayhem and was giving it his best ‘Inquisitor’. I gave a slight shrug to nobody and rendered a small breach in the top right-hand corner.

My first plan was to simply offer it scoop by scoop to Milo on a spoon. This was a bad plan. Milo greeted the first spoonful with his always welcome, not-at-all-annoying method of demonstrating culinary displeasure by taking the couscous out of his mouth with his hand and dropping it on the ground. I didn’t learn immediately so offered him a second spoonful, same result.

Recently Milo has responded well to having his own bowl and spoon to play with at mealtimes, a distraction which holds his attention as he is being fed. A more socially acceptable Baby Einstein I suppose. So I gave it a try.

I sprinkled a few couscous particles into his bowl (which is held by suction onto the tray) and gave him his spoon. Milo violently thrashed at the bowl until this poor diversionary party of couscous had been flung well beyond the three seats our sensible cabin crew had allocated to us, and onto the floor. Unperturbed I attempted to execute the second part of the bowl diversion play and offered him a third spoonful.

This time the spoon did not breach Milo’s lips. Sensing my intention he thrust at it with a savage blow of his plastic spoon as if we were spoon-sabering for our lives. The couscous jerked forcefully into the air and then hailed down silently onto my lap. I took a deep breath.

I would not say I was panicking at this point but I was certainly ready to concede defeat. The bulk of the couscous was still contained but we were definitely approaching a tally of hundreds of spheres already scattered at our feet and in the aisle, and no clear path to depositing the remainder safely in Milo’s stomach.

I moved into damage control and starting shoveling the couscous into my own mouth before my alarmingly swift child could get his hands on the mothership. Like falling on a stale tasting couscous grenade I gulped at the maximum speed allowed by the tiny, terrorist-proof plastic spoon they had offered me.

My child was momentarily distracted by a few couscous granules he had discovered clinging to his trousers so I did manage to consume almost half of the salad before he became aware that a fine opportunity for mayhem was passing him by. I had one hand on my toothpick spoon and one hand on Milo to protect him from toppling forward, which left the steadily emptying tub unguarded.

In one motion Milo looked up and swiped sideways with a mighty swish of his right hand, as if he were perusing photographs on a giant iPad. He collected the tub flush with the back of his hand and with no ballast at all, damn those lightweight fluffy grains, the remaining couscous arced in slow motion high into the pressurised cabin and, sailing on the air-conditioning current, traveled a surprising distance, drifting down silently like volcanic ash to rest on jackets, scarves, shoulders and seats.

I placed the now dented and empty tub on the ground, folded up our tray-table and we continued with the flight.

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Post couscous apocalypse

This morning Milo and I boarded our first plane together without Kuepps. We were off on an interstate journey to visit my dad.

Arriving at the airport we were looking forward to special treatment, probably a special check-in desk for single parents with infant children, I presumed a glass of sparkling water with lemon for me. A quick glance around confirmed we were far from special; Baby Bjorns, Ergo Slings, Umbrella Strollers, wriggly babies everywhere. We swallowed our disappointment at being quite ordinary and joined the rather long queue; no sparkling water, no lemon.

Our journey through the airport was straight forward although we were randomly selected for an explosives check which I thought was a little uncouth given I had no spare hands and a squirming baby in my hands. We passed the test and were on our way.

On the plane we were fortunate to be given a row of three seats which allowed Milo to be reasonably free-range throughout the flight, strolling back and forth and presenting his pointy fingers at the customers behind us. These customers were all very gracious and pointed back, outsourcing my parenting a little. The rest of my parenting duties were performed by the overhead light which I flicked on and off repeatedly, much to Milo’s never-diminishing delight.

With the exception of the couscous mistake the flight was reasonably incident free. We arrived a little ragged, found a taxi and made it into town in no time.

My dad enjoyed watching Milo take on a lamb cutlet first-hand at dinner and then we spent a productive 15 minutes conducting a Milo-led child proofing of the apartment. Like a hunting dog Milo would sniff out the dangers, we would then scurry in behind him and remove them.

Tonight Milo will be re-acquainted with the travel cot; the first time as a fully sentient being. It is unlikely to go well.

  • Number of couscous granules discovered inside Milo’s onesie this evening – 57
  • Minutes of sleep for Milo on the plane – 0
  • Letters written to Sydney Airport requesting sparkling water and lemon on arrival – 0
  • Number of times overhead light flicked on – 85

Day Forty-One: The finger of truth – Monday 24 August 2015

Milo takes pointing very seriously. Over the last week or so he has learned this skill and now demonstrates it at every opportunity, whether he thinks others are watching or not.

In his repertoire he has; a casual bent arm semi-extended point with curled crab-claw hand, known as ‘The Murali’, a laser straight-arm, full legal extension elbow, rigid thrusting finger with deliberate trajectory, known as ‘The Inquisitor’, an elevated shoulder, perpendicular elbow, locked wrist, upward-pointing straight finger with officious sideways pendulum, known as ‘The Mutombo’,  and an indecisive, wandering, semi-locked elbow, with tilted wrist and pistol shaped hand construction, known as ‘The Tupac’. Milo is also an ambi-pointer.

All techniques will be seen on any given day, often with multiple examples of each. Milo usually executes the Murali to draw his parents’ attention to nothing in particular. He maintains eye contact and directs his crab claw in a deliberately non-committal fashion as if to say “Father, I have seen something in that direction. Is that something you or I should be interested in? If so let us go and examine it together.”

‘The Inquisitor’ is reserved for birds, planes, digital displays in lifts and grannies on the street. When executing this style Milo’s eyes will be locked on the item that is being aggressively examined, his little index finger reaching out with urgency, his face emotionless and professional. The Inquisitor is serious and absolutely requires acknowledgement from whomever is with him. Thus, one needs to quickly establish what worthy item has been identified and vocalise its significance, “sulphur-crested cockatoo” or “Airbus A380”, for example. This confirmation is sometimes difficult as Milo seems to be able to spot speck-like aircraft in the sky as if he were using Whitey’s spectacles in the film ‘Me, myself and Irene’.

Most often a small bird or swaying branch can be found at the business end of his finger but every so often we will be walking happily on the footpath, Milo’s eyes will lower, the finger of truth will be unfurled emphatically in the direction of something over my shoulder. I will turn happily to identify the item of interest only to find a person walking close behind me, or standing waiting at the traffic lights, staring back at my child. This person, for some reason most regularly a senior citizen, will usually seek to engage Milo in a friendly way. Milo, most often a child free with his smiles, is in ‘Inquisitor’ mode and so will offer no smile, smirk, grin or friendly response of any kind. He will only continue to stare and point until the person moves away out of his eye-line, leaving me to apologise or offer some limp explanation for my son’s unusual behaviour.

‘The Mutombo’ is usually executed when Milo is playing quietly with the Elefun Party Popper, or when dancing with his mum. It has also been seen indicating Milo’s delight at a morsel of lamb he has received.

Finally, ‘The Tupac’ can most readily be seen early in the evening while Milo is settling himself, or very soon after he awakes. It is an absent-minded point with no clear objective, performed by a tired or discombobulated boy. If the ‘Tupac’ should settle upon something of interest, such as the oversized hanging butterfly in Milo’s room or a light-fitting of some kind, it can easily morph into a ‘Murali’ or even an ‘Inquisitor’.

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The Inquisitor

Oma came around early this morning to engage Milo in some Inquisitors as he watched the early morning planes come and go, so I was gifted an unexpected sleep-in and then a peaceful lunch.

In the afternoon Kuepps and I engaged Milo in a game of ‘Duplo Dueling’, essentially a block of Duplo is held in one’s mouth and then, using the force of pressurised air out of the cheeks, is jettisoned across the room. Milo is very fond of this game as these days a small cube of blue Duplo is challenging white plastic spoon and wooden peg for ‘object most regularly in Milo’s mouth’.

I was being thoroughly outperformed by my wife who was achieving significant distance and deserved giggling kudos from our son. My paltry efforts were achieving little more than a dribble out of my mouth, and a polite smile from Milo. So, on my final attempt I looked directly at my child, established a tight seal on the block and exhaled mightily. The block flew with pace out of my mouth and directly into Milo’s forehead, at quite some velocity. Milo was left with a small welt above his eyebrow and a furrowed, distrustful brow as he crawled away from me and into his mum’s lap for comfort. All I could do was apologise and concede defeat in the duel. Milo ignored me for 10 minutes.

The evening was peaceful and productive as Milo and I prepare for our big interstate adventure tomorrow. Our final week has begun.

  • Record number of aeroplanes spotted in one day – 37
  • Record distance (cm) achieved by Kuepps in Duplo Duel – 125
  • Minutes spent hand-pummelling chicken breasts to make schnitzel – 0
  • Hours spent watching French gangster films – 0

Day Forty: Seagull herding – Friday 21 August 2015

Of all the contributions I make to this household, and to the Milo raising that goes on herein, the most valuable and unique is the consumption of surplus baby shampoo.

When Milo was born we were the fortunate recipients of a huge volume of ‘no more tears’ baby shampoo and it’s variants; pink liquids, white liquids, clear liquids, orange liquids. We approximate the total volume of this haul at around 8 – 10 litres; street value $120.

Of course Milo shortly after birth was quite bald, so for a long period our stockpile was entirely redundant. And even though we are currently considering cutting 8 hairs on each side that are swirling up and over his ears, Milo’s crop remains wispy and rarely in need of a good lathering.

At Milo’s current rate of consumption we have calculated our initial injection of shampoo will last 5.12 years; that is, we will run out some time during the afternoon of 27 November 2019. To compound this issue Kuepps attempted to purchase more baby moisturiser this week to satisfy Milo’s insatiable hunger for it, but unfortunately in her haste only managed to procure more shampoo. Frankly we don’t have the storage capacity to keep that volume of product on hand, we are sacrificing in other areas such as novelty Nespresso pods for when difficult/ discerning guests drop by.

That’s where I come in. As a dad I of course do not have any specialty body-wash requirements. If we had a surplus of baking soda in the house due to a “lamington-off” one weekend, that baking soda would be dissolved in water to form an abrasive paste which I would be asked to use as a personal cleanser.

So the family sized vats of baby-shampoo are lined up two-at-time in the shower and Kuepps makes regular comments about how grubby my meagre hair is looking, not asking but suggesting a shower might be a good idea. I pour this viscous, lightly fragranced liquid liberally all over my head, as if I were a Turducken basting itself. I lather, rinse, lather, rinse, lather and rinse until I am so fresh I no longer cast a reflection in the mirror. As I vanquish each bottle I toss it with satisfaction over the shower screen, letting it clatter away across the tiles. Kuepps is immediately on hand to soberly pass me another litre of pastel coloured soapy marinade without humour. I am going quite mad.

Yesterday was delightful weather for Family Fun Day, our last together during this chapter, so we loaded up and headed to the beach for Milo’s first taste of sand and surf. Here’s how we dressed him; tracksuit pants, long sleeve/ short-legged onesie, vest. Why we chose this combo I am not sure, but certainly the primary school equivalent of such a parental wardrobe mistake would have had far-reaching social consequences for our son. On this occasion however he suffered no obvious ill effects.

After an apprehensive 5 to 10 minute period in which he remained on the rug touching, massaging and tasting the strange medium encircling him, he was off. Milo spotted a confident group of Seagulls and crawled in a speedy but laboured fashion in their direction, improving his gait step by step as he got used to the sinking surface beneath him. Milo, not giving his parents a second thought, pursued these intriguing, hopping scoundrels for 20 minutes up and down the beach as they remained comfortably out of his reach. An enthusiastic gull would periodically leap up out of the pack and hover above Milo, squawking at this pursuer, more persistent than the T2000. Milo thought this was a wonderful spectacle and would pause briefly to point and giggle. Our adventurous child eventually grew tired of the hunt and clambered back to us, falling onto his mum exhausted, sandy and damp.

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Herding

The following morning we were still removing sand from our son’s nose (despite using up some baby shampoo on him the previous evening) but after his morning nap we got ready and headed over to his Ama and Aba’s house for lunch.

Milo enjoyed the feast, particularly the asparagus which he tried for the first time, waving it around like a rubbery spear, slapping me in the face with it. After lunch Milo was very pleased with his ability to test and defeat the capacity of his nappy, forcing me into a full change and refresh.

Milo lay on his back, unusually compliant as I undressed him. I should have been suspicious but my overwhelming desire to believe my son’s good behaviour clouded my judgement.

Milo waited until he been entirely denuded and with a swift but precise swivel of his hips he was out of my grasp, on all fours, and darting toward the stairs, blabbering and giggling joyously. Milo then proceeded to climb five flights of stairs in the nude, darting and bouncing up each flight at a surprising pace, not unlike a dancing lemur. As he completed each flight Milo picked up his pace to motor across the landing and commence the next climb. When he had finally summited the last flight Milo sat triumphantly with a grand smile on his face and his arms stretched out toward me, permitting me to now carry him back down to where his fresh clothes awaited him.

On Friday night the planets aligned. Oma came to babysit Milo and some good friends of ours also managed to procure a baby sitter at short notice, thus allowing a rare adult meal to be enjoyed. Twenty minutes into the meal we noted that our only line of conversation had been our respective babies so we laid out an agenda to cover several other important topics, which we achieved, before quickly returning to tales of mayhem and mirth.

  • Metres covered by Milo pursuing the Seagulls – 200
  • Current litres of baby shampoo on hand (approx) – 6.1
  • Grams of Huckleberry’s moulting fur gathered to use in scarf knitting – 0
  • Centimetres of home-made sushi prepared – 0