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

Day Thirty-Nine: “Farewell Gymbaroo, farewell Gymbaroo, something, something” – Wednesday 19 August 2015

As the days tick away on this grand adventure that Milo and I have shared there will be many ‘finals’. Today was our final Gymbaroo.

Circumstances conspired favourably and allowed Kuepps to work from home today so we went out for an early breakfast to settle Milo’s nerves. Watching Milo precisely scrape away just the top layer of his vegemite toast with his now established upper teeth and toss the vegemite-less scraps away casually I realised he was not in the least bit exercised about this milestone, and neither should I be.

Today was Kuepps’ first opportunity to experience this strange phenomenon and she joined in with enthusiasm, clapping, singing and smooching her son. Milo seemed a little distracted initially and I worried that his mum’s overt affections had him rattled. This lead me to recall a similar occasion many years ago when my mum arrived at my rugby game only minutes before we ran on and as we stood in a huddle being manly and saying manly things mum spotted me and called out “hi blossom!”. I of course ignored her but being a mum she misread my response, thinking I had not heard her, so called out again a little louder while waving to make sure of it. I acknowledged her, and a new nickname was born.

Milo was casually disinterested in the wheelbarrow, performed admirably in ‘jelly on/off the plate’ which appeared for the first time today in a clear cross promotion from Swim School, both washed and dried the dishes with ease and slobbered more than tossed in ‘slobber and toss’. The Treasure Bag was full of cats today and Milo enjoyed sucking on the tail of a Pink Panther doll. Soon it was time for the gym so Milo showed his mum some of his favourites; crawling up the robo-turtle slide, shimmying through the hangy tube, rolling down the cheese wedge, cruising along the ‘perilous plank’ and for the first time swinging back and forth in the ‘anti-grav seat’.

We looked around the gym and realised there were no more challenges to pursue, and nothing that we can’t install at home with a few dyna-bolts, some bubble-wrap and a handful of cable-ties. Kuepps, having not seen the journey from start to finish, having not seen a wide-eyed Milo clinging to me while his very first Gymbaroo instructor tried to coax him into the fleece-lined dino-pit, said “what’s all the fuss about?” And she is right.

This statement was reinforced during parachute time as Milo prowled around giggling and chasing balls, and then after the session as he played happily alone for several minutes after the other babies had left, chewing on a contraband bouncy ball he had managed to hold onto. This is no longer a competitive activity for Milo, it is leisure; and if so perhaps it is time to bid farewell to this structured, rule-based institution of formal Gymbaroo and forge a new path among the free-form, underground warehouse gyms of Sydney.

The rest of the afternoon was peaceful and in the early evening Kuepps headed out for a work dinner. Having been a professional child wrangler for a few months now I can usually foresee when a scenario is likely to lead to chaos, such as handing Milo a dried apricot to work on while  we are shopping in a bridal gown boutique. That does not necessarily mean the chaos is avoided, but at least as I am hosing down the wall I can say to myself “yup, I saw that coming”.

Every so often I am, however, taken completely by surprise. This evening was one such occasion. I cooked Milo and I a simple carnivore’s dinner of steak and pan-fried mushroom. Milo will of course not entertain the idea of being fed such a meal so I tossed strips of steak and mushroom onto his tray for him to negotiate and went about cutting up my meal (pre-preparation for one-handed eating is usually a good investment).

I looked up not 10 seconds later and witnessed a scene of shocking mushroom-doused devastation. Milo had a strip of mushroom held in each tight little fist and was waving them around vigorously, spraying a black mushroomy liquid in splashing arcs that flew beyond the high chair, beyond the scraps towel perimeter and comfortably onto the carpet, surprising the cats that were hoping for something a little more appetising.

The scene appeared as if, in the 10 seconds I was looking away, a large squid had emerged from the floor, panicked, sprayed ink in Milo’s face and disappeared. He looked like Norm Provan in the famous photo from the 1963 Rugby League Grand Final that eventually inspired the Winfield Cup. He was filthy. I reached my hands out to retrieve the mushroom but realised I had already lost, such was the speed of my transition from casual in-control dad to scrambling ‘hold child out at arm’s length and carry him to the sink’ dad.

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Mushroom explosion

I had entertained the prospect of a sly no-bath evening in Kuepps’ absence, but this dream was shattered in 10 seconds of poorly supervised mushroom consumption.

De-fungused and re-dressed, Milo free-flopped himself to sleep to prepare for our final Family Fun Day tomorrow.

  • Minutes spent scrubbing mushroom distillate from the carpet – 15
  • Minutes spent de-beading our footstool to remove swallowables – 30
  • Minutes spent making home-made play-dough – 0
  • Number of teaspoons stolen by Milo from cafe this morning – 2

Day Thirty-Eight: Chao the Dream Maker – Tuesday 18 August 2015

There are a handful of people of such notoriety and influence they are known by a single name, a brand unto themselves; Madonna, Bono, Pelé, Alf from Home and Away. In the field of Gymbaroo there are but two; we have already met Valdis, and the other is known simply as ‘Chao’.

Details on Chao’s background and path to Gymbaroo greatness are, like his beard, sparse. What is known paints a portrait of a man of deep complexity; Chao’s family origins are traced to the Vietnamese diaspora of pre-colonial Hong Kong. Some say before his distant relatives were smuggled across the South China Sea, the family can be drawn all the way back to Gia Long, the first of the great Nguyen Dynasty. The last ruling family of Vietnam.

When you meet Chao, and observe his quiet nobility, it is easy to believe this lineage. However, he is a man as comfortable at the card tables of Macau as he is in the quiet Pagodas of Hue. He holds a world ranking in pinball and could be a great of competitive Buck Hunter if he were to ever take it seriously. He wears short-sleeved floral shirts in muted browns and greens, collar open and loosely held by his signature silk cravat. Atop his head can usually be found a narrow brimmed Panama Hat, and on his feet plimsoles in brown or blue. He is one of those men for whom facial hair is of no concern; it grows naturally in a discrete pattern that renders him a caricature of himself. The thin moustache that clings to Chao’s upper lip is never in need of cultivation and remains always perfect, and curious.

Whatever your opinion of Chao his influence in the world of Gymbaroo is unquestioned; many call him the ‘Dream Maker’ for his ability to identify young, talented aspirants, and build them into stars. And today Chao, the Dream Maker, paid us a visit.

Chao’s role is not to identify talent in the gym; if Chao is visiting the talent and potential are not questioned. Chao’s special skill lies in his ability to identify those young aspirants who have the demeanour and family support to go all the way.

Chao arrived at about 1100 and instructed Milo and I to go about our day as we ordinarily would. He noted from the outset he has monitored our progress closely and is somewhat concerned at our inability to complete some of the daily aspirational tasks we have set ourselves. Some of these would therefore be addressed in the afternoon, but our first order of business was lunch.

We took Chao to our local child friendly cafe on the park and allowed Milo to spend some quality free-range time. I went into the cafe to order lunch, leaving Chao to have some alone time with Milo. I briefed Chao on my park doctrine noting that Milo is allowed to eat leaves, twigs, dirt, most anything he finds, but I draw the line at cigarette butts and pointy sticks longer than two inches. Chao seemed to nod approvingly and as I departed to the cafe I saw him note something down in a small notepad he had tucked under his Panama Hat.

We enjoyed our lunch, chatting casually, as Milo engaged in some free-form work on an adjacent stone wall, and with a small football he managed to purloin from an older child on an adjacent rug. Chao’s approval of Milo’s effortless skill was clear to us both.

Upon arriving home Milo was soon ready for a nap so Chao and I set about satisfying some of the outstanding tasks he had identified; planking, push-ups, alphabetising the spice rack, up-cycling a pallet for Milo’s Urban Garden Project and learning one word of Spanish. We managed to satisfy all of these items and even learned two words of Spanish. The first, appropriately is ‘Desvelado’ which means ‘unable to sleep because you are kept awake by something or someone’, a useful word. The second was chosen by Milo as he stabbed at the computer screen with his little index finger; ‘Mantenido’ which means ‘a guy that cannot pay the rent so needs a rich woman by his side’; perhaps not so commonly used.

Once Milo had arisen Chao wished us farewell. Perhaps we will see him again, perhaps we won’t, but despite the pressure we both felt throughout the day Milo and I genuinely enjoyed his company. Chao is undoubtedly the Gymbaroo Dream Maker but perhaps at this point the real question is ‘what are Milo’s Gymbaroo dreams?’ Is he ready for Chao, the bright lights of Macau, Latvia and Lidcombe, the spandex endorsements, the inevitable Repetitive Wheelbarrow Stress (RWS) injuries? Tomorrow is our last day of Gymbaroo together, whatever the outcome, we are ready for these questions to be answered.

There are no photographs today as Chao forbids camera usage during assessment days. It is rumoured that not one clear photograph of him exists.

  • Seconds of planking – 57
  • Minutes of pallet up-cycling – 45
  • Minutes of spice rack alphabetising – 7
  • Number of push-ups – 10
  • Number of Spanish words learned – 2

Day Thirty-Seven: Prams – Monday 17 August 2015

Milo and I are considering a letter writing campaign to the Australian Standards Board to request the standardisation of pram gauges in Australia, and that the chosen gauge be enforced as a minimum for all cafe door frames across the country.

A very similar system, known as Panamax, revolutionised shipping at the time of the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. Panamax, dictated and enforced by the Panama Canal Authority (PCA), specifies the width and length of ships that wish to use the canal. It has therefore become an observed standard for ship building worldwide.

Thanks to Panamax, ship captains cruising under the Bridge of the Americas approach the Panama Canal with confidence, safe in the knowledge their vessels are appropriately sized and they will not have to effect an embarrassing about turn when they arrive, apologising profusely to other ship captains travelling behind them or worse, those wishing to exit.

Milo and I enjoy no such confidence as we approach the front doors of cafes. We walk tentatively up and down the street pretending we are on our way elsewhere, perhaps to the dry-cleaners, trying to visualize the width of door frames. From a distance this is difficult. I take bearings and look at adjacent objects for scale. Is my pram twice the width of that pot of oregano? Or, I know the approximate size of that Hungarian Vizsla waiting for its owner on the doorstep, how does that compare to the width of the Uppababy Alta?

Several times we have mustered the requisite confidence and forged onward to the door only to find ourselves marginally over-sized. What ensues is always awkward. Firstly one needs to extricate one’s self from the entrance. Invariably there will be busy customers on their way out, trays of hot coffee clutched in one hand as they try to hold the door open with their buttocks and spare hand, or pre-occupied caffeine seekers, noses down catching up on last evening’s ‘My Kitchen Rules’ revelations, on their way in. Both categories of customer will find your presence, and that of your stranded, hulking pram, to be inconvenient at best and a direct affront at worst.

So, precariously balanced exiting customer and frustrated, anxious entering customer then do-si-do around you as you attempt an Austin Powers-esque 17 point turn with sub-standard front steering and rigid, suspensionless rear wheels. Once you have unblocked the passage, usually with one of your wheels now in the aforementioned pot of oregano, then what? Do you swallow your pride and head back into the street in search of a Panamax compliant cafe (Cafemax), or do you abandon the beached pram, remove your child, fill your pockets with the valuable possessions you have safely stashed in the ‘parent organiser’, totter into the cafe, order your soy cappuccino then return the child to the pram whilst achieving the impossible task of not scalding him with hot coffee? I am sure it is clear that both options are unpalatable. It is also clear therefore that our letter writing campaign is both necessary and urgent; this is an issue that affects us all.

Standardising the pram gauge in Australia would also remove one variable from the process of purchasing a pram, which is already a baffling ordeal. Pram shopping is one of the many unique experiences of baby-growing that one does not give a second thought to until a moment before the experience arrives.

It is a shock similar to ordering a coffee in Zurich or a beer in Dubai. Having not researched or considered the matter in any way I presumed a pram might cost around $150. No, prams cost $1000; a horrific realisation to make late in a 40 week pregnancy. Next there are brands, and colours, and suspension, and inflatable wheels, and jogger attachments, and variations in the number of seating positions, and cup holders and features that could not possibly be useful that you begin to think you cannot do without. Yes, I do believe I need my pram to operate efficiently on the beach because I can imagine a scenario under which I will need to roll my child directly into the ocean without his feet touching the sand.

It is impossible not to be baffled and frustrated at this selection process but at the end of the day there are two, and only two, qualities that you require. Ease of folding and storage capacity. I would even be happy to do without my ‘parent organiser’, one-of-a-kind patterned fleece trim and cup holder so long as I can fold the pram in one movement and fit a 48 box of nappies and a barbeque chicken in its storage basket. That and it must be Cafemax compliant.

Today we continued our mission to extract value from our ‘eclectic mix of Sydney attractions’ annual pass and headed into the city to climb Centrepoint tower. We closely considered our options and decided to catch the bus. Without the safe bubble of the car this a hair-raising option which renders us vulnerable, and acutely susceptible to any unforeseen mishap.

Milo lost a sock on the bus. A one-socked child just looks bedraggled and poorly cared for, greatly diminishing any air of professionalism you are trying to cultivate. And once the sock is lost there is very little you can do, of course bringing a spare pair of socks just feels defeatist, and we couldn’t handle the extra weight travelling so far from home.

It is natural to briefly consider the possibility of removing the second sock to make it appear as if the sockless child was intentional. Appearing negligent is sometimes preferable to incompetent. But ultimately you know you would then be deliberately giving your child two cold feet in the interest of your vanity, so one sock it remains.

We climbed the Tower without incident; of course the lift attendant pointed out that Milo had but one sock. I thanked her for this observation and let her know we had lost it on the bus; incompetent not negligent.

Milo enjoyed the view somewhat but certainly enjoyed the lift ride up and down more; it was the tallest and most exciting lift he has ever been in.

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Pointing at stuff

We then strolled further into the city, feeling more and more out of place, wishing we could have confidence in the width of doorways we were walking through and cursing the slow turning wheels of bureaucracy at the Australian Standards Board, before meeting a friend for suitably city coffees which were small and powerful.

Milo ate strips of chicken out of my pie and bashed his tea-spoon onto my plate with extreme vigour and enjoyment. This drew the ire of some retirees who were lunching next to us so I carefully replaced his metal spoon with rubber and nodded an insincere apology at their scowling faces.

It was drawing close to sleep time and we were many miles from any kind of safety, so I foolishly attempted to give Milo a bottle of formula in a park inhabited by pigeons and ibis. Of course such exotic bird-life is of extreme interest to my son and he could not possibly divert any attention to drink his milk. I then panicked and decided we would just walk the bus route and if Milo fell asleep we would walk until he awoke and then get on the bus. An hour and a half later we were home, Milo still asleep and me with sore feet.

Kuepps walked in the door shortly after, Milo refreshed and happy after a big pram day. I was out for the evening and Kuepps still banned from Milo lifting so Oma got to experience some evening ‘free-flopping’, which she executed smoothly.

  • Suggested standard pram gauge – 800mm
  • Number of odd socks in Milo’s cupboard – 3
  • Minutes spent pressing Milo’s bare foot into wet concrete in the city – 0
  • Minutes spent clipping our cats’ claws – 25

Day Thirty-Six: Dangerous creatures – Friday 14 August 2015

Today I commenced Milo’s education on the dangerous creatures of Australia. So far he is not doing well.

Like a fledgling eagle being pushed out of the nest, or a Harp Seal pup abandoned on the ice after just 12 days, there comes a time in an Australian baby’s life where it must come face to face with the myriad Australian native creatures that could kill a baby rhinoceros with a sideways glance. For Milo that time arrived today.

Milo and I have been running basic drills from his very earliest days; applying the “look before you lift” technique by peering under the barbeque before turning on the gas, or under the worm-farm lid before attempting its removal. Milo has always been terrific at squashing the fingers of his gardening gloves before putting them on, usually using his plastic spoon in a stabbing motion for this purpose, or shaking out his gum-boots before putting them on his feet. Obviously Milo would never crawl through tall grass, and when bush-crawling he carries a long stick in his mouth which he swings to-and-fro to ward off basking snakes.

However, these largely theoretical lessons can only go so far and must eventually be supplemented by a field trip to view the creatures first hand. So today my mum and I took Milo to the Sydney Wildlife Park to test his instincts, and his ability to implement classroom training in the field.

Family fun-day Thursday was interrupted this week as Kuepps had a procedure that will hopefully fix her Milo-destroyed hip. It essentially means Kuepps cannot lift Milo for at least two weeks and must even avoid his clambering at all costs for the first 72 hours. To demonstrate the high value of mums, Kuepps headed off to hers for a recuperation retreat while mine moved in with us to help with the Milo wrangling.

We arrived at Swim School to the news there had been an ‘accident’ in the infant’s pool such that it was ‘out of action’ for a period to be ‘refreshed’. These are cute euphemisms to describe a scenario that needs no real clarification. One of the pool maintenance guys Howard could be seen forlornly poking at the surface of the water with his periscope net while an associate feverishly applied additional chlorine.

This refreshing period meant our class was to be held in the main pool which is at least 5 degrees cooler. We were the first baby/ parent combo to arrive so we jumped in for some warm-ups. Milo, although trying his best to be positive about Humpty Dumpties and Jellies on the Plate, was turning slightly blue in the face and his happy babbling was being interrupted by chattering teeth.

I therefore asked whether the class could be postponed before retreating to the paddling pool where I could see a number of other familiar babies cowering for warmth. The paddling pool is no more than a foot deep and is kept warm by a combination of its shallow depth, furiously circulating heated water and urine.

We splashed happily in this Petri dish for about 20 minutes before wrapping Milo up like a burrito and beating a hasty retreat. It is amazing how far we have come since our first embarrassingly ill-prepared attempt at Swim School; we no longer even enter the change-rooms or showers. There is no pram, carrier, jacket, change of clothes. We have a new nappy, a plastic bag, a towel, a bear suit and a dried apricot for the drive home. The rest of Thursday was spent peacefully in the park with occasional calls to mum to check on her recuperation.

On Friday morning Milo and I went for our now customary morning stroll which we use as a type of anaesthetic to ease Milo into his morning nap. While waiting for our coffee we stood next to a man who took an unusual interest in Milo. I deduced he was likely also a dad, probably a new one, so asked him if he had any kids. Yes, a four-month old boy. This stimulated the usual conversations about sleep, upheaval, faeces and who the child looks like. This dad joked that his son had inherited his family jowls, we chuckled together. I retorted that Milo had unfortunately also been gifted my prominent family ears.

Milo’s ears are adorable but not subtle. They are about the same size as his mother’s. Not in terms of scale, in an absolute sense. If we had at our disposal the previously referenced ‘over the horizon’ technology offered to us by the film ‘Face Off’, Kuepps and Milo could switch ears and I suspect few people would pass any sort of comment.

This newly met coffee-dad peered again into the pram and exclaimed with genuine surprise “Holy shit! He really does have your ears!” I thought this level of enthusiastic agreement to my light-hearted quip was somewhat indelicate, and I felt a little indignant on behalf of us both.

After Milo’s nap we quickly mobilised and soon found ourselves at the Wildlife Park. As you enter the Park the signs remind the visitor in no uncertain terms that everything in Australia will kill you if given the chance. ‘Australia has the 428 most deadly millipedes in the world and 267 of those are commonplace in your shower’, for example. Or, ‘Cassowary – World’s Deadliest Bird!’; that one is a little silly.

You are, however, eased into the danger with a stroll through the butterfly house, although I am sure to the very young and the infirm these butterflies could be poisonous if eaten. There were only a few butterflies on hand to greet us but those available captivated my son. He leaned forward out of his pram pointing frantically and bellowing whenever one of these curious floating creatures came near. At one point a butterfly came to rest on a leaf not far from Milo’s head and he became very exercised, waving his hands above his head like Gary Johnston giving the signal to Chris in the film ‘Team America’.

The next enclosure, and the first test of Milo’s innate instinct to detect a dangerous creature, is the Tasmanian Devil. Milo failed this test. Seeing the Devil as simply a slightly nuder and mangier version of his cats, Milo grinned and giggled and attempted to shimmy his way into the enclosure to play with this odd cat/ piglet creature.

Next stop, snakes. Milo was delighted to meet the Eastern Brown Snake; cackling, clapping and trying his best to greet the slithery reptile cheek-to-cheek. I tried to point out to Milo the combination of words ‘common and deadly’ on the Brown Snake’s description mean he is not a creature to befriend, or taken lightly. Milo was disinterested in my warnings as he had spotted the Common Death Adder and was eager to make his acquaintance.

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A friendly greeting for the Eastern Brown Snake

This pattern continued throughout the Park; Red-Belly Black Snake, Inland Taipan, Mainland Tiger Snake all greeted warmly and with enthusiasm, Milo looking at me and my mum as if to say “Dad, how cool are these weird slithery things?”

The spiders were no better. The Sydney Funnel Web (which happens to be the most deadly spider in the world and also rather common in Sydney) lives in a dark enclosure which can be lit up by pressing a button alongside the glass. The idea is to be dramatic and shocking, revealing the spider with his shiny black feet lurking just beneath the surface in a swirl of thick web.

Milo didn’t see it this way. We spent two or three minutes pressing the button on and off, Milo hooting with laughter every time the light came on.

Despondent and scolding myself for my patently inadequate dangerous creature home-prepping we walked toward the last exhibit, my final hope for the day.

Surely Milo could not interpret this animal as a kindly companion, suitable for petting or playing, or even a misunderstood victim who deserves the benefit of the doubt and Milo’s conciliatory friendship. The final cautionary tale in the Sydney Wildlife Park is a 5m, 700kg Saltwater Crocodile named Rex who was saved from extermination and brought to the Park after he killed two female crocodiles who had been introduced to him as potential mates.

For this last lesson we released Milo from his pram and allowed him to explore independently. For a moment Milo appeared apprehensive or even, potentially, cautious. This caution soon passed.

Milo crawled over to the tank at express pace and clambered up onto the glass, pointing at the fish, the croc and then back at us in an excited, and not at all cautious display of delirious enjoyment. We allowed Milo to tap gently on the glass for a few minutes not 5 metres from this highly evolved killer, before I gave him a handful of ‘craisins’ (cranberry raisins) and slipped him into his pram to babble happily as we strolled back to the car. It is clear we have some work to do.

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Rex looks pretty friendly

Milo was exhausted from all the new curiosities he had witnessed and slept soundly in the car, hoping that he might receive an Eastern Brown Snake for Christmas.

The evening and night passed peacefully (for me) with my mum giving me the gift of sleep, as she expertly performed the role of ‘night-nanny’.

  • Total deadly species embraced by Milo as new friends – 15
  • Total deaths attributed to Sydney Funnel Web since anti-venom developed in 1981 – 0
  • Minutes spent sketching a new family crest for submission to the College of Arms in London – 0
  • Minutes spent tie-dyeing old white tea-towels for Milo to wear as technicolour togas this summer – 0

Day Thirty-Five: Lamb Shankin’ – Wednesday 12 August 2015

When I was a young boy, perhaps 10, I wore a lamb’s knuckle to school for one week, on a chain around my neck.

I discovered the knuckle in our Sunday lamb roast one evening and suggested to my father that I would like to wear it to school. Rather than discourage this suggestion my father boiled it down until it was clean and gristle free, drilled a hole in it, and gave it to me on a silver chain.

I distinctly remember it bulging awkwardly underneath my t-shirt like an untreated goiter. I kept it secluded in this fashion during class time and then allowed it to dangle free during recess and lunch, a caveman trinket swinging and hitting me in the chin while I competed furiously at hand-ball, or wall-ball, or dodge-ball, or some other ball related activity.

It only took until the first afternoon for a teacher to ask me about it: “Is that a special bone of some sort? Did you get it on holiday?” No, I answered, I found it in our lamb roast last Sunday. The teacher had no further questions for me at that time but presumably went to the staff room to discuss my adornment in an incredulous tone.

If I am being honest my father had done an imperfect job in boiling down the gristle. Some chewy looking particles remained; and even a rudimentary inspection would confirm my jewel was more likely to be table scrap than a petrified dinosaur molar, or something else of actual or sentimental value.

The children loved it. My hand-ball game was on fire, buoyed by the confidence that only the adulation of a group of primary school children can give you. Rumours circulated about how and why I had come upon this beast’s knuckle bone, and what captivating tale there must be behind its acquisition. I, however, did not feed these rumours. Throughout this brief but memorable period I was always completely honest about the entire story; we usually have a leg of lamb on a Sunday, I had asked my dad whether I could gnaw on the leg bone, he had said yes, I had sucked on it for a while, spat out the knuckle, liked the look of it, asked my dad whether I could wear it on a chain, he said yes and then enabled my request.

I was oblivious to the opportunity for fabricated tales of heroism with which I had been presented, and seemingly oblivious to the fact that the truth was, well, a little bit weird.

Anyway, by Thursday the spots of remaining gristle had become a little funky and my teacher, who had likely been discussing and planning her next approach since the Monday, gently asked me again to recount the story, confirmed whether or not the bone had any sort of sentimental value, not really, and then suggested that perhaps I might consider whether it needed to come back to school with me on Monday. It didn’t.

I am not sure where the knuckle ended up. I continued to wear the chain for a little while but quite soon that too disappeared and the incident drifted over the years into the realms of anecdote.

Today I believe I experienced some of what my father did all those years ago that lead him to what objectively might be considered a reasonably odd decision.

Exhausted and hungry after an exhilarating Gymbaroo today, Milo and I shared a lamb shank for lunch, which he devoured aggressively. At the conclusion of the meal he reached his little arms forward toward the bone, picked clean but still tasty looking. I did what any loving parent would do and handed it to him. The focused joy and systematic gnawing I witnessed was heart-warming. It looked like a small dinosaur bone in his little hands as he waved it around and sucked furiously on its knuckled end.

It was only when he really started to pull with his teeth at the bits of fatty gristle that remained attached to the bone, with success, that I removed the impressive shank from his firm grasp. The forlorn look on his face and his little lips still smacking together were heart breaking, and I know at that moment had he asked me to fashion it into a belt buckle, or a head-piece or a hair-comb I would have said yes immediately and put the kettle on.

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 Shankin’

Today was our penultimate Gymbaroo together. Invigorated by Valdis’ words and gestures the previous afternoon Milo looked relaxed, peering out the window at birds and aeroplanes on the drive over. As we arrived Felix looked up from his mop and gave us a gentle smile and encouraging nod, then returned to disinfecting the equipment. I thought I identified a hint of concern as he quickly returned to his work.

There had been ‘chatter’ all week on the Gymbaroo forums that something ‘big’ was planned for this session. We had caught phrases like ‘tube of terror’, ‘the strangler’, ‘tubenado’ and ‘tube the noob’. The previous afternoon Valdis had also briefly looked up from his Kandy Krush Saga and grunted something rather cryptic at us while Milo was scaling Grandma’s Cottage; “I hope Milo isn’t afraid of the dark”. I looked up quickly for an explanation but his head was already down again, only the coiffed badger could be seen.

We had dismissed it at the time as the ravings of a brain over-stimulated by animated Kandy but now, standing in the gym room for the second last time together, it was soberingly clear

Snaking out before us was the longest, most intimidating tunnel Milo or I had ever seen; an ominous deep red in colour it was at least twice as long as any Milo had ever attempted. It curled left and right, into valleys and up over yellow foam triangles that looked like immense pieces of cheese discarded by a giant mouse. We peered into it together, and we could not see the exit.

Milo went through the motions during the stretching, dancing, massaging, odd rhyming, upside-downing. Milo predictably crushed a limp-wristed opposition in the wheelbarrow but I could tell he derived no pleasure from this. His mind was on other things.

Uncomfortably soon we heard the words “free time in the gym now”. The usual exuberance was absent. None of the babies moved toward the gymnasium. Several feigned a renewed interest in the bucket of assorted plastic ducks, trying to convince their parents they wanted to explore it further, one crawled back to the pile of pantyhose filled with rattly balls and pretended it was the greatest toy he had yet encountered. One of the smaller kids simply began to cry.

One by one the babies were scooped up by their parents and taken into the gym, deposited here and there to shimmy unsteadily along beams, bounce listlessly on the mini-tramp, pull at the robo-turtle’s leg and recline in the sheepskin lined plastic shell. Milo and I took up a position alongside the rolling wedge which offered a good vantage point of the demon tunnel’s gaping mouth.

Milly, a plucky, smiley baby who has always competed well and is near the head of the class in terms of walking progress, was deposited directly at the cavern’s entrance. Milly’s mother then took a tambourine to the exit and attempted to coax her through. Her voice sounded like a distant echo and the tambourine a tinny whisper. Milly’s smile slipped away for the first time in weeks as she edged into the darkness and out of view.

All baby eyes were on Milly, breath collectively held. The tunnel vibrated slightly to indicate Milly’s process, which was slow and stuttering. After what felt a baby lifetime Milly re-emerged from the entrance, wide-eyed and unsmiling. Milly’s mother arrived swiftly and took her to the horizontal ladder to recuperate.

One by one we watched babies confront this challenge, many could not even be coaxed to begin the journey, even when encouraged by the tambourine with streamers attached. Those that did venture inside lasted only moments before scampering back to freedom. Lennox had been notable in his absence at the mouth of this fiendish tube, executing impressive routines on the lower level apparatus around the room.

Eventually Milo burst out of my arms, through the short wooden culvert which marked the entrance to the beast and disappeared out of view. I scurried alongside the tunnel as it bulged and shook with Milo’s progress, attempting to beat him to the exit. He took the corners swiftly and moved up and down the hills and valleys as if he were back at Valdis’ gym, clawing his way over the Plain of Pyramids. I heard him growling and yelping with determination as he plunged through the dark.

I traversed the tunnel and slid onto my stomach, desperate to peer into the abyss and locate my son. All was silent. The tunnel was still.

Just as I was considering whether I could squeeze my shoulders into the tunnel, and how embarrassing it would be to have the Gymbaroo panel cut me out of it, Milo’s smiling face popped around the corner and he ploughed toward me with his jaunty crawling style. I waved the dodecahedron at Milo to encourage him the last few metres but all of a sudden he paused.

It was then I noticed Lennox at my left shoulder, crawling past me with his eyes on Milo and one hand on the dodecahedron. Lennox, at great pace, covered the metres between them swiftly and they met for the first time, face to face, in the red tinged darkness of the devil’s throat.

The two great rivals then awkwardly shuffled around each other as if they were square dancing, aligned themselves and crawled happily out together, chatting in conflicting languages that neither understood.

Lennox’s father and I scooped up our respective champions and chatted comfortably about the difficulties of executing Swim School alone, the complexities of managing Gymbaroo expectations and how easy it is to not shave for days at a time as a stay-at-home dad.

The parachute and farewell song drifted past us, Milo grinning and satisfied at his ability to overcome his apprehension of the tunnel, and of Lennox. Perhaps these two great rivals now have the foundation of a great friendship, as they both prepare for their graduation to the ‘Fairy Penguins’ in the coming weeks. Or perhaps they were simply caught in a moment. Time will tell.

So we finish the story where we began, two satisfied lads eating slow cooked lamb shank together, and dreaming of the future.

  • Total length of devil’s throat (m) – 6
  • Number of Gymbaroo sessions remaining in Part One – 1
  • Pairs of jean shorts fashioned out of worn-out jeans – 0
  • Days since last shave – 6

Day Thirty-Four: One hipster dad to rule them all – Tuesday 11 August 2015

Today we saw what surely must be the hipsterist dad in the Inner West, which (to loosely quote the Big Lebowski) would place him high in the runnin’ for hipsterist worldwide.

He was of course riding a bicycle, single speed at least but I think a fixie, beard with accentuated moustache, flanny, leather waistcoat, some form of checked kerchief, a hat which looked as if he could be in the French Foreign Legion during the week but could equally return to Paris on the weekend to paint surrealist artworks without needing to change his headwear, no helmet, leather sandles, no socks, tight black jeans. He was riding one-handed with his other hand holding a leash at the end of which was a dog which I presume was a rescue dog, salvaged from the horrors of ‘Big Business’. The dog was ugly, due to its deliberately impure breeding, but in all the right places such that it was oddly handsome and quite appealing; somewhat like Owen Wilson. The dog was also sporting a checked kerchief.

Attached to the stylish bicycle was a baby chariot of some sort, but not like ours which is all German and solid and safe. This one looked dangerous and exciting as if the dad had fashioned it himself out of an old tent during the smithing workshop he gives once a week behind the old railway yard. He rode with impunity at a leisurely pace in the middle of the road. He was cool.

Milo and I gazed at them enviously as they passed, Milo peering out of our very solid and roadworthy Uppababy Alta, which accords to all Australian safety standards. Milo didn’t even have his moustache onesie on and I was wearing both a sensible shoe and hat. We sighed and continued on our way, vowing to build something out of wire coat-hangers that evening or at least install a bee colony on our balcony.

Milo is currently showing signs that he wishes to move to a one sleep a day routine. I am resisting. One sleep a day would greatly impinge on our lifestyle and many daytime commitments; Gymbaroo, Swim School, long lunches in the park. I am not sure how long we can fight the tide but I have only three weeks to go on this full-time adventure so I am sure with careful planning and well-timed walks we can achieve it.

After our customary morning stroll Milo did not sleep today until 1000, which meant of course he did not wake until almost 1200. Inspired by hipster dad I prepared fresh foraged ‘pick n mix’ couscous fingers for lunch. In stark contrast to the previous failed crispy experiment Milo was quite interested in these uber treats and ate with enthusiasm.

Milo has this week become fascinated by the scrolling numbers in lifts. Whenever we approach a lift he giggles with excitement then points with his little claw-fisted pointing style at the numbers in anticipation of them changing. When they do he bobs around in his pram, or in your arms, hooting and grinning. We always count the numbers as they change which makes us feel like exceptional parents, using the natural environment to enrich our child’s mind at every opportunity, as if we are in an episode of Sesame Street. In reality he just enjoys the little red lights, a lot.

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Unblinking fascination in the lift

Milo had his afternoon nap in the car as we went visiting my cousins who are in town. This was a rare and brave manoeuvre as we would not be home until after sunset at which time Milo must surely turn into a pumpkin. We needn’t have been concerned. Milo was delighted by the new faces, new books to pull off shelves, contraband cookie fed to him by my fiendish cousin, and even some music with rude words in it.

Milo remained awake in the car on the way home and we arrived home at precisely the same time as Kuepps. Milo, who was already overstimulated from his lift journey, beside himself at the unexpected pleasure of encountering his mum in the corridor.

Last night we finished Season One of the West Wing. My father and brother last weekend opined that perhaps it is a little obnoxious to be 15 years behind on a television series and then get upset at people who want to talk about it around you. I concede they might have a point but even so I will offer no spoilers except to say we are still in shock.

Postscript for today: As our readership has exploded beyond my mum and her Bridge group I have decided to change the names of some of our key characters. Valdis is ubiquitous and so will remain, forever, Valdis, but other changes have been made. Don’t be confused.

  • Centimetres of gap between sandal and trouser on hipster dad – 7
  • Number of contraband choc-chips smuggled into Milo’s mouth by my cousin – 3
  • Hours spent cutting old flannelette pyjamas into neck kerchiefs for sale at the markets – 0
  • Hours spent cataloguing existing bee species on our balcony for apiary preparation – 0.5

Day Thirty-Three: Free-flopping – Monday 10 August 2015

Milo’s version of self-settling is currently a protracted, noisy, violent thrash-fest for which he demands an attentive audience. We call it ‘free-flopping’ and, so long as you are not in a hurry, it is hilarious.

I have thought in detail about how to adequately describe free-flopping; my best attempt is as follows. It is a combination of an inelegant green sea-turtle on the beach, labouring its way toward the water with its four fins working inefficiently in unison, a 9kg salmon that has just been brought on deck, bouncing and flipping in a completely unpredictable and potentially dangerous fashion, and Elaine Benes dancing.

Milo is no longer interested in being bounced or rocked to sleep in any way, he is also not pleased about falling asleep alone in his cot, so we are currently stranded in some kind of ‘self-settling halfway house’ in which Milo requires a parent lying next to him on the spare bed, playing no active role, while he violently ‘free-flops’ his way into a peaceful slumber.

This protracted process routinely takes between 15 and 45 minutes and involves Milo poking himself in the forehead and eyes with his schnuller, pulling your ears and nose with his little pincer fingers, pulling his ears and nose, slapping himself on the top of his head, aggressively trying to eat the cushions that are lined up to stop him inadvertently bashing his head into the wall, kicking you in the face, head-butting you in the chin, tossing his schnuller onto the ground whilst grinning at you, kneeling on all fours before spontaneously falling face-first onto the mattress, clapping and, at all times, desperately trying to leap off the bed with no regard for his own personal safety. It is difficult not to giggle.

Throughout this process it appears completely improbable that it might ever lead to Milo being asleep. But it does. At some point Milo’s sleeping subconscious wins the battle against his vibrant and energetic conscious mind and he falls asleep wherever he happens to be at that moment. For Kuepps it is regularly with Milo lying on his back horizontally across her stomach, his head dangling over one side and his arms and legs splayed as if in the midst of a star jump. For me it is quite often with Milo upside-down, his nose touching my knees and his feet in my face.

At this moment you have reached a critical phase of the free-flopping process. There are no guidelines as to when to attempt the cot-transfer but, go too early and the process will almost certainly begin anew.

Like delicately levering up a pancake with a spatula, you squeeze your hands underneath his hips and neck and gently prise him off the mattress. At this point he is usually dangling, head lolling around and his limbs flopping as if he is a ventriloquist’s marionette, done for the night. Hopefully you have maintained contact with his schnuller throughout the free-flopping sequence, although this is sometimes very difficult to achieve.

All that then remains is to lower him gently into the cot, stick the schnuller back into his mouth and dive quickly but silently, face down into the corner of his room and hold your breath for 20-30 seconds while you listen to see if his last gasp thrashing (which will always occur) will lead to sleep or free-flopping phase 2 for the night.

Once you are confident the child is truly asleep you very carefully get to your feet, millimetre by millimetre ease the door handle down then slip out, hoping desperately the cats are not directly on the other side of the door waiting to dart into his room and pounce on his face or meow in their enthusiastic, insistent way which may bring you down at the very last hurdle.

Over the weekend we obtained a potentially vital piece of information, there is a day-time training gym for Aspiring Gymbaroo Professionals (AGPs) in our neighbourhood. Lennox is bang in trouble.

After Milo’s morning nap I loaded him up with tuna, brown rice and super-purified kale paste and we went out in search of this secret gym, reportedly located in a disused aluminium smelter and operated by a Latvian man named Valdis. Valdis’ surname is lost to history, as is his precise age. Felix, the sponge monkey at our Gymbaroo, claims Valdis was a Commandant in the Latvian National Partisans, fighting the Soviet occupiers in post-war Latvia. Valdis’ family farm was collectivised when he was a young man but he remained on the property, using the many now dormant fertiliser silos as secret training gyms for other young Partisans. Some say these silos are the birth-place of Gymbaroo. The activities, which were in essence combat and fitness training, were disguised by mindless songs, tambourine and maraca throwing, remote-control wheel-barrowing, ‘slobber or toss’ games and rhymes about Jack and Jill, in case they were interrupted by patrolling Soviet soldiers. Valdis survived the occupation, made his way to Australia on an illegal Patagonian Toothfish trawler and, as the story goes, set up the very first Gymbaroo, somewhere in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney.

Having met Valdis today, this is a story I believe.

As per Felix’s instructions we strode bravely through a sprawling industrial estate; past overturned fixies, covering our noses to protect from the richly aroma’d smoke billowing from the local artisan roasters, picking our way over discarded pallets, soon destined to be up-cycled into wall gardens and coffee tables. There, behind the pop-up Bratwurst, Jaeger-Schnitzel and cold-drip coffee wagon we first saw him. A mountain of a man; ageless, a head of impossibly thick black and white streaked hair as if a coiffured badger was curled up asleep on his head, hands like loaves of rye bread, a gnarled face like an obscenely overgrown walnut, skin, scorched by the elements to a dark brown as if the toaster dial had been turned up for a frozen bagel and then forgotten so the next piece of fresh bread is slowly crisped to the point you know that no amount of scraping with a knife over the bin will ever render it edible. But you try anyway.

Valdis appeared to know we were coming. “Valdis?” I asked, half choking the word. He simply nodded and ushered us inside, quickly.

Valdis is a man of few words, but what he says, in his deep gravelly voice, you listen to; “No outside food, this is a nut free zone. Socks only or your feet will get stuck on the slippery dips. AGPs under three only allowed in Kandy-Land”. We turned out our pockets to show we were not smuggling in any tree nuts, or boiled eggs, or shell-fish, paid our fee and as we went to move into the gym Valdis had one more utterance for us “hey, Milo… good luck.” Milo and I smiled at Valdis and I am sure I saw the faintest of affectionate glimmers in his eye.

Save for “Gonna fly now” by Bill Conti which blared on a loop over the tinny post-war PA system, the gym was silent. We saw some familiar faces clambering, bouncing and rolling but inside Valdis’ gym outside relationships count for nought, we are Valdis’ people. We spoke to no-one.

Buoyed by the sense of occasion Milo went straight to work; clambering up Kandy Kastle with ease, shooting down the Whistling Slide, toppling over and under the padded tubes in the Corridor of Courage, padding his way up and over Grandma’s Cottage only to be faced by the tortuous hills and valleys of the Plain of Pyramids. Milo completed this circuit several times, did some free-work on the tubes and then clambered over to me and up on to my lap. He was done for the day.

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Tube work

We loaded up the pram and headed back out into the elements. As we left Valdis gave us a small nod, no words but this was affirmation enough, then pulled the heavy roller door shut behind us. Milo fell asleep almost immediately in the pram so we wandered the streets for an hour while he rested.

After our afternoon snack I potted a pink daisy in an old steel bucket which I had previously painted powder blue, which is about the manliest thing you can do.

  • Fastest time up Kandy Kastle – 14 seconds
  • Number of steps to reach the pinnacle of Grandma’s Cottage – 7
  • Litres of home-brewed hooch made from Vegemite – 0
  • Think pieces submitted to the local paper on the steady decline in quality of Dunlop Volleys – 0

Day Thirty-Two: Milo meets the penguins – Friday 7 August 2015

Running low on nappy wipes is terrifying. You feel like you are aboard the bus with Keanu Reeves in Speed 1 (not Jason Patric on the very slow-moving cruise ship in Speed 2); motoring at 51 miles/hr, hoping desperately no impediments will rise up in front of you, like an unfinished motorway or a pram filled with cans, praying that Dennis Hopper won’t realise Keanu simply looped the camera footage in the bus and that he is actually underneath unloading passengers right now.

No, it’s really not much like that actually. It’s far more like you are aboard a normal bus, without Keanu Reeves, but you only dipped a 1-2 section bus ticket (pre-Opal card days) and you are fully aware you have travelled well beyond those 2 sections. You have a heavy feeling in your stomach, looking feverishly at faces every time the bus stops, looking for an undercover ticket inspector. But you are committed. You could have bought more wipes but you didn’t. Now all you can do is wait, and hope, and ready yourself for the worst.

Last night we were down to 4 wipes. We both thought there was a reserve stash upstairs, where the surplus beers used to live. To our horror we realised late in the evening it was the reserve we had been using all day. The reserve, reserve actually; none in the travel bag either. Four.

I am a wipe-heavy nappy changer. I wield them like Chevy Chase in the Three Amigos, gargling his water in the desert, pouring it all over his face and onto the sand while Ned Nederlander and Lucky Day look on, parched and desperate. With 4, and some focus, I could manage up to a category 3 event. Kuepps, who is more miserly, could manage a category 4 I believe, if she knew from the outset she only had 4 to work with. However, if faced with a category 5 or a 5+ (AKA ‘Exploosion’) with such a limited supply we would be lost. I defy anybody to manage such a heinous event with just 4 wipes. It is impossible. Faced with the very real prospect of a 3am group shower, neither of us slept well.

But we were not punished. Like dipping 1-2 sections in Manly and stepping off the bus incident free at Wynyard Station, we had rolled the dice and not rolled whatever it is that you are trying to avoid rolling when playing Craps at the casino.

So the first order of business for Milo and I was to stroll up to the supermarket to remedy this situation immediately. When we got home Milo was thirsty so I offered him his ‘sippy cup’. The transition from bottle to sippy cup is supposed to offer hydration independence, but Milo appears disinterested or confused about how this is supposed to work. Rather, he has decided to transition directly to a cup as his preferred vessel. This, of course, is disastrous. Firstly, he always dips his chin down which means the fulcrum of the cup is well below his mouth; we are working against gravity before we begin. Secondly, he has convinced himself that chewing the cup is the most effective way to smooth the passage of water from cup to throat. Of course this is not the case. And thirdly, he seems only interested in performing this flawed guzzling. chewing style when sitting in my lap, preferably while the cup is hovering over my groin.

So after I changed my trousers Milo very willingly accepted my offer of a nap which lasted almost two hours. When he awoke we quickly prepared ourselves for departure as today was Milo’s first visit to the aquarium.

We were at first a little stumped by city road works but eventually found a park, purchased our annual pass and we were in. Milo was immediately intrigued by the low light and spiraling colours, but the tanks in the first few rooms are high and small and he could not really observe the action. After a short walk however Milo came face to face with an enormous, rather sedentary Barramundi. Milo’s eyes widened, he moved his head back and forth in short jerky motions between my face and the Barramundi’s, all the while clinging firmly to my wrist and making short disbelieving gaspy noises. Once a little courage had been mustered Milo started to paw at the glass and, using his pointy little index finger, attempted to touch the Barramundi on the nose. The gentle gaspy noises had begun to evolve to Milo’s patented throaty growly noises. However, at this point Milo’s curiosity and apprehension were still in the ascendancy and his utterances were rather restrained.

Any restraint Milo had shown evaporated when we entered the penguin room. Penguins dashing back and forth, breaching the water, pecking each other and chirping was more than he could handle. Milo tried to burst out of his pram seat belt while growling and giggling, again his eyes darting back and forth between me and the penguins as if to say “dad, are you seeing this??” They were like the birds he has seen on our balcony and the cats all wrapped up into one marvelous animal. He kicked his legs and waved his arms above his head while thrusting to be released from his pram until I rolled him out of the penguin room and into the Dugong and shark tunnel.

Well, these enormous aquatic beasts were almost more than Milo could handle. He babbled excitedly to himself whilst pointing at everything he could see. His finger was raised above his head more frequently than had Aleem Dar’s been during the first morning’s play at Trent Bridge not 12 hours before.

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Milo’s best Aleem Dar

This base level of frenzied excitement did not ease and probably hit a crescendo in the Great Barrier Reef section where Milo could shimmy right up against the glass and stand face to face with these flitting, colourful, mystery beasts, his finger moving in a frenzy trying to track every creature.

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Nose-to-nose

My spirit soared and my chest swelled at this wonderful moment of discovery we were sharing as father and son. As I was soaring and swelling an Italian tourist let me know that my son had just picked up a button off the ground and popped it into his mouth. A button of known origin is of choking size and therefore probably something to remove from your infant’s mouth, a button of unknown origin even more so. I thanked my friendly dad ally and quickly removed the button from Milo’s mouth. This man was very generous, noting that his 2 and 4 year old girls still find things on the ground and stick them into their mouths immediately; but it was comforting to know that even in a moment of such shared bliss, parenting embarrassment is likely to be just around the corner.

We were now satisfied with our aquatic adventure so headed back to the car. Milo fell straight to sleep to dream of bubbles and Barramundi so we drove around aimlessly for almost an hour before arriving home.

We both couldn’t wait to tell mum about our adventure which we did as soon as she was in the door. We all ate dinner together and promptly headed to bed to dream of penguins and Italian tourists.

  • Number of Dugongs growled at – 2
  • Number of nappy wipes now on hand – 240
  • Litres of homemade, pot-set yoghurt produced – 0
  • Centimetres of woolen scarf knitted – 0