Chill out, baby

When Ray Mears was asked if he’d rather be too hot or too cold he took another bite of his Cornish pasty and stared into space. ‘Too cold,’ he said with a mouth full of macerated beef and potato, ‘…because if you’re too cold you can always get warm (swallow) but if you’re too hot you can’t always cool down.’

With the weather approaching temperatures that require dedicated air conditioning units, I pondered Ray’s opinion as I picked up my one-year-old son -one again suffering from both a cold and a temperature wrapped in some sort of ironic paradox- and found myself in the familiar position of sort-of knowing what to do, thinking it through and then realising that I don’t actually know what to do at all. Again.

In this instance, the issue revolved around keeping him cool on the hottest day of the year. I figured he needed cooling down with water, but then should I close the window in case the breeze blasting the moisture on his skin turn him into some sort of pneumonia-contracting fridge? Of course, I could be being completely paranoid so I fluctuated uncomfortably between two schools of ignorance as the all the temperatures rose exponentially. Then he threw up.

We’re sort of getting used to him doing this now but he doesn’t usually do so much, and in front of horrified friends that we’d had over for a spot of tea and a chinwag on a Saturday afternoon. Actually, when I say we’re getting used to it I mean we’re not getting used to it at all, it still retains the power to shock, what I mean is that we’ve seen him throw up before and we have knowledge of how awful it is, just like when you or I throw up. Similarly, one mentally thinks back over the past few days, or hours, and tries and work out the source of emesis.

In this case, the suspects, in order of notion, were initially related to temperature/teething but this was partially countered by his planting a small hand into a large pile of green birdshit earlier that day in the park. I didn’t see this particular event but my wife and our friends/witnesses saw the excrement on his hand and no one could guarantee he’d not checked out this new phenomenon orally. And there was always the ongoing possibility he’d ‘picked up something’ at the nursery the previous day, either way, whatever it was, had disagreed with him all over the floor.

That night, as per usual when he’s not feeling well, he slept with us. I like it when he sleeps with us, even if he somehow seems to occupy all of the bed and the likelihood of my being booted in the face and, as he gets bigger, nuts, increases sevenfold. When we woke on Sunday it was apparent that whatever had upset him was long gone. I, on the other hand, woke with my back in knots. When I was a kid I sustained a motorcycle injury that perforated a disc in my spine. I manage the injury by short visits to the gym and ensuring I sleep on my side with a pillow between my knees. That week, on account of a bunch of deadlines, the gym doors stayed sealed shut and it would seem that my young charge had forced me out of my preferred sleeping position the previous evening.

As I lay about groaning in front of Sunday Brunch I barely noticed the missus complaints that, ‘she didn’t feel so good.’

‘Try a bloody slipped disc!’ I countered, inwardly.

By lunchtime, the back nor the missus felt any better. By teatime, the better-half was better but my spine was still wrecked and, worryingly, I’d begun to feel a little nauseous.

By early evening my guts were groaning, I’d begun to pay regular visits to the bathroom in order to empty my knackered back then, at about 9 pm, it began.

I was already lying down in denial of what was coming, that awful place when you know you’re going to be physically sick at some point, it’s just a question of when… Though you assure yourself the nausea will pass and you’ll return to the bosom of normality unscathed. I’m sure that happened once. Maybe when I was a child? Not today, Buster.

I hobbled into the bathroom, I knew I had to perform on all fours as it was essential I kept my spine straight or it might actually break in half. I spent a while with my head lowered into the bowl gulping in fetid odours with a view to getting things going -the use of fingers was out of the question as they needed to be firmly planted on the floor to keep my back straight. The first wave erupted into my chest almost breaking my sternum, then another muscle that only exists for the purposes of puking forced a lump of matter out of my wide-open gaping mouth and down the length of my now inordinately long tongue. I’d eaten very little since breakfast aside from some twig ‘n’ gravel granary bread from Tesco which had been drier than Moses’ swimming trunks, still, I was genuinely surprised at the effort involved in pushing the stuff out. My other end, on the other hand, seemed only too willing to relieve itself of its contents.

The nausea subsided, then those ten precious seconds of euphoric wonder when you feel sensational and you’re thinking, ‘can it be true? Will this be the time I just do one and that’s it? Could it be…?!’

No.

Each time I paused between these horrific sessions, during that lovely feeling of exultation (Hosanna in the Highest! Etc.) I could hear the little fella chuckling next door playing his plastic keyboard safe in the knowledge his mum was there to take care of him. I thought of single parents. How do they cope when this sort of thing strikes their household?

I tried to lie down, I was coated in a cooling haze of sweat which suddenly became clammy. Another hot wave rose up, bloody Ray Mears, I wobbled back to the land of the tiles and resumed barking obscenities at Armitage Shanks. I guessed that they’d just have to bring their little ones in to witness this disturbing spectacle, reassuring them all was well as they continued to be the opposite of anything that indicated it.

After half an hour I was done, five kilos lighter with my disc hanging out like a flashers dick, yet feeling oddly grateful I could simply shirk all parental responsibility and just go to bed to recuperate… I lay in bed, drained, imagining if I had no-one. I wouldn’t be able to loll about, I’d have to be up to change his nappy, make him tea or breakfast, clean up all of those pasty crumbs that Ray Mears’ left all over my bloody rug.

Highway

I still recall that day, about an hour after we brought him home for the first time, when we were staring into his crib wondering what the hell to do next. The hackneyed phrase ‘there isn’t an instruction manual!’ rings far away in the background as reality dawns. Seriously, what the fucking hell do we actually do?

We’re only a year and a bit into this gig so it’d be ludicrous to proffer a definitive answer but taking into consideration he was born fit and healthy, and that the missus and I are functioning (for now at least) with all our faculties, I’d like to tentatively suggest a solution to the immediate question of what one actually does when finding oneself in a room with one’s brand-new charge. The answer? Nothing. You do nothing at all.

That doesn’t mean you just stand there literally doing nothing, of course. That’d be horrific. What I mean is that neither you or the baby have begun the process of communication, so until that code starts writing itself you’ll just have to wait. Chances are it’ll begin with the baby crying and your responding with food (tits, not mine) cuddles, nappies etc., and this crude vocabulary will gradually develop and drive things forward until one day, out of the blue, you’ll suddenly be aware you know stuff you didn’t know you knew. This has begun already, like hassle-free bottle-feeding, wriggle-controlled bath-times, best practice nappy-changing (I could write a chapter on this aspect alone) plus a myriad of other baby-related minutiae that you know you’ve nailed, for now at least.

Of course, these are shifting sands. Take the nappy changing aspect, and I think I will, when he was very small his discharge was liquid, relatively odourless and easy to deal with. Now he’s on solid foods we’re having to deal with a range of squashed adult-style turds that require a combination of skills: dexterity, precision, circular breathing etc. The point here is that it’s nature way for you and the baby to learn and grow together, and I don’t mean that to come out as some sort vacuous ‘hippy’ platitude. When they’re tiny they move less, eat less and shit less, and as these elements develop you can be as sure as eggs is eggs you will too; unless you’re a moron.

I’d even argue that reading too much on ‘parenting’ before your baby is born is detrimental to parenting because you’ll have completely random and irrelevant expectations of things that don’t yet exist. This is my opinion to date, I could be wrong, it could be that by taking an intuitive rather than an academic approach to parenting my son will wind up enjoying Electronic Dance Music -I’d hate that so much, only acting out my hatred in mime would get close to conveying how much I’d hate that.

For all intents and purposes parenting is a natural talent, books and advice have their uses but they’re of no use at all if, for example, you read about the ‘cry it out’ method a week before birth and now you’re getting less than three hours sleep a night because you’re adamant mumsnet is right over and above your instincts to find out why it’s crying: a bad dream, a weird noise, a stranger in the room without any trousers on.

Besides, it’s much more fun to explore all this stuff together. I’d heartily argue that common-sense trial and error brings everyone closer together, and when you get those ‘man, I’ve so got this’ moments the world is a much happier place, so much more than the boring, contrived lands of ‘do it this way.’

I have spoken.

Hair

Having long hair isn’t a decision I made, it just is. It’s as much a part of me as clouds in the sky or leaves on a tree. I know I’m fortunate that the gods of bald haven’t waged war on my follicles, so as long as they stay well away from my bonce and focus their attentions elsewhere I shall remain cranially hirsute. But last week I began to question the very essence of my self after concluding that short hair would make my life considerably easier.

It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been at these unfortunate crossroads. After some twenty years of long hair (from teens to thirties) I found myself in a barber’s chair after accidentally setting fire to one side of it trying to light a chillum with a Zippo. I could’ve easily just had it trimmed back, it would’ve been back down to my intergluteal cleft in less than a year, but the temptation to see what it looked like a bit shorter (then unintentionally shorter still after barber number one made me look like Charlie Chuck) was too much for my then fried brain to dismiss without enquiry. I regretted my decision instantly.

With a large aspect of my alternative self literally cut-off I was reliant on my strength of character to maintain its identity, possible yes, but a large part of me felt as if its cover had been blown, and in more ways than one. In a public space, for example, long hair allowed me to cut the world out by simply nodding forward, now I felt horribly visible and exposed, like in one of those dreams when you go to school without your trousers

With the little fella at almost 14 months old my long hair has taken on a new role. It exists as a toy, an alarm clock, a place to deposit crushed foodstuffs and, on one occasion, some shit (his not mine). Quite obviously none of these things are positive, even if one can’t help smiling at his shrieks of delight as he pulls out another handful of my hair. Until recently these negatives haven’t sufficiently aligned to form a cohesive pathway to a hairdresser, but I have found myself wondering what sort of haircut would still allow me some essence of my metal incarnation without having the actual hair to back it up, as it were. Quite obviously a grown man -a grown, married, middle-aged dad- shouldn’t be having these sort of dilemmas and I’ve little doubt the less imaginative would simple cast it all off as some sort of midlife crisis but that’s absurd, I had that when I was in my twenties, it started suddenly at 21 when I learnt that Arthur Rimbaud never wrote a word after the age of 21 and ended abruptly when Kurt Cobain committed suicide. I stand by my opening sentence, it just is.

That said, it’s one thing for me to have this hair-thing going on and another entirely to impose it on to the boy. Last week I was required to cut a little hair from his fringe because it was rapidly approaching his eyes; the better half said that he should have it all cut back because it makes the hair stronger in later life. I was horrified, he’s got actual golden little curls that fall over his collar and tumble around his ears, his hair is soft and beautiful and, well, only a monster would dream of cutting it. Then I noticed it was full of yoghurt, little bits of apple and biscuit and that his hair was actually glued together in places from food.

I guess this is the parental paradox, changes happen at two completely contradictory speeds, slow enough for you not to notice, for example changes in weight, height or, in this instance, hair, or lightning fast when you suddenly realise that something is extraordinarily different, and probably has been for a while. ‘His longer-than-I-anticipated hair is matted with foodstuffs! Again?’ That sort of thing.

Anyway, enough is enough. I need to man-up and straighten all this out. It’s with a heavy yet practical heart I’ve come to a decision, we’re both going to visit the barbers. I mean, it’s not as if he can go on his own and I’m guessing the barber is the best place to take him for a haircut.