One

The boy is one already. I say ‘already’ because even though it feels like a year has passed since he was born, I’ve yet to recover from the shock of his actually being born a year ago.

In the days leading up to his birthday the missus and I did the ‘this time last year’ thing as we followed the varying stations to his arrival; the contractions, the taxi, labour, the wait, the epidural, the panic and finally his being born. So on his actual birthday I found myself staring at him as if he’d just arrived again, but obviously not in the same way. This weirdness (which is obscure enough to demand a page of its own, but I can’t be arsed) is compounded by his suddenly not looking like a ‘a baby’ anymore. He’s got teeth, loads of hair and he’s aware of things that, until very recently, were just undiscovered lexicons, and to a certain extent that includes me.

It’s well known that the role of ‘dad’ (or ‘papa’ as I’m referred to by my wife, which makes me sound like a feeble old pizza chef with a massive white ‘tash) is pretty much a supportive one in the early stages of [his] life, and even then you’ll always play second fiddle to her. To be honest I got used to this very early on, so when I do get a grin or even something resembling a freely-given cuddle it means loads. Recently these have increased in frequency as it become more apparent that his little neurons and synapses are beginning to form cohesive structures. I’m no longer some tit-less entity who is just there on a daily basis, I now have a function of sorts, though he’s no idea what that is. And I’m not so sure either, though there are a few that definitively come with the job, mainly revolving around his mouth and bottom…

…And there we were three years ago in Amsterdam at Easter, after having biked there in black leather from London, sat in a coffee-bar smoking a joint. That day I’d had to buy a pair of 15 quid jeans from some Dutch equivalent of Primark after having left mine at home. These jeans weren’t quite the stop gap I’d anticipated, I’d bought them in less than five minutes, but they fitted so well I just wore them all the time. Two years later, almost to the day, I wore them when my son was born. That may not seem particularly profound or weird but those 15 quid trousers are witness to a change in both life and lifestyle. Last week, with my trousers covered in animal-shaped pasta and ricotta vomit, I took a moment to ruminate. And as I threw my beloved jeans into the bath to soak, once again, I considered the choices we make in life and the effect it has on the future, not just mine or his, but everyone’s, even yours. What if in twenty-year’s time he comes around to your house when you’re on holiday, nicks all your electrical goods and takes a dump on your Axminster on the way out? You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Happy birthday, son.

Vio-lence

A few months back he discovered that it amused him to slap people’s faces. This may or may not have had something to do with my theatrical overreaction to being slapped, specifically, pretending to have received a severe blow to the face in slow motion whilst going ‘noooooooo’. Either way, the expression on his face as he whacks one/anyone around is well worth the pain, to the point that the better half says I actively encourage him, which is ridiculous (I do).

What isn’t so adorable (if being repeatedly slapped about by a chortling infant constitutes ‘adorable’) is that now the slapping is part of a four-pronged attack -I’d just like to quickly add that I don’t ‘get off’ on being slapped, and especially not by a very-soon-to-be one year-old.

For the four-way assault to occur one needs to be lying down, so bed then. He sleeps in his own bed these days and we only bring him into the bed in the mornings when he wakes (around 7.00) for a feed (tits) so we can sleep a little longer.

After his breakfast he’ll crawl over to my side of the bed and after pulling hard on my hair -which is a coded warning that an attack is imminent rather than a first-stage assault- repeatedly slap my face. Until recently this was quite gentle and enough to sate his aggression, but now he’ll slap the face with force then grab it (lips, nose and eyelids are particularly vulnerable, and if his nails haven’t been cut for a week he’ll go through skin) head-butt it with a dead-eyed clunk and, worse of all, go for a bite. When he was small this would be no more than gummy pressure lubricated with dribble but since he’s acquired a top and bottom set of teeth it’s bloody, yell-out-loud, painful. Of course, for him my shouting-out in pain is entertainment par-excellence so the attacks intensify as new areas of vulnerability are sought out. Now the neck and arms are also fair game for biting, scratching, slapping and so on. At times it’s agony and if you’re not careful he’d genuinely have your eye out, but it’s also ludicrous, if not dangerous, fun.

No one tells you this stuff before they’re born. This time last year I couldn’t even imagine his existence, despite my better half bearing a space-hopper lump and clambering over all that baby stuff silently lying around waiting for god-knows-what in his purpose-built room.

To say life has irrevocably changed is stating the bloody obvious and I don’t just mean the sleepless nights or the bite marks. I’m looking at him now with yoghurt all over his face as he drops the water bottle on the floor for the 10th time because I’m typing and he thinks I’m not paying him any attention. There is no point describing how all this parent stuff feels because (most) parents will know already and those without kids couldn’t care less, which I get. It’s not like I’ve been a dad for decades, even applying the word ‘dad’ to me still feels a bit weird.

Outside the death of a loved-one, there are two invisible lines of knowledge. One occurs before and after virginity and the other before and after the birth of a child. All three lines are connected, notwithstanding that two lead to a third, but because once the line in question has been crossed the change is an irreversible and an ever present fact of life. In this instance that means being perpetually tired, having to constantly clean stuff and dealing with remarkably creative paranoia.

And that’s just fine by me, being a dad is fucking ace of spades.

Milk

The horrors of dentition have borne milk teeth. In the space of a fortnight he now has a top and bottom set of ivories and seems a lot cheerier in his general demeanour.

Of course he’s plenty more teeth to go, but I’ve been informed the first four are the ones that really piss them off, not that I buy that for a second. I’ve listened to too many absolutes, my mantra is to expect the worse, then you won’t be disappointed.

And for the record, nothing helps with teething, those amber beads, cold carrot sticks, beef rib bones -actually I didn’t try those (that was a suggestion from a lady at the gym) and I don’t really do beef ribs outside of the odd visit to Duke’s Brew and Que and that’s not been for well over a year. As for over-the-counter remedies, they can all do-one. I mean it’s not as if the baby can complain how about how shit they are, ring up Watchdog and have a chat with a researcher with a view to getting their moaning, miserly faces on the telly to blah, blah at length about some trivial and wholly resolvable inconsequence, and possibly a chance to sneak into Sophie Raworth’s dressing room and have a quick poke around her drawers.

I’m pretty sure ‘baby Bonjela’ is just pork gelatin and cough syrup…Speaking of which, Tixylix, boar bile would be more effective. It doesn’t even work as a placebo-by-proxy because the second you pour the cack down his neck absolutely nothing happens. At least the physical act of applying Bonjela gives the merest impression of its effectiveness as you’ve momentarily confused them into silence. One minute they’re thinking ‘ouch my bloody gums hurt, wah, wah etc.’ and the next they’re ‘hang on, one of these arseholes is waggling their wine-stained finger in my mouth… Oh they’ve gone. Ouch my bloody gums hurt, wah, wah etc.’

It’s utter bullshit.

Ill II

I appear to be playing a game of pass the pathogen with my boy. After slipping him the common cold, which he re-imagined as throwing-up everywhere, he kindly handed it back to me as a cold, yes, but one with knives sticking out of it. At some point my wife joined-in but she didn’t quite get the rules and only savoured the horror for a day or two.

I, on the other proverbial, took possession of the malaise for a further week. Just as I was about to give it up we were awoken in the wee hours by a noise akin to Darth Vader attempting to shit away three cheese burritos and a litre of cookie-dough ice cream. On entering his room his little face was obscured by a veritable river of oily mucus that ran from his chin like busted guttering. The better half gathered him to her bosom where he was fed, but it was obvious from the horrific rasps that he was having problems breathing and eating simultaneously. Ten minutes later, at 3.25, he threw up all over the bed and us.

For the next three days he’d keep nothing down, just as you thought he’d turned a corner sick happened in a variety of disturbing situations. When he did finally keep something down the other end, which had been dormant throughout the sickness, kicked-off. If you’d told me a year ago that one day I’d be overjoyed to change an overflowing nappy would I’d have vehemently spurned you, that’s how much I hate seeing him puke.

Fortunately, he’d stopped throwing up before nursery day but downstairs it was business as usual. The evacuation he had after his breakfast, about fifteen minutes before I was due to drop him at nursery, was so bad he was transported to the bathroom on his changing mat and rolled into the bath still clothed.

The boy’s nursery is located in a notorious council estate in East London; it resembles a prison complete with buzzing security gates and razorwire. The estate in question is a lot calmer than it was a decade or so ago and the nursery itself rated ‘outstanding’ by people who rate such things, so this aspect of the grim weekly trek to drop him off isn’t an issue. My concerns revolve around, primarily, leaving him in the care of strangers, how much it costs for the privilege of doing so and the fact that the staff refer to him as ‘bubba’.

From what I can glean from Wikipedia (not that I’d trust that crap, especially after being commissioned to write an entry by my wife’s brother-in-law) and other slightly less salubrious sources, ‘bubba’ is an Americanism that derives from ‘brother’. Of course, a word can occupy two (or more) different meanings at once, so in addition to meaning ‘brother’ in the USA, the definition of ‘bubba’ in the UK is ‘baby’ whilst awkwardly retaining its American derivation. I’m sure some of the more rural parts of Norfolk and Gloucestershire think that’s fine, well I don’t. ‘Bubba’ gives me the bloody willies.

On the plus side, the word ‘bubba’ has helped taking the sting out of dropping him off at the nursery. By focusing on how much it annoys me I’m able to pass my son to a member of staff, turn away as if stopping myself from complaining about their referring to my little boy as ‘bubba’ and mentally pretend to ‘storm off’.

Now I’m down the corridor and on my way without having to turn back and get all upset as he watches his crazy dad preparing himself to return to his flat scattered with silent toys, small clothes and bits of shredded wheat that have become glued to the wall.

Sick (as in ‘ill’ rather than ‘vom’. And Certainly not as in ‘radical, dude’)

It was inevitable that I’d get ill too, though I was convinced I’d gotten away with it. The bastard came on in the space of about five minutes as I was making breakfast on Saturday morning. By the time the toast popped up I could barely stand, it felt as if my bones had been exchanged for play dough and someone had injected builder’s caulk into my head. For the next five days my life existed in three places, on the sofa, in the bed and perched atop the privy, barking at the water. During one such moment I vaguely considered how I’d cope if I were a single parent. I was weaker than pimp’s promise and barely able to process thought, how do they do it? I toyed lazily with the idea before releasing that I was due for a taster and promptly forget all about it.

For the past eleven months the better half has been on maternity leave for fairly obvious reasons. Her return to work has been lingering on the horizon for so long it sort-of lost its reality. Since Christmas casual reminders that in so-and-so weeks she’d be returning to work didn’t really gel, so it came as somewhat of a shock when she suddenly left for the day leaving me in full charge of a small boy.

This wasn’t going to be the same as an evening session where the primary objective was to get him off to sleep so I could slip into a wine-box, this was all-day shit commencing at 7am when a small pair of hands repeatedly smacked my head. After a failed-attempt to pull off a lie-in/cuddle we got up at 7.30, where he was promptly changed and prepared for the carnage of feeding.

It used to be so much easier before solid food, for a start not having the required equipment (tits) all I could do was to make the bottle of formula for his evening feed. Feeding was a question of injecting his little head with milk, it was a clean, simple affair with no washing up to boot.

Now we have to contend with flying scraps of mashed-up stuff, this aspect is exacerbated by his limited tolerance of all that’s offered on the spoon. He wants the spoon, he wants the stuff on the spoon, just not at the same time. So the spoon is held aloft and waggled at the Lord as milk and yoghurt-soaked pieces of shredded wheat are gingerly picked from the little tray attached to his chair and fastidiously consumed. The piece of food goes in, then comes out before it’s retrieved, examined and the part that hasn’t detached returned to the mouth for further consideration. When he’s full he takes the food and hurls it at the wall or very deliberately drops it onto the floor, but only after he’s made eye contact with the person feeding him. The wicked smile that accompanies this act of defiance is one of the best things in the world.

What isn’t so good is his reaction when you leave him unattended for more than five seconds. We’ve an open plan kitchen/living area so for the most part this isn’t an issue, but trips to the bog are a mission requiring pre-planning. He’ll need picking up and strapping into his pram before being wheeled to the bog door so he can see you, without being witness to any details. And shouting “for god’s sake don’t look at me” assuages any fears that he’ll grow up to be one of those men that gets off on wearing adult nappies.

Even when I’m not being all ill its hard work looking after a baby (all day long) on your own, especially as he misses his mum. Not that I’ll have to do it often, Friday was the only full day I’d have been required to look after him and that’s the day he goes to nursery.

I’d been dreading the latter more than anything, and we did all we could to avoid it. The fact it’s only one day says something but how we feel about it but it simply has to be done in terms of our work requirements.

He had two days settling-in, the first with both of us present in the actual nursery, the second just me in a room by the nursery (so I was on hand if he kicked-off) and finally, the Friday, all day on his own. I had the grim task of taking him there and handing him over to a virtual stranger and walking back alone feeling both wrong and miserable. Despite having a ton of work to do I spent the whole day worrying about him, my mind creating ludicrous scenarios that, at least twice, had me reaching for the door to go and pick him up. Among a litany of things my imagination concocted -without any conscious effort on my part- was a fire, flood or disease (specifically sepsis) a selection of accidents (falling through a window, choking on a sock) not forgetting your basic acts of evil like his being sold to or stolen by deviants and, most persistently, unspeakably harmed when one the nursery stuff suddenly went berserk.

It was so good to go and pick him up and see that he was all in one piece. I can’t say that I was overly impressed by the fact he was screaming the place down mind you. I asked the lady holding him what was wrong.

“He’s been as good as gold all day,” she said, handing him over to me, “until about ten seconds ago when he saw you walking through the door”.

Bollocks.

Parenting with Feet

At some point soon after Slayer’s ‘Christ Illusion’ Tour in 2006 I threw up on the Tee-Shirt I bought at the show. The circumstances of this event are out of my cognitive grasp but I do remember trying to remove it without dragging the wet bit (it was beer-based) over my lovely hair. I also recall my annoyance at having barfed on it. It was already a limited-edition shirt when I bought it and its plain wording of ‘Slayer. Death by Design. 666’ somewhat contrary to the usual skull/pentagram/gore affair that I and legions of fans have come to know and love.

The irony of this event wasn’t lost on me a few days ago as I wrapped a pile of warm, yellow puke into one corner of the same shirt in order to prevent freshly deposited ex-food from making contact with my head. The missus and I hadn’t really slept for four days’ since the little fellow contracted Regan’s Beast and I was hoping this would be the symbolic end of it, here, on my beloved limited-edition Slayer shirt.

The last time the little bloke had been sick was following the egg/garlic incident in the pub before Christmas. In this already documented case it was as if he didn’t know he was being sick and was happily chatting away as great big lumps of sickie-egg tumbled left, right, centre, onto the floor from his cheery gob. But this was different. He was bent in two and retching in an adult way that was both disturbing and upsetting. After I’ve nursed a sick child a few more times I’m sure I’ll be just as laissez-faire as my friends/family were when I tried to explain how awful it was, but I was so harrowfied (my word, don’t look it up) by the initial event that I didn’t sleep that night, preferring instead to watch over him in case it happened again, which it did the following morning. That afternoon he seemed a little chirpier so we sated his new-found appetite with milks that he guzzled down like a baby goat.

Though this time he wasn’t sick, he exploded.

How on earth so much stuff can come out of something so small in such a minuscule amount of time is baffling -not that you have time to be ‘baffled’ when, all of a sudden, the floor is instantly awash with a gallon of sick and large portions of your body are sopping wet with heave. I mean it was fucking everywhere. I had to resurrect the bucket and mop which hadn’t seen the light of day since the Slayer-tee episode -and that was in a different flat in a different part of London over a decade ago when marriage, let alone children, were ludicrous concepts in the back mind of the perpetually stoned.

Despite not having slept for 36 hours we took him off to the doctors, just to be on the safe side. That small amount of professional reassurance that he just had a bug went a long way; we’ve already established in previous missives that my paranoia is limitless. He was sick that night and the following morning, the latter requiring another change of clothes (ours, I mean) and then, later that lunchtime, the better half went down with something as well.

Having slept for less time than it takes to watch ‘The Great Escape’ this wasn’t great, the end-of-days diarrhoea was most unwelcome too, though I did manage to coax the missus from her death bed to help clean that one up. I’ll spare you the details.

We’re still contending with the aftermath of the bug but things are certainly better, as too is the missus, but it’s bittersweet. This is the last week we have together before the better half returns to work. How on earth that’s going to work with his two-days at the nursery and my feast/famine writing schedule is an enigma, and on second thoughts I’m not sure if the beer-based vom on the limited-edition Slayer shirt was actually mine.

Snaggletooth

Because the little fellow has two parents that speak two languages, it was decided way before he was born that his mother spoke to him in her native Italian and I hold the fort with English, mostly as swearing. Apparently this will be a shot in the arm in terms of his cognitive development and, in the future, increase his chances of pulling quality crumpet at parties/galleries et al. Phwoar, etc.

The downside is in the short, immediate term. In many respects it’d be easier just to go with the one language in the here and now, I mean it’s not as if the better half can’t speak proper English like what I does. On the contrary, her English (both spoken and written) would shame most English folk, partially because she’s lived and worked her for almost two decades and partially because she studied it academically.

He really should have grasped ‘mUma’ by now but because he gets ‘mAma’ and ‘mummy’ (and, indeed, ‘PApa’ and ‘Daddy’) the poor little bugger doesn’t know his phonetic arse from his phonological elbow. Instead we’re treated to ‘Ba, ba, ba, ba’ in varying degrees of intensity which maybe an excellent source of amusement, especially when he combines the ‘Ba’ with a slap to his mother’s face, it’s not giving us much clue as to where he’s at with the whole speaking thing.

This aspect of being a parent is, once again, something I’d not have anticipated. Not that I’d given it much thought, I just assumed there would be a gradual curve in development until his balls dropped and he left home. What actually happens are sudden spurts of development that always seem to result in open-mouthed pointing. For example, we were convinced he’d miss out the crawling stage and go from rolling to standing, then suddenly -in the space of five minutes- something ‘clicked’ and he was off the rug and shooting towards a precariously placed bag of his own soiled nappies and a pile of shiny screws I’d left on the kitchen floor after having fitted yet another bolt to a cupboard door in case he could work out how to open the other two I’d fitted last week.

And suddenly he’s got a tooth, I didn’t think it was much of a tooth until he almost bit my bloody finger off during a double bill of Shed and Buried last night. It was a suitably painful introduction to toothing, something I thought we’d already been privy too, as I tried to explain when he was four months old. I was such an idiot, back then.

“We’d just got to a point of semi-ish peaceful sleep, a time when the mornings were a delightful explosion of smiles, practice chuckles and the days sleepy and calm, even the dreaded evenings were getting progressively quieter; of course there was the odd moan, bleat, sure, but everything was just getting, well, better. This aligned with our having an improved understanding of what was upsetting him, we knew he was pissed ‘cos he hadn’t pooed, we knew what is was, and that was okay. Hungry? We got the hungry cry and acted on it. Yep, look, he’s tired, we know. We know everything…

Having said that, you know why they may be crying most of the time, you can’t be sure all the time, babies get annoyed for other reasons, you may be holding them in a way they don’t approve of, perhaps they’re a little hot/cold or maybe they’re just uncomfortable. Our kid has doubled in weight in four months, the very physicality of rapidly expanding flesh and bones has got to hurt, but these are resolvable things that occur in relatively short phases, and anyway, we’re on top of all this shit, well, we were.

A few days ago something else started, this sort-of elongated warble that would regularly rise in pitch and volume until, as of yore, this huge mouth would bust out of his dear little face and eat all that was tranquil and subtle. This time, though, the sound couldn’t be quelled so last week after almost a day of this we came to the awful conclusion that it may be premature but, yes, he was teething

The timing couldn’t have been more desperate as we were about to undertake a five hour-round-trip to see the fam for my niece’s birthday, most of it on a bus. I used to love travelling by bus, especially if I won top-nearside-seat at the front… But now I was confined to that little space by the doors where all the wheelchairs and old-people seats are, the outskirts of the downstairs backspace where the infirm and feeble gather to mutter and wheeze on their miserable little journeys to the post office or hospital. Did I mention it smells? If I didn’t I did just then.

I don’t want to harp on about this but why would anyone elect to sit in this part of the bus if they didn’t have to? You can’t see anything save lots of traffic and queues of pissed-off looking people. Go upstairs and it’s all bright and lovely, you can see for ages too, and you get a unique perspective on the city -plus you can see all the weird crap people chuck onto the tops of bus shelters. It’s a win, win up there.

Having suffered the bus in that awful little space for well over an hour we arrived at Waterloo. Getting to the platform required us to walk in the opposite direction of the designated platform in order to get a medieval lift down to ground level before walking back through a sea of pushy, shovey arseholes. We scrambled on board the train and located facing double-seats and a clean table within, NetworkSouthEast Nirvana. But of course, the little fellow’s pram doesn’t fit in the fucking aisle does it, so we spend 30 mins stood outside the bog instead watching a succession of rugby men entering to park their Egg McMuffins’ before repairing to their seats post-flush sans the hygienic-defining whoosh of the hand-dryer.

Once we’d arrived at our destination we were met by the folks who didn’t notice me having a paddy as I attempted to collapse the pushchair as they were too busy loading the kid into the baby seat amid a sea of grandparental coo’s as I turned the air blue outside. The missus wasn’t impressed; she was even less impressed five hours later (now full of vino collapso following a jolly afternoon with the family) when I attempted to re-construct the pushchair in order to make the miserable journey back to the smoke; I just couldn’t make it lock despite violently struggling with the infernal thing, indeed, it took me so long to get it secured and the boy back in his buggy we missed the train, though this later aspect was aided and abetted by a ludicrous, convoluted journey just to get the correct platform.

It’s not until you’re in charge of a buggy (or a wheelchair for that matter -god help them) that you realise how unfriendly the world is to anything other than spritely, fully functioning humanoids. Having spent time in the past plodding about London with a walking stick due to my spine I always knew this to be the case, but that was small beer in comparison to being fully responsible for an egg-fragile baby mercifully sleeping in his pram. Take the journey to the platform, it took no less than three different lifts and half a dozen piss stinking adjoining walkways -each juncture without instruction regarding the appropriate floor/direction- just to get us to the place of departure. It took a lifetime of swearing just to stop me from having a massive heart attack.

Fortunately, the kid slept all the way back home, an identikit version of the one we’d undertaken a few hours earlier but in reverse. Of course, when we got home we were rewarded by hours of screaming, this aspect was made all the more painful on account of some recently administered news from mum. That afternoon, in between drinks and barbequed sausages she informed us in no uncertain terms that the boy wasn’t teething, he was just a bit tired; we’d know all about teething when it happened, she said, believe you me.

Bollocks.”