Beat Your Kids Up

It’s an experience every parent knows painfully well.

The alarm went off 15 minutes ago, but even that awful moment vanished into another blissful escape into the mists of sleep. You were up twice last night. The details are hazy because you purposely tried to stay half asleep as you fed, changed and soothed your wee bundle of pain. The trick is to be alert enough to recognise if anything serious is hurting bubs, but stay drowsy enough to accelerate the return to sweet, sweet sleep; the only drug that really seems to make a difference these days.

Even your 6:45 alarm seems like an age ago. You’ve had time to dream through the itinerary of your round-the-world trip; including romantic nights out without needing a babysitter, long flights worrying only about what movie to watch next, and spontaneous adventures with the distinct absence of a nappy-bag.

Now, right in the midst of a thrilling adventure down a pram-unfriendly canyon, you become aware of an unusual sound. It sounds robotic, mechanical. Inhuman. There is a fuzziness about it that is at once both peaceful and somehow foreboding.

As the shroud of sleep receeds, you begin to identify the sound of whimpering emanating from the cold white device by your bed. The baby monitor is designed with soft lines and colours to fit into the cuddly environs of the nursery. In reality, though, it stands staunchly like a sentry, tethering you to reality in the face of desperate sleep deprivation. Now it rattles you to attention, without care for your comfort, or your mental health.

Even as you struggle to reorientate yourself to these most familiar surroundings, the sound quickly escalates from a whimper into a whine, and from a whine into all out wailing. You know that it comes from the most dear person in your life, but right now it sounds worse than a bagpipe player riding a squeaky bike with metal wheels across a blackboard. Compared to this the ‘dawn melody’ nightmare of 15 minutes ago was like a dream.

You scramble out of bed, throwing on a shirt still crumpled beside your bed from just hours before. You know it is back-to-front by the fact that the hem rubs your neck more than usual, but you don’t care. The most immediate concern is to quiet the screaming now audible throughout the house, and probably the neighbourhood. Hopefully you’ll get a smile out of the little guy soon to make the pain go away, but in the meantime it is all hands on deck. There isn’t even enough time right now to wash away the rancid aftertaste of your last midnight snack.  Welcome to the day!

 

I read an article today suggesting 11 morning rituals to start your day well.  They sound like great things to do, but I think for parents my advice would boil down to only one thing. Beat your kids up in the morning. If you can beat your kids up in the morning I guarantee you’ll be well on your way to having a relaxed, enjoyable day.

Cohen’s First Year

I made this video a good wee while ago now, but only just realised that it never made it’s way onto the blog.  If you know us at all then hopefully it will bring back some fond memories.  If you don’t then I’ll forgive you for moving straight on!

Enjoy!

A Conversation with Cohen

It was one of those pleasant summer evenings where the stillness of the air rests on everything in a way so tangible you can run your fingers through it. There wasn’t a trace of wind, and the sun was low enough to have lost it’s authoritarian sense of power.  It was instead more of a tranquil and helpful friend, lending a hand by providing a bit of light. Every leaf seemed to be held in place by the heavy stillness, and had it’s edges sharpened by the oblique streams of light cascading down from the enormous solar benefactor.

Cohen and I had chosen to eat outside, of course. Despite having every window in the house open, the interior still retained the lethargic heat from an earlier time, a ghost born in the day that refused to die. Standing at the threshold you could taste the transition from the baked, stordid air of inside, to the vibrant coolness of the shaded deck outside. For a long time, Cohen stood at the door opening it reverently, then quickly closing it, relishing the experience like it was a seriously toned down version of spookers.

We were eating some leftover vegan curry dish, though I had added some ham to satisfy that strange masculine desire for meat, even when the meal tastes fine without it. Even without the testosterone fueled pressure of having other men around, it felt wrong to be eating a meal without any trace of animal in it. Bits of the pink meat floated around in the mottled red juice of the curry. I was nervous about how this would go down with the wee man waiting impatiently out in the lounge. I didn’t have a plan B, there wasn’t any fruit yoghurt in the fridge.

The seats at Cohen’s play table were equally uncomfortable for both of us. For Cohen, with his high torso-to-leg ratio and plump belly, being able to sit with a) his legs dangling, b) his back resting against the back of the chair, and c) high enough to comfortably eat his meal was a logical impossibility. One of these criteria had to be sacrificed, and in this case I chose the former. Pushing his nappified bum back into the corner, he was high enough to comfortably get his arm up to the plate, but had his legs sprawled awkwardly across the expansive formica base of the chair. His knees were bent slightly to keep his ankles on the chair, and to keep the corner from digging into his achilles.

If Cohen was struggling with too much chair, I was battling to get comfortable with too little. There are just a few times in a childs life where the scale of growth is impressed on us in profound, even tangible, ways. One is when the newborn’s hand gently clasps daddy’s fingernail, eliciting gasps of wonder from any smitten parent. Another comes when mixing up bub’s first meal of pureed pear, in the realisation that an ice cube of frozen mash is enough to sustain this little machine. Sitting down in a toddler’s chair is a similar, albeit less beautiful, epiphany of how much growth is still only potential. I squirmed to get comfortable on the narrow formica base, eventually settling on a twisted position with my legs sprawled awkwardly across the deck at right angles to the table in front of me.

Dinner now sat in front of us, sufficiently cooled to allow Cohen to dig in. He was satisfied. For a long time we sat in silence, and I enjoyed every second of it. Just minutes earlier Cohen had been exerting the only right he knew, the right to make noise. It was a confused effort at making a crying sound, a long drawn out wail to express his dissatisfaction at waiting for the meal he knew was being prepared. Void of any real emotion or vigour, it was merely an annoying call to action, an ignorant statement that the food I was heating was exacerbating the empty feeling in his stomach, in spite of the promise of imminent satisfaction. It was a frustrating sound in itself, and even more frustrating given it’s shallow and entirely predictable cause. The current silence, broken only by the clink of his spoon against the plate, and the occasional slurping of curry was bliss by comparison.

At last I broke the silence. “So how was daycare today, Cohen?”

Nothing. Cohen made a weak effort at digging into his meal with his spoon, but gave up and reached in to pluck up a particularly attractive piece of pumpkin. I took a sip of the orange juice I had poured myself.

“Did you get a chance to play with Louie?”

Silence. He reached up to put the pumpkin in his mouth, cocking his head slightly to the side as he did so. There was a slight pause before he mashed it through his insufficiently open mouth.

I watched him slowly work the softened pumpkin around his mouth. It was too big for him, and most of it was ejected back out in as dignified a manner as it went in. As he plucked away the regurgitated mash from his face, he would glance up at me incredulously, the way a studiously working artist acknowledges the distraction of a tutor’s comments.

As he did so something caught his eye and he turned to look directly above him, his whole back arching to assist the limited movement in his neck. He raised his hand to point above him, bringing up his spoon-bearing hand too in an awkward way that made him look like he was spacing out on some form of drug.

“Goh!” he declared, looking back down at me with eyes that called for an answer of some description.

I studied what he was pointing at. The vageuries of infant anatomy meant that his point didn’t really line up with where he was looking, so his gesture was as ambiguous as his statement of the facts. Above us, a lazy band of cloud drifted across a deep blue sky, framed by the silvery ripples of gum leaves fluttering in the light breeze that had crept up. It looked like the michellin man lying down for a breather.

“Yeah!” I said excitedly. “Can you see the clouds?”

His gaze fixed on mine for a second before he turned back to the mesmerising scene above us. Once again he directed his wayward finger in the general direction of the sky.

“Goh!”

“Are you looking at the blue sky or the white clouds? Or can you see a bird?”

“Gah!”

This new statement contained the same excitement, the same zest for life, and the same absence of care, yet perhaps carried with it a greater inquisitiveness; a deeper sense of curiousity.

It was also accompanied by a different action. Once again the arm had shot out, and once again the rogue finger at the end didn’t quite line up with the arm that extended it. The movement was definite, purposeful and carried the same sense of triumphant discovery. This time, though, the point was directed behind me, at the patch of shrubbery beyond my right shoulder.

“Ah hah!” I exclaimed, “the green tree!” Being colour-blind, I was actually just taking a punt on the fact that it was still early summer, that there had been a bit of rain recently and that the tree appeared to be healthy and growing. The logical probability, therefore, was that the leaves would in fact be green. Even as I said it, though, I remembered the silvery foliage of eucalyptus trees fluttering further away, and had fresh doubts over my ability to get the colour right. Ah well, a little slip up in his education of colours shouldn’t harm his development too much, I reasoned.

Cohen turned to look at me blankly. The strange fire that burned in them as he had triumphantly pointed out the tree vapourised as he was torn from his reverie by my statement of meaningless truth. A goofy smile was still plastered across his face, a fading shadow of the enjoyment he had experienced at the sight behind me. There was something happening behind those eyes of his, some deep mystery that I would never be able to fathom.

What was he pointing out, I wondered? I turned back to study the scene behind me. The knarled bark of the tree vanished into the rich hues of leaves piled atop each other, creating their own world of beautiful disharmony. The weathered background of stained fence paling beckoned an attentive viewer to study it’s own intricate pattern of artificially created splinters and shavings, and a decaying spiders web clinging to the posts was an invitation to explore another world of miniature drama; life, love and death in a world explored on eight legs.

As I studied this snapshot of beauty and chaos, the thought occurred to me that perhaps the question on Cohens mind wasn’t actually what it was. Was it possible, I wondered, that he was less interested in what the tree was, but rather why it is, or even just enjoying the fact that it is?

I realised, in that moment of clarity, that so much of my parenting is directed at teaching Cohen to correctly identify objects; a worthy cause to be sure, but perhaps not the main goal.

“Okay Cohen,” I began, “do you think my experience of enjoyment at looking at that tree is enhanced or detracted by the fact that I know what to call it?”

He didn’t respond. By now he was busy trying, and failing, to load up his teaspoon with a batch of brown rice dripping with red curry sauce. I bent across the table to help his fumbling hands, then leant back and watched as he guided the spoon awkwardly toward his mouth.

My thoughts continued. There is some sense in which the whole purpose of science is to expand our vocabulary of names for the world around us. To move us from calling it merely “gah” to calling it a tree, and then from calling it a tree to calling it bark and leaves, and to move from calling it bark and leaves to cells and particles, and on and on until we can describe this ‘gah’ in the most intricate details. Even down to the sub-atomic particles that make up the components of each cell that cumulatively make up the ‘gah.’

Perhaps, though, Cohen wasn’t deriving his enjoyment from being able to call the tree a ‘gah,’ he was simply expressing his wonderment that there is a ‘gah’ to describe. Looking back again, I laughed at the absurdity of it all.

Somehow, in labelling this thing a tree, I had given myself license to pass over the incomprehensibly awesome, and ludicrously absurd reality that somehow in this universe defined by space and time, I now found myself sitting in close proximity to this curiously shaped thing composed of molecules and atoms, somehow held together by forces I will never understand. Moreover, the tree doesn’t just exist, but Cohen and I are somehow aware of the trees existence. In light of these revelations, I laughed to myself, ‘gah’ seemed like an entirely reasonable response.

Calling this majestic enigma of delight and wonder a ‘tree’ now seemed like a pithy soundbite, truncating the mind-boggling miracle before me into a commonplace sight. Nothing to get excited about, just another tree like the ones I had seen every day for 20 years.

My thoughts turned to the nature and character of God, as they often do in these moments of self-forgetful wonder.  When God called himself “I am” in response to Moses’ questioning, I wonder if he was subtly expressing his disdain for our human addiction to names. Might we just as well call him “Goh” if it meant we simply enjoyed his existence, rather than trying to wrap up his existence into names and arguments and descriptions that we can get our heads around.

By now Cohen had mashed, slobbered, sucked and dropped most of his meal away, and had taken to bashing his plate ignomiously with his spoon. The sharp sound shattered my philosophical reverie, and I was startled back into the moment.  Cohen looked back at me with bright smiling eyes, wincing slightly with every piercing crash of steel on ceramic.

Stealing one last moment, I looked up and noticed the ‘goh’ had changed. The Michellin man had scurried away, and had morphed into more of a bird’s nest with a T-rex head sticking out of it. Behind me, the lowering sun cast deeper shadows across the ‘gah,’ with the exposed leaves now radiating lush greenery even better. I took a deep breath, letting the crisp air distill through every bronchi in my lungs before getting up to sort out Cohen.

After wiping the mashed pumpkin, sauce and snot from Cohen’s face, I heaved him up to head in for a bath. As I walked back through the door into the house, Cohen looked behind me at the disappearing scene. His arm shot out once again.

“ghee!” he cried.

Phil and Teds Portacot Review

The portacot is one of those painful nessecities that remind you how much life has changed since children arrived. As you hone your tetrix skills to make everything fit in the back of your Toyota Corolla, it’s hard not to reminisce back to the days when spontaneous camping missions to the Waitakere’s were as simple as deciding whether to go before or after dinner.

These massively over-engineered structures, reinforced to a safety factor of 10, are not portable. You can say goodbye to tramping with these bad boys,* and will have to accept that you’ll either need a bigger tent that screams ‘family camping,’ or leave little Joey outside with the possums.

I don’t think I’ll ever fall in love with portacots, but thankfully the Phil and Teds Traveller has given me some hope. The packaging advertises loud and clear that this is the ‘only portacot that weighs less than the baby,’ though I find this more of a sad reflection on the state of the industry than an overwhelming success by Phil and Teds. Nonetheless, lifting the bag after bracing for your next arms and back session is actually quite relieving. The endorphins produced by doing bicep curls with this arise not so much from the effort involved, but the realisation that perhaps a camping trip with this is feasible after all.

The steel tubing looks like it was designed by a pipe-smoking aerospace engineer just off a classified project on the next stealth fighter. The silk and mesh cocoon, while far less stealthy (particularly if you buy the red version), still exudes that kind of masculine charm that prioritises function with a nod to style. Putting the two together requires more testosterone than launching a spring-loaded bed, giving me hope that the wee boy sleeping in it will grow to embrace hunting, war movies and chess rather than shopping dates and chick-flick nights. I like how steel pegs are included with the cot, meaning no hassles when you sleep with the little tacker on the exposed ridge-lines of the Andes.

For all its awesomeness, this portacot has its drawbacks. A few awkwardly shaped plastic bits make it a trick to pack away in a hurry, and at the expense of a bit of setup time, it would have been easy enough to make them removable.  Some people complain about the time it takes to set up and pack down, but my opinion is that once you have a baby a lot of your productivity hacks are shot anyway, so just embrace the time it takes. It also remains a portacot, and despite being the best of the bunch, I will still struggle to get excited about packing it for any camping trip we do.

If you’re anything like me, it will take a while to accept the fact that your little bundle of joy can’t handle the ravages of the wild, and that some compromise is needed between your dreams of ‘ultralight’ backpacking and ensuring your baby will survive.  Once you make this realisation, I would recommend you go and purchase the Phil and Teds Traveller.

* Unless you have a porter, which is possibly how the name originated

My 4 Favourite Things About Being a Young Dad

At 25 years old, I get mixed reactions from people when I tell them I’m a Dad. It can be quite comical, watching the cogs turn in that moment of silence between the impulsive response: “cool!” and the inevitable “…wait, how old did you say you were again?” In reality, I don’t think 7 months is enough time to appreciate all the ways that being a young dad is awesome, so consider this list my ‘favourite things I expect to enjoy about being a young dad.’

Sharing more experiences/memories with your kids

The romantic image of two young backpackers facing the world with nothing but the bag they carry is somewhat less glamorous when you replace that backpack with a baby carrier. Travel and exploring takes on a new dimension when you throw kids in the mix, that is for sure. Nonetheless, it will be enormously rewarding to be able to share those experiences with the few other people you will spend your lifetime with, and to be able to joke and laugh as you enjoy the shared memories they created.

More scope to learn new things with kids

I get excited about being a novice at things with my kids, and learning new skills alongside them. Obviously it will be cool being able to teach them stuff I know, but I think it will also be quite special being at the same level as we learn how to surf together, climb mountains together and so on. Being young means there’s a whole range of things I’d still love to learn, and the prospect of doing so alongside the family is actually quite exciting. Sure, Cohen will probably wind up being way better than me, but that’s just another part of the fun.

Learning to raise kids on a budget

When you find out you’re having a baby a year after finishing uni, the last thing on your mind is lavishing them with the biggest lego sets and the shiniest bikes. I was only just getting used to meals more elaborate than rice and fish cakes when I had to start saving cots and highchairs to the trademe watchlist. It will certainly be challenging raising children while starting out in my career, but its a challenge that excites me. I think it will be good to learn that the best toys often aren’t bought, and the most memorable experiences can be free. Being a young dad will force me to be creative in many ways, which can only be a good thing.

Being young(ish) when they leave home

Lets be honest, I am missing out on a bunch of things by having kids young. Mostly, the things I’m missing out on don’t worry me too much, but I do get excited about being young enough and energetic enough when the kids gain independence to have our own adventures. In fact, if I put in the effort in these early years, hopefully I will be able to enjoy that new found freedom with the satisfaction of having children who are, in their own way, making this world a better place.

This is just a quick list of the first things that came into my head, so is nothing particularly profound. But what do you think? Do you think there’s an ideal age to have kids?

Why Adventures with Kids are just more Epic

If we define an adventure as something difficult to do that yields a lot of gratification, then it makes sense that having kids just increases the ‘adventureness’ of any old adventure. Increase the difficulty of doing it (by having to work it around feeding, changing nappies, carrying all the gear etc, etc.) and you immediately make it more of an adventure!

Cohens First Three Months

I spent a bit of time this last week putting together a wee video that pulls together some of the better photos and footage we have of Cohen from his first three months of life.  This one goes out to all the family and friends we have spread out across New Zealand and the world, who don’t get to see Cohen as much as we’d like.  It’s been quite cool reflecting on all we’ve done and how much he’s grown in a few short months.  Enjoy!

Focus on Fun, Not Memories

Jonathon Edwards is quoted as saying: “The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered.” In less fancy words, the real value of a sermon is not measured by how much information you remember the next day, but in some more mystical way by how stirred you were as you listened. Or, reading a book can be worthwhile even if you can’t recall any quotes a week after putting it aside.

I think this same concept can be applied to parenting. An implicit priority in many families is to ‘create memories’ by doing cool stuff. This is well and good, but sometimes I wonder if it can turn into a subtle disdain for everyday fun things, like playing on the swings or having a race in the backyard. While still being good, these things can somehow become less valuable than the more memorable camping trips or big celebrations.

The reality is, most of the fun stuff you do with your kids won’t be remembered a few weeks, months, or years after they’ve gone to bed that night. I think it’s comforting to realise that the value of those experiences isn’t contained in how long the memory lingers, but simply in how hard you laughed at the time.