Time-Lapse Parenting: The Actual Wonder of Children

Before I started a family I was nervous of small children. I found them unpredictable and flighty. Like horses. Tiny shouting horses puking and defecating everywhere. Babies also seemed quite useless and needy to me. When it came to having my own babies I realised this to be true. Humans are in fact the most useless and needy of all the babies in the animal kingdom. At least actual baby horses are self-sufficient. It takes them an hour to learn to stand, something it takes most children a year to master.

There’s a very good anatomical reason for babies being so helpless. Apparently all other animal children are born fully formed and ready to party, whereas our young pop out in a near-foetal state. This is because the womb isn’t capacious enough to carry it. If they hung around much longer up there they’d probably burst through the stomach like an alien. So out they pop with just enough instinct to operate their tiny lungs.

When my sons were born they had no control over their motor skills, instead performing weird spasmodic movements like a malfunctioning robot. Within a few hours using a rudimentary set of senses they had both sussed that the nearest snack was in its mother’s boob and both wormed their way into position to slurp down. And they took it from there, growing and developing in the minutest increments.

Before parenthood I was unimpressed by the achievements of children: their first words, first step, first poo in a potty. There was nothing singular in any of this, me and everyone else had been talking, walking and pooing successfully for years.

But when my own children complete these little developmental achievements I am confounded and delighted. It is all to do with context. Imagine going to a field, leaving the field and then returning to the field a few months later to discover a daisy has grown. Nothing special. But if you stayed in the field and watched day after day while the daisy gradually shot up through the earth and flower it would become something wondrous. Like time-lapse photography in reality. Clearly I’m not suggesting anyone actually watch a daisy for a month, but the point remains.

I remember vividly how overwhelmed I was the moment that the Major first reached out and touched something: a plastic koala hanging down from the arch of his bouncer as it happens. That he’d become aware of something around him and was able to interact with it. And I won’t forget the first time he rolled over onto his stomach which, given his frankly lazy performance in the weeks leading up to it, seemed like a feat of extraordinary athleticism which required me to summon his mum to gaze in awe at what he had done.

I remember the first time the Minor mooed like a cow. I remember when he first nodded in agreement, although admittedly that was yesterday. I remember the profound amusement I felt when the Major first laughed at something on the television, during Ben and Holly when some aliens announced they’d come from the Planet Bong. I laughed too. I remember when my sons first played together. I of course remember all the words, steps and shits in a pot.

So if you are like I was and you remain massively nonplussed by the deeds of small children, trying raising one. They’ll amaze you.

Any good?

It’s Best to go on Holiday with a Swift

When we are in Norfolk we often see swifts flitting about in the twilight. The swifts are in Norfolk for the summer as we are, but the similarity between our journeys is negligible. Swifts spend their winters in South Africa before making the epic passage up the globe to East Anglia. This is a non-stop trip; they do not touch down once, not even for duty-free in Dubai. The swifts live their life on the wing during this time. They eat, sleep and mate in the air.

It can take a swift a year to reach its destination, although when I heard this the churlish part of me did think: hurry up, you’re supposed to be a swift. With a fair wind it can take us about three hours to arrive on the North Norfolk coast but where a swift can cross hemispheres without the need to stop, our family doesn’t share the same powers of endurance.

The Major’s bowels have evolved so they whirr into action as soon as the keys are turned in the ignition. Because we can have been on the road for minute before he expresses an urgent need for a poo. For this eventuality we are always equipped with a Potette, which is essentially a toilet seat with a plastic grocery bag attached to it. Or a pooper-scooper for humans. We’ve had issues in past disposing of the waste because no-one wants to carry a bag of shit around on a long journey. A scarcity of bins in rural Suffolk meant that I recently lobbed a shit-bag into a bottle bank. Of course I am ashamed to admit this but on the flipside I was vaguely exhilarated by the tiny rebellion of the act. It’s a way to feel alive. A shit-bag in a bottle bank.

On another occasion we were in Thurrock services within half an hour of departure. We attempted to leave on three occasions, having to return each time to the services on various errands. At one point I thought we were going to have to holiday there: eating out at KFC, dipping our toes by the industrial banks of the Thames estuary and finding entertainment at the local speedway track.

Like the swift we are able to eat en route. However sleeping while driving is inadvisable and mating is in contravention of the Highway Code. Unlike the swift we require a satellite navigation system to guide us. Scholars have debated how the swift knows its way. My thought is that they probably go in convoy with another swift who’s already been to the UK. But there are various schools suggesting that swifts use the constellations to plot their route, with an innate sense of direction. Not entirely sure what they do during the day to be honest.

My dad believes he has a similar inbuilt sense of direction which he calls his ‘old trapper’s instinct. On various family holidays, the old trapper’s instinct has taken us left when we needed to go right, north when we should have headed south and once to the peak of a mountain in Scotland when we should have been flying down the motorway.

The bird-boffins have now mainly agreed that the swift has evolved so that the migratory map forms a physical part of its brain, it’s embedded into the actual cortex. So the next time you hear something described as “bird-brained” it actually means “completely fucking amazing”. It set me to wondering if anything was woven so magically into my own sons’ brains. So far I’ve come up with the ability to need a poo whilst in a moving vehicle.

Any good?

The Best Cure for a Parental Hangover is a Duck

Sometimes caring for children while nursing a hangover is unavoidable. Judging by the gallery of restorative booze shots on social media it seems to be a common problem; on a daily basis there are scores of parents posting snaps of Pinot Grigio pints with a jolly message about their increasing dependency. It seems that along with all the nappies and rusks, parenthood can bring with it a mild functioning alcoholism.

My advice to myself is twofold. Firstly, a bit like driving, check that I am not still shitfaced from the night before and if I am don’t attempt to operate a child. Secondly, just get on with it. Looking after my sons is so consuming that I don’t have enough brain capacity to consider a hangover.

It was in this spirit that I accompanied the two boys to a local pond to feed the ducks last Sunday, having attended a party the day before at which I was the first to arrive and virtually the last to leave. To my shame there were children at this event, including my own. Fortunately my wife had to the foresight to perform an early extraction of the boys, before for instance I manhandled my own son and told him that I absolutely fucking loved him.

I have previously confessed on these pages to a quiet admiration for ducks. Their phlegmatic nature, the attractive iridescence of their plumage and the fact they can swim, walk and fly with a minimum of fuss. It seems this respect has been bequeathed to my sons, they are both well into ducks as well. So the trip seemed very apt.

A hangover cannot survive in a world where two small children are careering around a body of water. This is a situation that requires complete focus and the swivel-eye function of a chameleon. In truth I couldn’t muster the energy to face this so the Minor was permanently installed in my arm cradle. This set-up was complicated by a worsening issue with my wrist caused by an insect bite suffered the previous evening. In fact I had been nibbled around twenty times and not in a good way. The bite on my right wrist was inflicted in the middle of what the Minor would deem to be his seat and the pressure of his bum was causing the whole area to swell up.

I had also made a fundamental error in strategy by adding a football to the equation. On arrival the football immediately escaped and rolled into the pond. Fortunately it ran aground on a minor mud flat about a yard away from the bankside. How to retrieve a ball from a pond with a three-year-old and one-year-old sort of sounds like one those corporate riddles posed to get disaffected colleagues to work together. The simple solution is a stick, the sourcing of which became a pleasant distraction in itself. The Major is big on sticks.

I was thankful for the stick mission because the duck pond was a disappointment. There were no ducks. Instead the pond resembled a well-croutoned minestrone, each soggy uneaten scrap of bread representing the shattered dreams of all the children who had visited that day hoping to mass-cater for some wildfowl.

We were on the point of leaving when two ducks touched down on a grassy hump near to the pond. So as not to spook them we approached stealthily (as stealthily as two excitable little boys and man with a hand that was rapidly turning into giant foam glove could).

The ducks may have just lunched because when we threw our grub towards them they skulked off. I’d seen Carol the weathermum off BBC Breakfast explain that bread was actually bad for ducks, so instead we brought a bag of what amounted to some rubbish crudités. Once the ducks had turned their beaks up at it, the Minor tucked in, shoving grotesque squidgy cucumber batons into his mouth. It was only later that his mum revealed she’d retrieved the food from the bin.

But at least by then my hangover had disappeared.

Any good?