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.

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Seriously. When Does This Parenting Lark Become Less Difficult?

When I was told that the second child would be easier I thought that this meant that everything would be easier. I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen. Perhaps that the Major would start looking after Minor, preparing him meals in his tiny Ikea kitchen and clambering up inside his cot in the middle of the night to stop him crying. In reality their relationship mainly involves them gently head-butting each other like a couple of very adorable rutting stags.

Bless their little cottons..
Bless their little cottons.

The Minor wakes up around six o’clock with a plump nappy the weight of a house brick. Once changed he sets about his daily business, which is normally compiling a kind of stuntman’s show-reel that includes exploring the inside of dishwashers and standing up precariously on the seat of his high-chair. He also likes to put various bits of household debris in his mouth like a particularly gnarly Jackass-style jape.

The Major gets up a few minutes after his brother. He is naturally more considered but is prone to occasional meltdowns. Each day he requires to be provided with a roster of about 400 activities which occupy him for about ten minutes at a time. Most of these will inevitably at some point compel the Major to drop the same bits of household debris that the Minor puts in his mouth. Both my sons regard the floors of their house as an extended network of toy storage, rubbish dumps and in the case of the Minor, dinner plates.

At night the Minor wakes periodically. For some reason we have been unable to fathom, he’s normally in a rage. Fortunately his tears don’t rouse his brother, who is busy coughing into the back of the head of whichever parent hasn’t left the bed to pacify the Minor. Both boys are rich in snot deposits.

It has occurred to me that we might be approaching a tipping point beyond which parenting will become easier. In a year or two there will be no nappies or bottles. The boys will be able to entertain each other, engaging in wholesome games of Ludo or Monopoly or all-in wrestling. They might decide to sit down and watch sport with me. The Minor won’t require a security detail stationed permanently a yard away. And fundamentally we will get our sleep back. Perhaps they’d even grasp the concept of a lie-in or at least learn to make their own porridge.

But I’ve asked around older parents and a consensus has formed that children might start becoming reluctant to get out of bed in the morning at around ten or eleven years old. This is a phenomenally tiring thought. I have now written off the next ten years as a long bleary-eyed descent into chaos, a continuous massive bundle, a decade-long Royal Rumble in which I am spectator, referee and participant.

After this I’ve envisaged a period of relative calm during the boys’ adolescence. Based on my experience as a teenager, we will probably be marginalised as parents only being communicated with through a sequence of grunts and farts. Peace may break out in the house.

When I asked my mother-in-law the question about when life got easier as a parent she blew her cheeks out as if to say that even after thirty years the experience was increasingly challenging. In fairness it probably will do when your grandchildren are plopped on your doorstep three times a week. Her point was that looking after your children is harder when you can’t look after them; when they’ve escaped your fretful grasp and headed to the park, the bowling alley, the pub, the nightclub. When they’ve gone to Magaluf.

By this stage we’ll obviously be dabbing nostalgic tears from our eyes, longing for the times that our sons slept with their heads jammed into our necks or lovingly gripped our calves. Or spoke to us.

Of course the moral of all this is that there is no sense in trying to guess when it all becomes easier or tougher. Just get the fuck on with it. Adopt the brace position for the bombardment of shits (or when they’re being shits) and enjoy the ongoing assortment of deep diverse giggles.

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My Son Wasn’t That Into Me And It Was Completely Fair Enough

I’m hardly the kind of dad to be handing out advice, but if a prospective father did approach me for some I’d probably give them this nugget: never let your child see your weakness.

My own failing was a childish need for acceptance from my children, borne of an actual concern that my progeny wouldn’t like me that much. I mean they’d love me obviously, they’d just think I was, well just a bit of a dick really.

It seemed to me when the Major arrived that my fears had been realised as a large discrepancy opened up in his affections between his mother and me. He very obviously preferred his mum to me, which I took very personally. Of course I’ve realised since that this is entirely natural.

After all his Mum gave him lodgings in her own stomach for nine months, hooking him up to a nutrient-rich drip connected to her own flesh. In that time, all I did was offer his home the odd ineffectual neck rub. And after the Major popped out above ground, she provided all his sustenance for nearly a year, letting him chow down on her bosom. I mainly just gurned at him and made awful twee clucking noises that even a kitten would find off-putting.

Alright dad, that's enough now.
Alright dad, that’s enough now.

And after only two weeks of his life I left him. I went back to work, abandoning him most days and returning to cut short his day of fun with mum by dunking him under duress in a tub of hot water and putting him in his cot so he could go to sleep and wake up and be abandoned by me all over again.

It seems obvious to me now that the Major should have developed a distaste for me in his first three years, but back when he was looking at me with cold disdain and telling me ‘to go back to work’ I found it difficult. I was lovelorn and reacted in the most pathetic way by getting on my metaphorical knees and beseeching him for cuddles, clinging onto his ankles as he tried to toddle away.

The more horrid wheedling pleas I threw at him ‘to come to Dadu’ the more he withdrew. At one point I genuinely ranked at about sixth or seventh in his affections behind various grannies, uncles and the man who came to read the electricity meter. If I ever retrieved Major from his grandparents’ house he would react like I’d come to kidnap him and sell him into child slavery.

Since those dark times Major and I have come to an acceptable working relationship. I’m not exactly aloof, but definitely less smothering and we can go about our business in an agreeable fashion. I’ve probably been promoted to about joint third and not just because the electricity man hasn’t come back. He now regularly tells me he loves me and recently described me as ‘a very good man’. I’m thinking about having this printed on a business card.

And I have been more prepared the second time with the Minor, which is a good thing because I am beginning to recognise the familiar patterns in his behaviour, leaning out of my embrace as he enters the gravitational pull of his mother. And stabbing me in the face with a fork.

ethannevelyn
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