We were on holiday with family in Sweden last week, and Little Bear formed his first two-word sentence. Well, more of an instruction than a sentence: ‘go car!’,(‘gå bil!’ in Swedish) pointing in the direction of the Volvo in the driveway to the summer house. It’s clearly far from his first successful attempt at verbal communication. But it’s a big step in his learning to articulate his ridiculous desires and inconvenient opinions. What’s his third word in that sentence going to be when he can manage it? We’d like it to be please, but realistically it’s going to be ‘now’.
Nursery is a bit of a blind spot for parents. We spend every day following these tiny people around, monitoring their every nap, meal and nappy change, and getting enrolled into each tower building session and every repeat of the Hungry Caterpillar. Then, suddenly, we delegate this all to someone else. It’s like going into heart surgery. You’re suddenly trusting someone else to look after something that’s really quite important to you, and you’re not able to watch what’s going on when you’re doing it. I want to know what’s going on during this blind-spot.
When I say softer parent, I’m not thinking about round the waist. At the moment I’m leading that one. The question is: out of mum and dad, who is more willing to break when the baby’s siren starts up?
The stereotype is that mums give the cuddles, and dads dish out the discipline. Alternatively, dads leave all the strict stuff and coddling to the mums, and occasionally peer over their newspapers to tickle the little ones. I’m guessing that in most modern families, the picture is no longer so clear.
There’s an obsession with milestones. From the moment they’re out, we’re waiting to see our little ones focus, smile and laugh, then role, grab and crawl, cruise, clap, wave, dance, eat, build, sort, waddle and speak. Should parents be so keen? Why don't we hear about the downsides?
We might be keen on seeing the milestones because we’re building little people, so we like to see when the next brick is firmly in place; or we’re being competitive with other parents because our kid is obviously the best. Dads are generally allowed to be more open about this, although I’ve seen a few mums beam when their baby roles over and 4 months and the 5 month old next to them is struggling to lift its head.
It’s tougher than I thought it would be. With Little Bear starting nursery today, our time together on parental leave is just about to be over. I’ve dropped him off and of course I was there for hours trying to convince his watery eyes that it was ok to let go of Pappa, and that whilst this was the end of an era for both of us, we’ll still be together, and life will go on… No. Save about ten seconds of being clingy to Pappa, he discovered some balls to test in the corner and then promptly forgot about me. I hung around like a loser harbouring some unrequited love for about 10 minutes (9 minutes too long from his perspective), and then slowly crept out when he wasn’t looking.
There's a point, between 6 and 9 months, where all babies get a sudden urge to face danger. They look back at their little lives and think: 'Have I really seized the day? Sure, I was learning to focus and role over, but my life to this point has been wasted. I should now live every day like it's my last, and make that as likely as possible'.
How did this love of danger survive evolution? Hundreds of thousands of years ago, on the African savannah, crawling babies and toddlers that spotted a Lion clearly thought 'Oh, yay, let's play. Mummy and daddy always try and stop me so the orange fluff ball must be fun!' No baby you'll be eaten! But they don't care. And yet somehow we survived many more years.
Little Bear's been trying to give me hints about his preferences over the last few months. This involves the less subtle 'hints' (screeching and waving his arms when he wants to be picked up), and the more subtle ones, like his preference for eating natural yogurt, or his potential career choices. So thinking long term, after he's started eating solids properly, crawling and that stuff, what sort of job will he aim for?
He certainly has a musical streak to him. Not only does he love a good rendition of Wheels on the Bus, but he also loves joining in grown-up chats with a few tunes of his own. This has only gotten loader over the months. Granted, his singing talents will clearly need some nurturing by someone less tone-deaf than his dad, but he's got potential [warning: don't interrupt his singing or you may be the object of an aggressive screech, nurturing the diva side of his inner musician]
Then there's his brainy side. He always loves [to eat] a good book. Who knows where this might lead?...
Your first newborn is tough to look after. And not because of the sleepless nights, feeding troubles, and poo explosions. It's because nothing in life had ever prepared you for these things, and their constant wearing away at your normally well rested self. You're sub-consciously wondering when your weekend will come, or if the baby has an off-switch. When will you get to sleep! When will you shower! Then you clock that it's only been a week (felt like a month), and you've got the rest of the next 20 odd years to do... at least.
Fast-forward 8 months into parenting... It starts to feel like you can do this, and it's getting pretty fun. It's like you tasted your first pint of bitter (beer for non-Brits) 8 months ago and it was disgusting, but now it's turning out pretty refreshing and has become your drink of choice.
Little Bear darts across the floor on his belly until he reaches my feet. Maybe he wants a hug? No. He grabs one of his balls (not from between his legs, that's for nappy changing time) One of the plastic ones that fell out of the ball-bit. It's blue. He lifts it up and drops it. It bounces. He repeats until he feels sure blue always bounces. He shuffles to a corner where he's gathered all the red and orange balls under the TV (little autistic but we'll put that to one side) and begins repeating his experiment. Yes, these colours bounce too. Does the cuddly lamb toy bounce when dropped? No (cue shocked expression on Little Bear's face). The little scientist has come up with a hypothesis, and he's testing it.
These little creatures come out struggling with the idea of how black and white are different, and in 8 months, they've started running their own experiments. For us that's surely like going from working out the tip at a restaurant to understanding quantum physics in the space of a few weeks.
I'm Dave, dad of Little Bear. Also known as 'Pappa' to the little man as we try and bring out his Swedish roots
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