Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Tag: Parenting (page 1 of 2)

Daddy Tick Tock

3:06am. He’s crying. The father groggily wakes and looks at the digital clock on the bedside table. The shrouded corpse far across the bed doesn’t move. He hears the seconds dripping.

3:05am. He’s still crying, even if time has ticked backwards. Confused at first, he realises it was 3:05 then 3:06. But the last three hours sleep? Gone in an eye blink. He’s still crying.

And once his other eye opens, the real day will begin. Post the forced wake up, yesterday’s washing must be hung out, snack for breakfast, shower in between, shave while not being cut by an unsteady hand, the new washing hung out to dry, perhaps most of last night’s housework, then the final reluctant rush to work. She’ll sleep through. And the son too.

Maybe a deep sleep on the bus might save me, he thinks. Yeah! But that’s some hope! Then nine hours of bobbing his head up and down with the interruptions and interrogations every minute or so. Selfish people with trivial wants, urgent phone calls or exaggerated crises. Then he’ll tank ten cups too much of coffee. And on the way home, he’s as jittery as Methuselah the bus driver.

And silently, as a burglar, he enters the empty house of no welcome. A kitchen of bowls, cups, saucers, baby bottles, plastic spoons and congealed saucepans. The lounger with scattered clothes both clean and dirty to be gathered, or worse. Somewhere in the fridge, there is a covered dinner of leftovers. Usually his only friends are the freezer, the microwave and frozen pizza.

He slips hopefully unnoticed to visit to his son. As he creeps through the hallway, she’s there. The mother of their child, back to the nursery door, wordless and childless, a pillar of salt with eyes blazing.

He draws close. He takes the usual half step backwards. Then he pushes down the door handle and skips into the open space. If he’s quick, he’ll glimpse his son. Some days he doesn’t make it that far.

“Perhaps this is the day,” he says to himself. “The day when St Thomas finds out who his father really is.”

There he is, in yesterday’s dirty jumpsuit. A covered head, a small contorted face, dolls hands protruding. “My son?” he thinks. He reaches to touch the arms stretched each side of the cot. He stops his breath to listen to the whispered intake of another’s. But she steps inside, blocks his way, steps into him and shuts the door.

“I didn’t disturb him,” he soundlessly whispers. But the standard admonishment is always administered.

Then the flight back to the kitchen, the clothesline and the laundry. Undresses himself in the dark, and slips unnoticed into bed. To sleep wakefully.

3:06am. He checks. Yes they are now both awake. Dreamily, he finds a small mercy. That cry isn’t the endless one-note scream. He forages for the proper definition: a night terror?

A terror shared both by father and son. For nothing can wake her.

If it was that one-note call from hell, it would be okay. He would be at battle stations ready to repel demon boarders. He’d sprint in the dark. He’d take a nanosecond to snatch the child from cot. Forget about unlatching the cot side. Leave that for later. He’s stolen the baby. For then there’s the piercing shriek that dissolves them both. Then that hour long second to pass inconsolable baby to consoling mother. Then silence. Then the bottomless ocean of post pregnant sleep. Which only subtracts a little more from him.

It’s the mummy cry, he recognises. Not to be confused with the daddy cry. Perhaps that doesn’t exist, he thinks. It might if fathers could become pregnant. No it’s the natural order of things, he muses. But it’s still wrong.

“How can she sleep through this? It’s her cry, not mine.” Perhaps a few more moments and she will wake…

He dunks face first into the first pillow, then smothers the back of his head with the other. He turns over and in on himself. He binds himself in his blanket. And he sets a imaginary alarm. She’ll wake this time and there will be peace for all.

Eyes half open he watches and sleeps. The pile of blankets to his right doesn’t move. She’s going to sleep through.

3:07 He’s still crying. Was there a minute of sleep? He can’t remember. In the dusk, the wall of sheets and blankets opposite is unclimbable. But a small gap, might be enough. If he gently disturbs her, she’ll softly wake, yawn and stretch, hear her baby, go to him, St Thomas will be comforted.

And it will be like the old joke. Now we all can get some sleep. That’s the punchline but what was the joke? He scrabbles across and meets two pillows, one on top of another, pressed down under the blankets. He could burrow through but the danger of course is real. For once awake, there will be the usual set-to in front of the baby.

Yet again it’s come to this, he thinks. Maybe this will be the time, when he’ll be lulled to sleep by his father. And know it.

That would be a welcome addition. Then St Thomas will know he’s not a baby napping stranger. Or an absentee father practising for the future. Knowing that, we both can sleep, peaceably, however long that takes. With his mother grateful for the sleep won.

Now, he’s the reproached lover who has started the long walk back. He approaches the cot, walking on the sides of his feet, approaching unheard. But he’s caught out again, even before unlatching the cot. Same as last night. Same as yesterday. Same as the last three months. Or four?

Through the cry, he hears rustling. He looks back. Blankets, sheets and pillows have flown upwards and outwards. The mother, dishevelled, now a phantom. She strides quickly towards the nursery. He’s too tired to shrug off the blow. He never did duck or flinch before. In case you’re wondering , he rehearses, the mark is shaving rash. That is, if anyone asks.

What is she doing? She’s plucking her head. Pulling her hair out? She’s pulling at her ears. Two or three snatches then, two bright objects appear. She throws the earplugs to the floor.

She bares her white teeth and snarls. “Why didn’t you wake me?” Most of that is lost as St Thomas screams even more loudly. She gathers the child, still robed in her blanket and departs to her queendom.

He’s left standing there, too tired to rub his cheek. He thinks, it’s too late to go back to sleep. But too close to dawn to get up. Same and again.

One happy addition, as they say, but all subtractions from now, he thinks. Twelve weeks, two days out, now, isn’t it? Or is that when mother and child came home? Twelve years after that. Then the six or so teenage years. Chained in a land he will never understand.

3:11. He’s crying.

Your Breath

Watching you stumble from one breath to another, I'm trying to breathe for you. I want to Inhale the oxygen, and pass it through my lungs into yours. And from there into that heart that I love so much. And take your breath and exhale it all for you. But I cannot. All I can do and it seems of no use at all is hold your hand. And wait and hope. We always wanted you to grow to a fullness that would exceed ours. But right now I don't know if that will happen. And my fear is that you'll catch my doubt. A doubt enough for youto quietly slip out that door with perhaps barely a nod to us as you leave.

As for your mother, she doesn't know. And that's what she cannot handle. A little uncertainty perhaps which can be overlooked or postponed. But not the uncertainty that is now resident. She worries that it will take over and we will be living moment to moment. She can't say that to me as it would betoo great a worry. She won't say that to you. Or even afterwards. No matterhow things turn out.

You're not as tough as you thought you were. This illness is your companionnow and ours too. I could advise you:  if you can do something, don't worryand if you can't do something, then do nothing and don't worry.  I can't 
take my own advice. I simply don't know how it will turn out. And I can't 
tell anyone, least of all you.

So I should make myself comfortable I suppose. I try not to look at the numbers and zig zags on the machine. Me being me, automatically I try and analyse them to determine a trend. The numbers seem unchanging like a clock that keeps time but never tells it. I grab a spare pillow, wedge it against myplastic hospital grade chair and find a position of least discomfort. 
Unlike yourself.

Tubes run into you and out. For a moment, I hope that it's all unreal, thatjust for fun, they've attached them to your skin only. I'm really waiting for someone to rush in and say it's all been a joke. And you'd wake and 
laugh with me too, until we thought of how to tell your mother. But she 
might see the fun in it too.

There's no change in the numbers or the fuzzy lines on any of the machines.
The door opens. Men and women rush in. Your eyes flickers open. I'm raised to my feet and quickly shoved outside. A joke? No a sarcastic cosmic one. Ishout out in my head, that was a random thought, I was idly thinking, 
I didn't mean it. Much as a child, I fear the horrible thought made true.

I wait for news and fear the over calm manner of those who deliver it.

Baby Crush

A bald head crowned by a few curls peeks out. Two eyes large and watchful wait and see what I might do.

I’m not moving. I stand silent. I’m a daddy statue.

Tiny hands cover her eyes. She tries to catch my gaze.

No way. I’m having no part of it. Not yet.

She opens them. She peeks carefully at me. Then covers herself with the blanket.

“Peep bo!” The blanket speaks.

That’s my moment. My eyes close. Although I keep the good one only an eighth open. Enough to cheat. Enough not to get caught.

Each time she closes her eyes, I open mine. Each time I see her open her eyes, I close mine!

Blanket on. “Peep bo!”
Blanket off. Blanket on. “Peep bo!”
Blanket off. “Peep Bo!”

“Peep bo!” I say again. Before the blanket went on.

I chuckle as the blanket giggles and rolls on the floor. Then smile at her laughter while she wriggles her way out. Usually she beats me to it. Then as she unwravels…

“Peep Bo!” She got me that time.

The blanket again wraps itself up. It giggles and rolls on the floor. Then she crawls out. And stands a little taller than this morning. Now her jumpsuit is too small for her. But that’s no matter now.

Two arms stretch to the sky. She starts to waggle her fingers. Twinkle twinkle? Yes i’m happy to sing that with her. But no peeking. Otherwise she’ll catch me lip syncing.

Then she stops stock still.

No. I was lucky there. Then not so lucky.

“Jump game.”

Oh no! Daddy workout time.

Arms stretch high. “As high as the sky.”

I squat down. I waddle towards her. I put my shoulders under her arms. Then my hands around her waist.

I lift her up. Until her head is level with mine. Her eyes are already laughing. Daddy’s doing the heavy lifting now.

I stand up and throw her high into the air.

Giggles, then laughter.

I stop just before I let her go. I’m not a dad, I’m an astronaut trainer. Besides she’ll never get vertigo from me!

“Again. High as the sky.”

More deep squats. More overhead presses. My knees ache. My shoulders sing. I sneak a glance at my burden.

She’s frozen in time!! One arm up, one arm out, frozen in a ballet pose.

Carefully I shift her to my stronger arm. I lean forward, most weight pushed backward and draw back the coverlet, sheet and blanket. Then i place her in her bed as if one false move would be the last. She slumps flaccid in her bed. I cover her up. I start to lightly leave…

Her hand finds my finger. And crushes it. I hold my breath. I listen to her breath slow and deep measuring eternity one second at a time.

The Glass Slipper (4) : She Met Me First

It was too dark to film in the pre-dawn twilight. And too hazardous to set up cameras and lights. Or send over their dumb drone in case it crashed and couldn’t be retrieved.

Occasionally, rarely, reality TV did have its benefits and now was one of them. Lonely at last, I thought. But, of course, only for a short moment. For I had to be back ready for the the morning feature. Me splitting wood bare chested (ugh!) for my fans.
I crept softly and slowly still hidden in the night. My torch picked out the sleeping shapes of cows not yet interested in me or milking just yet. Blades of grass reflected their sheen much like shards of green glass. And then the dark swallowed my light. For I had stopped at what looked like a fallen wall.
The last trees I had cleared.  I had left those broken remnants to season and dry. And now I was sawing them into logs and later kindling for the winter. And to boost my sagging ratings.
Behind me in the grey twilight, I could faintly see the camera crew near the house. They were trying to keep warm like ghostly puppets that were losing their strings.

But my work was in front of me, the latest pile of logs. I squatted, bent down, leant forward and drew each log into my arms. Once filled, I slowly stood up and started my trek back to the house.
Still, like the twilight, the other inhabitants paid me no attention. They’d wake soon and the routine would begin. Another day in the life
of “Down on The Farm” : the spun (and slowly unravelling) spin-off show. Featuring the recently separated husband of everyone’s favourite reality star, Ella who was doing I don’t know what.

I stopped.  I thought I saw something. But it was too dark. There is was again. Behind me, I saw a glimpse of curls, followed by a giggle.

“I’ll catch you,” I thought carelessly. I turned ponderously to follow. “Looks like she’s run around me,” I thought again. I finished my sedate circle. Nothing. I couldn’t see or hear anything. I kept on.

Surprised by my thoughts, I said to myself, “It’s nothing,just your imagination running wild in the wild.”
To keep my load steady, I stopped and crouched slightly. I raised left arm and then right and the logs in my arms settled heavily and made a pile yet again. I trailed my way back towards the house. It was still cool and grey and I was a shadow in the twilight. I saw the green roof turn olive-grey in the approaching dawn. The water tanks : squat and silver like oversize 44 gallon drums.
I trudged slowly. As far as I was concerned I had all day. But in the morning silence, I heard the whisper of a smile again, sent to me on the breeze. “A voice too young yet to laugh.”

I stopped again. I took small goose steps as I rotated trying to see the source of my audio dream. I didn’t want to drop my load yet. Still nothing. But something, it must be something. Perhaps…
There it was again. A whisper, now a laugh, curls and a glimpse of a cornflower dress.
To confound my pursuer, I stopped again and turned the other away.
“She’s quicker than me,” I thought carelessly. “Or will be.”
Ignoring the watchers, who had set up camera and microphone, I reached the woodpile and bowed down : a supplicant making his latest humble offering. I threw my arms forward and stepped back in reverential awe. A clump of logs flew forward, thudding and clunking as they hit the altar. Now for the fun part. I took off my shirt and threw it carelessly away. They’d like that, I knew. Apparently it was worth 20 points each time on the ratings.
Next to the stump was my favourite weapon of destruction. A green triangular headed wood splitter. I balanced it in my hands like I was buying a rifle. The head and handle were still smooth yet to be scarred by combat. That would be years I thought. And I had years now. I waited and felt the presence. A watcher ready to ask me a direct question. But she had years too. I heard the camera crew shuffle nervously, as they moved to keep me in view.
Even though the log pile was just the right height, I still leaned down, forward and across. I picked up log number one. I took its weight, squatted and placed it on the stump. Grey silver bark, wood core like cracked ochre. This one had finally seasoned.
I reached down to take the splitter again.
“And how long does it take to season?”
“As long as it takes,” I replied to myself (I thought). I looked up and around. The crew were motionless. They hadn’t seen or heard anything. Otherwise they would ask for another shot.
So I stilled myself, ignored the voice in my head and swung the splitter. Back above my head. I cocked my wrists and swung it just above the small of my back. I waited until it was just about to fall backwards and have no weight at all.
Like the string holding the arrow, I let go, timing turned into power. I struck wood, felt nothing except the tip tapping the stump. “No effort required,” I thought. Turning logs into kindling is the easiest part. Sure beats cutting down trees and sawing up logs. The dark held its breath and watched silently.

Except it wasn’t the dark.
Two more swings. The rest of log number one split into five pieces. I kicked the kindling away. That one done, I began again. Then I stopped. Someone was still watching me. It wasn’t the cameras. Being watched by them was like being stared at and then ignored as uninteresting.

No I was being observed. Closely and carefully. But not uncomfortably.
This time, I slipped and dropped the splitter mid swing. I turned right then left to catch whoever it was unawares. I saw nothing.
I felt her peer over my shoulder as I fell into the rhythm again. Pick up log, balance, pick up splitter, balance, pull back, let go, split log, split, split and kick kindling. Occasionally, I missed the mark, self-consciously. I would have to repeat the blow. Occasionally, too, I knocked the log over instead of straddling it. And steadfastly, I kept ignoring her.
And in the silence, her presence grew in my mind. I could see her curls, and hear her voice, even when she said nothing. I felt her read my thoughts, turn them over in her mind and read them back to me with another question. And slowly, the dawn crept through and the day began.
Much like the parent I wasn’t and had no intention of being, I more and more hoped that she would go away. Every so often, I would turn around to say it out loud. But I was deterred by the media presence.

I forced myself silent. I knew I would be thought mad muttering to myself in the middle of the bush away from my estranged wife.
And every single time I looked for her, she wasn’t there. She was enjoying this game I knew. She knew where I would move and what I would say before I did it.  I senses that this knowledge would not be used maliciously, however, rather playfully and ultimately patiently. For she knew that I would come around. Every so often I would hear a giggle and then a stifled laugh. I knew that she knew. As she knew I knew.
“Who is she? A haunting?” I had heard stories like this. Lost children haunting the place where they had died, waiting for their parents to return. But at dawn? In front of witnesses?
I stopped splitting and looked across at the crew.
“What’s happening?” I asked. No-one replied. “See anything this morning?”
No reply, neither nod nor shake of the head. Maybe they haven’t seen anything. If they had they weren’t saying, they were professional like that. Besides I knew these questions would be edited out.
I still sensed her listening to me. Much like the child I really was, I decided to scrunch the bed covers over my face, hold them close and feign sleep until she left me. I really hoped that she would slip away and find something else to take her attention, as little girls are supposed to do. Well, as far as I knew anyway.
I continued. Pick up log, set it on the stump, scythe the splitter through wood and hope for sparks,  kick the kindling away, dodge the odd shower of splinters, the rhythm continuous and all-encompassing despite the warming day and its hardening light.
In the silence between logs, I finally took my chance.

“Are you a fairy? A tree-nymph? A gumnut baby fleeing the evil banksia men?” The smile whispered into a giggle, then she laughed. At her giggle.
And while she looked over my shoulder, she beckoned the silence with more questions. “Who are you?” I asked (silently) in exasperation.

Her reply was familiar. “Why are you chopping wood here?”

“Instead of elsewhere,” was the implied thought I heard.

“Instead of where you’re supposed to be,” she thought at me finally.
I sensed that she was patient. And insistent. She knew I would answer her questions eventually. She seemed to have years to wait.
The sunrise rose above the green roof. And with it, the cold post-sunrise breeze washed over me like ice water. And then I knew where I was supposed to be and why.
I said, “Ella doesn’t want me anymore. I’m not in a fairy-tale anymore.”
But still her silence called to mine. She reached forward to take my hand.
I knew that I could send her away. But she would keep returning until I returned to her now pregnant mother.
The cameras kept rolling as I carried the kindling up to the house.

I Can Talk To Strangers

I like to talk to strangers. It’s fun. But my mum and dad don’t like it. They told me not to.

When I asked why, they said bad things could happen to me. When I asked what the bad things they wouldn’t tell me.

I didn’t like that. I kept doing it. They kept stopping me.

Then I found out how smart my mum and dad are. Everybody still tells me not to talk to strangers. Well almost everybody. Mum and Dad stopped telling me.

I still talk to strangers. I still like it. Strangers say funny things. I ask them questions. Sometimes they tell me stories.

Sometimes my mum and dad laugh too. When I’m grown up I’ll know how to talk to strangers when mum and dad aren’t around.

What Did He See?

He was standing in the lounge room. He was pushing against the glass of the wooden framed back doors, fortunately closed and locked. I thought for a moment how strong he was and yet how he could topple over and fall so easily. He appeared to be watching something. Perhaps a kangaroo or wallaby had appeared and was now grazing in the backyard. The floor boards creaked as I walked across from the kitchen.

He heard that. And then he saw me. He waved and pointed to catch my attention.  I watched as he listened to the rough floor boards under my tread. When I arrived, he looked up at me. Then he pointed outside. He had not spoken a word. I was used to that. Yet he seemed to understand more than he could say.

He said, “I saw a big yellow man.” I stopped in shock. He had only just learned to speak clearly. And only one or two words at that. Not whole sentences. And now he was seeing things too. As for me, I hadn’t seen or heard anything. But that was about to change.
A few weeks earlier, my wife had claimed she had seen an apparition leave the kitchen broom cupboard. My five year old daughter had agreed she had seen it too. Yet neither could describe it in any detail.  I took that as an excuse to discount their story. It could’ve been the wind blowing the cupboard open again.  I didn’t believe in such things. And now this.
I looked where he pointed. Through the two doors that led nowhere, I stared into the backyard. I tilted my head to avoid the reflection of the lounge room and the glare of the afternoon sun. I could see one of our water tanks on my right. Then the mix of grass and poorly tilled soil left after the clearing. In the middle of the yard, I could see the thoughtlessly located septic tank.  A no-name missile silo. Leading away to the right,  I could see the pumpkins that were the sole inhabitants of our first vegetable garden. Then the reed grass, thin wiry scrub and the gum trees that bordered our property.

I looked carefully for what I thought was there. But I couldn’t see a yellow man. Perhaps the sunlight had coloured a tree gold and he had mistaken that for a man.  But I couldn’t see that either. Yet my three year old son was insistent. He raised his hands and indicated a height. My intuition wanted to speak with me. I didn’t want to listen.

Instead rational thought intruded. Right now I’m experiencing a significant moment in my son’s development, I thought. He is about to tell his first lie. With that thought in mind,  I began composing the normal parental response. Within seconds I would be saying, “It’s nothing: It’s just your imagination.” But unexpectedly I bristled at my own thought. I felt a surge of anger. Why would he lie? Who could have taught him that? How could he lie?

And then my intuition finally arrived. He’s telling you that the man was taller than the trees. After that I began seeing things too…

If the world was this way

There are swings, a slide, see-saws, a lop-sided spinner, a playhouse, a sandpit and a rope climbing frame. All covered by a rainbow coloured sun shade which looks like a circus tent that’s been slashed. And bark chips for bedding. A child’s oasis in an adult’s grassy park.

The sun is clear bright yellow. The sky blue with no clouds. A breeze blows. A beautiful day even for an adult to play!

There are only two people in the playground. Myself and her. And she won’t look at me. I hope it stays that way. I’m not even interested in looking at her. I’m standing there hands in pockets, a part time father. She stands too, her body turned away from me.

Her attention is fixed on the child allocated to her. And I hope her stare stays that way. For my eyes are fixed on my daughter at play. Every so often I furtively steal glances at them both.  I don’t want either to move from their place. She in the playhouse. He in the sandpit.  Sandkasse

I want to ensure the circle of safety around my child at play stays that way.  But she has other ideas. As does the other child.

I watch carefully as the intruder appears. He approaches slowly. He plays by himself. But each time he gets closer to her. I’m torn. I’m wishing the children would play together. I’m afraid she’ll get hurt. I’m waiting for the slightest movement. Then like a wraith, I’ll run in and snatch her away from harm. The worst is having anything happen to her. Even worse is informing her mother who will accept no explanation. It’s all fear at the moment.

But then the two children starting circling each other. They eye each other carefully. I wait to see who will strike the first blow. I’m feel I’m witness to the beginnings of a conflict. The tension increases. I’m coiled ready to pounce. I squint and watch carefully too.  I start composing an explanation for the other (absent) parent.

I look across the playground. The other (present) parent doesn’t seem to be bothered. She doesn’t seem to worry what her son is about to do. Although she is watching.

Who started it I cannot tell. Perhaps it was my (borrowed) child or hers. Perhaps both at once?  They soften their gaze at the same time. They ask and answer the unspoken question. “Do you want to play?”

Then she looks across the playground at me. She visibly relaxes. We both smile the same wish at the same time.

Wouldn’t it be a better place if all the world was this way?

 

Mark Latham v Lisa Pryor (Feminists Are Parents Too)

Like Mae West, when Mark Latham is good, he’s very good. Witness his eulogy to Gough Whitlam.

Unlike Mae West, when he’s bad, he isn’t better. Witness his garbled article stating that left feminists hate children.

After several reads and re-reads of this, I may have worked out the gist of what he’s saying.

He opens with a critique of Lisa Pryor  who wrote an article about parenting invoking coffee and anti depressants. She didn’t say what the anti-depressants were. They could be sugar or milk for her coffee for all we know.

She wasn’t writing about anti depressants. She was writing about the vulnerability of being a parent.

Latham initially misses that. He first makes the point that if you don’t want to have children, don’t have them. As a parent I won’t shirtfront Mark Latham on that.

Then surprisingly Mark Latham also writes about the vulnerability of being a parent.Clearly he  has had a good experience parenting and the joy in his words leaps off the page. He’s lucky and should be sharing that joy more often. That’s where he should have stayed.

He then somehow he crosses the chasm in two leaps. He follows up with an incredibly withering critique replete with psychological generalisations that feminists are child hating complainers. Where are these feminists that hate children? Are there any at all? If I’m a feminist then does that mean I’m a bad parent?

He labels  women and/or left wing feminists and/or Lisa Pryor who want more choices in raising families as child haters. He labels women and/or left wing feminists and/or Lisa Pryor showing vulnerability as complaining and avoiding responsibility.

Unfortunately, his article assumes that anyone else who has had a different experience to him is wrong. His first assumption is that as parenting has been good to him, it should be easy and joyful for others. As Lisa Pryor implies, it ain’t necessarily so Mark. His second assumption is that to admit that vulnerability is a bad thing and that you should harden up. It ain’t necessarily so Mark, showing vulnerability is actually courage in itself.

And that last assumption means he completely misses what Lisa Pryor’s article is all about. Perhaps he didn’t read it to the end.

What’s quizzical about all of this is that funnily enough Mark Latham and Lisa Pryor have more in common that one might think. They’re both parents and they both write about the vulnerability and the required courage of being a parent.

 

And I’ll leave the final word to Mae West , ““I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.” Pity Latham didn’t focus on that more.

 

 

The Parent Trap (Who Are The Best Parents?)

It was a great party. I’m mingling with strangers asking them how they knew the guest of honour. It was easy. All I had to do was be quiet and let them talk.

Businesswoman Blowing Out the Candles on Her Birthday Cake

I was having a very enjoyable time until…

The conversation turned to parenting. Initially it was easy to listen. I’m a parent and the speaker just happened to be the second best looking  person in the room.

But then this one person put it to me that only natural parents are the best parents.

I was taken aback.  I didn’t really respond. I side stepped and said that all parenting is challenging. Then I side stepped again and changed  the subject. Then ended the conversation and spoke to someone else. Thinking back it really wasn’t much of a response at all.

Since then however that idea that only natural parents are the best has recurred. The last time it recurred it was refuted by my children (see Mothers Day is for Everyone). Not by me. Otherwise I’ve tried to ignore it. Until the latest recurrence. Then I got what being a parent really is.

We’re sitting at a table and my friend looks out the window. She sees a child crying and instantly is involved. I look and see that he has just fallen over. His mother quickly picks him up.  I look again and his mother has enfolded him in her arms. I said he’ll be comforted in a minute. And he was. Travelers with Baby in Stroller

And then a family walks in. Two adults and a small child. They’re meeting friends. The child jumps up and laughs as each adult leans down and gives him a high-five. Again my friend is enjoying herself. As am I. Until…

The conversation turns to parenting.

But it’s different this time.  My friend reveals that she had been a step mother. Listening to her story, I sense here is someone who became a parent through circumstance and thoroughly embraced and enjoyed it. Listening to what my friend says encapsulates exactly what I did and how I felt and acted as a parent. Listening to what she says completely challenges the view of the woman I met at the party. I hope they never meet. On second thought they should meet. It would be an interesting conversation.

But the question remains unanswered. Is physically having a child the only prerequisite to being a good parent?

In no way am I denigrating the physical bond between mother and child. I have friends and relatives who have lost children through miscarriage and early death. The pain is absolutely indescribable and always unforgettable. Even as a parent I can offer no empathy just mere sympathy.

But if the woman at the party is right, then there are quite a few groups of people who would be excluded from being a good parent.

The first and most extensive would be men. The ineligibility of men as parents is happily embraced by mainstream advertising : dumb inept father and smart adept mother.  That ineptitude is being refuted by the all too rare stories of men who are successful sole parents or stay at home parents. Obviously they neither identify with nor are discouraged by that stereotype.

Then there are foster parents. Whilst working as a trainer for a government department I remember reading a newsletter praising a pair of long-time foster parents. These people had looked after children in all kinds of hardship for over thirty years.  Not only were they ineligible but they didn’t retain the children. Yet they were certainly parents and recognised as such.

Next are adoptive parents. I can recall conversing with a woman who was adopting her second children from overseas. To adopt even in this country is a difficult process yet to adopt again from overseas was well-nigh impossible. Even after the first child she still did not know what to expect. But she was going to be a parent though ineligible.

Dad with little son outdoors at ocean

And finally step parents. Much like my friend and my ex-partner and even me, the strong natural bond just doesn’t  exist. Consequently, there’s that initial sense of I’m not really a parent. In that place it’s easy to walk away or not get  involved. Yet there is a child that needs love and help and that supersedes anything else. And you either embrace it  or you don’t.

 The next time I see my friend, the conversation again turns to parenting. I tell her the Mothers Day is for  Everyone story. She gets it.

And in telling the story I finally get it. The best parents are those who choose freely to be a parent and embrace it  wholeheartedly.

Mothers Day is for Everyone

It was Mothers Day. That Sunday we (my then second wife Tracey and I) were with my youngest sons for their access visit and sleepover.

English: Mother's Day card

English: Mother’s Day card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That Sunday morning, I quizzed my sons.

Did you give your mother a card for Mothers Day? Yes, they chorused.

Did you want to phone her? Yes!

A quick hello to their Mum on the phone and that’s that.
Mothers Day is over. Better remember to call my Mum that evening
though.

So far so good.
But then something odd happened.

Eliot, my second eldest son walked up to Tracey. And he had something for her. And he handed her what looked like a folded piece of paper.

By now I was intrigued. This was unusual. His brothers often drew pictures and gave them to us. But rarely Eliot, if at all.

Tracey opened up the hand made card. She was speechless and more than a little moved.

My son had given her a Mothers Day card! And his brothers gave her the cards they had made.

She had asked me previously what to do and how to act to my children. I advised her just to be yourself. I had no idea if that was any help at all. I literally said the first thing that came into my head. After all, I didn’t know what to do or act either.
She got her answer that Mothers Day. And never any argument from me about how she treated the children.
Later I took Eliot aside into the study. For a second, he probably thought he was going to get into trouble. Only for a moment. I asked him whose idea was it to give Mothers Day cards to my second wife. He admitted it was him.
I told him that I had never been more proud of him. Ever.
He knew that Mothers Day is for everyone. And that anyone can be a mother.
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