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.

 

 

He uses

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.

How To Get A Baby To Sleep

This is a speech I gave many years ago for Toastmasters. I’ve decided to post it due to an interesting Twitter exchange as follows:

Capture

Here’s the speech where I play the role of a trainer for a post-natal class!

Welcome to today’s post natal class. Today we’ve come to the hard part. You’ve calculated feeding formula in your head and changed nappies in your sleep. Now we’re going to learn how to put baby to sleep. And still stay awake.

Did you all bring your baby dolls ? I have.

But just something to remember…

What’s an alarm clock ?

English: The face of a black windup alarm clock

It’s a device for waking up people in a childless household.

Almost always, the alarm goes off once one has fallen into the deepest sleep. Then one finds that the quality of post-natal sleep is great . It’s just the frequency is rare.

So here are some helping tips : what not to do : to get you through “those sleepless nights with your bundle of joy”.

First thing, never ever rock baby to sleep in a rocking chair. It works too well. You fall asleep first.

First baby, first hour…As every new parent knows, the only method that is said to work is the rhythm method. But you have to find the right rhythm. First child, first hour is very gentle, almost as if grandma has the child. As the hours wear on and you don’t find the magic formula, the rocking becomes faster and faster until. WHEN WILL THIS BABY EVER GET TO SLEEP?

One child I would walk the hall sentinel style until he just was starting to fall asleep. He seemed to wake up just when I turned to go the other way. Now he is older I do the same thing and then hold him up , “are you asleep yet ? “

And he remembers, he’s three. I wish I didn’t.

Or catch baby’s eye and slowly , slowly close your eyes. And he or she does too. Or he is supposed to. By which time one is a micro centimetre from total sleep. Problem is you don’t know if the baby is asleep.

The other problem is now you really can sleep standing up. One combats this side effect by leaning against something like a cold hard brick wall.

So in desperation, put him in pram and rocked.

First standing up and pushing pram back and forward. Just like mowing the lawn. Sleep inducing for the male of the species as mowing the same blade of grass over and over again.

Next hour, next baby, then sitting down and pushing pram back and forward. Then lying down and pushing with foot. One knows one’s tired when you can’t move a pram with your big toe. Not without falling asleep anyway.

Inglesina Otutto Pram

Or holding the child’s hand. This meant lying down on the floor next to the cot or bed. Then I would wait for the grip of the hand to loosen and the breathing to become steady. Once I was asleep, the baby must be too ! The side effect of this was that I can sleep on any hard surface (with my hand in the air!).

The hardest child was lulled to sleep by talking shop.

As I work in information technology, I decided to explain the intricacies of computer software and hardware.

And it worked ! Only problem is that six years later the child in question wants to take apart the computer and put it back together again and he wants the administrator password of the computer !

But the best thing I learnt was this. Once you’ve gotten through putting a baby to sleep, you develop a calm and peace even in the most vexing crisis. After all what else matters ?

Father and Daughter : Spiders and Cobwebs

Cobwebs on fence

Cobwebs on fence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday when I got home from work I couldn’t check my post box or even open my front gate. My way was blocked.

By a little girl standing in front of my house. Who of course was no threat. She didn’t even notice I was there. She was busy staring quite intently at the front of my house. Her dad was there holding her hand and waiting patiently.

Before I was a dad I wouldn’t have known what to do. Now I waited to see what she would do next. And then I looked closely and really saw what she was staring at. The cobwebs next to my postbox.

Her blue eyes looked at me for the first time. All they said was this is what I always do. She then turned and spoke to her dad who was still waiting. She asked him about the insects wrapped up like licorice in the cobweb.

Then they both started walking away and he began talking to her. I didn’t hear what they said. Besides its not my business. And its almost  certainly covered by parental confidentiality. If it was me, I would be explaining life and death, spiders and cobwebs. Perhaps her dad was doing just that.

Then I thought that I really hope she stays that way. I hope she grows up unchanged. I’m lucky to have a daughter just like that. She liked cobwebs silvered with dew or rain.