Sunday, January 22, 2006

Fatherhood - One Month In

So, as promised (or threatened depending on your point of view), something about my first four weeks as a father, with passing references to Paula, the most incredible, intelligent, beautiful baby on the planet. Honest.

My reluctance to write this post is down to my own previous reactions. Viz, that babies were not a terribly interesting subject. True, they seemed to be interesting to most women, and to men who were new fathers, but aside from that (rather large) slice of the population, they just were a kind of uninteresting subject (like other people’s holiday photos – you look, and go “ooh”, out of politeness, but you kind of hope the conversation will move on). Confronted with the dread question “Would you like to hold him?” I was always paralysed and unable to answer. What could I say? “No, not really, I don’t really know how and I’m terrified I’ll drop him, and on the off chance that I do manage to hold him the right way isn’t he liable to vomit half digested milk all over me”? I always assumed that this answer, while honest, may be somehow offensive to parents, so I either faked some kind of bizarre elbow injury or attempted to change the subject.

However, I had seen a number of previously quite normal male friends somehow turn oddly baby-obsessed after the birth of their first born, so I guessed there must be more to the experience than suddenly sharing your house with a being that spends its whole existence sleeping, eating, crying, and shitting. And I was right. It’s quite remarkable in fact.

I’m not sure, even now, if the old me would have understood my fascination. How could I explain how incredibly interesting it is to see all of the various facial expressions? To be captivated by a yawn? To think that a long stretching movement is in any way intriguing? I couldn’t possibly explain it to him (the old me).

This, then, is why I’m reluctant to write about Paula on here. Non-parents will read this and …well, let’s face it they won’t even have got this far, they’ll have clicked on some other link already. Parents will learn nothing new from my observations, and will probably find them trite and at best faintly nostalgic. But, then if I don’t write anything about Paula and father-me, then I won’t really write anything (witness weeks of posts about the weather), so screw it, here goes.

Paula, as you may already have got, is great. She’s got some killer moves already, and can and does blow me away with her cuteness. She spends a lot of her time stretching. This, I surmise, is because when she was born she was 55cm long which is actually more than a third of Erika’s height. So it must have been pretty cramped in there and she really needs to spend some time unfurling herself. I like the way she can now spend time awake without crying. The whole sitting in a chair and looking around wide eyed at the world is dead cool. The last couple of days she’s taken to really looking at things – before there was a lot of vague staring into the middle distance, but now some kind of focussing mechanism has kicked in. Yesterday she gave her first faint awake smile.

I could go on and on and on about how she has this little internal diary which has entries like “8pm – Midnight: be grumpy and moan a lot” and “9am – Midday: investigate world around me”. Or about how she makes these little squeaks and quacks. Or about which position she likes to be held in. Or about how she recently discovered by accident that she can put her fingers in her mouth. Or about a million other things, that I suspect are just not that remarkable if you’re not me. And you’re not.

So, enough about her, I can hear you asking, and what about me? How has fatherhood changed me?

Well, I’ll tell you. Just as an example, my tolerance for crying has changed beyond all recognition. While once 5 minutes (max) in the same room (or even next door) to a crying baby sent me almost insane, now crying has taken on a whole new meaning. It’s no longer something to be escaped, but something to be translated. What exactly is being communicated here? Is this an “I’m hungry” cry, or a “I’m bored and awake and what are you going to do about it, hey?” cry? Recently, she’s even invented a new cry which sounds a bit like a goat. Kind of a mair-hair-hair semi-bleat. It doesn’t seem to mean much beyond, “I’ve just discovered I can make this noise and I’m going to try it out”, but for all I know it could mean “I have come bearing some important information from beyond the womb, and I really need you to understand it before I forget it in a couple more weeks.”

Things I do much more than I used to:

Sing. Quite often singing is an effective way of calming a baby (I have learned), and so I have done more singing in the last few weeks than in the last couple of years combined. However, there is a slight problem, which is that I don’t really know any songs. The only song that I know all the way through is Billy Bragg’s “New England”, which while it does contain the classic couple of couplets "I saw two shooting stars last night / I wished on them, but they were only satellites / It’s wrong to wish on space hardware / I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care”, is hardly lullaby material. The rest of the time I find myself singing snatches of songs dredged from some far corner of my memory, most of which are even more inappropriate than that one (The other day I started tunelessly intoning “In a river the colour of lead” before mentally going on ahead and realising that this definitely wasn’t to be sung as a baby soothing ditty. For those unfamiliar with fairly obscure early Smiths songs (what do you mean?), the first verse of that song runs: “In a river the colour of lead / Immerse the baby’s head / Wrap her up in the “News of the World” / Dump her on a doorstep, girl”)

Listen to music. And not just the rubbishy cover versions of early 80s indie classics performed by me. For whatever reason we didn’t listen to that much music before she came, but now, with the TV off much more and a desire for soothing tunes to reverberate around the room, the music selection is being delved into much more, which is nice. I have rediscovered a number of old favourites.

Do laundry. It’s bloody neverending.

Spend time on baby-related websites. Looking up every possible condition that she seems to have. Spots on the face? Baby Acne, apparently, or maybe Milia. Either way nothing much to worry about. (Who knew that babies get acne?) Crying at night? Eating enough? All these questions and more can be answered by judicious googling and a bit of patience. What did people do before the Internet? Actually have conversations with people? Weirdos.

Things I do less than I used to:

Watch TV. It’s rubbish for a start, and it’s loud and distracting and keeps her awake. There is one exception to this rule, and that is sport. I can watch it with the sound muted and it’s on late at night which is perfect for those late night rocking sessions when I’m trying to persuade her to crash out. Plenty of football on TV in Romania - and now that the African Cup of Nations has started it’s even more. (Plus if she wakes up in the middle of the night there is the Australian Open tennis to watch if need be.)

Sleep uninterruptedly
. Though I still seem to get enough sleep. It’s just done in different sized chunks and involves switching beds occasionally (Bogi also wakes up and demands an adult to go back to sleep with her. She’d rather have Erika, but since Erika’s breasts need to be available to Paula at short notice, she tends to get me as a substitute adult). Having worked with new fathers before, I had wondered whether I was going to end up as sunken eyed and vacant as they often seemed to, but so far so good.

Blog. Frankly, writing about Romanian politics (even in these days of Nastase’s supicious aunt Tamara), the Romanian Hockey League, Hungarian/Romanian intercultural communication, and days out in Harghita county, even if I had any, is much less interesting than sitting and playing with Paula. And if she’s asleep then Bogi wants attention.

Go out. As alluded to above. Though this is mostly because it’s been so bastard cold of late. Paula’s experience of outside is so far limited to a couple of half hour stints on the balcony when the sun’s been on it.

But, anyway, to wrap up this overlong and not especially noteworthy piece, I am dead happy. Life begins at 40, they say (whoever “they” are), but I reckon they were a couple of months off. Plus of course, what preceded Paula was no less life, nor any less worth doing. So, it’s more like Different Life Begins At 39 Years, 9 Months, and 20 Days. Which is really not quite as pithy, though it is more accurate. Umm, yes. So, there you go then. I'll try and hold off from more such rambles until she reaches two months old.

Oh, and one last thing. A couple of days ago, a 7 month old baby (and his mum) came to visit. He looked ridiculously huge and disproportionate. I don't want Paula to be that big. It's all wrong.

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