If I go

D with boys

I have been thinking a lot, lately, about what might happen. In the course of that thinking, I have come to accept more than ever before that things happen unexpectedly; even the things we expect most of all.

That being the case, there are some things I want to be recorded, as my safety net.

If I go, know that I wanted to stay. I wanted to see you again; I didn’t choose not to.

No one is invincible, however. Regardless of what my impressively narcissistic internal monologue would have you believe, I am not the central character of the universe, and the narrative will not bend to ensure that I can participate in tomorrow’s episode. Freak occurrences, shoddy components, rogue cells – I’m as susceptible as anyone.

And everybody goes, make no mistake.

I have my hopes for science; perhaps it can deliver a longer lap for me, for others who arrived with me and afterward, but that’s all it will be. If I get to run the 200, the 400, or the 800 where my ancestors only got a short, sharp sprint I’ll count myself lucky. Once we start to dream of running marathons, we’re forgetting that the longer the distance, the more the chance increases that we’ll just randomly lose a shoe or twist an ankle; it’s unfortunate, but our race will always be at the mercy of an unexpected occurrence.

With luck, I will go after we’ve been able to do a lot of things together. I hope to have passed on the values which are important to me, and to have shared a secret: it’s possible to enjoy all this despite the fact that we have to go. In defiance of it, more to the point.

But if it’s the other way, and it could well be, please don’t spend time dwelling on it. Quite possibly, I didn’t know I was going, which means I was fine as I went; or if I did, I was thinking about you, which is the best I could have hoped for under the circumstances. Don’t ever let the wondering haunt you, or the imagining twist you, however it happened.

I will not have any use for regrets when I go, but the closest thing will be this: that when you go, I will not be there to hold you. I cannot lie, that was difficult to type – but there it is.

If I go, my solace is that you continue. Run your own race, preferably a longer and more interesting one. Leave the track, go cross country, do it with skis or speedboats. I don’t know – invent your own overstretched metaphors.

Everything we ever shared persists in your memory; take the essence of it and use it to help you make new memories. Perhaps you’ll include new people with whom you share the same bond, but from a new perspective.

If I go, nothing can undo all the days I spent loving you. They are safe, locked up in our history, untouchable by any force we can imagine.

And if I go, the Love doesn’t go with me.

Like a cell in the body, I was part of it while I lasted, but I don’t own it, or define it. The next cell takes up just where I left off.

A Promise

Matthew sleeps

It’s taken me a long time to write this, Biscuit.

There are quite a few reasons for that yawning pause. Some of them have to do with the noisy, chaotic period of readjustment which followed your arrival – it wasn’t what I’d call the most conducive atmosphere in which to write an earnest heart-to-heart, addressed to your future self.

Nonetheless, that bumpy period in which our family adjusted to its’ new shape wasn’t the only factor. A big part of my delay was pressure, the kind a person puts on themselves to do the best they can, to make the most of a moment which will only happen once.

You see, some time ago, I made a promise.

The pressure of precedent

Back in 2011, some two years and four months before you made your entrance, I wrote an open letter to your older brother about the story of his birth. It was raw and immediate and it poured out of me just a few days after your mother and I brought him home.

Things were different, you see – even though I thought having a new baby was difficult and overwhelming, the truth is that they tend to sleep a fair bit. That leaves plenty of time to type, as you wait to make the next bottle or dispose of the next toxic nappy. In reality, a lot of the turmoil was inside me.

At any rate, I was unprepared for how that letter would be received when I published it here, on this blog. To cut a long story short, a lot of people visited to share in our happiness.

That was great… but I knew, even then, that your Mum and I would try for another child. The more I thought about things, the more I realised how important it was to me that my second baby didn’t ever feel second best. That’s a big emotional driver which cuts across all aspects of life, but as a writer, I fixated on one detail: I wanted you to have something, in the style of that first letter, that was yours.

I wanted there to be no doubt in your mind that I loved you as madly, as euphorically as I loved your brother. So I promised myself that when you arrived, whoever you might be, I’d write something special to you too.

Pressure, then paralysis

As time went on, Mum fell pregnant again. Our second baby wasn’t abstract anymore – he was you. Periodically, I would think about my promise – and every time I did, I’d put a little more pressure on myself.

Whatever I made for you, it would have to be good enough.

Eventually, when you arrived – and don’t worry, we’ll get to that in a moment – I had built a mountain of expectation for myself. I wanted more than ever to give you something that was authentically yours, but each time I tried to begin, I’d find myself making reference to something David had said, or done in the context.

That’s not right! a voice in my head would say. This is Matthew’s story. You need to make it just about him.

But of course, in the real world, our lives were so entwined that I couldn’t do it. For weeks, I simply couldn’t make progress.

It’s perhaps a dead giveaway, since you’re reading this now, that I finally found a way to reconcile things. Before we get to that epiphany, however, I think it’s high time we got on with the main business of the day.

Like clockwork

You, kiddo, were a clockwork baby.

That’s not a phrase you’ll hear very often – unless you’re into some pretty niche, retro science fiction – but it feels a terribly apt description. Firstly, you arrived via a scheduled Caesarian section; no surprise, no shaking ourselves awake in the early hours and scrabbling down to St John’s, but instead a neatly planned appointment at the end of which we’d have a new child.

How thoroughly modern, I thought to myself. What an age to be alive!

Secondly – and uncomfortably for your mother – you turned around and around during her pregnancy, like the hands of a clock. Nary a week passed when some gut-churning, late night sensation wouldn’t lead her to exclaim: “uuuuurrrggggggAAARRRGGGHhHhhh I think he’s turned again ooouuGGHHHH.”

This tendency manifested itself beautifully on the morning of 21 March 2014, when we arrived at the hospital for your procedure.

“Baby’s definitely in breach,” the student Midwife told us after examining Mum, a diagnosis which agreed with the last one we’d received from our Consultant the week before.

For the record, breach means that you were sitting with your head under your mother’s ribs, bum pointing down the way. This is not the way doctors like to do business when it comes to delivering babies!

A mere two hours later, the Registrar who would be performing your procedure came down to scan Mum’s tummy, so he could get a good look at exactly how things were before going to work.

“Your baby is head down,” he announced, “and fully engaged.”

In 120 minutes, you had successfully executed a complete turn, something close to unheard of in medical circles.

Nonetheless, we pressed ahead with the C-Section for various reasons… not least of which was that if you could flip once, you could do it again. If you end up a contrary young man, frequently changing his mind about anything and everything, I shall not be surprised.

Escorted downstairs, your Mum and I waited for the surgeons to call her in for surgical prep.

In all honesty, this wasn’t a serene time; a C-Section is a major operation and Mum was, at points, scared and tearful. I tell you this because I want you to understand something about the way your mother loves you: she will walk headfirst into situations which terrify her, if she believes that doing so will keep you safe. Never forget this.

Eventually, the midwife on duty arrived to take Mum into theatre. I got changed into OR scrubs (I love using this kind of jargon, it makes me feel like I’m part of a TV medical drama) and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The surgical team maintained that I was only hanging around for 10 minutes, but it certainly didn’t feel that way. I was eventually collected and shown into a room where your mother, by now ensconced on an operating table, was unwell and upset, asking repeatedly where I was – a horrifying realisation when one has simply been sitting around twiddling one’s thumbs.

The anaesthetist, sensing my worry, explained that your Mum’s extreme nausea was a reaction to her spinal block (a treatment which protected her from pain during the operation, but allowed her to remain awake) and would pass as her blood pressure rose once more. He was right, but it was cold comfort for a few minutes while I tried to reassure her through her obvious distress.

At first sight

Don’t worry, pal – this is where it starts to get a bit more upbeat.

Once some colour returned to your Mum’s cheeks (and some clarity to her thoughts), we waited behind the green curtain which hid the mechanics of the operation. It was a bit more like a sheet, to be honest, but I like the theatrical connotations of curtain. You were the biggest show in town.

Echoing our previous experience, I reminded your Mum that our lives were changing behind the green fabric once again. She managed a smile.

To Mum’s horror, however, the medical team kept discussing details of the surgery. Making the incision, they would say, or take care to avoid the bowel. Since the last thing a person wants to think about when they are being operated on is the nitty-gritty details of how they’re being sliced up, she would repeatedly croak: “Tell them to shut up!”

I was then left with the diplomatic challenge of policing conversations between Doctors and Nurses during a live operation. I’m not sure how much success I had, but I do know that after a few minutes, it was a snippet of conversation that alerted me to your imminent arrival. The talk behind the curtain turned to pulling you out and, filled with a rising euphoria, I glimpsed over its raised edge.

Having believed that I knew what to expect, you immediately made me feel very silly. Your face popped into view and you were nothing, nothing like I imagined: too real and detailed and fragile – not to mention sporting a striking and unexpected familial resemblance.

“Can you see him?” asked Mum.

“Yes,” I nodded, smile cracking my face, “and he looks exactly like your Dad!”

We had a wee cry together, then, as the midwife brought you around for us to meet.

Matthew and Mum

After that emotional introduction, I followed you excitedly into the anteroom, where you were weighed and measured before being wrapped into a woolly ball. It was a very different experience the second time around; I felt calm and happy, rather than adrift in an emotional storm. I may have congratulated myself (somewhat too soon) on how well I was holding myself together… but mostly I was just peppering you with idle, welcoming chit-chat, trying to use your name as often as possible so that we could both get used to it.

“Hello, Matthew,” I grinned at you with shiny eyes. “I’m Daddy. I’m so happy to finally meet you.”

Brothers

Of everything that followed, I remember best the recovery room into which they wheeled us. You lay cuddled into Mum, eating for the first time in your life – an incredible thing to think about, in retrospect – and we contacted our families to announce your safe arrival.

Of those conversations, I recall most vividly the one I had with your Uncle Graeme, my younger brother.

Throughout my life, I have loved my brother in a way unlike any of my other relationships. As I shared the news with him and heard his congratulations, I felt a great groundswell of emotion: you would have a chance to build the same kind of bond with David. I cannot conceive of a greater gift.

David and Matthew

I remember also the uncertain but fascinated way David responded when he first saw you in my arms, running over to become part of our cuddle. I can tell you now that I had been plagued by fears that he might reject you, or try to hurt you; instead, his instinct was one of gentleness and protection.

The best example of this is one you are likely to have heard already, since I expect it to become one of my favourite stories, but I’ll retell it anyway: around a week after your birth, we ventured out as a family to the nearby South Gyle shopping centre, where we eventually settled in the M&S cafe for refreshments.

Your Mother elected to queue for lunch, leaving me to handle you and your brother. We were seated awkwardly at a booth, with your buggy parked alongside and partially blocking the way past. After a few minutes, a lady arrived with a wide, double-buggy containing her twins – and we were acting as a barricade to her progress.

“Don’t worry!” chimed in one of the cafe staff, who was standing nearby, “I’ll move him and bring him back.”

She could see the challenge David was presenting, clambering all over the booth in full ‘toddler-mode’, making it impossible for me to get up and wheel your buggy to a suitable passing-place – and I was grateful of the help. But as she took the buggy’s handles and clicked the foot-brake off, a remarkable thing happened.

David immediately stopped his demonic climbing, yelping and wriggling; his arm shot out like a javelin to point at her.

“NO, DADDY, MAFF-YOU, STOP LADY, DADDY, MAFF-YOU, GOT MAFF-YOU!” he cried in alarm. I tried to explain to him that it was OK, that you would be back in a moment, that the lady was helping… but nothing would quiet him until you were parked beside our table once more, foot-brake engaged. Then, crisis averted, he was free to go on the rampage again (which he duly did).

This is what lies at the heart of your relationship, before all the joshing, cajoling, bickering and banter of later life, before either of you learned the skills of pretense. At core, your brother is looking out for you like a hawk.

Again: never forget this.

It was this kind of realisation that, eventually, helped me to overcome my paralysis and write these words to you.

At some point, I awoke to the fact that your experiences would be irreversibly entwined with your brother’s – and that this was a positive, even precious quality. By trying to keep David out of your story, I wasn’t being ‘fair’: I was trying to turn your life into something it had never been.

I will never again confuse brotherhood with rivalry – or try to separate you, even as a storytelling device, from the most important person in your life.

Keeping my promise

The morning after you were born, I awoke at home and immediately prepared to depart for the Hospital where you and Mum had spent the night. David was still at your Granny’s house and I was alone in our home, which was just as well, really.

As I pulled on my shoes, thinking about you and trying to process what your arrival meant for our lives, it hit me: the wall of emotion, the tsunami I had imagined ‘under control’ the previous day.

One moment, I was tugging my laces in the most mundane way; the next I was emitting great, racking sobs, tears streaming down my face, features scrunched up into a wrinkly, red ball like the final, unappealing tomato in a late-night supermarket.

Some people cry in a way that appears dignified, or even beautiful, pal. I’m not one of those. I shook and snivelled on the edge of the bed, briefly regaining a veneer of composure several times before breaking down again when I tried to stand up.

For 15 minutes, all I could think about was the fact that you were here; that one day, I would be gone; and that in the intervening time, it was so very, very important that you understood the size and intensity of my love for you. Eventually, the tide fell, I walked to the front door and I set off for the hospital.

So here’s the last of my ‘never forgets‘: after only one day, I loved you so much it blotted out everything – even the ability to tie my shoelaces. Imagine how I must feel (or have felt) about you, with the passage of each day. I might have grown better at retaining my motor functions, but I hope you’ll recognise that the bond between us has grown as well.

Matthew Milk

This is just the start of our adventure, Matthew. If Mum and I have any say in the matter, you will have a happy childhood. We’ll help you fill it with laughter and exploration and challenge and wonderment – and we’ll always make time for you, to remind you that you are special, unique, treasured. I’ll try every day to make it the best ride I can, full enough of love and support that by the time you read this letter, nothing it contains will be a surprise to you.

That’s a promise.

 

 

The Pig Detector

PIG

Tell me, dear reader: do you know how often the humble pig is depicted in popular culture?

I do.

Can you say with certainty that you will detect any such depictions whenever and wherever they cross your path?

I can.

Now, you maybe saying to yourself, that seems unlikely.

Our modern world is crammed full of competing stimulus, bursting at the seams with colours and sounds and live broadcasts and brand messages and 24/7 information feeds.

How could a mere man be certain, were he even to want such certainty, that no porcine reference would elude him?

The answer is simple. I have acquired a Pig Detector. An infallible Pig Detector.

The process of detection

As a user of the Pig Detector (AKA my son, David) my experience could not be simpler. I need only to carry him with me, occasionally pausing to perform simple maintenance work such as producing food, diluted fruit juice and fresh nappies. His hyper-sensitive pig-detection algorithms will do the rest.

A typical detection event will run as follows:

  1. Carry David into a new area, such as a room of the house, street, retail location, visitor attraction, etc.
  2. Hear David emit his signature Pig noise.
  3. Cease all activity.
  4. Patiently scan the entire area for the Pig image you know is present.
  5. Eventually find the image. Point at it.
  6. Hear David emit his signature Pig noise.
  7. DETECTION COMPLETE.

You want proof?

My son can detect a Pig anywhere, no matter how obscure the depiction appears by comparison to a real pig. If this sounds like hubris, allow me to present the evidence.

Name: Piglet

Location: Retail display, Mothercare

Piglet

Status: DETECTED

Name: Peppa, George and Daddy Pig

Location: Casually lying on top of a fixture, Morrisons

Peppa and family

Status: DETECTED

Name: Digby Pig

Location: Inside David’s buggy

Digby Pig

Status: DETECTED

The Gameplan

Leveraging this remarkable ability might be somewhat challenging – it is, after all, a pretty niche specialization – but I’m optimistic that we can find a way. As the continued success of supercar sales during the world economic downturn has proved, people are always willing to pay for quality.

Alternatively, it proves that rich people simply have more money than sense, but if anything that bodes well for the launch of commercial Pig detection.

I’m currently still at the information-gathering stage, by which I mean I’m hanging around in public places such as cafes, restaurants and soft-play venues, hoping to overhear conversations which contain key phrases like: “…if only I could track down that damned PIG!”

Over to you, pig-seekers

In 2011, a crack Pig Detection professional was sent to Broxburn, West Lothian, with his parents, purely because they lived there.

This individual promptly escaped the traditional, stereotyped lifestyle of a toddler, into the underground pursuit of swine-tracking. Today, still supported by his parents, he survives as an elite hog-locator.

If you have a problem (related to missing or hidden pigs), if no one else can help, and if you can find him….maybe you can hire… The Pig Detector.

BrrrrrRRRRMMMM!

Fatherhood is filled with fun noises: the night-time scream which heralds a day of falling asleep at one’s desk, or the wet, convulsive sound of a full-bottle milk vomit spring to mind.

But if you’re in the market for unironic, grin-inducing noises, it’s hard to beat a child’s interpretation of a roaring combustion engine.

Chicken or Egg

The truth is that I’m not sure which came first: a prompt from me, in the shape of a half baked engine noise made whilst playing with his toy cars, or an honest-to-goodness-impersonation-of-the-vehicles-passing-the-house from David. But I do know that he ‘got’ the connection between his tiny toys and the great metal beasts rolling around on the road almost instantaneously.

The process began on David’s first birthday, when both sets of grandparents presented him with automotive gifts.

A gaggle of wooden vehicles

A gaggle of wooden vehicles

A thumping great dumper truck

A thumping great dumper truck

I’m sure they were working on the basis that boys get cars, girls get dolls or something similarly traditional; sentiments I would disagree with in principle, but which I think are relatively harmless and commonplace. What none of us could have predicted was how strongly David would respond to this particular kind of toy.

Within a few weeks, wooden cars were the preferred source of amusement in the house. This quickly escalated to a love of the wooden truck, closely followed by anything else with wheels.

Note the subtle pursing of lips which indicates engine noise emission.

Note the subtle pursing of lips which indicates engine noise emission.

All the time, as his passion grew, David’s play was punctuated with that signature sound: BrrrrrRRRRMMMM!

The Next Level (or ‘How I learned to stop worrying and love the Reversing Alarm’)

I have a much clearer recollection of the young man’s next milestone. It started with me trying to be a smart-arse and ended in almost intolerable cuteness.

Ordinarily, our play would work like this:

  1. David would pick up a car, then drive it back and forward exclaiming: BrrrrrRRRRMMMM!
  2. In 50% of cases, I would take one of the other cars and join in, to his delight.
  3. If I didn’t immediately join in, David would pick up another car of his own accord and present it to me with an urgent grunt.
  4. I would then consider myself ‘told’ and join in, making engine noises of my own.

Sitting on the rug, playing with his wooden truck, I decided to mix it up a little. I drove the truck forward in the customary manner then, after a few seconds, stopped and began slowly reversing it whilst projecting a steady beeping in my best sing-song voice.

If I’d known just how quickly David would seize on this new and enthralling detail, I might have paused for a moment before introducing it… but probably not.

Beep... beep...beep

Beep… beep…beep

Within minutes, he was alternating enthusiastically between growling acceleration and the high-pitched metronome of the reversing alarm. This habit has not left him since; endearingly he makes no distinction between forward and backward motion when deploying either sound.

Why stop at Trucks?

At some point during an unsettled phase, I hit upon the idea of streaming videos of vehicles on my phone to entertain a very tired and ratty David. The ploy was an instant hit.

Searching for new videos to show him, I happened upon a cache of clips featuring plant machinery: from the official promo videos produced by JCB, to the shaky, hand filmed footage of an earth mover which someone had recorded in their own street. David’s reaction was incredibly enthusiastic, particularly when one of the diggers so depicted began to emit a reversing alarm.

“Beep! Beep! Beep!” he responded, as if he had finally encountered something with which he could have a sensible conversation.

Over the following weeks, toy diggers rose to the top of his playtime food-chain. His favourite, from the Early Learning Centre, even makes its own (oft-copied) engine sound at the push of a button.

These guys are particularly noisy.

Reaching the Pinnacle

A few weeks ago, my partner emailed me a picture which represents perhaps the high point of David’s life so far – at least in his opinion.

"This is what I was BORN TO DO," proclaims the stunned expression.

“This is what I was BORN TO DO,” proclaims the stunned expression.

After months of admiring and coveting the vehicles of others from afar, David finally found himself behind the wheel. Admittedly, this particular model had all the technical sophistication of Fred Flintstone’s favourite drive, but that mattered little: a landmark had been reached.

Reports suggest that David, for once in his life, made very little noise whilst in the car. He simply beamed, rolled it around and beamed some more.

So he likes cars. What’s your point?

My point is this: I have no special affection for motor vehicles or plant equipment – but I have, for the first time, been able to appreciate what it is like to encourage my child in an interest I don’t share.

Often, I’ve wondered if I would be disappointed should David fail to share my love of say, Science Fiction, or tabletop gaming. What I’ve realised is that it’s completely lopsided to think about his interests in those terms.

It’s not my job to notice and react to the ‘gaps’ in David’s spectrum of enthusiasm, because as human beings our passions aren’t concerned with what we don’t care about. They’re affirmative statements about the things that seize our attention, that grab hold of us and stake a claim to territory in the landscape of our brains.

I won’t have time to worry about the places where our interests as Father and Son don’t overlap, because I’ll be too busy marveling at the things which do excite him and thinking about how to help him milk the most enjoyment from them. David’s happy, roaring engine sounds make it irrelevant whether, in the future, he cares about Star Wars or not: right here and now, his eyes shine at the sight of Haulage yards and Fire Engines, Tractors and Fiat Puntos.

I’m going to focus on eliciting more and more of those happy reactions… and I already know where I’m heading next.

Truckfest Scotland

BrrrrrRRRRMMMM!

1

They do say, young man, that leopards don’t change their spots; but they talk rubbish and we all know it. How long has it taken (with your help) to change every part of my life?

You’ve changed so much I barely even recognise some of your baby pictures; I’ve changed completely, because now I’m someone who likes to look at baby pictures.

Let me show you:

Less than a week old

Less than a week before your birthday

The same guy? If I hadn’t seen you grow with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it.

When I sat down to write this little note, I had only the haziest idea of what it would look like; I knew I wanted to leave you another little milestone for the future, so that the time around your first birthday would be as accessible for you as the time of your birth, but beyond that I had a blank page.

I finally settled on borrowing a tradition from the office of the US President: please consider this the first annual State of the Next Generation Address.

A grand upheaval

I’m not sure it’s possible to convey just how enormous has been the change to my habits, desires and priorities your arrival prompted; but I’m a game guy, I’ll have a bash.

In the very early weeks of your life, your mother and I had to deal with two major tremors in the fabric of our lives.

  • On the Emotional level, we had to get our heads around just how precious you were to us and how big/scary/downright unwelcoming the world was for a little person. That meant many moments of worry, of dizzying responsibility-related panic, of beating ourselves up over small mistakes in your care… it also meant many moments of quiet communion with you during late night feeds, or soppy tears and husky voices as we read you stories. It’s a big, big love to have drop into one’s lap and it took a while to get used to it. Honestly, there was a time in the hospital when I thought I’d never be able to hold you without tears… a granite-jawed, stoic frontiersman your old man is not.
  • On the Practical level, we had an incredibly complex, time-intensive routine to incorporate into our normal functioning. Speaking only for myself: I’m not good with chores and maintenance-type tasks. Getting on top of the feeds, changes, sleeps, sterilisations, baths et al that you brought with you was pretty challenging. There were a lot of actions and they were required very regularly; it was a thorny process, involving many raised voices from all three of us.

The primary factor in achieving comfort with these changes was a simple one: confidence.

A very good friend (and one of your many uncles) expressed it best to me when talking about bringing his second child home: “Well,” he shrugged, “You know they’re not going to blow up… so it’s fine.”

That’s the truth of the matter. As each day passed and nothing awful happened, we started to become less stressed; at the same time, you began to space out your sleeps and feeds as your own rhythms settled down. We became slicker at doing all the maintenance jobs; at the same time, your level of demand for those jobs began subtly dropping off.

In the months leading up to your half-year, my memory becomes a bit of a blur. I know there was a lot of lying around, combined with a fair amount of hilarious fashion decisions into which you had no input. Luckily, you don’t have to rely on my hazy descriptions, as your mother has a host of photographs:

You appear terrified, but that bear suit is nonetheless one of my fondest memories.

This is from a coffee shop in St Andrews, I believe – part of a long tradition of photos in which we’re largely chopped out. You’ll be used to it by now, I suppose.

At the time of writing, this is the closest you’ve ever been to PJ in your life.

I included this one just for laughs. Sorry, mate.

As you can see, these were some good times. You had moved on from being a tiny, largely unresponsive baby to a bubbly wee guy with recognisable features and an interest in the world.

One of my most treasured memories from this stage is of carrying you around in your baby harness:

I will never get tired of these pictures. If you ever feel like shrinking so I can fit you back in that thing, just let me know.

Once we reached the half-year mark, you really started to up the pace. Firsts arrived with the regularity of Scottish raindrops.

  • You started wriggling around a whole lot more – we’d find you in all sorts of bizarre, sprawling positions when we walked into your bedroom in the morning.
  • You began sitting up of your own accord, which seemed a revelation at the time, but was quickly dwarfed by your other spiralling achievements.
  • Your risk-taking nature started to assert itself (or your Mother’s – a matter of interpretation) as you began taking to swings, ballpits and the garden.

As ever, these moments are preserved in glorious technicolour:

Nap? I thought you said ‘gymnastics’.

Move the bottle, son, it’s undignified.

Faster, faster MUHAHAHAHAHAHA

You were always this good-looking; even my DNA couldn’t hold you back.

As we closed in on your first birthday, every day was a surprise. You’ve never been quiet, sunshine, but your chatterbox nature really started to exert itself:

  • You had favourite words and sounds which you would repeat, over and over. At one point, you said ‘Bob’ so frequently that we assumed he must be a close personal friend; later, you would spout ‘sugoi’ in long, gurgling chains. I’m told it means ‘awesome’ in Japanese, which indicates that you were already an optimistic cosmopolitan even at this early stage.
  • A range of ear-piercing shrieks and deafening bellows were deployed, to indicate your impatience with our failure to feed or amuse you sufficiently well or quickly. If you ever complain about someone else being demanding, forgive me when I laugh blackly in your face.

You weren’t just getting louder, either: you were becoming mobile.

  • At first there was the rolling; you would stretch yourself into a crude spindle and tumble sideways toward nearby objects. This was hilarious to watch, but heralded the end of that precious period during which we could set you down in  one spot, nip to the loo and expect you to still be there when we returned.
  • Then came the commando crawling. Whenever I was called upon to describe the pained, desperate way you would drag yourself forward an inch at a time, I could only compare it to watching Sean Connery’s grim struggle after taking an abdomen full of lead in action classic, The Untouchables. Watch it and see if it brings back any memories.
  • Latest in the developmental line is your full-throttle crawling. As I type, you are perhaps the fastest thing on four legs in our house – and trust me, the cat is no slouch. It is both exhilirating and terrifying to watch you barrelling around the domestic environment, finding specks of dirt to eat, hinges in which to jam your fingers and cat food to decorate the kitchen with; how close I feel to each end of the spectrum is a function of how likely I am to catch up to you before disaster strikes.

Here are a few of your highlights from the run-up to your first birthday. Please note: you spent a lot of time at the swing park!

With your good pal, Music Bunny

With your good pal, Music Bunny

 

BANANA!

BANANA!

Photogenic doesn't really cover it.

Photogenic doesn’t really cover it.

You were no stranger to the Seven Seas, even at an early age. YA-HAAAAAARRR

You were no stranger to the Seven Seas, even at an early age. YA-HAAAAAARRR

In short, you’ve come a long way from eating, sleeping and involuntary muscle movements. You’re a proper little guy – and watching you grow is proving to be more fun than I could ever have imagined.

Lifelong learning

More eloquent people than I have remarked on the double-life a parent is obliged to lead, as both teacher and student. All I can add to their insight is an extra, assenting voice.

You came into this world knowing almost nothing, David, but you weren’t quite the blank slate I had imagined you would be. It wasn’t so much what you had to learn that surprised me, but what you didn’t – the mannerisms and attitudes which were written into your DNA, but which I had always assumed would have been the product of nurture over nature.

I’ll give you the perfect example: when you are tired, you roll your head from side to side. You do this whether sitting up or lying down, wherever you happen to be. When I first saw you doing it, I presumed that you were irritated and struggling to be free of my interference. Your mother corrected me; when I asked her how she knew, she replied that she did the same thing.

“No you don’t,” I retorted, to which she responded by demonstrating her version of the motion. I was immediately struck by a feeling of having seen, but never recognised a fundamental pattern – it was obvious in that second that I had seen her roll her head a thousand times, but had never connected it with tiredness or, latterly, with your behaviour.

It was a wonderful moment. Your mum was demonstrating for me the unbreakable bond that will always exist between you; without words, she was telling me that on a fundamental level, you were made of the same stuff. I knew intellectually that this was true, as I knew it was true for you and me, but this was the first time I felt it. Every time since, when you exhibit a behaviour of yours which reflects one of ours, I get the same little thrill.

Of course there are many things we do need to teach you – and let me be clear, you are a quick learner. Having seen you explode forward from the start line of total helplessness to your current milestone of exuberant exploration, I know just how quickly you can push back your own horizons. I promise you that I will never underestimate your potential having seen the leaps already made.

I can’t round off a section on learning and teaching without stressing how much you have taught me. Thanks to you, I’ve learned:

  • That even a man who hates domestic chores can change nappies and clean bottles like a pro when your welfare is at stake.
  • That it is possible to have more fun sitting on our living room rug with you than cube drafting.
  • That I could love you more today than the day you were born, an idea I would have laughed off at the time.

Bring on Chapter 2

I’m told that children of two are ‘terrible’ – but I’m quite happy to find out for myself. It’s been great fun hanging around with you this last year, so I can’t believe that your company over the next 12 months won’t be worth swallowing a few tantrums for.

I’ll be back, once the dust has settled on this next stretch of our journey, to document it all for you once again. I hope we’ll read this together one day and share some laughs, when you’re taking your first steps into the big bad world, or perhaps even when you have kids of your own. I also like to think that, even when I’m not around to talk to, your childhood will still be here for you to explore and to wonder at as I did first time around.

I love you, bambino. Until next year…

10 reasons why Bane is a great role model for my son

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Polite notice: if you haven’t seen the Dark Knight Rises, not only will this article probably spoil elements of the film for you, it just won’t make any sense. You have been warned.

My partner and I had a slight disagreement about the Dark Knight Rises.

It was the kind of disagreement which sees one of us sitting, rapt, in front of the cinema screen while the other leaves in disgust after 2 hours, with nary a good word to say about the film.

However, the one thing we both agreed on was that Bane, god bless his cotton socks, made a real impact on-screen.

After several weeks of intermittent Bane references and at least one wedding celebration dominated by Bane impressions and an Usher highly reminiscent of the great man, I arrived at a singular realisation: Bane is a fabulous role model for a growing boy.

Here, as succinctly as possible, I’m going to lay out the reasons I think my own beloved son can learn important lessons from “Gotham’s Reckoning”:

1. He promotes physical fitness

Let’s start with the obvious: Bane is a monster. He appears to be about 9 feet tall whenever he’s depicted on screen, but the real impact the man makes is with his incredible physique.

I’d like David not to emulate me in terms of his physical condition – god knows I could use 6 months on a treadmill – but instead take a lead from the B-Dogg. I want him to realise that if he keeps himself in shape, it will be easier to realise many of his ambitions; say, completing a charity triathlon, or “breaking the Bat”.

2. He knows how to handle himself

This is really a two-sided point.

On one hand, Bane illustrates the importance of and advantages conferred by a familiarity with Martial Arts. This is a good thing for David to learn – maybe it’ll encourage a lifelong interest in Judo, or something. That would be nice.

On the other hand, Bane reminds us that the correct course of action when facing a potential confrontation with an 18 stone psychopath is to run like fuck. That’s pretty important, too.

3. He’s focussed on his goals

No one can really accuse “Big B” of pissing around. He isn’t ever depicted sitting on the couch, ignoring calls from Talia, squeezing in ‘just one more game’ of Minesweeper.

When he wants something, like the attention of a full crowd and national TV audience currently watching an American Football game, well… He bloody well goes out and gets it.

4. He inspires loyalty

In some moments of quiet reflection, I like to think that some of the people I work with would gladly plummet to their deaths in the wrecked fuselage of a plane simply because I asked them to.

That said, I’m not convinced.

I think David probably has more to learn from Bane on this front.

5. He recognises the importance of discipline

It will be much easier for me to sell David on the concept of ‘tough love’ if he is already intimately familiar with the phrase, “Your punishment must be more… Severe.”

Granted, I’ll be talking in terms of a week’s grounding rather than existential torture in a geographically indistinct, underground prison. But the point still stands.

6. He shows that losing your hair isn’t the end of the world

I’m not sure whether David is terribly likely to succumb to early male pattern baldness, but if he does, I don’t want it to shake his confidence.

Bane doesn’t have any hair, but by god that didn’t stop him from executing a daring and complex stock market fraud, then dragging an entire city to the brink of self destruction.

I’ve even heard one young lady describe Bane as ‘sexy’ and although that’s a stretch, it still comfortingly reinforces the ‘bald is beautiful’ lobby.

7. He doesn’t stand on ceremony

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s needless formality. Events with stifling dress codes, the insistence of some people that they are addressed by a particular title, etc.

Seriously, what a pain. Luckily, Bane feels the same way, “…Mr Wayne.”

8. He has great spatial awareness

The ability to clearly visualise one’s own surroundings, those depicted on a map or even a complex set of blueprints is invaluable in any number of pastimes and careers.

With a quality like this, David could excel at everything from orienteering on a school trip to the establishment of a career in town planning, or architecture. It would also stand him in great stead if he ever wanted to construct a subterranean stronghold directly beneath the armoury of his mortal enemy.

9. He believes in thorough planning

When Bane wanted to raze Gotham to the ground, he didn’t just rock up and start asking around the bars for people interested in a spot of casual anarchy.

Instead, he took his time, kidnapped the only nuclear scientist in the world capable of transforming a wholesome, clean energy source into a Neutron weapon, faked deaths, established an army of desperate men and extremists in the tunnels beneath the city, targeted his greatest enemy for an elaborate financial, emotional and physical destruction… etc, etc.

It’s good to think ahead.

10. He reminds us of the importance of good diction

In life, it’s hard to get anywhere if 50% of the people who hear you speak don’t have a scooby what you’re actually saying.

David will have to pass the ‘Bane test’ in our house as he grows up – just one hint of his speech descending into a garbled hybrid of aristocratic pronunciation and a distorted mobile phone call will result in him being packed off to an elocution specialist.

I’m certain that my partner will agree completely with me on this point, if not on some of the others.