So after much consideration on my wife’s part and very little resistance on mine, it was decided that my time would be best served giving up work and being a full time Dad to our little boy- for the first year of his life at least.
This meant entering the exciting yet challenging arena of Daddy day care and trust me when I say this, it is not a job for the faint hearted. For a start it quickly became apparent I was to be an ethnic minority. Really, I’m not kidding. To illustrate what I mean please quickly ‘Google’ parent and baby magazines then press images. Whilst the title of many is commendably gender neutral (with a notable exception- ‘Mother and Baby’) of the first twenty magazine covers displayed, twelve show a Mother and baby, eight show just a baby and exactly zero have the image of a Father with said child. This is discouraging and yet slightly liberating. I’ve never been one of the under represented before. Straight away I have visions of me leading the beleaguered and silent minority of invisible Fathers to the steps of city hall where with fists aloft I shall highlight paternal ignorance. Granted trying to follow Martin Luther Kings inspirational ‘I have a dream’ with the slightly less punchier ‘I have a diaper’ is unlikely to have future scholars citing my work but every movement has to start somewhere.
I am exaggerating of course, I have absolutely no intention of acquiring a bad attitude, a can of spray paint and a map of the local ‘Mother’ care stores. I know it’s a slippery slope to joining ‘Fathers for Justice’ and I own neither a Batman suit nor a head for heights. Nonetheless, there is a point to be made. My schedule with my son Toby was a busy one. Monday was nursery rhyme group at the local library, Tuesday was baby sign (I’ll explain later) Wednesday was swimming, Thursday was free though was invariably taken up with pushing my son round the local supermarket and shamelessly using his innate cuteness to attract the attention of more women in an hour than I managed in over ten years of being single. Friday was baby gym. In all of these classes I was either the only Father, or possibly one of two, in which case we would always exchange sympathetic looks, not unlike two previously unacquainted death row inmates about to face the firing squad. In truth I enjoyed my weekly forays into these infant social groups but it was not without awkwardness. For a start I know the words to perhaps two nursery rhymes. These are not lyrics, until now, I have needed to refresh my memory with. I doubt most Mothers have either, but here is where they have the advantage. If as a Mother in a group of twenty women you get the words wrong, then it is likely your mistake will be swallowed up by the other voices around you: unless of course as a man you are the only one singing baritone in a room of sopranos. I can’t tell you how many times I sang- ‘One little speckled dog’ only to have all the other mothers, and I swear even my own son, look up at me with an expression that clearly said ‘You dick!’ I mean, how the hell was I supposed to know it’s about a fucking frog? Although the next line- ‘sat on a speckled log, eating the most delicious grubs’ should have been my starter for ten.
This was difficult enough when all I had to do was sing and not embarrass my child. Worse still when entering the confusing world of baby sign. To be fair it’s a terrific concept. In order to lessen the frustration of being unable to communicate what they want, it’s been found that babies can associate and indeed mimic sign language to convey their physical needs. Unfortunately its effectiveness is dependent on the baby’s dunderhead Father mastering the basic hand signals required to communicate these needs. Taking into account my already woeful knowledge of nursery rhyme lyrics I strongly suspect I have sat in the group and with desperately flapping hands communicated to my bewildered son everything from ‘Are you hungry?’ to ‘Sink the Bismarck.’ No wonder the poor sod looks confused.
Baby gym is another terrific concept- in theory. The title is slightly misleading. It’s not like I was ‘spotting’ my son on the bench press (‘Come on Toby, it’s all you! push, push, push!) but rather a custom built arena where parents are encouraged to flip, twist and catapult their children around a padded room in an attempt to build up their core strength. Again I don’t have a problem with this, other than the fact that due to my son being neither able to walk, nor barely crawl at this stage, his locomotion was generated almost entirely by me. I must have attended at least half a dozen sweating hour long classes before realizing my son was doing very little what I would call ‘gym’ work whilst Daddy was, as the phrase puts it, ‘breathing out of his arse.’ In truth I could actually warm to the concept of taking an older relative to the gym with you to do the work. I don’t suppose my Gran is likely to agree to a half hour on level twelve incline of the treadmill on my behalf but no pain no gain.
To be fair it is not the first time Toby has outsmarted me. When playing at home I sit my son on a small play mat so, should he vomit or pass any other bodily fluids it’s not onto our carpet. In order to encourage him to crawl I once placed his favourite toy at one end of the mat and him at the other. I then verbalised (not with sign language- there’s every chance he’d have left the room to get me my newspaper if I’d tried that) that he should crawl over to get it. My six month old son- and I swear I’m not making this up- then looked up at me with an expression that went somewhere beyond contempt, looked down at the mat and took hold of the edge before pulling it and his favourite toy toward him. Without moving an inch he then picked it up, examined it curiously and flipped me the bird. Actually maybe I imagined that. Or maybe he’s better at sign language than I thought.
Until next time.