Friday, November 27, 2009

Parent of the Year Award Part 1

Having a baby is scary. You have this fragile creature in your hands and you are so terrified that you’ll make some stupid mistake that will hurt him or worse. You try your best, but no matter what there will always be brief lapses of judgement, oversights or a combination of circumstances outside your control that will make you a nominee for parent of year award. Maybe some parents are so careful and so lucky that their babies grow up all the way to old age without a scratch. I am not one of those parents.
Just before Blake turned one month old, days before his second visit to our local paediatrician in Toronto, a red mark appeared on his left armpit. It looked red and nasty. Immediately we started panicking and wondering what might have caused it. What kind of stupid thing have we done to our tiny little baby? Was it from the one time I pulled him up from the front of his onesie? Did we leave some object in his bed? Theories were flying around and soon so were accusations. Oh God, the embarrassment facing the paediatrician with this injury. They were right all along: Gay people shouldn't be parents!
It turned out to be a perfectly normal birthmark that should disappear in a few years. Maybe Blake won’t be able to model sleeveless shirts any time soon, but that was all it was. We did nothing wrong after all.
The next scare, I’m afraid, was entirely my fault. Probably one of the dumbest things I have ever done in my entire life, and boy I have done dumb things. Even now, almost a year later, thinking about it gives me chills. It was December and Blake was only six months. We came back from a visit to friends out of the city and we just drove back and parked outside of our house. The dogs were in the very back of the car and I was sitting with Blake in the back seat. It was cold and drizzly outside and I had to take Blake out of car seat, put him in his little snuggly snowsuit and go home. Then again it was literally a twenty seconds walk. Should I really bother dressing him up and then undress him back inside for twenty seconds? Less if I walked faster. I suspect you see where this story is going.
Ignoring my husband’s request to dress my son up, I was very clever and simply took him out of the car and walked home fast. No, not walked. I think I actually dashed. Then happened something that has never happened to me in the six years I lived in that house in Finchley. I slipped. There were wet winters before, there was even ice and snow. But I never actually slipped and fell crashing into the ground. And this time I was moving fast and holding the dearest cargo in the entire world in my hands. The entire world shook and WHAM. There I was on my knees with a screaming baby in my hands.
I wobbled up to my feet mumbling “on no” again and again. Miron came out of the car and was entirely calm.
“What happened?” He said quietly. “Shall we go back into the car and drive to the hospital?”
Miron usually freaks out if a glass of juice spills on the carpet or if I forget to take the wet washing to hang and it get all wrinkly. So when he’s cool as ice I know he’s beyond freaking out. Complete and utter shock, you might say. There we were standing in the cold, dark and wet driveway outside our house completely helpless.
“He’s crying, I guess that’s good.” I was saying without convincing myself. I looked the screaming boy all over, especially his head. No bumps, no bruises, no bleeding. He looked fine.
Then I looked down and realized why. My nice trousers were torn at the knees and my knees were all bloodied. Falling down I grabbed Blake close to my chest and broke the fall with my knees. What I lacked in common sense I made up for with paternal instincts. 
We walked inside and I put Blake in front of Baby Einstein. He immediately calmed down and stared and the screen with wet eyes. I looked him all over very careful. He must have got a bit of a jolt and a scare, but he was fine. But what if I didn’t break the fall with my knees, what if… Too awful to even think about. That night we checked on him every thirty minutes or so. For the next week I had a difficult time climbing the steps and couldn’t go down on my knees to change diapers, instead having to get down and up in an awkward and uncomfortable manner. I totally deserved these little reminders of how stupid I was.
I was just lucky. Some parents pay the ultimate price for the tiniest mistake, the briefest lack of judgement. It was the dumbest mistake I have done as a parent, probably as a human being, but unfortunately not the last…
To Be Continued!  (Go to part 2)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I'll Get You The Moon and the Stars

Blake loves bath time. He also loves the bathroom in general. The door must be closed otherwise Blake will wander in and throw anything that's not nailed down into the bathtub. Or he might walk out sucking on some shampoo bottle before spilling it in my room. Or decide to run around with my shaving razor.

A couple of days ago we were having a very lovely bath-time. Papa (that would be me) and Blake in the bath and daddy was sitting outside. In the bath Blake likes to play with a set of three squeaky toys, purple octopus, green frog and blue whale. There's also a small squeaky pirate captain, among other floating bits. The highlight is a set of foam shapes that were a gift from a good friend who also designed the illustrations on them.

When wet you can stick them to the tiles and they'll stay attached fairly firmly. At first Blake's only interest in them was to stick them in his mouth and leave little bite marks on them. I'd stick them to the tiles and he'd watch with interest. Later he'd reach out and pluck them off the wall... And stick them in his mouth. As long as he wasn't biting me, I was content.

Then one day Blake decided to attempt sticking them on the tiles himself. The problem was that he had a finger between the sponge and the tile, so it never made full contact with the wall and fell to the water when he let go. Blake wasn't visibly disappointed or annoyed, he simply studied the results of his careful lab experiment. Eventually there were several successful attachments.

So two days ago as we were having our bath, I was inside with Blake helping him stick sponges to tiles. He then took the squeaky purple octopus and tried sticking it to the tiles. Needless to say, the big heavy lump of rubber dropped immediately.

'Oh, Blake. There's nothing I want more than for that piece of rubber to stick to the tiles, but it's not going to happen.'

'There are far more important things in the world than this toy sticking to the tiles.' Daddy said with a smile that was both forgiving and patronizing.

It was a somewhat silly statement on my part and it was certainly not true that wishing a rubber toy to stick to the wall was in fact what I wanted more than anything else. But then I looked at Blake as he attempted to stick to the wall another toy and I realized that I felt that way regardless of how pointless it was. It made me finally understand what it means to promise someone the moon and the stars. This unrealistic desire to fulfil a loved one's most impossible wishes.

Because at that moment the world ceased to exist for Blake. It was just him and his experiment. The only thing on his mind was whether the toy will stick to the wall or not. The toy falling into the water was surely a disappointment and a failed experiment, but a necessary part of growing up. For babies and toddlers pretty much any action they take is an experiment in which they learn basic physics and the world around them. Sometimes these experiments could be painful and sometimes just disappointing.

So seeing Blake fail at something, even if it's something as simple as sticking things on the wall, breaks my heart just a tiny little bit. I want him to have a magic touch and defy the law of physics to his own delight. I know it's not going to happen, but I still feel that way.

This utterly ridiculous anecdote is a good example to just how weird people get once they become parents. Or maybe it's just me... Apologies if you expected a funnier payoff to this anecdote like Blake maybe taking a dump in the bath or something.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Blake ver 1.5 Preview

Blake is going to be a year and a half in a week. Like all parents we think a lot about his development. Is he reaching his milestones on time? Ahead of time? Is he breaking records? Is he providing me with fantastic anecdotes that I can use to obliterate the self image of fellow parents and send them running and screaming back to their "What To Expect" books?

To be honest, I don't really care. I'm not researching on-line to see what Blake is supposed to be able to do week by week. I don't try to compare him to other babies at that age, including what I used to be like. There are mainly two reasons for that. For one thing I don't want to broadcast to him any anxiety. I don't want him to feel inadequate or slow. For the most part, though, it's simply the fact that I really don't care if my son is the strongest, tallest or smartest (he is the handsomest, though). I'll leave that second-hand achievement chasing to other parents. For me it's far more important that he'll be happy, healthy and a decent human being.

Mind you, I'll totally update my Facebook status to show off if he won a Noble Prize. He is more than welcome to become an Olympic gold medallist or create a pill that cures all forms of cancer overnight. Don't get me wrong, I don't want him to work night shifts at Tesco all the way to his pension, it's just that I prioritize other things above a successful career. I assume that part of being happy means doing something you like doing (or at least don't hate) and getting paid for that fairly.

With this chunky disclaimer out of the way, I can concentrate on little Blakey-Cakey at almost one and a half. What is he up to? How developed is he?

Well, he can't talk yet. Not properly. There's lots of ababababawapapa and making fart noises with his mouth. He also tried saying sunflower (which is really two words) as his first word a couple of months ago, but it came out more like safa. This pretty much sums up his speaking efforts for the moment. Oh, there was also the brief period where he enjoyed making a noise while sucking in air which was quite startling as you don't really expect a one year old to gasp. Repeatedly.

On the physical front he's doing very well. He's not walking as much as running. He always zooms about the place and always with a clear sense of purpose. Got to pop into the guest room, climb on the bed and peek outside through the window. Then through the kitchen to the wash-room where he needs to go check on the washing machine. Run to the living room and push his train and throw some balls around. Then must run back to the kitchen and splash the dog water all over the place, slip on the puddle he made and cry. Occasionally he'd climb the stairs to the first floor and close the baby gate after himself. He'd even sometimes stop halfway through and attempt to go down a stair or two by carefully finding his footing. I suppose he remembers the unplanned tumble down the stairs from a few months ago (a story for another time).

Blake spends most of his time conducting scientific experiments. He's very good with technology. He only needs to be shown once what each button does. Right now he knows how to turn the iPod in his room, play pre-recorded tunes on Daddy's electronic piano and his own toy piano. He knows what button turns on any of the phones and the fax. He even called the police too a couple of times and no, they didn't think it was cute. He manges to turn on alarms and disable playlists on the iPod, something that took me quite a while to figure out how to undo. His latest tech achievement was creating a custom chat room in World of Warcraft called 433fj1i019. Conquering the field of electronics isn't enough, though.

A budding physician Blake likes taking objects and test their rollability on the coffee table in his daddy's study. Balls and tube shaped objects roll quite well. A glass full of grapes juice rolls exceptionally well and makes a fine sticky mess on the white carpet underneath. Books and eyeglasses fail the rollability test, which makes them ideal test subjects for breakability. He found that standing by the child's gate on the top of the stairs he could throw pretty much anything down below through the gaps between the posts. If something happens to be too big to fit between the bars all that needs to be done is push the object up slowly and over the railing. The foot of the stairs now looks like a landfill with toys, clothes, discs, TV remotes, phones and whatnot. So far the only casualty was a plastic pig toy. All in the name of science.

Blake also loves flipping the pages of books. And eat them. He especially likes taking a book and placing it first on our bed or the coffee table and why wouldn't he? I sometimes try and sit with him to read the words for him, but he flips the pages a bit too fast and I can only manage to squeeze in the first few words.

This is just scraping the surface. There's so much else that he does and I'll need to probably follow up this post with another. This is just a taste of Life with Blake right now and I can tell you: the boy is delicious!


Friday, November 06, 2009

Where's the Mommy?

The first time I was asked "where's the mommy" was when we were still in Toronto. Blake must have been one or two months old. I was in HMV on one my of my excursions to the local shopping mall. There I was pushing the pram and browsing DVDs when a young man stopped me and asked me "where's him mom". His half shut eyes and slurry tone (not to mention the inappropriate question) made me assume he was mentally handicap in one way or another. Whatever it was, I felt no need to dive into the full story and just said "at home". Since then I rarely had that question asked whether I was with my husband or just me and Blake.

The next time it happened was already in London. Not quite sure how long ago, maybe around Blake's first birthday. I was at the local Thorntons stocking up on some chocolates when the nice lady behind the till asked me if it was mommy's day off. Again, not wishing to go into detail I just smiled and nodded instead of asking her if it was her brain's day off. That was it for a while.

The worrying thing is that this week I had two incidents in a row. Last week while shopping for a new wallet I let Blake down off my shoulders for a second and then had to chase him. "Are you babysitting today" asked the saleswoman at Tie Rack with a somewhat patronizing smile. The implication was obvious. There I was your typical father, like a fish out of water. Letting the mother take care of all the difficult day to day child rearing and then occasionally help out with the baby just to get some sort of pat of the back for a token contribution while realizing what a difficult job it actually is. "No, I take care of him all the time. He's my little buddy." I replied to her and added in my head "you presumptuous, sexist, nosey, little bitch."

And just today at Waitrose I was at the cashier. Blake was sitting in the shopping cart chewing on whatever was near enough to his mouth. "Is his mother at home?" She asked, God knows why. "He doesn't have a mother. It's just me and his father." I said briefly. I didn't quite want to go into detail with the whole story, but I was immediately aware that it wasn't phrased very well. The kind woman was resourceful enough to fill in the blanks. "Oh, he's very young for that. What a shame. Parents separated?" She was babbling with a disapproving sad face. "Are you shopping for the father?" Utterly perplexed, I just smiled and nodded.

I've decided that the next time someone asks me where's the mommy I'll just say "he doesn't have a mommy" in the saddest voice I could muster, maybe a tear or two, and leave it at that. Let them assume she died in a plane crash or was disowned by the family after being thrown into jail for dealing drugs to schoolchildren. What if I was a widower who just lost his wife? What if I was divorced and it was my turn with the kid? Why do these people think they can just ask anything that crosses their minds?

Better yet I can write a pamphlet with the following text in several different languages to hand over to nosey people who think my life is an open book for them to leaf through.

"Dear nosey person. I'm gay. I'm married to a man who's also gay. Our baby son may or may not be gay. We don't hate women, some of our best friends are women, we're just not into them that way. Thanks to a kind surrogate and the egg donation from one of our best friends we managed to bring our beautiful son into the world. His biological mother is part of his life and it's up to the two of them to establish what type of relationship they'll develop between them, but as it is my husband and I are our son's only legal parents. I hope this satisfies your utterly inappropriate curiosity, but if you're also going to ask us who's top and who's bottom I'm afraid I'll have to punch you in the face using my foot. Kind regards, Michael."