Paternity Leave 1993
|In 1993 I took paternity leave to look after Nicholas, our first child. Here is a selection of what I wrote to him each month.I want to thank Chris Welsh, the Headmaster at Northholm Grammar School at the time, for giving me this opportunity to spend time with Nicholas.|
|To February 22 1993 Waiting and Birth Family and friends Sleep and lack thereof||July to August 1993 Holiday to South Australia at six months feeding hygiene sleeping family and friends physical and mental growth television Avoca.|
|February to March 1993 Bulahdelah Going out with Nick Visit to the Paediatrician Soft breathing Mother’s group Sleeping First Swimming Carnival||August to September 1993 Great Grandma First Rugby League Game Nick’s health Time at home Nicks behaviour Daytrips First illness Visiting friends physical and mantal growth North Coast trip|
|March to April 1993 Mother’s Group The stress of it all First Sheffield Final Avoca||November to December 1993 Dreams and memories School functions My holidays|
|April to May 1993Baptism||December to January 1993-1994 Your experiences My experinces Experiences of others Future life skills Christmas The last week|
To February 22, 1993
Waiting and Birth
This is not solely about you Nick. This also concerns what we have experienced during this period of change. Our method of raising you has been trial and error in conjunction with discussions with a number of people. The books about children tell us different things. If we took everything as Gospel we would end up in the Jungian Institute as patients.
There is a distinct time frame shift between being pregnant and the actual waiting for the baby to be born. I could not identify the changeover but I remember the feeling of waiting. Jenny became more uncomfortable and had trouble getting into a good position to sleep. We became more and more house bound and friends tended to stay away. It felt like a ritual that near the birth we should be alone. Perhaps people thought we were meant to be alone or had to suffer in silence towards the end. Well I did not see it as suffering. I found it a period in which we consolidated our relationship and did some of the things that we have not done together for a while. Simply talking to each other was great.
During the ‘wait’ we did the things we have been putting off. People often asked if the nursery was ready. In the first week of the holidays a good friend of Jenny’s came over and took her shopping. I am really pleased that she did. Rose has two young children and is up to date with what to do. After clearing the Mastercard twice we had everything in a pile in a room with bits and pieces of furniture from three different houses. We had just moved in. At least I could say that we had a baby’s room with the right sort of gear. The matriarch of the family, your great Grandma, we allowed into the house on Christmas day and showed her ‘the room’. She said it was bad luck to do all this before the baby was born. You cannot win, can you? In fact we had actually delayed buying things and fixing things up because it was an acknowledgement that things were about to change. Also we wanted to make sure that everything would be all right with you Nick (although we did not talk about the latter reason).
I was fortunate enough to have been granted a year’s leave to look after you. This meant that the waiting was also part of a period of renewal in every sense of the word. I exercised more in this period. The highlight was training myself to get up in the morning. I thought it would be good practice. What I managed to do was to increase the number of hours that I slept in the day and I knew that I would not be able to do that once you were born. Fatigue won and I stopped. The rides were great. Besides the odd Christian on a bike at 6 00am who wanted a chat, I really enjoyed the peace and quiet of the normally busy roads and the bush of the National Park. I am now reluctant to go for a ride during the day because I know how good it is in the morning. A pity; I will have to overcome this.
In this period I felt that I was overweight. I know that I am not. The problem is that I feel that I am. It makes me appreciate what the people who have the slimming disease go through. Part of the problem was the Christmas cheer and the weight that I have put on since I was in hospital. Yes, maybe I was underweight for a number of years. Well, I do not believe that I was. Exercising every day was not on because I was getting too tired, I was eating heaps and was not burning it off because I was waiting. I made a conscious decision to run every second day for a longer period so that the excess weight would burn off. This has worked to date. The runs were during the night, something I have not done much before as Bowral was too cold and the street lights were not the best on Old South Road. These runs before midnight were good. I did not feel guilty about missing exercise while Jenny was at school. Besides I am a night person anyway.
This has also been a period of reading. I started off reading Lila; a book about morals. It took a while and it was very good. Another book compared Christianity and the New Age. It was one of the best I have read. I do not like the label New Age but I have to accept the fact that part of me is a New Ager. I have been one for a number of years and I did not realise it. In fact I have often denied it. I had a go at Sartre again but could not get into it. Perhaps the best environment for this sort of reading is at school on the grass during lunch time. It has worked before. Then there was No Ordinary Moments by an author I have been following for six years. I think I have gone as far as I can with Dan Millman. I read Black Belt by my sister, Nicole, and was thoroughly engaged. One day her books will be read by school children. The biography of Jung was fascinating and started me analysing my dreams more carefully. On the mornings that I can remember, I write them down and then analyse them. What is normal behaviour? I have often thought and have been told that those in the institutions are more normal than us. Some of the students I teach I have to consider in the same light. Perhaps the problems we experience have more to do with teachers than we are prepared to admit. I have a whole pile of political biographies which I will read in the near future but I tend to read them more when I am actually working at school. There must be something in this. I have also wanted to read some good books on American Indian spirituality. I have tried the aboriginal literature and have found little of interest and quality except for My Place and Songlines which I read a number of years ago. I also made a conscious effort not to buy a male based book; I wanted the female perspective. Lakota Woman was perfect as it is both spiritual and about an Indian movement.
Even though we did not know the gender of you Nick we spent some considerable time researching the issue of circumcision. The system is geared for it not to be done. Some hospitals and doctors just refuse to do it. Some social workers claim it is a form of child brutality. I did not have trouble asking people if they were circumcised or whether they had their children done. By far the majority of people were against it, some more passionately than others. Mind you, some people were a bit restrained so as not to influence our decision. The few who did not mind circumcision did not want the child to be different from his Dad or had nursed, seen, smelt or heard about dirty young and old men. In an era where the majority of males are left intact, so to speak, those who are circumcised now would be the odd ones out. This is not really an argument because in the last few weeks I have met a few uncircumcised men, who, in my generation, are in the numerical minority. Many of them do not appear to have complexes. I guess the key thing is education. I remember when I was young Mum always told me when I showered to start with cleaning my penis. If you are hygienic there should be no problems.
Most people having children have a wait with an unknown element in it. Jenny had a planned Caesarean Section so we pretty well knew the time of birth. We went to the hospital in the morning and I had a sleep on the bed and after Jenny was prepared she did some school work. I was told that I would have you in my hands within ten to fifteen minutes. After half an hour in a reception room next to a man who was obviously worried about an operation I assume his wife was having, I had heard nothing. A doctor came in and claimed, just like in the movies, that the operation was successful and the man next to me was noticeably relieved and he left the room. I waited. In what I guess was the operating theatre’s administration room I heard a phone call being made inquiring as to the location of Dr Henderson, Jenny’s doctor. They did not tell me there was a delay but at least I knew that there was a non-medical reason for the wait. As I sat in this empty room I was trying to guess when you came out and every time the door opened I expected it to be the midwife with you. It did not happen as I expected. Some one called for Mr Plüss (not Plus) from outside and when I opened the door you were there. A lady whom I did not know came to have a look. Then Sue, the midwife, took me to the Delivery Suite.
We weighed you and went into Room 36. Your feet were around your head because you were a frank breech. Fortunately Sue warned me so I would not be shocked. No one would tell me how Jenny was. I should not have asked anyway because I knew I would not get an answer as protocol dictated that only the doctor could tell me. This Friday night thirteen babies were to be born, so they were understandably busy. I made a great number of phone calls because we were left alone for quite a while. The doctor came in and said that every thing was fine and I thanked him for looking after Jenny and added that Jenny had felt very comfortable with him and that had been important to her. This was the first that I met him.
People were on the way to the hospital before you were born because we knew the time of birth. I was in the nursery watching your first bath and the initial tests that they do on new born when Paul, my brother, walked in. In the meantime Julie Pascoe was walking behind a patient on a trolley who was asking the people who was pushing her “what did I have?” In true medical form they could not read the doctor’s writing. I wheeled you to Room 10 as four people were getting Jenny into the bed. This was when Jenny met you. There was a definite maternal drive and bonding in operation. Males will never experience this but it is very clear to see. It was less than two hours after he was born. Family started arriving with a golf magazine to direct you into the best income based sport, a video and a camera without film.
Jenny had a machine for the self administration of pain relief. Paul, my brother, made the point that she could not give herself too much and to keep pressing if she was in pain. There were seventy one pushes in the first hour; the sister was horrified. I had to explain that we were pressing it like a toy to make sure Jenny was getting enough. It was set up for one squirt every five minutes. Her total only went up to the early eighties by the next afternoon. She was remarkably coherent but there are things about the evening that she does not remember when we talk about it now. Nick you were held by everyone and were awake the whole time. The excitement made it impossible for you to have your first feed. The staff gave you a bottle at midnight soon after I went home.
The waiting was over and Jenny spent six days in the “San”. I enjoyed five guest meals and seemed to be the only father who was there for about eight hours a day. The politics of a hospital are not dissimilar to a school. How? I will leave you to decide. The midwives and the doctors have an interesting relationship as the sisters want to deliver the babies and it is hospital policy that the doctors do it. If a midwife delivers a baby in an emergency situation they will get a rap over the knuckles because they did not ring the doctor on time. Just remember I mainly spoke to the sisters so I did not get the other side of the story. From what I saw and experienced the doctors were very good.
The time was quite spiritual for me. There is a Chapel in the foyer of the hospital. I noticed it about six months earlier and made sure that I looked at the bible on the outside each time I was there. I wondered if they left them on certain pages each day. Then I was interested about how they would pick the pages. On the first night and perhaps even the second I just walked out. On the third I felt like kneeling down and saying a few ritualised prayers that I remember: an Our father, a Hail Mary and a “Oh my God I am very sorry that I have sinned against you…” prayer. That must have been from Confession before it became Reconciliation. I just walked out because there were people in the foyer and I did not feel comfortable. The next two nights I did call in because there was no one there and on the last night I went in even though there were people there. It was amazing what repetition does; each time it felt easier. I could not write in my Pub Book and this was the other source of my spiritual development. This book I started many years ago in Bowral to record my own ideas. There was just too much going on in my mind for me to record my thoughts and feelings after your birth.
Family and Friends
The support that we received from so many people was overwhelming. On one night there were fourteen people outside the door as we were waiting for a feeding session to stop. Bullet, a friend of mine from school days, joked that we all should take a ticket and wait to be called up. We suggested a few people come at different times just to ease the load at visiting time. This was achieved but it did not give Jenny a break and this made her quite tired. Our family has been thrilled with you Nick as you made everyone uncles, aunts and grandparents for the first time. We often think of Neville and Helen who were your Mum’s parents. Unfortunately they were not alive when you were born. I know they are watching on and are just as pleased. To all our friends and family a word of appreciation is as good as many. Thanks.
I have been viewing time from a different perspective. After you were born I started to lose track of time. Not so much the time of day but the day itself. Combined with this my mind wandered more than it usually did; it is as if the discipline of thinking needed to be practised. A different sort of temporal routine developed. We started to feed on your time pattern but we changed that when we thought you were sleeping too long and we thought you may dehydrate in the heat. The other night we let you sleep from 6 00pm to 2 00am. Consequently, Jenny was awake into the early hours of the next morning. After a while you fed mostly to suit our time schedule and our demand. Learning to sleep in three to four hour time allotments was not that difficult, especially with both of us at home. We were only home together with you for six weeks; fortunately this was longer than most parents get.
February to March 1993
I am at Bulahdelah and relaxing. I have been reading a book about writing. The key thing is to just do it, do not think about it and keep it up. Relate it to running, Martin. I came here with all sorts of work and reading to do: videos to watch and the Los Angeles research to do. I have not touched on either and I am not worried about it. I like the lifestyle; being someone in a small community. You talk to people in the shops and you actually make a effort to converse with people. I do this with limited effect in Sydney.
I want to take a photo or two of around Rose’s place and try to draw the scenery for them. Don’t be silly, you want to do it for yourself and yet make the product useful for someone else. A fixed image in time is the way to go.
Amanda is Rodney and Rose’s first daughter who really adores her Godmother, Jenny. When we arrived she said hello and walked straight past me, along the concrete verandah soon to be tiled and went looking for Jenny and Nick. Rodney and Rose spoke in the car for a while and then I said hello. Catherine was in the back seat smiling and controlling everyone.
A second child is something to consider carefully. At the moment we are in a house with three children under three. It makes me wonder how my parents dealt with three under four and four under eight. There are things to do, feeding and sleeping going on all the time. There appears to be no order. Somehow I think there is meant to be chaos. Just do what you have to do in the short or long time that you have got and then get down to the basics of nappies, feeding, sleeping and controlled crying.
I am trying to foreshadow what it will be like when Jenny is back at school. You do not have much freedom and movement with a child anyway. I will have less when school starts as Nick and I will have to be around when Jenny has to relieve the pressure in her breasts at around 4 00pm. I could always ring the green grocer and get some cabbages sent to the school.
I have this lovely view in front of me and I can hear the animals, or more precisely, the insects. I do not have the knowledge to know what they are but I would guess crickets. I am sitting at an oval pine table looking out the right hand door which is divided into glass partitions. A curtain is pulled, covering the left hand door. There is a sliding screen door with a latch on the inside. There is a door without a handle but it has a lock with keys in it. Outside the door is concrete above which is a wrought iron bullnosed verandah. This is supported by a wooden post resting on a metal stand embedded in the concrete. Beyond this is about fifteen metres of mown lawn and then longer lawn/pasture down the slope. Here I am looking into a valley with a few scattered trees lining a creek which surrounds the house. There is a spur coming down from the right to the creek. On the other side of the creek is a cleared slope to the treeline which in turn merges with the skyline.
Good to be home. The changes in routine have not helped Nicholas. We went to Mum and Dad’s for tea. Kirsty and Di (ex-Northholm students and friends) looked after Paddles – the cat. They were most appreciative of the chance to have some peace and quiet without being hassled by their parents. We were able to go away without worrying about Paddles.
Going out with Nick
It is 11:30am. I went shopping for the first time by myself with Nick. When Jenny and I went together no one looked. Now I feel like I am running for the election. All eyes were on me, scrutinising everything that I did. It was like Moses parting the Red Sea. People were extra careful with their trolleys. Many looked and did not say anything. One elderly lady went for the jugular and asked if I was looking after the child. The butcher, instead, asked me if I had the day off and he had no answer when I told him what was really happening. The middle aged women asked how old you were? I think they knew what I was about and said nothing else.
I was tired today as I mowed the lawns and poisoned the edges. I tried to have a sleep and the phone kept ringing. I cooked a meal which I did not think that we would finish. It had sliced potatoes with cheese and milk baked in the oven and a prepackaged quiche. I am now letting the food settle before I go for a run. I have not been for a run since Saturday, now it is Thursday. Two nights up the coast prevented the continuation of the routine. It was a conscious decision not to run then as I was feeling tired and disillusioned at the slow pace at which I had been running.
We are going to a friends place this Saturday night and I am looking forward to it. I am worried about what Nick will be like. I have to take him more in my stride. The idea of programming his behaviour is against my beliefs, but I do not want him to cry. The problem is with me not him.
We have got a nice family from our parents, brothers and sister down to the cat and I am not biased. Paddles caught a mouse today and basically terrorised her. Now she is on the kitchen table sitting on the book I want to read. It is uncanny how she knows exactly where to go to be the centre of attention. Do they wish to be at the centre?
I made a mistake in the first Monthly Record. Nick has become more and more the centre of our life. The first Record was mainly about me and us. In one sense life has not changed except that what I say and do now is closely related to the impact Nick has had.
Nick woke up straight after Jenny left for school. It is now 11:00am. I went shopping with him and a sixty eight year old lady helped me load my shopping. I did not feel comfortable with this.
Visit to the Paediatrician
I talked to the receptionist in Dr Gett’s office. We discussed my experience at the shops and Moses opening the Red Sea. I explained how I did not like a sixty eight year old lady helping me with my groceries just because I was a male with a child. It was wrong. Also, there was a feeling among the more recent mothers with teenagers that I do not know what I am doing. In most cases I do not. One who was sitting down having a coffee touched his feet and claimed that they were cold and they were. The tone declared that I could not look after him. I hold his feet in the supermarket because it is cold in there and that was where I was coming from when I spoke to the lady.
The receptionist spoke of Re-Inventing the Future and in particular how more men are earning more money and are inflexible about doing things like I am doing. She also talked about how it would help father son bonds. What about the daughters? I thought to myself. I never had a problem with my Dad and he works but I guess there are a few who do have problems. I explained the difficulty of delaying feeds while we waited for Jenny to get home from work. She mentioned how when mothers die in New Guinea the babies are put to the grandmothers and within a manner of months they are breast feeding the children. I will have to ask Gordon when he comes back from Indonesia. I wonder how he is going.
Last night Nick would not settle and Jenny nursed him to sleep. Later she was wondering if he was breathing. She kept on pushing him and he would not respond, so I got up and gave him a few good pushes. We could not hear him breathe but that would not necessarily mean that he was not. Then I heard a few little breaths. We felt better but were still worried that he would slip back; if in fact he was not breathing. So we well and truly woke him up. So I spent the next hour or so letting him cry (it was nice to hear) and then got him to sleep.
Nick has been unsettled today. He had 240 ml of S-26 within an hour and a half and still only slept for a short period. I have been playing with him. There seems there is only so much that he can do by waving his hands and feet around. People say that they grow up quickly. I think he wants to get there. Well he is now asleep in the bouncer. Once again he has made a fibber of me.
I rang Nicole and explained how I could not go to South Australia in Easter. I did not think it all through. I could take Nick and the breast milk would run out with Jenny back in Sydney. We all could not go due to the cots, capsules and not to mention the car we would need there if we flew. Jenny would be too tired as it is only a two week break to go and drive. We will try to visit in June.
It is very hard to hold off a feed for Nick when I have to go to school for Jenny. When I got there everyone, as I expected, was too busy to have a chat. This left me feeling down as I was ready for some chats and company. I should remember that I do not have time when I am at school. When I go back to school I must make time for others.
After school I went to the clinic for classes with new mothers. Nick cried all the time in the beginning, so I looked like a dad who could not cope. All the children had dummies in their mouths. I was asked how I now appreciate women. Put on the back foot I said it was a loaded question given the context in which it was asked. I have always been appreciative and that was why I was in the class and at home, was my reply. I should not have felt on the defensive. When it became less formal we had some good chats. I identified with a few of them, so the future sessions should be good. I described how people react to me in the shops and one suggested that I put an L-Plate on the stroller.
I feel depressed. I guess it is from feeling tired from the busy day yesterday and the anxiety that resulted from the delayed feeding of Nick. He was really quite distressed and this took a lot out of me. Chill out Martin.
People speak about growth spurts which make children unsettled. Nick has been unsettled since the night that we thought he stopped breathing. Maybe he is now scared of going to sleep himself. I hope he does not have another scare like that again.
He can really sense when I am upset with him. We just give off bad vibes which say I am tired and I want you to go to sleep now. He knows this and he will just do the opposite: not out of spite but because there is something wrong. You tense up and he will tense up.
I am still deciding how long Nick will spend in the bedroom with us. Some people have their child with them so the husband can go to sleep at night. I am the only male in the mothers’ group. Others keep them separate as a matter of policy. We said that he could be with us until Jenny went back to school. There has been two weeks of school and he is still with us. I do not mind Nick with us but I am worried about the time when he has to go to his own room. Would it be hard for us then if we delay too long?
I tried to get into the supermarket with a stroller which has no top. It has come from England. I pushed through the section where the trolleys go. The big plastic sheets came down and were about to hit Nick. Next time I will carry him in the pouch.
It is 12:53am. This time last year I was just home after a week in hospital. I finally got Nick to sleep. At the end of Lateline I was going to feed him again. He stopped crying before the end of the show. Why am I up? I was feeling a bit sick in the stomach, unless I am careful I will get sick again and I do not want that to happen. I have to keep it all in perspective. Who cares who wins the election. I really do not believe that I just wrote that. As long as Nick is all right he can cry himself to sleep as much as he likes. If Jenny can sleep through it so can I. She really is great because she helps me keep everything in perspective. She can often see when I am on the verge of one of those attacks again. Not so long ago she would not have been able to pick it up until it was too late. I would have cried, ranted, raved, achieved nothing and upset both Jenny and Nick.
I feel better and the only thing that has changed is that Nick is asleep and I feel wide awake. I could have sworn that five hours ago I was hoping to sleep and Nick was wide awake. The change in mood is definitely psychological and who has that problem? You, Martin. Take a leaf out of Jenny’s book, keep it in perspective and block it out till it becomes crucial. I know if I was in a more rational state of mind I would disagree with blocking things out. Oh what the heck just Zen it Martin.
It is 10:56am. Nick slept through to 6:00am. A minor victory and a step to getting Nick back into some kind of routine. I fed him 120mls this morning and he became irritable and wanted more after a little nap. Di was here and a friend from her nursing course, Allison. They did not like Nick crying, so Di fed him. It made the difference. I am going to increase the volume of milk. I am not sure he is getting enough from Jenny, partly because he feeds less and sleeps at night. So he tends to want more during the day.
It is 10:34pm. Tonight between five and six kilometres of a ten kilometre run I looked to the left in the yard of a house that had that unkept appearance. Once loved but unmanageable. As I ran by a lady was kneeling down, as if she was weeding, and waving her hand towards me. I kept running. There is nothing more annoying when running to be stopped by someone. Your rhythm gets wrecked and it usually does not get replaced; rarely do you make up the lost time. I could have pretended I did not see her; unlike when a car pulls up next to me while running and the driver asks you for directions when in fact I am lost. I relented and went back thinking something was wrong. Then I started thinking that she could have been in real trouble and then how long would I be delayed. I jumped the fence and went over to her. I was in a large front yard with the house set well back and it was in an unpainted state. The garden was overgrown and once would have been in a good condition. I walked past a small bucket with water and fruit peelings in it; she had obviously fallen down. I could see her walking stick underneath her. She was quite cheerful as she thanked me for stopping and with some hesitation she implied that she could have got quite cold. I wondered how long she had been there and how much longer if I did not stopped. It was difficult getting her up; I was trying to be careful as she had a bad hip. She thanked me and walked to the front part of the garden. I jumped over the fence and continued to run. By this stage she had turned on the hose and was watering something. Life goes on. I wondered whether she should be in a nursing home or not, what her family did to help her and how often they visited. It was all over in a minute. She has probably left the whole incident behind and I am still carrying it with me.
It is 11:32am. The old lady is still there. As the situation was not threatening I stopped. .
I do not know how they did it. Labor won.
It is 2:00am. I have come home very late; Jenny was worried. I had an excellent night with Matt and Pam, with whom I taught at Oxley College. We analysed everything and everyone. They suggested that my doing and thinking about things are related to being in control and in power. We examined a few dreams and saw how the characters in our dreams can be extensions of ourselves. This makes for some interesting interpretations of some of my dreams.
On the power issue there is just something missing; it is as if I will not take the final step. Sometimes to achieve and to stay in power you may do and say some unethical and unprincipled things. Is compromise a necessity of power? I do not fully agree with their interpretation of my drive for power. I see it more as wanting recognition and limelight, not by me seeking it but by people noticing that I have qualities that are useful. This may come down to a question of self esteem. When I think back to 1986 there were no confidence problems, in fact I thought I could do anything and did not really care about anyone else. I learned a lot about myself and the parts of me I sometimes do not like or are not deemed desirable qualities. The shadow of my existence.
To borrow an idea from Pam. In the lead up to the election she suggested that she could not get any business done, as people were totally distracted by the election. People on the expressway in the last week were racing around quite intemperate to say the least. Something happened in the collective subconscious for the election to go the way it did; not even the Labor Party thought they could win.
There are periods when I write, read or do and I have been trying to work out the reasons for when each takes place. At the moment I am throwing things out and tidying the garden, but I still have to sandpaper the window and the door frames and paint the hardwood.
It is 11:45pm. I went to the Hills District Swimming Carnival. It was really a positive experience, partly because I did not have a job, I could talk to parents and still look after Nick. This capped off an interesting day. I was in the shower this morning and Mum was knocking on the door of the bathroom. She looked after Nick, did the garden and I mowed the lawns, went for a run and did some shopping. Later, after Mum was gone, we decided to have quiche and salad for tea as we were rushed for time. I wanted to go to the swimming carnival to give Jenny a night at home; to do some of the work she needs to do. She ended up going out to another school function. She is now doing Ilex work and I am writing this till I can get back onto the computer to finish typing this. Anyway the meal was ready and once finished I jumped into the car wondering if I had enough warm clothes for Nick. When I got there the weather settled a little and I felt more comfortable. Once in there, it really was a positive experience. The parents were very good to speak to and considering there were not many staff present, the students were well behaved.
School today was excellent. Nick was good before and during the visit. He handled the wait for Jenny quite well and this meant that I was much more relaxed. This combined with a good night at the swimming carnival made the difference to my state of mind.
March 22nd to April 22nd
A lot of things have happened in the last month such as you catching your first cold off me, our first holiday together at Avoca, the coming home of Gordon, the cessation of my running for almost four weeks after a half marathon which I ran thirty minutes slower than my best time, my Mother’s Club meetings, the winning of the Sheffield Shield, the reading of a number of good books and the completion of the Los Angeles article.
The St Ives Early Childhood Centre Sessions have been an interesting experience. When I walked in for the first time I was worried that my presence would make the women present feel threatened. Heidi commented, as I entered, something positive about how I was looking after you Nick. H… was a lady who seemed to have everything under control. By her appearance I got the feeling that she was rather herbal. I was to meet her again a few months later at a friend’s wedding. Her comments made me feel good and I settled in at once. I was soon to learn that, like all of us, she had her share of problems with child raising. She arrived at week five, after a week’s absence, by herself, without her child because he was being too difficult. I took this to mean that she could not cope with her child crying in public at our group therapy sessions.
Almost every week before these sessions you and I had been at school so that Jenny could feed you. On every occasion at school you were very well behaved and did not cry at all despite being passed around numerous staff members. By the time we reached St Ives I was invariably running late so I would have to get you out of the car quickly and set up the stroller, which meant that I had woken you once again. As I would walk up the ramp shading your face with my hand, you would start to become unsettled. I felt sometimes when I walked in that the other mothers had slipped something into their children’s milk. I wondered how they could do that while they were breast feeding. There was a row of perfectly quiet babies with dummies in their mouths with their mothers drinking tea and eating cake when I walked in with an unsettled Nicholas. Usually I would sit near the door so that when you became too unsettled (when your crying prevented the others and me from hearing the conversation) I could stand outside the door and settle you as I did not want to use a dummy.
As the weeks went by there would be a hard core of people who would be there all the time and the others who came on a needs basis. Some, I guess, thought the sessions were not worthwhile and others had spent some time with the Tresillian nurses to developed a routine for their child. I had a cold and missed one session because I did not want to infect the others. I believe that I got the cold from running too much late at night. (I eventually gave this cold to you Nick.) In that week the class was run by a social worker who wanted to discuss what it was like to be a parent. It would have been interesting to be at, as they talked about giving up one job and taking up another. I have a feeling that my ears should have been burning while I was lying in bed at home. They were all saying how supportive their husbands were. I guess there are different degrees of support.
The first meeting was based on discussions about the the birth. Of the nine people at this first meeting five had births which H…, the Nursing Sister in charge of the group, said were normal. Two were traverse breeches, one born naturally and the other caesarean, two were early and difficult and one was a caesarean frank breech. That is when I spoke about my birth experience. I had not experienced a birth as such and neither had Jenny, so I spoke about what it was like to be a support person.
There was a child called M… who had an operation for a hernia soon after he was born. His mother (whose name I can’t recollect) was skinny and for some reason was bottle feeding him. Something must have gone wrong with her milk. He was in pain and was crying. The unfortunate thing was that the crying made the pain even worse and could have in fact done some more damage. She liked to talk yet did not come across as a know it all; I like her and we got on quite well. She was one of five children and married to a Jewish man. When I commented that he was circumcised (while she was changing his nappy) she seemed to justify the decision because of her husband even though it was not done for religious reasons.
B… was the child of another likable mother (her name was the same as M… mother) who had just moved into the area from Queensland. She was a nurse who now works for a pharmaceutical company, the one that makes panadols. She was the one who asked me about my feelings concerning what women have to go through to have a child. I don’t know much about B… except that she lets him sleep on his stomach during the day downstairs so that she does not have to run up and down the stairs all the time. She was envious of the strength of your neck muscles. I have tried to have you on your stomach for a while each day so as to strengthen up your neck. I believe that the fear of cot death and putting babies to sleep on their sides at night is preventing them from spending enough time on their stomach. She was very open, positive, direct in her discussion and she was nice looking. She appeared to look different each week in the clothes she wore and the way she had done her hair and yet she looked natural.
R… mother, Allison, whose name I do remember, was born in and recently arrived from England. She was a language teacher who played golf all the way through her pregnancy and found that when she played again after the birth that her swing was out because she had spent a number of months slowly adjusting her swing to her expanding stomach. She spoke very little and yet I have found her the most interesting. Rory was always in the pouch, of course with the dummy, and well behaved. They looked very comfortable and the vibes were always positive. When she came late she would apologise for being late.
The second session was with a paediatrician. When I walked in I took her for another mother. I made a judgment here; I was not expecting a female doctor. She seemed to be taken by my presence or it might have been that you were crying again. You were so unsettled that I had to go outside and I did not learn what to do if and when you had a temperature fit. She just looked and never really said anything. This was one of the most informative sessions. It was like one of those lectures that I wanted to be in and wanted to get as much information as possible. One thing became clear: there are common guidelines but rarely are there definitive answers. The nurse preferred dummies but the doctor thought it was good if you could get by without them. I find this dummy debate difficult and interesting. The styles of presentation by the nurse and the doctor were similar. You can do, within reason, what you like as long as it works for you and your child.
There was an Indian lady with a premature baby at this session. Her husband would bring her and the car capsule and then leave. Her child was tiny and she seemed to be having trouble. She was speaking to the doctor about the baby’s stools and the trouble she was having with expressing milk. Soon after the other mothers started talking about the best ways to express, how much they got in each session, the places where they expressed and the different methods they used. I contributed to the discussion with an inquiring question about the volume of milk that they were able to get and how long it took to get. I wondered what they did while they were expressing. Was there time to do anything else? I had these thoughts because it was new ground for me, as Jenny is not interested in expressing milk.
The next key session was about children and their sleep patterns. Here all the problems people were having were coming out of the woodwork. No longer were there facades that everything was all right. Things could not have been as perfect as many of the mothers and myself were making out. The interesting thing about the lady who took this session was that she saw herself as a psychologist and, I suspect, a feminist. Every time that she raised an issue she made sure that her language took into account my gender, whereas nurse just lumped me in with the mothers when she talked about things. Being lumped in with the mothers during the conversation was easier than making sure that I was referred to because I happened to be a male in the group. At times the message the sleep therapist was trying to get across got confused because she was too concerned about how to address me.
I felt that there was a hidden agenda. If I was not there other issues which would have perhaps bagged out males, would have been discussed. On one occasion a point was being made that the fathers come home on the weekend and undid the routine that mum was trying to establish. On this point the session leader brought me into the conversation by trying to extract from me a statement to the effect that the men, because of their work and other commitments, could perhaps be accused of doing this. I described how the unwanted learning during the weekend could be undone during the week. I found myself using gender aspecfic language. This session was one of the most interesting as the group dynamics had changed because the session leader was uncomfortable.
Each week while I was there, as I did not have to rush off, I went to the sink to wash the dishes and the coffee and tea cups. I have often done this sort of thing at school functions and even at home. It was no big deal, it had to be done and it gave me a chance to move around the room to talk to different people without appearing to be in the way. I did this on three occasions out of the five and a big deal was made out of it by the lady who ran the sleeping session. It was as if she had never seen a male at a kitchen sink at all. I found this quite amusing. So of course I did them again in the next session on safety.
The numbers had really declined by this last session on safety. I brought the cake for this session, as I thought I would carry my weight. No one really commented on who brought what in the previous weeks but this week it was made clear, not by me, who brought the cake. This was the first session where I had not been to school before hand. There was no staff meeting for Jenny to go to and she would be home earlier. You slept all the time after I fed you and later I let you play for a while. The mothers present were mainly the ones whom I mentioned earlier. Since there was more space and I was confident that you would be all right, I placed you on the floor for a kick before I placed you in the stroller. The mothers were stunned at how strong your neck muscles were. After a while there were two or three babies on the ground and all the formality of the earlier sessions had broken down. After we watched a most informative video, Helen was trying to get us to organise to meet again. Some of the mothers had already developed friendships and had seen each other at different homes. I had to make my way home, as Jenny would be earlier than usual for a Thursday. They asked me to join them the following week but I could not because I was up here at Avoca. I look forward to when I see a few of them again. I never did see them as a group again. I left after I did the dishes.
The stress of it all
On a trip to visit Gordon I was at a garage getting petrol and I thought I would put air in the tyres of the car because every time I went up the steep driveway at our place the car bottomed out. As I was driving over to the pressure hose a Gemini pulled in ahead of me to put air in the tyres. A man, probably in his fifties with a grey beard started to put air in his tyres. He appeared to be having trouble but I did not want to get out of the car to help him partly because you were crying in the back with a cold and because I did not want the man to think that I was trying to rush him. I had the car still running to try and sooth you and I picked up the paper to read about the Sheffield Shield Final which I had spent the previous three days at, one of which was with you. I noticed that there was a child seat in the car and thought he must have been helping someone out. He was getting agitated and kept looking at me. He came over and said that he would be a while and that I should go somewhere else. I thought about it and decided that if I left I would just keep driving to Gordon’s place and probably get a flat on the freeway due to low tyre pressure. He did not give me a chance to reply so I left it at that and kept on reading the paper. I also got out of the car to see if you were all right as you were still rather unsettled in the back.
After a few more minutes the man was getting really flustered and I sensed that he thought I was trying to hurry him. I got this impression after he felt the front of my car to see if the engine was running. He came over again and started to complain, with some swearing, that in his day the younger generation would help an old geriatric like himself who was having trouble. I completely lost the plot. I jumped out of the car swearing and telling him to put his head in the car. He would not because he thought I would hit him. I pointed to you and said that was why I was not helping him; I was too upset to explain that I did not want to appear to rush him by giving assistance. It was a real tirade that I heaped on him with a teary sort of voice and plenty of swearing. He came back shocked when I jumped back into the car, explaining that it was his daughter’s car who always let her tyres run down. He put air into the spare tyre and drove off. Within minutes I realised what had happened and could not understand what made me snap. I must have been highly strung. I hope I see him again so I can say sorry. When I reached Gordon’s place I was quite distracted and I don’t think I was settled by the time I got home.
First Sheffield Shield Final
In this period we also went to a few of the days of the Sheffield Shield Final. Philip, who was Captain of the NSW’s cricket side and Mum’s brother, got us into the Members’ Pavilion, but we could not walk around as Jenny was not suitably dressed. She was wearing the same clothes as she had the day before when she was allowed in by herself. I placed the stroller right near the section where the players walked to and from the oval. It was very windy and I was worried how I could keep you warm. After a while I saw Patsie and while she was talking to Jenny I went for a walk to see if there were any pictures of Neville (your deceased Grandfather was a Wallaby) or the teams he played in.
I came back the next day to see the last few overs before NSW won the Shield. I just walked into the Members’ Pavilion and sat down at the other end of the row I was in the day before. There were too many members of the press in my previous position. NSW needed about fifty runs, Nicholas, you were hungry and the sun provided little warmth from the chilly wind. As I was sitting down a lady came to look at you. She was in her post fifties and turned out to be a cricket groupie who travelled around the world to watch the cricket. Her husband drew the line with South Africa and would not let her go there. She was very friendly and promptly picked up the blanket which I had and placed it around you claiming that you were cold and I should rug you up. The Members’ Pavilion is not made for the movement of babies as there are stairs everywhere. In fact, the stairs are so steep that I wondered how the elderly got around. I said to the groupie that if I needed to go to the toilet I would get her to look after you.
I sat down, as the cricket had started and I decided to feed you. Cold milk on a cool day was not the best but it was all I could do. While feeding I turned around a few times to see if I could catch Philip’s eye. He was understandably too busy. I had been to the cricket a few times and Philip did not know that I was there. Jenny often said it would be good to let him know when we were present because he would like the support, especially since Neville and Helen were not around. Once when I turned I saw a friend of Philip’s, Gary and I waved to him. He made his way down to say hello but before he made it the groupie had arrived and thought that I was waving to her. So I was in a rather difficult situation. I said hello to Gary when he arrived and she went back to her seat.
Michael Slater got caught at third man by Carl Rackeman as he tried to hit the winning runs, so Michael Bevan had the honour of hitting the ball for victory. After the presentations all the players disappeared into the male bastion called the dressing room. Sitting outside there were girlfriends, mothers, wives, you and myself. I found it surprising that the players took a while to come out to be with their key supporters. The members of the press were hanging around the place waiting for interviews with Mike Whitney, Wayne Holdsworth and Philip. After one of the interviews Philip came down to us and I asked him for a favour. He was really quite excited at winning and willingly obliged my request. Before I knew it I was standing in the middle of the Sydney Cricket Ground looking at all the stands and thinking of all the people who had stepped in the same area. Neville, Philip and you made it three generations of one family who had been on the oval.
We spent the last two weeks of your third month at Avoca. The Avoca house was not really child proof. The stairs were supported by a few posts and a rail with nothing in between; a sizable area for a child to fall through and hurt themselves. I was worried about John and Lily’s daughter and the stairs but she was very good and there were no problems. The railing on the balcony out the back was not very stable and even adults could hurts themselves by leaning and falling through or over, as Philip has done. When Hugh’s Ben arrived I had to push the lounge chairs back, got a single mattress and the frame of a fold up bed to block the descent to the ground floor. I arranged for a builder to fix everything.
Avoca provided a much needed rest for Jenny and it gave me a break from a few of the things which I had to do when I was at home during the term. In the Easter break it became obvious that Jenny had the harder side of the deal. Not only did she have to go to work, she also had to get up during the night to feed you. She did this willingly. I felt guilty a few times in the morning when you went straight back to bed and I decided to do the same as well. Actually, Jenny got the raw end of the break as well. She did most of the things I did during the term as well as school work. Jenny jokingly said she would be glad to get back to work because there would at least be breakfast and lunch that she would not have to get me!
During the first three days Philip and Patsie were with us. It was good to see them. They were rarely in the house; they always had to go out some where, they did not want to just sit down and rest. While they were staying in the house we found it difficult to sleep, as we were worried that you would wake them during the night. After they left we got into more of a routine and you were used to your new room. I went for a walk with Gordon to Lobster Beach while Jenny looked after you. J.B., Lily and their daughter stayed for twenty five hours. I know the hours because John said that he felt so relaxed for such a short period. I felt that same relaxation during this Easter break at Avoca when we were with Gordon, Chris, Debbie and family on two separate occasions, Bob and Gina and Hugh and Sue and family for lunch, and Burnsie at the Gosford races.
April to May 1993
The issue of Christening or more correctly Baptism has been increasingly on my mind. I was Baptised at a very young age and I have no doubt that my parents thought a great deal about it. I am going through the same thought processes when I think about this issue in relation to you Nicholas. I consider myself to be more of a spiritual rather than a religious Church going person. I do believe that this is a stage which I am going through. What I find difficult is that I feel I am making a decision for you and I want to be assured that our decision is in your best interests and that we are not being hypocritical. Can I have a child Baptised in a Church when when I am trying to come to terms with my feelings with the Church?
I am still influenced by what we call the Catholic guilt. Any new born child who is not Baptised will not go to heaven if unfortunately he or she dies. This still plays on my mind even though, I am led to believe, the current day teaching is not as rigid. I do not want to do something because of guilt. I want to have all the facts before I make the decision. I am working towards getting some readings which will help me make informed decisions.
When I was at school I would often get into arguments with other school friends about religion. One of the biggest was when we were at Forster celebrating the end of the Higher School Certificate. Sure it was fuelled by drinking but to this day open minded friends still bring up the argument because of its intensity. The basis of my argument is still clear in my mind today, although expressing it in words is a little more difficult, as I will be open to misinterpretation.
I could not understand why it was always a ‘them and us’ mentality. How were my beliefs different to my non-Catholic school friends at the state schools, Meriden, PLC and MLC? I considered all of us to be Christians. It did not register that all the girls schools were based on different versions of Christianity. At this stage I thought the world was made up of Catholics and non-Catholics, mainly the Church of England. (My knowledge was not developed enough to understand that there were even more non- Christians in the world.) I would get answers which pointed out that we placed more emphasis on the Virgin Mary while the Church of England did not acknowledge her in the way Catholics did. My problem which still exists today is that I do not know if this is correct or not.
Amongst my friends I saw what seemed to be contradictions. I would say that they were using God. This accusation was mainly directed against those peers who would go to Church every morning during exam time and then stop after the exams. Once again I would get a justification which would not appear to be logical.
Today I am only beginning to understand my inability to comprehend the arguments put forward to me by the Brothers and my more learned, and in some cases indoctrinated, peers and friends. I never really have understood what it meant to have faith. I have treated the use of the word faith as a means to avoid the answering of a difficult question. I believe a number of people use it this way today but I am beginning to see the wider applications.
I was also intrigued at the intensity of the discussions once I got them going. Much of the time was spent trying to crank up an argument, as many people would not talk. Some were unsure of their own position and said nothing and others had clear ideas but would not be drawn into the discussions. The former would opt out due to apathy or unwillingness to be exposed, the latter would not get involved because it would get too emotional for them or they just believed that the alternatives discussed were rubbish. Once we got going things became pretty tough. The situation in which these discussions developed were where people could wander in and out of the group depending on their level of anxiety.
If I went to Church more frequently I would not have any problem in getting you Baptised. The issue then would be which Church. My problem with the Church at the moment is that I spent years being forced to go, not by any one person, just my conscience. It was a burden on a Sunday morning as I would want to sleep in. Many just went at the more social times, talked outside, pinched my push bike and came in for Communion. If I was there I would want to be present for the correct reasons. I did not always live up to this.
I would go to Church in stages. At first it was part of a routine and at times, particularly the sermons, Church was interesting. Later Church was an avenue to talk about the day’s football game before we went to the pub or a party. Sometimes, for some unidentified reason, I would feel like going. I stopped going to Church when my push bike got stolen, when my parents stopped asking if I was going to Church and when I realised that I was the most consistent Church goer in the family. (It is interesting how I now refer to Mass as Church.) I infrequently attended Mass for a number of years while I was at university. I had other interests, more hangovers and more non-Catholic friends. I don’t think I did this on purpose but as I look back there were a number of forces moving me away from the Catholic Church but not Catholicism. The purists would argue that I moved away from Catholicism when I ceased attending Church.
In my last year of university and during the first half of my stay at Oxley I used to go to Church with a girlfriend on Sundays before I went back to Sydney. I found it intriguing that we did not go to Church when we spent the weekends in Bowral. I did not want to go but I went. This to me was a turning point, as I was going due to a girlfriend rather than wanting to go for my own reasons. I have not really gone back since we parted company.
Teaching at Oxley was my first real break from Catholicism. The school was considered as non-denominational, although it seemed to have, while I was there, a Uniting Church emphasis. We had three Chapel services a week which later turned into an assembly. I attended these most consistently for seven years, while some staff members did not turn up. The ‘Our Father’ was said differently. I would end with an ‘Amen’ and the rest would continue with something like ‘Thine is the Kingdom Power and the Glory forever and Ever Amen’. (I forget the exact words because at Northholm the words are slightly different). After a while, when I attended a Catholic Church, during the ‘Our Father’ everyone would be quiet at the end and I would continue on. The sermons given by Mr Wright were inspiring, even if occasionally they, with the prayers, were recycled. I understood why the Gospel readings were familiar. The Heads of Houses were instructed to have a brief prayer reading before each House meeting. We were given a green booklet and I chose a number of prayers which were easy for students to read, as I found it hard to read out aloud. I actually did not mind doing this but not solely for religious reasons. The prayer helped to settle the ninety students by giving them a routine at the beginning of each meeting. Occasionally I would get frustrated, as did Les Mann, another House leader, because we were the only ones who kept it up over the years. The students would often ask why did they had prayers when the other Houses did not.
My break with the Catholic Church and Catholicism was reinforced by my appointment at Northholm. Here we have a proper Chapel every Monday morning. Oxley had assemblies with religious elements whereas Northholm has Chapel and if necessary an assembly. Within a number of weeks I had my first encounter with ‘Born Again Christians’. I had one student, Diane, to whom I spoke a lot. One Friday, while I was shovelling wood chips, I was talking to her about her Crusader meeting. I was simply trying to make her think a little more about that which she had heard and was reciting to me. I did not think anything of it. I simply asked whether I was a Christian even though I was a Catholic. I went home and enjoyed the weekend and came to school on Monday to find a few students wanting to speak to me. We had a good discussion at lunchtime and it got me thinking. Most of the arguments seemed to be coming from a teacher friend, Andrew, who ran Crusaders. I was stunned to learn that there could be such a person as a non-Christian Catholic. I had a number of Catholic friends who would be horrified to think that for all these years they were practising non-Christians!
It was fortunate that I was in this religious limbo when Jenny and I were married. I was quite happy to be married in an Anglican Chapel. It was quite a sight with the Catholics on one side facing the non-Catholics on the other. To start with, the Catholics were not used to facing each other during a service. At one point after the Reverend had said something all the Catholics stood up and the Anglicans sat down and the other people did not know who to follow.
I wondered, at the time we got married, if this meant children had to be brought up in the Anglican Church. I really did not think that there was another option, which was to have no Baptism. In this case Nicholas you could wait until you understand the service and then make your own informed decision. On the other hand to what extent can you a young teenager or adult make an informed decision when many other people such as myself would not dare to pretend to know it all?
I would like to return to the issue of Baptism. Somewhere in the Gospel of John Jesus said “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again”. Now I understand that if someone is Baptised they are a born again Christian. I thought it meant that a Christian became a Christian again. I was brought up to believe that unless a child is Baptised he or she will not go to Heaven or in the words of Jesus: “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God…” Statements like these concern me at a few levels.
Firstly, in the early days of the Church only adults were Baptised: did this mean that children who did not reach adulthood were not eligible for entry to the Kingdom of God? Now children are Baptised. Does this mean that the Church has got it right now or will there be a different interpretation in a few hundred years which allows for the Christening of animals or even inanimate objects? Secondly, there is a logical argument concerning the inference but no direct reference in the Bible to children being Baptised. The Genesis publication Baptism has an example of such logic:
“…if children are to belong to the Kingdom of God, and if admission to the Kingdom of God is only by Baptism, then surely Jesus intended that children be Baptised.”
For some reason this logic does not sit comfortably with me. Thirdly, agreement with such statements and logic requires a literal interpretation of the Bible. I personally have difficulty in treating everything written in the Bible as the truth on which actions must be based.
Thinking about Baptism and my religious experiences has helped my understanding of spiritual issues. When we Baptise you Nicholas or any other child we have to be able to say we have the faith for and on behalf of you. Accordingly it is important that we select wisely the Godparents. I do not know how to go about choosing a Godparent. I became a Godparent when I was very young and have not fully appreciated my responsibilities. I understand how we can act out the faith on behalf of a child but there is a point at which the faith must be continued to be acted out. If we do our job properly then our children by their own design will be able to confirm their faith in Confirmation.
July 22 to August 22
Now I will talk about you
In the last couple of months I have been somewhat self-indulgent by writing about myself. I have done this because by the time you read this, Nicholas, you might be interested in what I was thinking at the time of your earliest months. Well just in case you would rather hear about yourself, I am going to try to devote all this month’s writing to you in the hope you will learn something about yourself and what a pleasure you have been to have around. It is easier to do this now because for the last couple of months all you have been doing is sleeping, eating and going to the toilet. You are doing more things for me to write about.
The trip to South Australia to visit Nicole
Even though this happened last month I think it was fairly informative to you and us about your development. Jenny, you and I went on a holiday. In fact it was a marathon, one of which many people were questioning the wisdom. You went on a 3000 kilometre trip to Adelaide and back with another family with a little baby like yourself called Shelley.
You got on with your Mum really well. She has had not much time with you because I have been at home and she has been out earning the money which we spent when I got bored or needed to take you out to give you a break from the house. To be honest I have been a little unfair to your Mum. When the holidays come a round I let her do all the work pertaining to you on the pretence that it is good for her to get involved with you. She does all the things I do and more without any fuss, even though she is exhausted at the end of the term and I have been able to sleep in with you.
You have always been a good little boy to travel with in the car. Many of your little friends do not like the car but we had confidence that you would handle the trip with ease. I had a dilemma to deal with before we left. At some stage you had to graduate from the capsule to the Series 3 car seat which was meant to see you through till four years old. Even though you were meant to be nine kilograms before you could use the seat I bought you one when you were only seven kilograms. No, I do not think you were advanced rather I found that most of the advice and the literature about babies is on the conservative side.
Choosing the type of seat was difficult. I found what I liked at Babyco and went to David Jones to show them the cheaper price (they offered to match prices for baby products) and to use a gift voucher you were given by a family from Northholm. I showed them the card with the price and they rang Babyco, who denied that the price I had given them was correct, even though I had been there a few hours earlier. Anyway they were busy and at the change of shifts for Thursday night late night shopping. I showed the card to another lady who gave us the discount. It was not worth the effort for the saving of two dollars but there was a principal at stake.
We got you to feel comfortable in the car seat and I was confident that you would sit up all the way to Adelaide. Mum pointed out that we should take both the car seat and capsule just in case. I knocked that idea on the head as I was the one who had to pack the car and I wanted space and not excess luggage. It was pretty silly of me because it would have been like going on the trip without windscreen wipers in the rain; it would be all right for some of the time but not all of the time. Jenny did not bother arguing with me and did not want to discuss it anymore. She had stated her opinion and left the decision up to me. As you can imagine the last thing I put into the already crowded car (even after the engine had started) was the capsule. Your Mum was right. I just wished I listened to her earlier then I could have spent my time worrying about something else.
We headed off down the freeway towards Yass from St Ives. I would have preferred to go over the mountains. Just as we reached Bargo you got restless in the car seat. I was not going to let you get your way straight away so I turned up Billy Joel and stopped at the Sutton’s Forest intersection. Here Jenny gave you a feed and I had my mandatory toilet break.
There was one other occasion on the trip where I tested your patience as I juggled you between the car seat and the capsule. On the second last day I wanted to get as close to Sydney as possible. We started out about an hour and a half south west of Geelong at Port Campbell and pushed on to Gundagai because your Mum wanted to see a dog on some box. If the truth be known I did not want to stay at Albury at 4:30 in the afternoon and since you had been so good till then I pushed on against your mother’s wishes and, as it turned out a bit later, yours as well. I should have listened to your Mum, on the other hand the trip to Sydney the next day was easy.
If we went by ourselves you would have had more ‘turns’ in the car but fortunately Mike and Bernice were late starters and slow movers. There is not much to do in Hay when you are only meant to be passing through. It is a nice town but we spent a good two hours there. Even Jenny wanted to get going but the break did you good as it made the next leg of the trip pleasant. The same sort of break happened the next day at Renmark and later on in the Barossa Valley, a place where two hours is not enough due to the nice views!
Feeding you on this trip was not an easy exercise. You had just started solids, well actually it was liquid mush. I was doing the right thing peeling apples, stewing them and boiling vegetables for you to eat but I soon realised that in the three days we allowed to get over I would have to use tinned food and bananas. Even the bananas did not last two days as they were taken at the South Australia border along with South Australian oranges! This would not normally be a problem but all the books said we had to slowly introduce food to make sure that you would not develop any allergies. Once again I had to disregard the books and give you as many types of tin food that I could before we went away so I could work out what you liked. You did not like beef and lamb with vegetables; it might have had something to do with me not heating them. When we were out I would not heat up your milk which was not usually a problem, so I thought the same would apply with food. I got around this by starving you and then you would eat almost anything. I wanted to teach you not to waste things but I do not think you really understood what I was doing. When we got to Nicole’s we gave you a treat of potatoes but you got sick of them after a few days.
At this stage the term feed took on two definitions. One meant milk and the other solids. We knew what we meant but it got a bit confusing at times. Mum would come home from work and ask if you were fed and I would say yes and then she would try and breast feed you and you would fight her while I was on a run. I should have been more precise. I had meant to say you had milk and were due for food.
The milk feeding on the trip was carefully orchestrated. By this stage you were on two bottles and two to three breast feeds. We owned six bottles of milk which meant that we could only travel for three days and then I would have to get some means of cleaning and sterilising bottles and boiling water. I made up all the bottles with boiled water for the outward trip. When you needed the milk I put the powder in and asked the coffee shop owner to warm it for you (it was winter). This worked and at Nicole’s place we were able to get back into a routine like the one we had at home. On the return trip, however, I suspected we would take longer than three days so I purchased a couple of other bottles at Magill, the suburb where the parents of Jeremy (a friend with whom I taught at Oxley College) lived. On the whole feeding you on the trip was not really a problem as you normally just tucked into your food because you were hungry by the time we got around to feeding you.
The trip, for obvious reasons, also highlighted your dependence on nappies. We have not feared nappies, in fact Jenny and I preferred to change a nappy rather than give you a bath. We decided to use cloth nappies (not for environmental reasons). Also, we thought that our situation did not really warrant the use of a nappy service. If I was an ardent environmentalist I would equate a nappy service with the use of disposable nappies. I do not really want to get into the reasons why. We decided to use disposables for the drive over and back and when we were with Nicole we used cloth nappies. There was no real problem with this arrangement except that at the end you got a bit of a rash. This was more a product of our difficulty in getting a decent bath for you.
At this stage we have never really enjoyed giving you a bath. At first it was a question of confidence and later it was a question of time and the awkwardness of bending over the bath. At home we started to bath you in a big old metal bath that Helen (your Grandmother) was probably bathed in. It just got too heavy to move around so you graduated to the bath quite quickly. Every now and then I would have a bath with you after I had been for a run or ride. When we were at Avoca we tended to wash you in the kitchen sink. The first attempt was a disaster. The water was a bit too warm and the environment alien to you. Later I sat you on the edge and got you used to the situation by dangling your feet in the water and eventually you were happy to get in.
While away Shelley had a shower to wash. I tried this with you twice and you really performed so I decided to stop so that you would not develop a fear of water. Only the motel at Mount Gambier had a bath and for the rest of the trip we did nothing at all. This was okay as we tended to bath you every second day but you still got a rash. When it comes to bathing and toilet needs three to four days travelling without establishing some sort of home base seemed to be the limit with a five month old child.
I used to joke before you were born that I would train you to sleep in. People would say to me I have got no chance of doing it but I tried. You stayed in our bedroom until Jenny went back to school which was after about four weeks. Sometimes I would put you to bed when you were not tired and on others I would be a bit late and you would be overtired. In both cases you would sometimes perform.
One night in St Ives you would not settle at all and I had enough and banished you to your bedroom, which you slept in during the day. You finally went to sleep that night but you were ready to perform again the next night. On this particular night you just wanted to be picked up but it was late and you should have been asleep. Jenny went to bed and you and I had a battle.
There are many schemes to promote the sleeping of a child like you at this age; one of which is to let you cry for a while and eventually you would go to sleep. I had set a time to pick you up which was after the Lateline programme concerning the upcoming federal election. It was getting near the end and you were still bellowing and I was concerned about what I would have to do next. Just as the show ended I was getting up to see you and you stopped crying and went to sleep. I see this night as the turning point in your sleeping habits. I was on the way to getting you to sleep.
We had a system we wanted to try. Babies usually drop the feed which is the most convenient for them and inconvenient for the parents. We did not want you to stop the 10:00 pm feed because you would wake up before dawn. You would go to bed in the early evening and we would wake you when Jenny wanted to go to bed. She would feed you and I would look after you until you went back to sleep. In most cases you just settled without any trouble at all.
On the first couple of nights you would wake up early in the morning. We were reluctant to feed you as we did not want to start this habit. Also, Jenny had to give you a good feed before she went to work so that she would not be sore during the day. I would get up, tuck you in, sometimes change your nappy and pat you back to sleep. I learnt to put double liners on your nappy so you would not wake up wet during the night. After a while we did not even wake you during the night and you would sleep though till the morning. Even if you woke up you would play until Jenny was ready to get up and feed you.
After the morning feed Jenny would put you in bed with me and you would play by yourself and I would turn over and go back to sleep. I would leave you there until you got grumpy. I could only do this until you started moving all over the bed, at which point I could not sleep due to my concern about you falling off. I would get up, change your nappy, if Jenny had not already done so and put you back to your bed. I would go back to sleep and we would both get up when you wanted to which varied between 9:00 and 11:30 am.
It was you who got me back into this sleeping in habit. I knew you would sleep in in the morning so I tended to stay up later in the night reading or writing. After I fed you in the late morning sometimes you would get irritable so I would put you back to bed. I soon realised that you were not sleeping in the morning, rather you were quietly playing with you toys in the cot. So in fact after I fed you in the late morning you were ready for another sleep. This was good as it gave me time to have breakfast, read the paper and do the washing. In the afternoon I would make sure we would do something to tire you out. Usually a trip to the shops was the best because you liked to look around and invariably someone would come up to me to ask what I was doing with you. You might have one more short sleep before Jenny would get home and then you would be up until you went to bed for the night.
What I have described was your basic routine but I would vary it by taking you to a party in your pouch, a picnic at Hunters Hill, a rugby league game or a trip to South Australia. (You have just woken up. I will have to stop writing for a while.) While we were away you were back in the same room with us. It took a while to get used to the noises that you made during the night but on the whole you generally ‘crashed out’.
When we were at Nicole’s place we slept in their living room. We would put you to bed and then we would stay up for a while talking and listening to music. You hardly ever stirred. There were times when we had to make some sacrifices. We arrived at Mount Gambier and it was pouring and quite cold. We could not get into the same motel as Mike and Bernice, so I tried a Budget Motel across the road. If we were by ourselves we probably would have stayed but Jenny correctly pointed out that the heating would not be good enough for you. We had to go to a more up market motel opposite McDonalds. It was a great motel. I had a swim in a heated pool, played water polo by myself and relaxed in the spa. We had the remote control heating on for a while and then we turned it off when the room was nice and warm for you. We really made some sacrifices for you!
The more I think about your sleeping it does not seem to matter where you are. If you are tired and can be near your portable cot then we can get you to sleep. I think we have been very lucky, well done Nick.
Family and Friends
During the three week holiday you developed some good friendships. You have a great fan in Nicole. The reason why we went to South Australia was mainly to see Hordern and Nicole and for you to renew your acquaintance with them. You would be lying in the cot and look up smiling and Nicole could not resist to pick you up. You really liked that because it meant you were able to stay up later than you would normally do at home. We did not mind as you were normally good at settling down again. Nicole would sing to you and a little smile would light up on your face. I do not think you understood the words to the homemade songs but the tune was distinctive. I clearly remember the first words to the song, ‘Little Nicholas, little Nicholas…’.
The other adult with whom you spent time was Jeremy who I told to come down and meet us. You and Jeremy first met in interesting circumstances. He is probably the only person to have heard you cry consistently and loudly. He came down from Bowral on a weekend in the first month of your life and we were letting you cry to sleep. So whenever he speaks or writes to us he asks how the crying baby is going. He always speaks about you in the third person. Perceptions are all relative because a number of other people have said that they have never heard you cry.
We drove over to Magill to meet Jeremy and then we went down to Victor Harbour to have a look at Granite Island. It was a long day and you were very good until we got caught in the traffic on the south side of Adelaide. The sensible thing to do would have been to go home from there but we were to have dinner with Jeremy. We had pushed you too far and you were very unsettled at his place and screamed when we tried to put you to sleep in his sister’s bed. It was too much for Jenny and I and as we were in someone else’s house, we had to pick you up and put you in the stroller while we were eating. Even that was not good enough; I had to push you around until you passed out. You did nothing to dispel Jeremy’s opinion of you. The first letter I received from him after the trip asked how the crying baby was.
While you were away you also spent some time with David and Shelley. David always enjoyed your company in between reading all those books he had on the trip. He liked your size, perhaps, given your age you were a little more robust than Shelley. At the end of a day’s travel you would lie on ground next to Shelley and at first neither of you would recognise each other’s presence. Later on, when you realised that you saw her a couple of times each day, you acknowledged her existence. On one occasion Mum was holding you right up to Shelley and you would get excited, throwing your arms around almost eye gouging Shelley.
Your reaction to Shelley was mild compared to meeting Jessica when we got home after the trip. She was staying at our place with her parents, Julie and Wayne. Jessica was about three at the time and full of life. She would come up to you and treat you in the same manner in which you treated Shelley. Within seconds you would be yelling out in excitement to each other and the more you yelled the more Jessica got involved. I would have to say you held you own but on a few occasions we had to separate you for your own safety.
While I write about how you have got on with other people I must tell you about Diane and Gordon. Diane is a good friend and was a Year Twelve student I taught the year you were conceived. We adopted her as a baby sitter when you were very young. We wanted you to be used to being looked after by a number of people. She visited you a number of times but you would not have known.
On the weekend before we went to South Australia we got her to look after you while we went to Killara Golf Club to celebrate Neville’s (your Grandfather) and Philip’s birthdays. We were only gone for four hours and I thought you would just go to bed but you performed like you did in the early days at Grandma’s and Ric’s place. You knew we were gone and no matter how tired you were you kick up a fuss and not want to go to sleep. Di was in the middle of exams and I am sure she thought she would get in a few hours study. She had had enough by the time we got home and was out the door almost before I had even closed it on the way in. She had been up with you watching the third league test against New Zealand, playing you the piano and trying to study. You had only been asleep for an hour by the time we got home. She came around for lunch a few weeks after this and you were very good and she was prepared to look after you again.
The other person you have seen quite a bit of is Gordon. He was away in the country of his soul, Indonesia, when you were born. We used to visit him on Wednesdays between when he came back from Indonesia and when he went back to school. He bought for you the rather large fish mobile which hangs above your change table. I often used the mobile to stir you. You would lie on your back while I was changing you and would stare at the the fish. When I was finished I would pick you up and drag you through them. You would squint your eyes as you came up to the fish and close them as you went through. Now and then I pretend to put you through them and you would squint in anticipation and I would bypass the fish while your eyes are closed. When you became much stronger you would grab the fish on the way through; sooner or later I though you would pull them down off the ceiling. You also met Gordon’s parents when I went to their place to get my tax done. They gave you the telephone on wheels which had headlights which move up and down when you dragged it towards you.
You and Gordon get on very well. Gordon’s house is rightly his pride and joy. It is neatly decorated with South East Asian and Pacific cultural artifacts and it is always in an immaculate condition. When you first visited you were a fairly self contained unit but more recently you have been able to demonstrate your skills to Gordon at Avoca and St Ives. Usually this involved doing normal baby things like touching everything that was in reach and putting it in your mouth. When there was nothing foreign in your mouth you were either eating in a less than delicate manner or throwing up the contents of your stomach. We were a bit anxious about taking you to Gordon’s place so we obtained an old sleeping bag at Avoca and a quilt at St Ives for you to play on so that when you throw up you will not dirty the carpet.
Physical and mental growth
You seemed to have had a physical and mental growth spurt while we were in South Australia for two weeks and Avoca for one. Each night you would come to a club or restaurant for dinner with us and on the last two nights you became interested in what we were drinking. As I held my beer in the pub at Port Campbell your hands reached out to try and take the glass. I was talking away while you were on my lap and you reached over and knocked over your first class of beer. The next night while we were in the RSL at Gundagai you did exactly the same thing with Mum’s wine.
You must have been getting confident while we were away because at Mt Gambier you were making more of a conscious effort to roll over. You had rolled a number of times before from your stomach to your back but you were determined to go from you back to your stomach. You achieved it in a manner of hours and you were absolutely exhausted and slept like a baby, which you were. This rolling gave you much more mobility. When you saw something you liked you would roll towards it, play with it and roll somewhere else. After a while you got sick of this and at Avoca you decided it was more fun to rotate on your stomach on in a circle.
You graduated to pushing off your hands and going backwards. At this stage you could not sit by yourself unless we were present to catch you in your fall. We put you in a highchair and this gave you new experiences. At first you would slide into the corners but after a while you would sit forward holding onto the table part with one hand and banging the table with the other. You also had a better view and you seemed to like this.
The trip did a lot for you but it also did a great deal for Jenny and me. Even though officially it was Jenny’s holiday I treated it as a holiday as well and I came out of it positive and relaxed. There was no television at Nicole’s and this, in the lead up to the trip, concerned me as I wanted to keep up to date with the Labour in Power series, the football and the cricket. Even Jenny was concerned that she would miss out on seeing the tennis. I arranged to borrow a small black and white portable television which we put on the bookshelf at the end of our bed in Adelaide. Jenny watched more of it than I did. I ended up having a number of conversations with people about television and its influences on children and adults in this period. (Nick you have just woken up I will get back to television later.)
Nick, there are times when there are good reasons to watch television. Usually, I like to keep up to date with the current affairs and I have always liked watching sport on the box. Sometimes I think individuals can miss things by not having a television. For example Hordern went to the Gulf War and did not know that President Clinton had launched some kind of attack on Iraq. In his case it was not a real concern, as he read about it a week or so later. In the end he heard about it, so why the need for the television? Well I guess there is no need.
I spent the holiday thinking a great deal about this issue concerning the television. I tried to relate the question to other social vices and my experience in education. At the moment I tend to believe that the benefits of abstinence are outweighed by the benefits of moderation. Accordingly, while in the car driving around South Australia I planned the positioning of the furniture in our house based on the principle of removing the television from the centre of our main living area. I basically did not watch television for six weeks and then weened myself back onto selective programmes. Now if I find myself watching trash I am more prepared to turn it off. In the first six weeks there was one occasion when I regretted not watching television. I missed the ABC coverage of the Australian Half Marathon Championships which apparently had a thrilling tied finish. I rang up the ABC to buy it but it would have cost me eighty dollars so I refrained from the purchase.
We wound down after the trip south-west by spending a week at Avoca. Early in the piece I went to our roadside fruit and vegetable shop. I juggled you, the basket and the fruit to get some supplies to last us for a few days. They sort of know me as a person with a holiday house or friends in the district. Each time I went you had changed quite a bit. It was when I saw these people, who have not seen you for a while, that I noticed how you had changed. In the first visits you would rest in one hand and shopping was quite easy. This time you had much more bulk and moved around a lot. In the end I put you on the concrete floor while I organised the money; much to the horror of onlookers. When it came to getting the produce to the car the assistant asked to take you to the car.
When I got home I was telling Jenny about the experience and we realised that she had not taken you shopping in the same circumstances. When I went for a decent shop it was easy to put on the pouch and push the trolley; though some people do not find this that easy, even with one child. Jumping out of the car and getting more than you can carry in one hit places you in a trusting situation. You either get some one to help (in my case usually a volunteer) or leave some of your purchases behind and hope that they do not get pinched. It was this spur of the moment type of shopping which I suggested Jenny should try but I knew it would have little effect; she does not like shopping full stop.
Avoca in this week was the location of your first beach walk and the beginning of my new approach to exercise. Up until now you had never really been for walks. I would rug you up, beany and all, pace out the length of the beach and before long you would be asleep. Up until this point in time I would not count walking, working at Hugh’s or Mike’s places, or gardening as exercise. No longer did I go for a walk and then think I had to go for a run because I do not feel pushed. I feel this was an important mental shift. A walk with an extra nine to ten kilograms in a pouch had to be some sort of exercise!
August 22 to September 22
Visiting Great Grandma
Nicholas, you have just spent some time visiting your great Grandma. Usually your mother would go on the weekend and I would follow up on the weekdays with things that she tended to need. The nursing home is called Lady Gowrie and is located near Gordon Station. When I go during the weekdays the streets are filled with cars of the commuters who go to work by rail. I had to drive into the complex itself and park underneath the Sir Roden Cutler Wing which was for people not quite at the nursing home stage.
We would walk up the ramp and in the door to be greeted by Mrs. Campbell, who was in charge of the accounts. Invariably she would inform me to give Grandma some more money which Jenny would do the next time that she came. We would turn right and the nursing sisters would be sitting at the desk. I would say hello and they would tell me that Grandma had run out of brandy. About ten metres up the hallway Mrs McGregor would see me and I would stop to speak to her and show you to her and another lady in her room. If she did not see me on the way through I would always stop on the way out. She was not that old but she could not walk and had some other problems. He husband lived at home and visits her each day. By the time we reach Grandma we are both exhausted as each stop required an update about the state of your health and progress.
If I went when the ladies were going to lunch then it took twice as long to get to Grandma as everyone wanted to poke you, examine your teeth and the like. You would not believe how many lives you injected some happiness into during these visits. On one occasion I decided to take you to the dining room; you were very popular there. On this occasion a lady was slowly making her way back by leaning on the walking rails which lined the hall. She stopped to examine you, called you by you name and asked how Jenny was. They must talk about you in the home as I did not think I knew the lady. This lady asked if I would take you to a Chinese lady who was sitting in the sun. She had had a stoke and could not speak but you made her day. I found out a little later that she did not normally smile and that you made her happy and contributed in a small way to her rehabilitation. On this day you also lost your plastic keys. At one stage everyone was looking for them because they thought I was looking for my car keys.
When I finally got to your great Grandma you also made her very happy. The staff were happy because you cheered her up and this made their dealings with her that much easier. Gran was a bit of a hoarder and very early in the piece she had kept chocolate boxes with the wrappings of the lollies on the inside. She would shake them to try and get your attention. You were not really interested for months and I thought it was quite a silly idea. Then at seven months she gave you the box and you loved it. You ate the corners and threw the used wrappers all over the floor.
There were three other women in the room with her. One sat in her seat, never had any visitors and just smiled at you. Another whom Gran referred to as “the Catholic” had a television which was turned up loud. It was always crackling as it was never tuned in properly. Then there was the one “that smells”. Sometimes your great Grandmother was not very nice. This last lady appeared to be a harmless busy body. Gran always accused her of stealing things and on one occasion of hitting her.
The hitting incident was sad and quite funny. Gran would sit in a wheel chair with a table in front of her. At this time she fell asleep watching the television, fell forward and hit her head. We know this was the case as a Sister saw it happen; she was really quite bruised. She said “the one who smelled hit me and I was knocked out for two days”. This was followed by her favourite story of being locked in a room for two days with nothing on except for her shoes.
First Rugby League Game
You have also spent some time with Geoff Monahan or Monash. In your first year Geoff worked as a lecturer at the College of Law and tended to have more time than he did when he was in practice. You got to know him in the hospital, he was the one talking to me when you were trying to learn how the take milk from Mum’s breast. A few months later on election night he would pick you up to take photos and then he would have another election red wine. Monash was often a visitor at Avoca. He was sometimes there before us. When we would arrive he would be sitting at the circular table with the sun coming in and the music playing. Geoff is the type of person who cannot work without some background music or even the television. At times I did not mind this but now and then I would like some peace and quiet.
On one weekend I wanted to go and see The Firm. Normally I would go with Geoff or Gordon if I thought he would not walk out during it. I did this as Jenny did not often go to the pictures. On this night Geoff decided that he would read the book first, so when Jenny came home from tennis he offered to look after you and we went to the pictures. This was the first time in a long time that we had gone out together on the spur of the moment. Geoff obviously felt comfortable with you and as it turned out you were perfect; you slept the whole time.
One Saturday afternoon I went to visit Geoff while Mum was playing tennis. You were due for a sleep, were tired and quite irritable. At Geoff’s place I could do what I would at home which was to put you down and let you cry to sleep. Saturday was when Geoff would tidy up his unit so we made a makeshift bed on the ground and placed you there. You cried for quite a while as we had one of Geoff’s diet lunches. I went in to check on you when you were quiet and you were lying on your back staring at the ceiling. I think you were asleep with your eyes open. We decided to take you to your first football match between St George and Balmain. We walked through Callum Park with a group of young people who were smoking dope; your first encounter which you did not notice. Once in the ground Geoff helped set up a sun shade and we sat on the hill watching the game. Saints held on and won even with a player sent off. You had some trouble settling to sleep. It was a high scoring match and every time something happened the hill would erupt and you would be disturbed by the noise. If that did not wake you the little kid who was kicking ball around us during the game did.
Monash was always good to you. He will probably take you out to the pub for a few beers and you will most likely be under age. That is of course unless your two uncles Matthew or Philip do not beat him to it. I know they would look after you but then again you may be required to look after them as well.
You went to the Doctor a few times yourself. Every few months you needed an injection to immunise yourself from all sorts of diseases which could affect you. In all cases you coped quite well, actually, nothing that a liquid Panadol could not fix. Before you had your first injection at around two months you got your first cold. Every time you breathed, stuff would come in and out of your nose. It was always on the threshold of coming out, but it never really emerged enough for me to grab it, not that I really wanted to touch it any way. When Jenny fed you you had trouble breathing with your nose pressed up against her breast. You really did get quite clogged up and we were concerned. Your normal Doctor was not in and we went to another one who assured us that even though you had a cold and sounded terrible you were fine. The following week we took you to have an injection and Dr Way looked down your throat to find a secondary infection. There was no needle for you on this day, just a trip to the chemist to get a made up special children’s throat mixture. So far this had been the sum total of your experiences with the medical fraternity.
In the last month our back fence fell down and since it was connected to the side fence, which had already fallen down due to the weight of the ivy, I decided to fix both. What I needed was extended periods of time outside so I could work. Such time was only made available when you were asleep, when Grandma came over or when Jenny was home. Our back neighbour wanted to rebuild the fence ourselves since it was 27 metres and would have cost a lot. The 9 metre side fence we paid to get fixed. I did not have the equipment and expertise to make sure that the levels were right so I was not much help to Noel, the back neighbour. One Saturday while Jenny was at tennis you slept for four hours and this allowed me to work with Noel uninterrupted.
It was in this period that you began to like grass. When I used to hang out the washing I would put you on the grass and a scream would be the response. In the end I put you in the washing basket with the clothes around you. While I was cleaning the rubbish around the fence I sat you on the bouncer. I never put you in it because if you wanted to slide off it onto the ground that was fine by me. Your first excursion to the grass involved you leaning over the side of the bouncer and touching the grass with your hands. After a few days of this you would like to sit out the front with your baseball cap (on the right way) while I was reading. You were not very mobile so I did not have to watch you too much. Once when I came back from a swim Grandma had you on a blanket with no nappy playing with your toys. This proved to be your first experience with ant bites.
In this period you took more notice of insects, plants and animals. Paddles our grey family cat was used to being the centre of attention until you came along. She would go where she liked. Before you were born she could not understand why I got angry with her when she slept in the cradle, car seat or cot. Fortunately she has not as yet slept with you even though we let her sleep in the same room as you. At night she was usually in our room so we know you would be all right. I probably would not have been as concerned about Paddles if I had not read Catch 22.
For the first six months Paddles ignored you and you did not show any acknowledgement of her at all. Paddles would walk around the room and avoid you at all costs. She would even leave the room when you started crying, an act she normally reserved for the vacuum cleaner. The first time I noticed you watching Paddles was while I was feeding you. You would turn around and watch her and after a while you would turn back with your mouth open ready for more food. Sometimes while feeding, you would still turn around looking for her.
Paddles would sit in front of the heater and you would lie a couple of feet away. One of your first crawling movements was towards Paddles. You would grab her and not let go of her fur. She was always very passive but each time I would have to release your grip just in case you annoyed her too much. Once I almost got to you too late and Paddles was about to get you to let go of her.
You have also had some involvement with dogs. Next door was a big dog called Rommel. He was just a puppy but I was sure he could swallow you whole if he wanted to. One day I went over to watch the rugby and Rommel came to lick you, he was very successful. Shelley’s dog, Jake, was another comrade. One day you grabbed his foot while I was not looking, he growled and was going to give you a nip, fortunately he was stopped. Lucy also had a dog which was older and had a good nature and had experienced a number of children. You would crawl over to her and play for quite a while. Finally, there was Weave’s dog, Marge. Michael has always had large well trained dogs. He could leave the door open to the kitchen and you would be on the floor and she would not come anywhere near you.
One Thursday I took you for a drive to visit a few people. Only Shelley was home and she was having a sleep; Lucy and Sophie were not home. You had a little snooze in the car and when I got home I wanted to feed you. I think this was my first mistake. I really should have waited till you wanted to be fed. My reasoning was that if I put you to sleep you would wake up hungry, so I wanted to give you food first. You were not interested in the food and I did not think that you were teething. I still kept you up while I was cooking tea at Avoca. Your behaviour combined with me being in a rather intolerant mood. It was not a good combination. The next day is now and I decided to take you on a long walk on the beach. You always liked going for that walk. When I put you to bed you started screaming. I think you started to notice that you were no longer at St Ives.
Much of your behaviour is determined by the amount of sleep which you have had and not necessarily teething. Usually I cause the problem by keeping you up and taking you out. I liked to take you out as you would enjoy looking around.
I took you to Bellbird Bookshop while I was looking at the newly published Geography textbooks. At Bellbird there is a front area which is carpeted and looks presentable and out the back is a warehouse complex with a concrete floor and metal shelves which are lined with books. On this day I sat you down on the concrete and felt sorry for you as it was cold. I took the lambswool cover from the stroller and you sat on it for a while but you soon rolled off and hit your head on the floor. Having you there helped me get good advice, actually the best that I have ever had.
The next academic outing was Peter’s Bookshop at St Ives. This is a shop run by some people who do not know much about the books in which I am interested. The owner who knew I had been at home with you spoke to you about being at home for a day with Dad. She suggested that Mum was shopping and I had to look after you. I used my normal line. “I am at home with him all the time.” She was dismissive of my statement, like the butcher was a few months ago, and just walked off. I thought her behaviour was sort of funny. It was not the first time I had been in the shop with you. I had often placed you on the ground while I was looking at the books.
I gave you a six week break from visiting school. I arrived at 11.30am and Mum took you straight off me, she was excited to see you. I felt funny being there without you in my hand. When I got you back I took you up to the staff room and spoke to Rob Cooper and Phil Lenard and tried to give you a bottle. You were distracted by the people in the room, so I took you to a quieter corner only to be visited by other people who wanted to see you. In the end Mum came up and fed you while I spoke to some staff members whom I had not seen for a while. When you were finished the bottle I sat you down in front of me and your would not move. You were happy but the surroundings were not familiar to you. Kath McMartin and Maggie Lyle and a few others came to play with you and you started to explore a bit more. You had grown quite a lot since the last time you were at the school and listening to the staff helped me understand the way you had changed. When I was with you all the time I only notice little changes. I tended not to notice the larger changes in weight and length or as some people say your solidness when in fact you were on the fat side.
After I took you for a walk during lunch time I decided to say hello to Mr Welsh. We spoke for a lot longer than I thought and you fell asleep upright on my lap. When we were finished it was close to 3.00pm and I decided to take you back to the staff room to give you some Gerber food which you were really not interested in as you were too tired. Jenny looked after you during her House meeting and I spoke to Rob. We talked about a whole range of issues for quite a while and then he got a phone call and I left to find you. You had been awake all day so I decided it was well past the time when you should have been home. You were very good. It was little wonder you were asleep before I had started the car. That was one thing you were really good at, once you settled down.
Your first serious illness
You got quite ill and we did not know what to do. One Sunday you were very unsettled when we tried to put you to bed at Shelley’s place. You woke through the night every hour with crying and fever. I took you to the Doctor’s surgery the next day and you had swollen tonsils, a red left ear and a bad cold. You were given a course of antibiotics and your body reacted to it by vomiting and getting chronic diarrhoea. As time went by you were getting worse and the weight was stripping off you as you were eating nothing and I was having trouble getting water into you so as to prevent dehydration. We kept using the drugs without realising that they were part of the problem.
Above are the facts of the situation. How I felt during this period was quite interesting. We were quite upset that you were not well. You were very good natured even though you were sick. You produced a few projectile vomits which Grandma said were the biggest she had ever seen. You are the only person I have seen who smiles after you have thrown up. It was as if nothing had happened. On one occasion Jenny was holding you and she began to feel sick but you were fine.
As you got worse during the week Jenny came down with a severe stomach virus which was so bad that she took a day off work, something that she never does. She lay in bed for a day and a half not moving. She could not even hold down water. This short period of two days with two invalids and myself with a cold was quite hectic. Every hour or so I would go into the two bedrooms for my “chunder patrol.” The key thing I learnt from this period was how hard it would be to be a single parent, let alone being a single parent who was sick! I also appreciated how much Jenny does when she is well; all those little things that I do not notice.
When you stopped taking the drugs you improved and I did not have to change your nappy every half an hour. As you got better I fed you more and I was to learn that this was the wrong thing to do as you had not eaten for a week and your system was not ready for a rapid increase in food. You got the diarrhoea again and I had to introduce the food much more slowly. You became much more settled but the cold stayed around for a long time.
Visiting School and Friends
I have not been taking you to school very much lately. I prefer to go for a reason rather than being a nuisance annoying people when they have a lot of work to do. You went for a day’s teaching while the Year 11 Geography students went on an excursion to the Hunter Valley. It was a bit easier than the previous time because Rob was able to give me a period off and Jenny had a period off to look after you.
You had just learnt to sit up and you could roll to where you wanted to go. One student gave you an English textbook to read; he was encouraging you to rip it up as he did not like Shakespeare. Then he gave you a calculator to destroy so he would not have to do a Maths assignment. The rest of the class and myself thought this was quite funny.
I also went to the athletics carnival with you. It was a postponed carnival so not all the staff and students were present. It became obvious that none of the boys wanted to speak to me or you. A few girls were keen to see how you were and what you were capable of doing. I guess the boys do not understand, accept or like the idea of me being at home looking after you. As you can see there have not been many visits to school with you. Do not feel neglected because Jenny often gets comments from people about how you are going.
You and I became the subjects of an assignment of an ex-Northholm student Di Smart. She arrived one afternoon with another friend to ask me questions about paternal bonding. They were not sure what to ask and how to get relevant information from me which would best help answer the question set. I decided to talk about everything which I thought would be relevant. Not only do I think that we helped them but I also enjoyed the opportunity of verbalising my thoughts on how we have been influenced by your existence and what a positive experience it has been.
Julie and Wayne, who looked after our house while we were in South Australia, decided to take us out for dinner, even though they did us the favour. Di came around to look after you and Jessica. Jessica absolutely smothered you with affection and kept on going to your bedroom while you were trying to sleep and if you were asleep she would wake you up. I think Di had earned her money that night.
A week later it was Ric’s (Pa’s) birthday and this time Di brought support in her boyfriend, Sarah Gill and a university friend. All the family was present at the dinner at Glebe. We had a good night consuming red wines and came home late. Di had done a good job with you; you were getting used to her company.
Your physical and mental development
Your physical and mental development has been more noticeable over the last two months. At the end of the June holidays you were just beginning to roll from your back to your stomach. You spent the Third Term crawling around and by the end of the September holidays you were standing up by leaning on things. Throughout the Fourth Term you became much more stable and mobile.
You also learnt to respond to some of the things Jenny and I would say. I now understand why almost always the first words used by a child is “no”. I have really tried hard not to use this word with you but sometimes when you are about to climb over a precipice (a step) or touch the webber I have to call out if I cannot get to you on time. At first you would stop because I distracted you but after a while you learnt what it meant but you took a long time to associate your intended action with danger. One day we did not see you (once again) climb to a stand by leaning on the stove. You let out the most chilling scream and Jenny rushed you to the bathroom to sooth your hands which had been placed on the oven glass.
Sometimes you know when you are doing something that you should not be doing. When I have the television tuned in to the video you would turn the lower dial and the picture would go off the screen. Then you would look back at me and smile, as if you were expecting me to say no.
From very early on when I would say Paddles you would look around the room for her. One day I was sitting having a cup of tea with Matt Curtis and just for interest we said to you to go and get your drink. You looked around the room, crawled over to a small bookshelf, climbed up against it and reached for your bottle of juice. It was then that it really struck home that you understood a considerable amount of what we were saying. From that day on I also had to watch my language in your presence. One day Ric and Grandma were around and Ric teased you by taking off his watch and holding it down low while he was pretending to look in another direction. He stopped and a few minutes later you came over to me, stood up, turned around and grabbed Ric’s watch.
With you crawling you started to learn you way around the house. You would always know when someone was having a shower and you would take off down the hall and climb in for a shower clothes and all. You could sense when the bathroom door was open. When all was quiet and I could not find you, I would walk into the bathroom and you would be either leaning over the toilet peering in, sitting in the shower, playing with the scales, emptying the bin or rolling the toilet paper all over the floor. I would take you out and all hell would break loose, at which time I either left you or distracted you depending on the scale of the offence and how I felt at the time.
I have come to feel glad that you know what “no” means. You started to show your affection by slobbering all over us. When your top two teeth came through you started to bite us. I was at a long day care centre explaining to Alka how I thought you were good and that we had little trouble with you. I was holding you on my right hand side while I was sitting on one of the children’s chairs. You started to slobber all over my ear and then you bit me very hard. I jerked, almost called out but did not think that it was appropriate. Alka did not say anything or even acknowledge your action but she must have known, as there was blood coming out of the top of my ear. We were still able to get you into this day care centre for two days a week. You got me again on my left arm and Mum on the right inner thigh. After a while you would slobber and know not to bite when I said “no” or “naughty”.
Fortunately your sleeping habits have not changed that much. Jenny feeds you in the morning and I get to sleep in a bit. We manage to get you to have two sleeps a day and keep you up late for a child under one. We have a feeling that you are going to be tired at day care as you normally do not get active until about 10 00am. Your first experience of daylight saving took a while for you to get used to. At the start it meant that you slept in more but you also tended to stay up later. This will be good when I am back at school, as we will have more daylight hours to do things with you in the afternoon.
Your trip up the north coast to visit Paul
You have had another holiday. We followed up the June trip to South Australia with a flying visit up the north coast. This trip turned out to be much cheaper as we stayed with family on all nights except when we visited Tony and Val Duncan at Coffs Harbour. You met your great aunt Sadie (your grandfather’s sister) and cousins. She lives on the top of a hill in a rural setting near Lismore. It was relaxing but we found it hard in the morning as we wanted you to be quiet so Sadie and her son Wayne could sleep. At home it is easy to let you cry but when we are away we tend to undo all the habits which we have developed at home. Still, you were very good.
We wanted to go and see Paul my brother at Main Beach, Surfers Paradise. He lived in a high rise on the beach and I was impressed with the location. We tend not to like this area of Queensland but there was a real community non-tourist feeling around where Paul lived. The purpose of the trip was to see Paul. We were not that interested in going out or sitting on the beach. We stayed only a night and we were able to spend all the time with Paul and we had a great time. He wanted us to stay longer and I think he was upset that we did not.
Paul carried you to Fisherman’s Wharf and we sat in a coffee shop watching the sunset and talking. We forgot to take food for you so I went to the chemist and purchased some rusks. Paul was in the process of starting a business. He developed a computer programme to store information about units and houses which require people to fill rooms. People who require new flatmates register with Paul and people looking for somewhere to live pay Paul a fee to get access to the computer file which has all sorts of details and preferences. When we were there we went to his newly painted shop which was unopened and partly furnished and you were crawling around the floor playing with things as we sat in chairs watching the night life pass by in the main street.
Paul gave you your first real experience of water by taking you down to the spa. You had a great time and I tempted fate by dunking you in the adjacent pool which was considerably colder. Your face changed and you were on the verge of screaming when I decided to put you back in the spa. Later at Coffs harbour Tony took you into the surf. Although it was cold you started to crawl out to sea, stopping each time the low tide waves rolled into you.
The whole trip was good but not easy because we could only travel a few hours at a time, even less than the trip to South Australia. I always like to get from A to B as fast as possible, so it was a new experience for me to take my time, but then again having you around brings new experiences all the time.
November – December 1993
Dreams and Memories
Nick, the reasons I have dealt with dreams is because it concerns what is in my conscious and subconscious. The reason why I am interested is that I have often wondered how our actions may have penetrated your consciousness. For example do you remember how you used to laugh when I kissed Mum, or my swearing, or the “Where is Nicholas” games? or the first time you cried at the cricket due to the loud cheering although three months earlier you slept through a noisy rugby league match or the trips to South Australia and Queensland? How have these experiences affected you? Do you remember them? Did you dream then?
The earliest recollection of my childhood was when I was at a bird park and a bird was feeding from my hand. A few years ago I was telling this to my mother and she said I could not have remember this as I was only eighteen months old. She said that I must have got the idea from photos but I am sure that I experienced it. I also remember, but I do not know how old I was, dreaming about planes flying above me while I was in the cot. I need to find out whether I had planes hanging above me in the cot.
I believe that there are a number of things which are locked away in our mind and they can take a long time to emerge, if they emerge at all. Matt Curtis once said that the first year is so important because “the first to go in is the last to go out of the mind”.
I am not into mind tampering but I do not want to do the wrong thing by you. I want you to be aware of the importance of the mind, how it works and how you can get the most out of it. If you think I have got the answers you are wrong but I have some ideas which I would like to share with you. Many of my ideas on the mind and consciousness have been developed by reading what most people regard as “crackpot books”. One person whose ideas have come into question in recent years is Carlos Castenda. He was an anthropologist who wrote a series of books based on American Indians. The ones which interested me were his latest publications The Eagles Gift and The Power of Silence. He speaks about two levels or frameworks of thinking. Framework 1 is the level of consciousness and Framework 2 is the level of subconsciousness. We operate mainly at a level of conscious thinking and rarely do we tap fully the subconsciousness. In a sense this is not dissimilar to the ideas of Jung which I wrote to you about a few months ago. Analysing dreams is one way of getting into the subconscious, and another is by meditation. Provided you are careful there are many positive things to be learnt. Sometimes the two frameworks are normal awareness and heightened awareness.
His next idea involves a leap of faith for the sceptics. In the world there are certain people whom we are destined to meet but we are not consciously aware of whom they are and if we have met them or when we are in heightened awareness. It is our subconscious mind which moves towards meeting these people. In fact we are not meant to meet all these people though we may experience them in a form of deja vu.
Much of this probably does not make sense. Let me tell you this way. Have you ever gone into a party and all of a sudden been able to work out who is like minded and who you feel is not on the same wave length as yourself? There is some energy or common thinking which is passed around the room without a word being said. Ultimately you end up speaking to this person or persons. I can think of numerous examples of this happening to me.
After the reading of The Alchemist I was reminded about the dreams of which I have just written. The book is a fable about achieving your dream or destiny. The book goes close to summing up what I have being trying to say. The ‘here and now’ philosophy is an important means of achieving your destiny. Along the way to realising your destiny there are certain omens, occurrences or people which come into our lives and often we disregard them. If we take notice of these omens we will be guided in our journey. They have happened for a reason which we may choose to find out.
In this month we received notification of your acceptance into two long day care centres for 1994. It was with a sense of relief and sadness that I organised this. I was concerned about your well being while I was going back to school and felt that a burden was lightened with the acceptance of you into “school”. You were initially placed in two centres, as one could not take you for five days. We preferred Galston as it meant we were able to spend the maximum time with you in the morning and we could pick you up early in the afternoon. You seemed to like Galston on the occasions that we visited and I made a few other visits with you in order to get you used to the centre.
The sadness which I was experiencing was because I did not want to spend less time with you. Naturally I have developed a strong attachment to you. On the other hand my reasoning was that I wanted to go back to work because I believed it would keep me in a good frame of mind. We also had holidays in which we could spend more time with you doing different things. Finally, we honestly believed that you would benefit from mixing with people of the same age group. While I looked after you, you tended to miss this interaction as I did not get involved with play groups.
The last weeks of Jenny’s school year coincided with your recovery period from illness. As with the end of any school year we were quite busy. One Friday we took you to your first Christmas Carol Service. We set up camp at the back of the “Stables” (the school Chapel and hall). You had slept before hand, so I was confident that you would not be tired. I was not sure how you would react to the large numbers of people and the singing, so I wanted to get you in early, but I was unable to do so because I forgot to mention this concern to Jenny and she had taken you to the staffroom. You were fine when I took you in but at the beginning I soon realised that we were trapped. The choir not only filed in through the nearest door but a young blond boy with a beautiful voice was standing right at the entrance with the rest of the choir behind him singing a solo. You looked at him confused and I expected you to cry. I opened the window behind me and I was ready to jump out with you if it was necessary. As it turned out you were very good throughout the entire service, even if a few people felt (but did not say) that you were undisciplined. We had always had trouble keeping you in one spot, especially when you were not tired. We kept you quiet by allowing you to move around but you often crawled under the chair of student, much to his/her amusement, and in and out the back door at will. I was not going to hold you because that was not what we normally did and if I changed you would have performed. We thought you were very good and even though you were tired you tolerated us cleaning up the staffroom after supper.
I did not think that attending Speech Night would be as easy as attending Carols, as it was for a longer period of time. I decided to give you a sleep beforehand. You slept well and we arrived late to observe the nocturnal wanderings of presumably other late arrivals. The setting at the Hills Centre was dark and this, combined with the clapping, scared you, so I watched much of the proceedings downstairs on the television. Once again you were good but very tired. You had to front up the next day to the staff Christmas party and you did well there too.
We had made a conscious decision to take you to all the work functions. We have never considered work and all the important functions as an appendage to our lifestyle, rather we consider work to be part of our way of life and thus something you should do and want to do. We would like you to consider your work, whatever it may be in the same light.
December – January 1993-1994
I joked with Jenny that when she finished work my holidays would begin. We spent the first three days at St Ives before we went to Avoca for the two weeks before Christmas. This was the beginning of an eight week period in which Mum would have more contact with you in your home environment. During the year we travelled in the breaks, so being at home was a new experience for all three of us. At the start I joked that I would ring Mr Welsh to restart school, as Mum had changed our routine. Gone were the sleeping in, the regular sleeps and eating (including tin food which we both loved for different reasons) and the long periods of peace, quiet and inactivity. Mum got us back into a different routine which I could best describe as more in line with the real world. The year as I knew it and best remembered it was a thing of the past.
Having Mum at home gave me extended periods of time to do things which I had been neglecting. I was able to mow the lawns; break, fix and then clean the pool; get rid of the compost heap from the backyard; assemble your swing; and prepare for the lunch for my school mates. In these first three days Mum had you for most of the time and she could not even pass you to me at 4 00pm. You kept her busy.
We went to Avoca the day after the lunch with my friends. We arrived late as I had had too much to drink on an empty stomach. Fortunately for me Mum looked after the both of us for the next day and a half. Partly because of my state of health, Mum getting used to you for extended periods, my doing a few jobs around Avoca and Christmas shopping at Erina, it took us a while to settle down to rest.
Fortunately I told the majority of our friends that we were going to spend the first week to ourselves relaxing. We needed this time and probably a bit more. I ended up ringing a few people to get them to visit on certain days. It was not that we did not want to see people or mix groups of friends. We preferred to have fewer people with breaks so we could spend “quality” time catching up with each other. Most people understood and appreciated what we were trying to do.
Right on the end of this month you started walking at Avoca. It happened quickly and you were quite mobile around Christmas and New Year, but for now I will go back to the beginning of the month. You spent a couple of Saturdays at tennis with Jenny. Jenny’s tennis partners were very good at looking after you while she was on the court. We kept on telling them that the management of you would get easier as you got older. The reason why you were at tennis was because I was helping Phillipa move into her new home. You went the second time with me to watch Mum in a final.
I could not believe an experience I had in the supermarket the other day. All year I had been shopping with you and I have told you what happened with some of the customers. I was completing a rather large shop and the manager (who knew us) stopped and started taking the goods out of the trolley for me. I was embarrassed by this but did not do anything about it. She was only trying to be helpful but once again it did not feel right as I looked around the store to see other mothers with children. The manager went one step further and asked me if I wanted someone to help me pack the goods in the car.
In this period you also began to know and recognise some of our friends who visited us more frequently. Di called in for a cup of tea. Usually when she would call around I would have an activity to do. One day we cleaned windows, another we had a few drinks and on this day we sanded and painted an outdoor chair in six different colours. Di arrived and promptly placed her keys at a higher altitude beyond your reach. For some reason she did not like you slobbering all over them. You knew her and created havoc for her while I was sanding the seat. You have also come to know Matt Curtis quite well. Matt is quietly spoken and you seemed to be taken in by his presence. I caught you a few times sitting on my lap just looking at him. More recently you felt comfortable enough to crawl up to him and sit on his lap while we talked.
With your increased mobility you became more adventurous. You started to stand from a squat position while holding on to something in your hand. after a few seconds your balance would naturally give way or you would realise that you were standing up and you would sit down. The contents of cupboards were no longer safe and in fact anything high up was not that secure either as you were climbing. One night after you had settled in the cot we heard a thud which was unmistakably you. You had fallen out of the cot. We had to place cushions under the rails in case you did it again. You were actually getting too big for the portable cot for the extended periods of stay at Avoca. Fortunately we were able to borrow a spare cot for Avoca. You also took to standing up in the high chair. So I took the one we got from Bob and Gina to Avoca and purchased a plastic one which had a tray which could be pushed up against your body. At that stage I did not think of putting a cushion behind you to trap you in. We went to visit Philip, Patsie and Jack and Phil could not believe how mobile you were and how you got into everything. He even asked if all kids were like you. When Jenny went to the eye doctor I put you on the ground and before I knew it you were in the files and reaching up to tap the computer keyboard, like you did at home.
You became very good at going up steps and ledges in the backyard but we could not get you to descend safely. You could not understand the concept of going backwards, although you sometimes did it from the lounge. It must be a maturation thing.
What I got out of the year?
Having you has made my life at Northholm easier in terms of relating to staff, students and parents. I have not changed that much, rather the other side of my character has been revealed; a side which does not normally emerge while at school.
Due to the time I have spent with you I have learned that I can be healthy (although not as fit and competitive as in the past) on less training. I started to consider walking and gardening as well as running, swimming and cycling, as worthwhile exercise. I also mentally shifted to liking running more slowly and less competitively. Though your presence delayed any future study it gave me time to make a more considered decision on the precise nature of my study. At the moment I am more inclined to study than write a textbook.
I really appreciated the opportunity to reflect upon my spiritual and your spiritual development. Some questions have in part been answered but in the process of answering them I have raised others. No doubt spirituality is a lifelong process but 1993 has proved to be formative.
Likewise I have enjoyed thinking and reading about philosophical issues. More importantly I began to understand how important everyday actions are to the development of my philosophy and way of life. Watching and seeing the way you have just done things because they are to be done, not only opened up your world but mine as well. This helped me begin to understand what “here and now” really means.
Throughout the year I paid more attention to my dreams as a means to understand my consciousness and subconsciousness. I have found this interesting because it has helped me develop a deeper understanding of my needs, post natal depression and an evolving psychological state. I have learned a great deal by watching and trying to understand your changing/developing personality, particularly your determination.
Besides the normal things I have learnt about parenting, being at home with you, although not unique, has been an experience which only a minority of men have, even in this liberated society. At no stage did I feel frowned upon or threatened. On the other hand the social infrastructure (mothers’ groups, playgroups and even some shopping centres’ amenities) were not geared for the entry of males into the realm of primary care giving.
I have learnt as much as a male can about about what mothers go through when they stay at home with their children. No amount of reading or talking substitutes for actually taking off time and being at home with a child. I feel my situation was partly artificial as I knew I would be going back to work. Due to this I did not feel a need to cultivate new friendships or to get out and about. I was happy to sit at home with you, establish a routine, learn to look after you and without demeaning parenthood, enjoy my year off teaching.
My time with you has enabled me to think about my career and role at Northholm. I am convinced my career will always be in education. I have to work on the most effective and diplomatic way of getting across what I am trying to do. This year thinking about your future education has helped me crystallise what I am trying to do and my role in education, teaching and learning. It took me a while to work out my role(s) at Northholm. Increasingly I have come to see my primary position as becoming a good classroom teacher.
Your birth and existence provided me a reason to develop my ideas more formally in writing. I have shown what I have written to a few interested people over the year and a number of people have heard about my writing. The purpose of writing was to give you something different at your twenty first birthday, but you may come across it before then. I am happy for other people to read it, as they may find it interesting and perhaps useful. By doing this I have also built a rod for my own back because if we have any other children I will want to do the same or something similar for them.
Sometimes I found it hard to generate ideas, particularly when you did nothing for so long. I often resorted to writing about myself not for selfish reasons but because that’s something about which I know. I wanted you to know a little bit about what Jenny and I were doing and thinking when you were born. I found writing to be very therapeutic for me and in some cases useful for others.
My writing has improved and it needed to. What I found fascinating and difficult to deal with was the use of tenses. Much of my ideas were generated in the present in the Pub Book but then sometimes I would write about things in the past. In the end I tried as much as possible to edit in the past tense. I have naturally felt more comfortable writing and reading in the first person and the current tense but it became confusing when I wanted to add comments in hindsight. Another difficulty was that at first I was talking about you as an unborn baby and I did not know how to refer to you. I liked how at the hospital you were baby Plüss. I’ll use this next time. For the first six months I wrote about you and then I decided to write to you. This involved another edit.
There are other things which I would have liked to have included such as the decision process behind taking the year off and Jenny’s pregnancy. The Pub Book has much of the decision making process in it and it did not feel right to bring it in. I thought it would not fit in properly as it was more a part of my state of mind in 1992 not 1993. I did not feel it was my role to write about and interpret the pregnancy. You will have to ask Mum about that.
What you have done for others?
I could be careful and protect myself from an accusation of parental bias but I will leave that up to you and other readers.
Whether you know it or not you provided an example. Many people told us you were a good baby. Jenny and I did not hide if you were being difficult and did not pretend you were good if you were not: fortunately the latter was rare. You provided an example, particularly at school for the students, of how men can stay at home and look after the child. This was one of the reasons why I took you around the playground. Like most babies you made many people happy, not only due to your existence but also because of your good nature. You made our life much easier with your great Grandma, you thrilled my parents (Grandma and Ric) and there would have been a similar response from Jenny’s parents (Neville and Helen) if they were alive. The response from our brothers and sister was much more excitement than I imagined. Our friends were very supportive of us and most sincere in their appreciation of you.
Future life skills
I would not pretend to know what the future holds but I sincerely believe that it is yours for the making. All the good and bad things will happen for a reason, as will the development of your friendships and relationships. No matter what the experience, on reflection, you will see the positive benefits. I should take the advice of my sister, Nicole, and “show” and not “tell” but there are a couple of key words which I have found useful to try and understand and live by. It is not easy but at least it is worth the try.
Being able to communicate effectively is an important skill to develop. This involves being able to determine when is the best time to communicate and by which method. I feel the most important step is to be a good listener.
The ability to have compassion and understanding is also important. You do not have to put yourself in another person’s situation but it does help to try and understand what the other person is going through.
I have written about forgiveness. This is not only important for yourself but for others because if we do not forgive our mind gets cluttered and we cannot function as well as we should be able to do. Also it is the right thing to do.
Being humble of your abilities and achievement is something I have learnt particularly from your mother. There is no need to highlight what has been done well. Just do things for the sake of doing them and leave it at that. However, sometimes in life you may have to speak about your accomplishments: this can be done with humility.
The development of patience and tolerance is not easy but is worthwhile. A flatmate from Bowral, Bernard Court, often used to say “things come to those who wait” and I used to add that there was nothing wrong with helping things along in the right way.
Being a thoughtful person is also useful. I do not believe that we can always think before we act but at least we can think about our actions and act on them if it becomes necessary.
You spent almost all your first Christmas shopping time in a backpack at Erina Mall. We tried to do most of the shopping before the public schools broke up. The shops were not too crowded and we mostly got a parking space out the front. We would go after you had had a sleep, usually in the afternoon, for two to three hours. Jenny did not like using the stroller and I did not mind using the backpack so it was a good compromise.
When you were alert you would lean on either side looking at everything which we passed. I had to be careful when I walked through shops because of the extra depth to my back. On a few occasions I almost knocked over a couple of items. I had to be extra careful that I gave most items a wider berth because if you were in reach you would pull everything down or hold them and shop alarms would go off when I walked out.
As you would start to get tired and irritable, as I would too after two hours in a backpack, you would lean over and either bite me on the ear or pull my hair and head back. At these times my hands would be full and I would have to call to Jenny to get you to let go of my hair. I found it difficult to decide whether to pat you on the hand to try to get you to stop, as I did not know if you understood what you were doing was wrong or not. Likewise, I could never tell if you knew you were hurting Paddles when you yanked at her fur and her tail.
When you got tired I would feel the weight of your body slip and your head would rest on my neck or shoulder. You would not go to sleep, well, at shopping, anyway. You did sleep in the backpack one Sunday when Hordern and I went for a walk to Middle Harbour Creek from St Ives. (You also got sunburnt as well.)
As for the shopping itself, things can really get out of control with children. Were we meant to buy presents from you for everyone? We also had all our friends and family with children to buy for. We did not mind buying presents it was just not knowing what to buy. You ended up receiving presents and we did not buy special presents from you, we just put you on the same card.
Mum wrapped all the presents including hers and you watched her with interest. We came home late on Christmas Eve and after having put you to bed we had to organise the presents into boxes for Philip and Patsies place and then Grandma and Rics place. We got up in the morning to open our presents and you instinctively knew what to do, but you tended to think that all the presents were yours. I left you at home with Mum and picked up your great Grandma and brought her back to our place then we drove to Philip’s place at Mosman. There were about twelve people there and the opening of the presents was rather hectic. You seemed less interested in the presents and more interested in the people. I was amazed at how good you were. At one stage there were presents and people all over the place and there was you in the middle of the room on the floor drinking your bottle.
After a game of backyard cricket with Jack’s baby cricket set we had some lunch and decided to drive to Strathfield to see my family. Philip and Patsie were going to drive Grandma home. Paul could not make it as he was on duty at the hospital on the Gold Coast but the rest of the family were there, including Nicole and Hordern who became engaged twenty four hours earlier. I was really pleased when Nicole asked me to be her best man. We played Scrabble in the afternoon and later I opened Paul’s present from us so we could play the 1993 Trivial Pursuit in the evening. You were tired and would not eat and you would not settle down to sleep. Unfortunately you fell asleep while you had a bottle and we put you to bed. You woke up in the cot with a shock and we had trouble getting you back to sleep again. I did not want to give you another bottle so after some food I patted you back to sleep.
Boxing Day was a rest day which you needed and we enjoyed the rest as well. In the week between Christmas and New Year we visited the Mairs’ for a lunch and Philip, Patsie and Jack at Avoca for a night. We slept downstairs at Avoca and you had a most unsettled night. I thought you were uncomfortable in the mobile cot but as it turned out you were at the beginning of a cold which was to hang around for a while. So we decided to lay low and give you some stability at home for a few days. You had had too many nights in different houses in different beds.
After coming down to Sydney for a few days we decided to go back up to Avoca on New Years’ Eve. Nothing much happened as we rested read and took you to the beach. One Sunday we took you to Palm Beach to visit Tina Hunter who was back from the Philippines. It was years since I had been there and I could not believe the traffic and the absence of parking spaces. We were meant to visit at Tina’s parents’ place but they decided to go to the beach. We arrived and could not give you a sleep which was what we had planned to do. So I decided to walk you in the back pack up to the north end, point out Gordon’s place and back again. With just under a a kilometre to go I could feel that you were a dead weight, your head was flopping around the place and people were pointing to you: you had fallen asleep. Eventually your head flopped forward and stayed there. When I returned I saw that Jenny was still talking so I kept on walking so that you would have a decent sleep. We were going to have fish and chips on the Pittwater side of Palm Beach but this time we could not find a parking spot at all and you were very hungry, so we continued on home.
We stayed at St Ives for two nights so we would be around to pick up Phillipa at the airport after her trip to Nepal, England and Egypt. We arranged to meet Grandma and Ric at Avoca on the afternoon we picked up Phillipa and they stayed with us and took you to the beach. You really did love the water. You seemed to show no fear as you crawled out to sea. On two occasions you were sitting on the fringe of the incoming waves and got dumped. I had wrongly gambled on how forceful the waves would be. The waves knocked you over and rolled you up the berm. I still have this vision of you on your back, submerged with the water passing over your body and face with your eyes opened. I was not too concerned but there were a few gasps from other people on the beach. I picked you up before the backwash took you out to sea. You were not crying but neither were you laughing. There was one other time when I was concerned about your well being in the surf and this was my silly mistake. It was close to high tide and I was holding you on the fringe of the surf in water up to my waist. We were playing in the swell that was coming towards us and I would jump with you as the swell passed by. During one of these jumps there was a backwash as well and I was pushed out to sea a further metre. The water was a little deeper and I had to hold you in the air with outstretched arms while I was under the water. Fortunately, the swell pushed us back to the shallower water. I am usually very cautious in the surf. It was very silly of me to do what I did.
John and Lily visited and you enjoyed this as you played with their daughter. By this stage you were walking quite well and you just followed her around the house. Later that night while we were playing scrabble Matt Curtis called in to visit for a night. The next day when we took you to the beach there were burnt leaves falling out of the sky and soot washing up on the beach. John and Lily had left in the early afternoon for Sydney and just made it through before the police closed the freeway due to bushfires.
Matt stayed with us for a very pleasant week while we waited for the road to open and the traffic to flow as we did not want to be stranded on the road with you and Paddles if the fires spread once again. It was nice being stranded, with a sense of guilt that we were not helping, at Avoca. As I have said before you and Matt got on very well. He carried you around and you would go up to him and give him something that you were playing with.
It was one of those periods that I have told you about before where almost everyone was thinking about the same thing: bushfires. As I observed people at Avoca it made me wonder about the priorities of different people. The man in the newsagency was angry because he normally would sell 2000 papers on a Saturday in the holiday time. With the closed roads he received no papers. In fact central coast editions of the papers were not even printed on one day as they knew there was no transport. Other people were buying up stock in the shops as they were concerned that supplies would dwindle. How do I know? I was buying baby food for you at double the normal price. Finally people who had rented places for a week were refusing to move out as they could not get home and people were arriving, mainly from the north to start their weeks holiday with no place to stay.
The last week
When we came home we realised that we had been away for more than a month with only a few days back in Sydney. We put you on the floor and you started climbing everything and walking all over the place. Your newfounded mobility was combined with intense curiosity, consequently I had to re-arrange the furniture as you were getting into all sorts of things which could have been broken. It was at this time we decided that daycare would be good for you.
In the last week before you became a number (your first birthday), I was still feeling fragile about daycare, but knew, given our circumstances, that it was the best thing for you. In the evening I would go into your room to watch you sleep, tell you about daycare and kiss you. For me the week was a tiring and emotional one. On Thursday and Friday you had two full days at Galston Long Day Care Centre and I went to school to get organised for the coming year back at work. Only you can tell us what it was like for you to be away from us. We celebrated your first birthday at Avoca with Grandma and Ric the next day.