So I know that this is a running blog, but I've been dealing with an injury from the GUCR for the last few months and haven't really done enough running to bang on about. So, if you'll forgive me, I'm going to use this forum to bang on about something else in my life which is incredibly important to me - parenthood. Feel free to switch over to something more running related now. I hear James Adams has a book out. I've been in the illustrious club of mini-human wranglers for 18 months now, and think I have a pretty good handle on things. Don't get me wrong, I'm no expert (who is?!), but I know which end to put food in (and know very well which end it comes out again). But some things about being a parent really took my surprise, largely because I watch far too much television - and it ain't nothing like you see in the movies! So here are 10 things that have surprised me about being a parent:
1: They'll let any idiot do it
Seriously. I can't believe that you're just allowed to create a human being with no real interjection whatsoever. There should at least be a test or something, right? I wouldn't let me have children if I were in charge, never mind some of the other mouth breathers out there procreating as we speak.
2: Giving birth is nothing like you see in the movies
Don't worry, I'm not going to go into the details (for everybody's benefit, not least my wife's), but suffice to say that giving birth is not a case of: 1) Your waters break; 2) You are desperately rushed to hospital before you have to pop it out in the car park; 3) "Breathe! Breathe! Breathe! Now push! Wow, it's a boy!". It's funny, because when I was younger I knew the concept of "waters breaking", but because of the way that TV and film is, I never really got that it was a potentially messy affair. I think the Friends episode where Phoebe gives birth was the first time it really clicked. We went to test a new car on our due date, and I made Jen sit on a bin bag the whole time. You
break it cover it in mucus, you've bought it!
It was a very different experience than I expected, I have to say. I was woken up at a very reasonable time in the morning by Jen who had started having contractions a few hours earlier, but had let me sleep in so that I was in a position to help out later. We then spent 12 hours watching Criminal Minds on Netflix, intermittently pausing for a few minutes when Jen was having trouble paying attention. We finally went to hospital in the late evening, and it was a lot longer before Lottie was actually born. You want to talk about an ultra... There's no way I can ever pussy out of a piddly little run ever again; "Oh boo hoo. Your knee hurts? I pushed a human being out of me for 28 hours - man the fuck up!"
It's also a lot messier than I originally would have expected (although I was well prepared for this fact by the time of the actual event). It helps to have somebody willing to give you the warts and all description of what to expect, and our friends are nothing if not disturbingly honest.
Plus Aliens is my favourite film.
3: Nothing can prepare you for that first night
I remember when I first passed my driving test (granted it took me 3 attempts, but I maintain that those two failures were entirely unfair... grumble). I was dropped off back at home, got in my own car, and sat there trying to get my head around the fact that I could now just go. I didn't have to wait for someone to tell me it was okay, I didn't have anybody to tell me what to do, it was just me and the open road. I still remember that feeling where I suddenly realised I didn't have to keep my hands at 10 and 2 if I didn't want to...
I had a similar feeling when we got home from the hospital, although at least there were two clueless people trying to work out what the hell to do (you don't need to hold them at 10 and 2 for instance). I mean, we had obviously read all the books, spoken to people, practiced on other people's children, and knew what we were supposed to do - but reading a book and actually doing it are two very different prospects altogether.
But regardless of how clueless you feel, you just get on with it, and if you all survive the night you've done a good job. Congratulations, you're now a parent!
4: Babies are pretty robust
Seriously. The first time you hold a baby, you think they're just going to break in half. But they're pretty damn hardy. I'm not saying that you should just chuck them around or anything, but if you treat them as if they're made of glass you'll go nuts. You pretty quickly learn and become much better at performing tasks like changing nappies and getting them dressed. I was lucky in that I got to practice on my friends' children in advance, so got past that awkward "what the fuck do I do now" moment on other peoples' kids. Score!
5: Babies aren't as destructive as I expected
I was expecting my house to be turned completely upside down, and thought we would have to wrap everything in cotton wool to protect it. But actually babies (and more importantly toddlers) aren't anywhere near as destructive as I would have thought. I thought that she would constantly be grabbing and smashing things, pushing the TV over, running her head into the corners of things, and generally being a whirling dervish of righteous retribution. But really she's very sensible, and if she does bump into something she generally remembers to be more careful next time. And the TV is still standing, if a little worse for wear with sticky finger prints. Of course this might all change as she enters the terrible twos and starts to learn how to act out. Time will tell.
6: People insist on touching your child
Usually old people. At first it used to really annoy me, and I found myself being very protective and distrustful of people (usually old people). It still annoys me a bit, but I find myself being a little more permissive these days and don't immediately assume everybody I meet is a psychopath. Just some of them. I don't know how Jen coped when people used to touch her bump while pregnant without asking. I would have punched someone. Usually old people.
7: People look at Dad's in a funny way
I never used to really appreciate the Fathers 4 Justice thing (except for the whole dressing up as superheroes thing - that I can totally get behind). But as a father now I completely see how Dads are seen differently from Mums. It's getting better, but for many people Mum is still seen as the primary caregiver. In our home we have a nice split, where Jen looks after Lottie 2 days a week and I look after her 1 day. And I do often get comments like, "Oh are you on babysitting duties today then?". No, I'm just being a father. Mum would never get that. But generally there's no malice or ill will involved, it's just that the idea of shared childcare is a little alien to some people. But I do sometimes find myself feeling a little self-conscious when I'm surrounded by mummies, particularly if Lottie has a little fall or something. Nothing cuts through you like a well placed "tut" from a mummy.
8: All babies are different
If I am ever consulted for advice on parenting from my friends (or, as is more likely, if I force my advice on them), the number one piece of advice is this; "Don't take anyone's advice". I mean, speaking to other parents to find out how they dealt with certain dramas is a great idea, and the internet is a fantastic resource for parenting assistance, but what works for one person will not necessarily work for others. Believe it or not, all babies are different, and there is no single cookie cutter "best way" to raise your child. Obviously there are some pretty definite things to not do, but I have learned to switch off from anybody that tries to claim that their method is the best or only way to do things. It always amazes me how black and white a lot of health visitors are, despite the fact that if you ask any two you will most likely get two different answers. The chances are that whatever you decide is the best way to do things will be the best way to do things. "Keep calm and just parent". "Stop trying to parent and parent". "Additional annoying cliched phrase about parenting".
One good example is with respect to sleeping. We have not had the greatest experience with this. Lottie simply is not a fan. For about 9 months we took it in turns to have a tiny person scream in our ear, and this went on all evening and most of the night. Frankly it amazed me how she had the energy. Unfortunately, she appears to have developed my endurance, lung capacity, and ability to cope without sleep (which was sorely put to the test, believe me). The problem is that people who's children did sleep, or who tried one of the many methods for fixing this that actually did work for them, just can't seem to understand that some babies just aren't sleepers. Trust me, we tried everything. Of course we did - we wanted it to get better. But we had a baby who refused to drink milk from a bottle, refused to take a dummy, and whose response to being tired was to scream as loudly and violently as she possibly could. In the end, no one thing that we did "fixed" her. But one day, I just realised that I wasn't afraid to put to her to sleep anymore, tip-toeing out of the room terrified that I would do something to wake her up guaranteeing another sleepiness night. But everybody we spoke to would always have a sure-fire method guaranteed to work. "Well it's because you should be doing x, y and z". This was largely why we stopped listening to advice... One of our friends is a good example here. Her first child slept brilliantly, and when number two came along she did exactly the same thing - only to find a child like Lottie who was an incredibly reluctant visitor to the Land of Nod.
But I look at this whole experience in a very positive way. She is now the happiest, smiliest, most fun little child I have ever known (I know I'm biased, but still...), and she is absolutely perfect in my eyes. She very rarely isn't laughing and she lights up my life every time I'm with her (see point 9...). But perhaps if she had been a sleeper from the beginning, she would be different now. I think that it's a fair trade - although it's easy to say that now that it's over! Sleep deprivation is used as torture for a reason.
9: It changes you in really odd ways
I used to think that I was pretty emotionally dead inside. Not in a bad way (erm...), just that I never really cried or really knew how to deal with emotional experiences. But since having Lottie I have turned into a gibbering wreck. The loss of our dog last year made me cry more than I have ever cried before in my life, which is perhaps not surprising at the loss of a loved family member. But slightly odder is the fact that I was in bits while watching How to Train Your Dragon 2 last week. I'm glad that I'm not dead inside, but at the same time I can't seem to watch children's films without collapsing in a blubbering heap. And that makes me sad.
Oh no, there I go.... *sniff*
10: It's fucking awesome, and just gets awesomer
Having kids was always my plan. I certainly wasn't an unwilling participant. But like most people (particularly guys) I wasn't really sure what to expect. But right from the start it has changed my life in really quite amazing ways. Suddenly my purpose in life is entirely clear, and whatever else I do my main focus is to bring my child into this world with the skills, morals and knowledge that she needs. I am one of those people that can't do nothing - I always need something to fill my time (like this blog, which is essentially a bit of a diary for me). But when I'm with Lottie, even when doing nothing, I don't feel like I have to fill my time. Watching her is enough for me to feel like I am doing something useful. Right from the start, having kids was awesome (even ignoring the whole lack of sleep thing). But as she has grown up, she has just got more and more fun. When she first started responding to us and smiling, it was incredible. When she first learned to crawl, it was a whole new world of exploration. When she started walking, the fun really began. And now that she is running around, climbing on everything in sight, jumping, giggling, starting to talk, and generally being the cheeky light of my life, I have never ever been happier. So I can only imagine what the next few years can possibly bring. It can't possibly get any better than this could it?
Well, I suppose my foot could hurry up and sort itself out so I could bloody run...