Me: I’m here to sign my son up for swimming classes.
Receptionist: What’s his name?
Me: Finn Tomes.
Receptionist: And . . . which classes has he completed?
Me: Jellyfish and Frogs.
Receptionist: Right. Let me just check whether he’s due to graduate to Penguins.
(She goes off to mutter at someone and returns.)
Receptionist: We’ll put him back in Frogs this term-
Me: EXCUSE ME?
Receptionist: We’ll put him back-
Me: Oh, I HEARD YOU. Look. I don’t mean to be some pushy parent; but my son is QUITE CLEARLY a PENGUIN.
Me: He’s been swimming all summer*- he’s half-baby half-fish. Like some sort of baby-fish mutant hybrid. With extra webbing.
Receptionist: Um. We can only go on what the instructor says-
Me: Well, on the assessment form from his last class, he scored top marks on everything except monkey-monkey supported and kicking in a supine position – so I don’t know what HER problem is.
Me: I feel you’re holding him back.
Receptionist: I’ll just- maybe- would you like to speak to the manager?
Me: I should think so. *SNIFF!*
(After 15 minutes arguing compellingly and evidently persuasively about Finn’s potential for long-distance swimming or at least flotation):
Manager: We have a free slot in the Tuesday Penguin class-
Me: That’ll do.
Manager: How do you spell Finn? F- I- N- N-
Me: Wait- wait- sorry. Do you- do you really think Finn should re-swim the Frog class?
Manager: Well, he’s still very young-
Me: I’m worried maybe I’m pushing him too far too fast.
Me: I’m conflicted about the type of parenting methodology I should adopt.
Me: Perhaps he’d better go back in the Frogs.
* I threw him into a wave once or twice
I hope everyone is looking forward to a surpassingly excellent Christmas and brewing up an extra-strong cup of kindness for welcoming in the new year.
Wait- one moment please- I’m getting some breaking news from my online feed. Oh. It appears I’m a little belated. Seriously? Is it 2013 already? Are you SURE? Doesn’t feel like it. Never mind; at least I can throw out my extra-strong cup of kindness, which smells like composted grass.
If you didn’t get a Christmas card from us, it’s because the dog ate it. Also, my new android phone is obviously too high-tech for postal addresses, since it dumped them all when I imported my contacts.
Better get on with compiling new years resolutions. Starting with:
1. Better excuses.
So, how is everyone? Sorry it’s been ages since my last update-
2. Blog more frequently.
But in my defense-
3. Less excuses; quality not quantity. Refer to resolution (1).
-after hangin’ with John Key, it’s hard to write a sequel.
4. Meet a(nother) national treasure e.g. The Topp Twins.
(Although should we ever bump into the yodeling lesbian twins specializing in comical country music, I might never blog again because I’d know such an experience could never be surpassed. Maybe I should aim to meet Dave Dobbyn – or simply stick to three resolutions. That’s plenty.)
We have enjoyed the most amazing, exhilarating, thrilling year and I’m quite exhausted – but I can’t wait to see what treats 2013 has lined up for us.
Our little boy turned one last week and it’s difficult to recall what our lives were like before him.
Watching him grow is a remarkable experience. In the space of only six months, he has progressed from lying on the floor punching himself in the face to- well, mainly punching me in the face, instead- but also: rolling, crawling, standing and chortling – especially when swinging in the playground.
He never stays still and changing his nappy is a writhing, squirming, flailing conflagration of legs and hands and bottom.
Unfortunately, the way he expresses love can be somewhat violent. At the moment, our family catch-phrases include, ‘No biting, just kissing’ and ‘Use your gentleness for good not evil’. Also: ‘GAH NOT THE GLASSES!’
Finn now puts his arms around my neck and plays with my hair while snuggling – which is lovely until he concludes cuddles by sinking his teeth (all two of them) into my shoulder.
I had no idea how babies got around to speaking, but subconsciously I rather expected Finn to turn around one day and say, “While you’re at the fridge, Old Girl, would you mind passing the Roquefort?” Months ago, his adoring grandmother claimed Finn had an extensive lexicon, but it’s only been relatively recently he credibly says ‘mama’, ‘dada’, ‘dog’ and ‘uh-oh’.
He’s a sociable little fella, ready with a smile and pointy finger for everyone. A keen and talented grocery shopper, Finn flirts shamelessly with the check-out assistants.
He adores his father and practically leaps out of my arms to get to Andrew to confide how I beat and starve him.
However, it’s comforting that I’m still his favourite person upon whom to wipe his nose.
It is such a privilege to love him. Finn is a funny, joyful, generous little boy and caring for him is a gift. I still can’t quite believe how fortunate we are to be able to share his life.
Here’s how it all came about: it was last Friday, and we were trying to avoid Charles and Camilla. They are apparently atrocious bores so you don’t want to get stuck with them at a party or, for that matter, a Canterbury A&P Show.
We were lurking outside the showground when we bumped into John Key – or more accurately, one of his security detail.
“Quick!” I said, “Get Finn out of his stroller so I can introduce him to John Key.”
Andrew was disappointingly reluctant.
“Come on, Niamhie,” he said. “He’s got better things to do-”
“Like what? Kissing babies is his job-”
“Running the country is his job,” said Andrew primly.
I snorted. Well, John Key quite obviously wasn’t waiting on an imminent fax from Vladimir Putin; he also happened to be snogging a baby at that moment, which I felt somewhat undermined Andrew’s argument.
“Look,” I said, “I think it’s really selfish of you to deprive your son of the opportunity to meet John Key.”
“What makes New Zealand great is that celebrities can walk around unmolested.”
FIRSTLY, John Key isn’t a celebrity; he’s a politician. Secondly, what makes New Zealand great is bungee jumping and Sauron The Dark Lord. And thirdly, these things make New Zealand really pretty awesome but hardly ‘great’. I’m not dissing my chosen home; it’s just that there are very few countries that qualify as ‘great’. In fact I can think of just two: The USA, due to its size and Davy Crockett; and England, because it says so in the title, but also because, you know, Genghis Khan.
Husband eventually capitulated, mainly because I started whining and threatened to sulk.
Johnny is SUCH a dude. No really; I like him. People were swarming around shoving their children at him – many with chocolaty hands – and although there was a touch of rigor mortis about his smile, it never faltered. He wasn’t that sweaty even though it was a hot, sunny day and he was stuffed into a suit.
I had no intention of foisting my cranky, squirming progeny on him, but Johnny seized Finn and didn’t drop him once. He fully complied with my request to ‘show some teeth’.
This is the result of a photo op that lasted about 3 milliseconds:
Not only did Finn get touched by greatness, I got in a quick grope so you might say I also touched the greatness
Me: *yawn* ’Night. I’m off to bed.
Husband: It’s 11:00pm. I thought you were going to get to bed earlier?
Me: Yes. BUT.
Me: I was doing something really very extremely important.
Husband: That right?
Me: Yes. And also, time-critical.
Husband: You were reading Dear Prudence?
Me: I did that this morning.
Husband: Go on then -what was it?
Me: I would tell you, except I’m concerned you won’t appreciate the grave importance-
Husband: All right*.
Me: Ok then; I was looking up elf outfits for Finn.
Husband: . . .
Me: For Christmas.
Husband: You can’t make your child a prop**!
Me: Ooh, I think you’ll find I totally can.
Me: There’s the CUTEST little elf suit on Trademe, but it’s to fit age 3-6 months. Why, why couldn’t Finn have been born four to seven months LATER? Damn him.
Husband: You’re not one of these people who send out cards with pictures of their kids dressed up, are you?
Me: No, no; I already have an idea for our Christmas cards.
Husband: Which is?
Me: Finn as Scrooge holding a sign which says ‘Fuck Christmas’.
Me: What d’you think?
Me: Genius, huh?
Husband: And you’re going to send this out to your family, are you? And my grandparents?
Me: No, I’ll send them the card with Finn in his elf suit. Hey, that reminds me; we must get a Santa hat for our dog-
Husband: We already have one.
* It annoys the crap out of me when Husband pretends like he doesn’t hang on my every word.
** I have no idea what Husband thought this was all about
When Finn was 3 months old, I enrolled us in SPACE: a playgroup recommended by Angela.
You know? Angela. Lovely woman. I regret our friendship was so fleeting. It started auspiciously enough, when I bought some cloth nappies from her at the Oamaru Opera House. Unfortunately the second time we met – at the inaugural meeting of the Book Club – I hugged her inappropriately. My excuse – actually, I have two – were: 1) pregnancy hormones; and ALSO 2) she looks cuddlesome.
Angela never invited me to any subsequent Book Club meetings – which was actually fine by me because even still I’m vaguely traumatized by Monique’s recounting how she explained menstruation to her five year old son. Shortly after Finn’s birth, Angela visited the house with some lemon cake and we conversed awkwardly. I couldn’t stop thinking about hugging her, and I could tell the poor woman was terrified I might fling myself on her at any moment for snuggle time.
I never heard from Angela again.
I still miss her.
Anyway, playgroup. Around the fourth session, I discovered SPACE starts at 1:00pm, not 1:30pm. Of course I’d noticed Finn and I were the last to arrive, but had assumed the other mothers were unusually – in fact, retroactively – punctual.
Finn and I had been missing the singing. SPACE kicks off with ‘The Welcome Song’ in Maori. I’m convinced the words change every week; after the first line, ‘Te aro ho(?)/ha(?)’, it’s an organic jumble of ‘wha’, ‘ka’, ‘pa’ and ‘po’ noises.
The rest of the songs – in English – generally involve actions. I never realized how difficult it is to simultaneously sing and mime. In particular, ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ makes me almost appreciate Justin Bieber. (I have no idea why Incy Wincy couldn’t have been a possum – or a seal. I can do a wicked seal impression.)
Singing is followed by a ‘thought for the day’, which generally places a sinister emphasis on ‘fun’ and ‘play’. For example: ‘Your baby will remember having fun with you, not whether the house was tidy’.
Quite apart from the fact that I’m pretty sure Finn will remember neither for quite some time; but, where is a child supposed to learn a work ethic? The sense of satisfaction, achievement and self-worth derived from welding, or preparing tasty snacks for his mother?
Here’s another: ‘the most precious gift you can give your child is time.’
Well, there are 86,400 precious gifts in any given day, and frankly I don’t want to spoil him. Or, you know, bore the shit out of him.
Then we have activities. At first, these were about refining our motor skills, e.g. making mobiles out of ice-cream containers while trying not to drop the babies or stab them with scissors.
Now our crotchfruit are a little older, activity time appears to be geared towards generating the greatest mess possible. Because ‘messy play is important’ according to Ailsa with no supporting rationale.
I try to enter into the filthy spirit of it all, but honestly: every time one of the coordinators says, ‘Yay! Next week painting!’ or, ‘Slime! Yay!’, my heart sinks. It was only when pregnant that I noticed how many people interject ‘yay!’ with the same enthusiasm I apply to swearing; I presumed it was a symptom of morning sickness and would wear off, but if anything it’s getting worse.
Three weeks ago they brought out the pits.
“A few babies try to eat the sand,” said Ailsa.
“That’ll be Finn,” I said, grimly. “If he poos rocks, I’m holding SPACE directly responsible.”
Sure enough, Finn munched through half the sand pit. Otherwise everything was fine – until Ailsa added water, when it turned into the sort of footage you see on the evening news when a landslide has taken out an entire city e.g. Toronto.
Then Ailsa built a sand ‘volcano’, adding vinegar to red food-colouring and baking soda so that it frothed and bubbled over. Swept away in a paroxysm of joy, Finn flung himself on the volcano and licked it.
The week after, the coordinators made up vats of foam (Lux soap flakes whisked with warm water and some food-colouring) and slime (cornflour mixed with water and the playgroup staple: food-colouring). For half an hour, I held Finn literally at arm’s length, between my index finger and thumb.
The coordinators had supplied a bucket of warm water for the purpose of washing the babies’ hands. Well. I had to strip Finn down to his nappy and basically bathe him in the bucket. I even washed his hair, which was covered in pink goo.
Of course Finn loved it. But to put that in perspective, he also loves when I click in his ear – or shake my head. That’s the latest thing; it’s as if my purpose on this planet is to say ‘no’ for Finn’s exclusive entertainment. I should enjoy it before he realizes I say ‘no’ to RUIN HIS LIFE.
Thing is: Finn is a boy. There are already holes in the toes of his socks and muddy fingerprints on all my clothes. Before too long, it’ll be skidmarks on the lintels and slugs, snails and tails in my crockery. What I’m saying is: it’s innate. He hardly needs my endorsement to be messy – never mind ENCOURAGEMENT.
Husband> How do you feel about your dog?
Me> Who- Jed?
Me> Well I- I love him.
Me> He’s my dog.
Husband> What if he did something?
Me> Look, a dog’s a dog. Every now and then he’s got to express his furry inner nature – you know, unleash the wolf . You can’t blame him for that.
Husband> I’m glad you feel that way.
Me> Huh really? Why?
Husband> He lay on your rhubarb.
Me> HE DID WHAT?
Husband> In fact, he didn’t just lie on it. He rolled around in it, wriggled a bit. Looked to be having a whale of a time.
Me> I put that rhubarb in last summer- it doesn’t produce for a whole year- I’ve weeded it, nurtured it-
Husband> Yeah, it’s a bit flat. And see, this leaf here is munched. Also that one.
Me: That <multiple expletives deleted> <and some more> mongrel!
Husband: What happened to ‘a dog’s a dog’?
Me: I’ll make a <expletive deleted> rug out of his pelt.
And I’m going to embroider it:
In loving memory of Jed
Beloved family pet
Lay on rhubarb
With the hours devoted to feeding, changing, bathing and trying to avoid getting my baby stuck down the side of the sofa (amongst other pressing health and safety concerns), I hadn’t given much consideration to Finn’s mobility.
I’d always assumed crawling would be a spontaneous action. One day Finn would decide he’d had enough of lying around the floor waving his legs in the air and I’d turn around and – argh! where’s the baby? Is he stuck down the side of the sofa? No; where the- I was sure I left him RIGHT THERE – and after frantically scouring the house and surrounds, I’d find him scudding up the driveway like a giant centipede, only with 96 less legs.
I mean, what would I know? The vast depth and range of the number of ways in which I don’t have a clue continues to astonish me.
As it turned out, learning to crawl was an extensive process with several phases.
I suppose the first step was Finn learning to roll. At about two months old, he mastered transitioning from his back onto his front, but not the reverse. After a few weeks in prone position microscopically examining the carpet, the novelty grew stale. In any case, there was plenty to keep him occupied on his back, like pointing at the ceiling and dropping toys on his head.
When he mastered full rotation, he would tuck his legs beneath him and, with arms akimbo, press his face fervently into the floor. Either he was practicing yoga or our carpet smells fabulous (which seems unlikely given the volume of drool generated between dog and baby).
Some time later, Finn progressed to raising himself up on his arms and the tips of his toes and waving his arse in the air, a maneuver generally concluded by head-butting the floor. The marines should totally adopt this variation of power press-up if they really want to demonstrate how tough they are.
After that, Finn seemed to spend his (considerable) free time over several days on all fours rocking back and forth and occasionally executing little bunny-hops.
With all the momentum, it was something of a surprise when he did start moving – backwards. Staring intently at some object of desire (the dog, anything shiny, sharp and/or pointy), he would reverse steadily away from it looking increasingly bemused.
The only way he could move in the right direction was in the manner of some mortally wounded creature, using one arm to claw desperately across the floor, his body dragging uselessly behind him.
Now Finn’s crawl is an action of measured precision, executed with deadly speed. When he stalks the iPad carelessly left lying around the ground, one can see all the savage beauty of a cheetah springing on its prey. He disappears out an open door with the supple grace of a gazelle bounding across the savannah (note: prior to its encounter with the cheetah).