Coming clean on Learner Dad

“It’s like nobody even lives here,” I breathed, looking around the living room.
It was two years ago and I was visiting Learner Dad’s house for the first time.
And what a fantastic surprise!
The bed was made impeccably, the tables dusted clean, and the kitchen and bathroom were spotless.
He seemed to be the cleanest man I’d ever met.
It didn’t change when we moved in together.
“Watch your feet,” he’d say, as he vacuumed around them, before loading the dishwasher.
I’d happily soap my pregnant belly in the sparkling shower, secure in the knowledge I’d found THE perfect man.
Sure, he didn’t change the sheets very often and, besides sensational roasts, his cooking only extended to Honey Mustard Chicken Tonight.
But I loved washing and cooking, so we made the perfect team.
Then something happened.
Two things actually.
I went on maternity leave.
And Learner Dad gave up housework.
“Oh yes, they give all that up when you have a baby,” a married friend told me recently over dinner.
“I think, because you’re home all day, they just let it go to you.”
But when Learner Dad recently asked if there was anything he could do to help, I took him up on his offer.
“I’ve cleaned every room but the bathroom,” I replied (I HATE cleaning the bathroom).
“Right,” he said. “Leave that to me to do on my day off.”
His day off came and went.
“I’ve done everything but the shower basin in the bathroom,” I said, as his next day off approached.
“No worries, I’ll take care of it,” he said.
But that day came and went too.
To be fair, Learner Dad’s free time isn’t spent playing golf.
He doesn’t go out to the pub or on a day-long bike ride.
No, he spends almost all of his spare time with his children.
He might not clean the bathroom but he gives Li’l Fatty baths.
He doesn’t vacuum the carpet but he rolls around on it with Master Seven.
And he’s always happy to cook dinner if it can be thrown on a barbecue.
And then clean up afterwards.
To be honest, I have plenty of time for housework.
I just don’t like it very much.
My mother once told me her biggest regret was worrying about it too much.
That you don’t end up remembering all the dust on the coffee table.
What you do remember is the little strolls you took around the garden with your babies.
The first time he saw a butterfly, or sat on a swing.
I’m sure the same applies for Learner Dad.
But, when my maternity leave is up, perhaps then it’ll be time to clean up his act.


‘Un’friendly Facebook

“You have to reply now,” Learner Dad said after I’d read out the Facebook message.
“What? Why?” I asked, shutting down the computer.
“Because she will see you’ve read it,” he said.
“Oh that’s right!” I exclaimed, annoyed.
In this case, it didn’t really matter.
It was a close friend who probably didn’t care that I didn’t get back to her immediately.
But honestly, what kind of troublemakers are the people behind Facebook?
It’s different when you’re on the other side too.
I’ve watched a private message of mine be ‘seen by everyone’ and then sit idly, unanswered.
And, as the recipients pump out photos and status updates before logging off, you’re left to wonder why.
Then there’s the ‘leaving the conversation’.
“Oh that’s a bit rude,” Learner Dad called out to me from the study.
We’d both been sent a group message from one of his relatives and, after replying, I’d left the conversation.
And apparently rudely announced it to everyone as I did so.
But it doesn’t end there.
After learning the hard way not to ‘unfriend’ people (because you’ll run into them the day after you do), I’ve been pretty relaxed about the fact some of my Facebook friends are only vague acquaintances.
Ok I’ll be honest – there are one or two I don’t know at all, much to Learner Dad’s dismay.
And I’ve ended up deleting some.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea. What if he finds out?” a friend asked me as I prepared to delete one of them.
“I haven’t seen him in years, he won’t even notice,” I replied with absolute certainty.
But, according to a mutual friend, he knew that day.
“Yeh there’s an app that lets you see who’s unfriended you,” Learner Dad said.
And then there’s the ‘like’ button.
I love that when my blog is liked, it’s delivered into the newsfeeds of a wide network of people.
But, when a personal photo is liked, it suddenly seems fodder for a whole lot of people I don’t know.
Or people I don’t want to know.
I’m not blaming the likers – I love the likers – I’m blaming Facebook.
I caught up with a friend for coffee recently and, after agreeing we already knew most of each others’ goss from Facebook, we decided on a good bitch session about Facebook itself instead.
“So you can’t unfriend or leave a conversation without everyone knowing about it, you have to reply to messages straight away and, if you post a funny pic of your partner’s bum crack, know that it will be seen by a lot of people you don’t know,’ I said.
“Thank god we didn’t have it at high school,” she replied.
I thought about that.
The photos (vomiting outside the Power House) or videos (the dance off to ‘Ice Ice Baby’) that could have been posted.
And liked.
And subsequently seen by your great aunt, your teacher, your boss at Bakers Delight.
The excruciating teenage pain of finding out your boy crush has ‘seen’ your message but not responded.
Um no thanks.
No, I’ll stick with unanswered messages about playdates and abandoning my in-laws during discussions about where to go for dinner.

Alison has left the conversation.

A solid start

“Is this too hot?” Learner Dad asked, hovering a spoonful of pureed apple near my lips.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Try it.”
He screwed up his nose and let his top lip graze the food ever so slightly.
“It’ll be right,” he decided and went and popped some in Li’l Fatty’s mouth.
A full teaspoon of it in fact.
“Stop spitting it out li’l man,” he urged.
“It might be because you’re putting too much in,” I said, watching half of it dribble back down our baby’s chin.
“Just because you like to eat your dinner in four mouthfuls, doesn’t mean he does.”
Li’l Fatty began solids around the time he turned five months old.
The local nurse had recited “breast is best for the first six months” but we’d decided he was ready when he began reaching for our bowls and our spoons.
When his eyes started following us intently as we sipped drinks and munched on toast.
When he began trying to eat our ears and our noses.
For me, starting your baby on solids isn’t just about discovery for him.
It’s about rediscovery for you.
It’s a reminder of the wonders of fresh food.
Nature’s finest.
The colours, the smells, the tastes.
It’s not just about food in its pur-EED form.
It’s food in its pur-EST.
And it doesn’t matter what crosses paths with what in the bowl.
Pumpkin is suddenly good friends with apple.
Banana and avocado make acquaintance.
Blueberry hits it off with sweet potato.
There’s something about filling your baby up with raw fresh fruit and vegetables that makes you feel like you have real purpose.
That you’re the best mummy ever, giving your baby the best start possible.
But it’s a short-lived joy, over the moment their first ever Freddo Frog hits their lips.
I heard recently that, by 2025, almost three-quarters of our population will be obese.
As it stands, Master Seven can reel off more types of chocolate bars than types of fruit.
And forget fruit, Learner Dad would rather get his vitamins from supplements.
Then there’s me.
You won’t often catch me slurping on an orange or a wedge of watermelon.
But there’s one thing our family is good at: vegies.
Learner Dad loves nothing more than a roast or plate of mash, while Master Seven recently put corn and carrot on a ‘favourite ever dinner’ menu.
So, with Li’l monkey seeing and usually doing, Fatty should still get his nutrients.
But at a time when it’s cheaper to feed the family with chips and cheeseburgers, it’s up to us to invest time and money in our kids’ health.
To buy the good raw stuff.
To cook it.
To eat it.
To insist THEY eat it.
And not so they can have ‘afters’.
But because eating fresh food is simply what humans do.
That’s my rant.
Now I suppose I’d better exchange these Jaffas for a damn orange…

The heart of the matter

“How can Mummy love my brother or sister when she says she loves me with all her heart?” Master Seven asked his Nanna before Li’l Fatty was born.
I must admit, it worried me too.
I’ve said it before: pre-Li’l Fatty, Master Seven was my world.
How could anyone else possibly come close?
So my infatuation with Li’l Fatty came as quite a surprise.
But, although equal in weight, my love for both my baby boys has been different.
From the moment I knew he was in my belly, my feelings for Master Seven were intense, fierce, based on the wonder and awe of giving life to a person, and watching him unfold before your eyes.
It was a love I’d never felt before.
I smiled, laughed and cried my way through his pregnancy, overwhelmed by my feelings for something I couldn’t yet see.
After he was born, I’d kiss every inch of his soft skin.
Including his bum.
Especially his bum.
I kept every toy that made him smile, even if only once.
I spent ludicrous amounts on professional photos and framed them by the dozen.
I hovered with a video camera while he was playing, bathing, sleeping.
And played them back that night.
Over and over again.
Sometimes I cried with happiness just looking at him.
Just thinking about him.
And at the the same time, I was scared to death something would happen to him.
So I was prepared for that intensity of feeling when Li’l Fatty came along.
But my love for him comes in a far more relaxed package.
I know more about what to expect, what to cherish and what to ignore.
I’m not weighed down by routine because I know it’ll sort itself out.
I’m not fixated on sterilisation because I know I breed them tough.
And I don’t try to remember every single thing he does.
Because I know I won’t.
So I’m just enjoying the ride.
Rather than cry, Li’l Fatty usually makes me laugh.
I do smother him in kisses too though.
But forget the bum – it’s the nape of his insanely soft neck that gets me.
Sometimes, when Master Seven channels the green-eyed monster, I remind him that, as a baby, he didn’t have to share me with anyone.
Li’l Fatty will never get the exclusive first-time love Master Seven was privy to.
But he’ll always get just as much.
That’s why, when I heard Nanna’s answer to Master Seven’s question: “How can Mummy love my brother when she says she loves me with all her heart?” I knew she’d nailed it.
“Her heart just doubles in size,” she said.
And that it has.

Knowing when to quit

“You’re going to die, Mum.”
“They’ll kill you, Dad.”
I was a know-it-all Miss Ten, telling my parents in no uncertain terms that ‘only dags needed fags’.
While Mum eventually quit, I went on to smoke.
I had my first one aged 15 and my last aged 25.
I can’t pretend I was just a social smoker.
I actually didn’t much like being seen smoking.
And smoking while drinking often made me feel sick.
No, I was someone who had to smoke every day and liked nothing better than only a cigarette to keep me company.
Quitting smoking was THE hardest thing I ever did.
Sure I’ve given birth, had my heart broken, lost jobs, lost loved ones, but my battle with cigarettes was the most consuming challenge I ever faced.
I first tried a cigarette in the Centrepoint car park, my high school friends instructing me to ‘kinda swallow it’.
I knew there was something wrong there so I started pinching my dad’s Winny Red’s to sneak up to the bush and practise.
By the time I hit college I was ready to stop.
Every Monday morning, my friends would snicker as I turned up to the smoking area with a fresh pledge to quit.
My friends and I smoked in cars, nightclubs and restaurants.
I coerced some boyfriends into smoking.
And tried to hide it from others.
Sometimes I’d have a revelation that would involve quitting on the spot.
Other times I’d drag through eight cigarettes in a row to quit at the end of that pack, then throw up.
I’d take my ‘last cigarette’ to ‘special locations’, or smoke it with ‘special people’.
I’d write little pledges, or contracts, about quitting, sign them, then later tear them up.
I knew physically I could quit but didn’t think I’d ever get over it psychologically.
Surely it would be like losing a friend, one who’d been with me through hangovers, exams, broken hearts…
Although it took many, many, many (did I say many?) attempts, I finally stopped.
And ten years later, it’s like I never smoked.
In hindsight they weren’t relieving the stress, they were helping to create it.
In fact, those 10 years were the most stressful of my life.
Of course it’s changing for our children.
Out to dinner with friends, I see smokers having to slip outside on a freezing winter’s night to light up.
When they return, they drop packets depicting rotten teeth and death threats on the table.
Apparently it now costs a small fortune to buy one of those unsightly packs too.
Smoking has fast become expensive, anti-social, even outlawed.
So, while they’ll no doubt have their own addictive battles – social networking, recreational drugs, fast food – hopefully our kids will grow up truly believing that ‘only a galah would ever suck tar’.
And thankfully, I’m no longer one of them.

Barefoot and pregnant… and single… at 45

I have several single friends who have chosen to become single mothers.
I didn’t choose it, but my four years as a single mum were extremely special.
But, whether it was a choice or not, what do you tell your kids about where they came from?
Check out this expectant mum’s story:

The clothes maketh the baby

“It says three to six metres,” Learner Dad said, looking at me helplessly.
I stared at him.
“The M means months, three to six MONTHS,” I said, grabbing the jumpsuit off him.
Either way, our FIVE month old wasn’t going to fit into it.
I overheard a friend say recently her slightly younger baby was moving from 000 to 00.
I didn’t mention that Li’l Fatty was in transition from 0 to 1.
And that, even though he wasn’t crawling, he’d almost bypassed ‘crawler’ nappies in favour of ‘toddler’.
I recently gave his wardrobe a clean out.
Once I’d removed all the 000 and 00 items, to be stored for a hopefully smaller bub next time, the cupboard was bare.
Almost anyway.
A handful of size 0 jumpsuits (many too tight) and a few size 1 coats (given to us for Li’l Fatty to wear NEXT winter, when he’s actually one) remained.
You see, when you have a baby, you are inundated with gifts of 000, 0000 or even 00000 clothing.
I buy them for people myself because, let’s face it, the tinier they are, the more irresistible.
We had plenty of them – tiny pairs of jeans, novelty outfits, jumpsuits, even shoes, many worn only once (usually when the person who gave it to us came to visit), some items still with tags attached.
I sighed as I folded them up and popped them in the bag.
I remembered trying to get Learner Dad interested in them in the weeks before Li’l Fatty was born.
I’d washed every little item and hung them on the clothes horse for him to cluck over.
“Isn’t this gorgeous?” I’d say, holding up a tiny pair of pants in front of him.
“Sure,” he’d answer, glancing up but lacking enthusiasm.
“What about this?” I’d ask, showing him a bib that said ‘Daddy’s Little Man’.
“Ha, yep, he’ll be wearing that one a lot,” he’d say distractedly.
Now, like every enamoured parent, he’s all about the clothes.
While before they were just tiny garments, to be gushed over by women, now they were Li’l Fatty’s tiny garments, to be gushed over by him.
The beanie was just a beanie, until Li’l Fatty put it on.
“What’s Li’l Fatty wearing today?” he’ll ask, as we get prepare to go out.
Or: “He’s got Daddy’s trackies on!” he’ll exclaim when he gets home.
And there’s nothing that excites him more than seeing Li’l Fatty ‘get the guns out’ on a hot day.
He appreciates the insane cuteness of a bucket hat on a baby, and the way a blue top brings out the colour in his son’s eyes.
Learner Dad’s favourite?
The plain old Bonds singlet.
His least?
The hand-knitted cardies I insisted Li’l Fatty wear every time we went out in winter.
As I stacked away the bags of baby clothes, I started getting out Master Seven’s old gear.
He’s had the pleasure of wearing a friend’s hand-me-downs for most of his life.
Now they’ll go to his little brother.
But, with the way he’s growing, it won’t be long before Li’l Fatty actually wears them first.