Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Pink Panther Strikes

Yesterday I took V. out to pick up a few things at the supermarket. Parking her pram up at the till, I paid for my things then we sauntered out of the shop and began walking back home.

After a minute or so, I looked down at my daughter and stopped in my tracks.

“Veevee”‘ I said to her. “Where did you get that Peanut Butter Kit Kat Chunky?” She takes her teeth away from the chocolate bar and looks up at me innocently.

I used to have a fear, when I was a boy, that whenever I’d leave a shop the security alarm would be set off. I would have visions of a guard rushing up to apprehend me and I would be in Big Trouble. So much so, that I’d hold my breath every time I walked out of a shop entrance. 

It’s been a while since I’ve felt like that, and I should think so, being in my mid-forties. But there’s always an element of the 12-year old in all of us. And he came back to me as I stood over V., considering a her ill-gotten gains.

I looked back over my shoulder, in the direction of the shop. There was no security guard running after me. On closer inspection of the chocolate bar, I found that the wrapper was still intact but it was clear that the contents were going to be damaged by 6 tiny teeth gnawing at it.

My daughter isn’t going to learn a valuable lesson, at just over one year of age, by returning the item to the supermarket. On the other hand, there’s long-held fear of being caught shoplifting when I haven’t actually taken anything.

So what do you think I decided to do?

Birthday post

It’s my birthday today. I am now 44. With V. being 7 months old, does this make me an ‘older dad’? And how many new dads of my age are doing this for the first time, as I am?

Looking around me on the streets of London, I can do a quick survey of how old other dads are. Those with newborns seem to be in their late twenties/early thirties. That would correlate with the dads I see with older children – ten years old or so. They look like they are in their forties. I can’t tell V. that having her gave me grey hairs: I already had them.

So it seems to me that I’m around ten years ahead of the bell curve. Is this an advantage or a disadvantage to me or my daughter?

As she gets older, my age becomes more obvious. When she’s 10 I’ll be 54. Ok that’s not so bad. But by the time she graduates I’ll be in my mid-sixties. If she were to get married and have children at even an average age, that will make me a new grandparent in my seventies. And what if she waits longer to have kids, as I did…?

I’m not so concerned by the age gap. I am lucky to have found an amazing partner who has given me an amazing daughter. It happened when it happened. And I hope to stay young in my mind, as I watch her grow up.

Although it wouldn’t hurt to look good for my age, so I’d better keep on training.

Everyone has an opinion about babies

F. experienced it initially when our daughter was just a few weeks old.

Although still not entirely confident taking a newborn out and about in early October, F. thought that meeting a good friend for coffee in the local area would be a nice trip out for her and the baby. As my wife walked along the street with her friend, V. in her arms, a passing woman said to her in no uncertain terms ‘That baby ought to be wrapped up better’. The busybody continued walking on, leaving F. stunned.

Later on, F.’s response was to be more upset than shocked. And we were astonished and angry that anyone should be that presumptive. Neither of us could understand how that woman could possible justify giving that advice in such a way. Correction: criticism, not advice. We tried to brush it off. But on subsequent trips out with the baby, I could see F.’s confidence affected and doubt would flash into her mind about her decisions.

No one told us about this kind of thing happening. And I’ve certainly not read anything in any of our baby books. But as soon as you say this to other parents, the stories come out. I mentioned F.’s high street encounter to a client, a mother of three who lives in Primrose Hill. And she happily told me of an experience she’d had when out with her youngest daughter one evening. A complete stranger had said to her “You should be at home by now, you stupid cow”. Years later, this incident was now a family joke. But, for those of you who are expecting your first baby, I can tell you it’s not funny at the time. And it really is hard to believe just how prevalent this activity is.

Up until a couple of months ago, I had not directly experienced this phenomenon. I had started to think that perhaps strangers wagging fingers was a gender-issue: mum’s being seen as soft-targets for the opinionated. But one afternoon in John Lewis, I had a mild, passive-aggressive swipe taken at me whilst queuing to return a kettle.

I was waiting in the Electricals department for service. V. was strapped to my front in her baby carrier, dozing. Although we were indoors, she still had her warm coat on as it was February and I hadn’t anticipated being in a queue for quite so long. Getting served at the reception desk in front of me was a well-spoken woman in her fifties, trying to get a spare part for her fridge. As a harassed staff member made a couple of phone calls on her behalf, she turned to look at my daughter. With a smile, she nodded to V.’s coat, ‘she’ll be warm in that’.

So, basically we can’t win. The baby’s either too cold or too hot. My advice is that, should this happen to you, ignore them.

When You Realise You’re on Your Own

Sometimes we’ve had a question about raising our baby. And we just can’t find a straight answer.

Best selling books about the subject offer conflicting or insufficient advice.

Friends with children swear by a solution that worked for them. But then don’t fully explain how the solution works.

Grandparents offer little help or forget what it was they did, when you were a baby.

Online forums are filled with ‘me too’ posters but no actual useful answers.

There seems to be a deafening silence when it comes to your question.

Once in a while, you realise: You Are On Your Own.

I have two aims with this blog. Firstly it is to create a record of my time as a new dad. My second aim is to publish useful guidance for other parents that is routed in the practical and the mundane. To offer recommendations or reflections on my own experiences that would help readers to organise themselves, prepare themselves or protect themselves.

But, as with my own experience of having questions unanswered, this blog will be unsatisfactory or incomplete for some parents. I mean, I’m posting a blog every five days that tries to cover all aspects of being a new parent..? I could write a daily blog just about sleep training alone.

So to those readers, I recommend you cherry-pick what advice you find relevant. And use your intelligence, patience and common sense to work out a solution for everything else. That’s how I’m trying to work out stuff.

Weaning

Today saw a very low-key introduction to weaning for V. And to cleaning up after weaning, for me and my wife.

It started last week when we bought a high chair. F. had assembled and installed it in our small kitchen along with a little table. It had been fun to prop V. up in the chair for a photoshoot for the grandparents. But up until today, the chair remained in the kitchen, undiscussed.

It was only today, just before V.’s afternoon feed, when F. turned to me and asked “shall we try and give her some banana?”.

So into the high chair went V. and we cut up a banana. As I had read, we cut a short length of banana and left a little skin on the bottom for her to hold, like an ice cream cone.

With cameras ready, we presented V. with her banana. She immediately took it and gave it a good suck. Particularly the skin; her screwed up little face showed she didn’t care for the bitterness.

So we looked around the kitchen for something else. We cut up some apple – which went down well – and a tomato. That was a bit too soft to handle right now.

And that was that. At nearly 6 months, babies aren’t going to do anything with food except drool on it. Most of the fruit ended up smothered over V.’s onesie or on the table. Why we didn’t put a bib on her, I don’t know why. We do that a lot: focus so much on one milestone, we forget what we have previously learned.

So after about 15 minutes, we called it a day and V. went on to have her regular feed. I’m not sure what Mrs D. and me were expecting. For the record, we handed her those pieces of fruit. Does that count as baby-led? I don’t think it does.

Don’t forget dinner

In the early weeks after our baby’s arrival, I was finding the logistics of cooking meals a challenge. The baby’s feeding, naps and evening routine so dominate our schedule, it was easy to end up with dinners that were either overcooked or left to go cold on the plate.

The physical demands of looking after a newborn baby, and particularly breastfeeding, means that F. really appreciates nutritious home cooked meals. And as the main cook of the house, I’m happy to oblige. So I’ve had to adapt my culinary ambitions to fit around the baby.

I’m favouring slow cooked casseroles and curries. When we don’t know when breastfeeding will finish because V. has decided to be a fussy eater, they can stay in a pot on low heat for hours. Or while we work towards putting baby down for the night.

When we only have a small window in our day to eat, I’ll make a stir fry. I will pre-chopped vegetables and meats then store them in the fridge for later. Noodles are quicker to make than rice and don’t need so much watching.

If the baby’s crying, one or both of us may be up and down from the dinner table to the nursery and back many times. To keep the meal warmer for longer, I serve it up on warm plates and keep a glass lid handy to place over the meal when it’s not being eaten.

Baby’s 5-star New Year’s Eve

Despite my fear of being in public with a screaming, uncontrollable baby, Mrs D. and I celebrated New Year’s Eve with a refined afternoon tea in the world’s number 1 bar: the Artesian at the Langham Hotel.

No cocktails for us, but the bar is a good location to people-watch and we have good memories of the place: F. stayed there the night before our wedding. Not me, of course.

I did say I had a fear of V. having a public display of apoplexy. Truth be told, it adds an element of nervousness to being out with her. Visiting a 5 star hotel intensifies my anticipation that my daughter will kick off, big-style.

It’s not something I’m proud of. F. has no such problem. So I take my lead from her and don’t let it stop me from going anywhere we like save a library or regular movie screening. As it turned out, during our visit, V. was mostly out like a light. When she did wake up, she was due for a formula feed. That kept her quiet.

Goodbye 2012, hello 2013. Goodbye, the year of her birth, our home birth, trials and tribulations of breastfeeding, first immunisations, two-hourly feeds. Hello to potty-training, weaning, learning to walk.

Reusable Nappies

People we’ve told about our reusable nappies look at us with either admiration (from those of our generation) or dismay (from our parents’ generation). And everyone assumes we’re doing it from an eco position. Which we’re really not.

Very early on after V.’s birth she developed nappy rash, which, if you read the books, is quite early. We tried the three most recommended creams to help clear it up, with limited success. Her mother and I felt that if we didn’t solve this problem our daughter would be suffering for a long, long time.

F. continued to use the creams but began looking online at better solutions, including reusable nappies. She had never like the disposable nappies we’d be using since birth. She felt that they were plasticky, couldn’t breathe and were more of an irritant than most people let on.

So we decided to give reusable nappies a try because they were mostly made of natural fibres that grew softer and more absorbent the more you washed them. We ordered 15 pairs from two different manufacturers. They were one size its all, so should last V. all the way to toilet-training. The waist band and overall sizing are altered through plastic poppers.

The nappy itself is a soft, light fleece outer shell with a water-resistant backing. Inside the nappy is a fleece lining and two or three detachable layers that are added either through more poppers or inserted between the inner and outer layers.

Reusable nappies seem to work just as well as disposables in capturing what they need to capture. Once the nappy is taken off the baby, it is disassembled, and stored in a waterproof, zip-up bag. We keep ours in the bathroom. When the bag is full (around 8 nappies or so), the contents – plus the bag – go into the washing machine.

It’s at the laundry end where reusable nappies are a lot more work than disposables. You’re generally looking at one extra wash every other day. And it will be a long wash: our used nappies go through a 36 minute rinse, the a 2 hour cotton wash cycle, and finally – if it’s a rush job – a one hour tumble dry. The nappies then have to be assembled which takes us a half hour whilst sat in front of the TV. It’s the constant washing that makes me doubt the manufacturers message that reusables are cheaper than disposable diapers. I haven’t done a calculation, but based on the amount of energy we’re using to keep these things clean, I doubt we’re saving any money. And even if that were true and they were a little cheaper. So what? We all pay more money for more convenience, anyway.

If you’re taking baby on a trip, these nappies will raise one or two logistical questions. They are quite bulky and will need to be washed whilst you are away, depending how long you are away for. I wouldn’t leave them in the nappy bag for too long. We forgot about a nappy we left in a travel-size zip-up bag for 3 days; when we took it out, it was pretty rank.

After a month of using these nappies – plus finding the right nappy rash cream – V.’s nappy rash has completely cleared up. Could a simpler way have been found? Perhaps. But we’re happy to have found a formula that works so we’ll be sticking with reusable nappies.

We now sleep through the night

V. is four months old this week and she has, for the past couple of weeks, been sleeping through the night more or less from 7pm to 6.30am. The looks of surprise I get from other people, makes me think this is a rare occurrence. Here’s how we did it.

It all started when we realised that V. was growing out of the Moses basket we bought in June. She was getting ready to bust her arms and legs through the reed sides of the basket like some tiny pink Hulk.

We had a cotbed ready for her but it was never going to fit in our bedroom, so a move out of the Moses basket also meant a move into the nursery. So we thought we may as well bring sleep training into the mix as well and try it in one go.

We had already dipped into the several books on baby sleeping and the one we’ve ended up following (mostly) is Alison Scot-Wright’s The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan.

That’s the first time I have directly named a product. It’s not an endorsement because it may not work for your baby. But I thought it was important to give you the opportunity to judge the process we’re following for yourselves. We’re not following Scot-Wright’s suggestions to the letter. Like issues of breastfeeding, reusable nappies and baby-led weaning, sleep training has devotees in every corner. Don’t listen to them. Take every miracle solution offered with a pinch of salt and try it out for yourselves.

Time and time again, when it comes to raising babies, I think of the Bruce Lee quote “Absorb what is useful, Discard what is useless, and add that which is essential that is your own”.

Back to the sleep training. As I understand Scot-Wright’s basic approach, you put the baby down for regular naps during the day, regardless of how much the baby cries. Same goes for the evening, after bath and final feeding of the night. The parents are allowed back into the room time and time again to comfort the baby should the crying/screaming get too much. But you then have to vacate the baby’s room to allow her learn this skill of putting herself to sleep.

So far, it’s been working well. There are still some much disrupted evenings and daytime naps. And it is hard to say goodbye to her for a full 10 or 12 hours. But she seems happier getting all the sleep.

Baby-led design

A lot of baby-related products seem to have been designed with a mood-board of purity, simplicity, cleanliness, innocence, delicacy. Colours used are often white, or off-white, or cream white, or milk white. A kind of dreamy, christening-gown aesthetic.

I was going to call this approach baby-led design (in the spirit of baby-led weaning) and feel fairly smug about my clever name. Except, this issue isn’t stemming from babies, it comes from – I presume – product design teams aiming to appeal to adult buyers of baby products. And I don’t have a clever name for that situation.

Anyway, an example came to me several weeks ago although I’m just coming around to writing about it. It’s the size of silicone teats on formula bottles. The type we use have the size range – 1, 2, 3 etc – faintly etched in an opaque shape found, with great difficulty, at the bottom of the teat. It’s even more difficult at 3am, under a weak kitchen counter light as I try to give my daughter a ‘dream feed’. There was no reason for the designers to have made it so difficult. They could have indicated the age range of the teat by making it bright green.

It’s a bit like that egg-shaped baby monitor I wrote about recently. Looks nice. Feels nice in the hand. Deeply impractical.