Sunday, 29 November 2009

The House at Poo Corner

It's 8:40am and both Nicola and Alex are asleep.  Alex in his bouncy chair just beside me, Nic in bed.  It was a long night for her.  Alex woke her up at 5:30 by squawking in his sleep.  Once he actually decided to wake up (6:30 or so), he was difficult to feed.  Then he threw up.  With style.  Everywhere.  Over Nic, over the couch, over the rug, over the floor and over himself.  At this point poor Nic had had enough, so I've been in charge since the spew while she catches up with some sleep.  (And changes her clothes!)  Now that Alex is snoozing too, I thought I'd write up a quick blog entry about everyone's favorite topic, poo.  So brace yourselves.  And for God's sake, don't read this over lunch.  (The photo is not related, just funny.)

*              *              *

The standard joke about new parents is that everything their baby does is fascinating, right down to the poo.  This is not true.  Some baby related things are deeply dull, like late night crying or demanding to be held upright for hours on end.  Poo IS fascinating though.  Let me take you on a guided tour to prove it...

Firstly, if you're breast feeding your baby, poo is one of the few ways of knowing if your child is getting enough to eat.  A dirty nappy means a full baby.  (The other way of telling is if they're putting on weight, but that's not a very immediate measure.)  For Alex in particular, feeding times often equal poo times.  It's not uncommon for him to be happily feeding then go very still and produce a massive FFFFFrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrTTTTTHHHHHHHHHHHHHrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrP! noise.  Then another.  Then another.  (Poos, like bad luck, come in threes.)  Sometimes the sheer force of poo is enough to detach him from the nipple and shoot him forwards like a poo-powered rocket.

Oddly, the noise level is totally unrelated to the amount of poo produced.  A massive ripper can mean a nappy so full it overflows, nothing at all or anything in-between.  The best way of telling for sure is to give his crotch or arse a sniff.  (Ahh, the joys of being a dad.)  If you're not sure, it was a fart.  You KNOW when it's a poo.  Dirty nappies are not referred to in our house as stinkers for nothing.

Baby poo does not smell like shit, mind you.  It has a scent all of its own.  In fact, from conversations with other parents, it has a smell unique to your own baby.  Alex has a distinctly noxious sulfurous whiff, with high, rotten meat overtones.  A bit like a lingering skunk spray for those in the USA.  A bit like a meaty fart for those not acquainted with the odor of the skunk.  Other babies smell of cheese I gather.  I think I'd prefer that.

Once you've confirmed the stinker, it's time to get changing.  A tub of warm water (the bottom water in our house) and some cotton wool are your first priorities.  Then the change mat, some kitchen towel and a stinking baby.  Strip baby.  Assess the situation BEFORE removing the nappy.  Namely: has the poo escaped?  You'd be amazed at the sheer maneuverability of turds.  How you can get a poo out of the nappy and all the way up to your shoulder baffles me.  None the less, it is a regular occurrence.  A full squirter will require a full change.  Do your best not to smear the poo into your child's hair.

Open the nappy.

This is the interesting bit.  What sort of poo will it be?  Yellow liquid with white seeds?  (What the hell THOSE are I don't know.  He's not been eating grapes on my watch.)  Perhaps just a light green crusty coating?  (A sure sign that he actually did this poo an hour or more ago and you didn't notice.  Lose 5 dad points and go back to Old Kent Road.)  Sludgy yellow?  (A big one, then.)  Or maybe everyone's favorite, the clumpy burnt umber monstrosity?  (You'll need more cotton wool.)  Whatever it is, wet the first bit of cotton wool and get to work.

Whether it's that baby poo isn't too bad, or it's just that your own baby's poo isn't too bad, the actual dealing with the poo is the least of your worries.  Grossing out or vomiting are far from your mind.  More pressing is the need to make sure that one of those flailing feet doesn't end up in the sludgy puddle of poo, water and used cotton wool.  Or redirecting the sudden stream of urine away from your face and into the nappy.  Either way, you're not going to be worrying about the poo.  And it's really not that bad.  I've encountered far worse things attached to Ringo's arse than Alex's.

Once your child is clean and happy, slap a new nappy on them and you're done.  And as I said above, if you're breastfeeding, you know that they're eating well.  And that's what makes it so interesting.

That and the sludge, of course.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Let Me Count The Ways

I'm feeling a little melancholic today, so I thought I'd cheer myself up by remembering the good things about being a dad.  Plus, this blog has been a touch downbeat at times.  It's not all bad you know!
  1. Smiles.  Yeah, this is an easy one.  To paraphrase Eeyore, it is impossible to be uncheered with a smiling baby.  That a simple tickle on the knees is enough to produce paroxysms of delight is an added bonus.  Knee tickling can be done in conjunction with other activities vital to life, such as eating.
  2. Outfits with ears, eyes or any other sort of accoutrement designed to make your baby look like an animal.  I shouldn't like these.  They are, in pretty much every sense, hideous.  But yet, they are inexplicably cute and lovable.  (I suspect at least part of it is the fact that Alex always looks so disapproving when dressed up in them.)
  3. Cuddles.  The only downside is that you can't cuddle him especially hard.
  4. Cake.  Nicola is getting fully in touch with her housewifely side, and while the feminist in me isn't convinced, the glutton certainly approves.  Slight negative: the weight I lost when Alex was born is coming back.
  5. Alex's eyes.  They really are astonishingly clear.  Deep blues, perfectly white whites and just a hint of a cheeky sparkle.  It's only looking at Alex's eyes that I realise how much of the time as adults we go around with dull, bloodshot eyes.
  6. Tiny fingers holding my hand.  I know it's just a reflex, but it's still lovely.
  7. How he smells.  Babies smell good.  Alex smells good.  Except when he's just laid a stinker.
  8. Being greeted with a gurgle and smile when I come home.  And Alex is usually pleased to see me too.  (*Ba-doom-tchish*)
  9. The "whoa!  I've never seen THAT before!" face.  Things are still very new to Alex.  Sometimes, so new he can't keep the amazement off his face.  Often the thing that has prompted this will be totally mundane.  Paper bags, fingers and a glass of juice have all prompted the W!INSTB! face.
  10. Yawns.  Just plain cute.
  11. Going to sleep listening to Alex snuffle and wuffle in his sleep.  It's very soothing being able to hear him so settled and comfy.  Thank goodness he's a good sleeper!
  12. Bath time.  Fun and useful!
So there you go.   A dozen good things.  Life isn't so bad after all.

P.S. If anyone's wondering what the worst thing is, it's this: Finding out that a stinker is actually a squirter the hard way.  Or should that be the soft way?  Yeuuuuuuuuugh...

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Free Time

It is impossible to relax while in the same room as Alex.  He can be as happy as a lamb, fast asleep or being entertained by someone else, it doesn't matter.  If he's there, then you're on duty.  The sense of responsibility is so strong that even being in the same house as him make it nearly impossible to relax.  It's pretty wearing for me.  For Nicola, it's a thousand times worse.

I can (with permission, of course) get out of the house.  Work is sort of relaxing.  (At least it isn't quite so oppressively constant.  My PhD doesn't cry if I leave it in a different room for a couple of minutes.)  Nicola is tied to Alex all day, every day.  She could leave him with me and a bottle of milk, but even then her body will conspire to remind her of her motherly duties.  Stopping to express breast milk is not the sort of thing that makes for a great evening in the pub.  Not expressing leads to leakage, which is just as bad.

The practical upshot of this is that Nic hasn't had an evening out on her own since Alex was born.  She's had the grand total of one evening off duty when I took Alex to Leith.  Otherwise, she gets an hour or two free time in the house of an evening while I look after Alex.  It's not really enough.  It means that by the end of the day she's totally spent.  But she can't just have an early night.  Oh no.  Alex needs his final snack before bed.  And if I bottle fed him that, Nic would end up with rocks for tits.  Rocks that oozed milk.  (I have woken up in a puddle of breast milk recently.  It's not pleasant.)

As Alex gets older and goes to sleep earlier, I suppose this will get better.  Not quite sure when that will be though.  Until then, free time is, for Nic at least, just a distant memory.

EDIT:  A comment from Nic.

"It’s not as bad as all that – Alex is such a super cutie and it wasn’t as if I was a wild party kid before getting pregnant anyway!

"Is it particularly mad to admit that I really like the middle of the night feeds – Alex is such a funny snoozy chops when he’s all full of milk! N x"

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Social Animal

Lindsay was right, it really does all happen at once!  Hot on the heals of looking at people and smiling, Alex has started to "talk".  Baby talk, obviously.  He's not that much of a child prodigy!  Still, he has suddenly become a social animal.  From having only had one method of communication (the wail), he's now able to express a range of emotions.  It's all quite overwhelming.

Perhaps the loveliest, at least from a parents point of view, is that he can now tell us when he's happy.  Not just a smile, but a coo-gurgle-mehch (that's the nearest approximation I can manage) and a smile. If he wants more attention, he looks at you and eh-ohs.  Often, just looking back at him and repeating "hello" after each "eh-oh" is enough to send him into fits of delight.  His eyes twinkle, he grins like a madman and he wriggles about in a coquettish fashion.  It's almost as if he's having too much fun, and has to break off eye contact to calm down.  Seconds later though you'll hear another "eh-oh" and the whole process starts over again.

*           *          *

Alex is very definite about when he wants to look at you.  If he wants to play, he'll let you know.  If he doesn't, nothing will make him make eye contact.  Often he'll want to be held up by the armpits and helped to "stand".  You can either hold him facing you, or away from you.  If he's in a non-communicative mood and you hold him facing you, he'll twist his head through 90 degrees to avoid looking at your face.  At times, it gets a little Excorsist-like.  We've taken to holding him facing outwards when he's in that sort of mood.  It's less fun for us, but looks a lot less sore for him.

It's curious how expressive a baby can be, given the limited range that gurgle/flail/scream has.  The difference between a happy flail and a bored flail is as clear as night and day, yet there's nothing specific I could point to that distinguishes the two.  Similarly, the "I'm having a great time" squeak and the "I'm about to turn bright red and puncture your eardrums" squeak sound utterly similar but are totally different.  It must be a mixture of body language and familiarity, but it seems like magic right now.

*         *        *

One thing that has surprised me is just how uninterested in toys Alex has been so far.  If he's in the right mood, at the right time and there's nothing more interesting around (like an adult that will fawn over his every wish) then he might deign to stare at a plastic monkey for a couple of minutes.  That's about it though.  Rattles aren't as fun as raspberries.  Bouncy chairs aren't as good as bouncy knees.  A stuffed cat isn't as much fun as a live one.  (Although it's pretty close.  Alex couldn't really care less about either one.)  Maybe it's because he's more focused on interaction rather than solitary play.  Maybe we've just not shoved sufficient toys in front of him yet.  Whichever it is, I'm sure it's just a matter of time until he's refusing to be parted from Mr Elephant.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Splish Splash I Was Having a Bath

Bath time is fun time.

No, seriously.  I love bath time.  Bath time is a wonderful combination of things.  Firstly, Alex loves it.  Ever since he had his first bath at the hospital, Alex has been a water baby.  Initially this just meant that he would be quiet and calm when bathing.  In the last few weeks it's developed into a joyful splashing about.  He'll often look up and grin while doing it.

Secondly, bathing is an equal opportunity activity.  Baths are a pleasant bit of baby care that both dad and mum can do.  As such, for the first few weeks in particular they were my job.  Partly because I have big hands and so was more able to grip Alex securely, but mostly so that I spent time with Alex.

It's not all fun and games though.  The first few baths were pretty scary for me, if not for Alex.  Even in a baby bath, a newborn baby looks pretty damn small.  Plus, you're very aware that the only thing that stands between your child and drowning is your tenuous grip.  It makes it kind of hard to wash them when you're holding onto them for dear life.

Alex doesn't like coming out of baths either.  On a good day, he'll be relatively quiet while you towel him off and get him dressed again.  On a bad day, he'll scream his head off then wee on your lap.  Towelling off a writhing baby is somewhat tricky.  There seem to be more arms and legs involved than can possibly be natural.  Alex also has a remarkable tendency to try and fire himself off your lap and onto the floor.  This would not be the relaxing end to the bathing ritual.

Lastly, no matter how hard you try, you will end up soaking.  You might as well accept it and go with the flow.  You won't be any drier at the end of it, but at least you won't be wondering how you managed to get water behind the backs of your knees.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Getting Back on the Horse

So after my day of terror on Sunday, I arrived back at home on Monday rather nervous and scared.  How would I cope?  How would Alex be?  Would we have a repeat of Sunday?

Fine, great and no, in that order.  We played a bit.  Alex got some tickles and produced some cracking smiles.  About 8:30pm Alex decided he was hungry.  Now.  He was somewhat huffy until he was out of his nappy (incredibly wet) and onto the breast.  He then proceeded to eat a vast amount then fall asleep.

Phew.  Back to normal.

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Smell of Fear

We had out first real terrifying panic yesterday.

It had not been a relaxing Sunday to begin with.  We were woken by the sound of the toilet backing up, so I'd already spent a lovely morning literally up to my elbow in raw sewage.  That and a trip to Tesco had consumed the whole morning.  Still, Alex was in his bouncy chair, listening to the dehumidifier and Nicola and I were getting ready to bake a tasty cake.

Then Alex screamed.

This wasn't just a normal scream.  This was every negative emotion - fear, loss, loneliness, pain, sadness and horror - bundled up into a single, primal, soul-piercing howl.  It was utterly, utterly horrible.  I could no more ignore it than I could ignore someone driving spikes into my heart.  It was a good thing neither Nicola nor I were holding anything fragile at the time, given how fast we dropped everything and ran to Alex.

The screams continued and continued.  Nothing seemed to help.  Stripping off clothes made no difference.  Hugs and kisses just brought his mouth closer to our ears.  Tickles and changes of position might as well have not happened for all the difference they made.  We lasted maybe a minute before phoning my dad.

"OK, obvious things first," he said, dropping instantly into medic mode.  "Are any of his fingers, toes or penis caught in anything?"


"Is he hot to the touch or blotchy?"


"Check his backside.  Is there anything abnormal?"

"I don't know, he's clenching it too tight for me to see."

"That's fine, that rules out what could be wrong there.  Any other lumps, bumps or hot bits?"


"In that case, he's probably fine."  (Phew!)  "When babies suddenly scream like that, if they're not hot to the touch, it's almost always anger and never illness.  Try some sort of diversion."

"OK, thanks."

We diverted Alex by feeding him.  (Hey, he is a Bell after all.)  He calmed down almost instantly.  Nicola and I calmed down much less quickly.  After his feed, I took him out for a walk in the pram, in an effort to get him to drop off to sleep.  After a minute or two's squalling, he dropped off.  I walked and walked, afraid to stop in case he woke up and began that terrible screaming again.  After an hour or so, I returned home.  Alex was still asleep in the pram, but that horrible worry was still with me.  Mindless TV, a bubble bath with a book, nothing helped.  I couldn't get that scream out of my head.

I can't really describe how I felt.  The best I can manage was that it was like returning to the state I was in just after he came home.  A cold, terrible responsibility settled upon me.  I couldn't take any joy in his smiles, as each one seemed to just prolong the inevitable moment when he would cry again, reducing me to an impotent bystander.  Only it was worse, as I was aware of what I'd lost.  Gone was the easy confidence.  Gone was the delight in holding him, or tickling his hands.  I looked at him and I saw the most important thing in the world, and also a thing that I couldn't comfort.  A thing I was not worthy of being in charge of.  I felt like an imposter.  In the end, I broke down into tears in the kitchen with Nicola and Alex doing their best to calm me down.

Nicola took charge and told me to do whatever would help.  All I could think of was being away from the terrifying bundle of love that was Alex.  I felt like I was abandoning Nicola, and abandoning Alex too.  It didn't stop me from going to bed with a book though.  After a few minutes, I fell asleep and slept through until morning.

*            *          *

Although I'm feeling a lot better today, I fear that it will take a while for me to really get my confidence back.  It really shocked me how badly I took Alex's crying fit.  Faced with a child in (apparent) torment, and no way to deal with it, it's amazing just how awful you feel.  I think I'll be walking on eggshells with Alex for the next few days.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Express Yourself

Alex and I had our first evening away from mum on Tuesday.  We went to visit friends in Leith armed with a frozen bottle of breast milk.  (I should point out that the Laws were not expecting me to bring Alex, but were very accommodating none the less!)  I was not entirely sure it was going to work.

For the previous few days, Nic had been working on expressing milk.  This is perhaps not the most dignified procedure.  For one thing, the pump looks like My First Air-Horn.  For another, it's not as efficient as you might like.  (A lot of milk escapes due to dubious design.)  Plus, when you spend half your waking life feeding, the last thing you want to do in your free time is simulate feeding.

Still, we now had a tub of breast milk which may, or may not, be enough for one feed.  Breast may be best, but it's also impossible to tell how much Alex eats in a standard feed.  Nic found a website with a "simple" formula to work out how much your baby needed.  (I think it was something like: Weight in kg * 2 / Number of feeds in a day + phases of the moon ^ days in the months without an "r" in their name.)  The end result was 4.5 fluid ounces.  Great.  Now is that US or UK fluid Ounces...?

"Who the hell cares?" was our conclusion.  So I was dispatched with a bottle of milk (of maybe the correct amount) and instructions to bring Alex back if anything went wrong.

In the end, it was pretty smooth going.  Next time I might defrost the milk a bit in advance of Alex getting hungry.  (He's used to having food on demand, as Nicola does not usually need to be placed in a tub of hot water for five minutes before use.)  I may also choose not to pick up the tub of boiling water by the boiling hot bit.  Interestingly Alex was a bit confused by the bottle teat and different feeding position.  He got the idea soon enough though, and was quickly nomming down the milk.  (We had just the right amount in the end, thank goodness.)

Overall, the trip was a definite success.  Alex had a good feed, I got to spend lots of time with him and have the joy of feeding him and, perhaps most importantly, Nicola got a whole evening off to herself.  She spent it tidying the house.  Typical!

P.S. Oh, and no, the photo has nothing to do with this entry.  I just like it.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

He's a Dedicated Follower of Fashion

Whoever invented poppers is a god amongst men.

Dressing a baby is something of an acquired skill.  It is also terrifying, awkward, mentally challenging and boring, all at the same time.  Much like the rest of parenthood then, I suppose.

For those who've never had to dress a baby, let me try and describe it for you.  First, catch your child.  At Alex's stage, this isn't a problem, thankfully.  He's almost always where you left him.

Next, remove any soiled clothing from your child.  This is where it starts to get tricky.  When you're dealing with a squirter that has managed to get all over the baby-grow, or vomit that has somehow seeped in between vest and jumper it can be a challenge working out how to get the damn thing off with smearing faeces over your child's face.  (Social services generally take a dim view of coating your son in cack.)  If in doubt, scissors are your friends.  (Although Social Services also take a dim view of at home amputation, so be careful what you cut!)  Despite this, getting kids undressed is relatively easy.

At this stage, you might as well change your hypothetical child's hypothetical nappy.  Make sure to keep the clean clothes well away at this point.  You'll be surprised at the range, volume and directionality achievable by a stream of urine, and you don't want to have to change your child's clothes twice.  In dire circumstances remember, it is easier to strip yourself than your child and easier still to wash your skin than your clothes.  Hands in particular make excellent impromptu flood barriers.

Now it's time to get the clean clothes on your child.  By this point crying is inevitable.  If you're lucky it will just be a pathetic mewling which tugs at the heart strings.  If you're unlucky it will be a full blown, red faced howl which grinds the soul to pulp and shatters any nearby crystal.  Try to ignore it.  You'll fail, but at least you'll be thinking about ignoring it, rather than the scream itself.

Firstly, take the vest in one hand.  Bunch it up so you can slip it over the child's head with your other hand.  With your third hand, raise the child's head off the mat, while using your fourth and fifth hands to guide the arms into the sleeves...  OK, let's try that again.  With one hand, bunch up the vest.  With your other hand grip your child's head, shoulders and lower back (one finger each) and use the remaining two fingers to guide the vest over the head.  Get the vest stuck at about eye level.  Drop child.  (This is why a squishy changing mat is a good investment.)  Wrestle vest down over head.  Insert arms into holes.

I said, insert arms into holes.

Insert arms into...  JUST BEND YOUR ARMS, DAMN YOU!

Breathe deeply.  Count to ten.

Insert arms into holes.  Pull vest down over body.  Fasten poppers.  Most vests seem to have three poppers in a row at the bottom.  You will still only succeed in getting these fastened properly 50% of the time.  Worse still, 25% of the time you will be too tired to care or notice your mistake and your child will end up looking like they dressed themselves.

Baby-grows are somewhat easier as they usually don't have to be pulled over the head.  They do have significantly more poppers though, leading to a commensurately higher chance of popper related screw ups.  If you're lucky, no-one will notice.  If you're unlucky your child will look like the bastard offspring of Long-John Silver and Heather Mills.

Jumpers are like vests, only now you have to worry about the baby-grow's sleeves disappearing up the arm of the jumper.  Jumpers are also more likely to come with buttons.  Buttons should only be attempted by parents who took the Advanced Dressing Course with their local NCT group.  Mere mortals fiddle with them once, then pretend that the jumper looks cooler undone.  Besides, it's a surprisingly balmy -4C outside.  And hypothermia is character building, right?

Throughout all of this, you will be struggling against a tiny person who DOES NOT want to get dressed.  Babies are surprisingly strong when they want to be.  Despite this, you'll not be willing to use any amount of force for fear of hurting them.  If you do even the slightest amount of damage, (I broke one of Alex's fingernails), you will never forgive yourself.

Once your child is fully dressed, it's time to show your partner your handiwork.  It is at this point at which your child will be sick.  Go to step one.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Hand Gestures


"I'm bored."

"I'm booooooooooooooooooooored!"

I'm translating from the original baby here, but I think it's pretty accurate.  I thought we had a good twelve years before this!

In case it's not obvious, Alex has started needing entertaining.  It's quite a change in a remarkably short space of time.  Just a couple of weeks ago I was complaining about a lack of interactivity.  If he wasn't asleep, he was eating.  If he wasn't eating, he was staring at a wall.  If he wasn't staring at a wall, he was asleep.  Crying indicated a desire to swap from one of these activities to another.

Not so now.  Something in Alex's little head has switched over and he's suddenly decided that interaction is great.  It's wonderful, but it's also surprisingly tiring.

Pick Me Up!

Alex has an "I love Hugs" baby-grow and, lo and behold, it turns out to be true.  He really does love hugs.  And he let's you know when he wants them, too.  It's a subtle variation on the "oh gods I'm falling" hand flail.  You've all seen it.  That "pick me up now" arm gesture.  He's only seven and a half weeks old though.  Is he really asking to be picked up?  Beats me, to be honest.  Probably not, but he does tend to cry if he's left lying down after doing the "pick me up" wave.


This one is karma coming back to bite me.  As a kid I would deposit myself on my parents and monosyllabically demand "tickle!" Then I would lie there for as long as anyone could be persuaded to tickle me.  Alex seems destined to go the same way.  Bored baby?  Give him a tickle.  Arms, legs, tummy, back, knees (a particular favourite), head or anywhere really.  Just don't stop.  Ever.  Tickling at least has the bonus of producing smiles from Alex.  That makes up for a lot.

Hold My Hand!

This is a new one.  Last night Alex seemed to decide he wanted his hand held.  (Or rather that he wanted to hold my finger.)  He did the most adult take my hand gesture and, when he'd got a finger, wouldn't let go.  Indeed, he did a big grin once he'd landed his prey.  We sat there for a while, me moving his hand about and pretending we were playing "copy the movement".  Then he did copy the movement.  I'd just waved his hand from side to side.  After I stopped, Alex thought for a moment, then waved his hand (and mine) side to side.

"Co-incidence," the rational part of my brain said.  So I waved his hand up and down.  And then he waved it up and down.

"Still co-incidence," said my rational brain.

"Stuff you," replied the dad part of my brain, and promptly commanded me to burst into tears.

In conclusion then, Alex is much more work now he can be bored, but I wouldn't change it for the world.