Well, here it is - my one hundredth letter to you. Yeah, a few of them were quite short and several were the unhinged ramblings of a man who hadn't had enough sleep but it's still a milestone in our friendship, I feel. If this were an American sitcom there'd be two possible ways we could mark the occasion:
- The expensive option: I could draft in a celebrity to guest star.
- The cheapskate option: We could sit on a sofa and reminisce via flashbacks while everyone laughs at how our hair used to look.
At least, I would reminisce if I could actually remember anything much from before last Saturday. One of the things about parenthood is that you quickly end up living in the here and now. The kids' bedtime looms so large in the future that beyond it is a mystery. Repetition and lack of sleep make the past a woolly fog in which events swirl without context or chronology. Some occasions stand out clearly but I have lost whole months and years in that temporal soup. If you ever find out what happened to 2003, let me know...
I am aware, however, that a few things have changed for me since I started writing to you. For instance, the baby department at John Lewis now feels like a forgotten world. I was there yesterday, looking round for a suitable present for Rob and Kate and Squirtle. (Turns out they had a false alarm on Tuesday. Still, any day now...) As I stared at all the shelves and shelves of gadgets and gizmos, it was like opening a drawer at home and finding flared trousers, a vinyl LP and a ZX Spectrum. Although the stuff brought back fond memories, I was heartily relieved I didn't need it any more. Marie still uses a cup with a spout, the buggy continues to cling to life and carseats will be with us for a few years yet but almost everything else is behind us. There's no more faffing with sterilisers, nappies, folding toilet seats, musical mobiles or high chairs. A year ago, we were getting there but now we're very definitely past the baby stage.
My sympathies to you and Liz as you prepare for all the fun of breast pumps and frozen milk when she heads back to work. It's good to be able to feed my kids any old thing that's lying around rather than spending my time stopping them from feeding it to themselves.
Unexpectedly, as I hunted about amongst the baby stuff, I noticed that technology has already moved on from 'my day'. Double-decker buggies are now much more common and someone has finally made rubbery ice-cube trays specifically designed for freezing portions of home-made baby food. The foldable baby bath didn't look very convincing, though. The foldable potty would have collapsed under the weight of any of my remarkably large children.
I'm much more cynical about these things than I was back when I was a fresh-faced prospective parent. I've bought my fair share of baby gizmos that didn't work, from a baby-listener that kept losing signal to a portable bottle-warmer that used an exothermic chemical reaction to turn cold milk into almost tepid milk in the length of time it took for a baby to give up and fall asleep. I've had non-spill cups that leaked everywhere and others that my kids couldn't get liquid out of even when they were trying. Neither of these were ideal. I was particularly fond of the plastic bib with a lip at the bottom that caught half-chewed food in one handy place as it fell - all the better for Fraser to swivel the bib round and tip the contents in his ear...
It's probably for the best that I don't have to go back to parent and toddler. Before long, I would have been the grumpy old man in the corner. 'When I was looking after babies, we didn't have any of this new-fangled video-on-demand nonsense. We had to make do with CBeebies, no matter what was on. I lived through the great Tweenies Bank Holiday Funday of 2004. You youg'uns wouldn't understand, but I was there. I still have the mental scars. You hear me? I still have the scars!'
As the flashbacks started to build, I decided to choose something quickly. I got them the same clip-on pram/carseat toy arch I get everyone and beat a hasty retreat.
Yep, things have changed. Not least, the kids are growing up. Lewis is at school now but it feels like he's been there forever. I can't really remember what it was like when he was still at nursery. Fraser has been at school forever but I guess it's his reading ability that has really come on recently. Of course, it's Marie who's changed the most in the last year. She's sleeping properly, eating properly, generally using the toilet and has become quite a talker. A year ago, she could say things like, 'I like pink!' and 'I go kitchen.' Now she can say things like, 'We're having a party in the lounge, so we need to be tied up!' She can also grin mischievously and say, 'Babies aren't nice... for eating,' before laughing in a scary fashion.
These conversational gambits do have a tendency to worry and confuse visitors but I only have myself to blame:
Sarah: What do fairies make?
Me: Yep. From teeth.
Ho, well, she'll grow out of it soon. It's a while since she believed everything I told her and it won't be long before she starts arguing with absolutely anything I say. Sigh. Enjoy having a really little one while you can. Daisy will be stomping around whining before you know it.
I suppose if it ever gets to me, though, and I long for the simple days of caring for a baby who only complains about basic, physical needs, I can borrow one of the slimy little critters from Rob. Then I can hand it back, go home and sleep without being disturbed.
It's been a long year but things are on the up. All the best for the next one. Thanks for the letters, advice and encouragement.
Yours in a woman's world,
PS The extra peace and quiet I've had recently has given me a chance to check out DadLabs more closely. They do humorous videos about dad stuff. Worth a look.