– Introduction – A Day in the Life of a Parent ( Daddy Alexander)
Einstein found a way of explaining how the physical universe works. He linked space and time, and a little later he managed to fit gravity into it all too. Pretty cool stuff.
One of the oddities that emerges from Relativity is something called Time Dilation. This is the idea that the passage of time is relative; that time doesn’t always move at the same pace.
It turns out there are two things that can make time run slower. One is speed and the other is gravity. If you travel really fast then your watch will run slower, likewise if you get close enough to something really massive then time will pass more slowly for you.
And yet, for all his brilliance, Einstein has somehow missed an obvious third thing that can make time run slowly (especially at night). It requires no crazy extremes such as the speed of light or the gravitational pull of a black hole, in fact physics alone cannot explain it.
It is that most peculiar of things: the newborn baby! – A Day in the Life of a Parent
A day in the life of a parent… well, time is relative (physics and spaceships to one side, we all know this intuitively and in terms of an easy example to keep it in context I offer this: think of five minutes while your baby naps and compare those minutes to five of the minutes you have spent trying to get him to nap… were those minutes really all the same length?).
A day in the life of a parent can feel like a year to the parent. And yet somehow, even while the days are long, the weeks pass in a blur and the baby grows, develops and masters even more ways to manipulate you.
Our son Albert is four months old now and that is simply astonishing to me. Surely it was only last week that we were walking back from one of our midwife appointments; surely it was only a few days ago that he came home for the first time? A Day in the Life of a Parent.
Nope, months and months ago.
In our household, we have all but abandoned the establishment of a rigid routine because, to paraphrase old Moltke slightly, the only sure thing is that “no routine remains intact following contact with the baby”. A Day in the Life of a Parent
This is not exactly a surprise: babies change fast (it’s what they do), something that worked last week will no longer work now, a favorite song may stay effective for longer, even as much as a few weeks, but after that, you will have to develop new antics to calm and entertain the little creature. Initially, he will understand hunger and cry, discomfort and cry, tiredness, and cry. But then he discovers boredom and cries, and somehow he becomes self-aware (like Skynet) and able to detect the exact moment you fail to provide 100% attention… and yes, he will cry.
In any case, do not make the mistake of reading this article and thinking we have a routine. We do not. What we have are “waypoints” through the day to anchor ourselves to, some we even try to do at certain times. I call these Magnificent Events; they work, after a fashion, and cost only small sacrifices to personal hygiene, relationships and sleep.
I will recount a day (last Saturday) in its broadest segments: A Day in the Life of a Parent
– 1st Segment: Time to Wake Up –
At about 3am the Saturday is well advanced and our young man decides he is not as comfortable as he wants to be. Perhaps his swaddle has become tiresome? Perhaps he is hungry? Perhaps he has made an earlier determination than no parent should have more than three consecutive hours of sleep and now is the moment to enforce this edict.
This is not a new experience and we, father and son, have a protocol in place. We both know exactly what to do. No words are spoken and no further sounds are made after the wake-up shouts (they cannot be, such engagement in the deep of the night will lead to games, to activity, to never sleeping again).
Albert is picked up, his eyes on mine as I carry him quietly from our bedroom to his “nursery” (we will attempt to have him sleep in the nursery in January). Here is the danger point: he needs to be un-swaddled, have his nappy changed and then be re-swaddled. It is accepted by him that this involves a certain amount of activity and will take a certain amount of time. But should I fail to keep within these activity and time allowances he will retaliate by not going back to sleep for hours. Sometimes I protest that the allowances are short, that never have I agreed to such strict conditions – but in these cases I only make matters worse; Albert is a strict taskmaster and sleep is too valuable a reward for me to casually risk.
On this night all is achieved without fuss – he has stretched, he is dry, he is fresh and he is now safely rewrapped. This is all done in the dark (lights are a tragic error if you want your baby to go back to sleep – we actually have a coloured light, because I read that red light doesn’t wake a baby. However, while it works perfectly, I can never find the controller quietly enough in the dark and when I have managed I have too often pressed for blue or white instead of red, so I have stopped bothering to try. Yes, I know there are obvious solutions to this but I am a man and there is a stereotype and I do feel obligated to adhere to it most of the time).
It is now that an executive parenting decision is reached. Does he look hungry? If so I must wake my wife and she will feed him for about twenty minutes (which will guarantee he goes back to sleep but will wake her). This time he is already starting to doze again, so I put him back to bed without the feed. Some nights he is hungry at this time, others he is okay. Our Albert feeds a lot in the daytime and a lot less in the night.
At about 6am he again alerts me to some discomfort and this goes exactly as before, of course this time he does feed for twenty minutes and I go back under the covers and to sleep as soon as I’ve handed him to my wife. The metaphor that I’m diving for cover having passed across a live bomb is probably inappropriate…
At 7am there can be no ‘back to bed’.
This now marks the first of the Magnificent Events, which I call THE GOOD MORNING.
THE GOOD MORNING is the routine that starts the day. It looks a lot like the night activity with some key differences: there is talking and babbling, smiling and tickling, there are lights, the blinds are opened and daylight fills the room. There can be singing and dancing, there is often eye poking.
Albert, released from the swaddle, exercises his arms and legs. He does so with such vigour and concentration that we have often wondered if he is training for some sort of baby Olympics; he smiles hugely, he laughs out loud at me. We both pull faces at each other and he rediscovers his old hobby of pulling individual hairs from my arms, one by one. One of us enjoys this immensely, the other not so much.
When his calisthenics have reached an end I do a full nappy change with air-time and lots of barrier cream (I bother with neither in the dead of night) and change his clothes twice (twice because he likes to be sick on anything clean and new I put him in).
I then take him back into the bedroom for his breakfast (this takes about half an hour, which is time I use to see to my own needs – consisting of four minutes in the bathroom and twenty six minutes staring blankly at the wall of the nursery, my brain in some sort of dormant state that makes me wonder if perhaps my ancestors were not apes but something less mobile, maybe pavements? When this is over I remember, too late, that I should have at least made a coffee for myself).
The day can now begin to unfold properly, though I will refrain from documenting every nappy change and every feed as it would be tedious. Suffice it to say that nappy changes tend to be timed to moments when I have just sat down for a rest. Feeding requirements are very similar to this, and seem to be timed to those rare occasions when my wife sits down for a moment herself, the act of sitting triggers some sort of alarm in Albert’s little mind, alerting him to the fact that if he doesn’t feed in the next two seconds he’ll starve. Thankfully he is very capable of articulating this urgency to us and not shy to do so.
– 2nd Segment: The Day Itself –
The start to the day proper is almost an anti-climax, Albert is now actually tired and drowsy (he has exercised, is in clean clothes and is sated from his recent feed).
On a Saturday I take him downstairs and we read a book together or play quietly with one of his weird looking animal toys (lions do not really have big plastic rings for hands and mirrors on their chests, do they?).
It is actually worth noting that all this still happens every weekday (but on weekdays I hide in my “office” working from home (COVID) and contribute almost nothing in support of my wife. Man, stereotype, yeah yeah).
Albert rarely goes to sleep again at this time, but he his content. I have in the past made the mistake of trying to watch a movie while he sits on my knee, but he doesn’t like that (with the one exception of Paw Patrol which, even at four months, holds his attention completely through the opening sequence); tired and content as he might be he still requires 100% attention. That’s fine, once you eradicate all traces of hope (hope that you can close your eyes, read a book, watch a movie, have a coffee) from your mind then you can be content too. It is actually quite fun.
We now come to mid-morning (sometimes even as late as 11am) and the first “daylight” nappy change is upon us. This is normally a significant one (the changes thus far tend to have been merely ‘wet’ nappies, this one is always much, much more).
This breaks the spell of lethargy and kicks us into the next phase of the day, marked by the next Magnificent Event, THE BABY GYM.
THE BABY GYM is situated back up in the Nursery (we tried downstairs but while near death experiences add excitement to the day, they are also tiring and we were forced to relocate this deadly trip hazard to a more rural spot).
Here Albert plays, throwing balls (I do the throwing), grabbing rings and rattles, wriggling to the four-tone electronic sounds of the jungle (designed by some sadistic musician to be perfect for babies but to give Dads headaches). He can go at this for almost 20 minutes, encouraged by my “wows” and “oohs” (and lots of other intelligent words and sounds, obviously). When he tires we try a little tummy time, which he doesn’t really enjoy yet but still puts a token effort into, probably for my sake.
After this he takes a long nap while the wife and I relax for a few hours… yeah right! We wish! No, he should nap, he needs to nap. He refuses to nap. Instead he demonstrates further the range of emotions he has learned to express by showing us a perfect rendition of “grumpy” (sometimes called “out-of-sorts”).
But we have developed a tactical response to this, the only response I think that ever works on a tired grumpy baby refusing to sleep. We reach our next Magnificent Event, which is THE WALK.
THE WALK is one of the highlights of our day (and we do this every day, weekday, weekend, rain or shine). Albert will sleep for the whole thing wrapped up warm in his pram and we get some fresh air and exercise too (yes I am at that point in my life, I will class a light walk as exercise, I am probably a touch further down the slippery slope of sloth than I should be for my years. I suspect that soon simply grabbing a beer from the fridge will start to count as a full workout).
We love THE WALK, although the preparation for it is often traumatic (for me). Let me give you an example: Albert is comfortable in his indoor clothes, the room is warm and he is just right. But once he is in is outdoor clothes he immediately gets too hot. This results in crying. What we often find is that while the wife and I have put huge effort into getting the baby ready, I have failed to get myself ready. So while Albert is working his way up the ‘crying escalation ladder’ (the top of which is a kind of red-faced breathless screaming that will only ever be heard again at the end of the world) I have to rush around getting jeans on, finding a coat (any coat will do) and making sure I have the holy trinity safe and secure (keys, phone, wallet).
On one occasion I have found myself with the pram in the front yard, baby finally cooling down and stopping crying, and me holding my socks in one hand and my jacket in the other. It is drizzling and there is a blustery wind. It is best not to think how I must look as I try to take trainers off, put socks on, redo trainers, and not drop my coat on the soaking ground as I do so.
But the baby has stopped crying and literally nothing else matters.
Time tends to skip now, between our walk and dusk very little seems to happen. We conclude our walk, it normally takes about an hour and a half, we try to re-enter the house in silence so as not to wake him and we try to put him on his mat hoping to extend his sleep (and probably succeed about 20% of the time, and even then he only really stays asleep for about twenty minutes), if we do succeed we eat together, if not we take turns holding him and eat separately.
And somehow the day passes (sure, there are a handful more nappy changes, another feed or two, some more games with him, a stint for him in his bouncer, some nursey rhymes courtesy of Alexa).
– 3rd Segment: The Evening Routine –
The evening routine marks the final Magnificent Event, THE BATH.
THE BATH is one of the rare things we try to keep to a set time (because following the bath there is a long sleepy feed and bedtime), and we aim for 20:30 each night – we’ve gotten pretty good at it too! Albert loves his bath; he especially loves to rub water in his eyes and taste the soap. My duties at bath time are to stop him from doing these two things and to hold him safely while my wife washes him.
First it is his face – a light wiping with clean water (which he tolerates calmly), then it is his hair (which he is okay with but doesn’t like the position, so tends to be a bit more impatient with us) and then it is the fully body wash (I hold him straight, and my wife scrubs him neck to toe – which he loves, and we get lots of giggles and smiles).
After this there is a little playtime, coloured balls are batted around, feet are kicked and water is splashed. It ends with a little bath book that changes colour in the water. At this point he is so physically tired that he sits in the water and watches the pages as I read them. He genuinely seems to like and look forward to this.
Then it is time to get out, time to get dry (at which point he finds a final last surge of energy which he dedicates in full to a tantrum), a new sleepsuit is finally put on and I get him to the bedroom where he has a long slow feed, sighing with pleasure and watching me suspiciously while he holds on to my wife’s shirt. It doesn’t take too long, and he normally falls asleep during this feed. We swaddle him and get him in bed, he rarely wakes up – happily dreaming of whatever it is babies dream of. We also go to bed, drained. I often wonder what we did with our time before Albert came along.
Thanks for reading, A Day in the Life of a Parent, and good night from us both!