So, it’s a week and a bit (almost two weeks, to be honest) since our little Yorkshire Pudding made her debut on the stage that all the world is. Things have been going OK. A routine has established itself. (Kinda.) J-Bruv has been the soul of fraternal courtesy and care. (Most of the time.) Dr L’s recovery has gone fairly well, and she’s even managing to get some sleep. (Of a sort.) And the house doesn’t look completely like a neglected tip. (Priorities straight there then.) Things seem so much easier this time. We don’t have to deal with the mind-numbing realisation that we are responsible for an entire human life this time; there haven’t been hours of staring at the little critter trying to work out what they need. Showers have been taken in the morning and the house left, cuddles enjoyed without a crippling mortal dread. The kind of situation you find yourself actually cherishing, rather than praying at 3am for it to be over.
I’m aware that I’m speaking very much from my perspective here, as the hard yards with our fresh little Beef are all being ground out by Dr L. And there are still significant wobbles, emotionally, but there is a normality that took weeks and weeks to settle in this time around. I’m not sure why, but I thought I’d record what the routine is at the moment for future posterity: perhaps it’s all the Spanish lessons I’ve had recently on la rutina.
About 7am, J-Bruv gets up, which means I get up, and night morphs subjectively into day. Cautiously, I check in with Dr L to see how the night has gone. At the moment, Beef is generally sleeping for a couple of hours after bedtime, then feeds for a couple of hours, then sleeps a couple of hours more. If Dr L’s lucky, she’ll receive the magical gift of sleeping-while-Baby-sleeps that we heard so much about first time around, but rarely encountered. Co-sleeping has definitely helped with this, but it’s meant that we are in different rooms and we both feel a little lonely as a result. With J-Majesty, we were at least going crazy together, embarking on a desperate team effort; this time, it’s as though Capt Scott is heading out to the South Pole on his own with the correct huskies and equipment and a map while Oates and the others sleep all night at base camp. (Or is that mountaineering? My idea of adventure is driving a different way home from Tesco.) In a sense, I’m disappointed in myself for allowing things to become so gendered, but to expect the balance of parenting to be much different in the first six weeks or so is probably a little unrealistic. Only one of us needs to recover from the birth; only one of us can attempt breastfeeding. After the first six weeks or so, I expect to take a gradually larger role until Dr L goes back to work and I’m full-time in loco parentis again.
So, each weekday morning, J-Chap is fed, watered and stabled at nursery for a few hours. I get back about 9, then look after Beef for the rest of the morning to give Dr L the chance to rest. The first few days, la petite boeuf slept for virtually the whole morning: I could leave her in a Moses basket or her pram, and sort things out around the house or do some work on my laptop while she recovered from the whole birth business. She slept through a trip to the supermarket, tucked into her uterine car seat amongst the groceries. She slept in the pram as I walked through the park to pick up J-Bub, and slept patiently while we slowly wended our way home, avoiding dinosaurs, hiding in clumps of daffodils, and digging fingers into the mud. (Mostly his idea of fun rather than mine, to be honest.)
On our return, we have dinner, which Dr L has often made herself, thereby emphasising her awesome powers, then J-Bruv has an afternoon nap. This snooze is, frankly, pretty miraculous, starting again when he started nursery after he’d dropped it for a few months. It gives the good doctor and I the chance to hang out with Beef a bit and watch some infant-appropriate entertainment, like an episode of House of Cards.
After the nap, it’s then up the long post-meridian gradient to bedtime, with Beef feeding and snoozing through the afternoon and evening until the day is over. We try and get some fresh air in order to stave off cabin fever, especially for Dr L, even if it’s just to the shops, but best if it’s somewhere green and pleasant. Then, it’s eat-nappy-sleep-repeat for the foreseeable: not the most fun for L.
The difference has been remarkable this time round. The first couple of days after Beef arrived actually felt great. I felt as though I was on top of things, that we could actually enjoy cuddling our new little kid. Then, by day three or four, dusk brought some gloom with it: we weren’t quite sure why, perhaps the homework effect, but by night time, things felt easier again. A week or so in, after a rather demanding weekend of full-time J-Rage, a diluted form of the old existential dread did rear up a couple of times for me, and tears were shed. L is still up and down (which can’t be a surprise), but the knowledge that these feelings will pass is an enormous comfort.
However, there is one member of the family who has no experience of welcoming a new member: the previous lodger. J-Bro has already put down a marker as a lovely big brother, even though it’s obvious that he’s feeling a bit complicated about the whole business. He was immediately fascinated by his little sister, asking as soon as he met her on day two ‘Can I give her a little cuddle? Can I give her a little kiss?’ Unfortunately, he had a nasty little cough, so we had to tell him No, or at least that he had to stay away from her face and hands. This was a little frustrating for him, but he still wanted to help with feeding her (fetching little bottles of Aptamil) and changing her nappy. He will even lift up his shirt and offer his own boobies to feed her, which is pretty fucking delightful, if in a slightly disturbing way. We made sure that Beef was apart from Dr L when J-Chops met her, so he wasn’t presented with a united front of mother and new baby, and she had bought him a couple of thoughtful gifts to buy his affections. All in all, we were really pleased by how happy and accepting he seemed.
At the same time, the first few bedtimes, he would ask when Beef was going to leave and stated that he wanted it back to just the three of us. Friends that have visited have made sure they play with him; other friends have sent him presents to soften the blow of no longer being the sole focus of the family. But it’s still difficult to imagine how unsteady the whole situation must be for him: nursery was a welcome platform of stability. Unfortunately, with another little body to take care of, my paternal fuse is even shorter than usual. This has meant his insecure temperamental squalls have been met and amplified by my own tantrums, which made for an ugly first weekend as a foursome. However, things calmed down again the following few days, as I tried to remember who the adult was in our relationship and what was really important. He too seemed to shift into a more mature gear, actually keeping a calmer head than me during one disagreement and telling me it wasn’t my fault. It was a joyfully humbling experience; I think he’s going to be OK.
So, almost a fortnight in and the family is still together. I was reading an article on the Observer Magazine earlier on men taking parental leave, which included the quote that genius takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve, thereby potentially explaining the idea of ‘maternal instinct’. If I’m parenting for ten hours a day, then I should reach that milestone sometime this coming year. On that basis alone, I’m quite excited to see how our relationships are going to grow over the years to come.