Today was Arthur's first birthday. We had a little party for him and discovered he has tonsillitis. Unsurprisingly, I've learnt a lot of things this year. Here are the two most important lessons The Boy has taught me
1 The birth is only the beginning
Midwives, antenatal classes and parenting books all talk about the importance of having a birth plan. This is so that, in the midst of the tiredness and pain and confusion of labour, the mother and her birth partner have a record of the way that not-tired-and-confused them would prefer the birth to unfold. It generally refers to things like pain relief and intervention, but also things like music to make the experience more comfortable.
We had a birth plan. It wasn't very detailed and we weren't 100% committed to it, if I'm honest. What I really wish we'd had, though, was a first-three-months plan.
Nothing prepared me for the utter insanity of the first three months of being a parent. We thought we were totally on top of it; in retrospect, we were running on little sleep and much emotion. Parenting is up there with religion and politics as a subject to avoid in polite conversation. Parenting decisions are driven by many factors and the Internet is as full of judgment and misinformation as it is helpful or factual advice.
We made a couple of decisions in these early days that were influenced by the well-meaning agenda of midwives, health visitors, and others. At the time they made sense, but on later examination we realised that they weren't our values, and weren't things that we felt strongly enough about to add stress or expense to our days at that point.
I wish we'd taken the time to write down the things that were important to us (as well as the things that weren't) before Artie was born, so that in the midst of the tiredness and euphoria and confusion of new-parenthood, we'd had a record of the way that not-tired-and-confused us would prefer our lives to unfold.
2 To stay present, plan to not be
The life-adjustment that none of the classes or books prepared me for was the complete lack of downtime. I was prepared to not sleep at night and I knew that my priorities would change, but I hadn't got my head around how that would impact the countless little jobs that I used to 'squeeze in' when I had five or ten minutes. Email, news, photo processing, general tinkering - all things I took for granted that I'd find a bit of time to do.
Of course, that absolutely didn't happen. Instead, I'd find myself trying to fit in a quick email reply while The Boy entertained himself on his playmat. Or I'd spend all of a sunny hour in the park trying to get a nice photo rather than pushing the swing.
After too long, the penny dropped. Although I was spending lots of time with Arthur, I was often distracted or, at least, he wasn't always my primary focus.
I'd already made commitments with myself (and agreements with my wife) to ensure I continued trumpet practice and exercise and other activities that require protracted periods of focus. I decided if these little jobs were worth doing (a question that itself required some attention) then they deserved their own chunk of time carved out to get them done, without them impinging on my attention the rest of the time.
And, on that note, if you'll excuse me, it's bathtime.