Category Archives: Mama observations

6 months of Heaven or Hell?

My story of being a stay at home dad by Greg Hart (@gregharts)

When my partner first mooted the idea of sharing her maternity leave I must admit my first thoughts (refusing to believe the ‘it’s a full time job you know’ peeps) were 6 months off, hell yes. Now don’t get me wrong I know the first 6 months are not the same as the second six and I take nothing away from the dedication and hard work that our little one was at the start, but in my mind i was thinking how hard can it be? They don’t need much I thought, a bit of milk, some sleep and a little interaction now and again. My pre-conceived perceptions of what the reality of looking after a 6 month old would be like were limited as I assume most new parents’ are, but I was certain of what I wanted it to be like – cricket in the sun (preferably without the snide comments from other members), lunch and afternoon drinks at the local with friends, watching movies at the local baby cinema screenings and generally having fun. What was there to think about?

My half of the paternity leave would be during the spring and summer, after the routine and scary newness of it all had been conquered by my partner – I responded with a definite and naive yes. Money would be a issue yes, but that was probably the only real negative I could see. So membership to the cricket purchased, multiple discussions with my boss who I know was not wholeheartedly pleased about the idea (she had three out of five members of her team going on maternity / paternity leave at the same time) but who, as we work for a large multinational with plenty of processes in place for this sort of thing, knew that she had no option. Reality bites as they say and as the fateful day approached my bravado at work was countered by a slight trepidation at home. We seemed to have been given a baby who refused to go to sleep, had constant colic / acid reflux / whatever the current internet diagnosis was for a grumpy / unsettled / normal baby. Had I made a monumental mistake? Was I stupid for thinking that it would be a fun six months off work? It was too late now. And only time would tell.

Five months of my six have now past. Far quicker than I would have liked, and I can wholeheartedly say that no it’s definitely not been a mistake, in fact it’s been one of the best times of my life right up there with my seasons snowboarding and travelling the world. Don’t get me wrong it’s not been easy, and I would never belittle the effort and energy required to be a good parent. The key I found was getting Eloise to take a nap or two during the day. This took a couple of weeks of serious effort, waiting outside her door for the screams to start and then settling her again, repeating the process countless times over the course of a couple of weeks until she got the idea. Those naps saved me. Even when she was more settled at night, and I was less knackered during the day, they allowed time to do the chores or more likely have a bit of me time, alleviating the incessant attention that babies seem to demand.

The lack of money has been a eyeopener. Things were not too bad for the first 3 months with statutory pay being used for treats for us (or me, depending on your point of view), but once this ran out and we were living on the one wage things were tight. Having to budget and think about where our money gets spent was something I hadn’t done for years although I’m not entirely sure that buying the reduced, but premium items from the meat and deli counter was the best approach to saving money.

As much as I love her, El has been frustrating at times. Using a laptop is tricky when you have a nine month old trying to wrestle the computer out of your hands or randomly tapping the keys when you type (my excuse for any spelling mistakes in this piece). The painful and total lack of respect for my hangovers (although I am sure I’ll have my opportunity for payback on that one, eventually). And I have to admit that I’ve gotten a little cross when all she wants to do is destroy my wonderful DUPLO creations.

But overall I would never have given up the time I’ve had with her. I’ve seen more of the surrounding countryside and coast than I have done in the previous 15 years that I have lived in Bristol. I’ve got to see El grow from the helpless baby that stayed wherever you put her into the crawling, pulling up little person with her own personality. I’ve seen more of my family than I have done in years (and my in-laws!), and seen the joy in their faces that she brings. I have become a better person because of her. Would I do it again? As much as I love her and my time off, probably not another child, but I’ll certainly look at taking my 12 weeks of parental leave before she goes off to school – she should be old enough to learn to snowboard by then.

The birds & the bees

We have another guest blog from our lovely friend Jo Avery on how to handle THAT tricky question from your little one.

Do you worry about how you’re going to handle the, ‘where do babies come from mummy?’ conversation?

I’ve been dreading it.

I remember finding out, aged 8 from Sarah Martin at school.

I was disgusted. That night in the bath I said to my mum, ‘BUT YOU DID IT TWICE!’ in horror.

My four year old started this conversation the other morning.

‘When you and daddy got married was I in your belly?’

‘No.’

‘How did I get in your belly?’

‘You were made with love, a seed and an egg and you became a baby.’

… ‘Did I come out of your private parts?’

‘Yes.’

‘Did everyone laugh?’

‘No. I didn’t have an audience, but a nurse came to help. Some people have to have their bellies cut open to get the baby out.’

‘With scissors?’

‘Not with scissors. A knife.’

‘I’m never having a baby. What’s for breakfast?’

The facts of life at 7.50am. Done.

Check out more of Jo’s musings on life at her ‘A Confused Take That Fan‘ blog.

Our top tips for flying with a baby….

I’m a little ashamed to admit that at the grand old age of 10 months Fred has already taken 12 flights – through a combination of his daddy getting a 3 month job in Australia, alongside me wanting to make the most of my maternity leave, catching up with old friends. That adds up to a terrible carbon footprint (hangs head in shame). Although it does mean that I’ve become a bit of an expert on how to fly with a baby. Here are my top tips:

  1. Accept that it’s no longer going to be possible to get the absolute cheapest seats – travelling at baby friendly times tends to be more expensive: that’s just the way it is unfortunately.
  2. Ask for a bassinet cot – on long haul, specifically ask for a seat with a bassinet cot when you book, as they can often be highly in demand. Dependent on the airlines, they can be used up to 2 years. Each airline’s website details the size/weight restrictions. Read more about the restrictions on this blog that I came across.
  3. Be smart about packing – travelling with a baby generally means more kit, so you’ll probably have to check some luggage into the hold. On the budget airlines, if you’re smart about your packing, you can just take one large family bag, rather than paying for lots of individual bags. Remember things like highchairs and car seats can often be borrowed/hired at your location.
  4. Utilise space saving items – Totseat is a brilliant alternative for a high chair and is especially useful when eating out, as many countries don’t have highchairs in restaurants. Whilst the Babyzen YOYO is the first stroller that can be taken on as cabin baggage.
  5. Tag team it – if you can, travel in a pair. If your baby is wailing or if you have a toddler who just wants to be on the move, it’s handy to have someone else to take their turn with them.
  6. Early bird catches the worm – give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and to check in. If your little one is anything like ours, they’ll strategically wait to fill up their nappy for the point when it’s going to be most inconvenient. Changing a nappy on the floor at the gate because you’re worried the plane is going to leave without you, isn’t pleasant for anyone.
  7. Take a carrier – it makes life easier if you have your hands free. I started out with a Baby Bjorn, but have now progressed onto a Macpac as Fred has got heavier. If you do bring a stroller, sometimes you can take it right to the gate, but there is still the risk that you have to wait until the luggage carousel to get it back when you land.
  8. Don’t be shy about getting additional assistance – the world is getting more baby friendly these days – some airlines offer priority boarding for families, airports now have family lanes, they might even have a soft play area tucked away…..in short do your research on what’s available before you go and don’t be afraid to use it. I’ve also found that generally people are happy to help if you ask. So for example, security staff were fighting over themselves to hold Fred whilst I organised my stuff to go through the security scanner. I like to think it’s because he’s especially cute, but I know really it’s just the baby thing.
  9. Give your baby milk during take off/landing – babies can struggle with equalising their ears during take off/landing, which can obviously cause them some pain. So getting them to take their milk can really help.
  10. Breast feeding makes life easier (if you can) – on long haul flights I found that being able to breastfeed really helped to settle Fred. It also made things easier at security checkpoints as we weren’t carrying lots of formula milk. If you’re not breastfeeding take lots of cartons and bottles. Also, be prepared to sample your products at security.
  11. Try not to worry too much about your baby crying – Fred was quite a colicky baby and I was terrified that he would disturb our fellow passengers on our long haul flight to Australia. Amazingly the background noise and movement of the flight lulled him to sleep. It was so effective that I’ve thought about producing a ‘Baby Sleep Plane CD’. Also, if you’re near the back of the plane the drone of the engines tends to drown out the most high pitched baby screams. If it does all go tits up, then many of your fellow passengers will have been there themselves – I’ve found that in the main people are usually sympathetic.
  12. Distractions are good – your bundle of joy will get bored on the flight, we all do! So take along a selection of their favourite toys to keep them amused.
  13. Use food pouches to minimise mess – weaning is tricky enough, but trying to feed your little one on a plane in a confined space is especially tough. I’ve found that food pouches and rice cakes are the most convenient foods when on the move.

I hope that these tips are helpful. If you have any other suggestions do please get in touch to help future mums embarking on what can initially be a terrifying prospect, but with a little preparation can be almost as smooth as travelling on your own.