Tuesday, 29 September 2015

somewhere in-between

Another way this world is divided is people who love animals and people who don't. I have purposely not called them animal haters because the world is not as black and white as that. There are many different shades. So there are some people who don't mind animals or are indifferent to them and there are people who hate them, and there are lots of things in between.  As you will know by now, I'm an animal lover.

It's probably unusual that I turned out that way because your grandma has a different approach to animals altogether. I think she was always respectful of them but I think she saw them as dirty and maybe the kind of things that were best kept outdoors. She does have a love for them, especially Kelda and her tortoises, but it's a them and us kind of love. To her they are still very much animals.

When we were very young some other children in the street had Guinea pigs and they had babies. I think everyone in the street was offered one and me and my sister were allowed one each. Your granddad made them a hutch and we promised, as all children do, to take the very best care of them and did for a while until it became grandma and granddad’s job to clean them out.

When we wanted to stroke them or pet them it was like a military operation. My mum put a special cloth on the kitchen table, I'm not certain but I’m guessing my sister and I had to put on our oldest clothes. We were then given pinafores to wear over the top and had a towel folded across our knees. Then your grandma gave us special gloves and masks to wear (that bit is me exaggerating) and after about an hour's preparation we were allowed to handle the poor animals for a while. And stroke them and fuss over them.

Then we had to put them back and wash ourselves thoroughly before the world could return to normal. In fact, I was always taught to wash my hands after stroking any animal. Now we have Kelda, I'd be permanently washing my hands and there would be no time for anything else. 

The other day I was having tea with my friend and his family. He has a little boy who is two and a bee flew into the room. His mum is scared of bees and made a bit of a fuss and my friend wasn't very happy with her. I think he was worried that her reaction would make their son scared as well. And it will be difficult as parents because how we behave will brush off on you.

When we go to the park, if there is a dog or sheep or even a cow or a horse I will call to them and try to stroke them. My friends used to call me Doctor Doolittle (because he could talk to animals). They say you should never work with animals or children but I think most of the time they're easier to deal with than adults. I think part of it is that they are much more aware of their senses and if a person is scared they feel that and become scared themselves. Whereas if they sense warmth or kindness or a lack of threat, they respond in a similar way.

Your mum is a bit more cautious. With dogs she thinks that their owners should have a bit more control over them. Actually I think secretly your mum is a bit scared of them, particularly big dogs who aren't on their leads. When we were in India last summer, we were in the jungle and there was a strange sound from the bushes. Your mum ran to me for protection and then wanted to go back to where we were staying.  I don't think it was anything to worry about but if it had been a big scary animal I'm not sure what she thought I'd be able to do! (I'm only joking. Of course I'd have protected her).

Now it's okay for me and your mum to have different ideas about things. That's what makes us a good team. It will be good for you to learn different ways but I don't want you to be scared of animals. I want you to respect them and see that our world is shared. It's not ours or theirs, it belongs to all of us but we can interact with each other and live together just fine.

Obviously you also need to learn that some animals are dangerous and you need to learn the signs they show so you know when not to approach them. I once was at a park and a goose decided to chase me because I must have got too near to its young. It was bigger than me and gave me a bit of a shock but I managed to run away and though it tried to bite me it missed and there was no harm done.

Your mum thinks I go too far and maybe give animals more credit for intelligence than I should or they're due but I'm not so sure, especially as far as Kelda is concerned. Hopefully you'll get to see for yourself because you will grow up with Kelda.

I think your mum is fond of Kelda but she finds her a bit disgusting too. Kelda has got long hair and sometimes, when she 'does her business' (that's your grandma's expression) she gets it stuck in her fur. Then she walks round the flat so it could get everywhere though I've never found it.  Sometimes she cleans it off herself with her tongue which sounds disgusting but that's what animals do.

Kelda's way of washing is to lick herself. She has a special sharp tongue which acts a bit like a brush. Sometimes when you stroke her she tries to lick you. I think she thinks she's cleaning you. Your mum thinks this is really horrible, especially considering where her tongue has been but I just don't think you can look at it like that.

My friends were laughing at me yesterday because I'd spent an hour or so building 'Kelda's cottage'. Kelda likes to hide in boxes and tunnels so me and your mum decide to build her a sort of tent that she can go in when we move into our new house. They thought it was funny because I was making things for Kelda when I should be focusing on you.

I think it was fun though and it was sort of preparation for you. I bought some wood and made a frame which you could have helped with. And then your mum used an old duvet to make a cover and again these are the kind of creative activities we want to do with you. We're planning on turning the garage into a creative room where you'll be able to make things and paint things and it won't matter if things get a bit messy.

You watch, we'll end up putting you in a pinafore and covering the table with a special cloth and your grandma will just look at me and nod in that told you so way. 


Your mum says that she started worrying about Kelda when you came along. She worries that Kelda 
will try and get in your cot which might stop you breathing. She worries because Kelda's 'business' can be very harmful to pregnant women and to you before you are born. She does like a good worry, your mum, but in this instance I can't really blame her. 

What we mustn't forget though, and I keep meaning to write this down and getting side-tracked, is that it's quite possible that Kelda knew you were here, or at least on your way, before we did.
In those days she used to sleep in our room, at first in between my legs and later right between me and your mum. At some point she started snuggling up to your mum, to her tummy, to where you were forming though we didn't know at the time.

Once we'd found out your mum was pregnant we worked it back. They say that cats might be able to sense pregnancy hormones or pheromones and so it seems she was snuggling up to you and looking after you before we even realised. Even the animals are going to protect you.

Kelda can be a little bit fussy and your mum won't let her sleep in our room anymore so that she gets used to not being allowed in the bedrooms before you come along. We're going to get her used to your things and your baby smells (hopefully) once we move into our new house but I'm sure she's going to look after you as if you were her own. 


Friday, 25 September 2015

A rusty sausage

So junior, that's what I've taken to calling you of late (half to entertain your mum when I pat her tummy and half to entertain myself), I've not written to you for a few days and that's partly a good thing, if I carried on at the rate I was writing it would be ridiculous and you'd have too much to read and not enough time to live.

There have been a few things I've wanted to tell you but none of them seemed to be substantial enough for a full entry - that sounds a bit ridiculous, there are no rules, I should be able to tell you what I want, when I want, but I've kinda slipped into a routine.

Anyway, one of the things I wanted to tell you about was manners. I've been thinking about this for a while but couldn't quite get it into a shape. I was in a meeting the other day and I needed to leave early so I asked my head teacher if I could please excuse myself. It's kind of a polite phrase and it's one of those things you must do if you need to leave but it's not quite time to go. It made me think of two things. It made me think of family meals and opening doors.

All my life I have always opened doors for people, male or female.  If I'm walking with someone and there is a door I will always open it for them. It's second nature. More recently people have commented on this. I was visiting another school and I opened the door for a colleague. She said, "I'm very much for women's rights but it's always pleasant when a man opens a door for me."

And this is a thing about this world. Everyone seems very bothered about everyone's rights and their own rights and the right and wrong thing to do and I think they forget sometimes, that just being kind or thoughtful or helpful is the easiest thing to do and often takes the least effort.

It also reminded me of family meals and this is something that is really changing and has massively changed over the last few years. When I was growing up we always sat around the dinner table at teatime and we always ate as a family. It didn't seem strange or weird or uncomfortable. It was good to sit down with your grandma and grandad and auntie and we all ate together. When we ate at home or at my grandparents we all ate together. And if we wanted to leave the table for any reason, we asked if we could be excused. It's sort of natural now. And I’d forgotten until I asked permission to leave the meeting.

Now the more I think about this, the stranger it seems. My earliest memories of when we first ate together included no watching television and no drinking fizzy drinks. The television thing changed, oddly enough, with a soap opera called Neighbours.  I’ve no idea why and you needn’t worry about it but we seemed to be all so addicted to Neighbours that we started watching it whilst we ate. At that time I don't even think I knew what fizzy drinks were. We always sat down around 5.30 and ate our tea together. We'd usually have three courses as well. Soup. A main and pudding.

Nowadays this doesn't happen so much. It seems the idea of family and being a family has slipped a little. Lots of people don't sit around at a table and eat any more. They sit in front of the telly and eat from a tray off their knees and don't seem to do that family interaction thing.

You know, your mum's family still eat around a table and that's a good thing but for some reason lots of people don't do that. That's one of the things about writing this for you. It acts as a reminder for me and your mum as well. I think eating together is an important thing to do. And to spend a bit of time with your family in the evening, talking about your day,  that can be no bad thing. I think me and your mum will try to make this a habit we keep for you, too.

The second thing I mentioned was fizzy drinks. I'm fairly certain when I was young we weren't allowed fizzy drinks around the table. Now I don't think there were so many fizzy drinks available then but the ones which were available, we weren't allowed to drink.

Once we were away on holiday, I'll have to ask your grandma where we were, although I think it was Blackpool, and I was watching a band play. It must have been the evening turn. I used to really like sitting close to the musicians. I think the drums attracted me then and at that point I didn't play any instruments.

The band were about to start and the bass guitarist snapped his string. He looked at me and asked if I'd go to his car and get a spare string. I couldn't believe how important I felt. I don't think the band were anyone in particular but I felt like I had the best job to do in the world. I brought him his string back, which he changed and carried on playing.

At some point he gave me the broken guitar string, which, surprise surprise, I still have, and he bought me a Ribena and lemonade. Now I'm sure I must have had fizzy drinks before but that tasted like the best drink in the world ever. And from then on I was allowed to drink Ribena and lemonade at home.

Some parents are funny about what their children can and can't eat or drink. I imagine they think it's bad for their teeth or their health or whatever. I've talked to your mum about this and I don't think we'll control what you eat in that kind of way. I sort of think it's important you discover what it is you like and dislike all on your own without us putting restrictions upon you.

Saying that, I don't really remember thinking one way or another about it. Though I do remember some farm yard crisps being advertised and my mum buying me them, only to find out that were bacon flavoured. We didn't have anything like that in our house when I was growing up so my mum made me take then down the road to one of our neighbours and give them to him because he wasn't Jewish. In fact your grandma and grandad still don't have anything non-kosher in their fridge other than Kelda's ham which is much to your auntie’s disgust.

For me and your mum this is another thing we have to think about. What you are and where you come from is important but neither of us have much time for religion. It will be stranger for me than your mum because I did have a religious upbringing of sorts. I think what religion taught me all the way along was that one way or another it was a way of trying to distinguish between people and make them different.  It seems to me that religion wants to say one way is different or better than another and that doesn’t really work for me.

I suppose what I'm trying to teach you today is, no one is better or more different than anyone else and more importantly manners don't hurt a thing, or cost a rusty sausage as I'd say to your mum. Be kind to everyone. Be polite to everyone. Open the door for someone if they are walking by you, it doesn’t cost a thing, hold out your hand if someone needs it. And whatever you might or might not believe, never judge anyone else for their ideas. Just do the best and be the best that you can. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Good Omens

It's funny sometimes when I start thinking about writing to you. I'll have an idea or remember something and then, more often than not, all sorts of things suddenly happen in line with what I want to tell you and the idea I had drops into place.  It might just be coincidence. I like to think if it as omens.  Like amongst this chaos, we are actually on the right path and every now and then there are little pointers which remind us of this.

I want to tell you about a concept which is quite difficult and I don't really know how we learn it. There's a funny thing in this world called personal space. It's really about how near you stand to someone and how close two people can be in a space without making each other uncomfortable.

I'll try and explain using Cole as an example. He's only just getting to know me really because I've not been in his life for very long and he's only three anyway so he's not been around for very long but he's learning the unusual rules of this world, as you'll have to. 

He explores new things and new people almost daily. As he was getting to know me, he'd run quite close, then back away. As he grew a bit more confident he'd maybe run one of his cars quickly over my leg, I told you he loves cars. He'd keep coming towards me but he'd never cross this invisible line of personal space. I don't know how he understands it as a three year old but he seems to know instinctively.

One day I broke the rules. Your mum was getting him ready to go out and she was struggling to get his wellies on. After a bit of too and frowing I bent down to help, held his boot and pushed his foot in.

He said very quickly: Are you touching me?

It was a funny thing for him to say. It wasn't really a question. It wasn't really a statement. It was somehow an understanding that something has changed and he'd noticed it. Somehow the rules had been adjusted and he wasn't sure how he felt about it.

When me and your mum went on our second date we went to see a play but it was a bit different and we walked around different places rather than sitting down. We didn't know anyone else and we hardly knew each other.

When you like someone you want to move more closely into their space but when you don't know them very well you are also probably more aware of the space and the funny rules that go with it than normal. So you are respectful of it.

It's an unusual feeling but a really pleasant one and something makes you want to break through that invisible barrier but you dare not. It's probably easier if you think of it with magnets. If you push two magnets against each other the wrong way you can feel a force but you can't see it. I used to push magnets around for ages because it felt so strange.

Part of me thought about reaching out and holding your mum's hand. I could see it hanging close by and it was near enough to touch but I also knew that at that point it was the wrong thing to do. As we got to know each other better, I told her all this and she said it was a good job I didn't try to hold her hand because that would have been weird!!

At some point in my sleep last night I must have been snoring and your mum decided to close my mouth. I didn't know that but had a very strange dream where my face was plasticine and someone was trying to reshape it. I think we must have a heightened awareness of our space, even when we're asleep.

Many things I have written to you about so far have been about real things that you can touch and hold and make sense of. But you must also be ready for all these secret and hidden things which no one seems to talk about or teach but happen anyway. If you misread some of these signals you can get yourself into a bit of bother.

You were nineteen weeks old yesterday and me and your mum have to start thinking about how we will parent you, how you will learn all these rules and how we can help shape you so that everything isn't so confusing.

Some people say that when babies cry you should leave them so they go to sleep and don't get over reliant on parents. Some say it's cruel and by doing that you're just teaching them to cope with sadness and rejection. There’s a proper phrase for it, I’m sure your mum knows it.


(She says it’s called sleep training and controlled crying that I’m talking about.)

See. These funny unwritten rules never stop happening, even when you’re forty. Me and your mum, we're looking forward to learning all this with you. We just hope we get it right and I think I want you to know, right from now, before you were born, that we'll always try our best. We might get it wrong sometimes. But we will always be trying to make everything the very best for you. Always.

Oh. And you must also know that all the personal space stuff goes out of the window when you're a baby. We get to hold you and cuddle you and squeeze your little podgy arms and legs as much as we like.