Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Poo = Chocolate

Plop, plop, plop!

One of the keys to encouraging employees to learn new skills and become more productive members of your workforce is a reward structure tailored to individual preferences. As it is in corporate life, so to in toilet-training. The Big Fella likes to eat – hence a reward structure based on food. Not just any food, but the king of foods – chocolate!

“Plop, plop, plop!” he exclaims as he wriggles off the toilet. The Big Fella looks down into the bowl to examine his handiwork, and then looks up at me and declares “Three chocolates!” I can’t fault his logic, as sure enough, there are three more than satisfactory stools floating about in the water.

Apart from weeing his pants when tired or excited or distracted, The Big Fella has certainly got the hang of poo. It seems to be a matter of some satisfaction to him that he can now wee and poo like the rest of us, and not in a nappy.

It’s only been about six weeks from his first trial and error attempts to now being almost completely toilet trained. He began with long sits on the toilet with nothing much happening. It was a week until the first wee arrived, much to everyone's excitement. Chocolate was initially for wees, but once he got the knack of that we swapped to poos. There followed several weeks where for every one poo in the toilet we’d be cleaning up two poos in his underpants. But once he knew that satisfying ‘plop, plop, plop’ echoing in the toilet bowl equalled chocolate, there was no stopping him.

I now think he poos nearly as much as I do, even though he’s only one-third my height and one-sixth of my body weight. An intriguing phenomenon – and I’m not sure that science has an answer. Sure, he eats quite a lot – but looking at the size of his stomach compared to mine, be buggered if I can work out how he squeezes it all in. It must be under incredible pressure. Let’s hope he never explodes.

There’s no-one on TV like Craig Ferguson

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (CBS, broadcast in Australia on Eleven at 10.30pm weeknights) is a madcap pisstake on the late night talkshow format.

The usual sidekick in the band is a robot at a podium...

... the band hasn't turned up
... the lighting is dim
... the backdrop of LA’s skyline by night looks fake. 

Ferguson jokes that he can’t afford better lights or a band...

... that there are other things he’d rather be doing
... that CBS doesn’t know he’s still broadcasting.

The reality is that he’s a kind of anti-talk show host, doing something quite subversive on network television partly because he’s on so late, and partly because he can.

His opening monologue is unscripted. He uses prompt boards to remind him of topics. Then every now and then he’ll do a gag typical of late night talkshow host, draw attention to it, invite ridicule, smile sheepishly, shrug like he could care less, then resume ranting about whatever was getting his goat.

Craig Ferguson’s personal story is as compelling as his TV show. American on Purpose, his memoir of coming of age on the mean streets of Glasgow and later emigrating to the land of hope and dreams, is as good as they come. Funny. Sad. Scary. The killer ducks story is hilarious.

Starting out as a heavy drinker in his late teens, he plumbs the depths of depravity as a drummer in fringe bands before hitting the fledging comedy circuit in Glasgow then discovering cocaine in America so he can drink even harder. Then he sobers up, gets a break on The Drew Carey Show, then gets another hosting The Late Late Show.

Oh, and there’s a pantomime horse called Secretariat. The fake horse bounds in from stage right most nights after Ferguson rings a doorbell under his desk. Secretariat is accompanied by a disco beat and crazed dancing by Ferguson and the studio audience. Then the horse disappears as quickly as it came.

No-one knows why Secretariat appears. No-one knows when he’ll be back. No explanation is needed. That’s the joke. You’ll either get it and love it, or find the whole thing mildly odd. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Week 2 - the good, the bad and the ugly

Swimming lessons – the good ...

Ground zero is Sherrie’s first day back at work full-time, and my first day full-time with the boys. First scheduled activity is swimming lessons – not an ideal match for a father in a cast. Luckily, I’m not required to enter the water. Instructors prefer to have their charges in the water alone, and parents are encouraged to watch from the cheap seats on the sidelines. Suits me fine.

We arrive at the pool nearly half an hour early. Partly because I’m always early everywhere, but mainly so Sherrie could strap The Big Fella into his car seat before we leave home. Lots of thinking time before their first swimming lesson is probably not ideal for the boys, but we make the best of the situation. Before we know it, we spot our two instructors walking towards the pool. 

To my great relief, both boys happily jump into the water. The instructor nods in understanding when I raise my wounded wing in explanation. Both boys have a great time. No tears, no fuss, no bother. I can’t quite believe my luck. My first activity on my first morning is running like clockwork.

It's at this point experienced parents will know I was getting ahead of myself. Nothing with little kids is this easy, as I was soon to find out.

....the bad and the ugly

After the lessons went so well, I expect to depart in triumph from the aquatic leisure centre, formerly known as a pool. What happens next is The Big Fella decides he wants The Complicated One’s Bob the Builder towel instead of his Thomas the Tank Engine towel. And The Complicated One decides not to give it to him.

Towel-allocation is set by long-standing precedent. There is no logical reason why the allocation of towels should be questioned for the first time ever on my first morning flying solo. But questioned it is. And questioned in ways not even dreamt of by East Germany’s Stasi secret police.

The Big Fella is not to be consoled, by me or passers-by. Day turns to night, and still the tears go on. Finally, The Complicated One relents and agrees to swap towels. “I’m dry anyway,” he declares, shrugging off the towel as if it's of no importance. 

The Big Fella is still soaking wet, his tears having washed away most of the chlorine. Still, he is thankful for The Complicated One’s generosity, and smiles broadly at his big brother. The Complicated One looks secretly pleased that he’s done the right thing. 

A few moments ago I felt my head was going to explode. And now my heart is overflowing with love for them both. Being a dad sure is complicated.

I’m loving…

Being with my boys all day, and knowing that it’s not just for two days on the weekend, it’s all week.

Not so loving…

Being with my boys all day, and knowing that it’s not just for two days on the weekend, it’s all week!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Week 1 - Foolish decisions numbers 1 and 2

Foolish decision No.1
I was about halfway down the hill when I knew for certain I had made a poor decision. Riding inside a wheelie bin had seemed like a great lark. What else is there to do on a sunny Sunday afternoon other than take an empty wheelie bin out for a joy ride? Down a steep hill. Under the influence.

I know now the old adage ‘all good things must end’ holds equally true for wheelie bin rides as it does in life. For my bin did indeed come to a sudden stop. Against a gutter. I was catapulted over a guardrail and onto a concrete footpath. As I landed I cleverly sought to break my fall with my right hand. Because I was travelling through the air at about 20kmh, inevitably I shattered my wrist in six places.

At least that was the story I told at the fracture clinic two weeks later. The pretty young female physiotherapists who fitted my fibreglass cast seemed to appreciate my derring do. As did the elderly male nurse who took out my stitches and cleaned my wound.

The story proved a much better conversation starter than the truth. Which was that I was inside my neighbour’s wheelie bin attempting to squash a large palm frond. (To any readers already writing me off as a wimp, it was the thick husk at the base, not to wafer thin fronds at the end.) The bin was stationary but on a slight slope. (I’m no engineer – it looked flat enough to me.) There was no hill. (Nor am I a cartographer.) There were no mates. (Alas, that is true.) And sadly there was no beer.

There was just me, my Ryobi hedge trimmer (still steaming from its exertions in the early afternoon sunshine), my neighbour’s wheelie bin, and that slope. Did I mention it was only a slight slope? Hardly steep enough to warrant any concern, I was sure. Until I felt myself tumbling backwards. The rest of the story is true. Half way down I did indeed know I had made a poor decision. I did try to break my fall with my right hand, only to break my wrist in six places. And crikey, did it hurt.

Lying on my back on the concrete path, I looked down at my wonky wrist. It now had more bends than the Nurburgring. Even The Stig would be scared. The pain in my wrist and elbow was incredible. Never felt anything like it.

Unfortunately I couldn’t call on the calm presence of The Stig to whisk me off to hospital in an Aston Martin DBS. Instead, I called for someone even tougher - my wife. “Help, call an ambulance,” I bellow.

She is as tough as nails, but a bit wobbly in a crisis. I’m the opposite – great in a crisis, but a bit wobbly at most other times. And now I was wonky as well as wobbly. Luckily we’re not in space and she could hear me scream (as could half our neighbours).

Sure enough, one of our neighbours does come running. Luckily, she is a former orthopaedic nurse. Lots of good advice about what to do and not do while we wait for the ambulance. Me on the ground, writhing in pain. My wife and our neighbour chatting above me. We wait, and wait. Thirty minutes later the ambos at last arrive, armed with morphine and lots of good advice as well. They guide me into the back of the ambulance. I note that it’s one of those nice Mercedes vans – no Aston Martin, but still it should do the job nicely (funny what you think about when you’re in pain). I’m now sucking on a morphine inhaler that’s meant to be helping the pain. It’s certainly making me light-headed and strangely chatty. As for the pain, that’s still searing through my wrist and elbow. Did I mention there was pain?

To cut a medium-length story short, I was whisked into surgery that night and released the next day. Before I went under the knife, the verdict on the x ray was along the lines of ‘you’ve made a right mess of you’re wrist – broken in six places - we’ll do out best to put it back together’. Not exactly reassuring. The post-operative message was a little brighter – ‘all the pieces snapped back together like a jigsaw puzzle’ (which they seemed to mean as a good thing) – we’ve put in a metal plate and nine screws – you should be fine - apart from the arthritis’.

Apart from the arthritis?! What about the metal plate – does that come out or stay inside forever? Will I set off airport security alarms? Will I ever trim a hedge again? (Let’s hope not.) And is it fit-for-purpose? Can I lift 15kg toddlers and 20kg pre-schoolers?  All good questions, but little did I know that I would have to wait six weeks for the answers.

Foolish decision No.2
Climbing inside a wheelie bin was actually my second foolish decision that week. Two days earlier I had resigned from my safe and slightly cushy public service job to take on the role of primary carer for our two boys, aged four and half and two and a half.

The switch from full-time breadwinner to full-time child carer was always going to be a challenge for a number of reasons. Dads generally don’t stay at home and look after the kids (although many do, and you all have my deepest admiration). The support network of other mum’s that my wife highly valued for the past four and half years will be largely closed to me. Friends who also provided support and companionship for my wife won’t necessarily transfer into friendships with me.

Furthermore, your honour, my wife has had four and a half years’ full-time experience at this, fully immersed in the transitions from none to one to two kids, and with the changing demands of their different stages of development. I fear my part-time experience cannot match her full-time experience when it comes to knowing how to handle different situations, how to roll with the punches and stay the course.

Nor can I match her stamina. As an older first time father, I don’t move with the speed or alacrity I once did. Speed (no, not the drug) and staying power (but there are drugs for that) are critical when dealing with little boys. And my wife would be working much longer and less flexible hours in the corporate world than I enjoyed in the public sector.

So after much discussion of the pros and cons lasting several years, we finally decided to give the role reversal a go. When I finally resigned from my job, the future looked very different. Certainly very different to how I felt when resigning from other jobs. Little did I know that a few days later, one foolish decision with a wheelie bin would result in more pain than I have ever experienced, and render the next six months as primary carer for our two small boys more difficult that I could ever have imagined.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I've looked at clouds from both sides now

“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to reach the clouds.”
The Big Fella is standing on the top step of one of those little portable step ladders. He’s carried it about five metres from under the deck and up the three stairs leading to a paved area in the backyard. He’s a three-year old on a mission.
He smiles when I ask him, and looks up at the sky. He reaches up with one hard and stands on the tips of his toes.
I explain that the ladder isn’t tall enough to reach the clouds. The Complicated One (age 5) helpfully suggests we get the long ladder out. I explain that we need an aeroplane to reach the clouds – not even a hot air balloon would do the trick. Even then we couldn’t really get out of the plane and touch the clouds.
The Big Fella looks back up at the sky. He still thinks he’s in with a chance.
I think of Joni Mitchell wistfully singing ‘Both Sides Now’ and hope that one day he does touch the clouds.