Our first child was born in the dead of a Sunday night. Five to three to be exact. Only shift workers and insomniacs keep those sorts of hours. We hoped it wasn’t an omen of sleep patterns to come.
The preceding six months had been full of speculation about whether the seahorse in my wife’s belly was a boy or girl. I enjoyed the gender hype. It’s always the second of two questions people ask. The first being, when is your baby due? The second, do you know what you are having?
One of the only things my wife and I agreed on was that we didn’t want to know. I figure your baby’s gender is one of the few great surprises left in life. Those would-be-mums who say they need to plan are only kidding themselves. What’s to plan? Paint the nursery a neutral colour, get some yellow baby clothes and watch the gender speculation ramp up as the due date nears.
We will admit we did some gender research. It was fun. The online Chinese birth calendar we Googled predicted a girl. Then my mother-in-law dangled her wedding ring over my wife’s belly. She concurred with the calendar. Turns out they were both right. We will never doubt the internet again, where as the jury on the mother in-law is still out.
A friend of mine recently fell pregnant. I say fell because they just decided to stop using contraception but weren’t trying for a child. If you ever want to have a child, “not trying“ is the best course. Interestingly they were “not trying” in a particular month because the Chinese birth calendar said this would increase their chances of having a boy.
It’s okay to want one gender over the other
I always wanted a son. I feel guilty tapping the words into print especially knowing that the internet is forever. My two daughters will probably Google their Dad one day and read this. I know I’m not alone. If you catch most men in a moment of honesty, they’ll admit it as well. Especially farmers. My friend Hamish has two girls and a farm to pass on to them. Of course his girls could run the farm, but in deepest, darkest Southland they seldom do.
My best mate Michael also really wanted a son but learnt there are some things in life you can’t control. He had a girl, then another girl and after convincing his wife for one more attempt at a boy, he had a third female. His wife ended speculation of a fourth by booking him in for a vasectomy. He sometimes confides it would have been nice having a boy to carry on the family name and to chuck a ball around with. Michael’s no fool though. He long ago accepted lady luck and loves his girls unconditionally. We all do. No matter what the gender, you will love your child like nothing else. It’s amazing how strong that love is, but it’s still okay to admit you once had a preference.
Boys are one man youth gangs
We ended up having a girl, a boy and another girl. Our son is named Archer. He’s two and spends his time terrorizing his housemates. This can involve kicking a ball at fragile objects, pushing his little sister over and getting his sticky little hands into anything big enough to fit them. Like the time he decided to colour in our duvet with felt and cut all the toys off the play gym with scissors.
Boys are like puppies. Keep them busy. They need walking at least twice a day. If you keep my son indoors, by mid-afternoon he will have ransacked the house. A burglar would do a tidier job on the house than my son.
He needs a scooter ride, a kick of the ball outside or, at the very least, an afternoon tea wrestle on the carpet with his Dad. Boys like to fight. If I had to invent a statistic I’d say 95 percent of them like nothing more than a round or two of wrestling on the lounge floor. If your boy’s Dad isn’t around then don’t be afraid to get on the carpet and mix it up with your son. He will love it.
I travel quite a lot and normally within five minutes of being home I’m on the floor wrestling with all three of my children. Even my one year-old daughter loves nothing better than to stumble over and onto Dad.
Swimming is a great idea. They can be free to splash, crash and make all the noise they want. For extra entertainment add a ball to the mix. Be sure to feed after swimming and then take your time on the drive home. My son is usually asleep by the time we’ve made the first round-about. When this happens my wife sometimes treats herself by parking up with a takeaway coffee and the real estate lift-out from the local paper. She covets this rare time away from the madness.
The first gender-free year
We had no idea what having a girl meant apart from the usual clichés. I’d have to get a bigger yard for a pony. I should also get my firearms license for when she starts dating and we should prepare for more pink in the house. I would need to learn the difference between a skirt and a dress and not be so intimidated by Ken’s washboard stomach. After all, Barbie’s not.
Thankfully babies are gender-free. They just drink, cry, spill, stare at the ceiling and occasionally sleep. They are amazing creatures but also a blank canvas gender wise. If you have a girl you can dress her up in pink or stick an All Black onesie on your baby bloke but it’s optional. They don’t care what you dress them in so enjoy the freedom. You have a 12-month grace period before they start showing their true colours as boys or girls.
My daughter Marley was a late bloomer. We thought we had a tomboy. She liked to go biking, climbing and was also fond of pulling everything out of her drawers. Then she changed. She loves jewellery, make-up and anything pink or purple. She dances on our coffee table like she’s Taylor Swift. She turned into a girl just before she was four.
All they want is... you
Kids think spending time with you is better than cartoons or junk food or even new toys. They want as much of your time as they can get. Especially if they can get you to themselves. We have three children so one-on-one time can be tough to allocate, but it is achievable. I try and give them all some throughout the day.
For instance when our older two go to bed, I sit on the beanbag with our one-year-old and read her a story. She totters over with a book and falls into my lap. We chat (well, I do all the talking) about the book, turn some pages and sometimes I can elicit a giggle. It’s only ten minutes but I think we both enjoy it.
It’s easier to give my son one-on-one time. We have similar interests. He comes with me to football. He sits beside me in the changing room and helps me put on my shin pads and socks. He comes resplendent in his own football uniform.
Yesterday morning we went for a big bike ride. I’ve got a little seat for him on the bar of my bike and he holds the handlebars with me. We stopped at a kids’ rugby game and watched that over fruit and biscuits. Later we stopped off at a friend’s place. He played on a digger while I had a cup of tea. Then we biked home together in the rain down a bush track. We sung songs and he pointed out puddles I should bike through. There are heaps of other things I should have been doing that day, but I consider it a morning well spent.
This morning I did something similar with my four-year-old girl. We biked to the shops to get some groceries and she helped me pick some paper to print some photos she had taken on her birthday camera. The best part is the journey there and back. We bike side-by-side, where it’s safe to do so, and constantly talk to each other about which way we are going, what colour cars are coming, how many cats we can see. She has many wonderful questions about the world and it’s a great time to pick her brain about what’s happening in her life.
It’s not something you need to plan. Sometimes we will just be hanging out and we will start doing a puzzle together or I’ll pick up a crayon and help her colour in. My daughter taught me to loom this morning. What an experience.
There’s always something more important, more adult you could be doing but you need to take the opportunity when it’s there. They aren’t kids for long, the lawns can wait. At least that’s my excuse for having long grass.
Celebrate and understand the differences
I love the differences between boys and girls. Girls are complex, they have layers and take on multiple issues. My son is a single issue guy. He’s built for one thing at a time. He’s just like me in that regard.
The other day he peed his pants. He’s two and just getting the hang of potty training so a little wee on the floor is no drama. This accident was a little disappointing because the odds were really in our favour. We were out shopping and he gave us advanced warning. We bolted across town and reached the cubical with time to spare. We shouldn’t have been complacent. My son got obsessed by the lock on the toilet door and was soon in a “how does it work” trance. Minutes later he was still fiddling with the lock, oblivious to the map of the arctic circle that was growing in the middle of his pants. This wouldn’t happen with girls. They have some sort of focus.
I’ve found it more challenging parenting my eldest girl. She’s started challenging me and I’ve found if I get mad, she behaves worse. Ironically the key to quelling a rampant four-year-old girl is a hug. It’s like a reset switch. Took me a while to figure that out.
And that’s kids really. Constantly changing and challenging you. Just when you think you have your kids sorted they move the goal posts. I’d never admit it to my wife but work is easy compared to parenting.
Please take my advice with a grain of salt. I’m far from perfect and often find parenting really hard. I try to keep a sense of humour handy, even when my son has made a puddle in the power-tools aisle at Mitre 10. Enjoy the challenge and remember that old cliché about how they grow up so fast. I’m afraid it’s the truth.
Hadyn Jones has three children under five and a very tired wife. This makes him more of a parenting survivor than expert.