The parable of Joshua and the serpent

Quite often a parable is an allegoric tale that teaches a lesson…whereas this is a strictly factual story from which I’ve learnt nothing, but I know how much people enjoy other people’s suffering. So here goes.

About a year ago, our eldest (Josh) saw that a few of his friends were busking and making some sweet coin. He decided that this was definitely for him, and asked if he could start busking on his ukulele on the corner of our street. Now at this stage he wasn’t really practising on his uke, and we don’t live on a busy street. So the bad parent in me saw this as an excellent opportunity to teach him a few valuable lessons around hard work and free-market capitalism. First of all, people will not simply throw money at you because you’re sitting there playing, you need to have practiced sufficiently so that you can play well, before people will part with their hard earned cash. Also, simply plonking yourself on a suburban street corner where there isn’t much foot traffic is foolhardy at best. You need to be somewhere where a lot of people will be passing by and will have cash on them (such as the Preston Market or one of the local supermarkets). Best of all, I got to teach him these harsh life lessons while appearing like the good guy! ‘Sure Josh, off you head to the corner…I fully endorse your endeavours…I certainly hope you don’t learn any harsh life lessons…good luck!’
You can imagine my bewildered surprise when he returned about 40 minutes later with just under $50. Apparently he had to come back because he was worried the wind was going to blow away all the notes…that’s right, people weren’t just giving him coins, they were giving him $5 notes…one person had even left a $20! $20!!!  Apparently even the police had pulled over, listened to him and then said they’d get the next shift to drop past and listen. What is wrong with these people?! Can’t they see I was trying to teach my son some life lessons?!

Sadly this did not prove to be a one-off…and over the course of about 6 months Josh continued to busk and continued to make money. He purchased a remote control car with the money he made. He started to donate money to charities that he liked. He appeared to have joined an international fraternity of buskers which required us to leave money with almost any busker we passed (he also mastered the art of never actually having any cash on him for these tributes to the busking Gods, and so I invariably ended up handing over some coins).
Then he decided he wanted to get a lizard as a pet. I wasn’t dead keen on this as I didn’t imagine a lizard being a great pet (due almost exclusively to the fact that they were not a dog…or if you got desperate, a cat). But he was dead keen. So eventually we went to the pet shop to see how much it would cost. Now, much the same as my previous attempt at parenting, my theory was the he would hear how much it costs to purchase the tank and the heating lamps and all of the other paraphernalia and would realise that this was a foolish idea. When the guy in the pet store explained that it was going to cost $1,400, I saw Josh’s face fall. Finally…a victory for lazy parenting!
On the trip home he said ‘$1,400! It will take me at least another two weeks to earn that!’ After nearly crashing the car I looked at him and said ‘Wait! How much money do you have?!’ ‘About $1,200’ he replied. This was roughly $1,150 more than I had in my bank account. ‘Oh’ I said ‘I don’t suppose I can borrow $50?’ ‘What?’ ‘Nothing…nothing *sigh*’

Next we discovered that he had to get a license in order to keep the lizard. Woo Hoo! Finally the slow moving wheels of a bureaucracy would be my ally. After all, I get frustrated with unnecessary paperwork and ridiculous wait-times…and I’m a 41 year old man who works for a Govt Department. Surely this will be enough to crush the hopes and dreams of an 11yo boy!
But no. He saved the money for the license, filled in the paperwork and sent off the application…and in what can only be described as ‘not nearly enough time’ he was sent his license. So now he had both the money and the paperwork for his lizard.
But the Gods weren’t finished with me yet. Our next door neighbours inherited a their son’s 15yo, 2.5m long, pet python for a month or so. We were invited over to have a look at it, and Josh was smitten. While I looked at it and thought about it eating Jon Voight in ‘Anaconda’…Josh genuinely loved handling the snake…and needless to say, now he wanted a snake.

For some reason the Sorting Hat chose Slytherin

When it comes to pets, I’m quite the traditionalist. 4 legs and fur = good, 2 legs and feathers = pretty good, more than 4 legs = avoid, less than two legs = you had better be a fish. I have grown up running with dogs down at the park, taking them for long, teenaged walks where I could discuss with them my current top 10 reasons girls didn’t like me and they would listen attentively and without judgement. I’ve grown up with cats who blithely tolerated my existence. So the appeal of a snake, or lizard as a pet was just beyond me. I remember with great fondness visiting a bachelor pad of very blokey guys who had a pet bird-eating spider. The clear reason for this, was to be able to say ‘We’ve got a pet bird-eating spider!’ But on the night that I visited, it was discovered that the lid to the enclosure had been left slightly ajar and the spider could no longer be seen inside. You know in the old cartoons how when an elephant sees a mouse it jumps up onto the nearest stool and looks terrified…well imagine that…but with 3 very large men instead of an elephant…and some couches that had clearly been found on a hard-rubbish night instead of a stool. It was highly entertaining…apart from the fact that a highly venomous spider was currently loose in the living room I was standing in. Thankfully, it turned out that while the lid to the cage had been left ajar, no one had actually checked the underside of the lid, which is where the spider was hanging out (no doubt enjoying the high drama playing out outside of the cage). This experience did not imbue me with a love of your more ‘exotic’ pets.
But if the 1980’s TV show ‘Different Strokes’ taught us anything, it’s that ‘What might be right for you, may not be right for some’. Just because I don’t like something, doesn’t mean everyone else has to agree (although, I stand by my complete lack of interest in Drake!) So maybe Josh feels the same about snakes as I do about dogs. But then what about the other kids in the family, how will they feel about having a snake in the house? These things live a sodding long-time. What happens if Josh loses interest in it after a couple of years? If we have frozen mice in our freezer to feed the snake…does that mean I have to be even more careful with what I take out and put in a smoothie for the kids?
So many questions!
I know that as a parent I’m meant to put my foot down on some things, but this pre-supposes that I know best…and I don’t know anything about owning a snake. I just have a whole lot of ideas and beliefs that all lead to me not wanting a snake in the house…I don’t have any factual justification, I just want them to go back where they came from…and isn’t that a line of reasoning that’s working out just super for Australia?
On top of that, as a parent, what do I want for my kids? I want them to follow their dreams. I want them to know the value of money. I want them to set goals and work hard to achieve them. I want them to learn negotiation skills. I want them to understand that sometimes you have to navigate your way through systems that you think are a waste of time. These are all really good life lessons, and Josh was doing all of them. Granted it’s also a good life-lesson to know that sometimes you can do everything right, and put all your effort into something, only to have some dick at the next level of management just say ‘no’ and ruin everything…but I’ll be damned if I’m going to be that dick!

So tacit approval was given to the purchase of the snake…with my usual stalling clauses about ‘Well I’m very busy this weekend’ and ‘We’ll have to see when they have one in stock’ and ‘Well you know you can’t buy a snake while the moon is in the third house of Aquarius…that’s just bad luck.’ etc, etc.
But then I made the rookie error of going away for the weekend to do the Peaks Classic bike ride. Upon my return I was greeted by a beaming 11yo who said he had a big surprise for me. I had a pretty good idea what it was going to be…but this was confirmed 3 seconds later when our 5yo said ‘Josh has got a snake!’ I could tell that Josh was excited about the snake because he didn’t maim Xavier for ruining his surprise.
So Josh lead me into his room where the snake enclosure was and moved the little shelter that the snake was residing under. Now bear in mind, I had done a 13 hour bike ride up and down mountains the day before, and had just driven for 4 hours to get home, and I was in a room with an 11yo whose excitement levels were currently at ‘teenage girl at a Beatle’s concert’. So it was already a bit weird. Then there was a scream from Josh…and I realised that I had never heard him scream before…this may have been because he had never been bitten by a snake before. No sooner had he screamed, than Josh realised that this was not the best way to introduce his new pet to someone who he knew wasn’t really all that keen on him having it in the first place, so he casually picked up the snake and showed it to me. He excitedly told me all about going to get the snake and what had happened so far, and that the snake was still a bit ‘cage aggressive’ and so he shouldn’t really have reached in so quickly, but hey isn’t it beautiful?! All the while I’m looking at the small trickle of blood from his finger and thinking ‘the child I’m talking to just got bitten by a $*#@ing snake!’
But I reminded myself that I had seen dogs snap at children who had startled them, and I’d seen cats bite and scratch people…I’d even been attacked by a Pelican at the zoo when I was a child…so let’s not be too hasty. Besides, now that he was handling the snake, it looked totally calm, and Josh was equally calm manoeuvring it around.
So I adjusted to my new role as ‘parent whose child has a pet snake’ and the next 36 hours were fine.

A boy and his snake

But on the Tuesday night at about 2am, the alarm attached to the heating lamp in the snake enclosure went off. This basically means that the heating lamp had turned off for some reason and the thermostat had realised that the temperature was dropping to a point that wasn’t good for cold-blooded animals. The alarm was going off about 2 meters away from Josh’s head…but he was sleeping through it. Katie on the other hand, can be awoken by a mouse farting in the next suburb and so could hear the alarm from three rooms away. So she went in to wake Josh and tell him to reset the alarm. From all reports a drowsy and grumpy Josh opened the enclosure and reset the alarm, then he and Katie went back to their respective beds. While Josh went straight back to sleep, Katie lay in bed thinking one of those ‘I wonder what this lump is?’ type thoughts that you only ever think as you’re trying to get to sleep and thought ‘I don’t remember seeing Josh close the door on the enclosure’. So she headed back into his room to discover that not only had Josh failed to close the door…but the snake was now missing!
Up until this point I was doing what I do best at 2am…sleeping. This came to the most abrupt of endings when Katie came in and said ‘The snake’s loose!’ As a general rule I can sleep through most things…but ‘The snake’s loose!’ turns out to be one of those terms that gets the body moving before the mind has even caught up. So about 5 seconds later I was in Josh’s room looking at a very empty snake enclosure…then at the myriad hiding spots in his room that a snake could take advantage of…then at the open door of his bedroom…then back at the empty snake enclosure. I felt like one of those people who tries to jump onto a running machine when it’s already running at a very fast rate, things were coming at me way too fast, there was no way I could get up to speed, and it was only a matter of time before things went horribly wrong.
Katie was by far the most awake person in the room, I was just trying desperately to catch up, and Josh was trying desperately to convey that this wasn’t really a big deal…and that if it was a big deal…then he certainly wasn’t responsible for it, and that above all, this was no reason to get rid of the snake.
Just as I started playing a mental game called ‘I wonder what sort of scream the person who finally finds this snake will make?’ Katie found the snake, and thankfully didn’t scream. It had slithered over to the window and was currently hiding in the window sill. Coincidentally, this window sill was also as physically close as the snake could get to the Rabbit and Guinea Pigs sleeping outside. Just a coincidence…a pure coincidence. Just in case I thought my night couldn’t get any worse, I was then given the job of helping Josh get the snake back into the enclosure. Which it turns out is a bit like trying to all of the toothpaste back into the tube once you’ve squeezed it all out…but in this case, the toothpaste can also bite you. Josh, who had been so full of confidence with the snake earlier in the day, was suddenly more hesitant and less self-assured, and suddenly every time the snake coiled back a bit, we were convinced it was going to bite. To prove this point, the snake coiled back, and then bit Josh. To his credit, Josh kept working the snake back into its enclosure. I think he knew that his future as a ‘snake owner’ was on very thin ice…and now was not the time to make a scene about the fact that he been bitten by his snake…again.

With the door to the enclosure now closed Katie and I returned to bed, where we were both thinking the same thing; ‘This is not tenable…how the hell do we tell Josh that he has to take the snake back?!’ We had let this situation evolve and now it had come perilously close to a ‘worst case scenario’. I’m a firm believer in kids being allowed to make a mistake once, so long as you don’t do it again. But thus far that had only been applied to trying to pour milk into a glass from a full 2 litre bottle and trying to put 2 DVDs into the iMac at the same time. Somehow this felt a bit more like one of those ‘you only get one chance’ type situations. This was not proving to be the parenting masterclass that we had hoped it would be.
Then Katie thought she heard someone sobbing. I headed into Josh’s room and there he was, fighting back tears. He told me that he had been desperately thinking of all the things he could say so that he could keep the snake, but at the same time, was really scared that the snake would get out again, and that if it attacked Holly’s rabbit or guinea pigs, he would never forgive himself. I had the crushing realisation that while he had been acting so mature throughout this process, and had carried himself with the standing of an adult…he was still just an 11 year old boy who had gone through a hell of a lot, and was now just scared. I asked if he’d like to come into our bed and he said ‘yes’. So I reached down to pick him up…then I realised that he is actually a freaking giant and that me trying to carry him was going to be like one of those videos where the spider has killed a mouse and is trying to carry it away. So we settled for us walking back to my bedroom with my arm around his shoulder.
We crawled into bed and the three of us (Katie, Josh and I) had a long chat about taking the snake back, and we spoke about how Katie and I had had second thoughts the whole way along.
I can remember growing up that I felt as though my parents knew everything and that they never made decisions that they regretted…so it felt a bit weird to be admitting to an 11yo that I was so unsure of my own decisions that I had let him bring a python into the house. But I also felt that between the two of us, he had been the most mature throughout this whole process…and so I probably owed him a bit of honesty.

So the next morning Josh and I moved the less than impressed snake from it’s large enclosure into a very small container so that we could drive it back to the pet store (every part of this process was exactly as much fun as it sounds). The pet store were very understanding (I imagine the puncture wounds on Josh’s hand helped a little), and pretty soon I was dropping him off at school and left to ponder what the hell I’m meant to take away from this whole ordeal.
On the one hand, if I’d just gone with my gut instinct from the start, none of this would have happened. But on the other hand, while it was traumatic, I think Josh will have learned so much more about himself and Katie and I than any lesson I could have constructed. He now knows that we will back his judgement, that we are fallible, and that sometimes you can work towards a goal only to discover it’s nothing like you thought it would be, and these are great lessons in life. But most of all I hope that as a family we have all learnt, that we really are ‘dog people’.


10 things I’ve learnt about parenting

The internet and Malcolm Gladwell will tell you that if you practice something for 10,000 hours, you can become a master. Well I’ve now been parenting for 10 years, that’s 87,600 hours (or 87, 548 if you subtract the hours I was asleep), which means that I am pretty much the Yoda of parenting. So here are 10 things I have learnt over 10 years of parenting.

1. Spinning plates

I can remember a time in my 20’s when I knew that if I just dedicated a Sunday to ‘catching up’ then I could get back on top of pretty much anything. Finances? Check. Clean the house? Check. Annoying little jobs around the house? Check.
But the arrival of Josh lead to a 2 year period where life became a constant plate spinning act.
Finally feel that I’m getting on top of things around the house? But what about fitness? Quick do more fitness! Oh no…what about that Tax Return that’s due? Quick do that. Aaaghh!! What about spending time with the Hull-Browns…Oh God and the Riordan’s? Oh crap, I’ve got to devote some of my time to keeping the marriage together, and the dogs could really do with some attention…but I also need to get on top of things around the house!!!
By the time Holly arrived I started looking on in horror as some of the plates I was spinning crashed to the ground…and by the time Xavier arrived I was pretty much walking around with the sound of crashing crockery rebounding around my head. Did the world end? No. Did my marriage dissolve? No. Did the kids become little monsters? N…actually…look, let’s just say it could have been worse. But the simple fact of the matter is that spinning plates is foolish and overly ambitious. Just have as many plates as there are people in your family, put good food on them, make sure everyone uses them at the same time, clean them when they’re finished with and everything else will sort itself out from there.

2. Misery likes company

You need to make friends with people who are going through the same thing as you. Friends without kids will be nothing but a well meaning source of jealousy. Parents of kids who are older or younger than yours are also of little use. Those with kids older than yours have already repressed the horror that you’re going through, and besides they’re a little distracted by ‘Oliver! Get down from there! No don’t jump down!!! Oh God. I told you not to…yes, yes I do think it’s broken.’ And people with younger children have absolutely no interest in entertaining the possibility that things could actually get worse (or as I like to call it ‘bad, but in a different way’).
What you need is people who can look at you through bleary eyes and say ‘Yeah…I actually went in and woke her up at 2am so that I had an excuse to watch the Tour de France’. People who aren’t appalled when you mention your kid has Hand, Foot and Mouth, people who will buy birthday presents that aren’t Axle-F playing toy cats, and people who will occasionally utter to your child the most beautiful sentence known to parents ‘Yeah, of course it’s OK if you come over for a sleepover!’

3. Money

There is no end of things you can spend your money on once you have kids…and roughly 6% of these are things that you actually want. Mortgages, rent, cars, basketball, piano, choir, food, clothes, food again, I have been genuinely appalled at the number of times I’ve had to slink into a bank branch to withdraw money in the days leading up to a payday, simply because I had less than $20 in my account and so couldn’t take money out of the ATM.
If I had my way, the whole family would be living in a tent somewhere subsisting on foraged food and care packages from concerned relatives, while money accumulated in our bank account. ‘Fun costs money!’ I would yell at members of the family as they suggested expenditure of frivolous items such as holidays, or parties, or running water. To say the least, I am a fiscal conservative.
Katie on the other hand doesn’t share my fear of spending money. Indeed, if she had her way, we would probably  be living in the same tent foraging for food, but we wouldn’t have a large bank balance and instead would have an amazing array of life experiences to show for it.
Fortunately we have managed to find a middle-ground that sees me spending a lot of time feeling anxious and Katie spending a lot of time feeling frustrated…but our kids have a renovated roof over their head, they rarely have to forage for food, and the care packages come in the form of dinners at our parents house. Which is really the sweet spot you should be aiming for with your parenting.

4. They need you…but you need you too

I’ve seen a few parents who have continued on with their lives after kids exactly as they were before they had kids, and I’ve seen parents whose lives were gradually subsumed into the lives of their kids. As with most of these things, somewhere in between is where you need to be. You need to be there for your partner and kids…but you also need to maintain enough of the person you want to be so that when you look in the mirror you don’t wonder ‘Who is that chubby, dull, old guy?’
Having said that, I have swung to pretty much both ends of this pendulum. On the one hand I’ve spent an entire year training for an Ironman, and on the other hand I’ve spent so much time as the ‘self-nominated child minder at social events’ that I have pretty much become a social ghost in that I’m constantly leaving conversations before they can develop into anything interesting as I’m scampering off to move someone away from a ladder, or playing with a child until they have ‘warmed up’ enough to go and play with the other kids…or not even attending grown-up social events because I’m at home looking after the kids. The net result has been and increasingly reclusive lifestyle that only leads to jealousy about other people’s non-reclusive lifestyles.
So this is ultimately a very long way of saying, if I’m talking to you at a party and I’m really struggling to make small-talk…please bear with me…I’m a bit rusty.

5. Sleep

With all three of our kids we have spent the first two years of their life not sleeping through the night. So I clearly have no advice to pass on here, other than that sleep deprivation is a freaking killer. It kills motivation, patience, creativity, passion and tolerance…which are pretty much the essential ingredients for a successful family life, marriage and career. There will be plenty of times when you put a strain on these things…but if you feel you are losing them, get help. Try sleep school, ask your friends what they’re doing, see if  you can palm the kids off to a relative or friend for the night so that you can at least get one night of uninterrupted sleep. But don’t just try to ride it out. Sleep deprivation is like an insidious gas that distorts your perception and clouds your judgement, the only cure is a few nights of unbroken sleep…or failing that coffee…lots of coffee.

6. Mini-Me

Have you ever wondered what the personification of all of your insecurities and weaknesses would look like? Well let me assure you it looks a lot like your child as you watch them loitering around the outskirts of a social occasion, or you see them being dragged along the beach by a dog because they have absolutely no body weight…but are determined not to let go, or of course in that precious moment when at 3 years old they drop something and say ‘Oh, for Christ’s SAKE!’

7. They’ve got to take risks

This is one is really hard. Put simply, if you never let your kids take any risks you will probably have an unblemished report card when it comes to visits to the Emergency Department. But I also think you will have a child who will compensate wildly for this lack of risk taking in later life, or a child who is too scared to take the risks that we need to take as human beings to progress in life. With that said, I still feel a pang of fear each time one of the kids goes for a ride around the block, or heads up to the shop to get some milk, or stands on something very high and asks me to film a slow-mo video of him jumping off. But that’s nothing compared to how proud of themselves they are when they do it.

8. Parental guilt

One of the most brutal parts of raising kids, is realising what a turd you were when you were a kid. How hard you made life for your parents, how ungrateful you were for everything that they did for you, how ignorant you were of the myriad battles they were fighting. You want to apologise to them, you want to say ‘Is there anything I can do to make up for it?’, you want to do anything you can to assuage the guilt and feeling of indebtedness.
Instead, you say ‘Can you PLEASE look after the kids this Saturday night?’…and dig that hole a little deeper.

9. Some things you grew up with were actually really good

Growing up in Melbourne, and in a family that liked sport. I was pretty indoctrinated into the worlds of Cricket and AFL Football. But in my late twenties, I found that I was actually getting way too involved in the actions of 18 men on a footy field who I had never met and slowly started to divorce myself from footy. I also stopped hanging out with people who enjoyed watching cricket (or perhaps more accurately started living with someone who didn’t enjoy watching cricket) and I slowly lowered my cricket status to ‘aware of enough to make conversation if necessary’.
By the time Josh was born, I hadn’t watched a game of footy or cricket for years and so he has grown up without doing AusKick, or going to a footy match, or watching an ODI or 20/20 cricket match.
While we were down at Wilson’s Prom in January some kids came over and asked if he’d like to play cricket with them, he tentatively said ‘Yes’, but then admitted ‘But I don’t really know the rules’. In an instant I realised that at his age I was out pretty much every night in the backyard bowling at an imaginary batsman, or bouncing a ball off our back wall and catching the rebound, and that Saturday nights always held the potential of watching a Day/Night match at the MCG with my Dad.
I’d deprived my kids of this, just because I didn’t like the way it turned out for me…not because it was a bad idea. What’s more, in a city that lives and breathes sport, I’d deprived them of key information that will most likely provide the backbone of thousands of future conversations.

10. Don’t listen to people on the internet

For the love of God, you’re an adult…and a parent. Why are you reading this? You don’t need advice from someone on the internet about your own children. You know full well they’ve probably just plonked the kids in front of a screen so that they can find the time to write a blog about how to be a good parent. You also know that the photos that people post on Facebook showing the happy family engaged in an educational/cultural/physical activity was preceded by 5 minutes of screams and threats. You know that the parent humble bragging about their child’s achievement at school/sport/lion taming is glossing over the part where their child also nearly set fire to the cat.
So don’t surround yourself with someone else’s curated version of parenthood. Surround yourself with real life parents living with real life kids and share the good, the bad and the ugly. Because that’s what parenting should be about; sharing the dazzling highs and commiserating on the soul-crushing lows. But most of all it’s about talking honestly about what your kids are doing and what they are going through…and then walking away and thinking ‘well at least my kids aren’t doing that!’


Farewell my faithful hound

Earlier this week our dog Jasper died, he’d been with us for over 12 years and so I’d known him longer than my kids, my workmates…and Game of Thrones. He was the happy face in the morning when I fed him, and my constant companion when I took him for walks at night, and his departure marks then end of an era for our family.
So I think it’s only fair that I take this opportunity to say a few words.

The regal beagle
The regal beagle

In the beginning

Way back in 2002 Katie and I were planning our wedding, and while we certainly didn’t think we were ready for kids…we did think it would be a good idea to get a pet to see what our potential parenting skills were like. We wanted a Beagle, but knew how hard they were to train and so chose some Beagles that had been crossed with a Labrador…after all, my Dad’s family had had Labradors for years, and they were pretty easy to train…what could possibly go wrong? The short answer to this is that by combining a Beagle with a Labrador you create a beast that has an incredible nose, and a bottomless stomach. But we weren’t to know this, and so we got two (we knew that Beagle’s are pack dogs and destroy marginally fewer things if they have a playmate). Thus Ceilidh (a girl and named after a Scottish dance) and Jasper (the boy, named after the coffee) were brought home.
Now that I have kids I realise that the dogs actually provided some amazing insights into parenting. Suddenly you can no longer just ‘head off for a weekend’, you realise the importance of routine and consistency, and most tellingly you learn that suddenly you are responsible for the food that goes into someone else’s mouth…and the cleaning up and disposal of that same food about 12 hours later.
The dogs also taught me that two individuals can grow up in the same environment, and yet have very different personalities. Ceilidh clearly modelled herself on Katie and so was a stunningly attractive dog…who was pretty much 100% convinced that her idea was the best. Whereas Jasper was handsome, stoic and remarkably good at being told what to do…I don’t know who he was modelling himself on.

Photobombing...Beagle style.
Photobombing…Beagle style.

Over the next four years the dogs were our kids and we had amazing times training them, walking them, taking them to the beach and watching them tear around Chelsworth and Zwar park. I can honestly say that seeing them at full flight on the beach or at a park is one of my favourite and most indelible memories of the dogs.

Then the real kids came

As much as we promised ourselves that nothing would change when Josh arrived…it did. Suddenly the dogs had to sleep outside, I had to walk the two of them (which looked a fair bit like someone trying to waterski behind two jetskis…both pulling in different directions) and of course the dogs had to accept that there was a new member of the pack…and he was above them.
We were incredibly lucky to have my parents take the dogs on regular long weekends at their place where they were lavished with attention (grandparents need to use dogs to hone their grandparenting skills as well), and I was always convinced that it was only a matter of time before I was able to devote the same amount of time to the dogs that I did pre-kids.
But then Holly came along, and suddenly our pool of available time was even shorter. But the dogs never complained or acted up. They just adapted and took the belly rubs whenever they presented themselves.
Then just as Holly was starting to build a friendship with Ceilidh (Holly would help me feed her most mornings), Ceilidh died. It was bloody awful, and left a big hole in our family. It also made us realise that Jasper would now be more dependent on us for affection and attention.
Then Xavier came along.
Then we renovated the house.


The guilt.

I won’t lie. I’ve been feeling guilty about Jasper for probably the last two years. I have this fantasy of me taking him for his nightly walk and half-way through the walk he would stop and say ‘Chris, there are two things you need to know. The first, is that I can talk…the second is that I totally understand why you can’t devote the amount of time to me that you used to, I’m cool with it and I appreciate everything you do.’ But of course that didn’t happen. Instead his nightly walk was sandwiched somewhere between doing the dishes and getting the kids into bed. I would have had my headphones in listening to a podcast, and the only time Jasper would have taken a break from lurching from one side of the footpath to the other in search of what the TAFE students had dropped would have been when he was waiting for me to pick up what he had just done on someone else’s nature strip.
I was so convinced that I would eventually find the time…but I never did, and now he’s gone.

But remember the good times

For all my guilt…my memories are pretty much exclusively of the good times. Having people assume that he was a highly expensive Foxhound, and comment on what a handsome dog he was (with his muscly good looks and Ceilidh’s long lashes and fine features they could have made a Hollywood glamour couple from the 50’s)! Going for walks with Jasper and the kids and seeing them all revel in the fun of being a pack.


The 20 minutes of freedom his walk gave me every night, and the way it forced me to see parts of my suburb that I would never have seen otherwise. The way he would bound around excitedly every time we were getting ready to go for a walk, the way he would sit so regally…and then simply place is paw on your leg and let you know that perhaps it would be a good idea to pat him…and hey, while you’re doing that I’m just going to roll over so that you can rub my chest. The way that even though he was getting old, he would sit at my side whenever we came to a road.
But most of all, the way he remained so loyal and devoted until the end.

So farewell Jasper Jones my faithful hound, you made me a better person and better parent, and our family is poorer for your passing.

Boy and Hound


An open letter to my pregnant sister in Beijing

Any week now my sister is going to make me an Uncle, thus granting me the highly coveted male familial quartet of Father/Son/Brother/Uncle (a feat only achieved…by a dazzlingly high number of people…mostly men).
Regrettably she is over in China, and so I haven’t had the chance to pass on all my accumulated knowledge on what it’s like to become a parent for the first time…but I know she reads this blog, and I needed a topic for this fortnight…so this is what we in the industry call a ‘twofer’.
Now I’m No Expert But, here in no particular order are some things I wish I had known before I became a parent, but I didn’t find in any of the books I pretended to read about becoming a parent.

1. Sleep
You will want it, miss it and crave it. You will become obsessed with your child’s sleep. Complete strangers will ask you about your sleep. And do you know what? Not one of these things will actually help you get sleep.
There is no point comparing the amount of sleep you used to get before you had a baby, because that was a totally different time. Just as you can’t yell at your husband about having to make your own lunch, because you didn’t have to when you were 7 years old. That time has passed…and so to has having long stretches of unbroken sleep. Complaining about it won’t result in more sleep…but it is immeasurably therapeutic.
One of my clearest memories of when Josh was a couple of months old was talking to my boss at work and mentioning how many times I had been up the night before trying to get him to sleep. My boss had teenage kids and just looked wistfully into the middle distance and said ‘I would do anything to know where my kids were at night.’
Just know that there does come a time when you get to sleep through the night again, and that in the interim you will be freaking tired…but will find amazing reserves of energy.

2. Your child will be fine
One of the wonderful results of having very little sleep and being thrust into a role you have had very little preparation for, is that you suddenly start aging your baby 10yrs but giving them their current behaviours. ‘Oh my god I’m going to have the first child who sleeps in their parents bedroom until they’re 20’, ‘Oh my god our child is going to be the only child who still has a dummy at 10’, ‘Oh my god, my child is just going to scream every time he doesn’t get what he wants’. These are all things I thought about our first and second children, it’s only now with the third that I am able to relax and just enjoy my time knowing that they will develop at their own pace.

3. Accept people’s offers of help
A very large part of you will just want to just form a little cocoon around your new family and keep the rest of the world at arm’s length. Not least because you have no idea what you’re doing and don’t want someone to come in and tell you that you’re doing it wrong.
But if someone offers to bring around a meal, or clean up, or hold the baby while you have a lie down…take them up on it. They will feel great knowing that they’re helping you out, and you will feel great having one less thing to worry about.

4. Get ready to have your world view changed
Your respect for single parents will increase about 400%…your shame about your behaviour towards your own parents will increase about 8,000%…and the frequency of you crying while watching movies/news reports/Octonauts will be awkward for your fellow film viewers/colleagues/6 yr old nephews.
Also, have you heard that amazing new album by that hot new band? No, neither have I…however some of the Hooley Dooley’s early stuff is sublime.
In the last three years I have never read so few books, but listened to so many podcasts.
I’ve never been so consumed by own little part of the world, but had so many moments of noticing true beauty in the world around me.
And I’ve never felt so insanely out of control of my life, but felt so content.
Best of all you can start any sentence with ‘As a parent…’ and non-parents have to pretend that this actually somehow makes your point more valid.

5. Go in and look at your baby before you go to sleep
This is not out of some paranoia that they might have stopped breathing (although, to be honest….you will do this a couple of times), and not because it is the one time when they’re not expecting you to do something for them.
But because there is nothing more beautiful than the sight of your own child sleeping.

So let’s see that’s everything I know about parenting in less than 850 words…yep, that sounds about right.
Babies are contrary things, so just because something works one day…doesn’t mean it will work the next. But by the same token a failed strategy one day may be the perfect solution the next. Just go with your instincts, you’ll be right more times that you’re wrong. Why? Because you’re an amazing person, and you’re going to be a fantastic parent!