1. Weeknotes of a new dad – week seven

    The first weeks of my child’s life really scattered the pigeons as we adjusted to cope with looking after our amazing little creature. Here I continue my weeknotes on those first crazy weeks.

    This week is the second week of Orin’s developmental leaps. He’s still been crying more than usual but mellowed out a little toward the end of the week, thank goodness.

    The dummy rules

    This mellowing out also co-incided with us discovered the dummy. What an amazing invention. It has changed my life overnight. It almost felt like cheating. He’s crying, I put the dummy in his month and ta-da! Silence.  

    We finally had some peace. Lisa and I sat on the sofa, clinging to each other in delight. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. So we fell asleep on the couch. Romantic.

    It’s an amazing thing the dummy. It makes you little sad when you realise that often, all he wants is a comfort I, as a man and lacking suckling breasts, can’t give. Mum rules ok right now. Dad is the helping hand.

    Creatively this is a slow week

    Managing to edit my writing on the tube and editing late at night. but missed a few days I had to make up for by writing a lot in my time off on Saturday morning. No new writing this week, same as last week. I’m generally too brain-dead to come up with anything late at night, and I still haven’t worked out how to get anything done in the morning routine. Which currently just involves getting up and getting to work. I suspect I could fit a bit of writing in. We’ll see.

    Speed growth

    He’s growing like crazy. You can almost see it happening. It makes me feel like time is passing even quicker than it already is, since my brain can’t quite believe what it’s seeing.

    Tripping on the chessboard

    You can tell this week he can see even more clearly. He’s got better at following your movements and loves the chessboard drawing Lisa has put up beside his changing mat. Apparently black and white checks are in motion to him. What a trip.

     


  2. How I keep sane when life gets too much – my three basic questions of well being

    It was late at night in the middle of week two of my son’s life, he was crying at length and it was all getting to me. Can I cope with looking after him? How can I go to work and cope with this in the evenings? Mini-crisis.

    The next day he slept all morning. So I did too. That afternoon I felt better. The fears I had the night before had eased. Perhaps I could cope after all.

    Wait a minute, there was the embarrassing feeling that I’d seen this pattern before.

    Often in the past, life would get intense, I’d feel out of control, I’d get anxious, lose confidence and then fear I was getting nowhere with projects, work and life. I’d start blaming it on myself and whatever was going on in my life.

    I told myself I wasn’t skilled enough at this or that. That I hadn’t made the right career choices. I didn’t make enough money. Why wasn’t I more like so and so?

    I’d beat myself up inside till I was a whimpering wreak. Only to realise later that I was just tired.

    How embarrassing.

    Over the years I’ve discovered that, outside of the obviously difficult things life throws at you – illness, grief and so on – much of my perceived woes and lack of creativity or confidence were often down to three very basic things. And as soon as I’d focused on them I’d feel much better.

    So now I try to do a mental check of the following before I give myself a good talking to:

    1. Am I eating well?

    When things are busy, one of the first things to go is good eating habits.

    It’s easier and quicker to reach for a sandwich or stick a pizza in the oven than cook properly or go for that salad. But I’ve discovered that the food I put in to my body directly relates to the energy I get out.

    So I ask myself – am I eating a good balanced diet? Am I eating enough slow energy release foods to see me through the day? The idea being that under normal circumstances food alone should give me all the energy I need without the need to reach for the cake, chocolate, fizzy drinks etc.

    This is what works for me:

    • Eat a ‘super-food’ breakfast – a bowl of porridge with nuts, seeds, banana and honey everyday helps wake me up. Plus, the slow-release energy from the grains and nuts keep me going all morning.

    • Eat often – my energy dips then crashes if I go for too long without food. I eat four to five ‘meals’ a day. The most helpful being a medium sized snack at 4:30pm which helps get me to dinner at 8pm without a major energy crash. Vital.

    • Avoid refined sugar – Refined sugar is a superficial energy fix that gives me a crash soon after I eat it. Since my aim to avoid energy crashes at all costs, I avoid or use honey to sweeten dishes.

    • Eat my greens before bed – plenty of veg of the colour green is said to help you sleep better. Anecdotally, this is true in my experience.

    2. Am I sleeping well?

    Baby early morning cry-athons aside, I find it all too easy to stay up later and later each night of the week, yet having to get up at the same time each morning for work. It’s all too easy to just keep on losing sleep and be exhausted by friday.

    And being a parent of a young child, this is one of the most difficult things to control. But there are two things that are really helping me:

    • Meditate before bed – A ten minute meditate really helps me relax and clean the slate in preparation for a deep sleep. It may sound hippy but mediation is just a way to relax your mind. This can be a simple as imagining writing what happened in the day on a sheet of paper then mentally putting it away. Stopping those thoughts buzzing around my head helps me sleep more deeply and restfully, making the absolute most of the limited sleep I’m getting at the minute.

    • Use ear plugs – I grew up in the countryside where it’s silent at night, so living in central London makes it hard to sleep with all the ambient noise. After years of light sleeping I tried earplugs. Much better. I use them when I’m not ‘on-shift’ with our little one and am camped out on the living room sofa.

    3. Am I exercising?

    I’ve always found that regular exercise makes it easier to focus and do more in a day. Plus exercise helps me moderate my moods, keeping me from getting too low and helping me deal with stress.

    It oxygenates my brain, apparently making me actually smarter for the period of time when it happens. And I do often find that during the heightened state I experience while exercising new ideas or solutions to problems pop into my head.

    For me, running is my key exercise:

    • It’s a great way to get immersed in the outdoors – I don’t need a gym or any equipment, I can do it while traveling and to top it off – it’s free.

    • I can easily find 30 minute before work in the morning, or in the eve, to nip out and back – I run twice a week, in the mornings in winter and in the evenings in summer.

    • There is very little impact on baby schedules – I can often slip out for a 30 minute run from my door to the park and back while Lisa is feeding our son.

    —-

    I’m always surprised how often these three basic questions work

    Despite myself, if I focus on eating well, doing a little exercise or trying to get better quality sleep often either changes how I feel completely, gives me a new perspective or eases the negative feelings about a difficult problem that I’m beating myself up about.

    Feeling shitty? Answer these first:  Am I sleeping well? Am I eating well? Am I exercising?

    They have a permanent place as a reminder on my fridge door.

     


  3. Weeknotes: week six (and sorry for the lag)

    So you might be thinking “Week six? Surely you’re like five months in by now?”.

    It’s true. But having a baby is keeping us pretty busy and though I’ve actually been writing for the whole time, finding the time and the energy to finalise my drafts and post them up has been somewhat challenging.

    So bear with me. I’ve a substantial backlog that I’m going to post up in sequence in the coming weeks for better or worse. Hopefully I’ll start to catch up with where we are today. But please forgive the time difference, life has been hectic.

    On with week six…

    —-

    I’m pretty lucky – because I’m freelance I’ve been able to take more paternity time than most new dads. But I’m back to work this week and it was quite a shock. We’ve been trying to work out how the routine at home is going to work now. And it was hard on Lisa being on her own most of the day.

    Is being tired actually better for work?

    At work it’s a strange experience. The tiredness means I have this feeling of caring just slightly less, enough to probably be better at my job since I’m more relaxed about it. Less mental space to stress about the little things.

    The witching hours

    The books tell us that Orin is going through a developmental leap this week. He was certainly crying hard every evening on my shift. I’ve heard friends call those hours ‘the witching hours’. that feels about right. Lisa tells me he’s fairly mellow in the day, then gets wound up by the evening time. Apparently this is a week where he has learned how to become overtired, where he fights the urge to sleep. Nice.

    Sustaining creative projects is tough – tiny progress every day

    Most of my creative work are writing projects at the moment and surprisingly I’ve been able to keep at them even through the madness of this week.

    I’ve printed out my first drafts and have been editing them on the tube to and from work. The ride takes about 15 or 20 mins and I manage to edit half a page in either direction, so in the end I get a page a day edited in pen.

    Finding time or the brain power to do any creating in the witching hour is a challenge. So I mostly try to quickly type up my edits from earlier into a second draft. I’ve managed to do about one edit a day. It’s only a small amount, but what feels important is the momentum that gives. There’s something powerful about doing even a tiny amount every day.

    Break on through

    So, being tired, working all day, then coming home to mind Orin, who cries all evening till I go to bed at 11pm. It’s been hard. But the first week back at work was always going to be the hardest week yet.

    Our routines up in the air for all three of us, and Lisa and I have a lot of extra things to do while being as tired as we were before. So it’s been a case of putting our heads down and breaking on through.

     


  4. 4 things that give me back my time and let me keep projects rolling

    I get home from a long day at work. Lisa is dealing with our son’s current favourite activity – the hour-long bedtime cry-athon.

    Thanks to several sleepless nights, it’s been days since I’ve had the energy to do any personal work in the evenings. But, thanks to a late afernoon coffee I have a tiny bit of spark.

    I crack on making dinner while our son settles and then during dinner we flick on an Easter Island documentary on iPlayer. Hey, it’s been a long day, and I deserve to watch a TV show right?

    Two hours later, my spark has worn off and I’m nestled in the couch ready to fall asleep. Opportunity gone. Again.

    I’ve realised I have to give up some things I like to get my personal creative work done

    Whether we have kids or not, all of us can struggle to find the time to do our personal projects. Having children simply pulls it into sharper focus.

    I’m as lazy as anyone and battle procrastination every day. Sometimes things are out of my control and I’ve no chance, other times I just can’t be arsed.

    And yet, aside from the happiness my relationships and family give, deep down I know that producing creative work – such as writing – brings me a large part of my contentment.

    What I realise is that I have to give up doing some of the non-essential things that I enjoy in a kind of superficial way, for my creative work which I know will make me much happier for longer.

    The challenge – what things do I have to give up to make time to do something more rewarding?

    So far, these are the most practical ways I’ve found to recover some precious time:

    1. Stop reading newspapers – agenda driven, they’re dangerous things at the best of times. They tell us about things we can’t do anything about, so increase anxiety with no possibility of action to release it. They are often manipulative. Does this help me with to focus and do my creative work? Nope. Binned.

    2. Rarely read magazines – great for getting inspiration when I’m in ideas mode. But distracting when I’m actually writing. Also have the effect of making me feel like I don’t have enough stuff or the right lifestyle. This anxiety doesn’t exactly help my creative flow. Use very selectively.

    3. No books when I’m doing creative projects – I love books. I’ve an addiction to buying them on Amazon. But apart from urgent research, I avoid books. Reading them feels like productive work, but it’s most likely not. Put the book down and finish writing instead.

    4. Limit TV – This is the best way I’ve found to create some time. It doesn’t have to be forever. I’ve gone for a six-week stretch while I worked every night on my current project. This gives great momentum to the work. When I take a few weeks off from writing, I watch TV shows again. It’s fine.

    Getting valuable momentum on personal projects in the fray of the normal chaos of family life is a serious business. I have to keep asking myself – if I’m honest, does this thing I’m doing contribute directly to doing my creative work, or is it a distraction I can remove?

    It hurts a little in the short term, but a life lived with projects achieved to show for it has got to be worth it.

     


  5. How I learned to be a man of action from a poo emergency in a hire car

    “Just do something!” I said.

    “I am doing something!” she said.

    We’re knelt in the car, parked in a side street near Crystal Palace park. We’d gotten the timing a bit wrong and Lisa was having to feed my son in the tiny Zipcar we’d hired. This had proven difficult, but then the shit, almost literally, hit the fan. He’d done a massive poo and it had leaked down his legs and up his back. Lovely.

    A state of emergency was called. I tried to pull myself together as I hastily rolled out the changing mat on the drivers seat and began hunting for the baby wipes.

    Ten minutes later we’d managed the near-heroic and got him out of his dirty clothes without spreading poo over the hire car, cleaned him up a bit and got him in clean clothes. We then hot-footed it home where I immediately dunked him in the bath to clean off the rest.

    A nice Sunday stroll in the park.

    To be fair, it had been very nice up to that point, almost idyllic. And the more I think about it, the more I realise that this incident is extremely good life training.

    If I’m feeling indecisive, just do something and adjust along the way

    Staring at my crying child, not knowing where to begin, I realised I had to get on with it and simply do something. Start anywhere and see if it’s right just by doing it, then adjust along the way. If it’s wrong I’ll soon find out.

    Sometimes, “do now and think later” is best

    Now, I love thinking. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll say: “he loves a good think he does.” If I have a decision to make I like to stare wistfully at the trees and philosophise for an hour. Seriously, I actually do that. But the Crystal Palace incident reminds me that this may not be essential to survival. Best to just trust yourself, get on with it and save the philosophising till all is done.

    Don’t use a schedule to put things off

    I often say to myself “tonight, I’ll do that project” and this would be an excuse for not working on it even though I would have time before “tonight”. My schedule had become my excuse. No longer. Why wait? I try to man up and, if I have the time, work on the project now.

    There have been many more incidents like this. For a new dad, this is on-the-job training that gives mega transferable skills – be flexible, take action immediately and avoid putting important things off.

    This is real life training. Gotta man up.

     


  6. Weeknotes of a new dad #3

    This week – the truth about cleaning up poo and the ‘back to work’ experiments.

    [Note: For those reading who know us I should say these are notes from week five of my son’s life. We’re six weeks ahead of this blog in reality…]

    Going back to work is scary so we decided to test it out
    I’ve been lucky enough to have a month off work since I work contract. It has been special to have this time to make things easier for Lisa and to spend so much time with our son.

    But I start work again next week and that means a new daily routine. We’ve tried out two half day tests, where I ‘go out to work’ from 9am to 1pm, or 1pm to 7pm so Lisa can see how she copes on her own.

    So far we’ve learned that it’s easy for her to overestimate how much she can do. With feeding, cleaning, bathing, trying to squeeze in some sleep, get supplies from the shops and enjoying visits – it was a bit too much. We’ve decided to be careful about what we attempt to do in future. And build it up slowly.

    So far our pattern of sleeping in separate rooms in shifts has worked great. How will it work when we all sleep in the same room? We tested this out this week by relocated to Lisa’s mums while we had some decorating work done. The objective – to have us sleep together (we miss this) and for me to get as much sleep as possible so I can cope with work and take over for the evening shift.

    The result – even with earplugs I heard most of his huffing and puffing sleep noises. So woke up multiple times through the night. Not a great start! People tell me that you get used to the noise and sleep better. Fingers crossed.

    How it feels to be a dad – an update
    As far as it goes to how it feels to be a dad. I’ve felt that, while there are big moments like the birth where it’s clear you’re in a new position of dad-ship, it’s been a slower transition than I was expecting.

    Even though there is this underlying feeling of pride right from the word go, it’s only this week that I’ve started really enjoying my son’s company. Once the first few weeks of intensity subsides and the practicalities of looking after this tiny being have become less stressful, only then have I had headspace to take it all in.

    Here you have this little creature, blissfully zen about the whole thing, asleep on your chest. It’s one of the most comforting things anyone can experience. I’ve started to realise how priceless these moments are. Basically, you start to fall in love with this new person in your life.

    For all the men who are fearful about being a dad as I was – I can tell you now being just over the other side – that when people tell you that you won’t mind cleaning up the poo of this new person that you love. It’s true.

    And finally – does he see us?
    This week, in what seemed like an overnight spurt of development, our son started to be able to see more. He now follows you with his eyes. We’re still a bit of a grey blur to him and I’m pretty sure his smiles are more about wind than enjoying seeing us. But hey, it’s progress.

     


  7. Embrace the daily baby chaos to get things done – 3 tips that work for me

    I get up. My son is awake and needing attention. The steriliser breaks. The health visitor calls when we weren’t expecting her. I spill the bottle, again. In our new world of being parents, it’s a beautiful dance of activity, unexpected and on the fly. But how do I find time for any creative work in this situation?

    What I’m learning is that I just have to take the opportunity as soon as it arises. Any opportunity, even if I only get a few minutes at it, I have to take it.

    Has my newborn gone to sleep for ten minutes? I work on my project. Has my partner started feeding him? I work on my project.

    In the past, I said to myself “What difference is a ten minutes work on my project going to make? I’ll need more time than that to really get anything done”. But I’ve learned I can achieve a lot in ten good minutes.

    But it can be difficult to do this when I’m not feeling the inspiration. Here’s what I find helps:

    1. Even if I don’t feel like it – I sit in front of the work

    I look at it, tinker with it, eventually my mind starts to change from avoiding it, to engaging with it. And it starts to flow. I don’t wait for inspiration. I’m too tired to wait for inspiration.

    2. I always assume this chance is the only chance today

    When I get a little time, it’s tempting to watch TV or flick through a book thinking “I’ll work on my project later when I get a moment”. But I may not get time later. Instead, I assume I have to work on it now.

    3. I work with small daily goals

    I find it helps to have a measurable amount I want to get done every day. This may be to write half a page of blog post or outline of a novel or something else. This way I know when I’m done and it’s small enough to be accomplished in a few short moments that might happen during the day.

    Us new dads are not in control of our time. So, I better get to it. I may not have time later. 

     

     


  8. Weeknotes #2

    [Gavin’s note: In case of any confusion I should say these are weeknotes from week four of my son’s life. I’m about six weeks ahead of the blog – for safety… ]

    Carseats, slings, sterilising, baths and bottle feeds. It’s all go.

    Bottle feeds rock our world
    Bottle feeds are going well. We’re very lucky. We’ve had three nights of doing partial feeds, and tonight we try a full feed. This means my partner may get a potential 3.5 hours sleep in a row. Holy shmoley. In other news, last night I managed to completely soak both my son and I with the milk as the lid wasn’t on properly. Sweet work dad.

    Sterilising is a massive pain the arse
    Who’d have thought sterilising and breast pumps would be such a minefield? For someone with low level OCD like me, this is a particularly difficult territory. Instructions everywhere on the internet say air-dry after you sterilise. Did it air-dry? Did it f**k.

    Pulling my hair out in fear of causing illness to my child, I stood frozen to the spot in the kitchen as my fiancee handed me the expressed milk. After contaminating the milk about four times I fumbled it into a storage bag, threw it in a lunchbox in the fridge and had to have a lie down.

    The first emergency bath
    Due to a shit up the neck incident we had to hurriedly bath our son in the bathroom sink. Lacking the time to prepare beforehand, it was a lesson in what you really needed to prepare to achieve this very complicated task. The answer is that you need to prepare. Properly.

    To buy a car or not to buy a car
    We’re a pretty green, so buying a car is something we’ll avoid if we can. We’re trying to see if we can manage with Zipcar. So we had a test outing. After taking an hour to leave the house, get to the Zipcar (one street away), fold the pram, fit the car seat in the temporary position, drive back to the house, pick up the car seat base, fix the base in the Zipcar and fit the car seat back on. Two hours.

    Turns out the easiest way to use the Zipcar is to carry the baby in the sling, carry the car seat around to the Zipcar, load up and drive back home to pick up and install the car seat base and refit the car seat to it. Faff. So, the jury’s still out on whether the Zipcar is a feasible long term solution. Without the car seat base it would be less hassle, but we’re too nervous for that at the moment.

    The sling library is worth a trip
    Our destination was the nearby sling library. Here you can be recommended slings for your child in that fit your physique and be taught how to wear it. You hire it out for two weeks to see if it’s right for you. This is simply a brilliant idea. 

     


  9. Can a bit of OCD make being a dad easier and give me energy to create?

    I always knew having a baby would challenge my inner obsessive-compulsive. I’ve always had a dash of OCD as I’ve sought a feeling of control when work’s been difficult. Yes, I fold my T-shirts. Yes, I pair-bundle my socks. Yes, I meticulously rearrange my bookshelf every Saturday morning. Don’t laugh. It makes me feel better.

    But having a degree of OCD and a baby is tricky – the two don’t really mix. I’ve had to let go and relax. It’s been a relief to loosen up a bit.

    Yet one of the good things about my compulsive tendencies is that I’ve figured out a few tricks to reduce some stress and save a little mental energy for my creative work.

    So I find it’s stressful, leaving the house with a baby on tow. There’s lots to carry and I’m often in a hurry. It’s easy to forget things like my wallet, cards or my keys. Three things help:

    1. I carry less in my pockets

    For years I weighed myself down with pockets full of stuff I would need just in case. Gum, pens, wallet, all the keys I had and more. But I really only needed to carry a few of these things. I now know that if I have less, I have less stuff to worry about. So now in one pocket I keep my iPhone headphones, in the other I keep house keys, loose change and my wallet. Thats it. Easy.

    2. I’ve decluttered my wallet

    In my wallet I used to carry all my bank, membership cards and business cards I’d been given. The worn pocket-shaped outlines on the outside of my jeans were a giveaway there was a problem. No more. I was recently given a Bellroy wallet which is made from the least amount of material they can get away with. It can only fit five cards and some paper money. I love it because it keeps me focused on carrying only what I really need.

    3. I keep all my loose items on the same shelf every day

    I leave all the items from my pocket in the same shelf at home every day when I empty them. So when I go to fill my pockets the next day, I simply fill them with what’s on the shelf. Boom. No searching around the house for my keys, or any thinking, required.

    Carrying so little means there less to forget as I’m leaving the house. The less there is to forget, the more it’s noticeable when you have forgotten one of those things. And those things are hard to forget when they are always on the same shelf every morning.

    What I love most about it is that I no longer spend time frantically searching for my wallet and keys. Leaving the house is less stress, even with a baby. And the bonus is I’ve save a bit of mental energy for my creative work too. All thanks to a bit of OCD.

     


  10. Weeknotes #1

    In this weeks news: the miraculous four-hour feeding cycle, the possibility of productivity and the big transition into fatherhood.

    Four-hour feeding cycles
    So this week the big event was moving to four hour feeding cycles. This has given us both more sleep, which is a huge deal and opened up pockets of time to get other things done.

    This major innovation along with the strategic purchase of a bouncy floor chair and a donated sling from family, has given us both more hands-free time. A copernican revolution.

    Another upside of our new four hour feeding cycle is that I had four hours off, first time since he was born. I was eager to cram in as much as I could. I met my mate, we had lunch and coffee on the Thames, walked along London’s beautiful Southbank, then had a good old chat over a pint of Murphys. I left recharged.

    This reminded me that other people give you energy, and arranging dinner or a drink with the key people in your life is a great way to keep inspired.

    The transition into fatherhood
    This is not immediate as I’d imagined, it takes a little time. The first two weeks were intense and focusing on the practicality of looking after this new creature meant it was difficult to enjoy my new status as a Dad. Even though I’m indescribably grateful that he arrived safe and sound, you can’t help wondering if you’ve lost any control over your own time forever. The fear!

    But this week, since I do the evening shift and try to keep him awake a little so he sleeps better for his mum in the night, I’ve had more time where it’s just us and he’s being fun. It’s special. Some reward for the intensity of the first two weeks. And finding that there are indeed patches of time to work on my projects has calmed my inner fears.

    The possibility of productivity
    So I’m beginning to suspect that having children brings its upsides to productivity. You have no time to procrastinate, you must crack on with it in the time you have.

    And having less time makes you prioritise better. Prioritise in a big way. I have to ask myself which of my projects is most significant. As one of my biggest problems is a high-level indecision about what to focus on, anyone that helps me do that is brilliant. And if that person is my beautiful weeks-old son, even more the better.