Husband and father of 1 12 month old boy battling through the COVID-19 pandemic. Juggling work, parenting commitments and 2 dogs!
A little about me:
So here's a little background knowledge to help any potential readers relate. I'm the proud father to a 1 year old little boy, husband to an amazing wife (and mother of my child) and the owner of 2 very 'needy' dogs. I've decided to jot down some of my highlights and struggles during the COVID 19 global pandemic in the hope to maybe help anyone else who is in a similar situation.
Before you read on let me just clarify, I had very limited parenting skills coming into this journey and that coupled with the Pandemic, generated a great deal of what I can only describe as '1st encounter / misshaps' as I started to get to grips with being a responsible adult.
1st Day Working From Home:
On March 17th 2020 my company gave the go ahead to work from home if at all possible to keep staff healthy and protected from the ever present COVID 19 threat. This was great news for me: I had a 6 months old baby at home with my wife who was doing a fantastic job at bringing up our child.I knew that being at home would mean not only would I get to see more of my baby's upbringing but I'd be able to help out the wife a little where possible.
So on the 18th March 2020 I happily switched off my later than usual alram, put on some jogging bottoms and my dressing gown, and logged into my laptop while the kettle was bubbling away in the background ready to provide my morning coffee. Filled with excitement that I was safe at home, saving money on petrol and lucky enough to be able to work from home, with the news on the TV in the background I set about remotely logging into my work computer.
I have never underestimated the positives of a quiet and professional work environment so much in my life as I did shortly after this moment.
As if by witchcraft of some sort, as soon as I clicked confirm I heard the baby stirring upstairs in his bedroom. I thought 'that's OK' as I took a look at the baby video monitor (which I strongly suggest anyone nearing the stage of putting their baby down in their own room purchases - absolute lifesaver in my humble opinion) and to my absolute horror witnessed my 6 and a half month old standing up, holding onto the top bar of his cot with one hand and launching his dummy across the room with the other. He then proceeded to bounce up and down from the sitting position to the cruising position over and over. This wasn't the bad part (in fact I was quite impressed as this was a new move that he had recently added to his repertoire) but I could have sworn he went to bed in a brilliant white baby grow. Yet I could definitely tell this was now a two tone grow with a dark patch seeping through the fabric both above and below the nappy line!
I like almost all reletively new fathers, do not relish the idea of changing a number 2 nappy whilst trying not to wake the wife up in the room next door but now was my 'time to shine'. I mean, I'd dealt with the first number 2 the boy had ever produced back in hospital and any mum or dad who has had to do this will know that nothing could be worse than that black, sticky gloop (which I genuinely believe could be used in place of fresh tarmac on our roads or a tub of no more nails adhesive)!
How wrong was I? (And this leads on to my second piece of advice to any unsuspecting fathers..... 'Pull Up nappies' and what you need to know).
So, I'd left my computer having got no further than the home screen and rushed upstairs to deal with the seemingly normal nappy change. I carefully un-pop the fasteners on the baby's babygrow (it goes straight in the bin is all that needs to be said) and positioned the boy onto the changing mat which thankfully is waterproof and can be wiped clean. I notice quickly that this nappy is not of the usual sort I am used to, there were no tabs to undo and remove. Now obviously I was aware this must be one of the new pull up nappies the wife had recently purchased but nobody had told me how to get these off. My first thought (and bear in mind I'm trying to stop the baby roll over and smear this mess all over the house) was that if they pull up, then they must pull down. Surely that's the only logical thought process?
Anyway I will spare you the disasterous details of my logical error with my hindsight tip for this section. These pull up nappies rip at the sides so as to allow you to clean up the baby (much like you would with the sticky tab nappies I was used to) without smearing it all down their legs as you try to shoe horn out their legs without making the situation worse. So in summary: These nappies are 'pull up' but most certainly not 'pull down'.
By the time I had corrected my heinous error and used almost a full packet of wet wipes in the process, I was over an hour late for work and the wife had woken up due to all the noise and panic.
When your baby reaches 6 months it is common place to slowly introduce solid foods alongside their milk diet. This is a challenging time for many reasons (the worry of choking, what if he/she doesn't take well to solid food etc etc) but what the healthcare workers don't tell you is that your baby will not gradually let you know that he or she is getting hungry. Oh no, what your baby will do however, is switch instantly from being happy and content playing with his toys one minute and then within a millisecond he will be so ravenously hungry and scream continuously until he is presented with food. Any onlookers would no doubt assume this baby had not been feed for at least 12 hours the way he is acting and potentially consider calling a child helpline number!.
If you have not already prepared (and plated up) your babies breakfast / lunch or dinner pre this apocolyptic tantrum, you are in for a very stressful few minutes while you rectify this error. Let me tell you, a baby screaming unconsoleably at full volume for 5 minutes non stop feels like a lifetime and no matter who you are, your going to feel terrible by the time his meal is served.
Regardless if you are working from home and your partner has this job to contend with or your a single parent and both work and parenting fall on your shoulders (I have no idea how you manage work and a baby, I simply could not) the one piece of advice I can give is to batch prepare your babies meals and possibly buy an extra chest freezer to store these in. Make sure you plan for tomorrow so you already know exactly what needs to come out of the freezer and go into the fridge ready for when your baby flips the 'hungry switch'. As a side note, we found a great healthy desert snack for a teething baby was to blitz up some fruit (Strawberries, blueberries, banana you get the idea...) and freeze these in some cute dinosaur shape silicone moulds. A healthy desert that your baby will love though I would recommend running them under the cold tap for a second before giving to the baby (I found out the hard way as my first attempt resulted with my son having an ice cold strawberry dinosaur shape frozen to his inner lip momentarily).
When it comes to what type of bib to select, we opted for a brand called 'Bibbadoo' which is a full 'wet suit' type that completely covers your babies top half and attaches to the high chair. This was one of our flukey purchases. These bibs are fantastic and saved us god knows how much on clothing / cleaning products as there is no denying a 'finger food feeding' baby or a spoon fed baby for that matter, is going to cause untold mess and destruction to the surrounding area. With that in mind, it's also advisable to invest in a waterproof, large base mat to go under your high chair to catch spillages and make cleaning up that little bit quicker and easier. These small things make a huge difference when your already stressed with the situation and anxiety that your brand new cream carpets (that you purchased pre baby to make sure the carpet was clean and fresh for your new bundle of joy) are beginning to resemble those speckled brown car seats found in 1980's Volvos!
The 'Shouty' Stage
For the first few months in lockdown we had stunning weather for weeks on end which definitely made being locked up in our homes a lot more bearable. Each morning I would grab the extension lead and phone charger and set up my laptop in a sunny spot in the garden. What could be better? Shades on, feet up on the table working away whilst acquiring a tan with the wife and baby out in the garden for my entertainment. Fabulous.
A few days into the outdoor working scenario my usually placid, quiet (except when the hungry switch had been flipped) baby decided that planes in the sky were the best thing ever. He had obviously trained his eye to spot them far out into the distance and developed a rather cute routine. Every time he heard a plane or helicoptor he would look up, scan the sky and as soon as he had locked on to his target he swiftly raised his hand, pointing up at the object to let out a loud 'Ooh'.
This soon escalated to a rather short but loud, one syllable shout of excitement. Then suddenly this would be the same for a passing by bird, then either myself or my wife, then the cat, then a tree until this became his reaction to every visible thing in his eyeline. Even some dirt in the flower beds would be greeted with this short, sharp shout. It wasn't a cry or a scream, nor was it one of those cute baby noises we all love to hear, it was just pure 'point and grunt' until both mummy and daddy acknowledged said object.
For a day or so, this was his new trick and we encouraged it. Even sending videos to the rest of the family to show our clever little boys new found love for everything in the world. But after the 3rd or 4th day our clever little boys new noise began to grate, and we couldn't even eat a mouthful of food before our little man had made sure he'd given it the 'point and grunt' seal of approval. If for any unimaginable reason we should sneak a mouthful in before he had done his 'thing', the look of disgust and devastation we received was utterly heartbreaking. We would then have to do double grunts on the next mouthful to make up for it!
This carried on for about 3 weeks before we reached the stage where our baby would just shout at us. And it was no longer a short sound, it was a continuous high pitched shout. He wasn't hungry, or tired, and he didn't need a nappy change, he just wanted to shout at us. Still not a cry but I wont even try and attempt to explain how irritating this became. Every morning he'd wake up and shout at me as a form of greeting. Then he'd shout the entire journey down the stairs and into his play room. Then he'd stand at the baby gate and shout at me some more, and while I made breakfast, changed a nappy, put the telly on, literally anything warranted the shouty noise!
They say all babies are different, and I truely believe each little phase is how they grow, learn and interract with the world around them. My point being, take a second to think about what behaviour you actively encourage before you actually encourage it. Something that starts off cute can very quickly turn in to your worst nightmare.
Thankfully, this stage is now over and with the help of much paracetamol our headaches have subsided and we can entertain the idea of taking the child out in public again... lockdown permitting ofcourse.
The bedtime routine was one of the few things we actually got lucky with. As the title of this section suggests, create a routine for the hour or so before you put your baby down to bed. And stick to it. We started ours at 18:00 and went with a nice splish and splash in the bath followed with a fresh nappy and bedtime clothes and then 5 minutes in his swinging chair. (If you haven't already got one of these I suggest you invest. It's well worth the money for a full nights sleep).
Phase 2 of bedtime routine was a book upstairs in his bedroom (so he associated the room with wind down time) and then a last minute snuggle with mummy and boob feed (or bottle if you have a formula fed baby). From 6 months our little boy dropped his boob feeds to just 2, 1 first thing in the morning and 1 before bed alongside 3 meals during the day when we ate. Lastly put baby to bed with his dummy and a muslin (or whatever blanket / soft toy you have regularly given your baby as a soother).
For safety reasons it is recommended that the cot remains as free as possible of objects such as soft toys during the very young months and baby to sleep on their back also. Once your baby is fully able to roll over (front to back and back to front) you may decide to be more lenient with this advice but again, you should be taking the advice from health professionals. We chose to allow baby to sleep on his front shortly after he was confidently rolling over both ways (we would always put him down on his back but if he chose to roll over we would keep an eye out and go up to check regularly for peace of mind. Again having the video monitor I mentioned earlier, made this a much easier transition and reduced our anxiety).
Every family will have their own ideas / routines and what worked for us may not necessarily work for you but I can only comment on what we found to be helpful.
An unbroken nights sleep really does make facing the next day of constant parenting jobs less challenging and daunting.
Try not to put too much pressure on yourself and realise that it is ok to get stressed and anxious (this means your doing your best to give your child the love and encouragement that they need to thrive). Surround yourself with positive people and don't be afraid to ask family members for help and support. 9 times out of 10 they will have been waiting for you to ask and complimented that you trust them enough to help with your precious baby.
I hope that this article has given some of you a few hints and tips, and maybe even a few laughs at some of my mistakes along the way. If you enjoyed or simply want me to ellaborate on any ares, please leave a comment and I will get back to you.
I have many more hints and tips / ideas. Should this post prove popular I will continue to update but above all else, thanks for reading and onto the next chapter....