Hot Weather Parenting

You think you’re getting the hang of this parenting thing – dang it, you know you’ve definitely got the hang of this parenting thing – and then you enter a heatwave and have to learn it all again from scratch.

Where before you spent your time worrying that your child will be too cold, now you have to strike a compromise between keeping her cool and keeping her covered. Instead of cardigans and sleepsuits, you’re packing sunhats, suncream and sunshades, dresses, shorts, cotton shirts and sandals. You overload on water until you’re weighed down like a pack mule, and you start to spend all your time in gardens and parks because the house is like a freaking furnace.

At thirteen months, Izzie is happily walking, running, playing, and being a normal little girl, and that makes it worse. You’re constantly chasing her around the lawn, trying to steer her into the shade, rescuing her sunhat from the bush she’s thrown it into, surreptitiously spraying her with the sunscreen, pulling twigs and acorns from her inquisitive fingers, fending off over-friendly dogs and local children, and swatting away stinging insects, all the while trying not to trip over the pink plastic crap that has turned your back garden into a garish graveyard of slides, paddling pools, sandpits and water tables.

Since she’s wearing dresses without a vest, her nappy is exposed, meaning within minutes it turns into a grass-stained, leaf-carrying, twig-dragging mess. Add to this that her mother and grandfather have a penchant for throwing her into paddling pools and dousing her with watering cans – which she loves, by the way – it turns said nappy into a gargantuan jellyfish that collects around her ankles. Unsurprisingly, she’s now spending a lot of her time naked from the waist down.

While that’s totally normal, the downside to this is that although she can walk, she’s not exactly ready for the Olympics. Twenty steps, perhaps, before she loses balance and slams down onto her bottom, then repeats the process ad finitum. And being in the middle of a heatwave, the ground is like concrete. With a nappy on, there’s a certain amount of padding – without, and her bottom is a mottled black-and-blue mess of bruises. No wonder she fidgets whenever we put her in her high chair!

And that’s another unexpected difficulty of hot weather parenting. All the good, hearty, wholesome, home-cooked grub that she was eating fine before, she now treats as though we’re trying to force feed her dog poo. She wants crisps, cheese, ham, wafers, raisins, biscuits, toast – the kind of stuff that’ll keep you alive, but probably isn’t the most healthy diet three meals a day. So mealtimes have become a lesson in patience and torture.

Nights are tough, too. Her room got up to 29-degrees the other evening. We borrowed an incredibly noisy A/C unit and got it down to 23, but the second I turned it off and put her to bed it jumped back up to 26. But then, of course, it cools as the night presses on. The current procedure is that I put her to bed in just a nappy, then a couple of hours later I put a breathable blanket over her, a couple of hours after that I slip her into a sleepsuit, and around four in the morning she’s ready for a gro-bag. Then the sun rises, and by the time we get her up the temperature is starting to rocket again. And I find I’ve barely slept.

Then there are the little indignities. Because of the heat, nappies start to smell like cheese within minutes of a wee. You change them twice as often, but can’t eliminate the noxious odour that pervades your house, even after you’ve emptied the steaming nappy bin and consigned it to the dustbin outside.

And to add boredom, social isolation and frustration to your plight, none of the mother-baby groups run over the summer holidays so you have to entertain yourselves, in public places now overrun with screaming terrors and their children. The other day, Lizzie suggested we take the little one to a water park at a local recreation ground. It’s free, like a little play park with fountains and water features and a paddling pool. So as I have committed myself to going out with Lizzie and Izzie more as a family (since I’m a hermit), I agreed.

We went in the afternoon. In a heatwave. In the summer holidays. As expected, the place was RAMMED. A veritable cornucopia of colours and movement and noise, noise, noise! Kids splashing you, bumping into you, stepping on your feet, shooting you with water pistols, screaming, shouting, throwing things, urgh!

I may have mentioned before that, as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, I get rapidly overwhelmed by, well, colour and movement and noise and touch.

Lizzie and Izzie loved it. I went and sat under a tree.

It’s going to be a long hot summer.

 

A total lack of sympathy

What’s really been getting my goat lately is that people won’t allow me to moan.

‘I’ve had five hours sleep in the past four days.’

‘Well that’s what happens when you’re a dad,’ they say in this incredibly patronising tone of voice, as if I didn’t know that.

‘All of my clothes are covered in snot and vomit.’

‘That’s called “being a parent”,’ they reply with smug self-satisfaction.

‘I’m completely exhausted and I haven’t eaten a proper meal in days.’

‘We’ve all been there.’

‘But you’re not there now! I’m the one bursting my baby’s snot bubbles and trying to clean it out of her hair at four in the morning! I’m the one sitting up all night listening to the mucous rattling in her throat in case it it develops into something worse! And I’m the one who’s tired, hungry, dirty, smelly, and more than a little volatile, so I’d appreciate a little more sensitivity to my plight from some well-rested, well-fed person standing in clean clothes, thanks!’

I have discovered, since the baby started with her cold, that if you complain about parenting you get no sympathy whatsoever. It’s weird –  I figured that, because other people have struggled just as you have, they’d be more empathetic about your situation, but it’s the opposite. Anyone who has raised a child of their own in the mists of history tries to make you feel like an asshat for saying that, God forbid, you don’t always enjoy the feeling that your brain is about to burst right through your forehead.

Maybe that’s because there’s this notion that not only are parents meant to suffer but they’ve chosen to suffer. And I get that. I knew going in that it would be hard. I knew that I would suffer, and I accepted that in order to get the good bits of having a child, I was going to have to face the bad. But when the baby has a cold and I’ve had so little sleep I’m hallucinating, for God’s sake let me have a little moan about it!

It doesn’t mean I don’t like being a dad, or that I’m such an idiot I hadn’t realised it would be hard, it simply means I’m letting off steam, which is human, and natural, and healthy. I’m pretty sure even the most positive of people come home some days and say, ‘Man, if life is a shit sandwich I’m the filling right now!’

What is not helpful is when, instead of people saying, ‘Hang in there, lad,’ and slapping you on the shoulder, which is really all you want and need to buoy you up, they shut you down, belittle your struggles, and marginalise your pain.

The worst thing is when you say, ‘This is so hard,’ and someone replies, ‘Well, just imagine how much harder it would be if X, Y or Z,’ as though you’re not allowed to complain, as though your difficulties don’t matter and aren’t important because other people have it harder, and that’s just so wrong.

One of the best things I was ever told, and something I firmly believe, is that all suffering is relative.

I was sixteen and on my first date – she was a scary girl with a nose ring, tattoos and leather jacket. We met by a pond in the February cold and huddled together on a bench as the world froze around us. And in the dark we talked about things that really mattered to our sixteen-year-old selves: dreams, poetry, UFOs, alternative history, magic, the Illuminati, emotions, spirituality, The X-Files, parallel dimensions, the faking of the moon landings, Nirvana, and what it means to be a human. Ah, those wonderfully naive days before I discovered her whole identity was based on Alanis Morrisette lyrics and Mia Wallace’s character in Pulp Fiction, and I found that I didn’t actually believe in UFOs, alternative history, magic, the Illuminati, or the faking of the moon landings. The mid-nineties: simpler times.

Anyway, at one point the conversation got round to problems, because we were teenagers, after all. I told her about my chronic loneliness, but qualified it by saying it was very minor compared to the problems other people had.

‘Don’t do that,’ she said. ‘Don’t dismiss your problems. All suffering is relative. A starving African’s need for food is his worst problem; your loneliness is yours. It doesn’t mean your problem doesn’t matter.’

And while she might have turned out to be full of it, she spoke a lot of sense just then.

So yes, in the general scheme of things, a few nights of missed sleep don’t amount to much; yes, other people have it much harder; and yes, I chose to become a dad and therefore any struggles I go through are willingly faced; but telling someone who has had five hours of sleep in four days and is wearing a T-shirt encrusted in dried snot and sick that what he’s going through is trivial and unimportant will get you knocked off his Christmas card list before the next patronising syllable escapes your condescending lips.

So next time you hear me gripe, please, pretty please, instead of marginalising my feelings, just nod sagely and say, ‘You’re doing a good job.’ That’s all I need to hear.