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Small Talk Is Not My Baby's Biggest Skill

As a conversationalist, he has a long way to go.

02/03/2017 8:25 PM AEDT | Updated 11/03/2017 9:29 AM AEDT
mrs via Getty Images
With a face that cute, who could ever be mad?

Parenthood can be truly woeful. Don't get me wrong, watching my son grow has been the most humbling experience of my life. But I've just learned something else: caring for a baby on your own is an incredibly isolating experience.

My son is one year old. A full year has passed since he crashed into the world, a miniature typhoon of carnage affecting every aspect of our lives. From that tumultuous start my wife and I had a deal: if she took maternity leave for a year, I would spend the following twelve months taking on more of the parenting myself.

So I managed to arrange part-time work. I would look after him for two days a week, immediately increasingly my credibility as a modern father, willing to sacrifice career progression for the sake of my child.

With just the two of us around, I had never felt so alone.

Waking up with a smug feeling of self-satisfaction, my first day alone with him started off well. We played around in the morning. He pooed everywhere, as is his style, and I cleaned up the vengeful mess solo while he screamed and rolled on his elevated mat.

We ate some morning tea together. He smushed banana all over his head and shirt, then threw cheese on the ground. No big deal -- with a face that cute, who could ever be mad? As he gently cooed his way down to his morning nap, I felt a sense of fatherly contentment like never before. This wouldn't be so bad after all.

Within the hour he was up again screaming. My half-drunk coffee left behind on the kitchen table, I rushed to bring him downstairs.

We played again. We ate again. I changed another nappy. I pondered my son, the most interesting creature on the planet. I could stare at him for hours, his fluffy, duck hair, his chubby little cheeks, those bright blue eyes. I live for his constant smiles.

But as a conversationalist, he has a long way to go. I tried to make small talk, but in-depth discourse is limited with a child whose vocabulary consists of "mamama", "dadada" and something that may or may not mean "cat".

I soon realised the truth: with just the two of us around, I had never felt so alone.

I can't imagine how hard this must have been for my wife for the months before he would even acknowledge our existence. Those early days when a smile might happen accidentally, like brief morsels scattered to some starving birds.

When home previously, I thought myself a very involved father. I would take on as much responsibility as possible, to give my wife a break from the full day of his care. But in all that time she was there too, providing the adult interaction that I never realised was so vital to my sanity.

Now caring for him by myself, I feel like a castaway. But worse than that, there is no time even to ponder my new segregation from the world.

Instead, there is the added need to continually watch him, lest he do something predictably crazy like reach into moving fan blades, or try to open the nappy bucket. The main role of childcare seems to be the continual prevention of disaster.

There is nothing at all easy about being a stay-at-home parent.

Sometimes I try to strike up conversations with strangers at the park. Yet even then only one topic dominates: the rapscallions falling off equipment in front of us. I learn nothing of these parents' own stories. We are all isolated together, bound to the servitude of our tiny masters.

This might improve once he starts communicating, but that could take months. In the meantime I will keep wafting slowly through our wordless world of peekaboo and laughter. I still cherish that experience, even for all the loneliness it entails.

But while it continues I will think of all the other mothers and fathers at home, caring silently for their children too. There is nothing at all easy about being a stay-at-home parent. I now know why more than ever.

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