Monthly Archives: September 2011

Looking Like Love: A Letter To My Parents

It’s been five months since I stepped off the plane from Asia, roundly pregnant at 28 weeks, and saw you both there waiting for me and smiling. The hills here were green, the cool air smelled of wet eucalyptus and the pancakes that we stopped for on the way home were heaped with berries, tiny crimson waterfalls falling from the stack. As I unpacked in this bedroom later that morning I thought that five months seemed like an eternity. So many milestones in life had to come and go before I would depart – Mike’s arrival after ten weeks apart, the baby’s arrival, then Mike’s departure, then Mike’s return. As I hung up my shirts, I found it impossible to fathom that I would ever leave here again. But next week, now, I will.

Just before his last departure, Mike asked me over dinner what I wanted to remember about this time. The first thing that came to mind was that I wanted to remember how special it has been to come home at 35, half a lifetime after I first left, and experience so many of the good aspects of being parented again while I was in the process of becoming a parent myself. I wanted to remember the precious mundane of this time we’ve had together as well as the epic. I wanted to remember moments like these…

I’ve been home four days and I’m still nervous about driving on this side of the road again. Mum takes me to my first appointment with the obstetrician, then shopping. I try to protest that I don’t need any clothes, that the ones I salvaged from the communal stockpile of maternity clothes that get passed around among expatriates in Laos will be just fine for the next three months before the baby comes. I am overruled. As Mum is marching me into changing rooms she says I will thank her later. I am far less ruffled by this particular maternal prophecy now than I was at 14, and when I wear that grey tracksuit jacket every day for two weeks straight, when I am fifteen pounds heavier and needing clothes suitable for leaving the house, I do.

I am 31 weeks pregnant and Dad suggests a walk. I don’t really want to drag my baby bulk off the couch or circumnavigate my belly to get sneakers on, but Dad reminds me that I’ll feel better if I make the effort. Now we’re outside in that magical hour of almost evening. The golden light is skimming over the grassy fields, filtering through the gum trees, dancing on the dirt road ahead of us. We talk of work and family, and frustrations and joys – occasionally breaking new ground in this familiar conversational territory. Halfway up a hill we spy wallabies feeding in the glade below. I watch them bound away, envying their speed and grace, not to mention their birthing process.

I am 35 weeks pregnant and Dad is working in South Sudan for a month. Mum’s presence in the house prevents the quiet from feeling empty, and I am amazed at how busy life still feels even now. I am wrapping up consulting work. I am talking to Mike on skype. I am driving to doctor appointments. I am napping. I am melting dark chocolate to make elaborate biscuits with malted coconut icing. Mum says she is glad I’m around, even if I make an astounding mess in the kitchen each time I bake and by the way how do I generate that much washing up? I point out that I clean up after myself (in this area, anyway). We smile. We spend easy evenings watching crime dramas and reruns of Friends. It is the middle of winter but life has the peaceful feel of a still lake on a summer day.

I am 38 weeks pregnant and it’s the night before Mike’s arrival. The thick blue and grey wrap that I commandeered from Mum’s closet two days after I arrived keeps the cold at bay as Dad and I eat Thai food under the stars. After dinner we walk next door, into one of the happiest places on earth, and Dad spends too much money on gourmet ice cream to take home because he knows it will make me smile. Later that night I wake up at 3am to pee for the third time that night, come downstairs in the dark, and help myself to seconds. As a teenager I would have covered my tracks. Now, I leave the bowl in the sink.    

It’s 5am. I’m two days overdue and finally in labour. You’ve heard Mike stirring and come out to find out if all is well and kiss me goodbye. Already in the car, half gone on this journey into pain, I say I don’t want to be kissed, I don’t want to be touched. I know you won’t mind. Later that evening, after my life has changed forever, I will ask over the phone if you could please stop and pick up a pizza on the way to the hospital. When you arrive Dad also presents sorbet, Mum gives me prunes. “Now is not the time to get constipated,” Mum says knowingly. The idea is inconceivable – I am propped up in bed, sitting awkwardly on an hour’s worth of stitching and with the miraculous trauma of the day on replay in my mind. I tell you not to worry, that I have decided to deal with that issue by just never pooing again. No one argues with me. You beam and say that you’re so proud and that Dominic is beautiful. I look at that little bundle in your arms and wonder how on earth he happened.

These are those first days home from the hospital – a bewildering blur of baby, broken sleep, and breastfeeding woes. Dad is helping Mike dig a hole so that we can plant a tree to commemorate Dominic’s birth. Mum is making lunch, and dinner, and lunch, and dinner. Dad is building a fire to keep the living room warm and we eat in there – watching the flames fashion coals, watching Dominic asleep on a blanket on the floor. Mum witnesses our first fumbling attempts to burp our child, to bath him. She thinks we aren’t dressing him warmly enough. Demonstrating unusual delicacy she bites her tongue, wondering how much advice she should venture to dish out, but I discover an advantage to having a child so many years safely distant from my own childhood. Advice is generally welcomed rather than merely tolerated, or ignored.

Dominic is five weeks old. Mike has left again, bequeathing me the baby and a score of love notes hidden in such unlikely places that I will still be finding them three weeks after his departure. Slowly, slowly, I start to find my feet in this mothering role. I venture to think that just maybe I’ll be able to join good friends for five days at a reunion. I don’t know how many times I’ve circumnavigated the world alone now, so I am amused and mildly exasperated when Mum reminds me to start packing no fewer than four times in the days leaving up to departure. It gives me the warm fuzzies, though, on the morning that we do leave to hear her telling Dominic how she’ll miss him and to find that Dad has gathered me a pile of useful miscellaneous to take – the phone charger, sunscreen, a hiking headlamp in case I need to get up in the dark and can’t find a light, two bottles of wine to share. The car is full of petrol. “It shouldn’t need to be refilled,” Dad says, “but if it does, don’t forget that it’s diesel.”

It’s 5am and Dominic is seven weeks old. I’m getting up, fumbling for the dimmed lights, stooping to pick him up for the third time tonight. I’m too tired to sit to feed so I take him to bed and lie there beside him, satisfying his demanding little mouth with my body. He kneads my breasts with small fists and makes little mewling sighs of relief as he eats. I feel like echoing them. For I know that Mum will probably turn the handle to my bedroom sometime between 5:30 and 6am, as she’s done most mornings for the past month, carry him away, and leave me a cup of tea and the chance of some more much-needed sleep in his place.

I came alone almost five months ago, and a week from today I will leave as part of a family of three. I return to all the adventures and frustrations of Laos with new responsibilities. I return determined to think through qualities like love, joy, and peace during the year ahead. I return hopeful that I will, increasingly, embody these qualities. It is perhaps harder to define what love means than to describe what it looks like, but as I work to understand and live out love in this new family that Mike and I are creating I remain unfailingly grateful for my first family and the example that you set as parents – then and now. Thank you for, so much of the time, looking like love.

Lisa

This post is part of a series on the fruits of the spirit. The current theme is love. Where have you seen love this week? What did it look like?

The most important quality in a marriage (2)

This post is a continuation of the discussion we began on Friday about the most important quality in a marriage. Below is an excerpt from the memoir I am working on. It recounts a conversation Mike and I had via skype before we got engaged, when he was  in PNG and I was in LA.

…Even when we were talking, on our carefully scheduled skype dates, it wasn’t guaranteed to be smooth and happy sailing. Occasionally we’d be talking away easily one minute only to find ourselves mired in a messy miscommunication the next. Or we’d be laughing and a moment later one of us would have blundered unexpectedly into a virtual minefield.

This was the situation I found myself in late one night, about a month before Mike was to arrive in LA in May. We’d been talking for an hour already, but before we wrapped up I suggested we dip into the question box.

The question box was a tool we used sometimes to help move us past the whats, whens, and hows of our days. A solid plastic rectangle, it held hundreds of small cards each with a different question printed on them.

What is one special holiday memory from childhood?

If you had to move to a foreign country indefinitely, which one would you choose?

What’s your favorite flavour of ice cream?

This night, however, the card that I randomly selected touched on a topic much weightier than ice cream.

“What’s the question?” Mike asked, after I’d been silent for a couple of seconds, debating whether to throw it back and pick another one.

“OK,” I said, deciding to stick with it, “what’s the most important quality in a marriage?”

“Commitment,” Mike said almost immediately. Then he paused and talked around the concept for a while, trying on words like honesty and forgiveness.

“No,” he finally said decisively. “Commitment.”

Sleepy and relaxed I opened my mouth and started to think out loud.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I think it’s affection, or warmth, or… kindness,” I finished with assurance. “Yeah, kindness. I’d rank that above commitment.”

There was silence from the other end of the skype line.

“Hello?” I said.

“Is that because commitment would already be there?” Mike asked.

“I guess so,” I said. “I can’t easily see a relationship that’s full of affection and kindness not being built on some foundation of commitment, but I can envision it the other way around – a committed relationship lacking kindness. And that’s just ugly.”

Again, silence.

“Hello?” I said.

“I’m a bit paralyzed right now,” the distant Mike finally replied. “I think I’m better at commitment than I am at affection. I just don’t think I can discuss this any more at the moment. I have to get back to the office over here anyway.”

“Oh,” I said, completely startled. “Uh, OK. That’s not one of my fears in relation to us by the way, that you’re not good at affection, but alright.”

“We’re OK, it’s not you, I’ve just stumbled over some of my own inner furniture,” Mike managed to reassure me before signing of. “We’ll talk soon.”

We did talk soon, but not before I’d spent an uncomfortable day or two wondering where I’d gone wrong. Perhaps, I ventured to my parents after thinking it through, it was the moment when I opened my mouth after Mike had bared his soul and basically insinuated that I didn’t think commitment was that big a deal and that I’d be in a marriage only as long as I thought the other person was being kind.

“Yeah, that might have done it, I’d say,” Mum said.

“Mum!” I said.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” she said, negating any reassurance the statement might have delivered by laughing immediately afterwards.

“I do think commitment is hugely important,” I said. “And I know any commitment – to marriage, to a place – is going to have times when it’s tested. I was just saying that I’m not sure commitment is the be-all and the end-all. I mean, would I really want to stay in a marriage indefinitely if sheer single-minded commitment was all it had going for it? Commitment might be an effective glue but surely kindness or something else has to be present much of the time to make it worth holding something together?”

Mum didn’t venture to touch that one.

“What do you think is the most important quality in a marriage then?” I asked her.

“Balance,” she said.

“Balance??” asked my father, who’d been listening in from the other side of the study.

“Balance,” my mother repeated. “What have other people said?”

“Well, two of my colleagues said trust,” I said, “and another one said good-will – the commitment to hold a good image of that person in your mind even when you’re not liking them in the moment.”

“Does anyone want to know what I think?” Dad asked in my favorite tone of voice – that of the patient martyr.

Apparently it’s Mum’s favorite tone of voice, too, because she was quicker off the mark than I was.

“Not really,” she said breezily.

“Yes, Dad,” I said, rolling my eyes at both of them. “We want to know what you think.”

“A commitment to love,” he announced. “It combines commitment and kindness.”

“That is not a single quality,” Mum replied.

“And balance is?” Dad asked.

Over to you… any further thoughts on this topic? I’d love to hear them. Or, uh, what’s your favourite flavour of ice cream? I’d love to hear that too. Hope your week is off to a good start.

Church in the bedroom

I went to church this morning in my bedroom. Well, in some ways I didn’t, because I believe church is largely (perhaps, primarily?) about relationships with other people, and also about service. But other aspects of what you hope for in church – that you’ll move towards awe, that you’ll learn something, that your perspective might shift with a kaleidoscopic twist and your view of what’s really important in life will sharpen – that was right here in my bedroom this morning.

I haven’t been in a physical church much this last two months (or this year, actually – our only English speaking church option in Laos is a rotating house church). My absence this last two months has been partly due to wanting to prevent Dominic from coming into contact with whooping cough in advance of his first shots, and partly due to the fact that some days the prospect of dressing both him and myself in presentable clothes and leaving the house still feels like way more hassle than it’s worth.

This morning Dominic and I stayed home alone again. Some mornings he goes down for a nap relatively easily, some mornings not so much. This morning, not so much. I’m trying to teach him to get to sleep solo by putting him down when he’s sleepy and letting him just drift off, but this morning there was no drifting. There was mostly being wide awake, and hiccups, and fussing, and general neediness.

So I picked him up. I sat down in the soft chair in the bedroom. I laid his cheek against my chest and just held him. At first I was too busy thinking about all the things I’d planned to do as soon as he went down (laundry! and tidying up! and insurance paperwork! and baking that crumble we’ve been meaning to get to for days! and writing!!). But, then. Then, I looked down at that round cheek pressed against a round breast, and saw how little fingers were curled tightly around my thumb and how two tiny blue eyes were gazing up at my face as I stared off into the distance. I smiled at him, and the corners of his little mouth twitched in response. It was a sleepy half-smile he gave me. The sort of smile you muster when you’re right where you want to be and all is happy and warm and soft in your universe. And, then, I paid attention long enough to remember, again, that this is the point right now. Not the only point, mind you, but one far too important to routinely come second to laundry and fruit crumbles.

After Dominic finally drifted off into a sort of semi-sleep I turned my attention to google reader on the laptop sitting beside me. Google reader has been receiving about as much attention as laundry lately – I’m constantly feeling behind on all the blogs I like keeping up with. So this Sunday morning, as Dominic dozed in my arms, I dipped into other people’s words, other people’s worlds, and came away moved, challenged, and comforted.

Here are a couple of the people and the posts I “went to church” with this morning and particularly enjoyed:

  1. Emerging Mummy: In which these are the tired thirties
  2. Rachel Held Evans: Do we have the gospel wrong?
  3. Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary: Things are good, for now
  4. NPR: WWII Survivor Stirs Literary World With ‘Outrage’
  5. Novel Rocket: Should reading fiction be hard?
  6. Joy in this Journey: Jesus in the fog – life unmasked
  7. Crumbs from the Communion Table: Physician, heal thyself

Have you found yourself in church anywhere unusual lately? What did you learn, or what were you reminded of? And, come back tomorrow for the continuation of the discussion we began on Friday about the most important quality in a marriage.

What is the most important quality in a marriage?

This post is part of a series on the fruits of the spirit. The current theme is love.

Mike and I are three weeks into this latest separation and it hasn’t felt like a good week for us on the Laos-Australia skype date front.

We are managing to talk most nights, but by the time 8:30 or 9 rolls around I am… let’s go for a an elegant understatement here… a little bit tired. This fatigue, and my daily routine at present, don’t exactly make me the most fascinating conversationalist.

The start of last night’s conversation, for example, went something like this.

Mike: “How was last night?”

Me: “Well, he was down at 10, up from 12-1 and 3-4, and then he started squirreling around and making angry koala bear noises at 4:45 so I took him into bed, where he promptly threw up on me. Do you want to hear last night’s baby spew tally?”

Mike: “Yes please!

Me: “Two pairs of his pyjamas, one pair of mine, my hair, his crib sheets, one set of queen sheets and the mattress protector, a pillowcase, and a pillow protector.”

Mike: “Champion. What else did you do today?”

Me: “Well, let’s see. I fed him six times. I took him to the community health nurse and she says he’s gaining weight like a prize piglet and looks as healthy as can be. In the evening we had a bath. He screamed so hard he stopped breathing and turned purple when I took him out and tried to dress him. Then we lay on the floor together and watched a program about sperm whales. Did you know that sperm whale hunt using sonar and those sonar clicks are the loudest sound produced by a living creature, as loud as thunder? Apparently, when a sperm whale clicks at a diver it’s like getting kicked in the chest by a horse. During the program, there was a baby sperm whale that got lost and came right up to the boat and surfaced under the pontoons – I think he thought they were other whales – and then he started clicking for his mama.”

Mike: “Did you cry?”

Me: “No, but by the time the mama whale came and found him I had milk soaking through my shirt.”

Mike is a good sport but this is not exactly the type of skype conversation we’re used to having. I mean, it had been 24 hours since we talked and pretty much all I had was sperm whales and a vomit tally. Yeah.

When I was up in Noosa last week my friends were asking me how Mike and I manage to stay connected when we spend so much time apart.

“We talk,” I said. “A lot.”

“Don’t you run out of things to talk about?” they wanted to know.

So I told them about how Mike and I keep a running list of conversation topics that we can delve into when we have the time and the energy, and I told them about how when we were dating we would sometimes pick questions randomly out of a question-based game. The questions from that game could be goldmines.

“One time,” I said, “the question I picked out was: What is the most important quality in a marriage?”

“This was before you were married?” they wanted to know.

“It was before we were engaged,” I said. “And it led to one of the more interesting discussions we had long distance.”

Most of my friends looked across the dinner table at their spouses.

“Go on,” I said. “What’s the most important quality in a marriage?”

There was a long pause.

“Everyone’s trying to think of the right thing to say,” someone said with a laugh.

“Everyone’s also wondering what their spouse thinks is the right thing to say,” someone else observed.

“Love,” someone ventured.

“That’s too general,” someone else said. “What do you mean by love?”

On Monday I’ll tell you how Mike and I answered that question the first time we tackled it. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What’s the most important quality in a marriage?

The woven cane ring from Papua New Guinea that Mike gave me when he proposed

Love the feeling, love the action

This post is part of a series on the fruits of the spirit. The current theme is love.

Three weeks after Dominic was born and two days before Mike left for Laos again, Mike and I went out to dinner at the Bangalow pub. I can tell I am not one of these women who is going to struggle to tear myself away from her baby to go on date nights – I finished the feed, tossed him into my Mum’s arms, wriggled into jeans for the first time in nine months, set my watch for two and a half hours and trotted happily out the door.

Over a delicious dinner Mike and I talked about what the month apart would hold for us and the challenge I had just set myself to serially blog about the different fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22) as they related to mothering, marriage and the miscellaneous of life.

“Are you going to do them in order?” Mike asked. “Because if so, I’m going to miss most of love.” Mike said this if it were an entirely novel scenario instead of a disturbingly regular occurrence that we are on opposite sides of the world and missing out on love.

“Yes,” I said. “Don’t feel bad, you wouldn’t be getting much loving if you were here, anyway. Not with a three week old baby demanding my time, attention, and body.”

Mike considered this in silence from a moment and then brightened.

“Oh well,” he said, smiling in the manner of someone who has just had a private naughty thought. “That means that during the month of self-control you’ll be in Laos during the hot season. And I get to watch.”

I thought about all the things that might test my self-control in Laos, took another bite of pork belly rolled in apples and dates, and sighed.

“So what are you going to write about first?” Mike asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Two days ago I set myself the goal of coming up with one idea or issue a night during the midnight feeds.”

“How’s that working out for you?” Mike asked.

“Well, I came up with one the first night,” I said. “Last night I wasn’t thinking of anything except ‘I’m so tired, it’s so cold, I’m so tired, it’s so cold’.”

“So what were you thinking about the first night?” Mike asked.

“The difference between love as an action and love as an emotion,” I said. “And how I didn’t feel like I felt love the moment they placed Dominic in my arms. I just felt cold and shaky, and shocked and relieved that I had somehow – against all the laws of physics – actually managed to get him out. I think popular culture leads us to expect that we should feel that rush of emotion. I know some women experience being overwhelmed by feelings of love just after birth, but surely others don’t.  I wonder if a lot of women get tripped up by that lack of feeling instant love.”

“Are you feeling tripped up by not feeling that overwhelming rush of emotion-love right after birth?”

“No,” I said. Slowly. Hesitantly.

“What does the Greek word used in the original verse mean?” Mike asked.

“I don’t know which of the words for love it is,” I said. “I’ll need to consult Google on that.”

“I don’t think love is a feeling, ” Mike said. “I think it’s an action.”

“When it comes to babies maybe it’s a feeling that follows an action,” I said. “Maybe it’s due to cognitive dissonance.”

“What?” Mike said.

“Cognitive dissonance,” I said. “When you hold two conflicting ideas at the same time it causes dissonance which messes with your head and makes you uncomfortable, right? We are generally motivated to reduce this dissonance by changing our thinking about one of these ideas to bring them more into line with each other. So if you go through nine icky months of pregnancy, then think you might die giving birth to this child, then have to get up in the cold and the dark every two to three hours to feed the little being, maybe subconsciously you figure that you must hugely value anything that costs you this much and that’s where all that love for your baby comes from.”

Mike took a bite of steak with mushrooms while he mulled that over.

“There’s something really wrong with that,” he said finally.

“Yeah,” I said. “Just for the record, that’s definitely not the dynamic at work in generating my love for you. I don’t think.”

“That might be the sweetest thing you’ve said to me today,” Mike said. “All week, even.”

“I don’t think it’s primarily the source of my love for Dominic either,” I said. “I don’t think.”

Dominic is five weeks old now and I still don’t have what love is in relation to a child anywhere near sorted out, much less where it comes from. But this has been my experience so far: Love has not swamped me like a tidal wave; it is creeping in slowly, like the tide. Dragging myself out of bed at 3am in the cold darkness to feed Dominic is love in action. Wanting to kiss his little face after he’s eaten when I know there’s a good chance he’ll baptize me with secondhand milk – that’s love the feeling.

What do you think? Is love a feeling or an action? And if love for our kids doesn’t spring from cognitive dissonance, where does it come from?

How is Memoir Writing Different than Fiction Writing?

Here’s a break from all the baby talk. This is a guest post I wrote for Moody Publisher’s blog InsidePages just before Dominic was born – they asked me to reflect on the difference between writing memoir and fiction…

When I got engaged in 2008 I wasn’t writing a memoir, I was writing a novel about sex trafficking. But as my fiancée, Mike, and I began to plan our wedding I found it increasingly difficult to flip in and out of such vastly different worlds – the happiness of the one I was living in and the harshness of the one I was trying to write about. After months of trying to force myself to persevere with the trafficking novel, one day I stopped long enough to ask myself what I really wanted to be writing about.

The answer to that question wasn’t trafficking. It was the idea of home.

I’d spent my childhood in countries as diverse as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. I carried Australian and Canadian passports. I was living in Los Angeles working for a non-profit organization that provided psychological support to humanitarian workers worldwide. I was hopelessly confused as to where home was. Perhaps, I thought, I could write my way towards clarity. How hard could it be to write a memoir exploring this theme?

Of course, the answer to that question turned out to be “much harder than I had imagined.” Luckily that wasn’t the only thing I learned during the whole process.

I had expected writing a memoir to feel completely different than writing a novel, and in some ways it did. When I was writing my first novel I found myself getting surprised by what was happening, but as I figured the “what” out then understanding my characters’ actions and reactions followed fairly naturally. Writing a memoir reversed this process. I already knew what happened – I’d lived it – but I had to work much harder to figure out what it all meant to me then and now.

The plotting process was different, too. With the novel I wrote my way into the story blind, without an outline, but during the drafting process the story gained increasing momentum as events unfolded. In contrast, I had a clear vision for the start and end of the memoir but little idea of how I was going to get from one place to the other. Despite repeated outlines I continued to flounder in the middle until the very final drafts of the manuscript.

What about ways that writing memoir was similar to writing fiction? Well, unfortunately, the first draft of the memoir turned out to be just as much in need of major revisions as the first draft of my novel had been. The first draft of the memoir was basically a therapeutic mind-dump. It was the product of a lot of thinking and soul searching and I had indeed gained a lot of clarity around the issue of home. What I hadn’t done, however, was tell a story in a way that might sustain interest for an entire book.

This second draft was the point where writing the memoir began to feel a bit more like writing fiction. First, I had to figure out what a story arc was. Then I had to take this therapeutic ramble of a manuscript and think about how to “nest” my reflections about home within a related story that could better structure the book and propel the action.

The second and third drafts were painful revisions. They involved completely restructuring the book around the long-distance love story of how I met Mike and cutting out scenes, even whole chapters, that didn’t move the story forward. In the end, however, it was worth it. I discovered that wasn’t just trying to figure out what home meant; I was trying to answer this broader question:

After a nomadic life that has been largely defined by coming and (always, inevitably) going, am I even capable of the sort of commitment demanded by marriage and children and a place called home?

I’d love to hear from you! For those of you who write fiction and/or memoir, how have you found them to be different and similar processes? For those of you who read both genres, what differences and similarities do you see between fiction and non-fiction stories?

Holidays in Noosa

Hello from the sunshine coast! I figured that after all the stress of being born Dominic deserved a holiday, so I packed him up and we’ve spent the last four nights at Noosa (also, the fact that some of my closest friends had planned to get-together for five nights up here may have been additional motivation). I was a little nervous about taking him away by myself at four weeks old, but it’s turned out to be a great decision to come crash this party. Three of my friends up here also have babies younger than nine months old so there have been many willing hands to cuddle little D, and lots of other parents to watch and learn from.

Learn I have. After some tutoring I’ve even graduated to bathing Dominic solo, and after an unfortunate poo explosion at the markets I’ve definitely learned to pack spare clothes in the diaper bag. Luckily for all concerned we’d just picked up Auntie Michelle at the airport and she was carrying a brand new outfit for him in her suitcase. Win. Well, except for the part where I had to strip off Dominic’s clothes in the park while he screamed so hard at the shock of the cold breeze and the general indignity of public nudity that he went purple.

We head home tomorrow and hopefully Dominic will behave as well on the four-hour car trip back as he did on the way up. And, look what we have waiting for us when we get home… Dominic’s first pet. He lives in and around the shed and Dad calls him Bruce. He’s not as big as the giant snake in Laos, but he’s still a good size. Big enough to play with, anyway.

Sorry, it’s been a while since we had a snake photo on the blog and I couldn’t resist. Here’s a couple of other less reptilian photos of what we’ve been up to lately. Hope you’ve had as much good quality time with friends as I have this week.

"I don't want kisses right now"

When I'm feeding in Ballina I can sometimes see wallabies in the garden

Hanging out with Dominic in Noosa. Do I look tired?? Yeah... I am.

Walks on the beach with friends at Noosa

Dominic - happy as a clam in the sling on the beach

Out for brunch with baby in tow

Dear Dad, Love Dominic

Dear Dad,

Happy first Father’s Day! It’s too bad that you’re in Laos and I’m in Australia on this day, but when we were up together this morning at 3am Mum told me you had to go back to Laos in September to work because there are lots of mothers there who don’t get enough to eat and have trouble producing enough milk to feed their babies. She sounded really sad when she said it – like she might cry. I think she often thinks of sad things when she’s feeding me alone in the dark. Why is that?

Anyway, I miss you. I mean, Mum is great – all soft and squishy and she just smells so delicious with all that warm milk flowing underneath her skin, like a giant custard tart, don’t you think? But even a very little man cannot live by milk alone, and I was getting used to you and me having special times together. Mum’s not nearly as happy to see my eyes wide open at 5AM as you are, and I had all sorts of special things planned for us to celebrate this first Fathers Day. For example, I was going to wait until right after you undid my diaper and then do a giant poo all over the change table. Good times. And when you were holding me one-armed against your shoulder I was going to throw my head back and go all rigid– that’s always good for giving Mum a mini heart attack. She is afraid you’ll drop me one of these days but I know you won’t. Ever since I’ve been born Mum’s been afraid of all sorts of new things. Why is that?

Mum misses you too. While I was having my breakfast this morning she was talking about all the things you’ve been doing for her this last three weeks that she’s going to have to do herself now – like all the laundry, my daytime diaper changes, making breakfast, sterilizing the breast pump, and following up on paperwork. I wanted to tell her that she should be grateful that she’s not living in the 1800’s in a sod house on the Missouri prairies because then she’d have to do all that laundry by hand and I can bet you’d have been too busy farming to help her with it, much less bring her raisin toast and vitamins in the morning. But I had my mouth full, and I’ve been told it’s not polite to speak whilst eating.

Anyway, I thought you’d be glad to know that Mum has pretty much changed her mind about not coming back to Laos with you in October. She says that being in Laos with you is narrowly beating out being in Australia without you. I’ll keep you posted if things change on that front but I hope they don’t, as I’m really looking forward to meeting Zulu. Grandad’s horrified at the thought of you letting “that dog” come near me. Mum’s tried to tell him that she’ll be very careful with me around him, and that this is a dog whose mouth is so gentle that he can carry a baby chicken for two blocks and not kill it. Grandad countered by pointing out that the reason Zulu was carrying the baby chicken in the first place was that he grabbed it during a morning run when he was supposed to be following Mike’s bike and then scurried home with it still in his mouth the instant he knew he was in trouble. I’m not worried though, I’m a lot bigger than a baby chicken. Mum says I’m such a pork chop that holding me makes her back hurt, so that little dog doesn’t stand a chance of carrying me off anywhere.

It’s soon time for me to eat again and I don’t see Mum anywhere around here. I have no idea where she is – maybe doing those many loads of laundry she was talking about – so I’m going to have to sign off so that I can work myself up to yelling for her to come fetch me. I hope you have a great Father’s Day, even though we’re not together. Mum tells me all the time that I have the best Dad in the whole wide world, but I don’t need her to tell me that. That one is obvious.

Can’t wait to see you in a month.

I love you,

Dominic