The Swimmer

“That’s my daughter, in the water” – Loudon Wainwright – Daughter

It seems they start swimming the moment they leave the womb nowadays (this is almost literally in the cases of water births). A good thing it is too. Get them used to the water when they’re young and it will never seem a strange and scary place. Swimming itself will come more naturally when they’re not worrying about the water.

We fully intended for our daughter to go to one of the many water based baby groups, but due to one thing and another she was past two by the time I took her to her first swimming class. Still very young of course, and I’m sure I was much older than that when I learnt to swim, but my daughter was alone amongst her group in being entirely new to the water, as other parents regaled with the time their kids had spent in the pool on various holidays that I’m still not sure how people with young children afford.

My, did she hate that first lesson, she grudgingly accepted being in the baby pool before the actual lesson began, but the moment we entered the main pool it was as if every torture imaginable were being visited upon her. Even the most benign of the activities led to screaming and more screaming and occasionally calming down just for a moment to gather her energies to begin to scream again. Her blotchy red eyes glared at me accusingly, as if it to say “Why? Why on earth have you bought to me to this strange liquid place where my feet cannot touch the ground?” It was one of the longer half-hours of my life, to be sure.

I seriously started to doubt whether it was wise to return the following week, but I had paid in advance for 12 weeks, so as an accountant and a Yorkshireman I had no option but to go back, just to get my value for money. And that second week was strangely fine. Some bits she didn’t like, some bits were fine, but there was no full scale meltdown as there had previously been. It became more and more enjoyable as the weeks went by.

We made a whole Saturday morning routine out of it, bus journey into town, front of the top deck, pointing out the things we passed by and her occasionally making loud embarrassing comments (such as “That gorilla has boobies” – long story). Then our swimming lesson, and retiring to the cafe afterwards for coffee (me) and croissant (her), watching the world go by, beaming with pride at this little person we had created and the new things she was learning. It swiftly became my favourite part of the week.

The actual learning to swim progressed only fitfully, with progress made some weeks, other weeks almost going back to where we began. Our daughter is a wilful child and likes to learn at her own pace, in her own way, not so keen on being told what to do. She also didn’t like to be too far away from me in the pool. She’s not typically overly anxious at being separated from her parents, but in this particular situation there was a need to have me within touching distance. Despite my love of these mornings together I did start to worry if she would ever be able to swim supported not be me, but by her swim teacher or even a woggle (a bendy bit of foam seemingly preferred to armbands or floats now as a children’s swimming aid – see above)

Then one day, the teacher took her, woggle underneath chest, towards the edge of the pool, and simply released her. It can only have been a metre or two to the edge of the pool, instinct kicked in, and she swam truly alone for the first time. A small thing, but in that moment, I was happier, more proud than any achievement of my own could make me. In that moment, I released that this had been a lesson as much for me as it was for her. And in that moment I released that, as a parent, this is what my life would be now, a never-ending series of lessons in learning to let go.

 

 

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Two Short Weeks

I’ve written little in the last two months. It seems that preparing for a new baby whilst also looking after a 3 year old and also doing my actual job is not conducive to finding time to write. My nesting instinct also truly kicked in during the last couple of months of my wife’s pregnancy, as I tried to get every possible job around the house complete before our boy arrived. I finally ticked the last item off my list the evening before the due date, and was a surprised as anyone when he hurried into this world at 3.50 am the next day, as if he sensed we were finally ready.

The birth couldn’t have been much more different than our daughter’s. She came into this world in an operating theatre, after seemingly endless trips to and from the hospital, as contractions stopped and started over the course of more than a week. Our boy, in contrast, was born less than twenty minutes after we walked through the hospital doors, barely more than an hour after I’d been asleep at home. A few minutes later leaving the house and it’s doubtful we would even have made it as far as the delivery ward.

The birth, despite its’ speed, was far from easy, and my wife was whisked away to theatre almost immediately afterwards, leaving me unexpectedly alone with my son for an hour or two. Happy, but slightly disbelieving, wondering if, in that classic but unoriginal plot twist, it was going to turn out to have all been a dream. The tedium of waiting to be released from hospital soon put paid to that thought, but the next morning we were home to begin the new phase of our lives.

We were doubtful that bringing up a baby would be easier the second time round, as so many friends had claimed. To date though, it seems they were right. My first paternity leave was marked by worry, occasional panic, and little confidence that I had any idea what I was doing. If it had a soundtrack, it might have been Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’ (“The panic, the vomit”) It took the full two weeks before I started to feel that maybe we could do this after all.

This time round, the two weeks of my paternity leave has been one of the favourite fortnights of my life. Almost as soon as we returned home it felt like all would be well. It’s been a chance to spend time with this little family we have built, and appreciate each one of them, individually and in concert. A chance to marvel that a man such as me, who never expected to find love, now has so much of it in his life. Whilst there has still been the tetchiness that comes with lack of sleep, and the drudgery of nappies and laundry is never too far away, it has been a strangely calm time, interspersed with the highest of highs.

Perhaps the happiest moment of all, and surely my lasting memory of this time was the evening of our first day back from hospital. I was briefly alone with my son, as my daughter slept in the next room and my wife readied herself for the welcome embrace of a non-hospital bed. I held him in my arms and stared into the deep blue pools of his infrequently open eyes, and watched as they scanned the room around him, trying to make sense of this strange new world. A strange feeling, to not only be responsible for a new life, but to embrace the responsibilities that brings.

Alas, paterntity leave is too short, and the less wonderful responsibilities of work call, but as I tap away at this keyboard, alone in my world of spreadsheets and figures, it is the memories like this that make it worthwhile.

Manchester

It hurts more when it’s close to home. When lives are lost in faraway parts of the world, people on social media ask why we pay less attention to those tragedies than ones which happen nearby. And they’re right, of course, a human life is a human life, those who are close to us are not more valuable than any other. But the fact remains, whether it’s fair and just or not, that it hurts more when it’s close to home, when we can imagine it happening to us.

Manchester is not my home now, but it was for over a decade, from age 18. It is the place where I found my closest friends, some of whom live there still. It is the place that took a shy, miserable teenager, and showed him how joyful life could be. There was no better city to be a young music lover. My life in Manchester revolved around concerts, record shops and nightclubs, at venues from the tiny Star and Garter to, inevitably, the Manchester Arena.

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The many ways a life can unravel

I get a lot of people coming up to me for a chat when I’m with my daughter, so it wasn’t a surprise when we were sat in the cafe and a woman, perhaps in her sixties, wandered over to us. Her opening gambit was to stare at my daughter in a mildly unnerving manner, which worried me a little, but when she started talking to me it was the usual questions “what’s her name?”, “how old is she?” and so on.  This woman had a tendency to repeat herself, and her memory seemed like it might to be starting to go a little, but it wasn’t the difficult conversation with the crazy stranger I had been concerned it might be.

A few minutes later, a man she was with, a little younger, wandered over too, his conversational skills consisting mainly of non-sequiters like “we’ve been to Derby on holiday”, but he was pleasant enough, and my daughter happily munched away on her croissant while I chatted with these strangers. Presently the man wandered off, and the woman seemed as if she was going to leave too, but changed her mind. She started to talk about the man, it becoming apparent he was her son. “He has that Aspergers, have you heard of it?” “It was hard, because they didn’t know for a long time” “It was hard”, she kept repeating.

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On a Good Day is changing

On a Good Day is coming to end. Well, its first phase in at least. When I started this blog, it was intended to be a personal blog about being a dad, a way of preserving of my thoughts and memories of fatherhood. But I love music as well, and so I thought, why not make it a blog about both fatherhood and music.

Problem was, I never really able to crowbar those two subjects together in a way that really worked. I was also constantly torn between blogging just as a hobby, and trying to make the blog ‘successful’ (whatever that means – lots of readers I guess). Eventually I came to realise that trying to make it successful was taking all the enjoyment out of it for me, and that at this point in my life I didn’t have the time or inclination for blogging as anything other than a hobby. I’ve learnt a lot over the last few years though, and now have dozens of others ideas for blogs and websites, some of which may even come to fruition in future years.

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