12 3 / 2013
The Curious Case Of Albert Royall
One of the most rewarding aspects of having a young child is watching them learn new tricks. I suppose ‘skills’ would be a more appropriate description – tricks makes it sound like Albert has learnt to jump through a hoop or balance a beachball on his nose. By the same token, ‘skills’ makes it sound like he’s learnt needlepoint or French, which I can assure you he hasn’t. Either way, it’s been incredibly heartening to watch his progress from a lumpen, immobile flesh bag into a shuffling, babbling little person.
Albert’s development has tended to come in great spurts, followed by long plateaus of relative inactivity. Which is unsurprising really, mirroring, as it does, the stop-start story of all human advancement. The flowering of civilisation in Ancient Rome was followed by 1,000 years of stagnation before the printing press arrived and with it the Renaissance period. Da Vinci’s days were then followed by another great era of inertia, until 2013 and the invention of Oral-B’s Pulsar® toothbrush, the only toothbrush with revolutionary Micropulse bristles. We’re living in the Micropulse Bristle Age now, my friends.
If I were to labour the analogy, I’d say Albert entered his Neolithic period at the turn of the year, having mastered the use of basic tools such as the stone, the stick and the grown up spoon. Not to mention his evolution from quadruped into Homo Erectus.
This inspiring tale of progress, however, was suddenly put into reverse last month when, quite mysteriously, Albert stopped walking. There was no accident or heavy fall preceding this turn of events. There were no signs of injury. No swelling, no bruising. No feasible explanation whatsoever. He just stopped walking. Or, more precisely, he stopped being able to put any weight on his left leg.
The first time it happened he’d been sitting in his high chair, happily enough, spooning food in the rough direction of his face, but after I helped him down from the table, he crumpled to the floor in a heap. While alarming at first, after 40 minutes or so, he seemed to shake it off and was running around like nothing had happened. We breathed a sigh of relief and put it down to a bad case of pins and needles.
Until two days later when it happened again, this time several times in one day. Worse still, in the moments when he was walking, it was with a discernable limp. The next morning we took him to A&E, where they x-rayed him and took blood samples. We’ve been through this before with his various asthma-related shenanigans, but it doesn’t get any easier. Getting the blood samples is a particularly emotional endeavour requiring one parent to hold Albert in a vice like grip, the other parent to dance about, sing songs and blow bubbles like a crap clown, and a team of five nurses to extricate the blood, most of which ends up on the floor, walls and any passersby unlucky enough to be in the vicinity. It would be easier, of course, if Albert didn’t fight but he takes a ‘better in than out’ approach to his blood and I can’t say I blame him.
Unfortunately, once we got the x-rays and test results back, the doctors were none the wiser. There were no indications of a break or fracture. And the blood samples seemed to rule out all sorts of other nasty stuff – like bacterial infections and infant arthritis. He was a perfectly healthy boy, they said, aside from the fact that, y’know, he can’t walk anymore – come back in a few days.
In a few days, Albert had given up limping entirely and taken up crawling again. Our adventurous, little toddler seemed to be regressing back into a baby before our very eyes – like a tiny version of Benjamin Button. And just like Benjamin Button it was incredibly painful to watch. He looked, frankly, depressed. All the strides he’d made in the last few months had been for nothing; his newfound independence, cruelly snatched away. Albert’s fledgling attempts at talking were also aborted, as if there was no point trying anymore. He was going to be a baby forever.
Over the course of the following two weeks, we made another five trips to A&E, two visits to the fracture clinic, and had two overnight stays in the children’s ward. Each time necessitated more blood tests and more x-rays. In fact, the only bones in his body that now haven’t been x-rayed are his arms and his skull. What’s more, after all the prodding and poking the diagnosis was exactly the same. “Congratulations. Your son is a medical mystery.”
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending, although not an entirely satisfactory one. Three weeks after he first stopped walking, Albert decided enough was enough. On a trip to the local playground, possibly inspired by the hordes of other toddlers scurrying about on their hind quarters, he clambered out of the sandpit, raised himself up on two wobbly legs and with all the determination he could muster limped forward a few paces. He could still barely place any weight on his left leg, but it was clear he wasn’t going to settle for a life on all fours anymore. I didn’t cry when he took his first steps, but there were tears in my eyes this time.
Since then, he’s gotten a little bit better every day. In fact, he chooses to run everywhere now – crashing about the house as if he’s intent on making up for lost time. We still don’t know what went wrong and probably never will. Frankly, I’m not sure I care anymore. I’m just relieved to have our little Neanderthal back.
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18 1 / 2013
Daddy’s Coming Home
Somewhere, in the big rulebook of human behaviour, there’s a chapter on parental duties. This ancient record, drawn up by our forefathers, divides all the household chores neatly into mum jobs and dad jobs. I’m not sure what our foremothers were doing at the time (the dishes, probably) because the division of labour is appallingly one-sided. I don’t really need to elaborate on the details, because you already know what it says. Mum jobs are cooking, cleaning, singing lullabies, dressing the children, organising family outings and wiping food, tears and snot off faces. Dad jobs are mending things.
23 11 / 2012
One Night in Luton
Here’s a fun fact. Our travel cot is exactly the same size as the bathroom floor-space in a budget room at the Luton Ibis hotel. Ok, maybe that wasn’t necessarily a fun fact, per se, but I can assure you it is undeniably a fact. As I survey it from the doorway the head of the travel cot is pressed up against the sink, the foot of the cot is pressed up against the toilet, and the far cot wall (‘far’ is a relative term here) is pressed up against the bath Actually, sod it, let me just draw you a diagram.
Here you go.
If I want to go for a piss I have two options, and neither of them are pretty. Option one is to climb into Albert’s cot, open the toilet lid from inside the cot and carefully arc my stream over the cot wall and into the toilet. Option two is to stand in the doorway and arc my stream over the entire width of the travel cot and into the bath. (This is undoubtedly the most flamboyant of my options.) It’s probably also important to note at this point that Albert is currently in the cot and asleep.
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20 11 / 2012
… And Breathe
Is it illegal to drink tequila in a children’s hospital? There are no signs anywhere saying you can’t. Maybe it’s one of those things where it just goes without saying. Except it obviously doesn’t or I wouldn’t be asking the question right now. In the absence of any forbidding signs I’m just going to assume that it’s probably frowned upon but not explicitly outlawed. I take a furtive swig from my flask and hand it to my wife who has joined me behind the laundry trolley at the far end of a shadowy, hospital corridor. She in turn presses the metal spout to her lips and snaps her head back just as a night nurse appears from an adjoining corridor some 15 feet away. We freeze guiltily, but the nurse, perhaps more preoccupied with the business of caring for sick children than hunting down delinquent adults, passes by without a word. This act of dubious criminality would be charged with excitement were it not for the circumstances which have contrived to bring us here.
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14 5 / 2012
Here’s a top parenting tip: don’t have a sick baby. Better yet, don’t have a baby at all. That one piece of advice alone should ensure you many years of happy contentment – but if you really must insist on saddling your life with a squawking, little flesh bag, for the love of god, don’t get a sick one.
20 1 / 2012
Baby On Board
There’s something about having a baby that makes people think you’re a nice person. Complete strangers will smile and nod at you simply because you’re carrying a small human around. Having a baby says, “I am a caring, trustworthy person, capable of putting someone else’s needs above my own.” Or at the very least “I am not too proud to wipe someone else’s arse.” It’s not necessarily true, of course – Ghengis Khan fathered hundreds of children and by all accounts he was a total rotter. I bet kindly old ladies still smiled at him when he popped out to the shops for a pint of yak’s milk with a baby strapped to his front though.
I find it strange, therefore, that no one is smiling at me now.
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10 11 / 2011
It began, as it so often does, with a solitary word. “Pint?” An innocent enough enquiry, I’m sure you’ll agree, posed to a fellow gentleman via the medium of text message. Nothing wrong with that, is there? I suppose, with the benefit of hindsight and in the interests of factual accuracy, it should have read “Nine pints, two bottles of sauvignon blanc, one bottle of fizzy wine and a pad Thai?” but I am just a mere mortal who cannot see into the future.
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10 10 / 2011
Suck It And See
Within a few hours of birth, many animals are not only feeding but standing up and walking around. I remember watching a baby foal being born on Countryfile once and marveling at how quickly it was up and drunkenly gambolling about on its long, wobbly legs. By these standards, I think it’s fair to say our baby is pretty useless. He can’t walk. He can’t crawl. He can’t communicate in anything other than the most primitive of fashions. And he’ll never win the Grand National. (Unless it’s on the back of someone else who’s actually putting in all the effort.)
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22 9 / 2011
Whatever Works - Part 2
Two hours later, I wake up with a start. Silence fills the room. Sweet, merciful silence. I allow myself a few moments of quiet ecstasy before the inevitable creeping dread invades my consciousness. “Just go back to sleep,” I try telling myself. “He’s absolutely fine.” But already it’s too late. The seed of fear has been planted. “What if he rolled over and suffocated himself?” “What if he choked on his tongue?” “What if he just stopped breathing for no reason at all, as if some higher force simply reached out and turned off a switch?” I seem to spend half my life wishing Albert would go to sleep and the other half worrying that he’ll never wake up.
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09 9 / 2011
Whatever Works - Part 1
“HEEEENGH! WAAARRGHAAHHH!” exclaims the little man with the big voice before repeating himself just in case I didn’t catch it the first time.
I’ve been listening to Albert cry for an hour now. Listening so hard I can practically see the audio waves. And yet, I still have no idea what’s wrong. My wife only recently fed him so he can’t be hungry. I’ve tried rocking him. I’ve tried changing his nappy. I’ve tried singing to him. Nothing, it seems, can stem this tide of infant anguish. In fact, I think the singing may have made it worse.
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