A Letter to My Seven Month Old Daughter


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Dear +1,

Look at you with your smiles and shitty nappies, you are the world too me. You may not realise it as you are undoubtedly focusing on something you just saw and must now touch, but it’s true, you mean so much to me.

I am writing to you today as I wish to part with some advice. As you are young it is hard for you to understand much, and as you are young it is your natural inclination to believe that you are 100% correct about everything. If the truth be told you will not learn the fallacy of this until you are, well probably close to your own deathbed many years from now.

You see little +1, as your father it is important that you realise that while you could reasonably argue that I know sweet fuck all about anything, other than knowing when I’m hungry, tired, or need to go to the toilet, I do indeed know a lot more than you. One day you may indeed know more than I, but first of all I beseech you to learn to speak.

Myself and your mother do our best in this world to not educate you the wrong way and I hope you will trust us when we direct you towards so-called child friendly paraphernalia. But I realise knowing the difference for you is difficult, so please allow my lifetime’s experience to know that not chewing those shiny scissors is the best option. And the hot teapot is best left on the table, because it is both heavy and hot.

It is unfortunate that in life you will have to learn to understand what is hot and what is cold yourself, as we all have our own levels. But let me give you a pointer: when your skin hurts from touching something, hot or cold, generally that means it’s bad. There are other signs which you can look out for in advance, such as is their ice on it, or in fact flames coming from it, is stuff melting nearby, is there steam emanating from some orifice etc. In fact anytime you feel pain it doesn’t promise to be beneficial – except for massages, and possibly tattoos, if that’s your thing.

There are other things which you don’t really need to touch, such as the dark coloured damp residue inside the nappy I just removed, my armpits in summer, the floor underneath the couch, and everything about ten centimetres outside your immediate reach. What you need in life will come to you with the right application, and while I appreciate the need to seek much out, searching in ever corner of your immediate world will reveal little for now.

Your youth, and I really sound like an old man now, is your greatest obstacle. Please give it time, as you have so much to experience and so much seems so new, which means it’s strange, which means that is the reason that you are probably complaining about it. Again, take our word for it, it’s for the best.

For example, when we strap you down in a cushioned seat with a nice soft head rest and sides inside a large self propelled two tonne piece of steel and plastic full of highly flammable fossil fuels, which then competitively attempts to travel at high speed with a plethora of other such devices, often around bends and over bumps, and even in poor weather with sight seriously reduced, it is, believe it or not, considered safest for you to be harnessed in, and not free to wriggle and squirm as your young body sees fit.

While I’m discussing this I should also advise you that I’ve also found that it is easier to fall asleep at night when you sit back, relax, and just wait for your sleep to find you. Incredibly, worming, squirming, and shouting in my arms does not work. I worked this out a few years ago when I was a bit of a night owl, and the more I socialised with others late in the early hours I found it more difficult to fall asleep, but if I sat on a plastic chair outside a convenience store or the likes, sleep soon came to me quite easily. It’s a strange phenomenon I know, but like much of my advice in this letter, time will help you realise so much more.

I trust that you will take this advice to heart and do your best to apply it to your forthcoming years. Soon it will seem like second nature not to try to eat your faeces or the nearest scissors, among other revelations of age, but remember that until that time I will be standing over you applying my care in a way that may seem intrusive, and equally like I am trying to ruin your appreciation of life. This is not the case, I am merely attempting to guide you through your early days with as few physical threats to your self as is possible.

For now, please trust me that I am right, because one of these days you will be just like your mother and I will never have this opportunity again. Until then allow me the glory of being somewhat correct.

With best wishes for your future,

Your loving father/Dad/앞파/ould fella/

Letter from Korea, December 2012


Suwon, South Korea
December, 2012

Dear Ireland

There are moments when I completely forget that I’m a father now, and I lapse into my old routine, desperate for something which I used to think was enjoying. Things are a little different now. It’s not that those things which I used to be entertained by are no longer entertaining, as they are somewhat, it’s just that these moments where I forget don’t last long. I’m either jolted from a daydream into activity by a gurgle or yelp, a call from Herself (who seems perpetually busy), or I just remember.  It’s a nice realisation to have over and over again.

The change has been swift. Even the difference between when Herself was heavily pregnant and since we’ve brought little cute +1 home (yes I’m still calling her +1 here) is stark. But to anyone who has spent any amount of time with people with new-born babies, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. I won’t deny that I was far from adequately prepared, especially from a psychological perspective. I think I’m doing better now.

Thankfully, Korea makes things easy on us new fathers and mothers. We had a week in what’s known as a jorriwon (조리원), which is an after-care centre for those who have just had a baby. While there were some who complained about the standard of care given in the place we stayed, I couldn’t actually see what their problem was.

Here is a place where you go to stay which has a number of programmes for mothers to help the recuperate, as well as cooking your meals, doing your laundry, and most importantly, helping you get used to your new responsibility, which is of course raising a child. And where these people helped out mostly was allowing you the opportunity to try and fail a few times at trying to feed and placate your child, and if you couldn’t hack it they’d take it off your hands and deal with the child while you got some much required sleep. This allowed us to ease ourselves into the whole new parent thing.

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I spoke with a few Irish people, and even when I mentioned the price, they sounded enthusiastic in their ‘fuck that’ exclamations, in the sense that the price was incidental and that a service like this is what Ireland could do with. Sure it’s a bit elitist, and for us it was certainly expensive, but it was just another item on the increasingly long balance sheet of payments.

We only stayed a week in this place as we considered it pointless to drag the process of getting settled into a routine at home. We both were certain that the longer we stayed there the more difficult it would be to get out of that level of comfort. More than anything though, we were also very eager to bring +1 home, which is where we’ve been for the past couple of weeks.

Up until Friday however, we had the help of the mother-in-law, who as I’ve said before, is some woman. She arrived and immediately began to clean, cook, and attempt to feed +1. Which was great as it took the pressure off us. I was in work up until recently (now on winter hols) so she would stay in the room with Herself and help with the night feed, while I was banished to the couch. Every so often I would join Herself and get myself eased steadily into the night process.

Being in work made my life easier, I can honestly say, as I was away for the day I missed out on five hour long marathons of feeding, dozing, peeing, shiting, changing, rocking, feeding, dozing, sleeping for ten minutes, and so on. I’d return home to find Herself and the mother-in-law in tatters with exhaustion. However this didn’t stop another table full of kimchi and seaweed soup being served up with regimental efficiency every evening.

The thing about the seaweed soup is, and don’t get me wrong I know it’s very healthy, my own mother had five sons and never touched a drop of the stuff and she never experienced anything adversely negative from the lack of it. Although, the obvious refutation to that is how would you know if you’ve never had it? I do know that Herself has probably had more of it that she has had in her life to date, and whether she’s doing better than if she hadn’t had any is irrelevant. She’s happy and getting stronger every day and that’s what matters.

But now I can hear +1 waking up so I will have to close. Herself will have to be woken up to feed her and I will have to be the dutiful go-for as we do our best to make this process as easy on everyone as possible.

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That is how things are going in Korea now.

The sun is going down outside. The snow was melted by the rain over the past few days. It’s chilly but more like a December chilly as opposed to the -15 freeze we were engulfed in last week. I have two months of holidays ahead of me. There’s a presidential election on Wednesday but what do I care, it won’t change much I suppose. Christmas is around the corner. Family will arrive to see the new arrival in February. I’m a father. A proud one. Life is good, I suppose.

Letter from Korea, October 2012


Suwon, South Korea
October, 2012

Dear Ireland,

It has been a while, but as much as I want to blame others I don’t think it would do much good. Some people are just poor at maintaining a schedule. I wish the same could be said for a woman’s womb.

As you can probably imagine the experience over the past few months has been mostly revolving around the fact that in less than a month myself and Herself are going to be parents. It has gone beyond the stage where we can feign shock at the end of youth, as there is no escaping our fate now. Not that I’m complaining.

It’s a strange feeling as we roll into the final month of the pregnancy. We know that we will have a little screaming, kicking, and shitting little baby right here in the living room I’m writing from now. We know that, as has been explained over and over again, that sleep deprivation and all sorts of other non-childless phenomena await, and you know I think we’re no longer worried about that. I suppose it’s what comes with the job.

If anything what is of greatest concern to myself and Herself is that we are going to be more responsible than ever to someone other than ourselves for almost as large a portion of our lives as we have been alive already. You think of it that way and you can understand our real concerns.

One image that comes to mind is that I was talking to someone recently who told me that after his first child was born he recalls not understanding why the hospital staff were allowing him and his wife to take their child home, and did they not understand that they had little to no idea what they were doing with the tiny, vulnerable human being in their arms. I think many young families start this way, especially if the usual safety net of experienced family members is either on the other side of the country, or in my case, a wet and windy island off the coast of the far end of the Eurasian continent.

However, Korea can be an incredibly convenient country to live in, and pregnancy definitely falls within this category. Over the past few months Herself has been availing of a plethora of free (or incredibly affordable – cheap is a different category) classes ranging from caring for child/baby in the home to aqua aerobics and yoga. Many of these are provided by our maternity hospital which even goes as far as to send a mini-bus out to collect her. We also had a breathing exercise class, which basically told us how Herself should be breathing as the labour progresses.

This was, I suppose my first introduction to the world which Herself has been inhabiting for the past few months. In I walked to a room full of youngish men, many around the same age as I am and all looking equally terrified, and their pregnant wives. Much of the class’s contents went over my head as the instructor appeared to inform us things we could have read about easily enough, along with a few things I found odd.

One thing she mentioned was that if the father talks to your baby while it is in the womb it will become more intelligent. I asked for the peer reviewed paper supporting her reasoning. She looked and smiled and continued talking. Another piece of advice included you should have a natural birth because it’s good for the baby, which is fine, but all I could think of was that she was guilting women who may actually need to have a C-section. I may have been wrong but that was the impression I got.

The real fun came after the breathing when she wanted to demonstrate the posture and methods for what can be only described as the final push. The instructor wasn’t very good at demonstrating to the class (she was a bit ould so I suppose straddling a table and showing us an example may have been beyond her). So when she described the position and the action, my 36 week pregnant wife wasn’t at her most flexible for turning around to see what to do. When our lovely instructor, and she is actually quite nice, then decided that the people who were past 35 weeks should do a demonstration for everyone else, well you can imagine how delighted we were to find out we were the only people that far gone. The whole room watched as herself lay on her back with her knees pulled up to her chest, whilst we were instructed to pull and push, as one would do if one was struggling with bathroom issues, all preceded by a deep breath and heavy squeezing grunt. Hilarious stuff indeed. I know what you’re thinking; sore thumb syndrome to beat the bad.

So that was grand.

What’s also really beneficial about having the baby here though is what I’ve discovered to quite a treat and one which is not a regular attraction in hospitals of the western world, and it’s called a joriwon (조리원). This is essentially a nursing home or convalescent centre for women after they have their baby. It is where we will stay for a week and where the baby will be gently coaxed into our existence, where they will cook for Herself, where they will have daily yoga and massages for herself, where they will take the baby off our hands and feed it or look after it if we need a little extra sleep, and mostly where we will avoid the true reality of screaming, kicking, and shitting for at least seven days after we leave the hospital. Yes I know it’s cheating, but I’m sure there are plenty among us who would leap at a chance for something like this.

So basically that’s everything about the pregnancy and everything worth talking about this weather. At least everthing worth saying, right. Much of our time these days is spent watching the calendar and perusing the internet looking for more ideas on something or othe to do with the pregnancy. You can call it study.

Oh, me mammy sent over loads of lovely knitted stuff – revelling in her role as Grannius-Maximus (I’m dead now).

And it’s Autumn, which is always enjoyable in Korea.

That’s as good a conclusion I can offer, as I don’t have much of an opinion these days. It’s all about existing and getting on with it. Opinions are slowing me down.

 

 

 

P.S. Actually what’s probably slowing me down is the agonisingly slow death of my five year old laptop. If anyone would like to donate a new one, I’ll let you know where to send it. Sound.