The three things I learnt full-time parenting for a year

The three things I learnt full-time parenting for a year

I went back to work this week after almost fourteen months full-time parenting our boys. After the initial shock of the bright lights and the typing and the chair that spun around and the buttons on the front of my t-shirt and the weird way my shorts seemed to go all the way down to my ankles… I started thinking about what, if anything, I could take away from the year.

I think I should not have been thinking about these things while I was being paid to type and spin and talk and type and spin. But I can’t be completely sure about that.

Here are the three things.

Know the names of the other kids in your child’s class

I stumbled onto this one by sitting in Milo’s class every Monday morning while the children read to me one by one, according to a list in a clipboard.

None of them made eye contact for the first week or two but pretty quickly they started calling me ‘Milo’s dad’ and asking me questions like; “Milo’s dad, why don’t you have any hair?”, “Milo’s dad, why aren’t you at work?”, “Milo’s dad, why aren’t you wearing any socks?”.

Because I had the official clipboard with all the names it was very easy for me to quickly learn who they all were and I could easily respond with their names; “Well Angela, because my father cursed me genetically”, “Ahmed, that’s because I’d rather be here hanging out with you”, “Milli, I am, but they are those really little ones that stay down inside your shoes. I think they look stylish.”

There was a big box that I sat next to containing books of all different genres and reading levels. Most of the kids would thumb through diligently to find the right coloured reader for their level, and to find a subject that interested them. In this way I quickly learned a little about what each of them was interested in. Oh, tadpoles? Oh, green pythons? Oh, Alex you like witches with metal teeth and bony legs? Cool.

This tiny bit of knowledge was useful on so many occasions with Milo throughout the year. It gave me material for follow-up questions when the standard first refrain of “how was your day?” was met with “good”… as it always is, and has been since the dawn of time, or shortly thereafter when children were invented. “I saw Jerome bouncing his handball after school. Did you guys play today?” etc etc. It didn’t always work of course, but assigning names to the conversation joggers definitely seemed to help.

It also helped when Milo was in and out of friendships, or sitting next to new people, or not invited to birthday parties, or carefully exploring with me whether it’s okay to break a promise to someone at school if that someone had made him promise not to tell anybody that the someone was planning to burn down the school (for example).

Of course I had the opportunity to sit in the class with a clipboard and repetition and conversation, which is not easy to replicate when your precious time is absorbed by paid employment. This is the blue-ribbon scenario and any opportunity to get inside the classroom should be seized; it lets you behind the curtain, you see how your children hold themselves in class, how they interact with their friends and their teacher, if they are comfortable and happy. It also gives you irreplaceable insight into the ordered chaos their teacher is dealing with.

But it occurs to me, if such an opportunity is not available to you (as it now may not be to me), this knowledge can still be won with some focused effort. I am not naturally good at it, but I am actively trying to listen and process and talk to all these new kids at drop-off and pick-up whenever I can, and ask the boys about their new classmates each day. I think it is worth the effort.

One of Monty’s new friends told me today her grandma is planning to dress up as a flamingo next term. I hope this to be true.

You will probably feel you wasted the opportunity

I did. I felt like I blew it.

How few tree houses we built, how irregularly we rambled aimlessly up mountains, how absent from our bookshelves are any original comic books sketched together, how short the list of art galleries we visited on a whim. How many potentially interesting conversations did I shut down because I was tired or distracted? How many games of chess and Yahtzee did I decline? How many times did I say no to the playground or tree-climbing after school because I wanted to go home? It can keep you up at night if you let it.

But don’t let it.

When we asked the boys to name the highlight of the year they both said ‘ice cream and library on a Tuesday’. This was one of our routines. Every Tuesday after school we would ride our bikes first to the local Sri Chimnoy café for ice cream and enlightenment, and then onto the library at which time we would clean them out of any books related to Minecraft, terrarium building or wetland bird migrations.

This year has confirmed for me that children do not care about pretty views, and they have very little regard for grand gestures. They love routines, traditions, predictability and spiritual ice cream. And actually, when we allow ourselves to accept it, that’s what adults love too.

Most likely you still won’t know what you want to do when you grow up, but you’ll be more okay about that

It is tempting to think that any extended time away from one’s usual routine will yield insights on important matters such as; purpose, direction, employment, health, hobbies, ‘beard or no beard’. Very little of this happened for me. I made no substantial career change, I cannot play the lute, I have no new tattoos, I hold no high scores at the arcade, I am now clean shaven but not deeply committed to it.

But… I am more comfortable with the uncertain soup of life than I have ever been.

My hopes and ambitions remain, but the energy is different. I am not completely sure why. But I think watching your children everyday learn to read, and chop vegetables, and ride bikes (or not as the case may be), and do lay-ups, and perform the Budapest Gambit, and write numbers with chalk, and dye their hair pink, and sometimes be kind to each other, and make smoothies, and tell jokes, and tie their shoe laces, and master card games, and do cannon balls, and play records, and sometimes do thoughtful and considerate things, and identify lizards correctly and juice lemons… delivers a calmness and perspective to your life.

These boys sit at the core of our family and my life, and I have spent a year confirming that every day. So perhaps life decisions made in the second or third ring, although important, seem less consequential than they once did. I think it’s something like that.

Or perhaps I am just misunderstanding the critical importance of the typing and spinning and talking and typing and spinning. Or perhaps I am just not doing it right…

Shoes well worn


Flamingo Politics

Flamingo Politics

No, I did not expect my first four posts of 2023 to start with the word flamingo. I’m as surprised as anyone.

Milo’s class chose their representative to the school council this week. Interested students needed to prepare a one minute speech supporting their candidacy, and deliver it to the class just before recess. To my surprise and delight Milo enthusiastically said he would like to have a go and so hand-wrote himself a short speech which he drafted and redrafted until he was happy with the tone and content. Given this was his first ever speech we practised it five or six times so he could get the timing of his jokes just right, and so he could make sure he could read his own hand-writing at the critical moment. He also wrote “SLOW DOWN” in big letters at the top to remind himself to take his time. The whole process was about as adorable as it gets.

Milo’s pitch had two prongs.

The first was to begin a campaign to change the awful school bell/ music. This needs some explanation. At the boys’ new school there is no bell. Instead there is a rather strange musical mash-up (which must impinge upon multiple copyrights) which they pump through the tinny, mono speakers for about 10 minutes before the school day begins. Most of it is indecipherable but through the haze one can recognise Frozen, Pachelbel’s Canon in D, possibly bits of Tim Minchin’s musical Matilda and maybe (at least subliminally) a hint of Crazy Frog. It is weird to say the least, and somewhat eerie. It feels like the music that might be played inside a bomb shelter, through the air-raid speakers, at the end of the world.

Prong number 2 was an undertaking, via his inside connection, to bring Kevin the Flamingo back in term 2.

These two big campaign promises, I think, demonstrate a better understanding of the electorate’s wants and needs than either major political party in Australia. And the fact that Milo has already secured agreement on the second promise shows a political nous beyond his years.

So I dropped the boys off at school, wished Milo good luck and went for a coffee to settle my nerves. Whilst sipping my coffee I was greeted by the school crossing guy who requested a photograph of Kevin last week. He sat for a few minutes and we chatted. As it turns out he is our local member of Parliament (#becausedarwin). He asked a few more questions about Kevin and I told him about Milo’s speech. He was impressed and I could tell he was considering how Kevin (or Milo) might be able to help him in future campaigns.

At pickup it was clear right away that Milo had not been voted in by his peers. He said the speech had gone well, that he had enjoyed it, but that it hadn’t worked out. He seemed disappointed but not crushed. I felt terrible for him and said all sorts of things at once; I’m so proud of you for even trying in your second week, It’s hard because many of them might not know your name yet, Don’t worry there’ll be so many more opportunities in future, Did I mention I am proud of you? He eventually gave me the ‘shoosh dad’ face and said he was okay. He then said perhaps we need to stay in Darwin a few more years so he can have another go.

All of this got me thinking about how easy it is to dispense advice to our children, and how not so easy it is to live by that advice ourselves. I do it all the time.

Well, I actually wrote a picture book quite some time ago, based on this blog, which tells the story of a dad who spends six months at home with his first son. He is apprehensive at first but he figures out a few tricks and ends up having the time of his life. My very talented friend and parenting co-conspirator Alex has been illustrating it, but for some reason I have really been dragging my heels about doing anything with it, for years. Fear of failure is, I am sure, a big part of it.

But I think if my 8 year old can stand up in front of 20 mostly-strangers in his second week and promise them new school music and a plastic inflatable flamingo named Kevin then I, as a fully grown adult human, can muster the courage to send a manuscript to a few publishers.

Stand by.

Flamingo Famous – The Final Part

Flamingo Famous – The Final Part

Having achieved Flamingo Fame there wasn’t much left for Kevin to do on Friday except stand still for the pats and cuddles that rained down upon him from the many students with whom he is now on a first name basis.

Everybody continued to be delighted with Kevin, including the school crossing guy who finally asked for a photograph. Except, that is, for the principal who demonstrated great enthusiasm on day one but perhaps has softened on the whole shamozzle as the week has gone on. She apparated next to us more than once and said things like “you’re still a flamingo I see”, no doubt hopeful this general distraction may soon come to an end.

As we were leaving the school on Friday afternoon a teacher walked over to us and said Kevin had made her first week. She was new, just a month in Darwin, and Kevin had helped keep her smiling all week. She said that she was previously unaware of this Northern Territory tradition but that she liked it very much. We explained we were also new and we all agreed, if not a tradition yet, Kevin should become so.

Kevin waddled home, pleased with his week’s work; a little twisted and saggy but still most recognisably a flamingo. Over Frosty Fruits on the way home Milo, ever the accountant, noted that I had promised him a week and that technically I had only delivered four days, given the Tuesday start. My mind on the apparating principal, I rejected Milo’s position, noting the spirit of the deal had been satisfied if not the precise details.

Given this argument has worked with our eldest son exactly zero times over the 8.5 year span of his life, it was not entirely surprising to see it a) not work and b) drive him into a spontaneous decline. Sensing the moment, acknowledging the very positive week we had just had, and recognising the overarching objective of Kevin’s adventure in the first place, Nicole (my wife) adroitly stepped to the plate and agreed to wear Kevin for a final fling on Monday. The children cheered, Kevin looked up from his deflated pile, shrugged his shoulders and said “why not?” Because that’s the kind of flamingo Kevin is.

So on Monday, Nicole donned the luminescent flamingo and wore it very well. The jockey legs were still miserable and flimsy, but they were perhaps slightly better proportioned to her body. It’s still unlikely anybody really thought she had ridden a flamingo to school, but it’s more possible. We did enjoy some renewed honks from passers-by, some fresh positivity from the stew of drop-off parents, and new smirks from the boys’ teachers.

Most importantly Milo and Monty were satisfied that Kevin’s adventure had come to an end. He was gently hung on his hanger, hugged once more and flung into the cupboard. So, perhaps now there really are only 510 more Kevin journeys to go.

Although as a wise friend of mine, and father of two older boys, pointed out – if he were to try to take his more grown up boys to school dressed as a flamingo tomorrow, they would never let him take them to school again. So perhaps this is Kevin’s future; as the years drift by, the boys’ attitudes to us and the public wearing of inflatable exotic birds shift, he might morph from a comforter, an ice breaker, to a threat. If you don’t go to school today I will dress up as Kevin and walk next to you! And Kevin will be pulled out of the cupboard, mouldy, patched up with emergency electrical tape, and we will shake him at the boys as a cautionary tale, as we hustle them out the door.

Who knows.

Either way, Kevin is family now and his story is not yet done.

Rest well Kevin. Great work this week.

Kevin’s final journey

Rest well Kevin

Flamingo Famous – Part 2

Flamingo Famous – Part 2

Very early on day 2 the boys informed me that I had agreed to wear Kevin every day for the first week of every school term for the rest of their scholastic lives. This sounds highly dubious to me but they are adamant and I have no evidence to the contrary. It is, I must admit, plausible that I wasn’t completely listening when this matter was first discussed. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, this happens from time to time because sometimes what they want to talk about is just so desperately uninteresting.

But there is a lesson here; engage fully with your children parents, give them your fullest attention, especially when you are discussing such important matters as wearing an eye-popping, inflatable costume to their school for the rest of your life.

So Milo quickly did the maths. Given Monty has just started kindy, after this week I will only need to wear Kevin 510 more times. It seems unlikely he will go the distance, given he is so vulnerable to catastrophic deflation. So it may be wise to visit Spotlight now to procure ‘son of Kevin’, before the costuming trend of ‘human riding something comical’ comes to an end, however unlikely that may seem now.


So with the finish line, in fact, nowhere in sight, Day 2 began rather brightly. Still a few honks from passers by and giggles from those parents who missed Kevin on Tuesday but otherwise our neighbourhood seems altogether non-plussed today about a fully grown man wearing a flamingo costume on a Wednesday morning. It is likely they still think me odd, but the repeat performance has reframed the oddness as the type that should be pitied rather than feared.

Upon our arrival on school grounds we enjoyed far more interaction and engagement from parents, teachers and students. Those who had averted their eyes yesterday today called out “good morning Kevin”, gave him a pat and asked a number questions, most of which were variations of “why are you wearing a flamingo?” I tried out a number of responses such as “Why aren’t you wearing a flamingo?” and “What do you mean I’m wearing a flamingo?” etc, most of which were received poorly by the students, who generally responded with that blank look that only children can deliver which says “I’m smarter than you think I am, you’re an idiot and I’m not impressed” all at once.

However, eventually we were surrounded by a group of 5th and 4th graders (one of whom was in Milo’s class) who were examining Kevin’s puny legs. One of them (Ollie) asked the standard question and just as I was mustering an underwhelming answer his friend (name unknown) stepped in and said “Oh, I know. My mum told me it’s because Milo is starting a new school and so he made his dad wear it.” Ollie then looked at Milo and said “Milo, you’re flamingo famous.” Milo grinned. The system is working.


I can’t tell you how disinterested everybody is in Kevin today. He is decidedly commonplace. Only the dogs are still titillated by our presence as we walk to school. The plovers who foolishly build their nests in the middle of school ovals for some unknown ridiculous reason don’t swoop us. The occupants of the passing Hiluxes and Landcruiser Troop Carriers don’t even steal a look sideways as they pass. The only interaction we received on the walk was a “sick ride” from a returning parent, which we enjoyed.

However, it must be noted that Milo skipped some of the way singing “I’m flamingo famous” which warmed Kevin’s plastic heart.

By the end of the day Kevin’s batteries were running low. His head was lolling back and forth like he had some sort of Flamingo vertigo, his healthy rump was emaciated, and those tiny helpless legs were scrunched up like deflated wedding balloons. We’ll need some fresh batteries tomorrow morning before Kevin’s final adventure… until April, apparently.

Waiting for Monty

Flamingo Famous – Part 1

Flamingo Famous – Part 1

There is no amount of parental guilt that cannot be expunged by wearing an inflatable flamingo costume for a week.

This week the boys started their new school in Darwin. Milo in particular was not well pleased with this life development and so he, with the enthusiastic support of his giggling brother, devised something of a quid pro quo. Like an elderly resident negotiating an above-market price during a compulsory house acquisition, Milo secured a silver lining to his gathering, monsoonal storm clouds; those being a new school, in a new city, in a new state, in an entirely new climate.

For the first week of school I must drop them off and pick them up dressed as a bright pink flamingo.

Now, before we go on I must describe the outfit to you, because it is important. Inflatable, it is in the popular style of a human riding something, or something riding or carrying a human. That is, I am enveloped by a bright pink inflatable plastic flamingo. My legs slide into the costume and are designed to appear as the flamingo’s legs. There are separate, utterly disproportionate legs that dangle helplessly either side of the flamingo’s bulging body. Those withered little legs are supposed to be mine, such that I am riding the flamingo, whose name is Kevin.

Kevin has some nice flourishes; a little floppy yellow crown, a rather flamboyant pink tu-tu and a gold beak which matches the shiny tassels on my paralyzed legs. The inflation mechanism is actually rather ingenious. Lodged in Kevin’s back is a battery-driven fan pump which operates constantly, sucking air into the pink plastic sack which, when fully inflated, forms Kevin’s body. A simple tie mechanism around the waist keeps most of the air in, although his face and beak deflate immediately whenever any air escapes, giving him the appearance of a drunk, or a narcoleptic.

Anyway, the thought processes here are very interesting and, I think, far more sophisticated than simply the hilarity of forcing your dad to dress like a flamingo for a week might first appear. Or perhaps I’m over-thinking it.

Their request is definitely not punitive; they know well-enough that dressing like an exotic, brightly-coloured bird in public is leisure for me. There is definitely an element of something to look forward to. On the last evening of the holidays Milo morosely sobbed that the only thing that could make him happy the next day was Kevin. The flamingo may also be shielding or distracting them from the understandable trials of being the new guy; Milo needed to wee during the walk to school but would not let Monty and I walk on and let him catch up (which would not be a problem because the flamingo is not easy to walk in) – “wait for me or I won’t get to walk with the flamingo” he yelled desperately.

But I think the most ingenious aspect of Milo’s plan is that Kevin is an unmissable, unexplainable, unforgettable year 3 ice breaker. There are limitless ways this conversation can shake out, here’s a few:

“Hi Milo, it’s nice to meet you. Is your dad insane?”

“Yes, I think he is. Should we have lunch together?”

“Yes I would like that.”

“Hi, nice to meet you. Did you come to school with a flamingo?”


“What’s his name?”

“Kevin. My name’s Monty.”

“Hi Monty, I’m Indi – do you want to paint something with me?”

“Hi Milo. Boy, that flamingo costume your dad’s wearing must be a real sweat box. Welcome to the tropics. How are you finding it so far? Would you like to share one of my lamington fingers?”

etc etc

And it must be said Kevin worked a treat on day one. Here are some highlights:

  • myriad honks from twin-cab utes on the walk to school;
  • the school crossing guy neighed at us and then said he thought I was a pink horse;
  • countless smiles, pokes, prods and slaps from confused but delighted children;
  • one child asked if I was a big sausage;
  • a smiling Darwinian yelled “that’s a bloody ripper” out his wound-down window;
  • The boys both smiled, giggled and held their heads up high the whole way to school;
  • Monty cuddled Kevin first, then me, at the end of the day; and finally…

After we had dropped Monty we walked with Milo towards his classroom. On the way we noticed a local news station filming inside the school for the evening news. I spotted the school principal and went to change course away from the camera. She walked directly up to me and said “No, what you need to do is walk in front of the camera’s view.” And so we did. Welcome to Darwin.

More to come.