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What I Have Learnt From Being a Parent

Nathaniel is five today. Given how late I came to this whole parenting thing, 42 when Nathaniel was born, I've been behind the curve compared to friends in appreciating just how life changing it is. Myself and Alison have though tried our best to make up for lost time, Nathaniel being joined by Thomas, Abigail and now Ruby. I thought that on the occasion of Number 1 Son's fifth birthday I should do a top ten list of things I have discovered since becoming a parent. Therefore, in old school Top of the Pops style, and in my best Peter Powell voice, I will count down from 10 to 1. Please note I have declined from including any mention of sleep, or the lack thereof, purely due to its obviousness not that we have had overwhelming amounts of it for the last five years.

10 - New baby smell, there is absolutely nothing like it. Thomas in particular kept the smell for ages.

9 - Having your own favourite children's tv shows and trying, sometimes in vain, to encourage your kids to watch them. I'm lucky in that most, although not all, of my favourites (Hey Duggee, Sarah & Duck, Bing, Abney & Teal, Paw Patrol, Baby Jake, Octonauts) are also liked by the younger Stevenson's. I now understand why my mother used to watch some shows not only after I stopped watching them but after I had left home for university. I will admit that I have been known to watch Hey Duggee when in the house by myself. Seriously, go online and check it out, it is absolute class. I have though failed in my attempts at introducing classics such as Mr Ben and The Magic Roundabout to them. The closest we've come is with Thunderbirds, which Nathaniel will tolerate as something daddy likes to watch, in the same way daddy likes to watch sport.

8 - You endlessly amaze yourself with your ability to do something (parenting) that you've never had any training for. There are however inevitably aspects where you disappoint yourself, where you aren't as good as you'd hoped, where you don't live up to your idealised vision. You just have to learn not to beat yourself up over it, that the perfect parent, as well as the perfectly behaved child, is an urban myth and not to believe the hyperbole of other parents at the school gates or on social media. Everyone is in the same boat, i.e. we're all making it up as we go along.

7 - Appreciating your own parents more than ever and what you no doubt put them through. This is especially so when you inevitably find yourself saying something that was said to you a million times and you swore you would never utter when you became a parent. I have basically become my mother. I endlessly repeat phrases such as "don't talk with your mouth full", "take your feet off the table", "lift the chair", "put the cushions back on the sofa", "no running inside", "we are all going to eat at the table" and the one my mum would find most ironic "no playing with balls inside". I've also fallen into the habit of using all given names when they are in trouble, 'Nathaniel David Whybert' used to be said a lot. It has however been far surpassed by the frequency that 'Abigail Sophie Florence' is said, at least twice a day. 'Thomas Lorcan Courtney' isn't said too often but boy when it is said it is usually for something very very big and often multiple events within minutes of each other. Thomas definitely goes for the shock and awe approach, I'm guessing on the basis that "if mum and dad are going to be mad I may as well get some extras in along the way, it isn't like they can get two or three times as mad as they already are". He's very logical that way is our Thomas.

6- After witnessing pregnancy and childbirth your appreciation for women increases exponentially. Even if you get some sympathy symptoms, I bizarrely had very hard and very dry nipples while Alison was pregnant with Nathaniel, you don't in any shape or form understand the pain women go through. Just don't go there. I know....the nipple thing was probably too much information, sorry about that.

5 - Their personalities are there right from the start. I was not anticipating just how different they would be from day one. Nathaniel has always been a real boy, very boisterous and always reticent about sharing his emotions, at least in public. Alison heard non-stop how he missed his daddy whilst I've been in Seattle and they've all been back in London over the last year. Yet when I got back he wouldn't say anything like that to me until everyone else had left the room and it was just the two of us. Whilst it was still done in a very male way, lots of grunting and nodding of the head etc, one to one Nathaniel is very different. He is very sweet and caring and extremely protective of his little sisters. He has though inherited his fathers tendency for being a little melodramatic at times (really? I hear you all say). Also, be prepared that if you play any game with him he will cheat like crazy. Even when you are walking along trying not to step on the cracks in the pavements, he will just blatantly cheat. I blame this on his mother who is ultra competitive. I have to remind Alison to let the kids win occasionally.

Thomas on the other hand whilst taking his mother's colouring is very much like his father in personality. A bit of an introvert, he has always been extremely observant, constantly checking everything and everybody out. Also he is quite happy sat quietly with his books and he loves jigsaw puzzles. Whereas Nathaniel will quite happily go out with odd socks Thomas can be very particular about things, everything has to be just right. I bet that just like myself Thomas will be the one to alphabetise his books and music collection. He is also a promising actor. He learnt from his big brother's failures. If you are going to pretend to cry then actual tears help make it far more convincing. The boy can cry on demand!!

Abigail is the cheeky devil may care adventurer, forever climbing in and out of her cot, climbing up the bookcases, raiding the kitchen cupboards etc. She is also definitely the sportsperson in the family. At not quite two she is nearly as quick as her five year old big brother. She has also learnt from having two older brothers and absolutely gives as good as she gets. Her first word wasn't mummy or daddy but "mine". As the oldest girl it has also been fascinating to see how they develop differently to boys, her language development is incredible.

From initial impressions it seems as though Ruby will be more inclined to be join Team Daddy & Thomas as one of the quieter, more contemplative, members of House Stevenson.

4 - Even their different tastes in music have been evident from the start and often related to their personalities. Nathaniel has always been into anything with a strong beat; classic sixties/seventies soul and nineties dance music were favourites right from the start. We are currently going through an Oasis phase, "Rock'n'Roll Star" is particularly popular and his Liam Gallagher impersonation is coming along nicely.

Thomas has always had the most complex of musical tastes. He adores Joy Division and late 70's/early 80's electronica. Even how Nathaniel and Thomas play around on the piano illustrate these different preferences. With Nathaniel it is all about the rhythm, whereas Thomas carefully plays one note at a time revealing the influence of those monophonic early eighties synths! He's basically a mini Vince Clarke.

Abigail is our rock chick, although she definitely has her pop princess moments. She would have loved being a teenager in the eighties. I can't wait to see what Ruby brings to the party but I am quite hopeful. She is though going to have to live down the fact that Starship's 'We Built this City' was playing on the radio when she was born. However, our first father-daughter dance, whilst Alison was still in the birthing pool, was to The Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams". It's therefore looking like we have another pop princess with Ruby. I think that Abigail and Ruby will be a force to be reckoned with on dancefloors in a few years time. Actually, just forget the dancefloor, I think that the Stevenson Sisters will be a force to be reckoned with full stop.

3 - Your relationship with each of them is different and again from very early on. Although I'm an introvert a lot of my close friends are extroverts, as is Nathaniel. It therefore isn't a surprise we get along very well, well.....most of the time, at times he can be an absolute bugger! It is a very playful relationship. Myself and Thomas have a very different relationship, in some respects it is more knowing. It is as though he also appreciates that we have very similar personalities so a lot goes unsaid, two introverts having to stick together in a household dominated by noisy extroverts. Abigail and I have that typical father-daughter relationship. Ask any father of a daughter, it is so different. She can wrap her daddy, plus her two older brothers, right around her little finger.

Not wanting to get overly sentimental here but Ruby and I will always have something different given what happened earlier in the year. I'm just glad to be around to see her as there were times while I was in hospital when I feared I wouldn't be. The day after she arrived home I sat in the conservatory with her asleep in my arms for about an hour and just cried. I did the same the following day......and the day after that as well. One day I will tell Ruby the story about how she was the first to visit Seattle when a 7 months pregnant Alison flew out from London to see me in hospital.

2 - It goes so fast and they change so fast. They go to sleep, even for an afternoon nap, and they have changed when they wake up. It makes you appreciate more than ever the here and now but it also makes you more long term in your view. What kind of world will they grow up in? Never mind them, what will the future hold for all of those hypothetical grandchildren?

1 - There is no feeling in the world like your little boy or girl, with absolute trust in their eyes, resting their head on your shoulder and falling asleep.

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