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Health Zone: All about Alfie; Mirror journalists Jan Jacques and Jon Moorhead on bringing up their first baby, now 21 weeks old.

Byline: Jan Jacques and Jon Moorhead

Jan's Diary

IF there's one thing having babies tells you, it's that your man is even more inept than you previously thought.

I haven't read Jon's column yet, but I know what he is writing about and I'll bet my bankbook it includes the incendiary phrase "It's not rocket science".

This is what he said yesterday when I suggested he ought to engage his brain when looking after Alfie. He now denies saying this, but at that point my temper went stellar. It was blast-off.

Am I the only mother in the world suffering from a husband so proficient in the day-to-day care of baby (without ever doing it himself, that is) that leaving him in charge is not worth the worry?

A few Sundays ago I was upstairs reading when two terrible sounds assailed my ears. One was the roar of an electric drill. And, somehow rising above that, the petrified screams of a baby. Jon felt Alfie would be happier at the site of the earsplitting din than playing under his playgym. So he proceeded to frighten the life out of him.

After I'd calmed Alfie down, we agreed that little babies don't like very, very loud noises. Incredibly this had not occurred to DIY Dad. Despite it not being rocket science. Don't get me wrong - Jon is brilliant with Alf when he's with him. It's just that he has yet to learn what NOT to do with a baby.

The other week Alf, who is just mastering the art of inching forward on his hands and knees, fell asleep mid-effort in a very cute way on his front. Literally two centimetres from the precipitous edge of the sofa. What did his father do? Sauntered upstairs to tell me this. Then looked wounded when I pushed him out of the way to get to Alfie who thankfully had NOT yet hit the ground.

The priorities are all messed up, it seems. When your common or garden mum rises of a morning, it's: Feed the babe, change the babe, work out what he's eating today and when, and plan around that.When (and I have consulted friends on this) Average Dad awakes, it's: Drag carcass downstairs to play with babe, as soon as babe begins to cry, return him to mum.

Even in these enlightened times. Wallowing in the luxury of a weekend bath, I always keep an ear cocked. If there's the slightest unrest from Alfie, it's always followed by a sheepish "let's go and see Mummy" and a timid tread on the stars.

I am being a sexist pig, I know, but I do not know of a single woman less practical than her mate.

Girls know where things are kept and what to do with them when they find them. Stuff like food. They don't ask 1,001 silly questions.

Jon's worst two are:

Does his nappy need changing?

I don't know, dearest, X-ray eyes not being part of the mum package. Perhaps you'd like to take a peek yourself. Maybe even change the thing.

Is he hungry?

Novel idea. Half an hour ago you watched him whump enough milk to keep Cleopatra in baths for a month. What do YOU think?

Oh dear. Poor Jon. If anyone knows when sweetness and light return during childrearing, please write in.

Jon's DiaryTHERE'S an irritating management-speak phrase that's been doing the rounds for a year or so.

When someone makes a mistake or can't understand something, the clever-dick put-down is: "Come on mate, it's not exactly rocket science."

Looking after Alfie isn't rocket science. It's more complicated than that.

Jan, quite rightly, has certain rules and regimes for the dear lad. But if I don't follow them to the most precise detail, I become the Uncaring Bastard Father From Hell. My days with Alf are punctuated by an incessant stream of helpful advice on how to look after him. Here are 10 of the top tips I've received in the past couple of weeks (my responses in brackets):

1. Make sure you support his neck when you lift him like that. (Don't worry, I am)

2. Don't let him take in air when he's having that bottle. (Don't worry, I won't)

3. Don't use so many wet-wipes on his bum. Do two at the most then go on to cotton wool dipped in water. (Don't worry, I won't)

4. Keep those spoonfuls of food coming quickly, otherwise he'll get upset. (Don't worry, I will)

5. Make sure you shake his bottle before you give it him, otherwise there will be lumps. (Don't worry, I will)

6. Don't pick off his cradle cap. Let it fall off naturally. (Don't worry, I won't)

7. Don't bounce him up and down just after his feed. (Don't worry, the first and last time I did that he puked all over me)

8. Can't you boil that water more quickly? (Don't worry, I've just discovered a way to change the laws of physics)

9. Go up and see him (Don't worry, I was just about to)

10. Don't wake him (Don't worry, I'll stop breathing when I get upstairs)

These requests look sensible enough. Some may even seem like questions for an O-level in The Bleedin' Obvious. But when they are repeated time and again, they begin to sound like accusations.

Jan has it sorted. She gave birth to Alfie, she breast-feeds Alfie, she spends every waking minute looking after Alfie, she is so much closer to Alfie than I am. She has much more experience, too. She knows every cough and spit of his habits, likes and dislikes.

So on the occasions I get to look after him, I am walking a knife-edged tightrope strewn with eggshells.

Obviously, I'm not deliberately trying to break Alfie's neck, give him colic, irradiate the skin on his bum, starve him, choke him, scar his scalp for life, make him vomit, starve him (again), ignore him, abandon him, or disturb his blissful slumbers.

It comes down to fear. New parents spend half their time looking after the baby and the other half worrying about the baby.

The fear is that if things are not done horribly right, something will go horribly wrong.

I agree. That's why my replies to Jan's advice usually start with the same two words: Don't worry. That doesn't mean I'm lackadaisical or uncaring, it means there is more than one way to do it. It means give me some leeway. Trust me. I can do it. I think. I mean, it's not quantum physics, is it?
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 9, 2000
Words:1100
Previous Article:SUZY in the CITY - IN DUBLIN: SPEEDY E-LOOP LAUNCH.
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