Tuesday, 8 March 2005

Right, let’s give it another try and hope the bloody thing doesn’t delete my outpourings once again.

How to be a parent #2

Yes, that’s right, not only one but two opportunities for the good people of Kawaguchi to impart knowledge so yours truly can attempt to understand what is required to be a parent in the modern age. And, to be perfectly honest with you, after my two lessons I am pretty confident that I have got it cracked – as long as being a parent involves holding and bathing a baby, and not too much else.

Saturday’s lesson kicked off with a video. This would have been a diverting half hour had it not been for the fact that it was exactly the same video we watched last week at the hospital. You’d have thought someone would have told them this, but no. Although to be fair, this week was at the local health centre whilst the week before had been a meet and greet at the actual hospital, but even so you’d have thought they might have liased a bit. Also, at this week’s instructional, there were a lot more people there, many of whom I hadn’t seen at the session last week and so they hadn’t been exposed to the sight of a middle aged Japanese bloke hitting a small toy drum on his long suffering wife’s abdomen before shouting loudly “moshi moshi... papa desu yo” at his yet unborn. But as explained last week this is fundamental stuff, apparently, so it must be done. Personally I could sit there smugly – ‘ha, been there done that’, thought I, and a lot more useful stuff I have passed on than “hello, it’s your father speaking’. [Disappointing on the suggestions in the comments section, by the way, only one from (I think) my father on his favourite subject – any more out there?]

Next we had a lecture from doctor who told crap jokes. I know he told crap jokes as he was from Osaka (and it wasn’t just that he was from Osaka, I could tell what he was saying for most of his speech, and not only did I understand one joke, he also asked me a direct question, which I answered in an appropriate manner (ok, the question was basically ‘and I assume you can’t read Japanese?’ when talking about baby books, but I answered with a quizzically raised eyebrow and a slight nod. Oh yeah, we bonded)). Anyway, you can always spot a person from Osaka as they always make bad jokes apparently – the jokers of Japan, a bit like the way that all Scousers are funny in the UK. The Japanese are well into their regional and national stereotypes and this is a great example. Another is the fact that it is impossible to understand the accent of anyone not born in Tokyo. Ever. Except someone from Osaka who is telling a joke. If an Osakan happened to remark to a Tokyoite that the weather was clement this afternoon, the Tokyoite would not understand, but if the Osakan made a joke of it, tears of laughter would roll. (Yes, yes, I know, I am stereotyping as well, point taken).

Anyway this doctor chappie was a good sort though I would have been able to understand a lot more except he spoke at 845,000 words per minute (I counted), though he could have cut out the jokes, spoken slower and then he might actually have finished within his allotted hour. But I liked him as when he came in he held up a yellow pamphlet that the health centre had prepared and said, in a few more words, ‘this is a load of old nonsense, I’m going to tell you how it really is’. Nice. His version of how it really was was basically a talk on all the nasty diseases and illnesses babies can get, which it seems is a lot, and then which books to read (the baby book by Sears, apparently) and those not to (Dr Spock is a real no-no these days, by all accounts), and then to take the piss out of the foreigner for not being able to read – but as luck would have it, allegedly there are now books with English words in them that I might peruse. Glad he told me that one...

Then it was upstairs for the practical.

But before we were to be let loose with the real (plastic, oddly weighted) thing, first, as last week, we had to introduce ourselves to the assembled. Once again I prepared myself for the sorry my Japanese is so shit speech, but lucky this time the assistant/demonstrator lady (the smiliest women in Japan (and no, I’m not being facetious, she really was)) told us exactly what we had to say, which was – what’s your name, and your partner’s, where do you live, when’s it due, what hospital do you use and what one thing do you want to do with the baby after it is born? Now even my woeful attempts at the language were up to this level, so I was on relatively safe ground. I’ll admit that I had trouble with the ‘where will the baby be born’ as I have always known it, Kafka-esquely, as ‘the hospital’ but it has a name as well (Saiseikai Kawaguchi Sougou Byoin, if you are at all interested – and yes, I just had to ask again, for the second time in two days).

Then it was onto the real meat of the afternoon. By the way it had been built up, since last august at least, I had come to think of the ‘bathing the baby’ experience as the most fundamental aspect of bringing a new life into this world. And how right I was. Support, it seems, is the most important thing to remember. Not support from the spouse or, perhaps the England rugby team (who, let’s face it, need all the help they can get), no support the baby’s head at all times. Check. Next most important thing to remember, when bathing a baby, is that you must lay a cloth over the baby, from neck to feet, whilst the baby is in the water – this will reassure the baby that it is, erm, in a bath with a cloth over its body. Failure to drape said cloth over baby will result in the baby self detonating, possibly, or even worse, splashing you with water as it kicks its legs... I have no idea, but my boss bathed his newborn without a cloth last summer and the results were not pretty.

Turning the baby is also tricky, if things are to be believed, and apparently this is something the Guru had trouble with during her parenting class (Saturday’s class was for dads to be, mums to be could come along [mainly for translation purposes in my case] but this was the opportunity for men to make fools of themselves). So when the Guru tried the turning manoeuvre in transition from front washing to back washing, she apparently managed to smack the baby’s head against the side of the bath on more than one occasion – she also, to dry the baby, held it over the bath and shook vigorously, something of a no-no again, it would seem. However yours truly managed the fiendish turning with a certain style and panache, so guess I’ll be doing the bathing come May.

Bathing is also, you must realise, a strict and potentially dangerous affair especially if the process takes too long, so there must be no more than 10 minutes from stripping the stripling to rewrapping the rascal. Why, I don’t know, but at least one wife was timing her husband with an expensive looking rolex to make sure he was within the Olympic qualifying time. Mad.

And that was about it. There was another table where you could practice changing a baby’s nappy (or diaper, for those that way inclined) but this just didn’t feel like the real thing, mainly because the one you took off was not filled with shit. This is odd as we were quite close to the Arakawa and it wouldn’t have taken five minutes for someone to wander down a fish a couple of turds out of the river for authenticity’s sake, but no-one had the necessary vision (or net, one presumes). To be honest it is quite easy to change the nappy of a three-pound plastic baby that doesn’t move, crap or make noise, I suspect the real thing might be a little harder.

And the last thing I got to do was pretend to be a woman with an enormous strap on. To make us menfolk more sympathetic to our womenfolk, we got to wear the pregnancy simulator. This consisted first of a velcro strap around the chest, I guess to compress your lungs and feel the shortness of breath that traditionally accompanies the later stages of pregnancy. Then the strap on itself, which was like a big waistcoat with a distended stomach and two large bumps for the breasts as well. This thing weighed 10 kilos (that’s 22 pounds in old money) and was an absolute bugger, especially when I laid down on the mat and tried to roll over, such as women might do in bed. Hard work would not cover it and I can say again (I think I said it before) that I am quite glad it is not me carrying the baby around for nine months.

So there we have it. Two lessons down and I am fighting fit and prepared as I’ll ever be for the baby we are going to bring into the world. Of course ‘prepared as I’ll ever be’ doesn’t actually mean very much and, unlike the plastic babies at the health centre, I am well and truly shitting myself...

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