What hath 2016 wrought?

Lily Edith Christmas 2016
Dear Edith,

Everyone is saying 2016 was a terrible year. Yet years from now, your mother and I will look back at 2016 as one of a single significance: the year you were born.

Yes, right now we remember 2016 for the conflict in Syria, Donald Trump’s election, and the death of celebrities such as Prince, Muhammad Ali, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and others. But when you are old enough to understand, I hope that these events will no longer give any cause for worry.

For your father, it has been a turbulent year. I began by saying goodbye to my employer of nearly five years, with a promising new start. That new start brought, for one thing, a shorter commute which gave me more time with your sister and mother, and eventually with you. It also brought me the stress of adapting into a new environment. And ultimately, although through no fault of my own, it led to termination, which is why I have been there to play with you every day the past eight weeks. While this has been good family time, I enter 2017 with the burden of finding somewhere else to employ my skills. As the sole provider, you really need a job.

As for your arrival, it has been a joy to see you grow into the smiling and cackling 6-month-old you have become, and witness the mutual love between you and your sister. I do also remember how the first two months were especially tough on me, as I adapted to our new situation and came to know you as a person. You will not and should not understand this until one day you become a parent yourself, at which time I will probably be too old to remember myself.

On a lighter note, we planted the berry bushes and fruit trees which I hope you are enjoying. Before you were born, your sister and parents made a short break in Bologna, Italy, our first proper holiday in several years. And we enjoyed a visit from your paternal grandparents, with the prospect of them moving back to Denmark very soon. We have missed them, and are happy to know that they will be larger part of your life as you grow up.

You celebrated your first Christmas gracefully among family at home, and tonight you will (we hope) sleep through your first New Year’s Eve.

Edith, you have blessed our family beyond measure. It is my prayer that you will be a highlight not only of 2016, but of our entire lives to come. Happy New Year!

Love, Dad

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What’s in a name?

Our second daughter now has a name. I had been looking forward to the selection process; my wife had not. I’m starting to get her point: we had known her for less than a month but had to make a huge decision which will impact her identity forever.

It’s not a decision to be taken lightly. And we certainly did not. In the end we came to accept that some randomness is unavoidable. Where you come across a name doesn’t matter if you happen to like it. My father, for instance, was named after the first player to score in a local football match. We wanted a different approach, however.

We started with a long list, which became shorter, only to become longer again as the list of finalists didn’t quite give us a clear winner. For each name we considered ad nauseam criteria such as:

  • Sound of the name, in Danish and English and potentially others
  • Meaning of the name
  • Popularity: not too popular, not from the ‘wrong’ generation: preferably a not-yet-discovered rising star (all of this in Denmark as well as other countries)
  • How it matches the name Lily (her sister) – in sound, style, and meaning
  • People we have known bearing the name
  • Risk of bullying

We didn’t want a name that was too normal, nor too weird. It shouldn’t be a ‘statement’, although of course to a degree it will be. We didn’t want a ‘concept’, so it shouldn’t be too close to Lily by being another flower name or another name beginning with L.

I think it is with names as with finding a partner: there is no destined one and only, but once you have made your choice it will come alive. We have now found a name which matches our criteria, is pretty and versatile,  and works well with the rest of the family. It also turns out to have been the name of her great-great-grandmother, a fact we only discovered after making our decision. So much for thorough research.

Then there was the question of a second (middle) name. As the only person in Denmark Lily bears the name Mayrah: an Aboriginal name meaning the wind that brings spring, chosen to mark our connection to Australia. Choosing an Aussie name again would be another ‘concept’, but we also didn’t want her sister to miss out. So instead we found a second name which sounds nice, may be used as an alternative if she wants, and signifies not a geographical connection, but one of interest: as the name of the patroness of musicians.

So, finally, let me introduce: Edith Cecilia Mollerup Birch.

I hope she will bear it well.

Seven Things I Learned From Being a Stay-At-Home Dad

Scandinavia is big on equality, and as a new father I was given the option of ten weeks fully paid paternity leave. Not only did this make financial sense, it was also a fantastic opportunity for me to bond with my daughter. So for the last two months, my wife has been back to work during the day while I took care of Lily, now almost one year old.

It has arguably been the best time of my life, and as the time draws to an end, I can now reflect on some lessons learned from the experience. I do hope others will follow in my footsteps and prioritize time spent with their families, however their setup may be.

Christmas 14-10

1. Be prepared for lots of work

Caring for a toddler is essentially hard work. Every mother knows this. Between meals, diaper changes, attempted naps, and more, precious sleeping time is usually spent doing minor chores like showering or cleaning, which doesn’t leave much time for relaxing. Most of the time I’ve been more exhausted doing this than I was working full time. Hats off to every stay-at-home mother!

2. Get some more patience, quickly

Communication is difficult with someone who can’t talk. Sometimes she just doesn’t want the food you’ve prepared, but has no way of telling you what’s wrong. It’s easy to make a scene, much harder to take a deep breath and try again, with love. Or when she can’t sleep, again, frustration comes easy. At times I’ve felt tempted to quote former BP boss Tony Hayward’s famous last words: “I’d like my life back.” I do hope my patience has improved, but I have yet to master it fully.

3. Cherish the little things

Being there with your child all day puts you in the first row of her rapid development. There may not be deep conversations, but watching her grow, learn new things, explore the world, and express her awe at everyday experiences is a treasure, and something that doesn’t come again.

4. Expect the unexpected

Once you think you’ve gotten the hang of things, they change again. Eating habits finally mastered – and then she wants to do it herself. House secured of dangerous items – and then she reaches up a further 10 centimeters, and you have to start all over. Finally into a good sleeping pattern – and then she falls ill for a few days, with ripple-effects lasting for weeks. Thus is the experience of early childhood, I guess.

5. Take one day at a time

I knew in advance that this was not the time to get started on writing that book. You do have spare time, yes, but you never know how much. So big projects are difficult, but I did find the time for smaller projects such as baby-proofing the home, sorting photos, baking bread regularly, or garden-work. The point is to be in the moment, enjoy the time spent together, and purposely not worry too about missed deadlines.

Changed Priorities Ahead

6. Your priorities will change

I tend to adapt to whatever environment I’m in, be it work or home, and focus on the task at hand. After these weeks at home you might say I’ve become more ‘domesticated’, though. I will go back to work, and of course give it my best effort, but I will also do so with a deeper understanding that while a career can be a good thing, it is not everything. I will miss my little girl even more than I did before, and do whatever I can to master the work/life balance.

7. This is the most important investment you can make

There is no alternative to time, and the time spent with your child is a crucial part of the relationship between you. As such, I have been given the blessing of time these past weeks, and my bond with Lily is stronger for it. Being alone with her has given me a confidence in handling her which wouldn’t have come otherwise. So while it has been tough at times, her smiles and laughter, hugs and kisses, and witnessing her development first-hand, has more than made up for the challenges. Would I do it again, if given the chance? Yes! Wholeheartedly, yes.