form one lane

  • Development

    When my sister had her second child, my mother joked that she’d given birth at the perfect time — giving us a newborn to play with just as the eldest developed beyond the “cute baby” stage. She obviously didn’t mean it, but I still thought it was a pretty naff thing to say — until I was confronted with a baby of our own.

    Babies are constantly and rapidly developing, usually along a surprisingly predictable cycle with periodic “leaps” not unlike a software upgrade release schedule. It’s tempting to treat them as amendments to simple logic boxes: if the baby is in condition foo and I respond with input bar then he will happily produce output baz, and I will be a Good Parent. Of course the rules will vary with each “leap”, but there are rules, so as long as I remember to study, they should be easy enough to follow. Right?

    Well, no, obviously. But it’s true enough that knowing the “rules” for a spherical baby in a vacuum can make a great starting point for learning what your real life baby needs, when combined with close observation and patience. And so we scrutinised and memorised his every movement and built a list of inputs and outputs from a combination of medical advice and trail and error. When he makes this noise and moves his head against your chest it means he’s hungry, unless he also kicks out his legs, in which case it means he wants to go to sleep, unless he immediately follows it with that noise and blows bubbles, which means he wants to play but needs help distracting him from the pain of teething, unless …

    And then a leap occurs and the rules change. But those “rules” are actually the wants and needs of a growing baby, fundamental changes to the personality of a tiny human we very much want to get to know. The bold, inquisitive explorer who poked his head towards every strange corner of the world and peered dimly ahead in hopes of divining what was out there can now clearly see the terrifyingly large and busy world, and he now seeks the comfort and safety of hiding in our arms. As we leap through more and more fundamental personality shifts, I can’t help but miss the versions of him that we’ve left behind.

    I am beginning to feel that to be a parent, or otherwise closely associated with a newborn, is to pass repeatedly through phases of confusion, reaffirmation, comfort, and loss. Every few weeks we meet our baby anew, and we mourn the one we had just started to understand. I don’t want to replace him with a younger model, and I certainly don’t want to arrest his development, but I do grieve for the baby I had known, and I don’t know how to feel about that.

    With each leap our baby becomes more complex, more expressive, more himself. That is undeniably a Good Thing. It may well be the single coolest thing about being a parent. But I also quite liked knowing the exact places to tickle him for the biggest smiles; the perfect way to hold him while rocking him to sleep; exactly how much milk to set aside of an afternoon.

    I can’t help but wish we had a little more time to get to know each version of him before the next upgrade comes along.

  • Rats!


    One of the difficulties of setting yourself up with a place to publish relatively longform writing is that everything you write feels like it has to be important. A tweet can be written on the toilet, and often belong in that very receptacle, without feeling especially like a waste of effort. But to write hundreds or even thousands of words on unimportant topics, and even diarise, on a whole website dedicated just to yourself? Feels a little self-indulgent.

    But back in the day we called people who did this “catbloggers”, and it was an honourable profession, not least because it often resulted in pictures of cats. I don’t have a cat these days, so we’ll have to make do with something alphabetically similar.

    The other day we noticed that Something was getting into our raised garden beds and eating the freshly-planted melon shoots. Not long afterwards, my partner was up late with the baby and saw our motion-activated lights turning on and off in the garden for no apparent reason. She became convinced there was a rat, perhaps several rats, each four or five feet in length and ravenously dedicated first to melon shoots, then on to fresh produce, and finally unsatisfiable by anything less than baby flesh. So, off I trotted to Bunnings.

    We had to get a humane, catch-and-release-style trap, because there was every possibility that the thing she maybe saw wasn’t a rat, or that it was a rat but something else would be tempted by the trap. We used to see a bluetongue lizard sunning itself in the garden occasionally, and if it’s still around, we certainly didn’t want it getting harmed by our traps. I bought several options, because I always do.

    We settled on the Big Cheese single-catch cage, and smeared the trap mechanism with peanut butter. Within a couple hours of putting it out, we heard a clang, and sure enough, the rat had succumbed to the peanut buttery temptation. We’ve all been there. The garden rang with the sound of clanging as the rat tried and failed to escape, and my partner insisted on going outside to inspect it and make sure it was okay. She was shocked to find that the rat was, well, only rat-sized, and actually extremely cute. I promised to deal with it in the morning.

    The thing about a catch-and-release-style trap is, once you’ve caught something, you have to release it. And you have to release it somewhere. And there really isn’t anywhere safe to release a rat: they’re menaces in the countryside, attacking native species or invading farmlands. And there was certainly nowhere in the city that I thought a rat might be welcome. The logical, and responsible, thing to do would be to kill the rat. Perhaps pass poisoned food into its cage, or submerge it in water until it drowned, or dash it against a wall. And … I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make a good argument for why any part of my surrounding countryside should have this rat inflicted on it, but I also couldn’t face killing it. That felt cold-blooded … evil. I tried not to think about what the rat will certainly do to the environment after I let it go.

    The rat had been urinating all over the cage through the night, so I grabbed a water-resistant Huggies box to prevent him doing the same to my car. I had some errands to run, including dumping some garden waste off at the tip (I suspect the tip have their fair share of rats already, but that they would still look askance at me dropping off another). The whole time, driving around Canberra, I plotted mental maps of my surroundings and tried to determine what release places would give the rat the fewest attack vectors. I am certain I thought about this more deeply, and more overdramatically, than anyone has before, and I am equally certain that it did no-one any good. I finally settled on a fairly isolated spot with lots of tall grass not far from a freeway.

    That’s when I re-read the trap instructions, and noticed that they ended just before they explained how to safely release the animal. There was even a QR code, which linked to the manufacturer’s YouTube channel, which had a detailed video for every product they made … except this one. There was a catch on the door, but surely you weren’t supposed to put your hand, gloved or no, right where the rat would be exiting? Turns out: yes. Also turns out: the rat was completely uninterested in exiting the cage until I’d made it clear that my scary ol’ hand was going to be nowhere near the door, so fair play to it, I guess.

    [Image of a large brown rat of indeterminate but probably invasive species, trapped in a cage, sitting atop a Huggies nappy box on a fire trail with long grass in the background.]
    The rat, mentally steeling itself for release

    Now our replanted melon seeds have had time to germinate, and yesterday we inspected the garden to see how they were coming along. It turns out Something is still getting into our garden beds and eating the freshly-planted melon shoots.

  • It’s 2022

    So I kinda feel like blogs died out for most people somewhere between 10-15 years ago. If you wanted to write something longform you’d start a Tumblr, or, for those more mercenarily-inclined, a Substack.

    But with the fracturing and discrediting of social media in recent years, the humble weblog, on hosting you purchased, a domain you control, and an audience of no-one seems almost as appealing today as it did back in the heady days before we had a choice. Will people still read blogs in 2022? Are there still RSS readers?

    So I’m Mark. I had a blog at this location a very long time ago. I don’t know what to say, or how often, or whether it’s worth writing, let alone reading. But there are people out there who’ve liked what I’ve posted on Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and Instagram and so I think maybe it’s worth sharing some thoughts here. Or maybe post an apology once every three months for not updating more often, and no other content. I don’t know.

    But I don’t intend to keep using social media the way I have been, and maybe this will scratch an itch. Maybe you’d like to read it. Whoever you are, I’d like that.

Got any book recommendations?