Kris à Genève

A Canadian living in Switzerland

Babes in Australia

with one comment

In early April I decided to cut short my research in Vietnam by a week and visit some babes in Australia. My sister Suzanne and her husband Kevin were travelling to Australia with their infant daughter Elliette. They were visiting my brother Nik, who lives in Brisbane with his wife Danni and their infant son Zachary. The last time I saw the new parents was at my wedding last summer, when Suzanne and Danni were quite pregnant.

This was an excellent opportunity to meet my little niece and nephew for the first time. Especially since being in Vietnam meant I was much closer to Australia, right?

Australia is unacceptably far from anywhere. I have travelled there from Canada and it seems to take a week. I think the flight from Europe is only slightly shorter, perhaps 4-5 days. So I thought that being in Vietnam would mean a much shorter flight, say 6-7 hours. I was in for a shock – I booked the shortest flight I could find and it was 16 hours! Scientists really need to find a way to move that big island closer to the rest of the world.

This trip to Australia felt different than any of my previous travels. The short time, coupled with the novelty of meeting Ellie and Zach for the first time, meant that I was relatively indifferent to the destination. Nik and Danni organised a trip into the mountains in central Queensland, but I would have been happy in the parking lot of an Ikea, as the babies stole my attention.

I have made trips in the past with the purpose of visiting family, but visiting babies was different. Like all babies, Ellie and Zach are people-in-progress, so there is a captivating process of observing their budding personalities and imagining the adults they will become. And the most fascinating part for me was to observe the rapid pace of their development. Ellie is six weeks older than Zach, which is long enough that their little bodies are in completely different phases of development. Even over the course of the eight days I was with them, the progress I observed was astounding, all the more so because of how engaged, insistent and sometimes frustrated they were to control their little bodies and learn the movements that preoccupied them. I imagine being a parent and present for that process every day as a sometimes coach and often bystander, must be addictive, as during those eight days I could not get close enough to that development process.

To begin, here are some photos of Nik and Suz with their bundles.

For the first few nights of my stay, Nik and Danni rented a big cabin for us in the mountains of Lamington National Park. A highlight of the accommodation was its BBQ area on the crest of a ridge, overlooking a wide area of Queensland. Here is the group at the BBQ area:

I shot only a few non-baby photos during my stay. Of them, here are a couple of the BBQ area, first at sunset and then in the dark, when we found an impressive spider and his web near the BBQ itself.

With both babies under the same roof, it seemed to always be feeding time at the cabin. Among their differences, Ellie and Zach have contrasting eating styles. Ellie loves to squirm, stand and chatter as she eats. So Suz and Kevin cleared the kitchen table, stood Ellie up in the middle and tried to wrangle each spoonful into her mouth. Ellie’s healthy little rolls show that she is not a difficult eater, but she likes to make her parents work for it.

I stole this next photo from Suzanne. It shows the aftermath of a typical meal for Ellie.

Zach’s eating style is calm but voracious. He loves to eat so much that he tolerates very little mess and is careful to capture a maximum of food in his mouth. The following photo shows the intent little eater, sitting in the all-natural portable feeding chair Nik designed for Zach.

Once I had observed the feeding a few times, I was allowed to try it myself. Here is a photo of me and my nephew. Feeding an eat-everything baby is actually quite easy. The hardest part is cleaning his face with the spoon, as he tracks the spoon and tries to get it in his mouth.

Just as meeting the two babies was fascinating for me, it was also novel for them to meet each other. They are too young to have developed social and play skills, so they mostly just stared and poked at each other. Since Ellie is bigger and more mobile than Zach, she would poke and prod and Zach would stare.

When Ellie arrived in Australia, she apparently decided to accelerate her learning schedule. In the week before I arrived, she began to crawl. Perhaps deciding that crawling was too slow or menial, she decided to leave it behind in favour of standing and walking. By the time I arrived, she was pulling up to stand on anything in reach, often Kevin’s leg hairs. One evening I sat with her for over an hour as she stood, sat, stood and sat repeatedly, like a clumsy home exercise video instructor. Here is upright Ellie hanging out with the adults:

She was taxing her little legs so much that she was exhausted by the end of the day. Despite that, she did not sleep well through the night while I was there. Suzanne thought that this was due in part to her being excited to wake up and continue practicing her new movements, only to find herself tired in the dark and trapped in bed.

Zach’s preoccupation during my stay was his little hands. When he wasn’t using his hands for playing or grabbing, he was watching them, totally absorbed, as they twisted, folded, waved and clenched. When his parents were feeding or changing him, he would ignore them and work his little hands in the air. Here is a typical image of downtime for Zach:

Along with meeting an interacting with Ellie and Zach, it was also rewarding for me to see what great parents my siblings are. Not to take anything away from the other parents, but I have always guessed that Suzanne would be an excellent mother, and she is. She is able to be aware, protective and prepared while maintaining her characteristic calm, warm, loving demeanour. In Kevin, she has a patient and willing partner. I was impressed at how effortlessly they communicated, cooperated and spelled each other, especially considering that Ellie’s fitful nights meant they were scraping by on only a few hours of sleep per night.

As much as Zach smiles when Nik enters the room, I think Nik is even more overjoyed than his son at their time together. His favourite time of the day seems to be bath time. He has claimed this as his time with Zach – I did not dare to ask for a turn. During bath time, Nik tunes out the world, the clock stops and it is just him and Zach. Nik has always been this way with the moments he cherishes: oblivious to time and surroundings, and refusing to let them end. Nik is also charmingly mischievous, and he brings that to parenting, keeping things light with Danni – who as the stay-at-home mom shoulders the bulk of the work – and demonstrating to little Zachy that important balance between responsibility and fun. Danni spoke several times about how Nik’s enthusiasm and joy at being a father invigorates and facilitates her job as the day-to-day parent, and has been a new facet of her love for him as a husband. With Nik’s help, Danni has raised a happy little boy who loves to eat and sleep – a simple but comprehensive comment on their parenting.

Here is a photo of me with my nephew. I tried to crop Nik out of the photo, but it would have meant cropping bits of Zach.

Anyone who has friends with babies knows that parents find it difficult to speak about anything but babies, so on this trip my siblings asked me several times about Eileen’s and my baby plans. After spending a week with my happy, loveable niece and nephew, I could quite happily be a father, provided someone could guarantee that my baby would be as wonderful as these two.

Since cameras love babies, here are some more photos of the bambinos to finish this entry.


One Response

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  1. Hi Kris, just had time to really read this blog. Had looked at it earlier, but not really read it very well. Not too sure if it’s the lack of sleep or what, but am feeling teary – at both your thoughtful observations and just how great it was to have family time with you and the Oz clan. It was brilliant to see you. Miss you. Love Suz


    May 25, 2011 at 03:04

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