Jim Kayes’ Blog: Sweet 16

As his eldest turns 16, Jim remembers when she was just a wee bub and how fast they grow up.

It’s the “L” she’s stuck to the windscreen of my ute that made it official.
The eldest has turned 16 and while she celebrated with a party and getting her learner’s licence, I’m reflecting on a short life well-lived – despite her bumbling father.
She came to us earlier than expected because of pregnancy complications and while my wife was being tended to by the amazing staff at Wellington Hospital, I took our tiny girl up to the neonatal ward.
In the lift the nurse, clipboard in hand, asked what our new daughter would be called. “Olivia,” I said without hesitation, even though I knew there were other names still in the mix. I told my wife a bit later and in her drug induced stupor she murmured, “That’s lovely”, but I knew I wasn’t out of danger yet. Later, when she woke with a clear mind, she fixed me with that thousand yard stare and said, “You named our daughter.” I tried to fudge, tried to suggest we had done it together and she didn’t remember, but I’ve never succeeded in lying to her. She got over it.
When we brought our daughter home a week later I almost crashed the car going up Ngauranga Gorge because I was so busy checking her in the rearview mirror. We made it home safely, but I was still a disaster waiting to happen.

She was so tiny (the length of my forearm – from wrist to elbow) she couldn’t latch on and we had to bottle feed her mum’s milk. It was a feed every 90 minutes for those first few days so milk was expressed and stored in the fridge, waiting to be heated and used.
I’m still not sure how I got this so wrong but when I was asked to heat a bottle I put it inside the jug. The bottle exploded. My wife, in tears, asked if I understood how long and how much pain she had endured to supply that tiny amount of now ruined milk.
There was no answer to that. I am, if nothing else, a fast learner and I was quickly a dab hand at changing nappies, preparing bottles and burping our bub – often while still virtually asleep.
But some things, as every parent knows, cannot be anticipated. We had a deal that from 11pm to 6am I’d get up for her so my wife had a decent night’s sleep. For the main, it worked well, but there were moments when I wanted to ask for help. Like the time when projectile poop shot under my arm while I was changing her nappy at 2am, hitting the wall behind me. I’m fairly sure that’s not in any of the baby books we’d read.
Babies are wonderful time wasters and it was amazing, in those early months, how I’d sit staring at my daughter as she slept, wondering how on earth an old lug like me had helped create such a gorgeous thing as her.
Thankfully she has many of her mother’s genes.

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And it’s incredible how quickly they grow. Those first few steps seem a lifetime ago. Now she’s gone from teetering on her feet to wobbling her way through the teenage years and it’s so much harder to hold her hand in support.
My parenting has been far from perfect. I’ve been responsible for horrendous hairstyles and clothing calamities, and now the danger is that I might say something that’s seriously not cool. And trust me, I work hard at doing exactly that.
She’s to blame for me arriving at work in those first few months with milk vomit down the back of my shirt and later being caught singing Bananas in Pyjamas while walking across the office floor. If you’re ever worried about being cool – that pretty much puts it to bed.
But whatever trials Olivia has delivered, they pale into insignificance as I look at the incredible young woman she is becoming. I was there for some of the big moments like teaching her to read and count, holding the seat as she learnt to ride a bike and now, helping her learn how to drive.
And I’ve watched as she’s grown and flourished in different environments, like her return to surf life saving this summer.
That, really, is the true joy of being a parent – watching your children grow as decent, well-rounded people. And I know that being a father has made be a better person.
But 16 years old? Holy moly, how did we get here so soon.

Jim  Kayes is a reporter, presenter and MC.  He is a regular contributor to Newsroom and is a familiar face from past TV sports presenting roles on The Paul Henry Show and TV3.


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