Making the most of a new life


Daddy Soft Play Centre

If I decide to lie down during the day in our house it’s usually not very long before I feel the thump of one or two boys jumping on me. I call this “Daddy soft play centre time’. The boys really enjoy riding on my stomach or back or trying to pin me down, and I quickly designate ‘tickle zones’ which they enter at their own risk of being tickled.

I think we all get such a lot out of this time, it’s enormous fun and I find it a great way to bond with the boys, and it’s something that we can all do together. It’s good that Sam is very strong for his age and so doesn’t get knocked about too much so there is never really any danger in it. It’s also good that Sam now has all his teeth and so doesn’t dribble over me all the time.

I’m also aware that as they get bigger, my ability to keep them in check will diminish, even now if they realized that they only had to have one tickling my feet and the other one holding me down then I’d be utterly helpless, but I’m certainly not going to tell them that. As it is I’m often laughing uncontrollably and almost gasping for breath as they take advantage of jumping on my tummy: also know as the ‘trampoline section’.

I think that ‘Daddy soft play centre time’ is really one of those things that we have to make the most of because it will be one of those things that disappears as they grow up, but I hope it is something that they will remember fondly as I remember the ‘rough houses’ I had with my Dad, in which I pretty much remember the same emotions as I do now with the boys; uncontrollable laughter from being tickled and a real closeness. I also remember feeling a reassurance in my Father’s strength and something that felt very comfortable.

One of the things that I repeatedly hear from parents of older children is “make the most of them when they’re that age because they soon grow up”, and that is something that I’m trying to do. I love it that they have such a sense of fun at this age, but I can already see in Jake that real desire to be older and distance himself from being a ‘baby’ or a ‘little boy’; and I have learned from experience not to refer to anyone as a ‘little boy’ – they really don’t like it.

So while I always tell Jake (to his increasing embarrassment) that he’ll always be my baby, I know that each part of their growing up is such a fleeting time that I really need to make the most of. That’s why I enjoy ‘Daddy soft play centre time’ so much. It is a thing of the moment to treasure, great memories for both the boys and me. So then, here we go, seconds out, round two….


Being Selfless

In my last post I talked about our trip to the seaside, what I didn’t mention was that we went on a coach with a community group that Karen is involved with. We went because a member of the group had come into some money through a small inheritance, but instead of spending it on herself wanted everyone in the group to benefit, and so paid for the coach trip.

I found this to be incredibly humbling. Here was someone who has never really had much in her life wanting to do something for all her friends on the rare occasion that she did. To add to this she did it anonymously (we only know because of Karen’s position in the group). I feel that this is somehow at odds with how we often come to understand the world through a cynical lens.

It struck me that this gesture had a bigger effect than people having a terrific day out, and we certainly had that. It also inspired us to think what we would do when we were in a similar situation, and it also helped to bond the group together. When we share experiences and spend time together we more often than not become closer to people.

This is something we try to do as a family. We try to spend time together by eating together as much as possible, playing together, and going out on day trips together. It helps us to get to know each other better, and hopefully understand each other.

This, particularly for Karen and me, means that we have to try to be selfless; to put aside the 1001 things that we have to do or want to do in order to spend time together. I can’t deny that sometimes I resent this, and feel guilty for it. But I also know that when I do throw myself wholeheartedly into family time, then I really enjoy it; and when the reward is a closer bond with your wife and children then it seems like a no brainer.

The idea that relationships are only as good as the work you put into them is something that I’ve had very strongly reinforced for me since I became a father. In order to enjoy the cuddles and the affection of my children it’s not enough not just to be there, I really need to engage with them as well.

This isn’t always easy. Being a parent isn’t always easy. But when it goes right, there isn’t a better feeling in the world when your children reward you with their obvious love and a connection with you as a parent. Then selflessness actually doesn’t seem to be that selfless after all, because the benefits are amazing.

I’m sure that the person who paid for our trip to the seaside got an enormous amount of pleasure from seeing how much we enjoyed our day. It’s not why she did it, but she got her reward in the happy and tired faces as we slept on the coach on the way home.


The Sea

The weather has finally improved, just in time for a long-planned day trip to the seaside. One of the great things about living on an island is that you’re never far from the sea, and I always get a special feeling when I look out at that great expanse of water. It can be calming, but it can also be ferocious and/ or exciting.

The boys, of course, loved being on the beach. They buried each other, buried me, and buried Karen. We built sandcastles and dug holes together. They enjoyed paddling in the sea, playing with diggers and dumper trucks, and having ice cream on the promenade. We returned home very tired from all the activity and the sea air, but very happy.

The sea was very calm when we were there. But whatever the mood of the sea, it is to me always a reminder that we cannot control everything. The sea, like the weather (certainly in Britain) is unpredictable, and what was a fantastic day on the beach could have easily have been a complete washout, as has happened to a number of events over the last few weeks.

We like to be in control of things and we like certainty. It makes us feel secure, and if, as is inevitable, things change we like to be able to mediate that change. This must be the case for our children too. We try to provide them with a safe and secure environment in which they can grow, but inevitably they also want some degree of control and independence; and this, inevitably leads to conflict.

This was the case with Jake at the weekend when he really reminded me of my younger self on the beach. He toddled off down to the sea on his own and while he was never out of my sight, he was also on his own and enjoying his own little bit of independence.

I had a lot of independence when I was young, I remember going off on long bike rides on my own from the age of about ten, and I loved that sense of freedom. I’m not sure that I would be prepared to let the boys have the same sort of freedom at that age though. Not because I think the world has changed, or that I wouldn’t trust them; rather that their well-being would be out of my control and I imagine that this would be difficult for me.

I think that it must be both exciting and really difficult for the boys as they experience constant and rapid change and development; as they learn so much about themselves and the world around them. I think that we sometimes forget about this and think that everything is as constant for them as it is for us.

Because of this I guess that there are lessons ahead for all of us as the boys realize that they need their parents less, and we realize that they no longer have to be in our protection 24 hours a day. I’m sure that this will be difficult for us all in different ways.

Despite this I hope that I can help the boys to grow and develop in ways that they enjoy and help them in future life, but I’m sure that there will be times when we just don’t get along: and family life will be all at sea.


We really need some education

One thing that Karen and I didn’t think we were going to be stressed about with our house move was finding a school for Jake. After all the school local to where we are going to live has had good reports, but has also had places every year. This confidence has turned out to be misplaced and with less than two months to go until the start of term, he still does not have a confirmed place. I shan’t bore you with the ins and outs of why this is except to say a mixture of council mistakes and a baby boom have left us in this situation, which I’m sure will ultimately be fine but doesn’t feel like that at the moment.

Until taking redundancy at the end of 2011 I had worked in education for fifteen years, and so know the utter dedication of the majority of people who work in it. I also know how hugely transformative it can be. I went to University as a mature student after having worked for some years straight after school, and the experience really did change my life giving me confidence, skills and knowledge that I have put to good use over the intervening years. I am now enrolled again at a different University and am finding this experience to be equally transformative, but in different ways. And I am reminded of this today because I begin a three day workshop which I am looking forward to hugely because, on the basis of the previous ones, is going to be an amazing experience.

This is why I so desperately want the boys to have the best education that they can so that they can have the lives that they want to have. So that they have options, and the confidence to grab opportunities when they come up.

We have been lucky so far in as much that the nursery that they have been going to has been excellent. They have been so happy and well looked after there, and after this good start we are really keen for them to carry on thriving. This has been brought home to us recently when doing ‘Jake’s day’: something we do every night with him when taking him to bed. Until recently we used to take him through the day, but now he’s started to tell us everything that happened as nursery that day. It is so great to hear him recounting in quite specific detail the things that he has done.

It shows he’s happy, he’s changing, he’s learning and he’s having fun. Surely these are the ingredients of a great education. It’s what Jake experiences at nursery, and it’s exactly what I am experiencing with my course too. It goes to show that you are never too young or too old to learn, and I for one hope that I never stop learning both formally and informally.

Here’s to great, transformative, education.


Thank you for the music

I was at a gig last night, watching two groups that I really like (Wooden Shjips and Hookworms) and try to see at least once a year. Both bands play quite heavy repetitive music and I really enjoy really losing myself in it. As is quite often on such occasions I find myself thinking about the many gigs that I have been to during the years and my mind naturally goes back to when I was young. As such I always enjoy seeing young people really getting into the music and enjoying themselves without seemingly a care in the world, in a way that only young people can.

Of course this leads me into wondering what sort of music the boys will come to like when they are growing up and what effect I will/ can have on this. I used to find it interesting on the recently lamented Word Podcast that the first question they always asked their guests was “What music was in your house when you were growing up?”. Invariably the guest would always talk about the styles of music that their parents (usually, but not always, their Father) listened to and how it influenced them to become a musician, writer, artist etc….

My parents were not what you might call keen music fans, and owned no more than around a dozen records. However, my Mother had the radio on in the house all day every day, and from that I gained a great appreciation of pop music of the late 1960s and 1970s, to such an extent that I began buying records in earnest when I was just nine years old.

This leads me to place myself under a great deal of pressure because, on the one hand,  I really want to ‘educate’ Jake and Sam in terms of listening to music. I’d love them to like what I like and have conversations about this and that band. However, on the other hand, I also want them to find their own way in life and develop their own tastes, and nothing would make me more proud to see them on stage playing great music, their music – although I’m sure that I’d then be in a state of constant angst that they become exposed to the seedier side of the music scene.

For me this brings up many of the dilemmas that we face as parents. We want our children to be confident and independent, but somehow we want this under our own terms. We fret about whether and by how much we should influence them without stifling them and having the opposite effect.

I guess that the answer probably lies somewhere in between, that we are there to gently guide them when we can and hopefully nudge them in the right direction. For me being young is about being free, enjoying life and not having to worry too much about the future (that’s the job of parents). I hope that my boys can do that in a healthy way; but it won’t stop me from having the stereo on when they’re around!


My Cardboard Wardrobe

Our family life seems to be dominated by moving house at the moment. Even though the event itself doesn’t happen for another six weeks we’re already in full swing: sending stuff to charity shops, having furniture collections and piling items on eBay. And even though we are getting rid of this stuff on a daily basis, our house doesn’t really seem to be any emptier.

We moved into our current house about six years ago and, because we moved two houses worth of stuff into one, it has never been empty. In fact our car has never seen the inside of the garage because the garage has always been packed with furniture and unopened boxes.

So, over the last couple of months, we have made a really effort to identify and pass on things that can hopefully be used by other people. This often hasn’t been an easy thing to do because we seem to get so attached to our belongings, or hoard them just in case we might need them in the future. And yet the fact that we have boxes unopened from when we moved in speaks volumes about how much we actually need.

So we have said goodbye to many boxes of books, bags of clothes, cases of kitchenware and at least a van load of furniture; much of which we’ve had for years. I’ve even said goodbye to the wardrobe that was my parents when I was growing up, and has subsequently accompanied me on every one of my house moves (the new house has built in wardrobes). It has been replaced, in the short term, by a cardboard wardrobe supplied by our removal company. Sure it’s nothing special to look at but it does the job.

I notice this too with the boys. They become extremely attached to items very quickly, and usually quite unpredictably; Jake has currently forsaken all his soft toys in favour of a stuffed caterpillar (who he has now named ‘Mr Bendybus’) that has sat untouched in his room for at least two years; and Sam often takes DVD cases to bed with him, and places them in a crenelated fashion around the edge of his cot. As with most children, what they most desire at any one particular time is what the other one has and so Karen and I are always having to act as referee as another conflict breaks out over a Lightning McQueen Lego car, or a Thomas train. Like the rest of us children rely on things to make them feel comfortable, to attach memories to, and help them to find their own identities.

We all put values on items then, often something that has no bearing to what they actually cost in monetary terms and, like with shares, the sentimental value of them can go up as well as down; which is why I was able to finally get rid of so much of the stuff that I’d been hanging on to since my student days, including most of my academic books.

So for me part of moving house is also about moving on in other ways too, I can let go of many things, and grow attached to new things too. Although I don’t think I’ll be hanging on to my cardboard wardrobe.


Road Trip

I’ve been away this week, hence the absence of blog posts (no internet connection – I know how did I cope?). I’ve been with the family up at my late Father’s house sorting furniture for our own house move next month (and more on this at a later date). This required that I hire a van to bring the stuff back.

I love driving vans, there’s something about being higher up than most other road users that I find quite compelling: you can see more of the world around you, and you get a better view of the traffic. This was not the case on the way there, however, as I drove through a huge thunderstorm coming over the Pennine Hills, but I was certainly glad to have the van as most car drivers had to stop, so fierce was the weather.

The journey back was a much more sedate affair and I really enjoyed driving along with Jake in the cab beside me. He was very excited to be there and on the way we had a few chats about a drawing of a pirate ship that I’d done for him earlier in the day (I needed to add a plank), and about what he was going to do when he got home (get his kite out), before he drifted off to sleep.

As my mind wandered a little I began to think about the reason I enjoy these road trips so much. When I was a boy my Dad had a job as a lorry driver, delivering oil and petrol around the North West of England and North Wales. Every now and again during the school holidays he would take me out in the lorry delivering to great places such as airports, factories, hospitals and hotels. These places also seemed huge and endlessly fascinating to an eight year old, especially as I got to see the parts of them that most people didn’t get to see: the boiler rooms, loading bays, and control towers. I thought that my Dad had the best job in the world.

But it was not the destinations that stayed in my mind the most, nor the great views over the hedgerows, not even the brilliant lorries that he used to drive (and I can close my eyes and still see the inside of many of the cabs). Rather it was the little adventures and encounters we had on the way, at transport cafes, with employees at the places he delivered to, and when we occasionally broke down – we once brought an entire town to a standstill. It was a glimpse into a completely different world, my Dad’s world, a grown up world, a world that seemed so alien and far away.

So I completely understood why Jake was so excited to come into the van with me today, and I hope that (before he went to sleep) he has taken some memories that will stay with him for many years to come. Let’s hope that there are many more trips that he and Sam will take with us that will leave their indelible mark on them, and help them to get to know more about the world around them.