Making the most of a new life


A tale of two Mondays

For several years now I have had one day per week when I have looked after the boys. This is, firstly, so I can spend more time with them, and, secondly, to help Karen to get some work done (she has a weekday with them, too). Since we have moved house two things have changed, I have moved the day from Friday to Monday, and I now just have Sam for most of the day since Jake has started school. The last two Mondays could not have been more different.

The first Monday was a beautiful sunny day so I decided to take Sam on a long walk exploring the local countryside. It was an amazing day exploring new footpaths and looking at lots of great things on the way. The route that I had chosen followed a river and we had great fun looking at the water, and what was in it. Part of the way followed not one but two train lines, so Sam had a whale of a time looking for trains, shrieking with delight when one went past, something that involved much waving. We encountered a heard of cows, and Sam tried to count them and made mooing noises. We sang endless verses of ‘Wheels on the Bus’, ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’, and ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. Sam spent some time looking at the books we had brought along, and playing with the few toys he had chosen to bring with him.

After a while he fell asleep and I had a quiet coffee beside a lake before heading off again. Once he woke up we went into the city on the tram (something he loves) where he entertained some of the other passengers with his antics. We had lunch in a cafe where he was entertaining me with his cheeky smile, and we then went home on the train; which he waved off at our local station and was very happy to get a wave and a toot back from the driver.

Contrast this with the following Monday. For a start the weather could not have been more different. It was sheeting down with rain and was due to do so all day. Rather than get cabin fever in the house I thought it would be a good idea to drive to one of Sam’s favourite museums. The motorway was terrible with massive amounts of spray coming off the cars and lorries, and it was not long before we began to get warning signs of trouble ahead. So we got off the motorway and tried to get to the museum using back roads. A bit annoying, but Sam fell asleep and all seemed well. Suddenly there was a loud vomiting noise from the back seat followed by a cry and a little voice saying “Daddy. Weetabix.”. At that very moment I joined a traffic jam on a road with high hedges and nowhere to stop with poor Sam in the back continuing to be sick.

When I finally did manage to stop, with the rain still pouring down there was certainly more than Weetabix in Sam’s lap. I managed to get him out of his car seat and plonked him on the ground, forgetting that he had taken his shoes off earlier. So there he was crying away covered in sick from neck to toe standing in a puddle with no shoes on, in what I realised was the car park of a well known baby product warehouse (oh the irony). Not my finest parenting moment, but surely that was as bad as it would get.

It seemed so as I quickly went about changing him and getting him warm and dry so that I could then clean his car seat. It was at that moment that I realised that there were no wipes in the changing bag. After a short period of swearing under my breath (we ALWAYS have wipes in the changing bag) I cleaned things up as much as I could with Sam’s dirty clothes, popped him in Jake’s car seat and headed off for a covered car park where I could get us sorted out more and try to exorcise some of the smell from the inside of the car, the museum trip well and truly abandoned.

While perhaps at the extremes, these were two not untypical days in the life of a parent, and I have certainly found that life has become less predictable since I became a Dad. With children life is rarely dull, and requires me to find new ways of doing things, develop new skills, and makes me more resourceful.

Looking back now, both days were special in their own way, and were certainly memorable. Let’s see what next Monday brings, but I have to get the smell of last Monday out of my nose first.

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After having moved into our new house and getting the boys settled, the next step was school. Getting a school place for Jake had not been straight forward. I also felt that the fact of him going to school had seemed very abstract, although we had very much linked our move to Sheffield with him starting at ‘big school’ and this, for him, was part of the excitement of our moving.

One thing that I was expecting was that I’d get emotional when I first saw him in his school uniform. I wasn’t wrong. He looked so proud and grown up wearing it; and he was very excited. It was also good that his grandparents were there too as we were able to mark the event in a more traditional German way, which involves giving him a package (in the shape of a cone) full of sweets and things that might be useful to him at school (not to be left out Sam got one too for starting his new nursery). I like this tradition because it says that going to school is an important stage in life, and I think it also shows that we place a value on learning.

When we got to school Jake seemed very confident and not phased at all by his surroundings (he has been there once the week before for an hour) and seemed to settle relatively quickly. We were very relieved that he seemed ok, especially as some children seemed quite upset about being there, and had no worries about leaving him there. We felt that we had prepared the ground for him well, but most of all it was Jake who had shown such confidence in going there, and when we picked him up he was very keen to go again the next day. Jake has now been at school for three weeks and he is loving it. He has noticeably grown in confidence and seems to be considerably older than he was just a few weeks ago. He seems more motivated to go that he ever was with nursery.

The same is the case with Sam who has also had to go through this big change. But for him it was much more unexpected because, since he’s only 2, we weren’t really able to prepare him for the changes that were coming. He didn’t know that he’d be staying with his grandparents while we flew back, didn’t know that we were moving house, and didn’t know that he’d be going to a new nursery: a nursery that his brother wouldn’t be attending like before. I think it’s fair to say that Sam has been a little bit more insecure than before, needing reassurance that Karen and/ or I are in the house, but he has generally coped very well and, like Jake, now seems to be well settled in his new environment and growing in confidence.

I have been amazed by the resilience of Jake and Sam. Despite going through a series of very big changes, none of which were really under their control, they have found the resources not only to cope but to thrive. I would like to think that this was partly down to the fact the Karen and I provide them with certain constants in their lives but whatever it is they seem to flourish in their new surroundings and I really have a sense of us settling down to our new life as a family, ready to embrace that next round of changes that come our way, whatever they may be.

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Boxes, boxes, boxes.

So we arrived at the new house, all freshly painted: a blank canvas for us to make it into a home. We had first seen it ten months previously, and a couple of times since then. But the more we thought about it the smaller it got until we were getting worried about how we were going to fit in all our stuff. When we got inside we were slightly relieved that it was bigger than we remembered it, and certainly bigger than the house we were leaving.

Then the removers arrived and started bringing in box after box after box after box after box. Standing in the kitchen at one point I ask one of the movers whether they’d actually brought us someone else’s stuff as well. To which he replied “everyone thinks that”.

So then the task began, getting the house in a liveable condition before we went to meet Fritz, Frieda and the boys from the airport in just two days time. The task seemed completely daunting, especially as we found out we would have to collect and assemble shelving that should have been in place before we moved in, to the point that is seemed impossible to do in time. It was not just the fact that we wanted to be able to live there within two days, but we wanted the boys to feel comfortable in it as much as possible straight away. We wanted to see the look on their faces when they saw their new play room and their new bedroom (and in Sam’s case a bed rather than a cot).

With this as our main motivation we went from seeing it as an impossible job to being on an absolute mission to get it done. I got up at 4am to open boxes and get stuff on shelves. Karen went off to get the furniture and with the help of friends (you know who you are, thank you) got it put up. Karen got the boys playroom looking fabulous within a very short time and working right until the last minute (we were only ten minutes late at the airport) we managed to get the house into a state that we were happy with.

But now the big test came. What would the boys think? How would they react coming back to seeing all their things in a new house? How would they cope with change?

As it turned out it was a bit of an anti-climax. Jake was so tired from the flight that he fell asleep in the car and was transferred to bed without ever waking up. Sam woke up but was so dozy that he hardly ever noticed at first.

As we showed Fritz and Freida round though, I realised how proud I was, and what a sense of achievement I had that we had achieved so much in such a short period of time.

In the end Sam was so excited about his new playroom that he couldn’t be persuaded to go to bed until 10pm, and the next morning we got that look of wonder from Jake as he first set foot in his new playroom, it was that look he gets when he comes downstairs on Christmas morning.

All in all then it was quite a few days, and I’m not sure I want to unpack another box again in a hurry. But to get the boys reactions in that way it was worth it. 

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Moving memories

So the day of the house move finally came, the packers arrived and we saw all our possessions being boxed up and put in the back of a lorry, and there certainly was a lot of stuff. No wonder we hadn’t been able to move in our own house.

Within a day it went from being our place to a collection of empty rooms, devoid of our things. That’s it I thought, onward and upwards. Then a very strange thing happened (and I can feel the emotion rising just writing this) while I was vacuuming the upstairs landing, which effectively is a corridor. I suddenly got a vision of the boys running up and down it laughing, joking and tumbling. It was such a strong image and, for me, so evocative. I remembered lots of different times when, just after bath time particularly, I have sat at the end of the corridor and caught them as they tried to run past. Suddenly our empty house came to life again.

Thinking about this, and I’m as surprised getting emotional about it now as I was at the time, I realised that while we have a lot of memories invested in our belonging, the place that we live in carries so many memories too. I also realised that I had been so focussed on moving to the new place, that I hadn’t really thought about the old place.

After all this was the house where Karen and I moved into after we were married. The house in which we have got to know each other more and more over the six years we were there. The house that we brought Jake and then Sam home to. The house where we struggled with the early weeks and months of parenthood. The house where we found out that Karen was pregnant with Sam. The house where both boys took their first steps, and did so many other things for the first time.

It’s no wonder then that I got emotional at that sudden memory because it was representative of so many other memories, good and bad, over a six year period; possibly the most changeable period of our lives. It felt a little like a bereavement, because for every change there will be a sense of loss; a certain amount of letting go.

I had been so excited and pre-occupied with the move and all the good things that were to come, I forgot to reflect on the things that had gone before and how special they were; I hadn’t realised how much we had invested emotionally in the place that we were now saying goodbye to. In a sense I think that I probably couldn’t have realised this before the house was empty. By taking out all the paraphernalia the house was stripped down and there was nothing except the house to think about, and this leads me to think about the importance of breaking through the clutter sometimes. Perhaps then we can see what’s important.

So leaving our house was a moving experience in more ways than one.

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Withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms.

It’s been over two weeks since my last blog post, and I’ve really missed writing it. So why have I passed on this pleasure? Well Karen and I came straight off our Berlin holiday and after only about 12 hours at home the movers arrived. Since then it has been a hectic schedule of getting our new house in order (more of which at a later date) and it feels like normal life has been suspended for the last couple of weeks while we settle down.

The greatest change to our normal life, however, was that we left the boys with their grandparents (Fritz and Frieda) in Germany for four days. This was something that was very hard for us, not because we didn’t think the boys would have a good time (they did), but that it was the longest that we had both been apart from them since they were born. We worried where they’d settle and whether and how Sam in particular would manage without his constants (he did). We worried too about what we would do if “anything happened” (it didn’t). We also fretted over whether we should Skype with them so that they wouldn’t fret about whether or not we were still ‘there’ (we didn’t and they didn’t), or whether Fritz and Frieda could cope with two very boisterous boys (they did).

In the end the boys did lots of very exciting things in Berlin (mainly involving different forms of transport) and also got to know their grandparents and cousins much better. In other words Jake and Sam were pretty oblivious to their parent’s worries and just got on with it and, if anything, thrived. I’m sure (I hope) that if there is a next time we will be much calmer about it.

Worrying comes as part and parcel of being a parent, I worry every day about whether what the boys are doing will bring them to harm, and whether we are leading them down the right road. But, if those few days taught me anything, it was that there is not just one right road: there are many. We can help our children pick the right sort of road, but the journey is ultimately theirs.

This probably won’t completely stop me from wanting to be in control of their lives completely, but it might help me to begin to loosen the virtual reigns once in a while. I’m sure that this will lead to withdrawal symptoms and will often be hard, but they are my withdrawal symptoms. In the end when I do ease off I often find it’s at that moment that the boys do amazing things and if I can find it in myself to do it I’ll have done a pretty amazing thing, too.