ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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Cage fighting

We have bought a trampoline. So our back garden, like many others in Britain now screams out to passers by “we have got kids”. And screams are indeed now what regularly come out of our garden. Not only the screams of the boys, but also of Karen and I as we try to encourage some orderly bouncing.

Most of this is, of course, in vain and as I looked out of our kitchen window, from where we get an excellent view of the carnage being wrought as the boys ‘play’ in the garden, it struck me that with its fully enclosed high sides and many health and safety related features it was how I imagine a cage fight being, albeit one involving a lot of bouncing (which I am not sure that cage fighting generally does).

It usually starts quite quietly with the boys bouncing up and down and gradually warms up as they get more confident. Then as they start moving around more wildly they inevitably start bumping into each other amidst much pushing, falling over, and hysterical laughter. They enjoy it so much as it must seem like a safe environment as the netting will catch them if they fall. At the end of each phase of rolling around on the actual springy bit they then get up again and start bouncing, like a couple of prize fighters sizing each other up, and then smack back into it again. It is 90% sheer unadulterated pleasure for them and ends up with the other 10% which is, frankly, a little bit full on.

The key issue for me seems to be when to intervene. If I go too early I spoil their obvious pleasure, too late and there is an increased risk that one of them will get hurt. So why let them go on at all? Well I think it is a pretty safe environment in there, even though the weighty tome that is the instruction book seems to have been written with the sole purpose of the manufacturers avoiding any lawsuits from irate parents who, shockingly, think that it is ok to let more than one child on at a time. Actually if you followed the instructions to the letter you would never use the thing, so you can only accept the risks and get on with it.

This issue of intervention is one that I think increasingly about. The trampoline is not the only place where strife breaks out between the boys and whenever it does part of me wants to wade in straight away, and part of me wants to let them sort it out for themselves. The experience of the trampoline so far is that they manage to sort it out more than half the time, and continue as if nothing happened; but there are occasions where things do escalate. Learning the art of compromise and negotiation cannot be a bad thing, can it?

So I guess, as with many things to do with children, it is all about finding boundaries; not just for the boys by for me as well and I am conscious that I have different sense of risk than they do. When it comes to what they want they try and get it without, in that moment, worrying too much about the consequences. But while that my mean that they have realised that a certain action may result in something negative, the other side of that coin is that the can enjoy themselves without worrying too much either.

So when it comes to the trampoline I certainly do not want to stop them having the pure unadulterated pleasure that it brings. But I will still be keeping an eye on them.

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Other people’s children

Jake has now reached the age where he is starting to have friends round. This is nothing new, what is new is that these friends are now dropped off by their parents. So while I guess you could call them play dates, they are very different sorts of things than before.

Unlike previously where the parents would come round and have a coffee and a chat, and the offspring would largely play by themselves, interspersed with the odd bit of combat as the focus of both children alighted on one particular toy or book. Now Jake and his friends play very nicely together and, by and large, require very little supervision.

So while this does tend to be an altogether different experience, especially for us parents in that we can get on with something else, there is the small matter of being responsible for someone with whom you are not familiar, unlike your own child of whom you have come to know pretty much every foible, and in many ways rather take this for granted.

As well as ‘play dates’ I have also found myself taking Jake and a friend out to such as soft play centres. It provides them with a good opportunity to bond, and me with a good opportunity to do things like write this blog. But I am also aware that I do not know how these friends will react when they fall over and hurt themselves, or what they do and do not like. What are they usually allowed in terms of food and drink? Do I really want to set some sort of precedent for their own parents to follow? “Well Jake’s Daddy lets us have three ice creams”. That would make me very popular.

So you are responsible for this complete stranger who, from my experience so far, is far more polite and amenable than your own child, and who seems to play nicely without much problem at all, and tends to eat all his tea. I do not say this to denigrate the boys, because I expect that when they go elsewhere to play at their friends’, their parents have a similar experience with them.

This is probably because the friends’ parents are strangers as well, not people which whom you have spent the last few years pushing boundaries and finding out where you stand. So parents of friends are people to be a bit wary of, but on the other hand they are looking after you. So what happens if something goes wrong? Will they look after you?

Because of this we expect our children to exhibit a certain amount of trust in those strangers that are their friends’ parents, as we do ourselves as parents. We expect a certain minimum standard of care for our children and I am sure that there is some sort of vetting procedure going on, however (un)conscious, when we consider who will be looking after our children.

In the end I think that I have to trust that the boys will be fine when they go out with friends and their parents. It is the next stage of letting go, a process which, like it or not, will continue apace for years to come.

I might as well get used to it, but I cannot say it is comfortable.


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No going back

 

We had visitors staying with us during the Easter break, a family with two children including a six months old baby. I thought that the baby was very cute and I very much enjoyed interacting with her, and was surprised how relatively easy she was compared with our boys (I mean how they are now not how they were then). She slept a lot and did not really have many needs apart from feeding, being changed, and being taken out for a walk now and again. I often forgot she was there as she rolled around on the carpet, or gurgled quietly in the pram, ‘forget’ being something that you most definitely cannot do with the boys.

But, and I think that you probably knew there was a ‘but’ coming, it did not really make me pine for having another baby. I am not sure whether this is a gender thing but the thought of going through the whole first years again is not something I particularly crave for.

That is not to say that I did not enjoy our boys’ early years. Certainly with Jake, because everything was new and exciting, and I did not know what was coming next. It was also a great challenge because I was learning and changing all the time, surprising myself at what I could do; and was generally amazed by the whole concept of fatherhood. With Sam it was a mixture of fresh challenge, two was definitely more than one plus one; but I also found myself wishing Sam’s early years away as we went through those different phases: crawling, teething, weaning, walking, talking, sleeping through etc… It was special in its own way, and Sam was, and is, very different to Jake in many ways. But do I want to do it again. Er no not really.

The boys have both reached ages that are really interesting. Jake is taking all sorts of new interesting concepts on board, and it is fascinating to see him develop. Sam is developing too, now in a very different way and, most importantly is really developing his communication skills and I am loving being invited into his fantasy world; something that he is much more open with than Jake was.

So I guess for me the bottom line is that while I am sure another child would be rewarding in their own particular way the first two years would not be as exciting again, until he or she were to reach ‘the age of communication’, I am not sure that I would get as much out of the experience as before. I may, of course, be wrong but I am not sure that I want to try. If nothing else I am not sure that I could take it, I am tired enough at the end of each and everyday as it is.

So hats off to those with more than two. I really do not know how you do it.


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A change is as good as a rest

Well the Easter break is now over and we already seem to have dropped back into our routines again as if it never happened. It was a good break and Jake, in particular, had a much needed rest.

I do not remember school being so tiring when I was a child, but I guess that it must have been; I certainly do not think that I was awake for hours in the evening and I am pretty sure that I was always in bed and asleep well before 8. But it has certainly been clear to me that Jake finds school to be tiring, and was really struggling during the last week of last term as the weeks of learning built up. Even in reception class there is a great emphasis on children improving and developing their reading, writing and maths; and Jake has certainly learned an awful lot since he started in September. But this does take its toll on one so young.

This is not to say that he does not enjoy it, and he was so keen to go back on Monday morning that we were waiting for the gates to open at school. But because he finds it so tiring we are really mindful of how he can spend his time out of school, and try to find a balance between different sorts of activities. So while we do listen to him read, and help him to write and count; we also encourage him to play both inside and outside and we are quite happy to let him watch TV in, what we think, is moderation.

I would go further than that and say that allowing him to watch some TV is important because he clearly does find it relaxing and, provided it is the right sort of TV (BBC Cbeebies and good quality films), we also find that he learns while he watches too; he has certainly improved his vocabulary watching the likes of Ice Age, Madagascar and other films. This does not stop us having the discussion (argument) about him watching more as he always, of course, tries to push the boundaries of how much he can watch especially during the holidays when he has more potential watching time.

This is why we also try to get out and explore the area around us, either by going down to the local playgrounds/ parks, or visiting museums and places of interest. Of all these though the one that I most enjoyed during this break was taking the boys up into the Peak District National Park, which we are very fortunate to live close to. We had a great time exploring the woods, tramping through what was left of the snow (Sam even found a submerged stream and ended up to his waist in snow), and playing pooh sticks.

All in all it was a busy time with lots to do and see, but Jake looked great on it and I hope that he will remember his trips out with the sort of fondness that I do. It is great to get out, and I am looking forward to a summer of exploring new places and introducing the boys to the joys of being outside.

When we got to the car park at Longshaw Estate, where we were visiting, Jake asked me “where’s the playground Daddy?”. I thought for a moment and nearly said “there isn’t one”, then looking round it struck me and said “it’s here Jake, it’s all around you”. I was pleased that I thought to say that, and even more pleased that the boys embraced the concept, and now want to think of more ways to help make it just that for them.

There are plenty more holidays coming up so suggestions gratefully received.


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Park(ing) life

Today marks the end of a week-long series of posts which have given me the opportunity to get a few annoying things off my chest, things that have only annoyed me since I became a parent. The themes have been varied in nature, and have been a mixture of issues that somehow seem to have a wider relevance to my role as a father to two young boys, some being more consequential than others.

I have saved the most petty of my rants until last as I think the things that annoy us the most are often the ones that really have the least importance in the overall scheme of things; but nevertheless have an irrational hold over us. And so it is with what I want to talk about today. This is that it really irritates me when people who do not have children with them park in the ‘parent and child spaces’ at supermarkets.

I think that this annoys me for two reasons. First, because we parents do not really get that much preferential treatment that is as institutionalised as this (being allowed to board planes first being the only other one that springs to mind). Second, those spaces are there because we really do need more room to get children out of cars, so it is the interests of everyone’s paintwork that we park there. Furthermore, since they are closer to the store (presumably the reason why the culprits park there in the first place) this reduces the chances of our children being involved in an accident in what is a very busy and dangerous environment.

Indeed I have lost count of the times that I have driven round looking for a space to park in, because the parent/ child spaces are full, often to find someone getting in or out of a car without a child on sight. Is it really too much to ask that someone walks an extra ten metres so that we parents can have a slightly more comfortable trip to the shops?

So while I would rather someone park there than in a disabled space, I still feel that parking in the parent/ child area is a very selfish thing to do, and worthy of being challenged. Of course we British do not like that sort of confrontation, and no one who has wrongly parked in such a place will expect any sort of come back on it. It gets my goat so much, however, that I have been known to challenge people on it and have got all sorts of responses from feigning ignorance to downright abuse from people who do not seem to see any problem with parking there.

I have stopped doing it now that the boys are getting older though because I think that the last thing I want them to see is me getting into an argument with someone over a parking place, not least because of all the ‘why’ questions that this is bound to generate. I would quickly become ‘irrational frothing at the mouth dad’.

In idle moments I do think that I would like to follow them home and park in their drive, but this would not be the mature response would it? Probably up there with taking a toy just because someone else is playing with it. So I guess I will just try to rise above it, which annoys me too because it is just so irritating.


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Spoilt for choice

I am nearing the end of rant week here on ChangingDad. I have been exorcising those little niggles that I have developed since becoming a parent and have found that I am not alone with many of them.

Today I want to talk about choice. Now choice is usually seen as a good thing, it gives us a broader experience and increases the likelihood that we can find something that we want. When it comes to young children though choice is not necessarily something that I can embrace.

The best example that helps me to explain what I mean is with nappies. To the untrained eye a nappy must seem to be a relatively mundane object: you put them on your child, they soil them, and you wipe them off again. If only it were that simple. Nappies are probably the single thing that has caused strife when getting the boys dressed or putting them to bed. There is one reason, and one reason alone for this; that no matter which brand you choose it always contains more than one design. This means that, particularly in the evening when everyone is tired, there is a weary conversation to be had about which design of nappy the boys are going to wear.

Both boys have developed a favourite design, both around the age of 3. With Sam it is currently the one with the giraffe on, and definitely not the lion. This is not a problem for the first half of the pack when giraffes can be extracted from the pile, but after that it is becoming increasingly hard to convince him that the lion is also a desirable animal to have on ones bottom.

And that is the other thing, why is the main design at the back when the child cannot see it when they are wearing it. Surely it should be at the front since the main person who is bothered about nappy design is surely the wearer. We frequently have to convince Sam about what he is wearing, often through an imaginative use of mirrors.

I am bracing myself for this to escalate in the next year or so since I remember having endless exasperating conversations with Jake at a similar age about which nappy he was going to wear, which usually went along the lines of:

Me: nappy on Jake?
Jake: want the dog
Me: sorry the dog ones have all gone
Jake: want the DOG
Me: well you cannot have the dog because there aren’t any left
Jake: want THE DOG
Me: (placing all existing clean nappies in a line) look! There aren’t any dogs
Jake: WANT THE DOG!
Me (now extremely exasperated): but there aren’t any dogs, look that’s not a dog, that’s not a dog etc….
Jake: WANT THE DOG!!
Me: look at the funny bunny/ roaring tiger/ cute cat, meow
Jake: WANT THE DOG!!!

You get the idea. If there was only one design in each packet this sort of thing just would not happen. So nappy manufacturers and other purveyors of children’s goods. How about it. Packs with single designs in them. Make us parents lives just that little bit easier, surely it cuts your costs too. And this does not even begin to address the issue of having two children who want the same and there is only one of that particular variety left.


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An audience with Daddy

It is ChangingDad rant week, where I have been having a bit of a moan about those things that have come to annoy me as a parent. While they are relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things it is also good to share them and get the views of others on them.

So here goes with today’s issue. If I was to say what was the one thing that I have found hard to get used to more than any other since becoming a parent it is the fact that, these days, I frequently have an audience when I am sitting on the toilet. The toilet for me, and I think that this is typical of many men in particular, is a place of sanctuary. It is somewhere that I can spend a few minutes away from the cares of the world and do some thinking or light reading; and more often than not it still is.

There are, however, plenty of times when I am nicely settled into my special place only to be disturbed by a little person wanting information, help or support in a dispute with another little person. Indeed, my sitting down often seems to be some sort of indirect catalyst for the outbreak of strife in the playroom; especially when I am the only adult in the house. I really do not like having to curtail my time in there, and it is often not something that I can especially leave in a hurry. But my sanctuary invaded and the moment broken.

I think that this is probably something that is representative of a wider issue about personal space, something which is markedly reduced with the arrival of children. I lived on my own for many years before Karen and I got together, and even with two in the house there was always plenty of room for personal space. I certainly would not go back to such a life now, but I do occasionally miss the solitude and find my lavatorial escapism to be a good way of mollifying the problem. Which is why it annoys me when it is threatened.

It amuses me that Jake is copying my behaviour and now often takes five or six books into the toilet with him, and can easily spend half an hour in there. It is the only time that he really looks at books on his own so I am not discouraging him. Coincidentally Sam also decided to read a book on the toilet for the first time this week, so it looks like it is a good job that we have more than one toilet in the house.

I like it that the boys want to do this because it is important that we all have a bit of ‘me’ time now and again. After all they do not get much time to themselves either. So perhaps they will come to realise that my toilet time is sacred too: a ritual to be enjoyed alone. Not an audience with Daddy.