ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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Like Son, like Father

It has been a bit of a strange start to the summer holiday period. This was always going to be the case to a certain extent since this was the first time that Jake would be home for several weeks since he first went to nursery when he was nine months old. We have also had friends staying, and so have had five children in the house; and to add to this Sam has been poorly. In fact he has been so poorly that he has been asking to go to bed without any prompting from us.

This has meant that we have sometimes been putting the boys to bed at different times, rather that the usual seemingly chaotic procedure of getting them down together, and the combination of these different factors meant that when I took Sam to bed last night it was a very calm time which I enjoyed very much.

Sam was quite restless, it was also a rather humid evening, but he sang a few songs to me that he had learned at nursery, and for the first time we had a chat. By this I mean a proper little talk in which we were both contributing ideas, a chat that had some sort of point to it and a definite beginning and ending.

This on its own would have been quite enough for me to class it as quality time well spent with him, but half way through our conversation it struck me that the situation that we were in seemed strangely familiar. It took me a while to understand what was going on for me, and I originally thought maybe it was a repeat of a similar time that I had had with Jake. But no, I realised that this first proper chat with Sam reminded me of my last proper chat with my Father.

As you can image this was quite a revelation for me, and one that I had to think through. It was certainly the case that in the half light of the bedroom Sam certainly bore more than a passing resemblance to my Father, but it was also the nature of the conversation which solidified the comparison for me.

My last real conversation with my Father took place in hospital about four days before he died. I had always found it difficult to talk to him when I visited since the distractions of a busy ward together with his increasing deafness and the aphasia that has come about as the result of a stroke made communication very difficult. For some reason, however, he had been put in a single room and we were able to focus on each other more, and I was able to spend time deciphering what he wanted to say to me. It was a lovely afternoon that I shall always treasure.

This is where this particular bedtime with Sam I think was similar. There was not the usual distractions of him and Jake egging each other on, or of him trying every trick he knows to put off the ‘awful’ moment of lying down quietly, so we were able to focus on each other much more. Added to this was the issue of me trying to discern what he wanted to say to me. His vocabulary is increasing at an amazing rate but he is still trying to work out how to say many words and, like my Father, got a bit frustrated when I could not understand what he wanted to say.

This was a really lovely and very positive moment for me and, for a change, I did not want to get out of the bedroom as soon as possible to begin my ‘child-free‘ evening. From this I learned that that sometimes it is important to slow down and take more notice of what it going on around me. I have no idea whether I will be able to heed this advice in future, but I really hope so.

Somehow the generational baton was passed on.

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The Royal Baby and stories of courage

While I would not class myself as a Republican I am not really a Royalist either, but since this is not 1649 I can sit on the fence quite happily. I do, however, get really irritated by what I see as the excessive coverage of royal events, especially when they usurp other stories that affect people’s lives much more. There are other births too that, in my opinion, are much more worthy of our attention given the courage and suffering that are involved.

Let me make it clear at this point that I wish the Royal Couple no ill will, and should add that it would not swap my life for theirs in any circumstance; the pressure that comes with the media spotlight must be immense. Nor do I want to underplay the pain of childbirth that Kate will have gone through which, having watched my wife Karen go through twice, I can only imagine. Nevertheless they have had the best of possible advice and care as they become parents for the first time.

But as I sat through what I saw as the interminable coverage waiting for some other news I could not help reflecting on children born into abusive relationships, into families where addiction is rife, or where the parents for whatever reason just cannot cope. I then thought about those many people who foster children from such situations and how heroic they are in taking children who are often quite troubled. I cannot imagine, as I struggle daily with Jake and Sam, how (or why) they do it. But thank goodness they do.

I then thought about the many people for whom having children is far from straightforward. Those who are unable to for whatever reason, and those for whom having children is a desperate round of medical consultation, IVF treatment, joyous hope and, often, crushing disappointment; then repeated. For parents, like friends of ours, who knew that if the pregnancy went to term they would have at most an hour with their child before it died, and how they made the courageous decision to do just that. But also their joy of conceiving again and having a healthy boy.

I thought of single parents who often seem to be so derided by our society yet must go through unbelievable strains and pressures to bring up their children. Mums and Dads who do not have anyone to share the load, the joys and the pains with. People who I imagine often must feel very isolated as they bring up their children alone. I cannot imagine parenting on my own and would be lost without Karen.

I thought of those in other parts of the world who do not have access to the sort of great medical care that we do here in the UK, and for all its faults the National Health Service is still an amazing thing. Places where child mortality rates are far higher and how we often forget that, behind the statistics, are grieving parents. I thought of those caught up in conflicts around the world, those very conflicts that lose our attention when not reported, and of the loss parents feel when their children are senselessly killed or taken away to fight in armies for causes that were long forgotten.

I guess what I am saying is that having a child is usually a time of joy, and by all means tell us about the birth of the royal baby; I am actually interested in it to the extent of knowing its sex, weight, name; and that mother and child are healthy. But that it is. For me there are far more interesting and inspiring stories of parents, carers, and those who never get to be parents showing courage in the face of unbelievable adversity. While I do not suggest that individuals be thrust into the public eye like William and Kate, I think there are many other stories of parenthood which deserve our attention that we never get to hear about.

So while I hope Kate and William will be able to experience as many of the joys and frustrations of parenthood that their situation allow, I would like to dedicate this post to the many parents and those who cannot be parents who have gone through unimaginable pain and grief and shown amazing courage in the face of such adversity. Let us remember them too.


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Another Fine Mess

With the summer holidays approaching I have been thinking about what I did during that long break when I was young. Like most of us I seem to remember that most summers were hot and sunny, just like this year (although I can also picture playing Monopoly with my parents in a caravan in Wales, the rain pouring down the windows outside).

While I do remember getting out and about I also have memories of looking forward to the summer television schedules. They were a much more modest affair than today, with maybe a couple of hours extra programming each morning. Two highlights that come to mind from this were Laurel and Hardy, and the Banana Splits; both of which had slapstick at their heart.

I have retained a love for Laurel and Hardy in particular, since it not only reminds me of that time, but also of my Father howling with laughter at them. As I have got older I have come to appreciate that they are not only funny but very skilled and clever too, how else could they be so entertaining nearly a century after they first released their films.

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What I had not realised until very recently was how much of their act must have been based on watching how children interact, something they all but admitted with the 1930 short film Brats. There seems to me to be an older/ younger brother relationship at the heart of what they do which is at the same time frustrating, funny, violent, joyful and endearing; so pretty much like watching Jake and Sam on an average day.

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I have recently introduced Stan and Ollie to the boys, they spotted my 21 disc box set the other day and wanted to know what it was, and while Sam is still a bit too young (he calls it “funny box”), Jake is loving the slapstick comedy and how “silly” they are. They also find it funny when I tell them that they are just like that, although I’m not sure that they believe me.

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Think of the boys being like Laurel and Hardy somehow make me more sanguine about how they are with each other because beneath the cross words, the pushing, and the fighting over the only toy that they could both possibly want; lies an affection and a need on some level to get along, which seems to get stronger as they get older. It also means that I can find something funny that I may have before thought was a petty irritant. It also reminds me that children are more like adults than we care to admit, it’s just that they do not have the social awareness and skills to work things out through negotiation.

This makes me wonder just how much I should intervene when the boys are going at each other? Should I let them work it out for themselves? Or should I jump in straight away?

I try to leave them as long as I can but, sooner or later, I am worried that if I do not come between them I really will be left with another fine mess.


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Camping

 

We took the boys camping for the first time last weekend. All in all it was a very easy first dipping of our toes in the camping waters since we went with five other families, most of whom are seasoned campers and so have all the equipment and know how to set up a camp. We also boosted our own confidence early on by pitching our tent in a howling wind with relatively little drama.

Our tent, as taken by Jake

Our tent, as taken by Jake

One thing that really struck me about going camping was how differently Karen and I viewed the weekend when compared with the boys. We had some anxieties about it: What happens if it rains all weekend? Will the boys be warm enough and be able to sleep? How will we manage an unfamiliar environment? I could go on. The boys, on the other hand, just went “Great! Camping!” and that was pretty much it. That certainly told me that we can worry too much about what might happen rather than just getting on with things. Of course we have the extra responsibility as parents, but maybe we should also trust that we can all adapt to situations more easily; but also wonder what it is that makes us less flexible as we get older?

The evening light gave us a lovely backdrop

The evening light gave us a lovely backdrop

It seems that one of the things that is somewhat traditional in camping is that the first evening is particularly chaotic. Adults are busy getting set up, and children are whipping themselves up in a frenzy of excitement as they get used to their new surroundings. I think that there is an absence of boundaries which encourages this and gives them a great feeling of space and freedom. Maybe it all gets a bit too much after a while as I saw children all over the campsite being very very excited until late into the evening, Jake and Sam were certainly difficult to settle even two hours after their usual bedtime and, at that moment, I really wondered whether we had done the right thing.

This feeling was enhanced further when we woke the next morning to a campsite full of very bitey midges. I need not have worried, and soon the sun came out and a breeze got up and I had what I think was one of my best ever days with the boys. We played games, went down to the river to fish and paddle, Jake and I climbed the huge hill above the camp site, and we enjoyed the company of other families. It was good because it all felt very spontaneous probably because we had nowhere else to be and nothing else to do; which is rarely the case when we are at home.

We had great fun fishing and wading in the river

We had great fun fishing and wading in the river

I think that it is good to get away for that reason alone, and it reminded me how fixed to our routines and behaviours we can be when we are at home and I think we all enjoyed the relative freedom that this brought.

Jake and I had great views of our camp as we climbed

Jake and I had great views of our camp as we climbed

We had a great weekend and we all want to do it again. It was interesting too how our experiences rippled into the next week, not least from catching up on sleep and getting back into the very routines that we had so enjoyed being away from. Routines that somehow seem necessary for everyday living. After all if we did not have them we would not be able to enjoy escaping from them.