Making the most of a new life

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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 12. Change

The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 12. Change

I have really enjoyed writing these daily blogs over the Christmas period. They have helped me find a fresh perspective on our family Christmas, and to understand it more. I think I will also enjoy reading through them in years to come as they will provide a sort of benchmark of how things change over the years as the boys get older and we develop both as a family and individually.

Having read through them again today I think that, for me, change is one of the key themes that came out of these posts. Remembering how Christmas was when I was a child. Remembering those who are no longer with us. Thinking about how different Christmas is as the boys get older and how different they themselves are, and wondering what family traditions will emerge over the years. But also challenging whether past traditions should be kept and thinking about how we can find an approach to Christmas that works best for us and our situation. I am not sure that I have found many answers yet, but I am starting to find the right questions.

For me this blog is about change, it is right there in the title. It is about understanding how becoming a Father has changed me and my life, and how I can hopefully become a better Father and Husband as a result, and Christmas has proved an ideal time to assess this since it seems to put us under the microscope in one way or another.

This is the last of my 12 Blogs of Christmas and will also be the last post of 2012 so I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year, and to thank you for taking the time to read ChangingDad, it means a lot to me that so many people seem to like it and even find it helpful on occasion.

When I started writing this in June I was not sure for how long I would keep it going but change keeps happening and I seem to find plenty of things on which to reflect. I would also like to thank those nice people at for including ChangingDad in their Top 50 Dad Blogs of 2012. This means a lot to me as it tells me that I must be doing something right, and gives me the confidence to continue into 2013 with renewed impetus.

Until next year….

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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 11. Pause

As I have been writing these daily blog posts about Christmas I cannot help but think that the issues that I have been writing about may see somewhat trivial to many people. My aim has been, like the blog more generally, to reflect our lives and concerns as a family, and chronicle the changes that I experience as a father of two young boys. The blog helps me to say that I do not find being a father easy, but also says that when I do put the effort in then the rewards are often great.

It is very natural for us to be concerned about our own situations and see the challenges that lie therein. Parenthood is difficult and Christmas is no different in that respect. In many ways those difficulties are magnified at this time of year as relationships and lives come under the microscope.

So I did want to take a moment, amidst my own issues, to remember those for whom Christmas is a far from happy time for whatever reason; be it bereavement, poverty, family crisis, conflict or environmental disaster. People for whom having a ‘normal Sunday‘ on Christmas Day would be something to dream about.

Concern for those who are less fortunate at Christmas for me is personified by my Auntie Enid, who lost her husband at an early age and who for the first few years after he died used to sit by his grave in the rain and freezing cold on Christmas Day. She refused all offers from family and friends to be with them at Christmas, saying she preferred being with her husband whose death had obviously devastated her.

Then she heard about Crisis at Christmas, a charity who provide homeless people in London with shelter, fresh clothes and food over the Christmas period. Her Christmases were transformed as she spent a week every year sleeping on concrete floors, and serving and washing the feet of some of London’s most disadvantaged people. She also used to collect clothes for the charity during the year and sent at least a large lorry load down to London every year.

Out of her own grief Auntie Enid, who sadly died last year, made such a huge difference to so many people at Christmas time; and she got a huge amount of pleasure from what she did but did not want to accept any praise for it since is was also her way of coping with this time of year.

I am always very humbled when I think of Auntie Enid and the people she cared for. It reminds me that Christmas is not such a joyous time for every one, and I am very lucky to have what I have. This helps me to realise this and, while it does not take away the real concerns and challenges that my own situation brings, it helps me put them in perspective.

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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 10. Presents

In many ways Karen and I were victims of our own success. Since most of our relatives live overseas we were given budgets, albeit modest ones, to buy presents for the boys. Presents that would be what the boys wanted and that would fit with their existing toys. This seemed a good idea because it meant that they would not have presents that they did not want, and so would not sit in the corner unplayed with.

So Karen and I spent many hours looking for the right toys at the right price on eBay in particular, since we thought that it was a responsible thing to do to reuse rather that buy new, our criteria being that the toys were pretty much in mint condition and came in their original box. There were certainly plenty to choose from this year, no doubt with many people wanting to sell unused and seldom played with toys to fund their Christmases this year, and we got a good haul of clean new looking toys for a fraction of the new price. We were so pleased with ourselves, and as each new parcel arrived we checked it and put it away in the garage.

The thing was that we did not see all the boxes together in one place, and as the parcels began to appear and were ripped open over the Christmas period we began to view the growing mound of presents in the corner with some alarm. By Christmas morning we had decided that the boys should have one more present and their stockings and call a halt the the proceedings so they had an opportunity to play with what they had, and save the unopened ones (which they did not know about) until the New Year when we come back from Germany.

Are we right to do this? I do not know. It felt right at the time. It felt as if we had presented the boys with all the parcels at once they would have been completely overwhelmed by the whole thing and, although it would have looked amazing, they would not have known where to start once everything was open. But, on the other hand, I also wonder whether we should have trusted them more.

For me this also begs the question of who the presents are for. Do we present our children with mounds of presents at Christmas to somehow prove we are good parents? Or do we just want to make them happy, and think that this happiness can me measured quantitatively somehow? I suspect that the boys, certainly at their current ages, would have a good time however big the mound of presents we gave them, since we tried hard to make the rest of Christmas, and the run up to the bug day, special for them as well.

Whatever the answer to these questions are we will certainly be rethinking this next year, but I have a feeling that as the boys get older new issues will emerge. As with most things only time will tell as the change continues.

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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 9. Was that it?

Well that is Christmas Day over with for another year. At about 1pm yesterday Jake asked me: “When is it Christmas again Daddy”? In some ways this sort of summed it up for me. We seem to have had the huge build up to Christmas, most of which I thoroughly enjoyed, but when the day itself comes it never quite seems to match the expectation we place on it.

The day began quite late. I do not know whether my telling Jake that Father Christmas did not come until 8am had anything to do with it, but the boys both woke up at about 8.20, meaning that Karen and I got a bit of a lie in. They then raced downstairs to get their stockings and had a nice time unpacking them. We opened a few presents and then Karen went off to work for a few hours while I made lunch.

After that it felt pretty much like a normal Sunday really, since it was just the four of us. I think previous years have seemed different since we have had my Father with us (and last year although he had passed away we went to stay in his house). We had also planned a relatively simple meal since we were flying off to Karen’s parents on the 26th and did not want lots of left overs, so that was much the same too. Karen and I were also both very tired as if the build up to Christmas had really taken it out of us and did not have much energy for much other than our usually Sunday afternoon visit to the playground (which we had to ourselves).

So in some ways I was quite disappointed about Christmas Day, but I also asked myself how exactly it should be different? Should we have tried harder? Do we put too much store on making that particular day special above all others? Or should we go with the flow? Something for us to think about.

When I look back on Christmas this year I will truthfully say that we had a good time, and really enjoyed making it special for the boys. But Christmas Day itself left me a bit cold. I think we had all run out of steam by then, so long was the build up.

Still, as Jake says, the countdown to next Christmas begins here.

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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 8. Eve

The boys are now in bed. They have had a few presents and had a chance to get to know them and play with them. There has been much excitement with tearing of paper and joyous looks on their faces.

Then comes my favourite part. The bit where we put out the stockings, leave a drink and mince pie for Father Christmas, and go outside and leave sparkly reindeer food on the drive, and a carrot on the doorstep, and then persuade them to go to bed in their excitement: otherwise he might not come. Sure it is subterfuge, but of the nicest kind, and they both take part in the ceremony with great keenness, and I just love concocting a story for them.

So after all the build up, the planning and the suspense Christmas has finally begun, and it was very nice to sit down with Karen, have a glass of wine and open our presents to each other (that way we could actually open them ourselves). It was a lovely quiet oasis in the middle of an otherwise extremely full-on time of the year, and it was great just to sit and reflect and be with each other. Who knows how short the night will be, but I did tell Jake that Father Christmas comes around 8am on Christmas morning. Let’s see whether that one works.

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas. May it be everything you want it to be.

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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 7. Bendy Bus Memories

It is Christmas Eve and, along with our policy of spreading Christmas out, we gave the boys a present each to open up this morning. They both got identical plastic bendy buses. They were something that we had been looking for for ages, and finally found them about a week ago, hence they were a little something extra.

We had been looking for them for so long because Jake has had one of these for ages and had played so much with it that the tyres had disintegrated on it and he really missed playing with it. It was special too because my late Father bought it for him and he always played with it when we went up to visit. We would get to a certain place on the motorway on the way up to Grandpa’s and Jake would talk about playing with the bendy bus when we got there: he just loved it.

So there was much joy when these presents were opened this morning, and when Jake and Sam started playing with them we heard what turned out to be quite an emotive sound from the bendy bus that reminded me of visits to my Father, that fake engine sound when they pushed them and the wheels turned. I think this was the same for Jake who went quiet for a while until he started playing again.

This for me was a timely reminder of who would not be around this Christmas, reinforced by our visiting the rest of my family yesterday. We have now lost a whole two generations of family since the Christmases of my childhood, and my Step-Sister and I are now the eldest. Our parents and grandparents have all passed away, and it has always been a sadness for me that my Mother never got to see her grandchildren.

This is the second Christmas without my Father and I shall miss his jolly presence. When my nieces were younger he always dresses up as Father Christmas for special surprise presents on the 26th; he was in charge of the black plastic bag which collected up the packaging and wrapping paper, and did in such a way that made us laugh; and he made ridiculous guesses as to what his presents might be. Most of all he always made us very welcome and made sure everyone had the Christmas they wanted. It was never a stressful experience going home for Christmas; quite the opposite.

In this sense Christmases will never be the same again but, like our parents and grandparents before us we have to move on; and this year we are back up to three generations again as one of my nieces had a baby during the year and it is so brilliant to have children around at Christmas. This does not mean that we forget those who are not with us, it is a great time to remember them fondly. But who would have thought a noisy plastic bendy bus would have helped us to do just that this year.

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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 6. Getting Close

I was trying to think of the right word to explain the overarching atmosphere in our house at the moment. ‘Anticipation’ does not quite cut it, and neither does ‘excitement’ really; although that is getting closer to the fact. Is it ‘hysteria’? Maybe on occasion, but I would be going for some dramatic licence to say that was the case. In the end I would use a word that I used in yesterday’s blog: ‘suspense’.

I think that ‘suspense’ is right because it suggests that the boys are in many ways heading into the unknown. For Sam this is the first Christmas that he really has any inkling about what is going on so the daily opening of the Advent calendars and lighting of the candles is a sign for him that something different is going on. For Jake, too, there is something new about this Christmas, new beyond our being in a different house and him being at school. He sort of remembers previous Christmases, the tree, Father Christmas, the presents and so on; but I think essentially it is a new experience for him. He sort of knows what to expect, but only because that is what he had taken in in the build up to this Christmas.

So the boys and, to a certain extent, Karen and me are waiting with varying degrees of patience for Christmas to arrive. What will it bring? How will it be? Will it really live up to expectations? What are those expectations? Only time will tell.

It is getting close now, there is a feeling of suspense in the air. Soon all will be revealed.

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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 5. The Three Letters

There are three envelopes sitting on our mantlepiece. Inside, apparently, are three letters to Santa. I say apparently because we have no idea what is inside them. Jake brought them home from school and they have been living there for a couple of weeks now.

It could be that the contents of these letters are quite mundane, a series of pictures or collages that Jake has made for Santa; or they could separately or collectively represent a list.

Jake’s definitive Christmas list?

We have asked him about the contents but his reply is always “it’s a secret, just for Santa”, but for Santa to take on Christmas night (not when visiting him in his Grotto).  Because of this we are eager to know what is in these well-sealed envelopes, but certainly do not feel as if we should open them, not yet anyway.

We can only  open them on Christmas night as part of Father Christmas’s ‘visit’ to our house and it will be interesting whether the contents of these letters matches the contents of the parcels sitting below them. If not, we will have to see whether this will matter to Jake, after all he has been known to change his mind in the past.

As we know all too well it is not long to wait now, and I can certainly feel the suspense.

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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 4. Grotto

My wife, Karen, finds the notion of taking children to Santa’s Grotto as being something rather unusual, since it is not something that people really do in Germany. She says that it provides British people with another excuse to do some queueing, a stereotype of which I think most of we British are rightly proud.

Whether or not she is right, one thing is for sure: if you want to take your children to a grotto then you can expect to queue, and queue, and queue; with lots of other parents getting slowly more exasperated. I certainly find myself standing there thinking: “just how long does it take for a child to see him” as the snake of people progresses all to slowly, and we have certainly spent a significant part of December standing in such queues.

To what end? Meeting someone dressed in a red suit with a beard, telling our boys they had better be good, asking them what they want and usually handing out low quality toys. On the face of it it is not really worth the wait.

Except it is. Because no matter how grotty the grotto, the boys come out with a sense of wonder. On more than one occasion this time Jake has become so overawed that he as been completely tongue tied and had been unable to recall anything from his well-constructed and comprehensive Christmas list. Sam usually stands there shouting ‘papa istmas’. Both love the experience, and I have loved taking them; and let’s face it once we are in there I do not care how long it takes.

It surely is not my imagination that there has been something of a proliferation of grottos over the last few years. They are everywhere: in stores, on trains, in schools (Santa was at Jake’s school twice), in museums and, yes, even in churches. I seems an obligatory part of any Christmas scene, and we have had to steer the boys past one on more than one occasion this year. After all if we go to too many they might begin to suspect that Father Christmas is spreading himself a bit thin, and that would not do at all.

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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 3. Nativity

One of my earliest memories is being in a nativity play. I guess I was probably five or six at the time. I remember I was a shepherd, and I wore a tea towel on my head, held precariously in place with string; and my dressing gown. I remember standing on the stage at my primary school quite vividly, a memory that is augmented by a photograph of the event that appears in our family album.

So it was with a slight air of disappointment that I went to Jake’s nativity play this week, thinking that he was going to be ‘a partygoer’. Now I am not entirely sure in which Gospel we find out that the partygoers enter the stable. So, I thought, this is the role that is awarded to those children not cast elsewhere and the not often seen competitive Dad in me came to the fore; or was it that I just wanted a more ‘traditional’ role for Jake: one like I had had? One that did not require explanation.

As it turned out I need not have worried since a couple of shepherds failed to turn up to school on the day of the production, whether they were ill or had stage-fright I will never know (nothing to do with me, honest), and so it was a wonderful surprise to see Jake come out of the wings dressed in a lovely shepherd’s outfit. I was so happy.

I am sure that I would have enjoyed the play whatever part Jake had played, and it was a great production, but the sight of him as a shepherd brought back so many memories for me; and helped me understand how he might be feeling at that moment.

Oh, and yes of course there were tears.