ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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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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What’s eating me today?

This week I am getting those little things about parenthood that annoy me off my chest. I have already talked about the arrival of lighter nights, crappy toys on magazines and those who see children (and their parents) as public property. I am calling it ‘rant week’ but I hope that it is a little bit more than that since it is also highlighting how I have changed since becoming a parent, since none of these would have even been on my radar six years ago.

Today I am going to talk about something that I used to do a lot but nowadays not so much, that is eat out. Karen and I used to regularly go to restaurants before we had children, and quite frequently when Jake was very young. Over time, however, we find that we go less and less, more often than not with the children.

I have to say that eating out as a family is not something that I particularly enjoy doing. I find that the children get bored easily, even if we bring plenty of books and toys, and I do not really enjoy the restaurant experience when my food invariably goes cold for some reason or another.

However, this is not the reason for today’s rant. Rather it is so-called child-friendly restaurants that really do not seem to understand their customers. The thing that they seem to get wrong most often is when to bring the food. I have lost count of the number of times that Karen and I have found ourselves with our main course when the children’s, far more simple, meals are still being prepared in the kitchen. So there we are sitting there with a couple of hungry boys who have set their hearts on what they ordered only to be confounded by the restaurant and left with second choice offers of yucky food such as grilled sea bass or off cuts from a lamb shank with some exotic sauce (usually referred to as a ‘jus’) from Mummy’s and Daddy’s plates. Of such things are a tranquil mealtime not made.

So we have learned from experience that we need to ask that, if at all possible, the boys’ food comes first; in fact as quickly as possible since we are invariably in a restaurant these days because they are extremely hungry, and on one memorable occasion Jakes order was lost altogether – not great. I think that if we have gone somewhere claiming to be child-friendly this should be part of the service. It really is no good providing a selection of high chairs and a small packet of crayons for each child if they then get the basics wrong. For me it only adds to the stress of eating out, and does not encourage me to go again if they do not meet what I think are modest expectations.

Eating out is a good example to how life changes with children. We look for completely different things in an eatery now we have small mouths to feed. Karen and I still look for good food, but we also look for a place that it going to help us with the experience, and not heighten my already well-developed skepticism of whether we should be going there in the first place.


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Why I never want to be a celebrity

 

It is day three of rant week on ChangingDad. I have found seven things that rather annoy me since becoming a parent and have decided to spent the week getting them off my chest.

Today’s theme is something that first came to my attention just before Jake was born. Karen and I went on holiday for a week knowing that it would be the last opportunity to do so, at least just the two of us, for a number of years to come (and so it has proved). Given that I was about to become a father I was suddenly awoken to the fact that there were actually rather a lot of toddlers and babies around the place. What I had not realised is that many people treat little ones as if they are public property to be prodded, stroked and commented on. I remember one instance on that particular trip as clear as day when a woman reached into a pram of a baby she did not know and proceeded to do all the “coochie coo” stuff. I was outraged by this behaviour but took from the mother’s reaction that this was far from an isolated incident.

When I told Karen about this she was also unsurprised and told me of instances when people had regarded our in utero baby as being public property too, believing it to be quite ok to give Karen’s tummy a rub: a pre-natal celebrity. Why is this deemed acceptable by some people, most of whom, I am sure do not mean anything by it but who are also completely oblivious to the line that it crosses or the offence that it can cause.

Since the boys were born I have lost count of the number of times that their actions have been commented on as if they were X-Factor contestants, ripe for public comment. I half expect to see Jake or Sam on the front page of a tabloid paper under the headline “My cafe hell: parents made me EAT green things”, or some such. As already mentioned it also seems to have been deemed ok for some complete stranger to give a baby or toddler some sort of pat, often from people who have heavy colds and/ or coughs. Well thanks, it is nice to share but I am quite happy if you keep some things to yourself: your hands for instance.

But it is not only the children that are often regarded as public property, we parents, by association, also seem to be in the spotlight. So our valiant efforts at getting through the day without any major mishap, meltdown or embarrassment can be brought to nought by some stranger who chooses to take the child’s side and that vital moment when it seems that I have reached a delicate consensus with the boys. It really is not against the UN Convention on Human Rights to restrict the number of sweets our children eat in a public place, but by the way some people react you would think I was selling them into slavery.

What is more if you do make any protestation about such activities you are met by a reaction which questions how you could be so sensitive, how could you possibly complain about your children receiving such complimentary attention.

So far so clear you may think. Well indeed, but here is the rub. I am also proud of my boys most of the time. They are boisterous, tend to fight with each other quite a bit, and are often rather loud. But they are also sweet, cute, kind and thoughtful; and I rather like it when people notice that with a rye smile or a knowing look; and I am aware that I sometimes do that with other parents.

So am I being unfair to criticise people who take a more intense interest in the boys? I do not think so and think that there are lines that should not be crossed; for me there is a chasm between interference and acknowledgement.

I have not invited any celebrity by becoming a parent, and I am not comfortable to be in such a position; if I was I would be on some reality TV show like a shot.

I await the first series of ‘I’m a parent get me out of here’.


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Cabin Fever

This weekend saw a rare occurrence: we stayed in all day. What made it even rarer was that it was a fine and sunny, if rather chilli, day and none of us were ill. But for some reason we never stepped foot out of the house. We nearly always go out, even when it is pouring with rain we get the boys dressed up in their waterproofs, and they love splashing about. But on this particular day none of us felt the urge to suggest we get some fresh air.

At the time it seemed like a good idea to stay in (good ideas always seem to be just that at the time). The boys were playing nicely and Karen and I were getting things done that we did not expect to, and there was certainly an element of not wanting to upset the apple cart when things seemed to be going so well. We are also very aware that since he started school, Jake needs the weekend to slow down and recuperate a bit, and also become reacquainted with his toys. Sam too was well engrossed in doing some drawing and playing with stickers (the great time eater for young boys).

So we rode our luck. We rode our luck that this calm scene would continue as the afternoon wore on. It was stupid because it did not – it never does – and like frogs sitting in gradually heating water we did not really notice until it was too late that the family dynamic was starting to get a bit, well, interesting. I was certainly getting rather tetchy (although I am sure that I would not have admitted it at the time), as was Jake who was gradually getting more defensive of his toys whenever Sam came anywhere near them.

By now Sam was completely bored of anything that we provided for him by the way of entertainment and so went searching for alternative forms of amusement. Now Sam is at that age where he is finding out that he can actually do and reach things that he had not thought possible before; especially with the help of the plastic step that he has taken to transporting around the house. So first stop was my coffee machine. He managed to switch it on, waited patiently for it to warm up (or maybe just kept pressing the button until it had warmed up), got an espresso cup and produced a perfect espresso. Unfortunately he had put the cup under the milk nozzle, so the espresso went straight into the dregs tray. This was probably a good thing given the circumstances as a 2 year old stuck in the house all day with a double espresso inside him does not bear thinking about. Other experiments he tried included to see how many beakers of water a toilet roll would absorb (one of his many toilet roll tricks) and seeing how far the contents of a blackcurrant fruit shoot drink would travel (part of a more general recent predilection for squeezing things out of things).

Anyway I digress. The upshot was that we realised that we really should have gone out. We should have made the effort to all get our hats, coats, scarves and shoes on and gone down to the playground, or even just round the block for a walk.

The simple act of going out seems to deflate whatever builds up in the house. We all enjoy going out, we like the fresh air and we do things together rather than our own thing inside and, well basically, we all get on much better as there are not the same niggles that happen when we are limited to our own four walls.

So the next time cabin fever strikes I hope that we recognise it before it is too late to do anything about it, or even better just get out and do something. What is the worst that can happen?


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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.