ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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The Final Countdown

So that’s Halloween over with, Guy Fawkes Night out of the way, so it’s the final countdown to Christmas. That’s how Jake sees it anyway.

Of course there is nothing in the shops that would make him think any differently. The witches and fireworks hanging from the ceiling of our local supermarket have been replaced by santas and reindeer; and the Christmas goods, present since the beginning of September, have now been moved into even more prominent positions. The excitement is palpable as Jake pours over toy catalogues and makes snowman collages; and everything that he ‘wants’ has been put on an (ever-changing) mental list. It is only a matter of time until the big day now, and the fact that we are due to have snow in December is likely to only ramp the excitement up even further.

I do not want to blame Jake for this. Although he does not watch anything but the BBC, he is still prey to the tentacles of the advertiser on billboards, the sides of buses and trams; as well as in shops and, yes, through school and various community events. I do not blame him because he is actually usually very satisfied with a haul of Christmas/ birthday presents which seem modest in comparison with many of his peers. He is also very good at receiving presents: “just what I always wanted” he will genuinely say.

It would be easy to turn this into a riff on how kids do not know how lucky they are, and how I did not have this, that and the other in my day. But actually I do not want to say this, nor do I want to say it to the boys because in many respects childhood is no different then as it is now, and while I would like to think that I did not anticipate Christmas until the week before, I know that this is not true and I know that a part of me looked forward to Christmas months and months before (and part of me also mourned its passing for another year once it was over).

I think it is often very easy to judge things through our adult eyes and conveniently forget how we were when we were young, probably because we put such things out of our minds when we were teenagers: how embarrassing to have fallen for the “Santa trick”.

So I do not begrudge the boys their Christmas build-up because such events are milestones in our own histories, milestones that are good to remember. I remember many childhood Christmases vividly. I look forward to taking them to see Santa, and I look forward to seeing the look on their faces when they see their stockings magically filled with toys. I know it is not what Christmas is all about but it is certainly part of it

Jake loves the build up to Christmas, oh and he has also been asking about when he can have his chocolate eggs for Easter.

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Berlin #1 – Walking through history

Since I’m now on holiday I’ve decided to take the blog on a little diversion over the next couple of weeks. We flew to Berlin yesterday, a city which I love and am quite familiar with. I have been coming to Berlin on a regular basis since 1992, since Karen is from here and continues to have family here. In fact I’ve worked out that I’ve spent over two years of my life in Berlin even though I’ve never been here more than four weeks at a time. So for me Berlin is different enough to feel as if I’m away on holiday, but familiar enough to feel quite at home here. I can orient myself well, and don’t find the public transport system (too) confusing; but as a city I find it endlessly fascinating and am always finding new things here that interest me

Berlin is also very interesting for anyone who is thinking about change since it has been central to many of the changes that have happened in Europe, if not globally. In fact I have heard it said that to understand the history of Berlin over the last few hundred years, is to understand the history of Europe. It has also been said that Berlin is always aspiring to be something but never quite makes it. Whether that is the case is arguable, but these two comments together show the history and dynamism of the place.

This was underlined for me when I took Sam out for a walk in his pram this morning, not around the many great buildings and other tourist destinations, but out on a shopping trip in the Schöneberg area of the city. There were two things that immediately reminded me of two of the most significant events of the twentieth century in which Berlin played a central role: the lead up to the Second World War and the Cold War

Firstly, scattered around the area of Schöneberg where we are staying are signs such as these:

One of 80 memorials to Jewish life and culture in Schoeneburg

There are 80 signs in total and they reflect and remind us of the life and culture of the significant Jewish population of the area before the introduction of 80 anti-Jewish laws, beginning in 1933; with a summary of one of the laws on the reverse of each sign. How different this area must have been before then, and what turbulence it must have been through over the next 15-20 years. It seems really unbelievable walking round the sunny and tranquil streets on this summer’s morning.

Secondly, we walked past Rathaus Schöneberg, the then political centre of West Berlin, in front of which President Kennedy made his famous “ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963, one of the key moments of the Cold War.

Rathaus Schoeneburg

It is one of the many symbols of the Cold War in Berlin, from both sides of the ‘Iron Curtain’, and a time when we really did think, with the proliferation of nuclear arms on both sides, that the world might end at any time through nuclear war. Today the Rathaus has reverted to a local town hall and looks relatively unassuming as it sits on the edge of the Schöneberger Volks (People’s) Park.

Rathaus Schöneburg from Volkspark

On our walk around this locality today it struck me that it can be quite easy to forget the significance of the places that are familiar to us in our daily lives. Of course, not all of us live in places of such globally historical significance, but they are important to us and our lives. Berlin is very important to me for my own historical reasons too, I’m looking forward to my holiday here and hopefully sharing more of it in this blog.


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The Sea

The weather has finally improved, just in time for a long-planned day trip to the seaside. One of the great things about living on an island is that you’re never far from the sea, and I always get a special feeling when I look out at that great expanse of water. It can be calming, but it can also be ferocious and/ or exciting.

The boys, of course, loved being on the beach. They buried each other, buried me, and buried Karen. We built sandcastles and dug holes together. They enjoyed paddling in the sea, playing with diggers and dumper trucks, and having ice cream on the promenade. We returned home very tired from all the activity and the sea air, but very happy.

The sea was very calm when we were there. But whatever the mood of the sea, it is to me always a reminder that we cannot control everything. The sea, like the weather (certainly in Britain) is unpredictable, and what was a fantastic day on the beach could have easily have been a complete washout, as has happened to a number of events over the last few weeks.

We like to be in control of things and we like certainty. It makes us feel secure, and if, as is inevitable, things change we like to be able to mediate that change. This must be the case for our children too. We try to provide them with a safe and secure environment in which they can grow, but inevitably they also want some degree of control and independence; and this, inevitably leads to conflict.

This was the case with Jake at the weekend when he really reminded me of my younger self on the beach. He toddled off down to the sea on his own and while he was never out of my sight, he was also on his own and enjoying his own little bit of independence.

I had a lot of independence when I was young, I remember going off on long bike rides on my own from the age of about ten, and I loved that sense of freedom. I’m not sure that I would be prepared to let the boys have the same sort of freedom at that age though. Not because I think the world has changed, or that I wouldn’t trust them; rather that their well-being would be out of my control and I imagine that this would be difficult for me.

I think that it must be both exciting and really difficult for the boys as they experience constant and rapid change and development; as they learn so much about themselves and the world around them. I think that we sometimes forget about this and think that everything is as constant for them as it is for us.

Because of this I guess that there are lessons ahead for all of us as the boys realize that they need their parents less, and we realize that they no longer have to be in our protection 24 hours a day. I’m sure that this will be difficult for us all in different ways.

Despite this I hope that I can help the boys to grow and develop in ways that they enjoy and help them in future life, but I’m sure that there will be times when we just don’t get along: and family life will be all at sea.