Making the most of a new life


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
Me (now extremely exasperated): but there aren’t any dogs, look that’s not a dog, that’s not a dog etc….
Me: look at the funny bunny/ roaring tiger/ cute cat, meow

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.


It might be a comic, but it is not funny.

It is rant week on ChangingDad, and I’m getting those niggly things about parenthood that irritate me off my chest. These are not things that are, in the final analysis, important but bother me nonetheless.

Today I want to talk about children’s magazines. These are the things we get hassled for in places such as supermarkets, railway stations, motorway service areas and pretty much every convenience store. There is no escape from them, and no wonder considering the profits that must be made from them.

In order to make them more attractive to children, as if having their favourite characters on the front were not enough, they usually have some sort of plastic toy clamped to the front. When I look at these all I see is some crappy thing that is going to break as soon as the average child gets hold of it. To my boys they look like the gold at the end of the rainbow, the nirvana of their shopping expedition.

And so the pestering begins, and goes on and on and on. More often than not we resist the temptation to give in, but perhaps one time in ten we are just too tired or in too much of a hurry to go through the whole process of steering the conversation elsewhere; usually a reasonable lengthy process.

So we end up with one of these comics, open up the treasure and, more often than not, it falls out either broken or breaks on impact. If not then it breaks within five minutes of being played with, with predictable consequences, meaning that the discontent has only been delayed from shop to home.

I find this to be a very cynical policy by the makers of these products, and the worst kind of marketing. They play on the desires of the children, and they play on the fact that the magazines are sold in situations which are often stressful for parents who will give in rather than being embarrassed in public by their children. In fact the only playing that is not done is the children with the toys. We are played by the marketers every time.

Any trip through a supermarket with a child will tell you how effective marketing is with well known characters staring down from the shelves on anything from yoghurt to clothes, from birthday cakes to kitchen roll. A Lightning McQueen yoghurt will taste much better than a properly healthy one, and a Pooh nappy is much more comfortable than a biodegradable one with a generic animal on it; and while I find this frustrating it is no where near as bad as those crappy magazine toys.

In the end though I do not think that these strategies work as well as they could because, despite what the marketers may think, children actually are not that stupid and soon come to realise that they are being sold a pup (but that is a whole other story).

This is what really gets my goat. What marketing practices annoy you? Do you think that our children are targeted more than the rest of us, and is this ethically wrong?


Negotiating the brand maze

Today’s mission was to do a big shop at the supermarket with Sam. The primary objectives were to get everything on the list, nothing more or less, and to keep Sam happy during what is usually a fairly long process.

Before I was a parent I used to watch people struggle round supermarkets with children and I used to think: “why do they put themselves through this, why don’t they just go without them?”. When I think about this now I laugh at my innocence and naivety, and if anyone said something like this to me now I would reply: “do you really think I’m doing this out of choice?”.

Before we moved house I was fairly good at negotiating my way round our local supermarket. Despite frequent changes I generally knew where everything was and could find my way round with the children without falling foul of too many of the marketeers’ traps. I knew where the Lightning McQueen birthday cakes, the Charlie and Lola pink milk, and even the Pooh Bear plasters were; mainly from experience. I even knew how to get down the dairy aisle without ending up with a load of Thomas yoghurts. Now I have to relearn another completely different layout and have to develop a new path through the marketing maze.

At this point my old self would have said: “well if they want something why do you not just say no?”. This being the old self that has never been faced with a two year old wanting nothing in life but a torch because it has Mickey Mouse on it who is quickly surrounded by a clutch of grandparents (none of whom I know) offering advice on the matter (because that is the time of day we tend to go shopping).

We walk into the store and Sam immediately says: “ice cream”. I now know that if I want to keep him going, then ice cream is the last item on the list to get, it gives him hope. So far so good when we arrive at the start (fruit and veg), Sam happily sat down with his in-trolley entertainment pack. But I immediately knew that it is going to be a long shop when we get to the first item: tomatoes. I pick up a pack of cherry, but Sam is adamant that we have plum and is in no mood for cherry. Ok I can live with plum, and so it goes on around the shop with every other item that goes in the basket requiring either explanation and/ or negotiation and, if I am honest, I am enjoying the challenge. After the tomato incident I generally got my own way, the only additional items being an over priced children’s magazine and (I am not sure how) a very large pot of honey and clementine greek yoghurt, the latter of which Sam became obsessed with (I think it was the bees on the label), but which sounded very tasty so I gave in.

When we got to the kitchen roll, however, we played out an all too familiar scenario. I prefer the recycled own brand six pack, Sam likes the one with the elephant on it. I was willing to get the elephant six pack but that was “too big”, this hardened both our resolves and after about five minutes of negotiation we ended up with an elephant two pack “limited edition” and a recycled four pack. Calm descended, and so on to the toilet rolls: “woof woof” said Sam. Well that’s branding for you.

In the end not a bad hour in the supermarket, and I pretty much met my objectives. Sam was happy most of the time, including a memorable passage where he insisted on roaring as loud as he could in the cereal aisle (thank you Tony the Tiger), and I got everything on the list with only a few extras.

Like many things supermarket shopping is very different with a toddler in tow, it is a challenge, but as with many things if you are up for it, it can be fun and very rewarding; just do not ask me why I could not have come on my own.