ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


Leave a comment

The End of the Beginning

Change is something you have to get used to as a Father. My boys, Jake and Sam, are 5 and 3 respectively and they seem to be forever saying new things, achieving more, and developing both mentally and physically at an alarming rate.

If I am anything to go by it is the new things that tend to get noticed and celebrated. I realised the other day, though, that much of the change revolved around not doing things. This is something that did not really feature when Jake was getting to the age Sam is now. Looking back Sam started doing things as Jake stopped doing them. Now, though we are reaching a definite end to things, since Sam is always going to be our youngest.

Pram

Since the start of the year we have stopped pushing a pram or carrying Sam in a sling and stopped changing nappies. These things alone result in a significant change in the way we live our lives. We now have to badger Sam a bit to make sure he does not need a wee before we embark on some great voyage, such as to the supermarket; but on the other hand the car boot is not packed full of pram before we even try to get the shopping in.

When you add to this the many toys, books, puzzles and especially clothes that Sam has grown out of we get the feeling not so much of the ebb and flow of the tide of evolution, but the crashing of the wave of change over us; and if you are facing away from it you do not notice it until it hits you square in the back. Suddenly you are on the other side of the wave surveying the new landscape and, in many ways, starting over again as the things that you had built up to manage situations; to encourage and cajole, and to love and protect have all gone.

What is particularly scary is that once that wave has crashed you soon lose your memory of what actually happened before it came. You forget the little mannerisms, the wrongly spoken words and sentences; the vast majority of the great joys and frustrations that parenthood brings. You try to remember, and you do recall some things, but not as deeply as you felt them at the time; and they only fade more as the new takes over and demands your attention.

This is probably why we concentrate on the new in favour of mourning the old, because the new seems so much more positive, so much more amazing: it is the challenge in front of us.

Change in unavoidable in all walks of life but with parenthood, I would suggest, it is particularly marked because you get the usual bits of the new, coupled with a growing person who is changing at a much faster rate than the prevailing one. So once the wave has crashed, you are not given much chance to restore your balance before you are taken forward with the currents that come after it.

I like change for the most part, it keeps things fresh and exciting, and I am happy to be moving forward. It is a good job because, with Jake and Sam, I do not have much choice in the matter. Now were is that wet suit?


Leave a comment

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.


1 Comment

No going back

 

We had visitors staying with us during the Easter break, a family with two children including a six months old baby. I thought that the baby was very cute and I very much enjoyed interacting with her, and was surprised how relatively easy she was compared with our boys (I mean how they are now not how they were then). She slept a lot and did not really have many needs apart from feeding, being changed, and being taken out for a walk now and again. I often forgot she was there as she rolled around on the carpet, or gurgled quietly in the pram, ‘forget’ being something that you most definitely cannot do with the boys.

But, and I think that you probably knew there was a ‘but’ coming, it did not really make me pine for having another baby. I am not sure whether this is a gender thing but the thought of going through the whole first years again is not something I particularly crave for.

That is not to say that I did not enjoy our boys’ early years. Certainly with Jake, because everything was new and exciting, and I did not know what was coming next. It was also a great challenge because I was learning and changing all the time, surprising myself at what I could do; and was generally amazed by the whole concept of fatherhood. With Sam it was a mixture of fresh challenge, two was definitely more than one plus one; but I also found myself wishing Sam’s early years away as we went through those different phases: crawling, teething, weaning, walking, talking, sleeping through etc… It was special in its own way, and Sam was, and is, very different to Jake in many ways. But do I want to do it again. Er no not really.

The boys have both reached ages that are really interesting. Jake is taking all sorts of new interesting concepts on board, and it is fascinating to see him develop. Sam is developing too, now in a very different way and, most importantly is really developing his communication skills and I am loving being invited into his fantasy world; something that he is much more open with than Jake was.

So I guess for me the bottom line is that while I am sure another child would be rewarding in their own particular way the first two years would not be as exciting again, until he or she were to reach ‘the age of communication’, I am not sure that I would get as much out of the experience as before. I may, of course, be wrong but I am not sure that I want to try. If nothing else I am not sure that I could take it, I am tired enough at the end of each and everyday as it is.

So hats off to those with more than two. I really do not know how you do it.


Leave a comment

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

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.


Leave a comment

An audience with Daddy

It is ChangingDad rant week, where I have been having a bit of a moan about those things that have come to annoy me as a parent. While they are relatively trivial in the grand scheme of things it is also good to share them and get the views of others on them.

So here goes with today’s issue. If I was to say what was the one thing that I have found hard to get used to more than any other since becoming a parent it is the fact that, these days, I frequently have an audience when I am sitting on the toilet. The toilet for me, and I think that this is typical of many men in particular, is a place of sanctuary. It is somewhere that I can spend a few minutes away from the cares of the world and do some thinking or light reading; and more often than not it still is.

There are, however, plenty of times when I am nicely settled into my special place only to be disturbed by a little person wanting information, help or support in a dispute with another little person. Indeed, my sitting down often seems to be some sort of indirect catalyst for the outbreak of strife in the playroom; especially when I am the only adult in the house. I really do not like having to curtail my time in there, and it is often not something that I can especially leave in a hurry. But my sanctuary invaded and the moment broken.

I think that this is probably something that is representative of a wider issue about personal space, something which is markedly reduced with the arrival of children. I lived on my own for many years before Karen and I got together, and even with two in the house there was always plenty of room for personal space. I certainly would not go back to such a life now, but I do occasionally miss the solitude and find my lavatorial escapism to be a good way of mollifying the problem. Which is why it annoys me when it is threatened.

It amuses me that Jake is copying my behaviour and now often takes five or six books into the toilet with him, and can easily spend half an hour in there. It is the only time that he really looks at books on his own so I am not discouraging him. Coincidentally Sam also decided to read a book on the toilet for the first time this week, so it looks like it is a good job that we have more than one toilet in the house.

I like it that the boys want to do this because it is important that we all have a bit of ‘me’ time now and again. After all they do not get much time to themselves either. So perhaps they will come to realise that my toilet time is sacred too: a ritual to be enjoyed alone. Not an audience with Daddy.


3 Comments

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’.


Leave a comment

Balls!

In my last post I warned against the temptation of talking bollocks to keep inquisitive children at bay. Today, however, I am going to talk bollocks: my bollocks.

Now this might seem like a radical departure for this blog, but please bear with me because what I want to talk about today is yet another thing that never gets mentioned by other Dads when they are telling you about the joys and tribulations of fatherhood. That is that as a father, certainly of boys, I have found myself to be regularly in agony from a stray foot, knee, elbow and a variety of inanimate objects hitting my testicles. This is at least a weekly event, often enough for me to say to Karen “every single &%$^*^$ time” when it does happen.

I am sure that the boys do not do this on purpose and, as I have said in the past, I do like a bit of roughhousing. In fact I am positive that they do not since they clearly do not yet have any conception of how much it hurts to be hit there, as evidenced by their much repeated surprise when I scream and my eyes well up with tears. But surely a clue also lies in that last sentence, that these things are the source of their life, they were key to their conception: surely there must be some sort of biological/ evolutionary predisposition that means they would avoid that area. But no. I keep on getting it there again and again. How ungrateful!

The last straw, which finally drove me to write this, was when a slipper flew across the room last week and hit me squarely where it hurts most (as we men like to say). Jake was not aiming for there but it was a ‘lucky shot’ and that, by itself, would not be so bad. However it was one of so many ‘lucky shots’ over the last 5 years and, really, it is getting rather too much.

I also have to say that I do not get a great deal of sympathy for my suffering. Comments such as “well it’s clearly a design fault”, “have you thought about a codpiece” or “you should try childbirth” may, on one level or another, be fair comment but they hardly pour balm on my aches and pains. So I guess I either have to do something drastic, stop playing so much with the boys, or just man up and get on with it; and I guess that the latter is most likely – but not before getting it off my chest, so to say.

That we all have to make sacrifices when we become parents is clear, and something I understand and accept. Nevertheless there are a few things that seem to be above and beyond the call of duty. But I guess that is just it. Being a parent tends to move that bar higher: the bar that measures where you think the call of duty might be. And as that bar moves up you can be sure that, sooner or later, it will hit you squarely between the legs.

I think I need to go and lie down now.