ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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So embarrassing!

Jake opened up a new front in the parent/ child relationship this week: he got embarrassed! He was talking about the Headmistress at his school and got her name wrong, but would not believe me when I told him he had. “Right”, I said, “The next time that Mrs Buxton is standing at the school gates we’ll ask her shall we?” The silence that ensued, followed by a strong “Nooooooo!” told me that, while Jake was not prepared to admit he was wrong, he also did not want me to ask Mrs Buxom (as he calls her) what her name actually is. But at this stage I had not realised that this was down to his embarrassment.

So off we went to school the next morning, and there was Mrs Buxton standing outside the school (a habit that I fully approve of having known so many head teachers who hardly emerge from their offices), so I offer to Jake that we go and settle our disagreement with her. Again the trademark silence followed by “no Daddy, it’s embarrassing”.

What a marvellous moment that was since it not only tells me that Jake is developing as a person, but it opens up a whole new aspect of how we interact. Clearly I was never going to ask “Mrs Buxom” about her name, but Jake did not know that because where would the embarrassment have lain then?

Embarrassment is something that parents have, consciously and unconsciously, been using with their children since time immemorial and I have to admit that part of me has been looking forward to this moment since Jake was born. After all it is part of the parental job description isn’t it? We can use it to build our relationships with our children, and also motivate them: one of my favourite ways to get Jake going is to threaten to start singing if he does not get a move on (I have a habit of narrating what is happening in song: Jake does not like this, especially in public). I had not put it down to his embarrassment before, but now that I have I might well be singing a lot more often.

Clearly there are limits to how we embarrass our children since it could also be cruel and manipulative if used in the wrong way. Used in the right way, though, it can be part of that continuing experience of bonding with our children. We know things about them that no one else does, and we care about and notice their little foibles like no one else does. It is hardly surprising, then, that we will want to share (or offer to share) this information with others and, as the boys get older, the level of embarrassment is surely only going to increase.

As a parent you can be embarrassing to your children simply by being who you are, by wearing what you wear, and through knowing what you know. It seems to be something natural and comes so easily that it would seem rude not to use it.

I wonder what Mrs Buxom thinks?

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Fading Memories II

In the previous post I wrote about my sadness that I now have no one to help me remember things that happened in my childhood and I commented on how those memories that I do remember might not be that accurate either. I think childhood memories can be particularly unreliable because everything happens and changes so quickly, things can change quite dramatically from one day to the next.

I recently realised that this does not only happen when we remember our own childhoods, but also those of our children. This came about because Sam has suddenly started to say, with considerable frequency, “Wha’ dat noise?”, whenever he hears something that he cannot explain. This reminded me that Jake used to say exactly the same thing in much the same way over a period of many months when he was a similar age.

It surprised me that I had so easily forgotten that Jake did this along with many of the other things that the boys used to do and/ or say when they were younger. It makes me wish that I had been more pro-active writing them down, but pleased that I now record such things in this blog.

When I talk to parents of older children they often say that they can hardly remember what it is like to have children the same age as our boys. This has always been something that I have found hard to understand in the past, since the time that I spend with the children is so vivid; like it is in really glorious ‘Technicolor’. Yet I am beginning to understand this because those past memories of the boys becomes more like sepia the more distant they are. I can now hardly remember what it was like to change a really small baby, and while the more memorable moments like when Jake first walked* or my first full day on my own with Sam are still quite intense, much of the ‘everyday stuff’ seems to have been erased from my mind.

I think that these memories fade so quickly because they are replaced with these brightly coloured ones on a regular and frequent basis. The best way that I can describe this is that there is so much wonder, so much emotion, so much awe, so much love, so much authenticity and so much energy attached to the experiences that we have with our children that they use up so much more of our ‘bandwidth’ than many other memories and experiences. The wonder of the new displaces that which beforehand also seemed so wonderful. So we have to live in the moment with our children, because that takes up so much of what we are.

As you might have guessed I have been writing this as I am realising it, so I hope it makes sense. Basically for me it is great to remember our children’s (his)stories: it reminds us of who they are. But it is inevitable that we cannot hold all those memories of how they were while at the same time being with them in the present. If my recent experience is anything to go by, I think that the boys will want Karen and me to help them remember how they were when they were young (although perhaps not when it gets embarrassing in front of their friends), especially if they have children of their own.

-oOo-

 * It was at this point that I realised that I could remember much more about the first things that Jake did, than when Sam did them for the first time. I think I was so full of wonder the first time round, but by the second time have become really used to that particular amazing feat being performed, even though Sam walked at 11 months and Jake not until 21 months. This in itself says something about how I store my memories.


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Cuddles

One of the themes that seems to have developed in this blog is my experience of things that parents of older children did not warn me about such as continuing disturbed sleep. I have, on balance, seemed to regard these as negative. However, one aspect of fatherhood that I have been surprised about is the cuddle. I had expected to be able to hold my new born and give them a cuddle, but I did not expect it to be the gift that just went on giving quite so much.

It is not just the act of cuddling that I really enjoy, it is also what it represents. It tells me that the boys trust me and enjoy, and find comfort in, a cuddle. This came to me last night when I was sitting in with Sam as he settled in bed. As you may know we now sit in with the boys until they go to sleep. Last night Jake was so tired that he voluntarily went to bed early, and Sam went on his own later. Every five minutes as I sat there Sam would get out of bed, come and sit on my lap and give me a quick cuddle and them go back into bed. It seemed to calm him down, and give him some reassurance that he could safely go to sleep.

The day nearly always starts with a cuddle too. No matter how undisturbed the night is, Jake always likes to come in and have a cuddle before he fully wakes up (Sam likes to do the same with Karen), and when either of them are not feeling well they like to come and sit with us and curl up. It is never nice to see the boys getting poorly, but at least we can do something for them by giving them comfort as they often seem so helpless when they are ill, and as a result we as parents can feel helpless too.

Then there is the three or four times a day that one or other of the boys falls over, walks into something, bites their tongue, pokes themselves in the eye, is tired, or one of them is suffering as a result of some fracas with the other. These are all situations where a cuddle is required, and again it is great to feel that I can do something for them at these times.

I feel privileged to be able to play this role for the boys, and sometimes I feel a little guilty that I am enjoying this perk when they are probably feeling vulnerable and wanting to get better as quickly as possible but, really, a good cuddle does help the healing process along, and helps them to forget their pain quite quickly.

I am under no illusion that eventually the cuddles will get fewer and farther between as the boys get older, and probably rightly so, but at the moment they are prevalent and I consider it one of the top perks of being a parent. Long live the cuddle.


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Reality nights

One of the first things people say to you when you announce that you are to become a parent is something along the lines of “well you better get your sleep in now”. This happens again just before the baby’s birth, and then you are constantly asked “are you getting much sleep” for months after the birth. So clearly it is a well established fact that babies equal lack of sleep. And while I know people whose children have pretty much slept through from birth no one escapes with their existing sleep pattern intact (no one who maintains any parental responsibility that is).

What existing parents do not mention so much is that their sleep continues to be disrupted, albeit in a less regimented way, beyond the point where the child starts sleeping through. This is where a couple of pictures that have been doing the rounds on Facebook and other social media for a while now come in. They suggest that the difference between the perception and the reality of what it is like to share a bed with a toddler. I think that they are brilliant, and the reality bit describes many nights in our bedroom pretty accurately.

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What perhaps is more telling is that the perception part of this illustration was what I had in mind before I became a parent. I imagined those idealised images of a mother coming into a bedroom and seeing the father and child snuggled up in a cozy and indescribably cute, yet somehow manly, manner. The reality is not like that, it is really really is not like that. But if it really is not like that then why do the vast majority of photos that I have of either Karen or myself asleep with the children more closely reflect the perception picture rather than the reality one.

Well it could be that when reality bites (or rather kicks, gouges and/ or burrows) I am in no fit state to start taking photos. Nevertheless, I seem to like to present some sort of idealised life through the photos that I post on Facebook, which, of course only perpetuates the perception to those not in the know. I also suspect that my friends and family want to see nice pictures of us being happy rather than some gruesome sight of us irritated and tired. Most of all, however, to post unflattering photos would not be fair to the children who do not have much of a say on such matters.

So while we present something of an idealised picture, the truth is that being the parents of small children means that a good night’s sleep cannot be guaranteed. Some weeks will go by without incident, while other weeks leave me wondering whether I will ever get a decent night’s sleep again.

As the youngest Sam is the most likely cause of disruption. On a good night he will slide in beside Karen in the early hours and go straight to sleep; and on a not so good night he will prowl about, toss and turn, and generally cause havoc for a couple of hours. He is also like a heat seeking missile and, particularly if there is only one adult in the bed, he will follow them around (generally taking up half the bed himself) ensuring that he gets his source of warmth. It has been know for me to be pushed out of one side and get back in the other on more than one occasion during a night alone with Sam.

Jake is far more settled these days, and tends to disturb us less; although he tends to find a night when Sam is settled just to keep us on our toes. Indeed, when they were younger I was convinced that they had a “disturb the parents at night” rota worked out between them.

The night becomes a very different place with children. It is busier, shorter and full of surprises. It is far removed from the perception illustrated in the above picture, and when I get seven consecutive hours of sleep I consider it a small, but very welcome, bonus.


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Celebrations and revelations

Karen and me had a very different New Year’s Eve this time round. The previous five, since Jake was born, have involved getting children to bed and then hoping they stay asleep during the fireworks, which they always did. We then planned our summer holiday which helped us to look forward to the year ahead, and helped us to stay awake. We would then watch the London fireworks on the BBC, and be in bed by about 12.15. Not exactly the more extensive celebrations of previous years, but somehow representative of our new lives as parents.

This New Year’s Eve was different though. We stayed with friends who have children of a similar age to ours, and they invited round other people who also had children of a similar age. We had a great time and so did the children, with both Jake and Sam making it past midnight to watch the extensive fireworks provided for us by the good people of Germany. A time when the whole country seems to go crazy for about an hour. It was a great evening: the boys played nicely with the other children, we got to have good conversations, we danced with the boys, and at around half past midnight they went straight to sleep and slept in in the morning.

All in all we had an incredibly relaxing time, and it really encouraged me to have as one of my New Year’s resolution: “meeting more people”. This is a real change for me as I would be the first to admit that I have my misanthropic side. I like my own company, and I need my own space. This, of course, is not always possible with a family and New Year’s Eve made me realise that I often try to extend my need for space to the family level; thinking that doing something just the four of us is preferable to doing it in a bigger group.

Now I think about it it is pretty self evident that the boys are going to enjoy themselves more if they have people of their own age to play with and are going to require less looking after and entertaining less. Obvious isn’t it? Well now I think about it, er, yes it is; but it took me New Year’s experience to realise that that is often the case.

For me, and I suspect for many other parents, bringing up children is a constant source of these revelatory moments: times when we recognise the obvious and wish we had realised it days, months, or even years ago. What I am coming to realise is that I should not beat myself up about this lack of awareness but just be happy that I realised about things when I did, after all parenthood is a constant process of learning; that is one of the things that makes it so great and so scary at the same time. What I learned this New Year’s Eve is that Karen and I do not have to do it on our own, and that my being that bit more sociable may help that process along more than I realised.


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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: 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.