ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 5. The Three Letters

There are three envelopes sitting on our mantlepiece. Inside, apparently, are three letters to Santa. I say apparently because we have no idea what is inside them. Jake brought them home from school and they have been living there for a couple of weeks now.

It could be that the contents of these letters are quite mundane, a series of pictures or collages that Jake has made for Santa; or they could separately or collectively represent a list.

Jake’s definitive Christmas list?

We have asked him about the contents but his reply is always “it’s a secret, just for Santa”, but for Santa to take on Christmas night (not when visiting him in his Grotto).  Because of this we are eager to know what is in these well-sealed envelopes, but certainly do not feel as if we should open them, not yet anyway.

We can only  open them on Christmas night as part of Father Christmas’s ‘visit’ to our house and it will be interesting whether the contents of these letters matches the contents of the parcels sitting below them. If not, we will have to see whether this will matter to Jake, after all he has been known to change his mind in the past.

As we know all too well it is not long to wait now, and I can certainly feel the suspense.

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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 4. Grotto

My wife, Karen, finds the notion of taking children to Santa’s Grotto as being something rather unusual, since it is not something that people really do in Germany. She says that it provides British people with another excuse to do some queueing, a stereotype of which I think most of we British are rightly proud.

Whether or not she is right, one thing is for sure: if you want to take your children to a grotto then you can expect to queue, and queue, and queue; with lots of other parents getting slowly more exasperated. I certainly find myself standing there thinking: “just how long does it take for a child to see him” as the snake of people progresses all to slowly, and we have certainly spent a significant part of December standing in such queues.

To what end? Meeting someone dressed in a red suit with a beard, telling our boys they had better be good, asking them what they want and usually handing out low quality toys. On the face of it it is not really worth the wait.

Except it is. Because no matter how grotty the grotto, the boys come out with a sense of wonder. On more than one occasion this time Jake has become so overawed that he as been completely tongue tied and had been unable to recall anything from his well-constructed and comprehensive Christmas list. Sam usually stands there shouting ‘papa istmas’. Both love the experience, and I have loved taking them; and let’s face it once we are in there I do not care how long it takes.

It surely is not my imagination that there has been something of a proliferation of grottos over the last few years. They are everywhere: in stores, on trains, in schools (Santa was at Jake’s school twice), in museums and, yes, even in churches. I seems an obligatory part of any Christmas scene, and we have had to steer the boys past one on more than one occasion this year. After all if we go to too many they might begin to suspect that Father Christmas is spreading himself a bit thin, and that would not do at all.


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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 3. Nativity

One of my earliest memories is being in a nativity play. I guess I was probably five or six at the time. I remember I was a shepherd, and I wore a tea towel on my head, held precariously in place with string; and my dressing gown. I remember standing on the stage at my primary school quite vividly, a memory that is augmented by a photograph of the event that appears in our family album.

So it was with a slight air of disappointment that I went to Jake’s nativity play this week, thinking that he was going to be ‘a partygoer’. Now I am not entirely sure in which Gospel we find out that the partygoers enter the stable. So, I thought, this is the role that is awarded to those children not cast elsewhere and the not often seen competitive Dad in me came to the fore; or was it that I just wanted a more ‘traditional’ role for Jake: one like I had had? One that did not require explanation.

As it turned out I need not have worried since a couple of shepherds failed to turn up to school on the day of the production, whether they were ill or had stage-fright I will never know (nothing to do with me, honest), and so it was a wonderful surprise to see Jake come out of the wings dressed in a lovely shepherd’s outfit. I was so happy.

I am sure that I would have enjoyed the play whatever part Jake had played, and it was a great production, but the sight of him as a shepherd brought back so many memories for me; and helped me understand how he might be feeling at that moment.

Oh, and yes of course there were tears.


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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 2. Pace.

Christmas means many things to many people. But to young boys and girls it mostly means Santa and presents, an increase in sweetie availability, and a break from normal routines; and our boys are no exception to this.

One thing we have learned from our limited experience of being parents at Christmas, this year is our sixth, is that it pays to spread it out a bit. I remember when I was little there was a huge expectation that built and built and built until I could hardly stand it. I used to lie in bed on Christmas Eve under heavy bed clothes shivering away (we used to go to my grandparents, who did not have central heating, in usually freezing Northern England), waiting ‘for him to come’. There was a massive opening frenzy and then, well it was all over; and I did not know what to play with first.

With the boys we have a more staged approach over a few days. This began when we merged two Christmas cultures, Karen’s German Christmas of opening presents on Christmas Eve; and mine of opening them on Christmas Day. This year it seems to be stretching out to four days with my family on the 23rd and Karen’s on the 26th. I much prefer it this way and, I think, so do the boys. They get a chance to look and play with their presents at a more leisurely pace and, well, last year then both slept until 8am on Christmas morning. Here’s hoping for the same this year, it’s a very long day that starts in the middle of the night.


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The ChangingDad 12 Blogs of Christmas: 1. Party

Welcome to the ChangingDad twelve blogs of Christmas. I thought that, given this is the first Christmas that I have blogged, there will probably be quite a few things that I want to write about, but perhaps not at the same length as I usually do. So I intend to write 12 shorter blogs over the Christmas period not actually covering the 12 Days of Christmas, which run from 25th December to 5th January, but over the time when we celebrate.

It was the Christmas party for the children in the’ Early Years’ at Jake’s school last night, and it was a first for a number of reasons: it was Jake’s first disco, it was his first ‘social event’ without either Karen or I being with him and it was the first time he had money in his pocket to spend as he wanted.

This for me was a sign of how much Jake has changed over the last few months since starting school. He has become far more confident, he has in a number of ways become more independent, he has started to read and can do simple maths, and he has, for the first time, expressed what he wants to be when he grows up (a tram driver).

The look on Jake’s face when I gave him money to put in his pocket last night was an absolute picture. He realised that he had crossed a rubicon and I could tell that he felt very grown up. What is more, and I hope that his is a good sign for the future, he brought some money back. However, when I suggested that he gave the money back to me he quickly decided that it should go in his piggy bank; where he saves for going to ‘Ernie-versity’, as he likes to say.

Christmas is a time when we take stock and look back to see how things are different from previous years. Jake had a brilliant time at his party, he is certainly different from last year: perhaps more than I had realised.


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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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Pictures

My Mother-in-law still uses a film camera. When she takes a photo her grandchildren look at her quizzically. “Why can’t I see the photo straight away?” they ask. What a bizarre idea that you take a photo and then have to wait ages to see it. This reminds me of when I was young when getting the photos back from the chemist, especially after a holiday, was a significant moment to look forward to; and often one for surprises – usually there were Christmas photos on that holiday film too.

While clearing my Dad’s house recently I came across our family photo albums. There were never more than ten pictures of me from any single year. These were usually taken at Christmas, on my birthday, and on our holidays; and these photos contribute significantly to my memories of when I was young. What’s more I have one friend who only has one or two photos from his entire childhood, his memories are much more sparse. Contrast this with the 5000+ that we already have of Jake and Sam, from around an hour after they were born onwards.

With smaller digital cameras and ever improving lenses on our phones the opportunity to catch moments has increased immensely, as has our opportunity to view them. Screen savers, digital photo albums, and the capacity of small devices to hold hundreds of images have meant that we can look at pictures most of the time. Indeed the first thing that Sam does almost every morning, after his initial cuddle, is pick up my phone and look at pictures and videos of himself. He loves the one of him and Jake on the “Thomas” ride the best.

There is every chance, then, that our children will have far more memories of their childhood to draw on than we ever did; and I want to make sure that my boys have plenty to choose from. So as part of my own development in doing this blog I’ve decided to try to improve my photographic skills. I’ve bought a new camera and will, initially at least, be posting a weekly photograph, probably on Sundays, as well as illustrating other blog posts from time to time.

Photos are so important to our memories and our appreciation of the people and environment around us. They help us to measure change, tracking the growth and development of our children and of ourselves. I hope you will enjoy the photos that I post, and maybe even notice a change in the quality of the photos as this blog progresses.