ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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A change is as good as a rest

Well the Easter break is now over and we already seem to have dropped back into our routines again as if it never happened. It was a good break and Jake, in particular, had a much needed rest.

I do not remember school being so tiring when I was a child, but I guess that it must have been; I certainly do not think that I was awake for hours in the evening and I am pretty sure that I was always in bed and asleep well before 8. But it has certainly been clear to me that Jake finds school to be tiring, and was really struggling during the last week of last term as the weeks of learning built up. Even in reception class there is a great emphasis on children improving and developing their reading, writing and maths; and Jake has certainly learned an awful lot since he started in September. But this does take its toll on one so young.

This is not to say that he does not enjoy it, and he was so keen to go back on Monday morning that we were waiting for the gates to open at school. But because he finds it so tiring we are really mindful of how he can spend his time out of school, and try to find a balance between different sorts of activities. So while we do listen to him read, and help him to write and count; we also encourage him to play both inside and outside and we are quite happy to let him watch TV in, what we think, is moderation.

I would go further than that and say that allowing him to watch some TV is important because he clearly does find it relaxing and, provided it is the right sort of TV (BBC Cbeebies and good quality films), we also find that he learns while he watches too; he has certainly improved his vocabulary watching the likes of Ice Age, Madagascar and other films. This does not stop us having the discussion (argument) about him watching more as he always, of course, tries to push the boundaries of how much he can watch especially during the holidays when he has more potential watching time.

This is why we also try to get out and explore the area around us, either by going down to the local playgrounds/ parks, or visiting museums and places of interest. Of all these though the one that I most enjoyed during this break was taking the boys up into the Peak District National Park, which we are very fortunate to live close to. We had a great time exploring the woods, tramping through what was left of the snow (Sam even found a submerged stream and ended up to his waist in snow), and playing pooh sticks.

All in all it was a busy time with lots to do and see, but Jake looked great on it and I hope that he will remember his trips out with the sort of fondness that I do. It is great to get out, and I am looking forward to a summer of exploring new places and introducing the boys to the joys of being outside.

When we got to the car park at Longshaw Estate, where we were visiting, Jake asked me “where’s the playground Daddy?”. I thought for a moment and nearly said “there isn’t one”, then looking round it struck me and said “it’s here Jake, it’s all around you”. I was pleased that I thought to say that, and even more pleased that the boys embraced the concept, and now want to think of more ways to help make it just that for them.

There are plenty more holidays coming up so suggestions gratefully received.

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Why? Oh! Why?

There is a time bomb ticking in our house, and the more time that passes the more I realise just how huge it is going to be. It has gone off once before, but then we were in blissful ignorance about it so it was not any cause for concern. It is only a matter of time before it goes off again, and this time it is going to be massive because we are still dealing with the fall out from the last one. Actually the effects of the last one are getting more pronounced all the time. It is something that I should be pleased about, and on one level I am, but it is something that is draining and challenging. Something that requires the development of many new skills and knowledge.

Why, you ask?

Exactly!

Sam has progressed onto the ‘What’ questions (‘What’s that noise?’ being the most common example), so it is only a matter of time before he first utters that word now; before he says:

‘Why?’

First of all it will just be ‘why?’. Over and over again. Then gradually the questions will become more and more finessed, more and more complicated; and will require me to delve into issues requiring knowledge of such as philosophy, astronomy, quantum physics, religion, biology, history, economics and transport systems of the world (and that was just last weekend with Jake).

Do not get me wrong I think that it is absolutely brilliant that Jake is showing such an interest in the world around him, and the last thing I would want to do it blunt his desire to learn more, to know more, and to understand the world around him. But boy is it exhausting and the thought of two sources of this inquisitiveness is enough to make me break out in a cold sweat.

I am beginning to see what parents have told me in the past when they say that their children are sponges of knowledge, and I find it amazing that Jake and, very soon, Sam wants to know so much and is picking up so much in such a short time. I also feel a great responsibility to tell him the right things (although in some cases there is no right or wrong answer) in a clear and concise manner. I am also conscious that the things we say to our children at this age help shape their worldview in the future, so I want to tell him things that are defensible and sensible, while at the same time helping him to work things out for himself.

So this is yet another example of the huge responsibility that we have towards our children. To respect them and respond properly. In other words not to fob them off with any old rubbish, or be tempted to answer with such as ‘Why not?’, ‘Why do you think that?’, or ‘Because it is’.

I have to admit, though, to sometimes resorting to that last one in particular.

Why?

Because, frankly, I am really not wanting to engage into a conversation on the meaning of life when it is bedtime and all I can think of is an hour of quiet before collapsing into bed myself

I know that this is hardly being consistent, but can we please discuss that question on another day.


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Learning through doing

CRASH!

(Pause)

WWWWWAAAAAAADDDDAAAADDDDDDYYYYYY…..HURHURHUR…….

Something like this happens at least once a day, every day in our house. On this occasion I found the source of the noise in the lounge where Sam was standing with the TV lying upside down on his foot.

You might expect at this point that I recount how I felt so sorry for him that I took him up in my arms and gave him a big cuddle.

Er, no.

I said something along the lines of “for goodness sake Sam how many times have I told you not to push that television (always more formal language when telling children off)”.

This of course did not help and Sam only upped the volume (on himself, not the TV) and decided that his salvation lay with Karen and not me, hence:

WWWWWWAAAAAAAAAMMMMMUUUUUUMMMMMMMMYYYYYYY….HURHURHUR….

So off Sam toddled to Karen with me following behind feeling increasingly helpless and stupid for not being more calm in that situation. For not starting with the cuddle followed by the learning opportunity to reinforce the dangers of rocking appliances. He was soon fine again though, although he has not been so bold with the TV again.

It seems to me that the boys take some things that we say as being unequivocally true, will never question it, and will repeat it verbatim and ad infinitum. Other things we can tell them, literally, hundreds of times and they will not take it on board at all. The difference between these two broad categories seems, roughly, that the first group of things are out of their control to disprove and so they are willing to accept them. The second group, broadly those things they can, or think they can, control and therefore carry an element of risk, are the ones where they push the boundaries. So Sam knew that we did not want him to push the TV, but only knows why now. The TV pushed back.

This can be a rather stressful scenario if you think about it too much, and was played out all too clearly when Jake recently found out what happens if you grab the wrong part of a hot pan. In that situation I fortunately did go straight into cuddle mode, and Jake has learned something about hot pans that he did not know before. But clearly it is not an ideal pedagogy and he took all evening to recover from the shock.

So we will keep plugging away at the dangers of cars, hot things, water, strangers etc… and hope that something gets through and we mitigate the risk. This does not mean that we remove it altogether otherwise the boys would never get on a bike, climb on a playground, or cross a road. There is a balance between risk and coddling but I have no idea where that balance lies and so the boys will continue to learn as they go along through a mixture of our guidance and their own experience, and I am sure that it is not the last time that I say: “I told you so”.

The TV was fine by the way.


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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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Angry

As I write this I am angry. I have been angry for quite some time now and think that it is about time that I expressed that I am angry through this blog. I am not angry with the boys, or Karen (the usual subjects I write about), but angry about the Jimmy Savile case.

I am angry because people knew what was going on and did nothing about it, and many of those who lionised him are now trying to pin the blame on others or say that they knew all along.

I am angry because he preyed on many people who were the most vulnerable and most trusting in our society. People who he purported to support through his charitable work, which now seem to be a front for him to be able to abuse them.

I am angry because every case of abuse is a life scarred, and there are a lot of lives involved here.

I am angry because he died before he could be brought to justice for what he did and was given that sickening funeral procession around Leeds, including his ‘lying in state’ at the Queen’s Hotel.

I am angry because individuals will now try and introduce spurious stories, taking away some of the focus from the genuine victims who deserve our collective support.

I am angry because it will mark more erosion of parental confidence in allowing our children freedom, not knowing who we can trust. So, while I want to allow my children as much freedom to roam and find out about themselves, I will now have to think twice about it. The fact that he ‘hid in plain sight’ also chills me.

I am angry because he has, on more than one occasion, been in the same room as Jake (at a park cafe we used to frequent): a cafe that was always full of children where he used to hold court. I am so relieved that I always found him too creepy to approach.

Of lesser importance I am also angry because part of my childhood has been taken away. A person who I thought, at the time, was being nice to people like me turned out to be a monster, along with Gary Glitter, whose records I bought when I was between 9 and 12 (makes me shudder just thinking about it). Although it gradually became clear to me, and many of my friends, that Savile was someone who was rather creepy: especially having seen him around Leeds on occasion.

I am angry because it makes me think twice about my trust in human nature. Not only that someone can act in such a depraved, systematic and calculating way; but that he also abused other people’s trust in him and it makes me wonder how I would have reacted if I had had something to do with him. Would I have be similarly starstruck, and have been taken in by his charisma? I would like to think not, but the doubt is enough to again make me shudder.

I feel that as a society we have taken quite a jolt with the conversion of Savile from charismatic and ceaseless charity worker to serial abuser of the very vulnerable people he was supposed to be supporting; using the power he gained as a prolific fundraiser to ‘blackmail’ institutions into giving him access to those who they were supposed to be protecting. It is somehow more understandable when, as is more usual, a monster emerges who has ‘kept themselves to themselves’, but for such a public figure to get away with it for so long is something I find very difficult to comprehend. Just as shocking it looks like investigations are spreading out to involve other celebrities, further undermining our trust in those we put on a pedestal.

As a parent, then, this whole affair has hit me very hard. I am not normally an angry person but I can hardly think of what I would do if I found out that something had happened to one of the boys. It is a scenario that I do not really want to think about, and should not need to, but having this at the very centre of our society forces me to, and that really scares me.

I hope that something positive can come out of this whole affair. That perhaps children (and adults) will feel more able to report cases of abuse and it will lead to a more open revulsion in such things in such a way that will not allow people to hide in plain sight in the future. I do wonder though whether this will be a less free society, and then we must ask whether this is a price worth paying.

The unmasking of this monster will lead to change at many levels. It will make us re-assess risk in relation to our children since it creates paranoia. It may change our relationship with the idea of celebrity (which, in itself, may not be a bad thing). It will make us more aware of the possibility of abuse, and I hope that this will lead institutions such as hospitals, children’s homes, prisons and broadcasters to make sure that they are never in the same position to allow this to happen ever again. Above all I hope that it does create the environment for genuine victims of abuse to come forward and receive the trust, support and closure that they need.

Finally, I hope that our children do not suffer as a result of this greater perception of risk and no doubt things will calm down. But at the moment it is a scary situation that makes me very angry and very wary, and I feel changed by it in ways that I am yet to fully comprehend.


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To nursery and beyond

Today marks another of what seems to be many big changes in family life at the moment, because today is Jake and Sam’s last day at their nursery. For Sam this is because we are moving house, so he will start at a new nursery when we move. But for Jake this is his last ever day at nursery before going to ‘big school’ in September.

It was difficult to judge how Jake was feeling about it this morning. He seemed excited about the fact of his last day, and he really enjoyed making a thank you card with Karen yesterday. But he also seemed a bit sad too. We had already noticed a change in him over the last couple of weeks as many of his friends left after their ‘graduation’, so for him things were already changing. On the other hand he is also excited about going to see his Grandparents next week, then moving house, then starting big school. It’s a lot for him to take in.

Jake started at his nursery when he was about nine months old and, apart from a few wobbles, has thoroughly enjoyed his time there. He has made friends, learned lots of new things, and got on very well with his teachers. For me it’s now difficult to imagine what it was like to first take him into the baby room, but when I try to, it fills me with so much amazement as to how much he has grown physically, intellectually and emotionally over that time. How he has, as he moved through the classes, gone from being a baby to become a toddler, and then a boy. That he has taken most of this in his stride, too, is equally amazing.

However, bearing in mind how much more change is coming up in the next couple of months, means that we have to take a lot of care in how we present it, and how we go through it as a family. I think we’ve done o.k. so far because Jake seems to be up for what’s ahead, so we need to make sure that this doesn’t lead to disappointment.

Managing expectations is something that I have long been familiar with in a work setting, but I also find that it is also something that is relevant in a family setting too. It’s easy to create some sort of great future utopia for our children, but it also needs to be realistic: something that we can deliver. I find that one of the worst feelings is when the boys are disappointed, they can’t hide it at that age which is good but hard to deal with.

So as Jake and Sam have their last days in Schoolroom and Toddlers respectively today it will be important to help them make their transition into the next phases of their lives by being positive but truthful about what lies ahead. But if we can offer them the background security and confidence in our home and family life let’s hope they can really fly to the next challenge.

As Buzz Lightyear (might) say: To nursery and beyond!