ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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Cage fighting

We have bought a trampoline. So our back garden, like many others in Britain now screams out to passers by “we have got kids”. And screams are indeed now what regularly come out of our garden. Not only the screams of the boys, but also of Karen and I as we try to encourage some orderly bouncing.

Most of this is, of course, in vain and as I looked out of our kitchen window, from where we get an excellent view of the carnage being wrought as the boys ‘play’ in the garden, it struck me that with its fully enclosed high sides and many health and safety related features it was how I imagine a cage fight being, albeit one involving a lot of bouncing (which I am not sure that cage fighting generally does).

It usually starts quite quietly with the boys bouncing up and down and gradually warms up as they get more confident. Then as they start moving around more wildly they inevitably start bumping into each other amidst much pushing, falling over, and hysterical laughter. They enjoy it so much as it must seem like a safe environment as the netting will catch them if they fall. At the end of each phase of rolling around on the actual springy bit they then get up again and start bouncing, like a couple of prize fighters sizing each other up, and then smack back into it again. It is 90% sheer unadulterated pleasure for them and ends up with the other 10% which is, frankly, a little bit full on.

The key issue for me seems to be when to intervene. If I go too early I spoil their obvious pleasure, too late and there is an increased risk that one of them will get hurt. So why let them go on at all? Well I think it is a pretty safe environment in there, even though the weighty tome that is the instruction book seems to have been written with the sole purpose of the manufacturers avoiding any lawsuits from irate parents who, shockingly, think that it is ok to let more than one child on at a time. Actually if you followed the instructions to the letter you would never use the thing, so you can only accept the risks and get on with it.

This issue of intervention is one that I think increasingly about. The trampoline is not the only place where strife breaks out between the boys and whenever it does part of me wants to wade in straight away, and part of me wants to let them sort it out for themselves. The experience of the trampoline so far is that they manage to sort it out more than half the time, and continue as if nothing happened; but there are occasions where things do escalate. Learning the art of compromise and negotiation cannot be a bad thing, can it?

So I guess, as with many things to do with children, it is all about finding boundaries; not just for the boys by for me as well and I am conscious that I have different sense of risk than they do. When it comes to what they want they try and get it without, in that moment, worrying too much about the consequences. But while that my mean that they have realised that a certain action may result in something negative, the other side of that coin is that the can enjoy themselves without worrying too much either.

So when it comes to the trampoline I certainly do not want to stop them having the pure unadulterated pleasure that it brings. But I will still be keeping an eye on them.

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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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My Cardboard Wardrobe

Our family life seems to be dominated by moving house at the moment. Even though the event itself doesn’t happen for another six weeks we’re already in full swing: sending stuff to charity shops, having furniture collections and piling items on eBay. And even though we are getting rid of this stuff on a daily basis, our house doesn’t really seem to be any emptier.

We moved into our current house about six years ago and, because we moved two houses worth of stuff into one, it has never been empty. In fact our car has never seen the inside of the garage because the garage has always been packed with furniture and unopened boxes.

So, over the last couple of months, we have made a really effort to identify and pass on things that can hopefully be used by other people. This often hasn’t been an easy thing to do because we seem to get so attached to our belongings, or hoard them just in case we might need them in the future. And yet the fact that we have boxes unopened from when we moved in speaks volumes about how much we actually need.

So we have said goodbye to many boxes of books, bags of clothes, cases of kitchenware and at least a van load of furniture; much of which we’ve had for years. I’ve even said goodbye to the wardrobe that was my parents when I was growing up, and has subsequently accompanied me on every one of my house moves (the new house has built in wardrobes). It has been replaced, in the short term, by a cardboard wardrobe supplied by our removal company. Sure it’s nothing special to look at but it does the job.

I notice this too with the boys. They become extremely attached to items very quickly, and usually quite unpredictably; Jake has currently forsaken all his soft toys in favour of a stuffed caterpillar (who he has now named ‘Mr Bendybus’) that has sat untouched in his room for at least two years; and Sam often takes DVD cases to bed with him, and places them in a crenelated fashion around the edge of his cot. As with most children, what they most desire at any one particular time is what the other one has and so Karen and I are always having to act as referee as another conflict breaks out over a Lightning McQueen Lego car, or a Thomas train. Like the rest of us children rely on things to make them feel comfortable, to attach memories to, and help them to find their own identities.

We all put values on items then, often something that has no bearing to what they actually cost in monetary terms and, like with shares, the sentimental value of them can go up as well as down; which is why I was able to finally get rid of so much of the stuff that I’d been hanging on to since my student days, including most of my academic books.

So for me part of moving house is also about moving on in other ways too, I can let go of many things, and grow attached to new things too. Although I don’t think I’ll be hanging on to my cardboard wardrobe.