ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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Park(ing) life

Today marks the end of a week-long series of posts which have given me the opportunity to get a few annoying things off my chest, things that have only annoyed me since I became a parent. The themes have been varied in nature, and have been a mixture of issues that somehow seem to have a wider relevance to my role as a father to two young boys, some being more consequential than others.

I have saved the most petty of my rants until last as I think the things that annoy us the most are often the ones that really have the least importance in the overall scheme of things; but nevertheless have an irrational hold over us. And so it is with what I want to talk about today. This is that it really irritates me when people who do not have children with them park in the ‘parent and child spaces’ at supermarkets.

I think that this annoys me for two reasons. First, because we parents do not really get that much preferential treatment that is as institutionalised as this (being allowed to board planes first being the only other one that springs to mind). Second, those spaces are there because we really do need more room to get children out of cars, so it is the interests of everyone’s paintwork that we park there. Furthermore, since they are closer to the store (presumably the reason why the culprits park there in the first place) this reduces the chances of our children being involved in an accident in what is a very busy and dangerous environment.

Indeed I have lost count of the times that I have driven round looking for a space to park in, because the parent/ child spaces are full, often to find someone getting in or out of a car without a child on sight. Is it really too much to ask that someone walks an extra ten metres so that we parents can have a slightly more comfortable trip to the shops?

So while I would rather someone park there than in a disabled space, I still feel that parking in the parent/ child area is a very selfish thing to do, and worthy of being challenged. Of course we British do not like that sort of confrontation, and no one who has wrongly parked in such a place will expect any sort of come back on it. It gets my goat so much, however, that I have been known to challenge people on it and have got all sorts of responses from feigning ignorance to downright abuse from people who do not seem to see any problem with parking there.

I have stopped doing it now that the boys are getting older though because I think that the last thing I want them to see is me getting into an argument with someone over a parking place, not least because of all the ‘why’ questions that this is bound to generate. I would quickly become ‘irrational frothing at the mouth dad’.

In idle moments I do think that I would like to follow them home and park in their drive, but this would not be the mature response would it? Probably up there with taking a toy just because someone else is playing with it. So I guess I will just try to rise above it, which annoys me too because it is just so irritating.

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What’s eating me today?

This week I am getting those little things about parenthood that annoy me off my chest. I have already talked about the arrival of lighter nights, crappy toys on magazines and those who see children (and their parents) as public property. I am calling it ‘rant week’ but I hope that it is a little bit more than that since it is also highlighting how I have changed since becoming a parent, since none of these would have even been on my radar six years ago.

Today I am going to talk about something that I used to do a lot but nowadays not so much, that is eat out. Karen and I used to regularly go to restaurants before we had children, and quite frequently when Jake was very young. Over time, however, we find that we go less and less, more often than not with the children.

I have to say that eating out as a family is not something that I particularly enjoy doing. I find that the children get bored easily, even if we bring plenty of books and toys, and I do not really enjoy the restaurant experience when my food invariably goes cold for some reason or another.

However, this is not the reason for today’s rant. Rather it is so-called child-friendly restaurants that really do not seem to understand their customers. The thing that they seem to get wrong most often is when to bring the food. I have lost count of the number of times that Karen and I have found ourselves with our main course when the children’s, far more simple, meals are still being prepared in the kitchen. So there we are sitting there with a couple of hungry boys who have set their hearts on what they ordered only to be confounded by the restaurant and left with second choice offers of yucky food such as grilled sea bass or off cuts from a lamb shank with some exotic sauce (usually referred to as a ‘jus’) from Mummy’s and Daddy’s plates. Of such things are a tranquil mealtime not made.

So we have learned from experience that we need to ask that, if at all possible, the boys’ food comes first; in fact as quickly as possible since we are invariably in a restaurant these days because they are extremely hungry, and on one memorable occasion Jakes order was lost altogether – not great. I think that if we have gone somewhere claiming to be child-friendly this should be part of the service. It really is no good providing a selection of high chairs and a small packet of crayons for each child if they then get the basics wrong. For me it only adds to the stress of eating out, and does not encourage me to go again if they do not meet what I think are modest expectations.

Eating out is a good example to how life changes with children. We look for completely different things in an eatery now we have small mouths to feed. Karen and I still look for good food, but we also look for a place that it going to help us with the experience, and not heighten my already well-developed skepticism of whether we should be going there in the first place.


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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’.


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Blinded by the light

 

The last week has seen me thinking about those relatively small things about parenthood that annoy me, none of which I was aware before having children. So now having thought of them I think I need to get them off my chest. When I made a list I aimed to think of ten, but I fell short at seven (so it cannot be all that bad). However, seven is a good number for a short series over a week. So this week is now ‘rant week’ on ChangingDad.

I think what really got me thinking about these niggly issues was the clocks going forward last weekend. An hour less in bed aside, and that was always a small price to pay for light evenings, the arrival of British Summer Time was always my favourite weekend of the year heralding, as it does, a great deal more daylight at the right time of day. But now I am not so sure. It is a lot easier to get children to bed when it is dark, after all darkness equals bedtime, and light can mean anything but. As a result it has been hard to explain to Sam in particular why he should go to bed when it is still light, he somehow thinks it is morning.

I think that the light evenings also remind me that we cannot go out and do things in the light evenings like we used to, and it is certainly too cold to sit out at home in the evening at the moment (and I am not sure it ever was last year). While the thought of getting one of those patio heaters which pump heat anywhere but on the patio does not appeal.

So the clocks changing reminds me of past times and well as present issues; both of which, once again, come back to that recurring theme of having time to ourselves and the ability to do the things that we like (or liked) doing. For me it is probably the most obvious change about becoming a father; that as parents we have finite time but seemingly much more to fit into it. The light evenings meant that we could do more things away from the house. Having children makes that more difficult since the importance of having a bedtime routine cannot be overstated, and so being able to do things then means having babysitters on a regular basis. This is something which I do not think is totally fair on the boys who are clearly more comfortable with having one or both of us in the house when they go to bed.

I understand that some people find the winter months very difficult when there is not much daylight, and on balance I much prefer the summer months. Nevertheless, it is not as clear cut as it used to be and this time of year is definitely one of more mixed emotions than it used to be. That is, for me, one of the consequences of parenthood, and not one that I had particularly anticipated.

I wonder whether this is the same for other parents? Or is it just me?


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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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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.