Making the most of a new life

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Like Son, like Father

It has been a bit of a strange start to the summer holiday period. This was always going to be the case to a certain extent since this was the first time that Jake would be home for several weeks since he first went to nursery when he was nine months old. We have also had friends staying, and so have had five children in the house; and to add to this Sam has been poorly. In fact he has been so poorly that he has been asking to go to bed without any prompting from us.

This has meant that we have sometimes been putting the boys to bed at different times, rather that the usual seemingly chaotic procedure of getting them down together, and the combination of these different factors meant that when I took Sam to bed last night it was a very calm time which I enjoyed very much.

Sam was quite restless, it was also a rather humid evening, but he sang a few songs to me that he had learned at nursery, and for the first time we had a chat. By this I mean a proper little talk in which we were both contributing ideas, a chat that had some sort of point to it and a definite beginning and ending.

This on its own would have been quite enough for me to class it as quality time well spent with him, but half way through our conversation it struck me that the situation that we were in seemed strangely familiar. It took me a while to understand what was going on for me, and I originally thought maybe it was a repeat of a similar time that I had had with Jake. But no, I realised that this first proper chat with Sam reminded me of my last proper chat with my Father.

As you can image this was quite a revelation for me, and one that I had to think through. It was certainly the case that in the half light of the bedroom Sam certainly bore more than a passing resemblance to my Father, but it was also the nature of the conversation which solidified the comparison for me.

My last real conversation with my Father took place in hospital about four days before he died. I had always found it difficult to talk to him when I visited since the distractions of a busy ward together with his increasing deafness and the aphasia that has come about as the result of a stroke made communication very difficult. For some reason, however, he had been put in a single room and we were able to focus on each other more, and I was able to spend time deciphering what he wanted to say to me. It was a lovely afternoon that I shall always treasure.

This is where this particular bedtime with Sam I think was similar. There was not the usual distractions of him and Jake egging each other on, or of him trying every trick he knows to put off the ‘awful’ moment of lying down quietly, so we were able to focus on each other much more. Added to this was the issue of me trying to discern what he wanted to say to me. His vocabulary is increasing at an amazing rate but he is still trying to work out how to say many words and, like my Father, got a bit frustrated when I could not understand what he wanted to say.

This was a really lovely and very positive moment for me and, for a change, I did not want to get out of the bedroom as soon as possible to begin my ‘child-free‘ evening. From this I learned that that sometimes it is important to slow down and take more notice of what it going on around me. I have no idea whether I will be able to heed this advice in future, but I really hope so.

Somehow the generational baton was passed on.

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Learning through doing




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:


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.


Negotiating the brand maze

Today’s mission was to do a big shop at the supermarket with Sam. The primary objectives were to get everything on the list, nothing more or less, and to keep Sam happy during what is usually a fairly long process.

Before I was a parent I used to watch people struggle round supermarkets with children and I used to think: “why do they put themselves through this, why don’t they just go without them?”. When I think about this now I laugh at my innocence and naivety, and if anyone said something like this to me now I would reply: “do you really think I’m doing this out of choice?”.

Before we moved house I was fairly good at negotiating my way round our local supermarket. Despite frequent changes I generally knew where everything was and could find my way round with the children without falling foul of too many of the marketeers’ traps. I knew where the Lightning McQueen birthday cakes, the Charlie and Lola pink milk, and even the Pooh Bear plasters were; mainly from experience. I even knew how to get down the dairy aisle without ending up with a load of Thomas yoghurts. Now I have to relearn another completely different layout and have to develop a new path through the marketing maze.

At this point my old self would have said: “well if they want something why do you not just say no?”. This being the old self that has never been faced with a two year old wanting nothing in life but a torch because it has Mickey Mouse on it who is quickly surrounded by a clutch of grandparents (none of whom I know) offering advice on the matter (because that is the time of day we tend to go shopping).

We walk into the store and Sam immediately says: “ice cream”. I now know that if I want to keep him going, then ice cream is the last item on the list to get, it gives him hope. So far so good when we arrive at the start (fruit and veg), Sam happily sat down with his in-trolley entertainment pack. But I immediately knew that it is going to be a long shop when we get to the first item: tomatoes. I pick up a pack of cherry, but Sam is adamant that we have plum and is in no mood for cherry. Ok I can live with plum, and so it goes on around the shop with every other item that goes in the basket requiring either explanation and/ or negotiation and, if I am honest, I am enjoying the challenge. After the tomato incident I generally got my own way, the only additional items being an over priced children’s magazine and (I am not sure how) a very large pot of honey and clementine greek yoghurt, the latter of which Sam became obsessed with (I think it was the bees on the label), but which sounded very tasty so I gave in.

When we got to the kitchen roll, however, we played out an all too familiar scenario. I prefer the recycled own brand six pack, Sam likes the one with the elephant on it. I was willing to get the elephant six pack but that was “too big”, this hardened both our resolves and after about five minutes of negotiation we ended up with an elephant two pack “limited edition” and a recycled four pack. Calm descended, and so on to the toilet rolls: “woof woof” said Sam. Well that’s branding for you.

In the end not a bad hour in the supermarket, and I pretty much met my objectives. Sam was happy most of the time, including a memorable passage where he insisted on roaring as loud as he could in the cereal aisle (thank you Tony the Tiger), and I got everything on the list with only a few extras.

Like many things supermarket shopping is very different with a toddler in tow, it is a challenge, but as with many things if you are up for it, it can be fun and very rewarding; just do not ask me why I could not have come on my own.

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Discovering Sam

In my recent post, A Tale of Two Mondays, I described how I now looked after Sam on a Monday: to varying effect. I hope though that it was obvious from that piece that, however the day turns out, I am really enjoying my time with him. He is now at that stage where he is starting to be able to communicate with us, and is learning new words everyday (brektoid for breakfast being my current favourite). We are also able to see his personality coming through more and more, which is great.

This is particularly pleasing for me because I feel that it has taken me longer to get to know him than was the case with Jake. When we had just Jake I could spend all my spare time with him, but this has just not been possible with Sam because he has always tended to cling more to Karen, while Jake became much more of a Daddy’s boy once Sam came along; Jake saw just what the arrival of Sam meant for him quite quickly. Combine this with a job where I was away a lot and I felt that I hardly got to know Sam for the first 18 months of his life; which made me quite sad sometimes.

However, one of the unexpected positive side effects of taking redundancy at the end of 2011 was that I was able to spend more time with Sam, and especially on the half days when he was not at nursery and Jake was; and latterly on Mondays now Jake has started school. This has very much been a two way process and from seemingly being ‘the other one who seems to live with us but does not have any milk to offer’, he now seems to accept me much more and seems to be very happy to spend time with me.

Since having the boys it has really struck me that developing a reciprocal relationship with children is more of a two way process than I had previously realised. It is obvious that this is the case on one level, but I did not previously understand that if you want to have the trust of children and receive their affection you really have to put the time in with them and develop that relationship.

I see this, particularly with Sam, when we have visitors. If someone spends time with him and really attempts to connect with him they attain ‘doodah’ status. Doodah is what Sam calls anyone who he wants to relate to but does not know their name. If people do not bother with him so much then the ‘doodah’ is withheld.

I feel very lucky that I have the opportunity to see my children grow up in a way that some fathers do not. I am able to be around nearly every day to take Jake to school, and pick him up the majority of evenings; and we can have breakfast and our evening meal together as a family nearly every night. I have time to spend with Sam on Mondays, and with both boys at the weekends (when Karen has to work). I get to develop my relationship with them much more than if I was in a different city every week as was the case before.

I have got to discover more of Jake, and particularly more of Sam this year than I would have otherwise done; and in doing so also found out a lot more about myself. I am very fortunate, and I recommend it.