Making the most of a new life


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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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: 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 School Run

Well Jake has been going to school for quite a few weeks now and we have been introduced to something that we were not quite expecting: ‘the school run’. We had been used to ‘the nursery run’ but it is not quite the same as the school run.

There was a certain flexibility with the nursery run, the only limiting factor being whether the boys arrived in time for breakfast; other than that we could drop them off when we liked. With the school run we have to get Jake there between 8.40 and 8.50, and preferably by 8.40 so we can do some learning with him first.

This has meant a tighter morning regime, which involves getting Jake up by a certain time (and strangely he sleeps much longer in the morning on a school day than at weekends) and then getting a great deal crammed into a short period; including the making of the lunch box and breakfast (which before was had at nursery).

On the first day we wildly overestimated how long it would take, with us hassling Jake to be ready on time and the arriving at school around ten minutes before the gates opened. As we relaxed we found that we were getting later and later until we were arriving consistently late, but after some negotiation with Jake (involving the amount of TV he would (or would not) be able to watch if he was late for school), we seem to have settled down into some sort of routine where we are not exactly beating down the school gates as they open, but are not racing to beat them shutting again; and to give Jake credit he realised that he did not want to be late for school either.

I do not think that either Karen or I had prepared ourselves for the stress that getting someone ready for school involves since the boys’ agenda is clearly different from ours at that time. Ours is purely focussed on getting everyone out of the house at the required time, while the boys’ is to do as much playing as possible for as long as possible (the TV stays firmly off in the mornings).

This is a great example of how our lives change as our children get older. We needed to get into a different morning routine and that was a change for us every bit as much as it was for the boys, but I think that now that the routine is established I hope we can be a bit more relaxed as we all drop into it. Our mornings will certainly not be the same again for many years, and I am sure that it will be different once we have two boys to get out to school in the morning, and so on. Because of this I often wonder who needs to be the most adaptable is it Karen and I or is it the boys? It is probably both, and while it feels like we are leading the change, are we really? Are we not just adapting, too?

It is certainly the case that unless we chivvied and cajoled every morning we would be unlikely to get anywhere, but I think we also need to acknowledge that actually it is not really that hard; and a sure sign that the boys are happy with their school and nursery is that they do not put up too much resistance in a morning. It is just that it does not always seem like that when we are in the thick of it.

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After having moved into our new house and getting the boys settled, the next step was school. Getting a school place for Jake had not been straight forward. I also felt that the fact of him going to school had seemed very abstract, although we had very much linked our move to Sheffield with him starting at ‘big school’ and this, for him, was part of the excitement of our moving.

One thing that I was expecting was that I’d get emotional when I first saw him in his school uniform. I wasn’t wrong. He looked so proud and grown up wearing it; and he was very excited. It was also good that his grandparents were there too as we were able to mark the event in a more traditional German way, which involves giving him a package (in the shape of a cone) full of sweets and things that might be useful to him at school (not to be left out Sam got one too for starting his new nursery). I like this tradition because it says that going to school is an important stage in life, and I think it also shows that we place a value on learning.

When we got to school Jake seemed very confident and not phased at all by his surroundings (he has been there once the week before for an hour) and seemed to settle relatively quickly. We were very relieved that he seemed ok, especially as some children seemed quite upset about being there, and had no worries about leaving him there. We felt that we had prepared the ground for him well, but most of all it was Jake who had shown such confidence in going there, and when we picked him up he was very keen to go again the next day. Jake has now been at school for three weeks and he is loving it. He has noticeably grown in confidence and seems to be considerably older than he was just a few weeks ago. He seems more motivated to go that he ever was with nursery.

The same is the case with Sam who has also had to go through this big change. But for him it was much more unexpected because, since he’s only 2, we weren’t really able to prepare him for the changes that were coming. He didn’t know that he’d be staying with his grandparents while we flew back, didn’t know that we were moving house, and didn’t know that he’d be going to a new nursery: a nursery that his brother wouldn’t be attending like before. I think it’s fair to say that Sam has been a little bit more insecure than before, needing reassurance that Karen and/ or I are in the house, but he has generally coped very well and, like Jake, now seems to be well settled in his new environment and growing in confidence.

I have been amazed by the resilience of Jake and Sam. Despite going through a series of very big changes, none of which were really under their control, they have found the resources not only to cope but to thrive. I would like to think that this was partly down to the fact the Karen and I provide them with certain constants in their lives but whatever it is they seem to flourish in their new surroundings and I really have a sense of us settling down to our new life as a family, ready to embrace that next round of changes that come our way, whatever they may be.