Back to school with a bump

Back to school with a bump

A week’s a long time in parenting, so six can feel like a bloody marathon. Having the kids (and their end-of-term-tiredness) at home for the summer holidays tends to lurch between a real pleasure and a real pain. Yet amid the usual patience testing and sudden explosions, the break proved to be surprisingly enjoyable and a happy escape from the usual morning routine.

Consequently, the return to normality has come with a bit of a bump, especially the period between 7am and 9am. Any of you familiar with the school and/or nursery run will probably know exactly what I mean, but just in case (and for my own sense of catharsis), here’s a glimpse of what I absolutely, positively, 100% didn’t miss during the summer holiday hiatus…

T-minus 80 minutes: Mummy departs

When it’s my day at home, my wife Laura is in London (and vice versa). So, around 7.15am two days a week, she waves us goodbye…and battle commences. First up is a conversation something along the lines of: how many episodes of Ninjago have you watched so far? (Wait, repeat.) (Wait, repeat.) (Wait…deep breath…) Right, if you don’t answer, I’m just going to turn it off. Ah, finally. In that case I’ll start making breakfast.

T-minus 65 minutes: Making breakfast

What’s that Nathan? You want to help me make breakfast? How lovely. A pint-sized lunatic teetering on furniture behind me, tipping Rice Krispies on the floor and then eating them, and risking their life by jamming stuff into the toaster is exactly what any cook needs when preparing a meal. Dylan! Has that Ninjago finished yet? (Wait…deep breath…) Remember what I said would happen if you ignored me? And, no, lobbing plastic dinosaurs out the door does NOT constitute a viable response.

T-minus 50 minutes: Breakfast

Right, everyone, take a seat. What do you want on your toast? Everything? That’s disgusting. (Painstakingly scrape jam, peanut butter, Marmite and honey onto a single slice x 2.) Nathan, do you need a poo? The noise you just made suggests you do (or have already). No? OK, well tell me as soon as you do. Dylan, food is best eaten through your mouth. And with clothes on. (Drink spills. Again.) Laura’s sat on a train watching iPlayer right now. Bitch.

T-minus 30 minutes: Getting dressed

OK, fellas, let’s head upstairs. Good Lord, Nathan, that’s a dreadful smell. Are you absolutely sure you don’t need a poo? Shall we just try? OK, suit yourself, but PLEASE let me know if one comes. Right, Dylan, if you can get dressed in your school uniform in less than two minutes, I’ll happily compromise my (almost entirely extinct) parenting ideals and let you watch more TV. Nathan, come with me, we’re getting dressed together.

Far more than 2 minutes later…

T-minus 20 minutes: Still getting dressed

No Dylan, standing completely naked but for a pair of pants on your head does not equal getting dressed. Hurry up or we’ll be late. Nathan, where are you? I’ve still got one of your socks here. Er…that’s not hygienic. Please take the child’s toilet seat off your face and come here. Do you need a poo? No, well then let’s do teeth. (Check watch.) OK, I’ll do both of you together, just remind me later whose teeth I cleaned with my left hand, so I can make sure I do theirs properly with my right hand this evening.

T-minus 10 minutes: Still getting dressed

For the love of God Dylan, I’ve seen glaciers move quicker than this. Please do up your shorts and put your school shoes on. Nathan! Toothbrushes go in mouths only. Definitely not up there. I’ll have to go to Sainsbury’s and get you a new one now. At last, thank you Dylan. You can put your shoes on the right feet when you get to school.  No, I don’t know who my 7th-least-favourite Star Wars character is off the top of my head. Let me think about it and I’ll tell you tonight.

T-minus 5 minutes: Final preparations

Right, everyone, grab your bags. Hang on, wait! Nathan, I need to do your packed lunch for nursery. (Throw sandwiches, crisps and fruit into lunchbox and then stuff it all into a frustratingly undersized backpack with increasing rage.) Dylan, where are you? No, there isn’t time for a kickaround in the garden. Nathan, take the keys out your mouth. It’s dangerous, plus I need to lock the door. We’ll have to walk the quick way today and spend less time terrorising the local spider population, otherwise we’ll be late. Go, go, go!

T-plus 2 minutes: Late departure

(Usher (push) boys out door. Lock door. Set off down road.) Dylan try to stay calm but I don’t think we’re going to make it for ‘gate opening’ today. Why ever that matters. That’s not calm. And it’s not nice for the people whose front garden it is either. Carry on walking before they come to the window…but not too far ahead please. Keep up, Nath. Why have you stopped? Oh, you’ve got to be fucking joking. Dylan, come back! We’re heading home. Nathan needs a poo…

And just think, we get to do it all again tomorrow.

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He said, she said

He said, she said

We’re getting a lot of this in our house at the moment…

But mummy lets me do it

But daddy doesn’t say that

That’s not mummy’s rule

You know the kind of thing.

Naturally, the main culprit is the increasingly wily, nearly six year old Dylan. However, his little brother is now cottoning onto the potential rewards of playing mum and dad off against each other too. It’s bloody irritating.

First, because it normally results in a prolonged debate in which all parties steadfastly refuse to budge until a threat of no TV, no bedtime stories or no pudding is issued (incidentally, my three go-to parental ultimatums when backed into a corner).

And second, because in the chaotic pace of everyday life, where Laura and I only actually parent as a twosome at weekends or during the very last part of the evening, keeping track of exactly what the rules are is like trying to stay up-to-date with Donald Trump’s White House staff.

Tangent alert: if you’re female and need a reason to re-consider having kids, check out what it did to Trump’s neck

I mean why would I want to waste the precious uninterrupted moments I have with my wife checking whether or not she lets Dylan eat only the broccoli ‘trunks’ or if Nathan inserting his face through his miniature lavatory platform and proclaiming himself ‘Mr Toilet Seat’ is permitted? And even if I did, why on God’s green Earth would it ever occur to me to ask?!

There are many more examples, most too mundane to write here. And that’s the point. It’s not the big stuff where there’s a problem. I’m confident Laura and I can be relied upon to align on the likes of punching, flagrant insubordination and the consumption of ice-creams immediately before a meal. Or, as recently, the crime of bellowing oh my gosh, look at her butt! out the car window at a rotund female pedestrian. (It’s a quote from the movie Sing in case you’re lucky enough not to have seen it.)

It’s the incidental stuff where the issues arise. Things that happen when you’re flying solo and that you just can’t see coming until they actually do – by which point of course, you’re in no position to agree the response. I mean, does a double episode of Paw Patrol count as one or two viewings on the TV? When precisely does an angry dinosaur impression become too loud?

As last week’s bewildered pub waiter discovered when Nathan descended into a 10 minute meltdown because the Bolognese came with ‘tubes’ rather than ‘ghetti’, none of us can predict this madness, so none of us can prepare for it!

As perhaps I’ve been guilty of before, I sound like I’m building up to some kind of solution here. I’m not. As far as I can tell, setting the house rules and seamlessly enforcing them will be a constantly evolving test – especially as the boys get older and more sophisticated in their attempts to find a loophole in our allegiance.

I guess the only thing parents can do is talk to each other and try to get the big decisions right – and then reward ourselves with a drink when we do! Unless anyone has any better ideas? Grandparents, I’m looking to you…

Cracking the Parenting Code

Cracking the Parenting Code

We got Dylan’s first end of year school report this week. It was very good – enough, in fact, for this to have been a nauseatingly smug post. (It isn’t, I promise.) Yet aside from the positive commentary about my first born, one other thing particularly caught my eye…

Rather than a classic excellent, good, needs improvement type classification, Dylan’s school takes a far more positive stance. So: excellent is exceeding; good/satisfactory is expected; and anything less is emerging, a word so full of layers that it could be a cross-section of the planet Earth.  After all, my cricketing skills are emerging but that doesn’t mean I’m likely to throw mud at someone if they have the temerity to pick up my bat.

It got me thinking about some of the other euphemisms and platitudes we’re surrounded by (and guilty of) as mums, dads, grandparents et al. It’s a kind of parenting code, so below is my attempt at cracking it. Some of the examples may ring a bell, others may just be me…

Ooo, she’s very interested in the world, isn’t she? I’ve run out of positive things to say about your frankly pretty uninteresting newborn but I’ve noticed she does occasionally open her eyes and/or move her head.

He knows what he wants. Your son is an obstinate prick.

He REALLY knows what he wants. Your son is an off-the-scale obstinate prick.

You can tell she’s going to be bright. Why won’t she stop asking me ‘why’?

He finds sharing challenging.  He hits kids who touch his stuff.

That’s a nice big age gap. Which one of them was an accident?

She’s really thinking about something, isn’t she? (about a baby) He’s staring gormlessly into space and/or doing a poo.

No, that little girl is playing with that. (to your own child, loudly) Tell your daughter to give my son a turn before I unleash him. (to parent of other child)

Being an older sister has really brought out her caring side. She once asked her baby brother if he was OK after she threw a ball at him.

Having 2 kids definitely isn’t twice as hard as having 1. (to expectant 2nd time parent) Having 2 kids is at least 3 times as hard as having 1, just as soon as the second little bugger is on the move as well.

He’s very strong. (about baby) I’ve run out of things to say again but he did vaguely close his fist when I jammed my  finger into his palm.

He’s very strong. (about older child) He keeps hurting me and is worryingly close to doing irreparable damage to my testicles; please call him off.

Give the doggie a wave, sweetheart. Don’t touch that flea-ridden beast in case it rips your throat out; just flap your hand at it  from afar so it looks to the owner like we give a shit about their pet.

At least he’s not shy. Your son keeps touching my daughter, get him away from her this instant.

She enjoys her food, doesn’t she? Greedy little bastard.

OK, that’s enough time with the iPad. Bugger. That was peaceful. I should’ve picked a table where other people couldn’t see how bad a parent I am.

I’m sure there are loads more. In fact, I’ll probably discover another one tomorrow. In the meantime, though, I’d love to hear yours. Who knows, maybe we could turn them into one of those handy pocket foreign language guides people take on holiday…

 

Good, bad? No, different.

Good, bad? No, different.

I want to say upfront I think my son Dylan is a legend. His passion, loving nature, curiosity and willingness to be himself makes me incredibly proud. Plus, the other day he gave me a dead leg with his head – something no one else has managed in over 30 years of sport, school and brotherhood. That deserves respect.

But one thing he has sometimes struggled with is empathy, particularly as a toddler. Back then (and even to some extent now), it often didn’t occur to him to step into other people’s shoes, not due to any kind of deliberate malfeasance, just because, well, it wasn’t built into his psyche.

As a result, he was the kind of child who often unintentionally made me (and my wife, Laura) look like a bad parent. Instead of running around other kids, he would run through and/or over them without even noticing. His public meltdowns came with a side order of molten lava. And he never, ever took an instruction without an explanation.

It made for some embarrassing and frustrating moments, along with plenty of ‘looks’ – you know the kind – from fellow parents, passengers and café patrons. That bloke really can’t control his kid, they were thinking. Maybe you should try disciplining him – that advice was spoken out loud by a ‘helpful’ random stranger as if the thought had never crossed my mind. Your child is attacking my daughter – Laura got this from some prissy bitch whose child Dylan has merely crawled past inside a tunnel. And lots more.

Admittedly, I probably was doing something wrong. But those people who sneered, commented or tutted knew nothing about Dylan and what he needed from his mum and dad. I was also just doing what I thought was right for him and me. Pretty much any parent knows how that feels, including my poor mum judging by some of the stories of my own behaviour she has shared!

Fast forward a couple of years and Dylan is blossoming into a lovely little boy. We’re even experiencing the kind of positive school parents’ evenings that used to feel about as likely as me building the next Hadron Collider. We also now have Nathan, nearly 3 and a very different character indeed.

Nath is lucky enough to be hardwired with the empathetic instincts Dylan has, in contrast, had to work to acquire (and kudos to Dylan for doing it). It’s largely a bonus of genetics but it means when I take him to a football class or nursery or pretty much anywhere, he rarely gets involved in any kind of confrontation and tends to say ‘sorry’ straight away if anything goes wrong.  What’s more, I suddenly look like a great parent. I’m not. I’m the same as before. The boys are just very different people – one of myriad reasons I love them both so much. In some ways, it’s highly unfair on Dylan too. Although fast forward 20 years and he will be nobody’s fool. Nath on the other hand may well find himself being dragged around the shops by his partner carrying their bags.

You see, just as this post is not a slight on Dylan, it is also by no means an ode to his little brother. Nath has his fair share of annoying habits and challenging personality traits. The point is they just tend to be less noticeable to the casual observer. So, by and large, I find myself in the uncharted territory of being the dad whose kid is happily getting on with things while others grapple with volcanic tantrums, deal with flagrant insubordination and constantly intervene in sharing battles.

A little while ago, I wrote about my shame at breaking the first rule of parent club by reflexively judging an irate father in a café. Likewise, it’s impossible and unforgivable to label a child good, bad, naughty or anything else based on a fleeting experience with them in a playground or the like.

No kid wants to be in trouble (I think/hope!). It’s just sometimes, they are. When, where and how often comes down to a) timing; and b) the uniquely brilliant characteristics that make them who they are. All children are magic and none of them come with an operating manual. I guess that’s the beauty of it.

A treat for mummy…er…

A treat for mummy…er…

Last Friday, I decided to treat my wife to a bit of time to relax on her own. After all, as most parents know, chilling out free from anyone asking questions like ‘what’s higher than infinity?’, putting themselves in immediate physical danger or generally disrespecting your personal space is rare.

So rather than risk disturbing her precious night’s sleep, I did something far more thoughtful. I kindly got drunk, fell asleep on the last train home and ended up staying at the Days Inn just off the M3. Perfect. Or rather, about as far from perfect as a husband/father gets within the bounds of legality and/or fidelity.

Several apologies, one poor night’s sleep (turns out motorway service station hotels aren’t as indulgent as they sound) and a rude wake-up call from a five-year-old and a two-year-old later, I was back into the fray, nursing a hangover and a healthy dose of guilt while charging around a park, playing what could loosely be termed football, and going on ‘Star Wars missions’ in the woods. I even got to deal with Dylan inadvertently (I hope!) urinating on another child from up a tree.

After that, it was out again (yes, I’m too old for this) for a very enjoyable Saturday night’s eating and drinking with friends. Then up at 6am the next morning, two gut-wrenching Code Browns from Nathan and onto a sweaty soft play for a couple of hours. By Sunday evening I was broken.

To be clear though, I’m not looking for sympathy. Not at all. I’m well aware that: a) I brought nearly all of it on myself; and b) most people reading this will have been through their own version of the same thing. Or are about to.

But my question is why do we do it? Why do we think going out in the way we used to is still a good idea, even if only sporadically? Being hungover with kids is horrific. The equivalent of asking for a blunt needle soaked in chilli oil when you’re giving blood. Why add insult to injury?

Simple. Because no matter how much we love our children, no matter how often we say wanky stuff like ‘being a parent just adds soooo much depth to my life’, and no matter how guilty we feel about wanting to spend some time away from the chaos, it’s hard to resist the odd, fleeting taste of our old life. The one we now fondly recall through rose tinted glasses. Where a coffee meant a conversation not a race. Where the washing basket filled up once a week and without anything having to be soaked in Dettol first. Where the effects of a few beers could be slept off the next morning. And a holiday was, well, actually a holiday.

Try the guest ale. Yes please. Eat a whole chicken then delay the journey home by stopping for some late-night chips. Of course. Have one more for the road. Why not? Check into a motorway hotel at 3am and be forced to ask a middle-aged man named Keith to unlock your door for you. Hmmm, maybe that’s where we should draw the line.

Until next time, of course.

Brilliant…but just for one day

As you know, I freely admit to being a pretty average dad.

But thanks to blogging master DIY daddy and a weekly feature he runs on his excellent website – check it out here – I am today, for one day only,  a brilliant one.

Or maybe I should let you judge that for yourself by reading the answers I gave to his interview questions.

You can read them here

DIY Daddy Blog

Dad in the playground

Dad in the playground

Now I’m an adult (of sorts), I’d assumed the days of worrying about the rules of the playground were behind me. Along with wedgies, communal showers and trying to inhale without coughing.

How naïve I was. Since having children, I find myself back in the same scenario, although admittedly no one has hauled the waistband of my boxer shorts above my shoulders (yet). Worse, the rules have changed. As many parents know, managing people with little regard for their own safety until faced with immediate peril requires significant levels of concentration, premonition and caffeine, as well as the ability to cross a wobbly bridge in milliseconds.

Often it lulls you into a false sense of security too. Like when your older child kindly offers to help the younger one join them in climbing something just a little bit beyond their capabilities. How sweet, you think. What lovely brothers. How nice to see them getting on so well. What hope it gives me for a future where they just do stuff together while I sit down on a bench and actually talk to my wife.

BANG! WAAAH!

Shit, Nathan! Where did Dylan go? Oh, that’s right, he’s legged it up the rest of the climbing frame while little bro has dropped like a stone from 6 feet high. Thank God for modern-day, spongy playground floors.

There’s also my fellow parents to consider. On my Wednesdays off, I’m usually the only dad in the playground, still a surprisingly common experience in most places we visit during the week. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Mums do it better. Most mums I encounter in playgrounds tend to gather in groups chatting with each other while their children play. They exude a kind of calm control that I just can’t achieve. So, when I barrel nosily into the area with scooters flying, bag undone, kids in different directions, etc. I look pretty inept.

Kids are like moths. My attitude in a playground is if you can’t beat them, join them. The trouble is, when other children get wind of a youngster being tipped upside down, spun on a roundabout or chased through a tunnel, they tend to flock over for a piece of the action too. Thus, I spend most of the time lifting various nameless kids on and off equipment or helping bury their feet in fox piss encrusted sand. All while their parent happily chats to their mates.

It can be intimidating. Stepping into this still female-dominated environment (during the week) can make you self-conscious. I’ve even seen women check their watch as I step through the gates, confirming it is indeed still business working hours. The other day, a grandma (or ‘mature mum’ – I didn’t ask, I’m not crazy) actually screamed when I had the temerity to push Nathan above head height on a swing. Yes, he leant forward a bit, but really, a full-blooded scream? I may have a Y chromosome but I have no plans to send my child flying into a wall. I promise.

There are never enough swings. If I was a playground planner (what a job that would be!), I’d dedicate at least 70% of the area to swings. Two just isn’t enough. Every kid wants to go on them and every kid hates waiting. The result is a festival of placation. Both for the parent trying to coax their child off the swing and for the one whose son or daughter is on the sidelines preparing to take matters into their own hands. It’s a situation that’s even given rise to a kind of code.

Parent 1: No, someone is on the swing, so you’ll have to wait your turn (a little more loudly than necessary).

Translation: I may appear to have done it politely and as if I was trying to teach my child about waiting. However, I’ve now made it perfectly clear to you, Parent 2, that my child wants to get on that swing. Start preparing your kid for disembarkation before this shit gets real.

I’m sure there are plenty more but I shan’t bore you with them now. Hopefully some of this sounds familiar. Perhaps most of it doesn’t. All of it is largely my fault. But I guess one thing we can all agree on as parents is this: the days of playground protocol are not as far behind us as we thought.