It’s getting hot in here…but please put on your clothes

It’s getting hot in here…but please put on your clothes

There are few things more sinister than an 18-stone naked German appearing at the door of a sauna you’re sat in rolling a towel like a horse whip. Of all the things I learnt during our first proper foray into the world of family skiing holidays, this was perhaps the most important but unexpected. The other was never let yourself get caught in an Austrian sauna ritual. And if you do, make sure you don’t sit on the bottom bench.

Clearly neither of these lessons have anything to do with kids nor family holidays, a subject I’ve written about before. This is partly due to how well the boys got on with it, especially Dylan who even returned home with a ski race trophy, partly the kid-friendliness of the hotel we were in and most definitely the fact we had Grampy with us as an extra pair hands.

But it’s mainly down to the depth of trauma my unwitting sauna experience has caused me.

The first thing to note is that in Austria, it turns out, clothes and saunas don’t mix. So, when Laura and I first ventured up to the hotel’s 7th floor spa, we were greeted by a sign telling us that it was not only a kid-free zone, but a ‘textile-free’ one too. At which point, Laura turned to me, stage whispered “does that mean naked?” then “I just saw a penis”, before tightening her dressing gown around her as if a cold wind had suddenly blown through the building and getting straight back in the lift.

I was on my own. Well, sort of.

Stepping inside, I quickly identified three types of people. The rule-breaking prudes steadfastly sweating it out in their one pieces. (Mainly Brits and Americans.) The people rejoicing not just in their own nakedness but in sharing it with dozens of strangers they’d be seeing at the breakfast buffet 12 hours later. (Austrians, Germans, Dutch and fat people.) And, finally, the middle ground that I decided to park myself in: a quick strip, then a towel round the waist to keep things classy.

Towel in place, I made my way into the Finnish sauna…and arrived at a scene resembling the results of turning up the heat in a butcher’s freezer. A moist sea of wrinkled, reddening, drooping flesh. But even I knew opening the door to enter only to re-open it immediately to depart is poor sauna etiquette, so instead I squeezed myself into a corner, taking care to keep my eyes level, hands raised and balance perfect.

It was as I sat down that the man I later discovered to be known as ‘The Master’ appeared at the door brandishing his towel. It’s hard to do this guy justice in words. Just try to picture a cross between Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a fat Dale Winton.

Whereas my reaction to his sudden arrival was to reach for the emergency button, the rest of my naked brethren were enraptured. And as the cheers died down, The Master set to work.

The worst bit was when he forced hot air at everyone individually by flapping his towel at us, having moments earlier removed it from around his own glistening crotch. The other low point (and let’s be clear, there were many) was when, during a third bout of ear-popping heat brought on by him repeatedly drenching the coals in water and swinging his towel like a lasso, the group raised their hands above their heads as if riding a rollercoaster and made sex noises. Body parts wobbled. Sweat flew…then pooled. And my life flashed before my eyes.

Even the blessed end of it wasn’t, well, the end of it. In a naked sauna, the exit is far more treacherous than anything else. Steadfastly tucked into my corner on the bottom bench as The Master’s acolytes made to leave, I was forced to dodge and duck several times to avoid being pistol whipped in the worst way imaginable.

Naturally, on my return to the sanctuary of our room, Laura’s sympathy was minimal. After all, she had been sensible enough to beat a hasty retreat. I, on the other hand, was left trying not to let whole experience cloud an otherwise brilliant week.

And there, in fact, is the bright side. After moaning many times about the frustrations of going away with kids in the past, I have now learned perspective. Compared to naked sauna rituals, family holidays are a doddle.

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It’s all gone quiet over here

It’s all gone quiet over here

You may or may not have noticed I haven’t written a blog for a while. More than two months in fact. In the blogging world, that’s apparently a cardinal sin.

Kind of like letting your 2 year old son down several glugs of Diet Coke at a Thomas the Tank Engine show. Or using the word ‘fug’ in front of a toddler who’s learning to speak but can’t hear the difference between a g and a ck .

As for why I’ve been quiet, I could blame Christmas and all the craziness that comes with it. I could blame my own laziness. Or even the fact I’ve been busy at work. But, really, the answer is much simpler. I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say.

Now, admittedly, you may be thinking that hasn’t stopped me before. Fair point. But this time, I really had nothing. When I started blogging, I gave myself a few rules. 1) I wouldn’t spew endless crap into the universe for the sake of hearing my own ‘voice’. 2) I’d try not to be too serious or sugar-sweet. And, most importantly of all, 3) I would never, ever give out advice to other parents.

I see number 3 all the time. ‘My top 5 tips for entertaining kids on a plane.’ ‘3 ways to help your children eat healthily.’ ‘10 reasons why I’m just an all-round better parent than you’. ‘100 ways to painlessly remove the patronising rod stuck up my ass.’ That kind of thing

Given the unique and individual nature of parenting (even between kids in the same family!) along with my own questionable dadding skills (see Diet Coke and fug errors), who on Earth am I to give hints to anyone?!

The truth is my life is boring. Not the sitting-in-a-chair-watching-the-world-go-by kind of boring. Sometimes – I wish! Rather, it’s the same madcap, chaotic, wonderful and frustrating existence that pretty much every parent or grandparent knows first-hand. Which means you don’t need the likes of me banging on it about it all the time. Or, worse, telling you how to do it better!

This isn’t me checking out of blogging for good. After all, if nothing else, it can be a great form of personal catharsis – especially after meals out or family holidays. It’s more a promise to anyone who reads this stuff that I won’t bother you unnecessarily.

When I’ve got something I think is worth sharing, I will. Like 3-year-old Nathan drawing an imaginary knife across his throat and growling: “maybe somebody cut them; that’s what I learnt at nursery” last week when I informed him that sadly the relative of a close friend had died.

Or Dylan going on a ‘date’ in the playground – AT AGE 6!!! Or my wife’s endless, fruitless attempts to get the boys to stop rummaging around in their own pants while watching TV – as if, somehow, she can overcome thousands of years of ingrained male behaviour with threats to turn off Ninjago.

But on the flipside, when I haven’t got anything noteworthy, I’ll keep quiet. We’ve all got enough noise in our lives and there are plenty of people out there willing to add to it. It’s advice I probably should have given myself 30-odd years ago. It’s taken becoming a parent for the penny to finally drop.

Why parenting should be X-rated

Why parenting should be X-rated

I was getting changed after a swim at the local leisure centre the other day when, from the neighbouring cubicle, I heard this: Wow, you’re a big boy aren’t you. Naturally, I nodded. But then: It’s hard, isn’t it. Would you like a hand pulling it?

Surprising for a multitude of reasons, not least the fact I’d just emerged from a cold, public swimming pool.

Of course, it quickly transpired that it was actually a mum talking to her young son who, presumably, was making a good fist of trying to get himself dressed. Perfectly reasonable and certainly not the risqué scenario it initially sounded.

But it did get me thinking. Imagine the conversations we have with our kids…then picture someone listening somewhere just out of sight. What must it all sound like to them?! At least 50% of it’s complete filth.

Like lunchtime as my three year old spends his umpteenth minute faffing around with his food as if it’s laced with poison. Finally, I step in, scooping up a hefty dollop and delivering it with an encouraging-but-non-negotiable: Open wide, here it comes! Then: make sure you swallow it all. Now, imagine someone walking past and hearing an adult male saying that to an unseen ‘victim’. Welcome to Hollywood.

Or the time I’m at home, desperately trying to get some piece of mundane life admin done while one (or both) of my sons incessantly pesters me to play with them. Why don’t you play with yourself for a little while? I say, a suggestion that may carry very different connotations in a few years’ time when they become teenagers.  

Fixate on it, and the innuendo is everywhere. Push harder, it’s tight as I battle Nathan’s shoes into place while the postman sniggers on the other side of the door. OK, bend over and I’ll have a look for one of the endless stream of bruises, splinters and small injuries Dylan picks up.

Or the moment one of them arrives from the garden caked in mud. Oh my God! says my wife. You’re so dirty! Strip off and then upstairs. In this case to the shower, most likely battling him all the way. Yet were Laura to text that to me, it’s fair to say I’ll be right there.

Even the relatively innocuous instructions we deliver as parents like hands out of your trousers please and I don’t want to be licked thank you, would, if heard without the visual context, leave the average person wondering what kind of hell they’re about to walk in on. And that’s without factoring in the litany of filth being thrown up by Dylan’s recent enrollment into Beavers.

So, while it’s nothing new to say parenting should be X-rated, in this case I don’t mean the theft of sleep, free-time and cleanliness that assails every household following the arrival of kids. I’m talking about the everyday filth we rely on to keep our children socially and/or behaviourally acceptable. Ironic given how hard we all work to keep ‘naughty words’ away from their young ears.

Obviously, there’s not much we can do about it, most of us have got bigger problems to contend with and it’s probably just my own smutty mind working overtime anyway. But, whatever, think enough about it, and the stream of innuendo we spew out as mums and dads is endless.

I’m sure you have your own examples and I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, I’ll be watching what I say next time I take Nathan to the swimming pool.

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.

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.