A new love/hate relationship

A new love/hate relationship

There’s plenty I could bang on about in this post. Our last ever family break not in the school holidays. Dylan’s birthday, including the bizarre cocktail of enjoyment, pressure, pride, horror and exhaustion that comes with hosting a five-year-old’s party. Or even his first day at school.

But I’ve already bored you with holiday tales once this summer, I have only fuzzy memories of the party mayhem and if you’ve seen one photo of ‘child-in-new-school-uniform-in-front-of-door’, let’s face it, you’ve seen them all.

So instead, I’m going to talk about Lego. Not because they sent me any (that’s about as likely as me being asked to front the new series of Bake Off) but because it’s recently provided me with yet another example of the bubble-bursting nature of parenthood.

Lego was, unquestionably, one of my favourite activities growing up – only behind playing sport and terrorising my younger brother, especially during the halcyon days when he had an abject fear of wolves (did you know England is home to the world’s only man-eating wolf, Little Bro?). So, I’ve been really looking forward to Dylan and Nathan getting into it too.

Images of joining my sons on the carpet for entire Saturday afternoons constructing cog mechanisms and hunting for vital pieces. Of building the Millennium Falcon and then taking it apart to create an articulated lorry instead. Imagine how impressed they’ll be by the trademark of my youth, the Lego ‘Indestructible’, I thought.

How wrong I was.

Firstly, kids eat Lego. More than they play with it. Instead of being left to get on with my pioneering ‘rock buggy’, I spent most of our early sessions repeatedly reminding a teething two year old Nathan not to chew on the tyres or, worse, reaching into his slobbering cake hole to haul them out myself.

They also only share in one direction. So, the piece I’ve just spent ages sifting a tonne of Lego to locate is suddenly absolutely critical to the success of Dylan’s rocket. Or Nathan’s mid-morning snack. Yet in contrast, every piece they have is absolutely not available for swapping. No matter how marginal it is to their latest haphazard recreation of a pool of plastic vomit.

Thirdly, and this is something I didn’t fully appreciate as a child, Lego is like sand. It gets everywhere, including previously unimaginable and uncomfortable crevices of your body. The other day I spent several frustrating minutes looking for a piece that was right in front of my eyes until Nathan decided to aquaplane across the Lego pile. It just vanished.

And that’s all before we go through the protracted battle of tidy up time. It’d be easier to just set fire to the room.

And lastly, of course, are the injuries. Should Laura or I have the temerity to walk across the kitchen during the day, the soles of our feet will almost certainly end up looking like a pin cushion. There may even be a couple of metal cars lurking amidst the plastic minefield ready to add insult to injury.  I like to think of myself as relatively pain resistant but a pointy rotor blade in the heel bed really smarts, especially after a depressingly interrupted night’s sleep. See teething point one.

Anyway, despite all this, I still look forward to tipping out the box of bricks at the start of every day and we’re even off to see a friend exhibit at a Lego Show next weekend (yes, he is an adult by the way). But it’s fair to say that, thanks to the intervention of kids, my previous Lego love affair is now more like a love/hate relationship. Brangelina rather than Chas & Dave. Maybe things will get better when they graduate to Technic.

Oh, and by the way, the piece I lost during the aquaplane turned up yesterday in Nathan’s potty. The mind boggles.

Why I’m excited about a peg

Why I’m excited about a peg

I’ve recently been surprised to receive a couple of emails from companies asking me to write about their stuff. I can only imagine the number of requests proper bloggers like Dadbloguk, Slouching towards Thatcham and The DADventurer must get!

Anyway, in one case, the brand was totally unsuitable, mainly because despite my best efforts at the BBQ this summer, I haven’t yet reached the stage of classifying myself as a ‘larger gentleman’. So, I politely declined. But another offer did feel like it was worth a good look and a quick plug – so here goes. Feel free to click away now if you don’t have kids or if you do but they’re older than 10.

What I got sent was a Scooterpeg. Well, two in fact. And they do pretty much what they say on the tin: you screw them into your wall and hang up your child’s scooter by the handlebar. Given the number of times I’ve tripped over one of these wretched things or taken a perilous and unexpected rolling journey while simply trying to cross our hallway, the idea immediately appealed to me.

So, manly toolbox in hand (it’s from Argos and it’s mainly plastic), I set about erecting two Scooterpegs on the wall. Ten minutes and five holes later (I only needed four but if you’ve seen me use a drill you’ll understand), they were up. And they work a treat. Instead of the boys’ scooters lurking malevolently in the middle of the floor as I blearily plod down the stairs in the morning, they now hang neatly out the way.

You can even use the suspended footpad as a shelf if you wish, presumably for your little ones’ helmet or shoes or whatever. In my case, though, I’ve decided to turn them into a display platform for the many blackened toenails I have sustained walking into one of the aforementioned scooters and which are now starting to fall off. A kind of homage to little victories. Especially if Nathan does his usual trick with unidentified, foraged titbits and eats one.

Anyway, that’s it. Pegs for scooters. My toenails, ankles and pride can rest easy and we can all now cross the floor without fear of a sudden family pile-up. In other words, so far, so simple, so good.

As for the next unexpected gift I receive, let’s hope it’s a Toddlerpeg.

Disclaimer: Convention demands I should point out that I wrote this blog as a result of Scooterpeg kindly sending me two free ones. Although if you didn’t work that out from reading it, one of us is doing something wrong.

Learning on the job

Learning on the job

It’s been an odd couple of weeks. We had some concerning health news in the family. A year’s worth of social engagements seemed to arrive in a single month. My previously normal brother suddenly became obsessed by In the Night Garden’s apparent societal tensions. And my 4 year old son Dylan broke his collar bone during his last ever hour at nursery – typical.

Dealing with it all has reminded me that I’m still very much learning on the job when it comes to being a dad (often with limited success):

Seeing your kids in pain is just the worst thing ever. Despite two previous trips to A&E with Dylan, this month’s fractured collar bone was the first time I’ve ever seen him genuinely admit to being hurt. For a kid who normally insists blood from a cut finger is actually jam or who determinedly claims he was born with every bruise, it was heart-breaking to watch him tentatively moving around and telling the doctor it was a “10 out of 10 pain”. The other week, I wrote about the unrivalled annoyance of being injured myself. I take it back. This was way worse, although thankfully he’s pretty much mended now.

It’s true, no-one says goodbye to the Wottingers during In the Night Garden. This injustice has recently become something of a campaign for my younger brother, whose own son just turned one. Maybe he’s right. After all, the rarely featured HaaHoos get a goodbye, so perhaps this does belie a callous inequality. Or perhaps not. What it showed yet again is that no parent escapes this kind of shit becoming part of their life – and thinking it’s acceptable to talk about it. Don’t get me started on how Elvis Cridlington ever managed to pass the firefighting entry exam.

Sticking with that topic, the fat controller really is fat. We discovered this during a trip on a local steam railway for a Day Out with Thomas. Dylan was kind enough to tell him in person. Meanwhile, the train guard was also kind enough to respond to Dylan’s question about why his face “looked funny” with the deadpan response: skin cancer. A fun family day out for all.

At a kids’ birthday party, never judge a book by its cover. Or, rather, a magician by his temper. On Saturday, we attended the birthday party of some close friends’ daughter. To help keep the kids entertained/buy the adults a few joyous minutes actually talking to each other, they had enlisted the help of a magician. Unfortunately, he spent the first half hour giving every indication he hated children, including huffing off to get changed mid-conversation and angrily shouting “for God’s sake guys, this is impossible!” when a handful of excited four-year-olds had the temerity to venture within a few metres of his ‘setting-up area’. But when the show started, he was superb. And boy could that guy twist a balloon.

Letting a two year old try Diet Coke is not a good idea. So in my defence, my theory was that letting Nathan get a big mouthful of unexpectedly fizzy liquid would put him off soft drinks for years, thus solving a potential problem before it began. It failed. He loved it and my wife Laura turned round to see her precious toddler swigging gulp after gulp of unhealthiness. Like I said, I’m learning. Slowly.

So, a belated blog post and not the one I was expecting to write. But I guess that’s kind of appropriate. After all, I never thought the highlights of my August social calendar would be meeting a fictional station attendant with probable Type II diabetes or that I’d be stupid enough to think Coke + toddler = success.

As for Dylan, Laura and I have been waiting years (4 years 11 months to be precise) for him to slow down a bit. But when the moment arrived, it was nothing like we hoped for. It’s good to have him back.

Can I take your order? Yes, a kid-free meal please…

Can I take your order? Yes, a kid-free meal please…

One of the things I’ve missed most since becoming a dad are meals out. Not because they’re no longer possible – but because they’re not, well, enjoyable any more.

What used to be a serene, spontaneous chance for my wife Laura and I to catch up over some nice food and a glass of wine now involves a bulging bag of distraction techniques, desperate attempts to order something off the children’s menu that isn’t entirely beige and a race to consume my entire meal before all hell breaks loose.

So, I thought I’d share a snippet from our recent trip to a renowned ‘kid friendly’ restaurant (i.e. a shit one). I hope at least some of you can empathise. Because if you can’t, that’s just not fair!

Arrival. 5.15, the very time every adult loves to eat a heavy evening meal. Oh shit, there’s a queue. Quick Laura, get the sticker books out. Too late, Nathan’s in. Dylan you can’t sit there, that’s someone else’s table. Laura, Nathan’s under there. No, under THERE: the shelf with the decorative, highly breakable glass jars on. You get him, I’ll deal with Dylan. Oh thank god, yes a table for 4 please, with one high chair. By the window? Perfect, as long as you don’t mind the glass looking like someone crashed an ice-cream van into it by the time we leave.

The wait. Right let’s order, where’s the kids’ menu? Dylan how about this delicious sounding salmon and summer vegetables? Er, that’s not a gesture we make in public. Fine, have the sausage and chips. What about Nath? Shall we get him the macaroni and cheese? Dylan, put the salt and pepper down, they’re not toys. Oh no, you’re right, it bunged him up last time and he woke up at 3am and wouldn’t go back to sleep. Get him the salmon. He’s too young to argue. Dylan, the knife is even less of a toy than the salt and pepper. Laura, where are the sticker books?

Ordering. The kids’ sausages, the kids’ salmon and two things that end in the word ‘burger’ please. No, definitely no starters. And whatever you do, don’t wait for our food to be ready before bringing out theirs. In fact, as soon as that microwave pings, get it out here. Run if you have to.

Eating. The race begins. Can we inhale our food before they’re done and start charging around the restaurant like it wronged them in a previous life? Nathan, do you not like your salmon? Bugger. Dylan, can your brother have some of your sausages? Er, that’s not a gesture we make in public either. OK, Nath, have my burger. A kid’s portion of salmon will do me just fucking fine. Laura, I know we’ve only just started eating but shall I order the boys’ desserts and ask for the bill now? You want a coffee…are you having a laugh?!

The aftermath. Imagine setting off a firework in a fridge. That’s what the floor beneath our table now resembles. Dylan is high on apple juice and getting restless. Sticker book? No. Dot to dot? No. Anything that makes me look like a half-decent parent? No. OK, have the iPad then. Just put it on your lap so that woman with the 5 year old girl who’s been sitting perfectly for the last 40 minutes can’t see. Actually I need a poo! OK Dylan, thanks for letting the whole restaurant know. You try and clean up here, Laura. I’ll take Dylan to the bathroom. Ready then? Yes (addressing the entre restaurant) my poo is only going to be three drops anyway. Great.

Time to go. Of course, Dylan, inside a tiny toilet cubicle amidst your noxious fumes is the perfect place for a made-up story. Exactly three ‘drops’ later (should I be impressed or worried?), we’re finally done in there. The bill has arrived. Laura has paid it (including apologetically generous tip). And Nathan looks like he swam through his dessert rather than ate it.

Departure. In total, just over an hour has passed but it feels like a lifetime. We pack our bag giving Nathan the chance to wheedle his way out of his high chair and off to point in the face of a sleeping baby on the table next door. Baby! Yes, Nathan, baby’s sleeping. Come back here now. Baby! BABY! BABY! The baby cries. The mother glares. I scoop up Nathan and hustle him out the door. Laura’s got the bag but we’re bound to have forgotten something. Dylan is now playing with my phone, weaving between the tables like a drunk.

Thanks, says the waiter as we barrel through the door in a whirl of irreparably stained clothes. See you again soon.

And believe it or not, he probably will.

A glitch in the machine

A glitch in the machine

It’s been a tricky few days. First Brexit, then England’s dismal failure at Euro 2016 and in between I managed to end up on crutches.

I’m not going to waste yet more space discussing the possible implications of Vote Leave (both political and footballing) as there’s been far too much of that already. Although for a fresh perspective, check out Dad Blog UK’s brilliantly personal piece here. So instead, I’m going to bang on for a bit about what a pain in the ass it is being injured when you’ve got small kids.

Sounds obvious, right. But until now, I hadn’t come to appreciate just how annoying it is. Not in the same way that losing much of its EU workforce is for the NHS. But still, a real pain.

For a start, this was not an impressive injury. I stumbled on a path, turned my ankle over and then squealed manfully as the bottom part of my leg turned into a cross between a placenta and a jellyfish.  Cue a Friday evening trip to A&E, which cost us 20 quid in babysitting fees, thus adding insult to injury.

Having been X-rayed, though, I couldn’t believe my luck when the doctor advised 48 hours complete rest with my leg elevated. After all, there were five Euro 2016 matches to get stuck into over the weekend. Unfortunately, my wife Laura heard too, dispensing the kind of ‘don’t you f*$*ing dare’ look that soon had the doctor backpedalling quicker than Dylan when he finds a bit of broccoli beneath his mashed potato.

I didn’t get 48 hours complete rest. Instead, life carried on pretty much as normal. Dylan’s Saturday morning football club. A visit to our friends’ house. A trip to Sainsbury’s. Etc. Etc.

The supermarket excursion even came with the added bonus of some snooty, oh-so middle class woman in her 60s (you know the type) giving me a death stare as I tried desperately to restrain Nathan in the car park without toppling over on my crutches.  What is it about these idiots? I can only assume they’ve forgotten the difference between having small children and spending your day with nothing trickier to manage than working out what time you read the paper and deciding whether to have a coffee after lunch.

Anyway, it all meant that by the end of the weekend, I was done in. And, more importantly, so was my wife. While I was busy being next to useless, she was running around like a maniac trying to pick up the slack. And therein lies the real thing I’ve learnt these past few days.

As a parent, being injured, ill or incapacitated is still highly annoying for oneself. But nowadays, the inconvenience is doubled for your partner, in mine and Laura’s case sending our carefully designed shared parenting machine into system failure. Although, thankfully, we are at least lucky enough to have each other to fall back on.

So, when Monday evening arrived with the kids in bed and the house as tidy as it gets these days, Laura quite rightly set off for a well-earned break. Meanwhile, I finally settled down with my foot raised and iced. Just in time to watch England lose to Iceland. Iceland, for God’s sake.

I think I might still be angry.

Holiday….really?

Holiday….really?

Four couples. Eight kids aged under 5. One villa. Only if you’re a parent or a masochist does that sound anything like a holiday. Yet this was the scenario I found myself in last week in Corfu. Believe it or not, it was actually enjoyable too. A daily cycle of beach, pool, drink, eat, repeat. With a few toddler tantrums and petty squabbles (just the kids, honestly) thrown in for good measure.

Of course, it hasn’t always been this way. Before Dylan (our eldest son) arrived, one of the few times my wife and I genuinely switched off was during a summer holiday.  Yet since the onset of parenthood, I’ve become accustomed to these weeks becoming rather different. Kind of a combination of family fun, the same old shit in a slightly more challenging location and the desperate trading of ‘relaxation’ time without the kids between Laura and me.

This kind of thing:

“Nathan, put your hat on please.”

“Dylan, some people don’t like having cold sea water poured on them.”

“Nathan, put your hat on.”

“Dylan, the poolside is not the place for a ‘jungle wee’. No, nor is that plant pot.”

“Laura, have you seen the Factor 15?”

“Nathan, stop eating the Factor 15. And for the love of God put your hat on.”

In other words, holidays now tend to come in two distinct parts.

Part One: the day time, a largely chaotic few hours spent either: building, re-building and re-re-building sandcastles for immediate destruction; staring into rock pools while my son pretends to have seen a ‘golden crab’; and trying not to leave every restaurant with a lifetime ban. This period also usually involves staring enviously at anyone who doesn’t have to begin each day by wrestling a screaming child into sun tan lotion or treat the evening meal like a sprint finish.  And that’s not even taking into account the flights at either end.

Then Part Two: the magic moment when the kids have gone to bed, the sun is setting and the adults can finally beginning necking the beer, wine and snacks they’ve been unsuccessfully trying to sneak in throughout Part One.

Our mistake was not realising sooner that simply taking our previous recipe for a nice holiday and adding two kids to the mix doesn’t work. The solution instead (at least as far as I can tell) is to do exactly what we did last week. Hellish as “one villa, eight adults, eight kids” sounds on the surface, having a place to call home where the kids can run, swim and shout freely and where the adults can drink beer and take their chances with the BBQ together in the evening is just the ticket.

Yes, it’s not quite a couple’s retreat in the Maldives. But I have to admit there’s plenty of room for fun too. You only have to ask our friends whose four year old son walked in on their private ‘holiday romance’ last week to realise that…

I did a somersault in a trampoline park. Does that make me a competitive dad?

I did a somersault in a trampoline park. Does that make me a competitive dad?

Over the Bank Holiday weekend I enjoyed my first visit to a trampoline park. If you’ve never had the pleasure of going to one, imagine an aircraft hangar full of bouncy flooring, foam pits and soft balls. A kind of Mecca to the exuberance of childhood and the sports bra of motherhood.

But for fatherhood (well, mine at least) it was a different proposition altogether.

I like to pride myself on not being an archetypal competitive dad. The kind of snarling fool who used to implore his son to break my leg from the touchline of Under-11s football for example. Or the insufferable git who sees every conversation as a chance to tell you his daughter is applying to (yes, just applying, like anyone can) Cambridge University.

My stated mantra has always been to emphasise to Dylan and Nathan, even at this tender age, that enjoyment is the important thing, not being the best. I will never push them to love the hobbies I love, take the Sergeant Major approach to their physical and mental development nor be disappointed if they end up preferring Les Miserables to Match of the Day.  Yet surrounded by fellow parents and the tempting prospect of 50-odd trampolines, I found my entire parental approach called into question.

Having begun by privately mocking the bloke who had turned up in full sports gear (including Lycra shorts and a headband), I suddenly found myself levering my way to the front of the queue before somersaulting fulsomely into a foam pit. Worse, I then passionately encouraged Dylan, aged 4, to do the same.

I mean, honestly. What’s next? Will I start bellowing at my eldest son to ‘bring him down’ during a friendly 3-a-side at Little Kickers? Or find myself demanding that Nathan, nearly 2, abandons our fun game of Humpty Dumpty on the poolside in favour of a full length headfirst dive with perfectly pointed toes?

Is that single somersault (which was bloody great by the way!) the start of a slippery slope into full blown competitive dadding? Perhaps I have awoken a dark instinct that even the most laid back of fathers would have to admit is lying latent inside. Yes, it may only reveal itself with the occasional fist clench behind the back when our son or daughter runs faster, climbs higher or displays better table manners than our friends’ offspring of the same age (or even better, older). But trust me, it’s there. We all know it.

The trick is keeping it suppressed deep inside. Right down next to the part of us that would happily have a threesome with Judy Dench and Helen Mirren but would rather not give up a seat for them on the train. So I guess my only hope is that, like various other addictions and isms, the first step to overcoming competitive dadism is admitting you have a problem.

So…my name is Alex and I’m a competitive dad.

Phew, cured.