Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

In which our reluctant hero faces a dilemma. 

It’s been a funny old week in which I have, yet again, done copious amounts of research and carefully considered all options before making a decision. A decision that I was very nervous about. On the face of it a simple decision. Should we stay in or head out? On the face of it, two simple options. Why is plumping for one so difficult?

As usual, I was not totally sure of the implications of either choice. In our house, we’re mostly comfortable with in. We have spent ages staying in and understand what we have and how everything works. Sort of. Out on the other hand is an unknown quantity. Sure, some of the positives may sound appealing on the face of it. But are they. Really?

And once we commit, that may be it. Stuck with it. No turning back. Which is OK if things turn out nice again, but a veritable nightmare if not.

Now, you’re probably thinking that I’ve gone off on one, forgotten about the “Dad Blog” and started banging on about the EU Referendum. I haven’t. You may also be thinking that I’ve missed an opportunity to segway another topical in or out decision into a post, what with it being National Breastfeeding Week and all. What do you take me for?! 

“So, what ARE you banging on about?” I hear those of you that haven’t clicked back to the relative safety of the Facebooks by now collectively sigh.

Leaving the house. With little people. Simples.

Let us explore the pros and cons…

Out – Pros

It’s a big wide world. There’s plenty of stuff to see and do. Something exciting may happen. You never know, it may even be fun. Better still, you may get half an hour of much needed peace if the little people fall asleep in the car. Yay!

In – Pros

There’s toys, jigsaws, musical instruments, and general making-a-mess-is-ok-if-it-kills-an-hour type stuff everywhere. There’s food in the fridge, and telly or wine/ gin/ toilet duck if things get desperate. It’s also a reasonably safe option as after years of preparation it’s childproof. Asides from, it seems, the freezer drawer door that was smashed by a one year old trying to get an ice-lolly earlier.

Out – Cons

We’re in Britain. It’s expensive. It’ll probably rain for ages and we’ll end up wet, skint and miserable forever. Plus you’ll most likely be mopping up sick within half an hour of a long journey.

In – Cons

YouTube kids.

It’s a tough decision in which the negatives certainly outweigh the positives on either side. The certain disaster and misery of heading out into nailed on floods, typhoons or passing horsemen that typify the early British summer, or listening to the high-pitched tinnitus inducing buzzsaw of American children commenting on themselves opening Kinder eggs or playing Play Doh. There’s no winners here. It’s not going to end well either way.

Of course, the negatives of staying in can be easily dealt with by invoking Article 50 of the Parenting Treaty i.e. hitting the tablet with a sledgehammer.

So, on days when you’ve got two little people to occupy on your own, what’s best? In my experience, going out with one is definitely easier than with two. One’s a doddle. Trust me.

I’ve had some strange looks in the past, particularly being a bloke, while trying to handle two. Football lessons, for example. If you’ve never tried it, a session trying to get a two year old (who has decided she doesn’t want to be there) to run and kick in the right direction, while preventing escaping, lying on the floor, dealing with loo breaks, hunger et al with a six month old strapped to your front is a sheer delight. Do it. Everyone will think that you’re either bonkers or a superhero.

Thankfully, it seems to be slightly easier now they’re both mobile and interacting more effectively, but even simple things like a trip to the park presents different challenges. Quite why the human male hasn’t evolved to develop eagle-eyes, just like Action Man in the seventies, is beyond me.

So, in or out? Hopefully you’ll have thought very carefully before committing. But if you do end up out, take reins.

Happy Father’s Day

In which our reluctant hero was going to write a Father’s Day blog, but simply couldn’t be bothered.

It’s Father’s Day, or “Daddering Sunday” if you prefer.

Thousands of properly organised (but mostly rubbish) bloggers across the Interweb will have had a wave of scientifically constructed, clickbait luring posts lined up, waiting to break, for weeks.

No me though. What do you take me for?

I confess that I thought about it, but decided it would be a load of faff that would end with some pseudo-soppy self-congratulatory guff getting posted that would get buried in all of the other pseudo-soppy self-congratulatory guff getting posted across FaceSpace et al. As a consequence, everyone would forget to tell me that I had done a brilliant job. That would never do.

So, I thought I would put my slippered feet up, open the newspaper and leave this here instead.

Happy Father’s Day.

160619 - Graphy McGraphface

A Useful Graph. Probably.

One Two. One Two.

In which our reluctant hero reveals a Top Secret secret. Probably.

Like a modern day blogging equivalent of Steve Wright (in the Afternoon) I have received a request. Not a request to play a hideous power ballad from the 1980’s while banging on about “ups and downs”, but a writing request. A request to write about what it is like going from the relative serenity of a one little person household to the cataclysmic chaos that is two. Or something.

Now, I may get round to that after I have finished creosoting the fence, but first things first. I’m going to let you into a little secret. A secret about giving and getting advice when going from a household with none to one with one. If that makes sense?

As soon-to-be-Dads many months into the pregnancy, we’ve all found ourselves trying to maneuver our considerably better other halves safely around without needing to attach “Caution – Wide Load” signs and reversing sirens to their backsides. Oddly, this triggers panic that the due date is worryingly close and an overwhelming urge to know exactly what to expect from now on in descends. So we decide to ask someone.

Who though? Another parent, obviously. They’ll give it to you straight…

“Oh, it’ll be fine. We were worried too but it isn’t that bad. It’s all very natural and wonderful. The tiredness isn’t a problem. Just get to bed twenty minutes earlier. Horlicks helps. You’ll be great, trust me.”

Fast forward through a couple of weeks. It’s three in the afternoon. You’ve not showered, shaved or dressed. There’s a mainline coffee drip permanently attached to your arm. You’re wondering whether the strange green dressing gown stain is mushy peas from last night’s chippy tea or something altogether more sinister. And then it hits you…

“THEY LIED! BUT WHY?!”

Why indeed?

Fast forward through a couple of years. You are chatting to another soon-to-be-Dad by the tea point at work. Catching you off guard, they unexpectedly ask the same question that you once asked many months back. Time to give it to them straight.

“Oh, it’ll be fine. We were worried too but it isn’t that bad…”

Eh? That’s what I was told. That’s not right. What just happened? Am I’m now part of a weird conspiracy against my fellow man? 

Maybe. Or perhaps, with hindsight, it wasn’t that bad.

As Dad, your primary function is to make sure everyone is clean, fed and gets enough rest. You scrub, shop and cook. You walk round for hours at a time, sobbing, desperately trying to get the little bleeder that is now permanently attached to your shoulder to sleep. You learn new vital skills, like changing nappies and pouring dregs from a wine box one-handed without dropping a sleeping child or, more importantly, the wine glass.

But, thankfully, most of us cope. Routines get established. The once tricky stuff gets done on autopilot. You find yourself able to cook a cheese souffle rather than cornflakes on toast (again) for lunch. You start noticing little signs of your baby’s development and finally begin to enjoy being a Dad. See. It’s wasn’t so bad, was it?

And then something happens. Walls go up as your memory protects you from the horror of the tricky bits. Mums forget how painful labour was, especially towards the end of the Blair-Brown era. Dads forget how enjoyable reading the paper and watching Super Sunday on a lazy afternoon was.

And when, years later, you are asked the question you fib. We all do. (SHHHH… it’s a secret!Partly because you don’t actually remember how hard it was, and partly because your uncomfortable version of “the truth” will be totally different from everyone else’s.

Now, it may seem to the untrained eye like I’m yet to discuss the request (don’t panic, Whitney Houston is all cued up.) But understanding the above is all very important. Vital in fact. Trust me.

“But why, wise Sage? Tell us more. We beg you…” I hear you gasp in collective anticipation.

Why? OK. Well, because I can’t possibly answer the question. And if I did I would have to fib. Dur!

So, this is how it was for us…

You pass your Level One parenting exams, and have the basics permanently etched on your subconscious, so that bit is easier. You also already have routine and coping strategies (and a good cheese souffle recipe) in place. So far so good.

But then, suddenly, you have a new little person demanding 100% of your attention to go with the existing little person who is also demanding another 100% of your attention. Uh-ho.

Now, I’m not Carol Vorderman, if I were I would still be hiding after the controversy of advertising dodgy payday loans on daytime TV, but the maths don’t really work do they? So you come up with new strategies. You’ll probably throw your principles out with the bathwater (having safely taken the baby out) too.

Remember the “only half an hour of telly a day” rule? CBeebies and Nick Jr are your new best friends. It won’t harm will lt? The programmes these days are quite educational after all. Ten hour sessions will be fine.

Remember sitting with your newborn on your knee, singing a little song and trying to make them gurgle or laugh? Forget it. A toddler can occupy vacated knee space quicker than breastmilk can pass through a newborn into a freshly changed nappy. It’s not going to happen.

Remember that bit of quiet time, when mum and newborn were napping and you could have a cuppa, watch a film or catch up with yourself? Your twenty month old has long dropped the afternoon nap and you’ve now got an extra two hours of bleary-eyed Play Doh to look forward to. Fetch the coffee and matchsticks.

So, to summarise. One to two? It’ll be fine. We were worried too but it isn’t that bad…

Choosing Your Battles

In which our reluctant hero considers the only two practical options available. Fight or flight.

Being a Dad and being a manager at work are at times spookily similar roles. You constantly have to deal with temper tantrums, toys being thrown out of the cot and general silliness for little or no thanks. And the pay is rubbish.

Fortunately, the minute that you realise that whatever you do you are never going to win, everything gets much easier.

Becoming a Dad and a manager happened at about the same time for me. As if one ill-prepared voyage into the unknown, with only a punctured dinghy for protection, was not enough, I chose two. Idiot.

After paddling against the tide for a couple years, I downed anchor after realising that it wasn’t the winning, but the taking part that was important. Or, put another way, that you need to choose your battles carefully.

There you go. A top Dad tip. You’re welcome. 

Yes, throwing food, not tidying stuff up, and a constant cry of “DON’T WANT TO!” every time you ask for something to be done is annoying, but does it really matter? Is it worth getting upset about, or simply a behavioural issue to deal with at appraisal time?

Although fully aware of the need to choose wisely, I still can’t help going all in at the wrong times.

I once found myself in an hour-long standoff with my then two year old over mess. Quite a lot of mess, but just mess nonetheless.

Picture the scene. A small child, and a childish, tired-and-somewhat-fed-up-about-always-having-to-pick-up-the-mess adult facing each other, dead-eyed like a pair of Wild West gunslingers. Gunslingers separated only by a sizeable spread of Postman Pat toys. In the Wild West. Or the “Dining Room” if you prefer. “Why do I alway have to pick everything up? IT’S NOT FAIR!” Pathetic really.

I ended picking them all up of course in an ending as predictable as that of Titanic (spoiler – the boat sank.) With hindsight, it was a pointless battle to get involved in. And a pointless film to have watched too.

A race to see who could put the most toys away quickest would have been better. As would teamwork, singing or emotional bribery. Or pretty much anything else if I’m honest. Nobody gets upset, Ted Glenn ends up back in the recesses of the darkened toy box (to do whatever Ted Glenn gets up to in the darkness….) and the naughty step is spared a pounding from toddler feet. Jobs a good’un.

Children being children, there can never be any consistency. Our two are different. One is a strong advocate of the grand emotional gesture and occasional full on waterworks. The other is… well… stubborn and will never back down when he’s got something set in his mind. Just like his mother. Probably.

You need creativity in your approach to get to a desired outcome. Trick them into thinking that everything was their idea all along. Give them credit and a pat on the head if they do something nicely. Offer rewards. A Jammy Dodger per task completed perhaps? Even consider being nice if all else fails and you really have to. But above all, avoid a battle if you can.

Trust me, this simple yet effective technique usually ends with a painless win. So much so that I often adopt it at home with the kids too.

Work out what matters and what doesn’t. Take a deep breath and a step back. Nobody actually died when the heads got ripped off all of the daffodils, although they very nearly did. Deep breaths.

If all else fails and military intervention is needed, hit them where it hurts the most. Reassert your authority. Stand up tall. Stick your chest out and get your inner monologue working overtime. “I am a man. I am a man. I AM A MAN!!” Take decisive action. Switch CBeebies off and hide the remote control. Then head home.

That’ll teach them.

Picture This

In which our hero unexpectedly ponders whether nostalgia will ever be as good as it used to be. Or something.

As a single man, my living room had a floor with a carpet. As a married man, our living room had a wooden floor with a rug. As a married man and a Dad, we have the same wooden floor and rug, only buried somewhere beneath the stage that the daily bookshelf and toy cupboard Jenga game is played out on. Stuff, piled as high as my head, ready to topple should any integral component be pulled too soon. And it always does, especially if I’m anywhere in the vicinity. 

Clearing up the debris of one such collapse I discovered, peeking through a scattering of Peppa Pig jigsaw pieces and Duplo blocks, a mysterious red book. With two dogs on the front. 

It was an album. An album of images and forgotten memories. Memories captured then printed out at Boots the Chemist or lovingly cut from the local newspaper. Memories preserved beneath the sticky yellowing cellophane sheets that have served to protect them since the seventies. My childhood photo album no less. Blimey. An antique.

After a few minutes flicking and reminiscing, I closed the book, placed it back on the shelf, and booted the other junk behind the curtains. Tidy.

Then something dawned on me. There it was. My childhood, captured in a single volume held in my hand. A couple of dozen pages, with fewer stills than the average modern parent posts of Pop Tarts being shovelled into their jam-smeared toddler’s mouths by Thursday each week.

Technology in the olden days. Shove a miserly 24 or 36 exposure film into the camera at the start of the summer holidays, chuck in the suitcase and off you go. Three years later, the camera would resurface. Cue the well-drilled ritual of snapping flowers, feet, the lawn or some nearby ducks just to use up the film. Nip it down to the chemists, then wait a week for the “Photo Lottery” results to be drawn.

‘What have we got?”

Well, nineteen blurry shots of the Kagool clad family in grotty British seaside towns, heads predictably decapitated thanks to the erratic pocket Kodak viewfinder. Some perfectly exposed snaps of this season’s Clarks Commandos. And a mallard as the bonus ball.

The olden days. Much the same as when my one year old or my wife gets their hands on the camera today then. Ahem. Fast forwarding the Betamax to the present, a time with digital “the wireless” and colour internets….

Waking up. SNAP SNAP. Getting dressed. SNAP, SNAP. Breakfasting. SNAP, SNAP, CRACKLE and POP. Bath time. Erm, best not. 

As Dad, I am (rightly) put in charge of the family’s technology. Primarily the remote control, but sometimes the camera. SNAP, SNAP. There you go. Lovely.

Being in charge of the camera means that I don’t feature in any snaps, which is good and bad for the same reason. But if, one day, my fate is sealed when I accidentally step into the road only to be ploughed down by a steamroller parade, migrating wildebeest, and a Norwegian marching band, will my children remember what I looked like in years to come? A bit flat I would think.

“There’s got to be a picture of your Dad somewhere. Pass me the old album. See. Beaumaris beach. 1977. He didn’t change a bit.”

Looking back at my own holiday snaps, I fondly recall (the Director’s Cut of) happy family times. Ice-creams and dodgem cars. Sandcastles and chips on the seafront. It’s almost as if the sand in the face, tantrums, sunburn, more tantrums and the never to be mentioned again near-death pool incident didn’t happen. Marvellous.

Almost everything is recorded in one form or another these days. Never before has a generation that has achieved so little documented it in such meticulous detail. And we’re all guilty. Well, not me so much. But you lot all are, definitely.

The technology allows us to upload, download, and share without a care. And it’s great. Or is it? Really?

When this year’s toddler crop Bloom into their teens, the more socially aware may feel a strange paranoia that they have been the star of a 21st Century Truman Show reboot all along. First steps, learning to talk or learning to read, shoplifting their first “pick and mix” bag from Woolworths. If we as parents are not careful, every key life moment or mistake made will be out there somewhere. For all eternity. For all to see.

Or will the opposite be true? With their past, current, and future existences so immediate and disposable, will this generation even have a single album with a couple of dozen pages of pictures to look back on when they are parents themselves?  And will our little one’s childhoods simply sail slowly away into cyberspace, never to be discovered again?