No Fear of Falling

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In which our reluctant hero notices that things are slowly changing.

We have recently moved from a family unit with a one year old and a threenager to one with a two year old and a threenager. That’s a lot of numbers in an opening sentence, four sure.

Now, this may sound like a major disturbance to the peace and tranquillity of our Waltons like existence in semi-detached suburban Wolverhampton, but, in reality, very little has changed. Why would it? The transition only took a second when the clock ticked past midnight on “Happy Birthday to You” day after all. Thankfully there was no howling at moon, but it is still an interesting time developmentally.

The verbal communication skills of our youngest are improving all the time, albeit with a few unnecessary fillers scattered about before finally getting to the point (see also this blog.) As are the non-verbals. We can now interpret a stamp of the foot, throwing of cutlery, hiding behind the curtains, or being presented with the remote control at about ten past six with a high degree of accuracy.

The one thing that I have noticed of late is the degree of competence that both children display in taking care of themselves. Which is probably just as well… *coughs*

It started with little things like putting on shoes and so on. But now, with a bit of teamwork, running a bath, getting breakfast, or escaping from the house into the garden to empty the water-butt are pretty much standard fare. No problemo.

Whether your little person is a few hours or a few years old, everything from day one is about keeping everybody safe and well. Survival is after all one of our primary drivers as humans. Hunting and gathering, providing warmth and shelter, pacing up and down the garden in a loin cloth while clutching a spear in case that the dinosaurs (GRRRR!) try to get us again is all part of a Dad’s job description. Especially in Wolverhampton.

Many of the things that I have done with our two over the years have been in part for fun (mostly theirs), and in part to (hopefully) help develop vital life skills.

I used to take our eldest to weekly swimming lessons when she was tiny to help build confidence around water. Obviously the neglected younger sibling didn’t get any of this. Oh, no. Instead he would make do with a bath on a Saturday morning if everyone was awake enough to negate the risk of drowning.

Anyway, whether it was the freezing water, the instructor throwing her underwater (presumably to recreate the album cover of Nirvana’s “Nevermind”) or just stopping going, by three years old she was frightened of the pool once more. It was easily fixed though. Swimsuits and armbands purchased, we simply jumped back in the deep end so to speak. Not with armbands on though. That isn’t allowed.

Two swims on and our eldest is now convinced that she can swim the channel, provided that her armbands are pumped up sufficiently, there is a “floaty floaty” nearby, and that she had remembered to go for a wee first. Our youngest just thinks swimming is brilliant. Especially the splashing. Which is fine in the swimming pool, but not in the bath. See also flipping himself over, head submerged, trying to do backstroke in the bathroom. Life skills? Hmmm…

[Insert name of climbing class for children here] is another weekly thing we do. It’s brilliant too and both our children love it. At one, our youngest could safely negotiate a six-foot plus ladder and climb across a set of monkey bars. At two he is fearless. Which is good if there’s a long ladder and monkey bars about, less good when faceplanting into the patio while doing Superman down the slide. Or faceplanting into the lounge floor while doing Superman off the side of the sofa. Life skills? Hmmm…

The garden can be fun and a potential death-trap in equal measures. Ridiculously positioned slides asides, our garden is full of all sorts of fruit and berries. Some edible, some that will kill you TO DEATH with a careless glance in their general direction. Probably. Telling the children not to eat them was all well and good until they discovered the edible ones. Now everything is fair game, be it pear or poison. It’s just better not to look really. Life skills? Hmmm…

Some of the stuff we have told and taught them has obviously stuck, which is as pleasing as it is surprising. Everyone, including Mum and Dad, now have to wait on the waiting spot until the front door is locked for example. Holding hands in car parks in case the cars don’t see you also seems to have been drilled in. As has wearing your boots if you want to jump in muddy puddles. I can’t think where that one came from, mind.

 

Keeping Your Cool

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In which our reluctant hero gets a bit under the collar.

In typical British fashion, the weather this week has taken us all a little off guard. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Floods. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Heatwave. More heatwave. Followed by a hot spell. And that was just Monday.

Everything has been a struggle. Mowing the lawn, catching the bus, movement as a general concept and simply getting to sleep have all involved a mop of the brow and several “uffs.”

Keeping our little people at a comfortable temperature has been a battle since they were born. One winter and one summer baby presented very difficult challenges…

  • Are the extra hat and fourth cardigan really necessary?
  • Speedos over a nappy is fine, right?
  • Sleep suit or not? What about a blanket?
  • How do you cool a three-week old down on a scorching day when they’re not supposed to drink beer?
  • Does 90℅ of heat really get lost through your head? (Clue: The answer is no…)
  • Is chucking a bucket of ice into the pram ok?
  • Is putting a cover over the push chair sensible provided that you baste well and keep turning?
  • Is it ok to leave children in the car for forty minutes on a sunny day, while we nip to Next?

Aarghh!

We never seem to get it right, no matter what we do.

I’m probably over worried about our two burning and sit poised with the factor fifty any time the sun pops out for more than ten minutes from February onwards. I don’t really feel the cold so perhaps the risk of them freezing should be more of a concern. Snow joking.

But despite the paranoia, we got caught out last weekend after spending a day outside in weather that started off murky and finished brightly. It was only when it got to teeth and bed time that I spotted that dad, son and daughter were sporting identical comedy nose and cheek war paint. Oops.

How long should you go out in the sun for anyway? Half an hour of midday sun is enough to get fried, but this week the BBC were reporting that parents should give vitamin supplements as children (and grown-ups for that matter) aren’t getting enough vitamin D. That you get from the sun. You can’t win.

As a society, we’re more aware of the risks during summertime these days and, consequently, the kids don’t know that they’re born. Again. Fact.

Yes, the car interior gets to temperatures hot enough to cook a naan bread on the door trim, but once in we have one of the genuine wonders of the modern age to help. Air conditioning. A bona-fide miracle hidden beneath a little button with a snowflake on. No such luxury for the 1970’s generation who frequently received third degree burns from sitting on vinyl covered car seats in shorts. Ouch.

Our three-year old has to take a hat and a bottle of sunscreen with her name on to nursery each afternoon in case that she plays out. When we were that age, a liberal amount of protection would be slapped on in May (if anyone remembered) with the expectation that a top up coat would probably be needed in late September. The savings made on sun tan cream soon disappeared purchasing industrial size containers of Nivea “After Sun” that we would jump into to help extinguish the flames before bed.

So, what should we do as parents to combat the heat? Not a clue I’m afraid. Think about stuff for a bit, do what seems sensible and hope for the best I guess. Like we do with everything else.

Or maybe you could have a gander at this interesting and informative post put together by NCT about sun safety for children?

I for one would have benefited in seeing it earlier in the week. Never mind the kids, it would have saved me the trouble of tapping out a blog on a sweltering train when I could have been watching the new series of Mr Robot instead.

Dinosaur… GRR!

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In which our reluctant hero reviews a theme park. Probably.

According to that ever reliable font of truth and knowledge that is the internet, an  “involuntary action” is pretty much consistently defined as “an action or reaction occurring without conscious awareness of its trigger.” Hold that thought for now.

The more observant viewer may remember that, a couple of weeks ago, my minimum wage room of chimps wrote a post about going away without the little people and wondering what our next holiday with them would be like.

Back to the present and our official get-it-in-cheap-before-the-kids-are-old-enough-to-get-us-fined summer holiday week kicked off. With a trip to Peppa Pig World no less. Oink!

Having stayed locally overnight, we were one of the first groups to wander in when the park opened. It was an odd, slightly surreal, scene that greeted us. Familiar buildings, but in real life plastic form rather than as painted backdrops to a series of five minute animated shorts. A black threatening sky, where normally clear and blue exists, closed in overhead.

At first I didn’t notice the haunting glockenspiel melody beating out in the distance. My subconscious did, however.

“Recycle, recycle, recycle, recycle…”

Eh? What was that? As my head tried to unravel what had caused this unexpected earworm, Grandpa Pig’s shout of “ALL ABOARD!” went in and out, practically unnoticed.

“Gertrude is NOT a toy train! She is a mini-a-ture locomotive!”

Huh? This time I find that nonsensical words are spilling out of my mouth. That only normally happens in management meetings. Odd.

A fleeting glimpse of a smug looking baby elephant in the distance elicits a different response. My arm unexpectedly launches a right hook in its general direction.

“Edmund Elephant is a clever clogs.”

Fair enough. Nobody likes a clever clogs…

More music. I start to panic and look anxiously around. I hadn’t noticed that so many other people had slipped in. All around, grown men and women are wandering, zombified, mumbling semi-familiar phrases under their breath.

“Dinosaur… GRR!”

“If you are jumping up and down in muddy puddles, you must wear your boots.”

“WE’LL DIG UP THE ROAD!”

“Naughty mummy! You’re playing the Happy Mrs Chicken Game!”

Partly reassured, partly still anxious, I head up the hill into Peppa Pig’s house. By now I’m half expecting heavy red velvet curtains, a checkerboard floor and dwarves talking backwards. I’m relieved to find, when I finally open my eyes, nothing quite so Twin Peaks but a six-foot tall family of plastic pigs in a cartoon kitchen tossing pancakes. Normality resumed. Phew.

As we leave the house, the sun puts his hat on. Right on cue, a familiar theme tune blares out signalling the end of this dystopian nightmare. We finally start to exist in Cartoonland. Snort!

Much as I would rather be writing stuff filled with nineties cult telly references and the like, I’ve been reminded that I should at least pretend to attempt to bring this back on track a little. So, here’s a sort of cobbled together review/not really a review thing, just in case you’re considering going. And to save me getting told off by the blog police.

To its credit, Peppa Pig World was a decent enough day out. The place looked great once the sun came up and the paranoia calmed. The little people loved it, and there’s enough there and in the wider park to keep even the biggest kids (the Dads) happy. For a change.

Pros
The kids like it, with their highlights including;

  • The rides – All of them. Especially the ones that go round and round. And round again.
  • Ducks – apparently there were plastic and real ones.
  • Water – apparently the water was not plastic but real. Apart from the plastic stuff.
  • Jumping up and down in muddy puddles. Pro Tip – take a spare set of clothes and a towel. We didn’t…
  • Peppa Pig, George Pig, Zoe Zebra and Susie Sheep. Real. Not plastic. Apart from the plastic ones.

It’s also good for fitness. We had our eldest practising upright limbo under a 1m pole for a fortnight. On the day, she didn’t disappoint, sneaking through looking like she was walking to get in free. Gold star duly administered.

There’s real life rollercoasters. For grown-ups. Provided, of course, that there’s a short enough queue so that you can sneak on while pretending to go to the toilet. Whee!

Cons
Height restrictions. Check beforehand, as it’s a long way from Wolverhampton if your little people, or better half, are too little to make the most of it.

The obligatory theme park £15 for two non-descript Coronation chicken sandwiches, crisps and a drink. A conspiracy!

Motion sickness. Yes, the back of the car got covered again. Standard. But all of the rides go round and round. And round again. We drew straws for who got to go and “enjoy” Windy Castle. I lost and spent the whole ride expecting a repeat of the Coronation.

Children under eight need to be accompanied by a responsible adult. Consider this and source one as necessary. We got away with it. Just.

Enjoy.

What’s In A Name?

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In which our reluctant hero addresses an early parental challenge…

One of the first important tasks that you’ll most likely be involved in as a dad to be is a tricky one. No, not that. Something far more challenging. And dangerous, if you’re not careful.

Naming things. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Have a can and you don’t know how to get the contents out? Invented something to open it? Why not just name your gadget after the thing it does? Call it a “can opener” perhaps? Does exactly what it says on the tin. Probably.

Now this technique is all well and good for shiny inanimate metal objects, but not so useful when considering real live human babies. If it was, all children would be called “Screamy Hungry Stink Face” or variants on this theme, which would never do in polite society. Even in Wolverhampton.

Naming this blog was tricky enough. What would represent blogging from a dad’s perspective? “The Blogfather” was a possibility but had been used so many times that I may as well have tried to register “Oliver!” God bless Lionel Bart. (One for the kids there…)

So I considered (and even registered) “Daddy McDadface” as an amusing alternative. A most genius idea until it was pointed out that nobody may get the reference in a couple of months time. And when I subsequently tried to change the name to “David Attenborough” it no longer made sense. So “Babysitting The Kids” it became. Cos that’s what us Dads do occasionally, when we’re not down the pub watching the football, innit?

The only experience that I had of naming anything prior to having little people was naming the cats. Seeing as they’re called Audrey and Momo Sissoko, you would think I was somewhat overqualified for the job. You’d be right too, but this didn’t give me the required note from my mum to skip P.E.

Can openers. A blog. Cats. All well and good, but getting it wrong with a person is a mistake that could prove costly. Thirty-six quid in deed poll fees for starters.

My regular listener may be unsurprised to learn that I’m not a fan of modern names (“Nutella” is so last year.) Names that sound like what your pet dog was called in the eighties are also a no-no.

Many parents look for other sources of inspiration these days. Naming your child after your favourite finalist off of last year’s Britain’s Got Talent (has it? really?) may have seemed a good, fashionable thing at the time but now you’re stuck with a baby with the middle name “Boogie Storm.” Happy with that? Thought not.

So, something more traditional then. But what? They’re all so dull.

After the thirty-sixth night of sitting there with the baby names book and all sorts of “Now That’s What I Call the Best 100 Names of the Year 2011!” type lists, it all started getting a bit much and my interest waned. Perhaps we should not bother and let the little person pick his or her own name when they get to eighteen? They’re going to hate the one that we chose by then anyway so it seems reasonable to defer the decision. Sadly, you’re not allowed. I checked.

Manning up for a brief moment, I decided that decisive action was needed. In the form of a spreadsheet no less. That will sort it.

Having Googled “Dickensian character names” to add to our scribbled out list of maybes, an industrious half hour of copying, pasting, concatenating (and my personal favourite, VLOOKUPs) ensued. The result, two massive spreadsheets containing every combination of first name, middle name and our surname possible had we lived in the nineteenth century. Print off, get the red pen ready and start whittling down to about a dozen of each gender. Then simply hand the final decision back, working on the basis that any suggestion I make would be wrong anyway, and done. Easy.

Admittedly, due to a problem with the spreadsheet, our little people all ended up with the middle name “#REF!” but I feel that they’ve grown into it.

A couple of years on and I think we made good choices. Quite classic, links to family and heritage, and sensible enough to ensure that they won’t turn their heads if someone is calling after a runaway labradoodle on the beach.

And no, I’m not telling you what the names are. Get Googling, start a spreadsheet, and work it out for yourself.

Wish You Were Here

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In which our reluctant hero seems to be late. Late. For a very important date. Or something.

Sunday is supposed to be the deadline for the monkeys to finally stop bashing at the room full of typewriters that create my weekly blog post. Sunday. It is Thursday morning, the monkeys are still in bed, and I’m furiously bashing words into my androidpodtunesphone on the train instead. Odd.

Across the course of a normal week, there’s a catalogue of excitement and/or disaster to jog my memory or spark an idea to write about, especially on a Sunday night after two days of “babysitting” the kids. After that it’s easy. Empty my head, insert a few pearls of wisdom (possibly) and pithy remarks (probably) and press “schedule.” Jobs a good ‘un.

So, what has changed this week?

Ah…

You know how normally on a weekend you drag yourself up ten minutes before the necessary transformation into Daderman occurs? All in the vain hope that you may get a shower, and possibly a six-spoonfuls-of-coffee coffee before the “Dad…DAD!” and subsequent twelve hours of chaos? Well, there was none of that last weekend. We went away. Without little people. A brilliant idea in theory, but now I have nothing to write about.

Don’t get me wrong, our mini-break was planned (albeit last minute) but there was no Home Alone scenario here. We booked a B&B and everything. AND we arranged for someone to look after the little people. The cats even successfully fended off the burglars by themselves, bless them.

My memory is a touch hazy (it’s my age rather than parenthood, I suspect) but I think that this is only the second time that we have been anywhere without both little people since the stork dropped off our youngest almost two years ago.

Throwing the temporarily redundant “Wheels on the Bus” cd out of the car window, we nervously headed up the English coast, to a seaside town that they forgot to close down. Three nights to ourselves. Would we still get on? Would we be able to relax? Would the place be nice? Could we manage to communicate for that long without breaking open the emergency conversation starter that is that mammoth nappy from late 2014? The thought of it still makes me shudder…

The answer was, thankfully, a resounding “yes” although I did at one point find myself habitually flicking the remote looking for Noddy on Milkshake while making the pre-breakfast cuppas. We also never left the B&B without baby wipes and a spare pair of pants, but that’s just normal isn’t it?

A couple of days without drama, spillages, breakages, nappies, mess, tantrums, standoffs at mealtimes and the usual routine. And the good stuff, like.. well you know… this and that, too. Stress levels drop. Your muscles untangle. You even find yourself staying up as late as five past ten in a complete act of rock ‘n’ roll defiance which would have seen the B&B room trashed if it wasn’t always me who had to tidy up all of the mess.

While the blog thing is normally meticulously planned (*coughs*) and supposed to be about looking after the little people, this post is – I think – about the importance of the parental unit looking after themselves too. It’s so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of jobs, day-to-day routine and all. Which is important, but so is stopping if only for a bit with a nice brew. And that’s coming from a man who has won gold at many a “forgetting to sit down” competition over the years.

Take a step back. Clear your head. Stay in bed late. Try to remember who you are, both individually and as a couple, single, triple, or whatever your domestic set-up is, again. And most of all have some fun, even if “fun” ends up involving cheating at pool at some point in the proceedings. Ahem.

After a couple of nights, once the earache stops, you’ll miss the little people of course. Although as parents we bang on about how hard it is a times, mostly they’re pretty ace and the effort and self-sacrifice is well worth it. Probably.

That said, within a couple of hours of seeing them again you’ll want to give them back. Normality restored.

I wonder if summer holidays will be as relaxing in a couple of weeks time?