Schoolboy Errors

In which our reluctant hero wishes that he hadn’t bothered. Probably.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

– Samuel Beckett.

The mantra of every 21st Century (other periods are also available) Dad.

We all make mistakes. The important thing is, of course, learning from them. Or at least not shouting too loudly when your ill thought out sadly-not-as-genius-as-you-had-first-hoped plan comes tumbling down. Like anything at a height of about a foot or more left within a three room radius of a toddler. TIMBER!

They say that eighty percent of success is showing up. They also say that about eighty percent (81.4% if you want to be picky) of statistics are made up on the spot. But let’s not let that put us off. Instead, why don’t we simply celebrate that fact that we, the nation’s Dads, at least showed up despite it probably being better for all concerned if we hadn’t bothered.

So, without further ado, here’s a hastily compiled list of ideas, actions and assumptions that should have stayed firmly lodged in my noggin. Or should have been thought out better. Or something. A list about Dad style parenting. And disaster.

  • Giving a six month old a bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese as part of the weaning process. On a positive note, it saved a few quid on decorations the following Christmas.
  • Assuming that the tabs on that nappy from late 2014 would be sufficient to keep the contents inside during its maiden flight downstairs during a failed attempt to quell the foul stench upstairs. It didn’t.
  • Tempting fate 1 – Bragging that, seven months in, that “I haven’t dropped her… yet” then somehow managing to catapult the seven month old out of a car seat across the living room floor into a full faceplant within 24 hours of the careless comment.
  • Leaving pens and crayons out unattended. The eldest never drew or scribbled on walls, tables or paintwork. So what harm could leaving them there for the youngest possibly do?
  • Assuming that a sleeping baby will remain asleep any longer than the time it takes to sit down and pick a fork or spoon up. It won’t. Ever.
  • Tempting fate 2 – “I’m amazed that we’ve never had a little accident in the bath.” You can guess the rest. Someone pass the Domestos. And a peg.
  • Assuming that two platefuls of a new meal (our savoury fish pancakes, offered after a double refusal of their own tea, if you’re interested) getting scoffed in record time is any indication that the same meal will even be touched again. Especially if it takes about an hour to assemble and you neglect to bang a couple of fish fingers in at the same time as a contingency.
  • Leaving tissues, wipes or toilet roll unattended in any room occupied by an under one for a period of more than fifteen seconds. Isn’t the snow pretty?
  • Letting a toddler out of shopping trolley jail. There’s no going back from this chaos. Trust me.
  • Leaving a toddler in shopping trolley jail too close to the supermarket shelves. It’s only when you get home that you discover the plethora of random items that were chucked in when your back was turned. Does anyone need a whisky laced jam and marmalade set? Free to good home.
  • Tempting fate 3 – “They’ve not had a cold for ages.”
  • Letting little people apply any sort of cream by themselves. They have got elephantine memories, no stop switch and you’ll soon discover just how tricky Sudocrem is to shift out of carpet.
  • Picnics in the front room for a treat. Proceed only if you have a tarpaulin large enough to cover every surface of downstairs. See also mums serving lunch in the back of the car on pre-school days #SchoolgirlError
  • Letting a toddler help feed the cats. In a couple of weeks the cats will love you (more likely the toddler, if we’re honest) but the resulting cat food bill may cause bankruptcy.
  • Installing YouTube Kids. Don’t ever do this. Modern two year olds can break an Enigma machine in about thirty seconds, so your four-digit screen lock is going to be child’s play. Literally. The trade-off between the initial five minutes peace against hours of listening to whiny American kids act out “Frozen” is simply not worth it. Trust me.
  • Assuming that a baby that doesn’t roll won’t roll off a changing table straight onto the pub toilet floor if not strapped in. (Note – Dad wouldn’t have been this irresponsible. All mum’s work this one.)

So, there you go. I’m sure that there are hundreds more that I can’t remember that will come back to me with cold sweats at 3am. Perhaps this post should remain a work in progress to be added to? Give me a few more months, and I suspect that this post will be longer than the 256,000 plus words in James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Check back in a bit.

To be continued…

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Testing Times

In which our reluctant hero goes back to school. Probably. 

Thinking back to childhood, memories that often surface include time spent at school. Colouring; learning to read and write; pouring warm milk down the playground grid; making new friends; trying to fly by running down a bank with your coat out like rudimentary wings; the dreaded lost property bag if you forgot your PE kit; not quite making it to the toilet in time. Happy days. Think harder and less happy memories may also surface. Tests. Ugh!

This week it was examination time at our house with man and boy off to the local Health Centre for the mandatory two year check.

Now, you would perhaps, logically, think that the two year check was a check to see how said two year old was faring, two years on. You would be wrong. The check turns out to be less checky and more of a test. A test with hard sums and no calculators. A test to see how much Dad has been paying attention over the last two years, and to see how much attention is paid to Dad. What could possibly go wrong?

The first part I passed with flying colours. Flying red colours in fact, as I remembered to take the red book for teacher to write the test scores in. All by myself. Go me! Tick.

From then on in things got a little trickier…

“Can the little one walk up the stairs by himself?”
“Yes!” Tick.

So far so good…

“When he walks up the stairs, does he do it one step at a time, by making sure that both feet are safely on the step before attempting the next one, or something different?”
“Erm…”

The problem with tests is that you have to revise. Question one and I am already concerned that I have not put the necessary hours in to get the required Grade C or above. What’s worse is that I should have been prepared for this question having had the same one at a previous exam twenty months ago. But nope. Not a clue. And why would I have? Standing with a clipboard making copious notes on my children’s stair walking technique has never been high up on my list of priorities. Getting them up the stairs for bedtime without resorting to a size eight up the rear is a battle in itself. So I wing it.

“B. Yes, It’s B.”

It’s an established fact that “B” is always the answer in multiple choice questions, isn’t it? That’ll do. 3-1 odds. I’ll take that. Tick. Next…

“Do you think that his speech is better, about the same as, or slightly behind that of other children of the same age that he socialises with?”
“Erm…”

Socialises with? Same age? Isn’t this the neglected second child that they’re talking about? Clearly he doesn’t have many of his own friends and mostly hangs round with his big sister and her friends instead. I’m at work when most of this stuff happens anyway so my only reference point is big sister at the same age. Think man, think!

Now, I distinctly remember her getting immensely stressed months before her second birthday concerned that she “had forgotten to send the invitations out to the party guests.” How does that compare? Hmmm…

“B. Yes, it’s B. I’m sure. Final answer.” Tick.

The next bit focussed on physical things like following instructions and copying actions. The boy is pretty good at fetching things and putting them away when asked. He also loves running and jumping and so on and is brilliant at mimicking. This will be a doddle.

“OK, little man. Can you copy this noise with your mouth? Click, click, click…”

Nothing.

“Click, click click…”

Nothing again. Best help as the health professional clearly hasn’t got a clue and we often do this sort of thing after brushing teeth. Daddy do it.

“Click click, click…”
“That’s not right. Silly Daddy!”

Jumping next. Sadly, further instruction and encouragement failed to remove the superglue that had welded the soles of his pumps to the floor. The same for running. Having grown up with “One Man and His Dog” being about as good as Sunday television got, I wondered if blowing the whistle out of the box of prompts for the test would help spur things along. It didn’t.

Recognising things in books went far better until the shyness kicked in, and tower building was a particular hit. The hit in this case propelling the blocks to the far corners of the room to a cry of “TIMBER!”

Anyway, we got through the rest of it with ticks in most of the right boxes. Largely by guesswork and the reluctant participation of a little boy who was less than impressed at having being forcibly removed from the paddling pool on a glorious summer’s afternoon to attend.

My advice to anyone who has the check coming up is to do your homework. Study, make notes and write the answers on your arm if necessary. Take sweets or doggy-chocs as a reward for good behaviour. Practice advanced Lego construction techniques and get the little one familiar with the “Daily Mirror Book of Facts” to help in the General Knowledge round.

At the end of the round we scored seventeen points with three passes. I’ll take that.

Excess Baggage

In which a surprise award is dished out and our reluctant hero wishes TARDIS technology existed inside a Vauxhall Meriva.

A lot has happened since I last battered a load of randomly selected words into the series of slightly less random sentences and paragraphs that passed themselves off as last week’s blog. Well two things, if you want to get picky. Oh. Yes.

The first thing that happened was that my blog became an award-winning blog. Who saw that coming? Having pulled it together for the last few months, not me. When I say “award-winning” I should probably include the word “technically” or “not” somewhere.

You see, I won an award. Woohoo! And a most prestigious one at that. “Wolverhampton NCT Volunteer of the Month” no less which, in the Blogosphere, is about the equivalent of a proper writer winning the Booker Prize. Probably. But, as the award was awarded for services to blogging, I think that the blog itself should claim most of the credit and therefore the award. Seems legit, so that’s what I’m going with. I’ll create a “Testimonials” section later to capture this magnificent accolade for posterity. I’ll probably also make up some quotes from the Richard and Judy Book Club to big it up, like everyone else does.

Anyway, the other thing that happened was that we went on holiday. Ironically,  I wasn’t planning to do a post this week but instead have a week off and hope that nobody noticed. Clearly I can’t do that now or the NCT blog police will be ripping stripes off and demanding the award back.

So here goes.

Sometime last week. Wolverhampton. Earlier.

“Daddy. I’ve packed my suitcase for holidays. It’s downstairs. In the hall!”

“Erm.. OK” I reply as I locate the tiny overnight case and start to rummage through its contents.”But you’ve forgotten to pack any clothes!”

“Oh… Silly me! I’ll bring some down!”

The inventory of things for a four day break read as follows.

  • 1 doll
  • 1 plastic strawberry
  • 3 replica beach huts from last holidays
  • 1 “What’s in the Fridge” board game
  • 1 toy camera out of a Christmas cracker
  • 1 small furry toy from a fast food chain that I’m still not happy that we occasionally have to visit
  • 1 set of toy eggs

Now I don’t know any sane person who wouldn’t, rightly, agree that this is all pretty essential stuff. But spending four days away, you’re going to need clothes too or risk getting arrested. Again. The following were duly added to the haul.

  • 1 Peppa Pig onesie
  • 1 Upsy Daisy swimming costume

Sorted. We’re off on holiday, so we’ll need something to sleep in and, as we normally go swimming on holiday too, we’ll need something to wear in the pool. You can’t fault the logic.

Considering this, just how the overall baggage allowance for two big and two little people ended up filling the boot of our hatchback car, the parcel shelf, the two foot wells in the back and part of “no mans land” that exists between the children’s car seats is a mystery. A mystery hidden inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma. And that was before the supermarket run en route.

Three nights. In Blighty. We took about a quarter of the amount crammed into the car to Australia for a fortnight or so on honeymoon AND brought clean stuff back.

There’s probably some complicated maths (yes, “maths” – I’m not an American) law describing how the amount of stuff that you cart around is exponentially proportional to the number of little people in the family unit.

It’s been like this for over three years now. I still remember our first trip to the supermarket as a family and my shock at not being able to get a single bag of shopping in the boot. Slings, travel system, changing bag, spare changing bag, spare slings, yes. Food, no. Folk who have been parents for a couple of years know how it works. Newbies may be in for a shock. Get used to it though. There’s no turning back now.

It’s funny how your life aspirations change after becoming a dad. Forget travelling the world, owning a helicopter, or buying your local football club. I long for a day when I can drive somewhere and be able to see cars or an empty road in my rear-view mirror. Just once before I die. I suspect that this day will be a long time coming unless Vauxhall unveil new designs that are a little more Police Box shaped than at present. And is that likely? Pack it in!

Toy Stories

In which our reluctant hero receives a rather odd phone call.

Tuesday, 2nd August 2016. 12:06 pm.

BRING, BRING!

“Hello.”

“Hello Daddy. I’ve got some sad news.”

“Oh, what’s that?”

“Postman Pat has died.”

“Eh? What happened? Did you stand on him or something?”

I rarely get personal calls at work, and this conversation was probably not one that I would have predicted when I answered the phone. If you missed the news, what my three year old was trying to tell me was that Ken Barrie, the voice and narrator of Postman Pat for 25 years, had sadly passed away a few days before. A message which, given the timing, was probably sent via snail mail rather than as a special delivery, so to speak.

Although not a big fan of the programme (asides from the Chinese Dragon episode) our daughter loved the toys, a job lot for a tenner off a local selling site, which she would play with for hours. Parcels got delivered far more efficiently that the “real” Pat would ever have managed, Dr Gilbertson and PC Selby would frequently end up together in a makeshift bed on our shelving unit, and nobody ever discovered where Ted Glen hid the bodies. Just like on the TV show.

Pat rarely gets a look in these days, as is the cyclical nature of toys.

This made me think about the various things that we’ve had in the house at different stages so far. Another thought followed almost immediately. If I write all of this stuff down instead of just thinking it, that may just pass for an interesting and informative blog post. Advice and nostalgia all rolled into one. You lucky people. Probably.

So here goes…

If there are any expectant parents reading, brace yourself for a bombardment of soft toys. Seriously, get to IKEA or Wilkos and buy as many enormous plastic tubs as you can fit in the boot of the car sharp-ish. It’s the only way you’re going to get around the house in a couple of weeks. Trust me.

While you’re out shopping, see if anywhere sells earplugs as pretty much everything that is going to turn up that isn’t stuffed will be noisy. And repetitive. I read somewhere that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies use the more sinister VTech products to help extract confessions from prisoners. After a few weeks of listening to a loud and tuneless rendition of “The wheels on my bike go round and round, round and round, round and round…” for periods of an hour or more, you’ll understand why this bonafide made up fact isn’t quite so far-fetched.

As the children grow up, musical instruments start being a favourite. Rightly so as they’re fun, educational and help development. Keep some paracetamol nearby though. We actually have a proper mini drum kit in the loft that I have buried under so much stuff that I’m hoping it remains undiscovered until everyone has left home. Perhaps I should ask Ted Glen to dispose of it, just to be safe.

Blocks and things that can stack or be built are popular at all ages. Just watch your vase during the “throwing” stage though. Jigsaws seem to go through phases of popularity and the soft toys that sat gathering dust years back will be useful later on, so don’t throw any out.

There’s just so much stuff these days. To make sense of it, here are some of the bits that we found useful at various milestones should they prove useful;

0-6 Months

The Fisher Price “rainforest gym” playmat was a big hit with our two. Hanging animals to pull, kick, rattle, etc. Crinkled bits for texture. Mirrors, rattles, and lullabies too. A bargain.

We also had a battery-powered thing that made noises and flashed lights when it got kicked. I’ve no idea of the name, but file this idea in the “less annoying than you would imagine” pile. The children loved it and it bought enough time for a shower.

6-12 Months

One of the most used things during this period was a play table which the little people could hold themselves up against while doing the various activities integrated into the top.

Also, walkers were a big hit as the little people tried to get themselves up and mobile. Walkers are also hilarious on tiled floors, especially if the cat is nearby. Get filming and you could earn yourself £250.

12-18 Months

Now upright, footballs and things to kick were getting a lot of use. Buggies, the Hoover, toy shopping trolleys and anything else that could be pushed round (and filled up, normally with the cat) became staples. The telly is also becoming worryingly popular.

18-24 Months

Role play and building/creating things. Duplo, which is one of the best things invented, Play Doh and anything messy arts and crafts-wise were often brought out. As was the IKEA toy cooker with food, pots and pans which is still in use now.

The Postman Pat and Peppa Pig toys were much used at this age too. And a mouthorgan is a brilliant, small and cheap source of entertainment so long as you don’t mind getting covered in slobber.

Note: It’s at this age that we started to notice the split in what girls and boys are drawn to. We’ve never believed in toys for girls and toys for boys, but every morning there was a tea party of sorts for our daughter’s dolls and teddies, whereas our son started playing with things with wheels such as cars, diggers and nee-naws.

Grandad also built an amazing thing which was basically locks, keys, handles, light switches and so on from the garage screwed on to a piece of wood. Hours of fun for a boy, especially a middle-aged one.

24 Months +

At two, our not-so-little little boy likes golf clubs, the remote control Thomas the Tank Engine, cars and garages and the like, and breaking tellies. Our girl likes kid-geek learning books and anything role play related, such as pretending to be at school, hospital, or birthday parties. It is worth noting that baby brother has little choice but to like the latter also, as he’s often the pupil, patient or birthday boy whether he likes it or not.

Oh, and the tablet. So get saving as the next few years aren’t going to be cheap!