Potential Deathtraps 

In which our reluctant hero pops on his hard hat and does a risk assessment. Or something.

We’re not yet through a month of the new year and the world has officially gone mad.

In the week that saw a narcissistic reality TV host being made Leader of the soon-to-be-no-longer-free World, Brexit at the Supreme Court, AND The Daily Mail stirring up the frenzy that was the great baby wearing debate, another news item stuck out as being even more scary and ridiculous. Yes, apparently, Sophie the Giraffe is trying to kill us all TO DEATH.

If you missed the story, a New Jersey dentist reported noticing musty smelling air coming out of a hole in her child’s toy. So she cut it open and found that this particular Sophie had a dark secret lurking inside its insides. A dark, little bit stinky secret in fact, in the form of “smelly, ugly mould” living inside its rubber tummy. Blimey.

You would think that in this week of all weeks, Americans (and the rest of the world to be fair) would have just a teeny bit more to worry about. But no. Unsurprisingly, in this age of “not news” and “alternative facts” that we live in, Sophie’s secret didn’t stay a secret for long. Soon after, paranoid parents across the globe sharpened their scissors and took action.

After the cutting, ripping and general butchery was done, guess what they found? Predictably, lumps of otherwise faultless and spotlessly clean ex-rubber giraffe spread across their kitchen worktops. What else?

As you may or may not know, mould thrives in conditions where it is damp and warm. Sophie the Giraffe’s squeaker also prevents much moisture getting inside. So, unless you are the sort of idiot that washes a rubber giraffe with the other pots and pans in a washing up bowl, thus allowing a load of water to get sucked up, it should remain mould free. In unrelated news, our Sophie ended up in the bin sometime in 2013… *coughs*

Anyway, this silly story got me worried that killer rubber animals may not be the only potential deathtraps in and around the home. So I wracked my brains to unearth some others.

And here’s what I came up with, thanks to a little help from some similarly slapdash parents that I know, via the medium of my wife’s WhatsApp.

The Floor
Mop your kitchen or hall floors. Go on. Then steam clean them. Then mop again. Once dried, rub with a baby wipe and look what comes off. Would you eat your dinner off it? No, but your toddler is up and down all day and occasionally eats bits of theirs of it. It’s just a bit of dirt though. It’ll be fine. Probably.

Squirty Bath Toys
Similar risks, but the squirty toy may be even more dangerous than Sophie the Giraffe, if such a concept can be entertained. Leave forgotten in a cupboard for a few months then watch the black flakes fly out as your little people squirt each other in the bath. A potential deathtrap disguised as a penguin. Eek.

Scissors
You think that they are out of harm’s way, but then it’s a quick snip and off to A&E. See also secateurs, which were thankfully spotted before any fingers got pruned in our garden earlier in the week.

Scooting
Scooting to nursery without a helmet? The exercise is good, right, and what harm can it do if kept to the pavements? We didn’t have helmets after all. Or scooters for that matter. Now aware, guess what we’re going to be purchasing on Amazon at the weekend?

Things on the Stairs
When I were a lad, roller-skates at the top of the stairs were one of the two go to cartoon banana skins, so to speak. The other being a banana skin. These days it’s toy cars, tractors, balls, books, party bags, trainers, dressing up clothes, our cats and pretty much everything else causing the issue. The kids will probably be fine, but if mum or dad don’t one day break a limb, I will be amazed.

Matches
Essential for lighting a nice fire to keep your little people warm on a cold day. Also, I’m told, one of the first things to be found and played with when our friend’s little person learned to commando crawl.

Tooling a Toddler Up
Not content with encouraging toddler arson, our correspondent reports that her daughter also had a knife confiscated at nursery. Now I know that Wolverhampton can be rough at times but too far, yes? And to think we let our children play together…

Thermometers
Vital apparatus for checking that the little people haven’t got a temperature, come the lurgy. However, watch out for attempts to shove it down an unsuspecting ear drum when playing doctors and nurses. Ouch.

Overheating
Leading on from matches and thermometers comes overheating. (Anyone would think that this is planned.) Too hot or too cold? It’s a right dilemma for new parents. Fortunately our Asda cellular blanket provided the following helpful advice on the label.

“Do not let your baby overheat. Keep away from fire and flames.”

Whatever you say Mr. Blanket. Whatever.

Play-Doh
It’s fun and harmless, right? So there’s no problem if your toddler feeds her five month old baby brother a pretend egg then? The salt in it will make it taste nicer. Play? D’OH!

Sensory beads
What better development aid than good old sensory beads. Cheap too if you use pound shop Christmas decorations instead of those fancy expensive ones that don’t tangle round toddlers. Keep those eyes peeled just in case. (Not my bad this one, I hasten to add. Although it could have been.)

Jigsaws
Keen to make amends for the sensory bead disaster that almost was, our other eagle-eyed correspondent narrowly avoided another potentially disastrous patenting fail. Thankfully she spotted the “Not suitable for children under 36 months” sticker on her toddler son’s six piece jigsaw and hid it before it was too late. Phew.

I’m sure that this is only scraping the surface of the tip of the iceberg, to mix metaphors just because I can.

If you think of any more, feel free to let me know in the comments, or on the lovely new “Babysitting The Kids” Facebook page using the hashtag #moredangerousthansophiethegiraffe

Fin.

We Can Work it Out

In which our reluctant hero attempts to shake up governmental policy and employment law to get dads a better deal. Or something.

21st Century Britain has seen many changes. If we’re honest, most of them since 2010 have been pretty bad. And the less said about 2016, the better.

One of the more pleasing changes, as reported in the papers this week, is the increasing involvement of dads in child rearing, if rearing is the right word. (I’ve an image of sheep stuck in my head now, but it’ll have to do.)

Anyway, a survey by “The Modern Families Index” (no, me neither) has revealed that 47% of dads would be happy to take a less demanding job and a pay cut to spend more time with their families. “Happy” is such subjective word, don’t you find?

Not answering the key question of “who the bobbins did they survey?” aside, the Guardian article that I read raised an interesting issue. Women have struggled to find suitable, flexible work for years, but, apparently, men are now more likely to face discrimination when asking for flexible or part-time work. Blimey. On a positive note, men suffering too may mean that something actually gets done about it. Go sisters! I mean brothers…

The option of home working or working flexibly is sadly not available to all. With technology potentially making this easier, employers could, and probably should, do more to be not just family friendly, but people friendly. It would be a good start to addressing some of the problems and an easy win.

But there’s also times in life when all of us need a bit more than a couple of hours or days off, be it flexible, unpaid or extended leave, especially when children appear.

The government’s flagship policy of shared parental leave has been somewhat of a disaster, possibly as it requires mums to jump out of their hospital beds and back on the work merry-go-round at the first opportunity. Some may want to do this of course, but clearly not many.

So how do you fix the problem of employers and politicians not understanding what families need? Get a dad to write it all down, obviously.

Here goes…

0-3 Months (first child)
Every new parent has “L” plates on for the first three months. Two weeks paternity leave? That’s not enough time to get your head around the upheaval, let alone deal with any of it. Once the fortnight is up, you need to establish another new routine to replace the one that you’ve just nailed. Double trouble.

Paternity leave of up to four weeks for those who want it, preferably paid, may be a good start.

3-6 Months (first child)
The “L” plates are in the bin, replaced by “P” plates. You’ve passed the first test, but it’s still better to warn other folk that you may be prone to the odd erratic manoeuvre and occasional prang. My blurry memory recalls this period being relatively calm asides from the continued night-time wake ups for mum.

By this point, mum is pretty much in control of everything else and not shy about telling dad this.

Dad duties mostly involve giving mum a break and finally seeing their child do something other than cry and poo. This is a refreshing change from quarter one, trust me, and chances are that you’re not missing out on much due to work.

6-12 Months (first child)
The second half of year one presents a new and exciting challenge in the form of movement. Why Mother Nature hasn’t risk assessed and let human evolution work on adding an extra pair of eyes in the back of the head is beyond me.

The calm was indeed before the storm. You suddenly realise that your house isn’t anywhere near as childproof as you had thought. Top tip: Buy shares in UHU. Dad will be needed to remove things that aren’t yet broken, and to fix the rest. You’ll probably find him hiding in the shed quite a lot. Mums should avoid mentioning taking any time off even though they’re in need of a rest.

12-18 Months (first child)
It’s a doddle this parenting lark, isn’t it? Stuff is still occasionally smashed into a million pieces and you will have invested in a Mr Bump bruise soother by now. Parents and child are starting to communicate and be mutually understood, which is nice. Mum and Dad are still tired and grunting at each other, but you can’t have everything.

You finally feel like you’re getting somewhere. You notice rapid developmental changes and playing is so much more fun than it was. Sleep is fixed, dinner occasionally stays on the plate rather than on the floor in-between mouthfuls, and your little person is genuinely happy to see you when you walk through the door after a hard day’s yacker.

If I had my pick, this is when I would take off, particularly if it’s summer. The hard work of year one has been done. It’s time for a cuppa and to enjoy things.

18-24 Months (first child, latter stages of pregnancy) and 0-6 Months (second child)
Top tip. Leave a bigger age gap. A much bigger age gap. About fourteen years should be plenty, with the added bonus of a free babysitter in a couple of years.

Ok, dads. You had forgotten all about the “uffing” hadn’t you?

So the situation now is that you have a toddler zooming round like the Duracell Bunny with a faulty off switch, and a better half that needs winching off the sofa every two minutes to go to the loo. It’s just like last time, but with no downtime whatsoever for mum or dad for periods of up to fourteen hours.

Mum will probably want dad to take some extra time off as she approaches full term. Dad will be adamant that it’s better to save his leave for later.

Post new arrival, this period pretty much mirrors the first six months as before. Only with a toddler permanently pulling at your legs and stamping their feet any time that you even so much glance at the uninvited guest that is clinging like a limpet to mum. Oh, and with no prospect of a lie in. Or a sit down. Or a cuppa or food anything warmer than tepid. Ever. Again.

Up to nursery or school age (first and second children)
Repeat until nursery or school kicks in. This is your life now. Get used to it.

Nursery or school age (first and second children)
The dreaded “school run” begins. Too many things to do in too little time while negotiating leaving the house. Plus there’s nativities, assemblies, bonnet making, parents evenings, teacher training days, sickness, mums going off to the spa, and a million other things to coordinate.

If flexible working wasn’t needed before, it is now.

So there you go. A solution of sorts. Probably. Why not print a couple of copies off, pop one in the post addressed to your local MP, and bang the other on your boss’ desk on Monday morning. What could possibly go wrong?

Fin.

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

In which our reluctant hero writes a sort of topical post.

Thursday 12th January 2017
It’s early. Too early. I slurp the dregs of my almost cold cuppa and start to apply layers of clothing before leaving for work. Shirt, tank top, fleece, duffel coat, scarf, gloves, hat, thick socks, emergency hat. Pants and trousers too, naturally. What do you take me for?

As the wind howls, I regret not fishing my long johns out of the drawers before bed. It’s too late now. I’ll take my chances against the elements, rather than risk any fallout from waking the missus up.

Leaving the house, it doesn’t feel that cold. Maybe it’s the layers. Maybe it’s not that cold. Or more likely a bit of both.

For clarification, I don’t usually wear every item purchased at the 2001 C&A closing down sale on a weekday morning. But today is going to be different. It’s going to snow. Probably.

I check my phone. The Guardian’s live snow blog, which is normally the barometer of impending doom, isn’t up yet. So far so good. However, it seems that I am wise in being prepared.

The BBC Weather app shows two days of intermittent snow for Wolverhampton. ITV News, whatever that is, is talking about gale force winds of 75mph and snow headed our way. Huffington Post are similarly predicting wintry polar blasts. Even The Independent are banging on about something called “Thundersnow” battering poor old Blighty. They’re making it up now. I don’t bother checking The Daily Express’ variant on “UK BLIZZARDS DISPEL GLOBAL WARMING MYTH” as that will just annoy me. Even the Met Office are issuing warnings of yellow snow. Or issuing yellow warnings of snow. Or something. Either way, it sounds bad.

I was born, and grew up, in Wales in the 1970’s. My blurry recollection is of snow most winters and, when it came, it came good and proper. The world momentarily stopped. We all downed tools (asides from snow shovels) and just got on with it.

Snowy days were great when I was little as it generally meant no school and lots of playing. Snowmen with coal for buttons and carrots for noses. Snowballs, sledging on bin bags out in the fields, freezing half to death, but back for tea to thaw out again.

Back then the weather was properly seasonal. These days it seems to flip between nothingness and total disaster. As a result, at four and two, our children have barely seen more than a dusting of snow, which seems a shame.

Having seen Amazon’s lovely “The Snowy Day” over Christmas, the children, or our eldest at least, are looking forward to making angels in the snow and catching snowflakes on their tongues next time it comes. Idyllic as it sounds, this may sadly not be possible as, the way 21st Century weather cycles are going, the next cold snap will probably be a mini Ice Age.

Our daughter first saw snow at two months old. I took her out into the garden to look at it, mummified in more layers than I was in this morning. It was cold and bright and she had no idea what was going on. After five minutes outside, new parent paranoia kicked in and it was back to the house where I checked her temperature for the next two hours in case of hypothermia.

Everything was of course fine, apart from when my frosty hands touched her skin. “SHE’S CRYING AGAIN! I’VE FROZEN HER!”

It was no wonder that I was worried. As, at the time, a first time parent of a tiny child, everybody who came through our front door had strong opinions (which they were all too eager to voice) about whether our baby was too hot, too cold, about right, or just needed another ten minutes to be done. Take a layer off, and the next person would put it back. Pop a layer on…

Needless to say, two years on, our youngest had his first glimpse of snow out of Gran and Grandad’s front window as big sister played outside with her uncle.

The next time it snowed, I took both children to the local park. It was the frostiest of mornings and we managed about ten minutes playing before our son, then one, started crying as his hands were too cold.

“Well, if you’re holding onto a frozen roundabout wheel without gloves, what do you expect?”

Nobody ever listens to Dad.

This (crying and cold things, although not listening to Dad is equally valid) has become a bit of a recurring theme. At a similar age, the waterworks were back on when he stuck his finger into an ice cream for too long. Ice cream and tears were reunited once more last summer, although this time an unprovoked attack by a sugar-crazed bee while we watched “Punch and Judy” in Llandudno was to blame.

Killer bee attacks asides, preparing against the elements is so much easier now that our children can talk. There are however three golden rules to remember;

  1. Occasionally, little people get “hot” and “cold” mixed up. So if you’re heading out into a blizzard, don’t take the snow suit off and pop swimming trunks on just because they said to.
  2. Prepare for the cold all you like, but at least half of the hats, gloves and scarves (maybe even wellies and socks too) that you start with will be lost within two minutes of leaving the house.
  3. Any item of protective layering not lost in the first two minutes will be unfit for use within a further three minutes. Socks will be soaked and gloves caked in lord knows what having been dragged down the sides of parked cars. You’ll notice a passing dog wearing a vaguely familiar Frozen scarf. Buy ten identical items of everything. Take spares and spares of spares. You still won’t have enough but you’re at least be in with a chance…

Back to the present-ish.

Thursday 12th January – 5:14 pm

It’s snowing. Heavily. I was right. Yay!

Oh. Hang on… There has been drizzle all day and the snowflakes are dying. My snow blog goes up tomorrow and at this rate there’s going to be no snow. The heavy stuff forecast for tonight better come, otherwise I’m going to look like a right idiot. Again.

And if there’s no snow I won’t get to post my mildly amusing meme debut. This is terrible.

Thursday 12th January – 10:26 pm
Things are looking more promising. The drizzle has turned to ice and snow is still forecast despite it being the clearest of nights. On a positive, it’s also Friday 13th tomorrow. It’ll look like Narnia by morning. Sorted.

Friday 13th January – 6:04 am
*Does a little snow dance in the kitchen*

Nothing.

Friday 13th January – 8:42 am
A flurry in Birmingham. Get in!

Friday 13th January – 8:43 am
It’s stopped. It didn’t stick. Nothing.

Friday 13th January – 15:00 pm
More nothingness in Birmingham. The snow clouds must still be in Wolverhampton.

Friday 13th January – 17:23 pm
No snow in Wolverhampton.

But wait. It turns out that the blogging gods were kind enough to have sent some during the school run. The kids saw the snow, messed around in it for a bit, were late for nursery, and all was well with the world. About an hour later it had gone. No matter. A topical post. Done.

So, there you go. Some anecdotes and advice about something that didn’t really happen much or for long.

Don’t forget to tune back in next week when I’ll be out and about putting children’s sun block and paddling shoes to the test at Tettenhall Pool.

Fin.

The Age Of Resolution

In which our reluctant hero resolves things. Probably.

Twenty seventeen. Or 2017 if you prefer. Or 1720 if you are from America. Yes, it’s time to take a deep breath and pop the humbugs back in the drawer until Christmas 2017 begins next September. We, the parents, made it to January. Go us! Happy New Year!

Today being Epiphany, most of us will have taken the decorations down by now. The hand-me-down Woolworths genuine plastic fir tree circa 1983 (a fine vintage, I think that you’ll agree) will have been crammed back into the loft. The Christmas tablecloth is on its tenth boil wash to finally remove Christmas from it. Many of us will be back to work. The little people may be back at playgroup, nursery, school, Auntie Doreen’s or wherever. Despite finally dragging the Hoover round, the house still looks like a glitter bomb has been detonated at a tip. Everything is back to normal.

Earlier in the week, you may even have made New Year resolutions…

Resolution (noun) – A firm decision to do or not to do something, bang on about it for a few days on Facebook before promptly sacking it off while penning through “The Bumper Book of Lousy Excuses” to justify said sacking.

It’s January 6th today, so I’m guessing that I’m probably right, yes?

I’ve never really seen the point in making New Year’s Resolutions and resolved not to make any one new year some time back. To my mind, how they work goes something like this.

“Yeah, I’m definitely (starting/ giving up/ doing)* [insert name of thing, hobby or person] after Christmas. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for ages.” etc..
“Well done you. Have you tried before?”
“Errr… Yes. Last New Year.”
“Oh, yes. How did that go?”
“Brilliantly.”
“Really?”
“No. Not really. I really stuck to it at first. It was going so well. But then (my budgie died/ Waitrose ran out of quinoa/ my laces snapped/ the batteries ran out/ I tweaked something/ the dog ate it)* and I had to stop. There was nothing I could do. Such a shame. I was gutted.”
“Never mind. It’s the thought that counts. There’s always next year.”

(*) delete as appropriate

If you’re going to do something, just get on and do it. Preferably quietly, and preferably not starting on January 1st if you intend to stick to it. That’s what I always do. Probably.

Rewind to January 1st.

10:30 – “I’m going to try to have more patience with the children this year.”
11:45 – “AAAAARRRRGGHHH!”
19:05 – *Pours ginger beer*
19:06 – “Stupid Dry January.”

What a daft thing to have come out with so early on a morning shift. Doubly so with two whole days of babysitting to negotiate before going back to work for a well earned rest.

I can’t remember what the children had done to drag me kicking and screaming from my zen like state. I’ll guess at something not worth getting upset about, on top of another dozen or so things not worth getting upset about over a couple of hours. (Top tip: Tolerance levels drop exponentially with time. Pass the baton within three hours if you can.)

Pointless resolutions asides, such an early parenting fail got me thinking about things that I could maybe do better as a Dad in 2017. Accepting that I would still be typing come next Christmas if I were to list everything, here’s a select few that stick out as hopefully achievable. More New Year’s “aspirations” than resolutions.

Be more tolerant
Yes, really. My D- on New Year’s Day wasn’t a good start, granted. But there’s something to work with as long as I remember the golden rule that there’s no point in trying to achieve anything, be it having a wash, making a cuppa or finishing building a house of cards, while left in charge. If they suspect that you’re not paying enough attention you’ve had it.

Make some photo albums
I covered this in an earlier blog but, unsurprisingly, haven’t done anything abut it. I plan to start simply, selecting a photo for every month since birth, and see what that looks like. A couple of hours spent browsing Google Photos and a trip to Boots the Chemists is all that’s needed. How hard can that be?

Do more musical things
I can play quite a lot of instruments (mostly badly) and the kids love music if our attempts to write a Christmas song for Eric the Elf are an indicator. Re-string the little guitar, get the shakers, Bontempi organ, plastic trombone, mouthorgan and Early Learning Centre Orchestra out and make some noise. That’s the odd half an afternoon killed even if no Christmas number one at the end.

Work on a new bedtime teeth, toilet and tales strategy
I’m a trained analyst. A simple brainstorm, project plan, terms of reference, report, recommendations and implementation plan, and I *should* be able to outsmart a four year old at bedtime. Probably.

Try more foods on the plate
I’m not proposing scrapping fish fingers and mash and replacing with inky squid risotto here. But our eldest has happily eaten baked potato skin, parsnip (mistaking for a roast potato) and boiled rice over the past few weeks. Our youngest, raw yellow peppers. A spoonful of something new off our plates with their favourites each day can’t harm, unless vindaloo. Also cut back on their sugar intake. It really isn’t their friend.

Get outdoors
Yes, it has been colder. Yes, it has been Christmas. But being inside for long periods just isn’t healthy. Tiredness brings it’s own problems, granted, but tiring the little people out physically as well as mentally makes things so much more manageable. It may also help me shift a couple of pounds of dry roasted peanuts and After Eights that have congregated under the layer under my t-shirt over the last couple of weeks.

See, that wasn’t so bad was it? Not being resolutions, it doesn’t matter when I start them either. And if I forget or give up, there’s always next year.

 

Fin.