Rules of the House

In which our reluctant hero considers setting some ground rules.

Keen to avoid an end of week meltdown when I’m home alone, babysitting the kids, for a few days and haven’t written Friday’s blog, my wife sent me a link to a Mumsnet thread to fuel my creative juices. The thread was titled “Batsh*t rules about things that don’t really matter.” Charming.

Mumsnet, eh? So this is what mums get up to all day when dads are at work. No wonder nothing ever gets done.

My first task was to try to decipher it. Who knew that mums spoke in strange code? DH, DM, PIL, DS, DD, DC? What on earth does that all mean? Confused, I referred to the Ox Dict of Abbrevos. That didn’t help either. I guessed at “Lawrence, Direct Message, Public Image Limited, Nintendo, Direct Debit and Washington” which made even less sense put in context. Undeterred, I ploughed on.

Rules are like tour guides holding up yellow brollies up on holiday. You know that they shouldn’t really be needed, but unless they are followed, there will be all manner of chaos and the bus is going back half empty.

Back to the thread. There was a fair bit of debate about domestic things, it being a forum mostly for ladies… (*ducks*)

Some of the “rules” didn’t seem that ridiculous to me, just common sense. And simply doing something properly isn’t a rule, is it? For example, the order of washing things up. Starting with glasses and cutlery, then washing things in order of dirtiness, ending with pans is just a logical way of only using one bowl of water isn’t it? Not a rule.

Brown and red sauce featured heavily. Brown sauce for a sausage sandwich, red for bacon. Or vice versa. (Wrong!) Red for chips but not chippy chips as they have to be eaten without. The chips themselves should, apparently, be eaten first and dipped into ketchup. This is partially correct in that you should always eat the best bit last (which, let’s face it, is never the chips) but ketchup should always be squirted all over everything to save faffing. Again, common sense and definitely not a rule.

I used to work with a bloke who would drink coffee up to 11:59 a.m. before switching to tea at noon. Playing devil’s advocate, I once started making a round of drinks at about ten to twelve (coffee requested) but didn’t deliver until noon just to see what happened. It got poured down the sink.

There’s loads of these, from not putting new shoes on the table, to instructions about hanging washing up, and everything in between. Having ploughed through about ten pages, I was unsure as to whether human behaviour is such that we are all somehow hardwired to create and maintain routines, or whether we are just habitual. And is there even a difference?

Although I don’t have prescriptive rules like you lot – I think we’ve all rightly established that common sense is my primary driver, and that I’m nearly always right – I am a quite habitual creature. I started to wonder if any of my quirks have rubbed off.

Occasionally I spot the little people popping crisps into a sandwich, and they’ve started asking for bread and butter to do the same if we have chips.

When dressing, we all usually put our socks on last. I do this as I haven’t dried my feet properly after my shower and am stalling until the carpet finishes the job for me. The kids probably do as that’s a routine that they’ve inherited. They also both want to rinse their mouth out after cleaning teeth as that’s something that I do, despite disapproving glances from the better half.

Now that they’re both quite good at talking, I’ve noticed phrases being copied and recycled. The little one frequently says “Yes, of course you can” if you ask him for something, which makes me chuckle as it sounds odd coming from a two year old. Our eldest frequently yells at her younger brother, demanding that he does something or other that he hasn’t done. She also makes inappropriately loud comments such as “Do they think that the rules don’t apply to them?” at people parked on the zigzags outside nursery too. I have no idea where that comes from although I could hazard a guess.

But they also at times seem to come up with their own routines without warning. These have, over the years, included toast having to be served in a toast rack, ice cream from the “bird cup”, things removed from the bedroom before sleep, slippers or shoes being placed in bed before sleep, bringing a doll or teddy down for breakfast, and having a biscuit and banana before bed, to name just a few. Some have dropped off over time, but some have stuck. I don’t know whether these rituals were started independently, or influenced from elsewhere. Most likely Peppa Pig. Either way, our weekly spend on bananas is outrageous.

It took a while to think of them, but we only have three proper rules at home.

  • We don’t smack, we cuddle in this house.
  • We always at least try to do a wee before leaving the house or going to bed.
  • No treats if you haven’t eaten dinner.

On the whole, they’re pretty well adhered to, although mummy sometimes struggles with the last one.

At two and four, our children are absolute sponges which is why it’s so important to at least try to set a good example. Behaviours influence behaviours. Now if I could only get them all copying something more useful. Like grouting, putting the bins out or doing the ironing. One day…

  

Fin.

Advertisements

Stuck in the Middle with You.

In which our reluctant hero is stuck for ideas. Again.

Little people are funny, aren’t they?

Our littlest little person has a silly little game that he likes to play at the moment. It’s a simple idea that usually starts with him crawling behind your legs, under a chair or table, or behind the curtains. The shouting then begins…

“HELP! I’M STUCK!!!”

Enter Player 2, a rookie from the rescue services, who then gets to pretend that they are unable to rescue him for a bit (cue excited giggles) before heroically saving the little man from his perilous fate. Which is a significantly worse predicament to be in than being at a perilous fete, although a badly run tombola can present its own ghastly issues.

“Daddy saved you! Just in the nick of time! Phew!”
“Again, AGAIN!”

Repeat for another half an hour or so and done. Game over. It’s hilarious – for a while – and with the added bonus that you don’t always have to move off the sofa either. Result.

To be fair, I quite like the game. It’s far less stressful than some of his previous ones – pretending that a room has caught light and running around shouting “FIRE! FIRE!!” for starters. Speaking as a Welshman, the Welsh generally don’t have that much to answer for. But, in this case, Fireman Sam is one of them. (See also Jonathan Davies for that horrific clearance that cost us the rugby against England last weekend. Gah.)

Now, I don’t know where the idea for this mildly entertaining pastime came from, but I love the thought and creativity that has gone into it. Proper made up play. It has to be. People just don’t get stuck in things in real life, do they?

Well, apparently they do. According to this snippet that appeared on the BBC News website yesterday…

“Firefighters rescued a woman who became trapped in a tyre at a playground in Flintshire on Wednesday.

A crew from Deeside was sent to the play park in Sealand just before 13:00 GMT.

The woman had stepped through the hole in a car tyre and became wedged inside.

Firefighters spent 10 minutes sawing the rubber and the woman was not injured.”

The Welsh have a lot to answer for.

An adult getting stuck in a tyre at a playground is like an adult reading a Harry Potter book. Neither thing should ever happen as the chosen apparatus is only supposed to be used by young children.

There’s limited details about the individual caught up in this embarrassing debacle, which is probably just as well for her sake. The thing we know for certain is that the lady was clearly far too big to be trying to get through a tyre.

Yes, the adult female body is a complex and wondrous thing, capable of allowing human forms to squeeze through incomprehensibly small spaces. And so are tyres. Sort of. But neither in nor out are interchangeable for grown-ups. Adults, be warned and stay well clear.

I can understand the temptation though. There’s still a part of us that thinks that we’re still about two and that everything will always be fine. They’re usually not.

For example, most of us parents will have tried a children’s swing at some point. They work at first, but is that creaking noise supposed to happen? And what is the noise? The chain about to snap, or just your knees?

Adults entering soft play areas is also a recipe for disaster. If I had a pound for every time that my wife got stuck in a ball pit or climbing too far up the equipment, looking for missing socks or missing children, then I would have almost enough money to afford to take the kids to soft play.

Fitness or, more likely, lack of it, is a problem for many of us parents too. I was a child of the seventies and eighties so remember the humble Spacehopper with great affection. How long could you manage to bounce on it in your prime? Twenty, maybe even thirty seconds before your legs gave in? Divide that by ten, take two off and that’s about how long that I stayed on before being strewn across the lawn in a crumpled mess in the summer of 2016.

Bouncy Castles anyone? You can fill in the gory details of your own recent, probably slightly tipsy, adult experience of these yourself. I feel a stitch coming on just thinking about it.

Will we ever learn? Of course not. So, next time that you get tempted, make sure that you have a responsible adult with you before going in.

Fin.

Wouldn’t it be Nice?

In which our reluctant hero would like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony.

I’m conscious that I’ve perhaps neglected the new mums and dads a little in my musings here of late. And the older ones. And the ones without children. But all that is about to change. Probably.

As an award winning (NCT Wolverhampton “Volunteer of the Month” – July 2016) contributor to the massive dustbin of unnecessary parenting blogs that is the modern day internet, I’m often* asked;

“What would be the one single piece of important advice that you would give to another parent? New or old, it doesn’t matter. Or a person generally.”

See. Told you.

As questions go it’s a tricky one to answer. Like “Whose idea was it to make yet another Bridget Jones movie?” or “WHERE HAVE YOU HIDDEN THE KIDS’ ARMBANDS?!!” ten minutes before the start of a swimming party. The modern day $64,000 question. Or the £256,000 question using today’s exchange rates if you prefer.

Having thought long and hard about this, I always** give the same carefully considered answer.

“Don’t give anyone any advice. Ever.”

Yes, stick to this top tip and you won’t go far wrong. Not just in parenting, but in life. You’re welcome.

 

Fin.

Ok. I could quite happily stop there. Job done. Or I could expand. Read on if you like, else just hit “share” on the Facebooks and move on. It’s fine, really.

Giving advice is a bit like going to McDonald’s as a treat. Everybody says that they want it, but once you start dishing it out, you find that there’s a sudden loss of appetite.

We all ask for advice from time to time, the reason for which generally falls into one of three categories;

  • To reassure us that a predetermined choice is right (but are probably sticking to our choice regardless, so there)
  • To help us decide which one of a couple or more options to go for (but now have a focus of blame if it all goes horribly wrong)
  • We haven’t got the foggiest idea what’s going on… (usually this)

    Parenthood. The time that we are most likely to start involuntarily blurting out random questions at anyone within earshot. Your nearest and dearest or some random stranger who happens to be standing near the nappy section in Aldi, it matters not. You didn’t do this before, but you weren’t feeling inextricably tired, emotional, overwhelmed, and massively insecure then. It’s suddenly time for that long overdue trip to Argos to buy a good sounding board. Preferably in the sale and with an eighteen year guarantee.

    People are generally quite sensible when dealing with the onslaught of contradictory or just plain silly questions that you’re likely to fire at them in the early months. If you can find somebody with good listening ears and a mind like an open book on opening day of the open university bookshop then bingo. They may not necessarily agree with your approach, but respect your position and will help as best as they can within that framework. These people normally live in real life.

    Sadly not all people get the concept of empathy. For every dozen or so voices of reason, there’s a Katie Hopkins lurking. Minds closed. Earplugs rammed tightly in. There’s probably strongly held beliefs bubbling away under the surface, ready to erupt at the first opportunity presented. An unstoppable stream of opinionated lava that burns, belittles and undermines everyone that crosses its path. These people normally live under shady bridges somewhere inside your phone.

    Most of us aren’t daft. Even if it’s a case of copying off a friend on the bus, we’ve done enough homework to ensure that we don’t do anything that daft. Silly, maybe, but daft, no. So, the last thing you need to hear is that you’re doing everything wrong, or worse still, that you’re going to somehow hurt or damage your child. If it’s a medical issue ring a doctor, else the chances are that you won’t.

    The are some favourite areas for the hysterical rant brigade to get on their high horses about, ready to steam in and save the rest of us uneducated buffoons given half a chance.

    Over the course of the first couple of years, these will include sleep training, breastfeeding, formula feeding, when to wean, how to wean, baby led weaning, attachment parenting, dummies (how apt), colic, teething, weight gain, weight loss, weight stay-the-same, milestones, developmental leaps (what?!), sleep regression, potty training, potty regression, phonics, stereophonics, baby signing, baby singing. Blah blah blah…

    If you ever find yourself on the end of any of this nonsense, my (proper) advice is to step away (most likely from the keyboard) and find Mr or Mrs Sensible to sit you down with a cuppa and help pop your wobbly Scalextric back on it’s tracks.

    A lot of opinions are just that. Opinions. They’re not always backed up by fact. Worse than not being backed up by fact, they’re often straight out of The Daily Mail or, worse still, Mumsnet. Being bombarded by these “alternative facts” is a fate worse than a fate worse than death. Stop doing it. It’s silly.

    So, before pressing the panic button at the first sign of trouble, do a little research and try a few things out. Think things through and do what you feel is the right thing to do, as it probably is. Most of all, stop worrying. You’re doing alright.

    My other (proper) advice, for when the shoe is on the other foot, can be nicely summed up in the following words, found on a poster attached to my mum and dad’s kitchen pinboard.

    “Engage brain before putting mouth in gear.”

    Or, simpler still, “just be nice.”

    Yes, stick to this top tip and you won’t go far wrong. Not just in parenting, but in life. You’re welcome.

     

    Fin.

    *(never)
    **(would)

    Tellin’ Stories

    In which our reluctant hero discovers that there’s more to life than books. But not much more.

    Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

    This week is National Storytelling Week. Coincidentally, it is also the first week this year that I’ve started reading a book that doesn’t feature princesses or a monkey that has lost his mum. And what better excuse for the evil natured programme planners at CBeebies Towers to spice things up by wheeling out Tom Hardy (whoever he is) to do “Bedtime Stories” for the second time in a month. Can’t you give us poor dads a break?

    21st century almost-grown-ups are apparently reading more than ever. Sadly, for many of us, this is largely noise, cranked up to eleven, from the endless inane soundbites and clickbait that we are bombarded with during our waking hours.

    For may parents, the exception to this involuntary rule is the bedtime story. Children’s fiction may not be Shakespeare, but at least it contains coherent chunks that span more than 140 characters.

    Story time is often presented as an idyllic parenting ritual, where sleepy-eyed little people hang on mum or dad’s every word before cuddles and the nightly lecture about not getting out of bed until the sun is “up up” on the Gro-clock.

    And, to be fair, it usually is. It’s the bouncing on the sofa, emptying the re-stocked toy cupboard, arguing over telly programmes, refusing to go upstairs, splashing in the bath, refusing to brush teeth, suddenly becoming hungry seconds after eventually brushing teeth, jumping in the wrong bed and arguing over who’s turn it is for mum to do the stories beforehand that’s the problem. Every. Single. Night. But that’s not the story’s fault, is it?

    We read to our children because it’s important. Important as part of the bedtime routine. Important as it’s usually calm one on one time doing a shared thing, which is nice whether you’ve been out at work all day and missed everything else or not. Important as it fuels the imagination in a way that telly just can’t. Important as it can help increase literacy and learning in the long term, and help shape the next generation of cool kids that hang around in libraries and Waterstones at a certain age.

    But what chance have we got of keeping our children interested in reading once they can do it by themselves?

    My book is on my tablet which is convenient for commuting. But with the tablet comes distractions. There’s enough games, music, films and telly to provide a lifetime of entertainment and the temptation for me, an adult-ish man, not to read is often overwhelming. Children hardly stand a chance.

    Creativity requires time and patience, and often rises from boredom. Proper boredom rarely happens with so many distractions and the constant flitting from one thing to another must have a negative effect on our attention span. (Ooh, look… an aeroplane.) If we can’t concentrate long enough to read a book then we’re unlikely to do so long enough to write one. At this rate we’ll have run out of authors by the 22nd century. Perhaps we just won’t need any by then.

    However, all is not lost in the battle to save the humble story.

    Making time to read with children is the obvious first step. I’m finding that as our eldest is growing up and able to read some words, she is showing far greater interest in the actual stories and is asking questions about them. Which is great when they’re about things that I know about or can make up, less so if querying holes in the plot or anything Disney related, two concepts that sort of come hand in hand.

    Technology, used in the right way, may help too. Love them or loathe them, the gadgets are not going away, so why not give them a big cuddle? The tablet is not just your fifty quid babysitter from Amazon but a seven inch personal tutor too.

    While I’m in no hurry to ditch the old fashioned hardbacks at bedtime, there are plenty of alternatives for the bits in between. We have a free app with old stories like The Gingerbread Man on that our eldest likes, and the CBeebies Storytime app is excellent entertainment for a variety of ages. Even Dr Seuss is available for a couple of quid and there’s loads of phonics apps to help develop reading skills too. Sneaking some fun learning into playtime has to be better than another half hour of American children opening Kinder eggs on YouTube, right? I reckon that our two year old will be reading Dostoyevsky by the time he gets to nursery at this rate.

    There’s creative things to try too. After we read Alice in Wonderland one bedtime, our daughter discussed using our imaginations, being a central theme of the story. She was adamant that she couldn’t make up her own stories until I suggested that changing bits of her favourite story may be a good way to start. So she had a go. Ok, “The Bear Who Came to Tea” may result in a lawsuit if it ever gets published, but she really enjoyed doing it and there were sparks of proper creativity going on, even at such a young age.

    If I can nurture this creativity, I reckon that I can handover blog writing duties by the summer. After all, banging the same old rubbish out each week with a few words and ideas changed is all that I do. In the meantime, there’s always Tom Hardy for her to watch on telly with all of the thirty and fortysomething old girls across the land.
    Fin.