The Good, The Bad And The Buggy

In which our reluctant hero weighs up the positives and negatives of pros and cons lists.

One of the clever boffins from science, Newton Faulkner I think, once stated that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Put simply (and possibly not quite accurately,) opposing forces balance to maintain equilibrium. For example, when sitting down with a nice cuppa and a copy of Take a Break, your body acts on the sofa with one force, and the sofa reacts on your body with another force. They balance and you don’t end up on the floor covered in scalding tea with a soggy magazine. Which is handy.

Opposites. For every yin there’s a yang. For every Sarah there’s a Duck. For every pro a con. Ignoring that the last two examples are not strictly opposites, this week I have decided to explore some of the pros and cons of being a parent. See, we got there in the end.

In no particular order;

Supermarkets
Pros: You get to park in the best spaces in the house. Or car park. Or something. Assuming that there’s not an expensive German saloon, errant white van or old person randomly parked in them all. It is staggering how many builders take their children to Sainsbury’s on a weekday afternoon and forget their car seat. Tut.

Cons: You have to do the shopping with the kids. This isn’t always terrible, just mostly terrible. If they’re not having a meltdown in the trolley, they’ll be needing the toilet, chucking random stuff in or out of said trolley, escaping to the toy aisle or refusing to let you push your wobbly-wheeled nemesis. Shopping with one child is doable. Two? Double trouble.

Crossing Roads
Pros: Be it boy racer or road hog, even the worst British drivers miraculously transform into Mr or Mrs Courteous whenever they see a parent waiting to cross the road with a buggy. They stop and wave you over every time. Seriously, the police should deploy a buggy army instead of stingers.

Cons: It undoes the hours waiting patiently for the green man to start beeping before stepping into the traffic. Cars? They just stop, don’t they? What could possibly go wrong?

Development
Pros: Remember the stack of things that you were rubbish at when you were little? Of course you do. Now here’s your chance to put it right. My two are going to be ace at football, grade eight at the piano, will finish everything that they start like their demos and exciting writing projects (detailing every work commute during January 2012 for example – yes, really) and get actual proper well paid jobs rather than working for the Civil Service. You’ll see.

Cons: They won’t. Your children are the mirror that reflects back at you. Observe them for a short while and you’ll see little bits of yourself. Mostly the bad bits. It’s time to buck your ideas up and raise your game, dads. You can’t have them being better than you at everything, can you? Well, not until they are at least ten.

Food
Pros: Eating with little people isn’t about essential organic quinoa and broccoli rice, especially when in the middle of what The Guardian is describing as a “hummus crisis.” So you can easily justify that plate of Turkey Twizzlers, Smiley Faces and baked beans in the interests of everyone eating the same thing and save the chickpea. Get in.

Cons: I have developed an unexpected addiction to evil processed meat (particularly Southern fried chicken) since my early forties which is as bad news for the arteries as it is for the waistline. I wonder if spiralising an already twizzled Twizzler will help cut the calories?

Cinema
Pros: You get to see, and sneak your friends in to see, films that you probably shouldn’t be popping to see as a grown up. There’s also the option of hiring your child out if you don’t fancy going to the cinema yourself but your friends do. Getting paid for somebody else to babysit your kids for the afternoon? It’s the future.

Cons: It’s just so blooming expensive. Tickets, popcorn, Rola Cola and whatever merchandising tat the kids want as presents for six months after the screening means you’ll end up forking out the takings of a Hollywood blockbuster after each trip. Plus, the kids may call it “the world’s biggest television” but it isn’t. If it was, there would be a pause button for the loo break, finding lost popcorn and adjusting the booster to prevent your little person falling down the back of the seat again. Little bottoms and cinema seats don’t mix. Not a problem that I have any more thanks to The Colonel.

Arts and Crafts
Pros: Don’t let anyone tell you that parenting is all hard work. You can have hours of fun with an old washing up bottle, some sticky-backed plastic and a loo roll. All work and no play makes Dad a dull boy. Put the ironing down and get your pinny on, now!

Cons: Small children, scissors and glue. Hmmm. Assuming no trip to A&E and that nobody is glued to the table, all should be fine. However, once Operation Tidy Up has fulfilled its primary objective, you’re left with another piece of “art” to display. Did you know that we once had a dining room? Meh. You can’t get rid of any of the glittery junk either as the kids know in seconds. My preferred disposal route is to leave it near to the kitchen door until “that gust of wind must have blown them into the recycling bin.” Again.

Time
Pros: You really, really, appreciate any time that you get on your own. Going to the toilet or having a bath should be solitary activities not something involving audience participation.

Cons: Any time that you get on your own will be spent catching up with the washing or ironing. Fact.

Reading
Pros: I’m quite looking forward to reading the stories that I loved as a child again. They may well all be terrible, and some of the Enid Blyton will require creative censoring, but I’m curious nonetheless.

Cons: It may be a while coming. Our eldest, on a good day, may sit still long enough to take a bedtime chapter in. Our youngest still wants the same handful of stories over and over again. “Goat Goes to Playgroup” has recently amassed over a hundred reads in 2017 alone. We’ve all got a goat on the shelf? What’s yours?

Planning
Pros: The penny finally drops that planning is pointless. All plans are going to be scuppered and you’ll end up making everything up as you go along anyway, so why bother? Exactly.

Cons: No planning? Have you gone mad? Even after preparing a two hundred point checklist before a day out, when somebody falls in mud a minute after arrival you realise that there’s no spare clothes. You won’t think of everything, but at least with a plan you’ll have a chance. Planning also helps avoid unnecessary stress. Like stress caused while frantically writing the blog that you swore that you would do by Monday on Friday’s commute home. Aargh.

Right. That’ll do. Copy, paste, schedule. Time to start my weekend shift babysitting the kids.

Fin.

The World Won’t Listen

In which our reluctant hero reveals a most genius parenting trick, courtesy of HRH Sir Prince William.

Taking a break from nailing my head to the coffee table after the latest opportunity for the British public to prove exactly how stupid they are was announced, I embarked on some research for this week’s post. Don’t sound so surprised. Cheeky.

After a few minutes of rummaging through the headlines of Google’s recent parenting stories, I stumbled upon this gem from Marie Claire, whoever she is.

“Prince William Just Taught Us An Amazing Parenting Trick.”

Blimey. Did he? Really? I wonder what it could be. A spell that tidies up bedrooms, cleans teeth without an argument and reads bedtime stories perhaps? Or, better still, a most genius trick to instantly master potty training using just a two year old and a potty? Useful as I’m not sure that our rug will survive another soaking.

Marie was also teasing me with the shock news that the Prince’s considerably better half, Princess Kate, has a secret Mumsnet account. Nooooo!! Sadly for Marie, this particular piece of no doubt otherwise fine investigative journalism offered less appeal, having long suspected that the Duchess may actually be a commoner.

Back to the task in hand. What’s the trick, Wills? Let’s find out. Brace yourselves… CLICK!

It turns out that The Man Who Would (probably-depending-on-a-range-of-factors) Be King bends or crouches down when speaking to his children. Amazing indeed. Where does he get his crazy ideas?

Now, spending all day getting down and back up again is all very well for His Royal Sirness, he is a relatively young man after all, but possibly not so practical for us old dads who, once down, may need the rest of the day to get back up again. So why do it? Apparently, it helps us make effective eye contact with our little people. Which, in turn, helps convince them that you are listening to them. Simple.

This well established active listening technique works with adults too and is something that I use at work to make my staff feel more on my level while they finish their morning bows and curtseys. It works best in environments where you can listen without distraction, which further reassures the little (or big) person that you are really listening.

Rewinding slightly… Without distraction? In a house with a two and four year old in residence? Forget it. The only time in the last six months that our littlest little one has been quiet for more than ten consecutive seconds is when the big one suggested playing a game called “pretend your mouth is stuck together with glue” earlier this week. Which reminds me. I’d best hide the glue, just in case.

Communication, or lack of it, between parents and their children is one of the greatest causes of frustration in the first few years. In my experience, communication through their early developmental phases works something like this.

Very Little Children
All we parents have to go on is our child randomly crying, gurgling, trumping and maybe offering an occasional laugh a few months in. While slightly frustrating as you are left guessing what they need, what they need is usually feeding, winding, changing or sleep. That’s a one in four chance of getting it right which seems like reasonable odds. Talking or no talking, it’ll be fine.

Toddler Age
As language skills develop, your little one finally starts to vocalise their wants and needs. Well, tries to. Unfortunately, their attempts are normally misinterpreted by parents who respond with something like “Yes, it is the cat! Clever boy!” when what they should have done is listened more carefully and put Postman Pat on. Coincidentally, this seems to be the point that the tantrums and foot stamping starts, presumably out of sheer frustration at mum and dad randomly saying “cat” all of the time.

Big Boy or Girl Age (or approximately two and three quarter years old, give or take)
Language skills are often finely honed as children approach three. They are long past crawling and it’s your turn to get down on your hands and knees to guarantee listening properly. If it’s good enough for a Prince, then it should be good enough for the rest of us. Except that the “listening” has turned full circle and become a mutually exclusive parental activity, as demonstrated in this “hypothetical” case study.

Tuesday Evening

*Child bouncing on sofa*

“Come and sit by me instead of jumping on the sofa. You’ll hurt yourself if you’re not careful.”

*Child faceplants into floor*

“Did you hurt your head? It’s alright. Come here. Now we’re not going to do any more jumping on the sofa are we? No. Good boy.”

Wednesday Evening

*Child bouncing on sofa*

“Come and sit by me instead of jumping on the sofa. You’ll hurt yourself if you’re not careful.”

*Child faceplants into floor…*
Repeat indefinitely…

So, good in theory but it seems that the top tip may not be quite as tip top as it first appeared. In the absence of any other suggestions of how to address the problem of reciprocal listening (and potty training) I’m off to log into my secret Mumsnet account. I may be some time.

Fin.

Pet Sounds

In which our reluctant hero ponders the merits of housing various super furry animals. And a couple of slimy ones.

My week started with three days away from home attending a conference, which was convenient timing with the start of Easter holibobs kicking in. Faced with the prospect of being home alone, babysitting the kids, mum decided to head for the hills. To Wales. To Nana’s house.

One of my more irksome tasks when away is having to work through my backlog of admin. Not work related admin, but the time spent randomly pressing buttons to feign interest in stuff that friends, family and and an ever increasing bunch of vaguely-associateds, that seem to have collected me have on social media, have posted.

A few scrolls into Monday’s trawl, I spotted an alarming post on my wife’s Facebook feed.

“Kids have a new best friend at Nana’s #bowser”

After tutting that the correct hashtag should probably be #wowsers, being down with the kids innit, I looked closer at the attached photo. Uh-ho.

Surprisingly, it turned out that “Bowser” was, in this instance, correct. Bowser was in the photo, playing to an audience of two little people, rolling around chewing a rubber ring while proudly showing the world his bits and bobs. Yes, Bowser was a dog. No, we’re not having one. Where’s the “dislike” button, Zuckerberg? Where’s the button?

Getting a pet is like getting a cheap first car. Initially you will love and cherish it, take it out lots and give it a weekly wash and polish. However, you know that eventually it’ll start annoying you, breaking down at the most inopportune moments at great cost, and you’ll fondly reminisce that the bus wasn’t so bad after all.

If I drew up a list of things that we didn’t need, a dog would be right up there with a new (or any old) series of Mrs Brown’s Boys, or more Build-a-Bear stuff. There’s precious little time to finish pulling the year old masking tape from the utility room walls, without factoring in the zillion hours a week needed to look after a dog. A dog is for life, not just for Easter.

It turns out that meeting Bowser was a good thing for the kids, especially our four year old who lost her irrational fear of man’s allegedly best friend. Less so for our two year old boy who simply loves animals, and has no fear generally, let alone with pets. So much so that he asked the lady in the animal place that we recently visited if he could stroke the crocodile. She declined. Health and Safety gone mad.

Getting pets is supposed to be good for children as, apparently, they’ll learn to love, nurture and look after things. Knowing how well that they usually look after things, unless the pet in question is a reinforced rhino, then there’s going to be a pretty hefty vets bill.

In an attempt to deflect any further mention of dogs, I attempted to assess other potential options.

Cats
We have two already. Adding two children to the two cats simply resulted in a continual, four fold attack on me for attention and feeding. We don’t need another.

Hamster/ Mouse/ Rat/ Anything Small and Furry
The cats would eat them. Next.

Fish
I’ve never had much luck with fish. Those ones we used to get in Snappies bags at the school fete invariably ended up down the toilet. Worse still, we once dug a pond to accommodate a rescue goldfish, only for GLC (Goldie Lookin Chain) to disappear in mysterious circumstances shortly after. As did whichever of his replacements out of Freddie or Freda has also gone awol. In unrelated news, the cats like hanging around the pond. Hmmm.

Frog
There’s frogspawn a plenty in the pond, so we’re guaranteed frogs hopping out of it at some point. Then into the house to play with the cats, because the cats like playing with them. Sorted, until they croak it. But despite the cute jumping amphibians not being an issue last year, I’m slightly apprehensive after observing our eldest’s reaction to Baron Greenback’s grand entrance in the Danger Mouse show on holiday. Not fazed by the giant mouse with an eyepatch, mind.

Worms
Now this should be an easy option as they manage to survive in the lawn all by themselves. And as children, we all learned the bonafide fact that if you accidentally (ahem…) chopped one in half then you simply have two worms. Then four. Then six. Also cat proof, so a possibility.

Caterpillars
Easier than the worms, you would think, yes? After all, they eat common stuff from the average kitchen. Like chocolate cake, ice-cream cones, pickles, Swiss cheese, salami, lollipops, cherry pie, sausages, cupcakes, and watermelon. Salami, yes, but not spring greens. Well, not unless they’re organic spring greens as a friend found out while trying to raise one. Cause of death? Pesticides. The murderer.

As far as I’m aware, that’s everything covered and there are no more pets to consider. Ever. Again.

The moral of the story? Need a pet that needs minimal looking after, is as indestructible as Arnie in “The Terminator” and won’t cost an arm and a leg? Buy a wormery.

And no. We still don’t need a dog.

Fin.

The Great Ideas

In which our reluctant hero fondly recalls a long forgotten most genius* idea.

It’s April and it’s springtime. The clocks have been mucked about with again and parents across the land are even more weary and confused than our default parenting setting of pretty weary and confused. Stupid “The Hour.”

April also marks the annual debacle that is April Fools’ Day, where ordinary folk, most of whom aren’t usually known for their hilarity, try their hand at practical jokes or spreading nonsense.

The “jokes” themselves are nearly always rubbish (with the possible exception of any jape that involves setting stuff in jelly, like on The Office that time) and pretty easy to spot, especially if there’s jelly involved.

As for the hoaxes, in an age where button clickers are enthusiastically (and in some cases, naively) spreading their fake news, these are a different kettle of fish. A kettle of fish also being, ironically, a hilarious practical joke. Probably.

For this reason, I am a little more wary about the validity of stories published at around this time of year than usual. For example;

  • “BREXIT BOMBSHELL: EU to demand EVERY British number plate is RECALLED by 2019” – Fake, although surprisingly amusing stuff from Blighty’s second favourite right-wing rag, The Daily Express.
  • Any picture of a positive pregnancy test posted on social media before noon on April 1st – Fake every time. Also, not in the slightest bit funny, especially to those experiencing fertility problems.
  • “Mums are gluing pretty bows to babies’ heads so people know they’re girls” – True. No, really. Try Googling “Girlie Glue” if you don’t believe me.

Ignoring the million or so more sensible ways that mums could make their girlies more girly, like buying a flowery hat for example, it made me wonder if this curious phenomenon is unique to girls.

If my 28 seconds of extensive research is a reliable indicator, then it seems to be. But perhaps the Girlie Glue could be utilised to make baby boys more boyly too? A liberal application of sticky stuff could securely attach a false moustache, pipe, monocle and top hat in seconds. Literally a proper little man, and no more mixups.

Or maybe the glue could be used for more practical uses that parents would appreciate. Like gluing socks or gloves on to prevent their immediate loss, or sticking toddlers to their chairs at mealtimes.

Perhaps these ideas are slightly daft (dafter than the glue?) but I’ll guess that they may possibly have made a few of you go “hmmm…”

Which got me thinking. Are there any daft but practical inventions that I can think of that, if invented, could be useful additions to our parenting Arsenal? Oh, yes…

Reversible Clothing
Going out for ten minutes? Forgot to pack the three necessary sets of spare clothes? No worries. When you arrive at the park, soft play or gala dinner, simply turn everything inside out. Jobs a good ‘un.

Yes, the kids will have mud, jam, or whatever else they managed to collect caked all over the insides, but it’s bound to come off in the bath later. Coats have already been done, so why not make every garment for under fours reversible? A simple solution to an annoying problem sorted. Next.

Temporary Sock Tattoos
Sick of losing socks? Run out of glue? Why not pop to your local tattoo parlour and get a set inked on? A temporary pair, that will fade after a couple of years, will probably suffice. Just don’t go for anything too fancy like pringle patterns.

Froast
In a rush? Too tired to cook? Why not try microwavable frozen toast (“Froast”) for breakfast? Simply place a couple of slices into the special Froast cooking bag, microwave for 45 seconds per slice, allow five minutes cooling time, then turn out onto a plate and serve with butter, jam or whatever takes your fancy. Genius I’m sure you’ll agree.

And the beauty is that you can cook it in just a couple of minutes with gadgets (a freezer, microwave and plate) that you already own. No need to mess with expensive toasters and all that rubbish.

Cutlery Bungees
Fed up with your little person’s knife and fork ending up on the floor while trying to hack through Froast of a morning? Then Cutlery Bungees are the thing for you. Simply attach one end to a knife or fork and the other to your child’s wrist. Voila. The next time that pesky cutlery ends up over the side of the high chair it will soon be hurtling back from whence it came. What could possibly go wrong?

Babygro Mop
I initially considered that the concept of parents dressing their little ones in a mop, dipping them in Flash and letting them loose on the kitchen floor even more bizarre and inhumane than baby glue. Practical, granted, but probably not a kind thing to do. But, amazingly, these already exist. They’re called “Babymops” if you’re interested. Sometimes the simplest ideas have already been discovered.

So, there you go. A handful of much needed stuff and nonsense that I’m frankly amazed that we’ve got this far without inventing. And Babymops. I would also add Nappy Airbags, Balaclava Bibs and Chameleon Wall Crayons to the list if there was time, but the clock has beaten me once more.

Enjoy your weekend, whatever you’re up to. I’ll be heading off to the local patent office and enjoying a nice slice or two of Froast.

Fin.

(*) According to comedian Dave Gorman, when I first came up with the idea in 2010. Thanks Timehop!