On The Road

In which our reluctant hero takes the long and winding road – the A41 no less – to the land of his fathers. And his grandfathers. And his…

I’ve been a dad for a bit over four and a half years. I don’t yet qualify for veteran status, but I have just about enough miles on the clock to sneak into the lower end of “experienced.”

If parenting worked the same as paid employment, I’d be applying for promotion or at least hoping for a pay rise by now. Being a dad who is a civil servant, the chances of getting either are slimmer than Victoria Beckham in a house of mirrors. (Thanks, the government.) Additionally, the only home-based promotion that I’m aware of for a dad is to grandad, which can most definitely be filed under “too soon.”

Be it work or parenting, just when you think that you have it sussed, there’s a howitzer just around the corner ready to bowl a googly that pulls the rug out from underneath you, to overly confuse metaphors.

Now, you would think that the well trodden path to Wales, for a family 90th birthday celebration, would be a piece of (birthday) cake. But no. Let me explain.

Issue one occurred after breakfast when our eldest’s party dress was found to be substandard as it was apparently “not twirly enough.” Give me strength. This was further complicated when our youngest decided that he too wanted to wear a twirly dress, just like his big sister. Of course you do. Having eventually calmed everyone down and got them dressed into their pre-allocated clothing, it was time for the important last minute preparations.

This was to be the first longish journey since potty training began for the boy. A few weeks in, we are seeing variable results and may as well flip a coin to predict if there will be any accidents or not. Heads, dry all day. Tails, you’re mopping up a puddle in the bread aisle at Sainsburys.

Thinking ahead, I restrict fluid intake at breakfast to (hopefully) see us dry for an hour and a half in the car. We have six changes of boy’s clothing packed to take with us just in case as we’re not completely stupid.

We decide that we shouldn’t need travel medicine as it’s not that far a trek, but grab the spare potty. After five unsuccessful minutes spent trying to find the elusive “hidden wee” before we go, we’re off.

Predictably, we don’t make it from Tettenhall to the M54 before the little one is sat filling his potty in a drizzly lay-by. On a positive, at least we could pull over, at least it’s in the potty, and we should now be fine for the rest of journey.

Thinking it wise to take the A41 in case of further unscheduled stops, we make it to the Truck Stop at Whitchurch before pulling over again. Another stop, another potty filled. In about forty minutes we’ve disposed of at least three pints of waste fluids from the 100ml of water that went in at breakfast time. I consider ringing Norris McWhirter but decide against it as nobody will know what I’m on about.

While I clean up, mum stretches her legs and those of our daughter who has suddenly decided she has a poorly tummy. Poorly tummies normally mean “bored of travelling.” Being super organised, we have an old ice cream tub in the footwell that doubles as an emergency sick bucket. We’re halfway there, so it shouldn’t be needed but better to be safe than sorry.

We head off again, making good progress. At about fifteen minutes from the finish line, I notice a muffled belching sound coming from behind me.

“Are you feeling sick?
Do we need to stop?”

There’s no reply, so I quickly glance round…

“TAKE THE LID OFF THE ICE CREAM TUB!!!”

Too late… Bleurgh!!

Pulling over, I turn around to see a dual yoghurty waterfall descending from its source on top of the closed tub. Down and down it pours. Onto the car seat, across the not-twirly-enough party dress, and down into the footwell. Lovely.

We start the preliminary clear up and something suddenly dawns on me. Guess who we haven’t got a change of clothes for? D’oh!

Eventually arriving at Nana’s, I call for the now customary bowl of disinfectant and cloth while the soiled clothes start a quick cycle in the washing machine.

As usual, there’s no real harm done, more a series of minor mishaps to be dealt with, which reminds me of a fitting quote from the philosopher Aristotle to finish this week’s post off.

“The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances. Then blogs about it. Or something.”

Fin.

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Weird Science 

In which our reluctant hero spends too much time thinking things over.

On Wednesday night, I joined fellow members of Wolverhampton’s liberal metropolitan elite at the Grand Theatre to watch Stewart Lee’s excellent new show, Content Provider. For those unaware of the concepts, “theatre” is a bit like telly performed in real life, and “Stewart Lee” is someone off of comedy. The thinking man’s Micky Flanagan. Or something.

After the show, we headed to the nearest hostelry where we bumped into said performer and exchanged pleasantries. Excited by this unexpected liaison, I briefly considered asking for a photo and Tweeting it. But it was a hot night and he looked fat, and depressed. And fat. So I thought better of it.

Pint finished, I couldn’t help but notice that the Wetherspoons clientele was quite different from normal. Less recently released psychopath and more geek. Aging leftie comedy geek, granted, but geek nonetheless.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of geek and I include myself in this lazy generalisation. We’re everywhere. Even my team at work have got a poster with “#GEEK” printed in foot high letters on their notice board.

This sort of admission is less of a problem as you get older. With age comes experience and a general feeling of “I don’t really care what you think.” Which is nice in middle age, but would have been a lot more useful had it been my thinking during my teens.

Adult geekery? Fine. Yet still there is a perception that geeky kids are a bit weird, yes?

Tired, and over thinking something clearly irrelevant, I headed home to bed.

After a pleasant not-quite-as-much-as-I-needed-on-a-school-night sleep, I almost choked on my morning cuppa after spotting the headline Older fathers have ‘geekier sons‘ plastered across the BBC and other news websites.

I was an old dad on Wednesday evening at the show, but on Thursday morning I was a whole year older as it was my birthday. A dad, a mere six years away from qualifying for exclusive Saga holidays, with a two year old boy. NOOO!

The article details the results of monitoring the development of around 12,500 twins up to the age of twelve and according to science and research;

Findings showed a correlation between the age of the father and the geekiness of the sons, with a positive correlation between the two – the older the father, the geekier the son. They also noticed geek traits appeared more after the age of 45.

Repeated studies have shown that older sperm is more prone to genetic errors and children are more likely to develop autism and schizophrenia.

Deep breaths…

I was 41 when our son was born, so we should be at a lower risk of seeing the more extreme effects of the “geek gene” as he gets older. With a bit of luck, the boy won’t be full on geek by twelve, more a young lad who had a minor run in with the geek stick.

Looking at the positive aspects, the study suggests that sons of older dads are more intelligent, more focused on their interests, and less concerned whether or not they fit in with their peers or not. Which is pretty much the polar opposite of my adult perception of me at twelve years old. So far, so good.

With all this extra intelligence and focus, the boy will hopefully reach twelve, bypass the problematic teen years, and land slap bang into middle age. This has to be useful, as the worst behaviour of his teen rebellion could potentially peak at turning The Archers up to eleven on the wireless.

At best case scenario, being more intelligent could mean better academic prospects and, hopefully, a better paid job. Better still, in this utopian future, mum and dad will be able to blow the kids’ inheritance on several exclusive over fifties holidays every year. Masai Mara here we come.

There is only one potential concern that I can see from my hurried pre-work scan of the findings. We would need to ensure that our son doesn’t pick up the poor emotional and social functioning skills associated to the generic geek.

On reflection, this shouldn’t be too difficult. I’ve made it to my mid-forties being reasonably socially competent and quite well liked, despite not really liking people, things, or leaving the house. So there must be a tip or two that our lad can pick up on bluffing his way through adulthood as a borderline sociopath from his old man, should the need arise. Sorted.

We will have to wait another nine and a bit years to see if I can (falsely) claim that leaving fatherhood late was a deliberate and calculated plan for the betterment of my youngest child.

I will leave it to Prof Allan Pacey, professor of cleverness at the University of Sheffield, to sum things up.

“Whilst it may be chic to be a geek, I would not recommend that would-be parents delay their plans to start a family to specifically increase the odds of having a child with geek-like qualities.”

“However, I do find the idea of a ‘geek gene’ quite intriguing, and, given our recent trend to have our children later in life, perhaps we are destined for future society of geniuses that are going to help us solve all the world’s problems.”

Is he really predicting that an army of clever clogses will one day rise up to save us all? Spoken like a true geek.

Fin.

Airplane II: The Sequel

IIn which our reluctant hero stars in the second exciting instalment of the alternative “Airplane” franchise.

Monday, 12th June. Sometime after lunch.
The car was packed, the little people strapped in and the twenty sixth essential “are the passports in?” checks were complete. There was no backing out. We were off. Off on holiday no less. To that Spain with its omelettes and crazy Catalan waiters. Or is that Torquay?

Stage one comprised of a largely stress free drive to the airport, asides from Google Maps’ passive aggressive attempt to circumvent my plan to use the M6 toll road. They say that life is a learning journey, and my learning during this part of the journey was that if you shout “OK GOOGLE. USE THE M6 TOLL!” loudly at your phone, it stops thinking that it knows best and lets you go where you want to. Who knew?

It turns out that using the toll road was pointless as the boy fell asleep twenty minutes from the airport. This meant slowing down to a speed that could be described as “M6 just before rush hour” to ensure a reasonable nap. It turns out that I should have listened to Google. Who knew?

Our pre-booked secure parking turned out to be a desolate wasteland occupied by hoards of hungover, or more likely still stoned, millennials trying to get home after the monsters-of-dad-rock that is the Download festival. Put those guitars down, you’re nearly sixty for crying out loud. And what’s with the tattoos, grandad? Call that music? Bah.

Carpark number two premiered the first number one issue of the trip, with the boy in a cross-legged meltdown as we wouldn’t allow him to wet his trousers. I bet the vagrants in carpark one would have gone on the floor, but the boy? Not a chance. Aren’t we just the worst parents?

Apparently yes, as the meltdown continued well into check in. Two toilet trips, a falling out with dad and empty bladder courtesy of mum later, we were back on track. The I-Spy airport book turned out to be a splendid idea, keeping everyone busy as I stood in a queue. It’s what Blighty does best.

Somehow the luggage had gained five kilos in transit to the airport. Ryanair being Ryanair, the lady at check-in naturally wanted to charge us for this. I’m sure that they will at some point attempt to charge for cabin air too. Anyway, the charge was waived as soon as we asked for one of the bags back to take on as hand luggage. Apparently this is “too difficult” for an airline. Ireland nil, Wolverhampton one.

It turns out that negotiating the body scanning and security sweep is far harder with four people than with two people and two people in progress. Our four year old was searched, although not arrested. Quite what they thought she was concealing in her size eight sandals is anyone’s guess.

Safely through, we remortgaged the house to pay for the kids’ Burger King which, as always, they didn’t eat. If that wasn’t annoying enough, the “restaurant” was located next to the world’s most overexcited softplay. I’m sure that airports used to be less fraught in the olden days.

Food now cold (I bagged it up so that it could be not eaten on the plane later) our flight was called, so we headed to the gate. There are smells that evoke all sorts of memories. Coffee and fresh bread for example, or the scent of the first rain after long, muggy summer days. Another is the Ryanair gate queue, with its unmistakable smell of booze, fags, cheap perfume and diesel. Beautiful.

We were nearly late boarding due to a number two scare in the queue that thankfully turned out to be a false alarm. On the plane, we encountered the usual rear-seat-front-boarder fighting the tide to get to row zillion. Don’t worry love, the hundred or so of us who read the instructions will all move, eh?

We ended up with six seats between us at the end of the musical chairs that is the five minutes before take off on a budget airline. The girls side and boys side arrangement worked quite well as both children got a window seat, thus preventing a row. Hoorah! Naturally, the boys side was the best.

Our children’s reactions to take off on their first flight were quite different. Our eldest was very excited by the whole whoosh and up, whereas our youngest took a more considered approach to the weird metal bird going up, up and away, only breaking his silence with “can I have my tablet now please?” when safely up.

We apparently had lots of “busy bags” packed for the flight. They were presumably the contents of the heavy, awkwardly sized bags that kept toppling the buggy over in the departure lounge. For those, like me, unaware of concept, “busy bags” are essentially zippable food bags filled with individually packaged activities (Lego, dolls, cars, pens and paper, voodoo, etc.) to be dished out at various points of the journey to prevent boredom.

Credit where it’s due, they were a brilliant idea and our eldest was all over hers. Seeing as the boy had asked for his tablet, I deployed strategy number two of the Lazy Parenting Manual 2017 and gave him his £35 Amazon miracle while I ordered the world’s smallest and simultaneously most expensive bottle of wine.

Fortunately, the kids don’t like me so I soon ended up in a bank of three seats of my own, only glancing up from my book and wine to pick up cars or Duplo discarded from the boy’s now operational busy bag every few seconds.

Amazingly, there were no toilet disasters on board. Both children were as surprised by the noise of the flush as I was by the little one not sucked out of the cubicle.

Back in our seats, the boy wanted to go down the big yellow slide off the evacuation procedures picture that had been teasing him for a couple of hours. I explained to him that it would be better to save sliding for the playground. Teddy and his tablet would probably end up getting very wet if we used it over the sea.

We landed with a bounce, on tarmac rather than into the Balearic sea which was nice. Apparently the pilot did very well and he got a round of applause. I would give him six out of ten, possibly five for forgetting to do the Ryanair trumpet fanfare. Amateur.

As EU citizens, we joined the EU Citizens queue for passport checks. This proved to be the correct decision, the queue shortening as each person left the line to join the special queue for those who voted Brexit.

The border police lady raised an eyebrow at us travelling with a small blonde girl, disguised in a straw sunhat and huge My Little Pony sunglasses, called Madeline. We were eventually let through and she turned out to be a demon at bag spotting and grabbing on the carousel. With a bit of help from dad, we were out in minutes.

The transfer and check-in were smooth enough. It took about an hour and a half to get the over-exhausted little people to sleep at round about 1am. Getting up time would be in less than six hours, but I didn’t know that then. If I had, I would have packed whisky.

It’s Wednesday afternoon as I scribble this out and a nice time is being had by all. Yes, really. Was the travel as bad as I feared in last week’s post? No. Will it be during the 10pm reversal next Monday? Probably.

Fin.

Airplane! 

In which our reluctant hero prepares for a maiden voyage.

We’re off on holibobs in a few days time. Yay! The resort looks nice with things for the grown-ups and a few hours of entertainment to keep the little people happy. No 24 hour childcare facilities for us though – we’re doing it old school – which may be something that we come to regret in a week’s time. The food looks plentiful and should suit us all. Even BBC Weather indicates that the sun has popped his best sun hat, shades and factor fifty on for what looks like a glorious week. So far, so good.

But there is one tiny thing worrying me as we prepare for this journey into the unknown. Yes, we’re leaving these sunny-one-minute-and-minus-ten-the-next-even-in-June shores and heading abroad. On an aeroplane. With a two and four year old.

It may well turn out to be worry over nothing (it won’t.) I was always one for tutting at parents taking small children on aeroplanes but now I find myself about to take small children on an aeroplane. What could possibly go wrong?

The first potential concern involves “stuff.” You need a boot full of stuff to go to Lidl with two small children, let alone Spain which is on the other side of the world. Will we have enough stuff? Will we have the right stuff? Do they still have shops in Spain? If so, will we be able to afford anything if the British economy has collapsed by Monday as a result of this week’s General Election? Fixed-term Parliaments, my bottom.

You never fully concentrate with kids nearby as your subconscious is exclusively tied up preventing the next potential disaster – that’s why parents frequently forget or lose things. This is not a problem if just a spare changing bag left in the car rather than, say, passports. I may just gaffer tape these to my torso tonight to save the inevitable panic come Monday afternoon.

Assuming that we miraculously manage to check in, there’s the airport to negotiate. Airports are amongst the dullest places imaginable at the best of times, let alone with two children to entertain.

I suspect that you’re not actually allowed to knock children out like B.A. Baracus in every episode of “The ‘A’ Team”, so Plan A is to watch the other planes take off for a bit. Plan B is to take their tablets and enough Powerbanks to keep the National Grid up for a couple of hours in an emergency.

Alternatively, there’s always the option of eating to kill time. The last time that we flew we attempted to buy an airport breakfast with scrambled eggs as my wife was pregnant. A simple request you would think, yes? Apparently not, as eggs only come fried. I may give that a miss.

We’ve not booked with British Airways, and I’m sure that Ryanair have ploughed billions into their I.T. capabilities, so the risk of being stranded at the airport due to system failures is one less thing to worry about. Probably.

On the plane, there’s more to stress about starting with who gets the window seat. My wife allowed me to sit in the window seat on my first flight, but we’ve two little people on their first flights that will both want to sit there. There’s going to be a row, isn’t there?

Regular listeners may well remember that we started potty training last week. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t quite mastered yet. I’m predicting worst case scenarios of an accident in the seat or, more likely, the boy being sucked down the toilet and out of the plane after messing with the vacuum flush. Again.

I’m hoping that the children may fall asleep like they do in the car if strapped in for a couple of hours. This is probably a good thing for the flight, but if they remain asleep after landing, I’ll need an extra three arms to manage one of them and the four lots of hand luggage needed to fit the emergency stuff in. If they wake up, they’ll most likely be tired and grumpy which may be a bigger task. At least flying with Ryanair, we’ll land three hours ahead of schedule to the trumpet fanfare. You always do.

We’ve planned ahead and should be able to survive a few days should anything go missing en route. We’re always the last drop off during any hotel transfer, which may be a blessing if a few winks can be squeezed in. Then it’s the simple matter of checking in and bed, via returning to reception to fork out an extra €1,000 for the air conditioning and safe keys.

Refreshed from a good night’s sleep, it’s time for fun and relaxation. It should be easy from here, asides from keeping a fearless two year old and large outdoor swimming pool apart. We’ve packed armbands and a rubber ring just in case, but I’m still not sure I trust the boy. Pass me the gaffer tape again, por favor.

Oh. And the flight back…

Fin.

Flushed Away

In which our reluctant hero spends an unusual amount of time visiting the lavatory.

WhatsApp – Tuesday – 08:46
“Just had first wee on the floor.”
“Ugh. How’s the boy getting on though?”

The unavoidable chore that every parent dreads – toilet training – is upon us once more. Of course, when I say “every parent” what I mean is “every parent asides from the smug owners of a first female child that, against all logic, toilet trains themselves in an afternoon.” May you one day be gifted a boy child who thinks that toilet training is an opportunity to practise skills better used at Pontypandy Fire Station, just to even things up.

Which, ironically, appears to be exactly what has happened to us.

I confess that I didn’t think that toilet training was a big problem until now. Our eldest, then aged around two and a bit, practically ripped her nappy off and declared “I’m not wearing nappies anymore!” True to her word, she didn’t and, asides from a couple of accidents, that was that.

Our youngest will be three next month so his enrolment into Underpants Club is long overdue. We’ve tried to get him to join before of course, but he never really got to grips with the club rules. With school nursery starting in September, he needs to pull his socks up and his pants down. Sharpish.

Before having a boy, I had assumed that girls being easier to bring up than boys was a myth started by mums to reinforce the other myth that girls are better than boys. Which they’re not. Probably.

The late toddler stage of our two children’s development has been similar in many ways, with the most noticeable differences being in their respective behaviours.

At around three, our daughter took a one way trip to Strop City with stamping feet, kicking things, and getting over-emotional featuring heavily. She’s her mum’s little girl, for sure.

Our son, on the other hand, is usually a lot more in control of his emotions. Instead, he puts his energy into making noise and mess, breaking things, not concentrating and, infuriatingly, not listening. He’s his mum’s little boy, for sure.

So, asides from the not concentrating and listening thing, why haven’t we managed to get him in the saddle?

Our son is now much older than when his sister mastered the toilet, so if the girls maturing faster thing is indeed a thing, this should have evened out by now.

Having checked a few websites listing the developmental and cognitive milestones that children should reach between the age of three and four, he can do almost everything at two. Also, Googling “potty training myths” reveals two recurring themes. The first is that all toddlers, irrespective of gender, are capable of being toilet trained from around 22 months. Secondly, that boys being harder to train is a fallacy. It is exactly the same for both.

You’ve run out of excuses, boyo. The nappies are coming off.

To say that he was unhappy about this is an understatement. The boy has become very attached to his nappies, and not just because we don’t change them often enough.

To start day one proper, big sister made a “wees and poos” sticker chart for encouragement. Then off came the nappy and on went the Paw Patrol pants. Why are children’s underpants so much cooler than the grown up equivalents?

The second step was to deploy the default never fails weapon from our parenting arsenal – bribery – with a set of six toy police cars to be awarded for a dry day. Deliberately misunderstanding this, he raced to the toilet, did his business and returned to claim his prize. Cute, but forget it, mister. That only goes to prove that you can do it.

Tuesday’s results were mixed but better than during Sunday’s aborted attempt. Most of his waste ended up in the right place, albeit largely trainer led. There were about half a dozen leaks, two of which occurred after I got home from work. The first spilled out while colouring, the second while dancing around and throwing bits of Play-Doh all over the dining room. I was considerably more annoyed cleaning up the small green trampled in splats than the warm puddle nearby.

Amazingly, the overnight pull-ups were dry on Wednesday morning and mum woke to a shout of “I need the toilet!” And indeed he did. The rest of the day was incident free. Mum even played the toilet version of Russian Roulette, visiting the local theatre to watch Goldilocks nappy free. OK, he was sat on an absorbent sheet big enough to suck up the recently refilled Tettenhall Pool, but it was a brave move nonetheless. Come bedtime, a proud boy received his little nee-naws as reward.

By Thursday lunchtime, the sticker chart was filling up nicely, with only one near miss when he was caught trying to do a number two in his pants. Fortunately, there was no harm done, and a quick recap of the rules was administered.

Having the day off, I took the children to West Park for the afternoon. With the amount of toilet training paraphernalia needed for this trip, I would have probably been better off taking a Sherpa than a buggy. At the park, I realised that “I don’t need the toilet” actually means “Bog off – I’m doing something more fun.” Whipping out a bag of Mini Cheddars was enough of an incentive to successfully try the potty. Result.

The rest of the afternoon, including a trip to the vets for the cat’s booster vaccination, was fine. The faces of the receptionists were a picture as a two year old boy (wearing a Paw Patrol hat and matching blue nail varnish – don’t ask) marched in to announce “My cat doesn’t feel very well. He needs to see the vet!”

Later that evening, as I ran the bath, the wheels, sadly, came off. I could hear a commotion downstairs, the cause of which was again bottom related. I’ll spare you the details, but I was glad to be upstairs at the time.

Keen to redeem himself, I’m told that this morning’s efforts were all successful including an unprompted potty use and clean up. However, a second investigation into Poogate is currently underway.

Four days in and the boy is doing quite well, although I suspect that there’s more than a bit to go before he is properly nappy free. We’ll see.

The week’s learning point? “Parenting. Sh*t happens. Literally.”

Fin.