Escape From Alcatraz

In which our reluctant hero possibly gets a little, unnecessarily, overemotional about the removal of inanimate objects from the stairs. Or something.

“My wife removed the stair gates from around the house earlier this week.”

*Sad face emoji, hashtag “making memories”*

OK, as opening lines go, these are hardly up with the opening lines of The Go-Between or Peter Pan. They probably wouldn’t make it to the Hollywood adaption of “Babysitting The Kids II – Has Anybody Seen My Slippers?” either, but keep with it.

The lifecycle of the humble stair gate may well be the closest, and simultaneously lamest, analogy for the first few years of parenting that you’ll read this week.

“We put off having any for a long time, they took a bit of getting used to and we initially tripped over them a lot, but after four years or so we can’t remember life before having them.”

I tried to warn you.

The passing of the gates marks the end of an era. Since the portable baby jails were put up, we’ve twice completed the cycle of bum-shuffling to crawling, of toddling to walking, of working out how to release the gate catches to sneaking upstairs to flood the bathroom. Again.

It also coincides with some other significant milestones. Our eldest finished school nursery ready to join reception in September, while our youngest finished playgroup ready to take his sister’s place at nursery. Most annoyingly, this also signifies the end the “Affordable Holiday” period. Goodbye sneaky newspaper trips to Butlins, hello tent at the bottom of the garden.

There’s so much change, yet we hardly notice it happening. It’s not just with the house and children either. If I had listed my hobbies and interests a few years ago, music, songwriting, football, social media and politics would have featured prominently. Possibly writing too as, believe it or not, I used to pen a funny and popular blog back in the day. It even made it to The Daily Mirror. Don’t act so surprised.

I’m fully aware that my interest in such trivial things dwindled in recent years as other priorities surfaced. However, I hadn’t realised that I had reached a point where the thing that my wife identifies as my bestest favouritest hobby or interest is “gluing things.” Blimey.

If the pen really is mightier than the sword, then the sword stuck back together with half a tube of Poundland’s finest “Tommy Walsh” brand epoxy resin must be mightier than the broken sword. Or something.

This week alone, I have glued the ironing board, the sweeper handle (not a euphemism) and the fasteners on a doll’s travel case. There’s probably other things that I’ve forgotten too. If I see a broken trumpet I reach for a tuba glue. A broken rifle? Out comes the glue gun. How do I repair a broken Eskimo home? Igloo.

Thankfully, my glue use is largely under control. This is probably just as well as I would be stuck for ideas as to how to fix it otherwise.

All of this made me ponder what other changes have occurred while my eye was off the ball and focused firmly on the workbench. These are a few of the things that I came up with.

Every Day is Wash Day
Washing used to be a weekly chore, but it now happens pretty much nightly. The kids are less than a metre tall, yet can somehow fill a machine in a morning. This is probably my second most active hobby after gluing. It takes time, dedication and a lot of washing powder.

TOP TIP: Always use the same powder if you consider changing brand as being a potentially Bold move.

Choosing a Restaurant
Gone are the days of going for a curry because you fancy a curry.

“What do you fancy? Chinese? Italian? Thai?”

“Nah. Let’s go to the Wacky Warehouse as they won’t mind the noise or having fish fingers trod into their carpet.”

Silence Used to be Golden
And it could be now, except that every time the house goes quiet you feel compelled to traipse upstairs or down the garden to head off the next inevitable disaster.

Social Media is Just Noise
I used to like spending a few minutes catching up with the Fakebooks. The odd Twitter joke game? Bring it on.

“The Codfather… #fishfilms”

The moaning about being tired, daily shots of lunch and endless selfies were exclusively compiled by my carefully selected collection of narcissists and psychopaths. Now I seem to spend half of my time asking my wife “who on earth is so and so?” as each new blurry shot of the back of a child’s head appears on my timeline.

Also, grownups, uninstall Snapchat now. It’s as much use to a middle-aged mum or dad as LinkedIn is to me as a Civil Servant.

My Body Clock is My Nemesis
I’ve always been an early riser, but, pre-little people, my inner workings would at least allow me to stay asleep for an extra hour or so. Not any longer.

“Up until 11pm you say? How’s about we wake up at ten past five. You wouldn’t want to waste Sunday now, would you?”

The Pets are “Just Pets”
The cats used to be such cute little things, with their own little personalities and traits. Now, when not being terrorised by a three year old, they’re just another two things in the house bleating about food and treats and pulling at my jumper all of the time. Such a shame.

Every Cliché About Parenting Has Become True
Fact. Probably. But as I can never be bothered reading about all those dull parenting articles and blogs, I don’t suppose that I’ll ever find out for sure.

Fin.

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Wacky Races

In which our reluctant hero is going for gold. Or something.

I recently attended “Strength Based Conversations” training as part of work’s latest sheep dip of staff, introduced to give the impression of engaging and developing us all.

This latest most genius (probably) initiative encourages managers to focus only on the positive aspects of performance, with discussions relating to weaker areas strictly out of bounds unless your team member instigates it. I suspect that in practice this will be as likely as them unexpectedly turning into a turkey and voting for the Christmas Party, which is another thing best not discussed at appraisal time for some.

I can see some positives in being positive about the positives, but I wonder why business feels the need to do this now. Has the great British workforce suddenly gone soft? Or perhaps the first generation of children who were repeatedly told that it doesn’t matter if they’re rubbish at things and winning isn’t important as long they do their best, finally grew up and got jobs. Bless them.

Further disengaged by this failed attempt to artificially engage me, I took the day off to attend my daughter’s sports day.

Being responsible middle-class parents, we carried out a pre-sports day briefing, explaining that it doesn’t matter if she’s rubbish at things and that winning isn’t important as long as she does her best. She nodded, unexpectedly turned into a turkey, then joined her team.

We took our seats, playing “Name That Tune” as each 1980’s TV sports theme blared out to welcome the teams. My daughter’s yellow (or “old gold” as you are legally obliged to call it in Wolverhampton) team got “Ski Sunday” on one of the hottest days of the year. Award yourself five bonus points if you correctly identified this as “Pop Looks Bach” as I did.

Sports day consisted of four events, which played out like so;

The Summer Holidays Dash
This was a race where the children collected holiday related items on the way to the finish line. Our daughter is a good runner but fell behind while deciding whether to swap her hat with a new one (item one) or simply wear two. She made up loads of ground but was pipped to the post.

No matter, it’s only a bit of fun. Or perhaps not judging by the repeated screams of “JUST RUN!” at the eventual winner by his dad. Hmmm…

The Obstacle Course
Event two started with a hula hoop muddle, our daughter unnecessarily squirming through the hole several times as the other children jogged off. Like a tomato sat alone at a piano, she was left playing ketchup and ended up finishing last.

In this event we learned that shouting abuse at a four or five year old is acceptable constructive criticism if they’ve not won. We somehow overcame the temptation to join in as IT WAS ONLY AN OBSTACLE COURSE AT A NURSERY AND RECEPTION SPORTS DAY.

Welly Wanging
The difference in the physical makeup of a four and a half year old girl to boys potentially almost six became apparent in this event. Still, our little one literally gave it some welly, getting good distance on her throw and was rightly pleased. We now know why she was looking for skipping ropes to take down the garden a few days back, as these were used as the distance markers. It probably also explains why all of our wellies have disappeared.

Thankfully the comment made by one parent about cheating was aimed at another child, else more wellies would have mysteriously disappeared.

Penalty Shootout
After watching the older boys belting footballs like they had a traction engine in each boot, we wondered whether our daughter could even kick it as far as the goal, let alone beat the keeper. Relieved that she didn’t do a Cinderella and run away from the ball, she scored with a well placed side footed effort. GOAL!

However, I suspect that a UEFA investigation into the keeper’s performance may follow. Unable to hear clearly, I interpreted one dad’s mutterings as being about the lack of goal decision systems in school sports as his frustrated inner child surfaced again.

With all events out of the way, it was time for the awards ceremony. The children looked as pleased as punch as they received their medals, beaming and waving back at the partially sunburnt mums and dads in the crowd.

On reflection, the morning had been a real eye opener at times. Should parents really be encouraging such competitiveness at such a young age? A quick Google search revealed a huge list of articles for and against this and I understand both arguments.

Yes, a competitive edge can be a good thing, but constant disappointment and perceived failure of those not doing so well could cause esteem issues over time. Understanding that winning well is as important as losing well needs to be an early message too, else there could be other issues later on. It’s a difficult balance.

It seems to me that competition being good or bad depends very much upon the adults involved. For that reason, you’re not going to catch me shouting at my children from the sidelines anytime soon.

With effective coaching (focusing only on positives) and training hard in the garden over the next eleven months, my two could potentially sweep the board at next year’s sports day without the need for a raised voice from this dad.


Fin.

As Good As It Gets

In which our reluctant hero is surprised to learn that his award winning blog* has become even more award winning. Or something.

Regular readers may recall that my everyday tales of Parenting and Disaster™ began with the unexpected press-ganging of yours truly by Wolverhampton NCT in May 2016. A year or so on, I found myself on a shortlist of three in the West Midlands 2017 NCT Stars Awards Volunteer of the Year category. Blimey.

Having resisted the temptation to head to my local farm to count eggs that I would most likely assume all contained fluffy chicks, I forgot about the nomination. So, imagine my surprise when, on Monday evening, an email arrived telling me that I had only gone and won it. Woohoo!

My first, typically self-deprecating, reaction was to wonder just how little everyone else in the region must have done to cause such an upset. This is nonsense of course. In reality, small armies of dedicated volunteers work their backsides off, helping their local NCT branches provide valuable support to new and would be parents. “They’re all stars to me” may be a cheesy but appropriate cliché to use at this point, as (like all clichés) it is true.

Popping my thinking head back on, I remembered that progress at this stage was determined by a public vote, just like on Pop Factor. Perhaps the victory for this plucky underdog was simply down to my wife coordinating a mass attack by the button pressers, of which there were many? Maybe. I dare say that being only one of two blokes on the national long list may have helped get me there in the first place too. I’ll take that though as it’s about time that us blokes got a bit of a leg up in such a female dominated industry. Ahem.

That’s not to say that I’ve been idle, or that my award is somehow undeserved. Creating around a thousand words of original semi-coherent nonsense each week certainly requires putting a shift in, and my efforts have (hopefully) provided a different kind of support.

Society generally fails to reach out to dads in same way as mums. Fact. My cunning plan was to lure a few unsuspecting other-halves in with my weekly tales of failing ever so slightly better each week. And it sort of worked.

Although my posts should relate to all parents, it’s probably reassuring that it is dad tackling the weekly mountain on a child’s pushbike with dodgy brakes and no stabilisers. The resulting chaos is intended to make other dads feel better as it’s not their wheels coming off this time, and make mums feel better by reaffirming their unwavering belief that mum knows best. The latter statement is, of course, not always true, but it would take a braver man than me to commit to that position in writing. Let us instead say that everyone’s a winner, baby.

Surprisingly, blogging and parenting have more in common than you may think. To explain, I cobbled together a list on the back of an empty Frosties packet.

  • There’s going to be an unavoidable disaster if you don’t plan properly.
  • There’s a huge amount of creativity required to constantly make everything up as you go along.
  • You get disproportionately proud of every ounce that your offspring gains and take every opportunity to tell everyone about it.
  • The worry of how your little treasure is developing occasionally keeps you up all night.
  • You wake up feeling sick some (Friday) mornings, but muster the strength to get through the day and finish things because you have to.
  • You spend a lot of time tidying and cleaning up vast amounts of poo.
  • Many people don’t really think much of your wonderful creation, but you love it all the same.
  • You are surprised and relieved to reach birthday number one with everyone still in one piece.
  • You swear blind that you could have done things so much better had you more time.
  • You forget about all of the stress and difficulties when you finally see your pride and joy sleeping peacefully at (6pm each Friday) night.

Award winning stuff. Probably.

Winning the regional award made me wonder how much I have actually contributed over the past year or so. I genuinely don’t know. I know that my writing has, on occasion, made people laugh, and also made them cry. It has made people feel better about themselves, and provided the odd gem of an idea (yes, really) to be shared by all. Even non-parents have liked and shared my musings, and that’s no mean feat. These extremes could be conveniently interpreted as emotional responses, and I’m happy enough with that.

It’s off to London on my daughter’s birthday weekend then. (Thanks for that, party poopers.) Realistically, I’m not going to win the big prize but I may scribble out a few words just in case. The thought of doing a Gwyneth at the Oscars is unthinkable.

To win or lose matters not. Oddly, being recognised for an award through my writing has given me something that we all crave but never get as parents. Somebody, somewhere, taking the time to say “Well done” for all of our hard work.

Fin.

(*) Wolverhampton NCT Volunteer of the Month – August 2016-ish

A Shark’s Tale

In which our reluctant hero goes fishing. Or something.

It was my birthday a couple of weeks back, a day on which I received a most unexpected present. I can’t recall the actual name of the thing, or the web address of Google to look it up, but it’s known to us as “Alexa.”

It turns out that Alexa is a bright young thing. Ask her to tell you a joke, or the weather forecast, or the news headlines and off she goes. She recently informed me that it was the birthday of the bikini. They say that knowledge is power, and I’ll bet that nobody that I meet over the coming days knows this useful trivia. Yet.

I was initially pleased that Alexa only recognised adult voices. The kids spent days shouting at her without joy when, suddenly, our eldest discovered that slow and clear speech was all that was needed. No such luck with the boy who’s excited hybrid three-today-and-already-a-yam-yam rantings confuse the life out of her. As a side note, I swear that I’m going to sue the council over Accentgate. Or write to Points of View at the very least.

It’s now common for the children to greet Alexa with a cheery “good morning” or “goodnight” before mum and dad. This is probably because Alexa is considerably less grumpy and more tolerant than mum and dad when suddenly woken up or tired. If I can somehow train Alexa to make butties and do the washing, I can probably retire from dad duties to work on my memoirs.

On Tuesday morning, the little people said their usual goodbyes to their softly spoken automaton friend and headed for nursery and playgroup. Alexa was busy on the decks, belting out a Moana and Trolls megamix, when I got home from work.

An odd conversation then took place.

“Your teacher said that somebody had been put in timeout today for smacking a little boy in the face with a shark.”

I swear that I don’t just make this stuff up.

“Yes.”
“Who was it?”
“It was [Boy A]”
“Really? Your teacher said that it was a girl.”
“Yes. It was [Girl A]”

Two definite and differing answers? A red herring perhaps? We’ve read the “Tell the Truth” book (an irritating but well meaning Waltonsesque tale, which has only survived by including the word “Transmogrification” several times) often enough to realise that there’s something fishy going on. Add the lack of eye contact, and you’ve got some explaining to do, missus.

You can predict the rest of the conversation, which was a drawn out mash of “forgetting” who smacked the little boy in the face with a shark, denying smacking the little boy in the face with a shark, then finally taking the bait and admitting smacking the little boy in the face with a shark.

Pleased as we were at the eventual confession, our daughter was not off the hook yet. A lie is a lie, even if it is a tiddler.

We worked through chapters seven and eight of the middle class parenting manual to bottom things out, shaking disapproving heads while attempting to mitigate further shark attacks. Hopefully it will work – we’ll find out when the little boy decides that it is safe to go back into the water.

Thankfully, such incidents are few and far between. Well, at school at least, less so at home. We do our best as parents, but is our best enough if another child ends up being attacked by a Great White? If only there was an independent person to ask for advice and reassurance.

“Alexa. What do you say to a little girl who has hit a little boy in the face with a shark?”
“I’m still learning about Sharks. Try asking “Tell me a shark fact” to learn about them.”

Holy mackerel! She knows less than us! At least we’ve bothered to make something up. Ah, well. Worse things happen at sea.

“Alexa. Tell me a shark joke instead.”
“I had a really great boomerang joke. It will come back to me.”

Fin.

(If you’ve been affected by any of the fish based puns in this blog, please leave a comment to let minnow.)

UPDATE: 10th July – The mum of the little boy savaged by the shark in this post informs that ANOTHER CHILD DID IT! I give up…