Apocalypse Now

In which our reluctant hero ponders something about nothing.

I have a confession to make. I have joined some online blogging groups. There. I’ve said it. I’m not proud. I know what sort of people lurk around in these God forsaken places. But I have it under control. I know what I’m doing. Probably.

It has been an interesting experience so far. Learning the new language was an early challenge. I soon discovered new concepts too, like “guest blogging” which is where writers tootle off to breed cats in the Congo for a fortnight (or similar) while random strangers queue up to write their post. Why anyone would allow this is beyond me. Perhaps I’m missing a trick?

The groups are safe places to ask advice and discuss problems too. This week, a blogger was shocked and saddened to learn that she had accidentally started World War III by posting what could politely be described as a parenting “opinion piece.” President Trump must have been on fire and furious.

The first paragraph of the post was enough to tell me that she had turned up at a gunfight with a water pistol. Having randomly squirted the gang leaders, an unceremonious mowing down occurred during the resulting crossfire.

It was never going to end well. Once the ill-informed genie was out of its sterilised plastic bottle, there was no going back. The topic? Yes, you’ve guessed it. “Bottle v Boobs.” What could possibly go wrong?

Keen to help future generations avoid the same tragic fate, I have put together the definitive (just thought up) guide to blog topics to avoid if you insist on being one of those irritating parent blogger types. Which you shouldn’t, as all it achieves is yet more tedious reading dumped into the giant blog bin in the sky.

Bottle v Boob
According to the dictionary, I am technically classed as a man. As a man of maturing years, I am slowly gaining the apparatus to facilitate feeding, if not the actual ingredients. Even if a medical miracle were to occur to help inform my scribbles, I am wise enough to run the other way. Every mum, and I mean EVERY mum, has established their position and they are going to defend it to the bitter end. Cat, meet pigeons. Lemmings, meet cliff. Blog, meet delete key. It’s for the best.

Stay at Home v Back to Work
“Why have children if you’re not going to bother looking after them?” or “I’m making this sacrifice FOR my children, actually” are common opening gambits here. Unless you are a financial planning expert, know the domestic circumstances and support circle of every potential reader, and have recently moved to a mountain cave, back away from the keyboard. If you do go wading in, avoid the term “working mothers” at all costs. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

Disposable v Reusable Nappies
We were going to do the earth mother thing and save the planet. We managed about a week or so too. Then living in the world’s coldest house during a subzero winter and that utterly repugnant smell proved too much. If you persevered, good for you. Have a medal. We missed out on bronze. Bothered?

Dummy v No Dummy
Yes, everybody is aware of the potential ear and dental problems caused by using dummies and the flip side of a lower risk of SIDS occurring. Our children went dummy free, but the youngest had constant ear problems (yellow “pusks”) as an infant and is still a thumb sucker aged three. We repeatedly tell him it will drop off but he’s having none of it. Nor does he believe that the other thing that he constantly plays with will drop off either. You simply can’t win.

Food and Drink
Water or squash? Baby led weaning or slop? Occasional fast food or organic quinoa every meal? You’re all mad.

Children need to eat and drink. Like adults, a variety of foods are required to gain a nutritional balance. Which is all well and good, right until your child randomly stopping eating previous staples in aged two. If you’re lucky. Do what makes you happy (not your kids) and stop going on about it. It won’t matter what you do. Trust me.

Piercings and Snips
An discussion complicated, rightly or wrongly, by these practices being ingrained in certain cultures. Circumcision is traditional in Jewish and some Muslim communities for example, to symbolise faith in God, and piercings are ritually administered to the children of Chavs. It’s a braver man than me that would take this topic on, and I’m not keen on getting glassed. Next.

Sleep Training v Co-sleeping
Do whatever it takes for everyone to sleep safely. End of debate.

Routine v Attachment Parenting
Clearly there’s pros and cons to both. But if your little darling is actually a little sod a couple of years in, then whatever your choice was, it was the wrong one. OK?

Natural Birth vs C-section
“Oh, you had a cesarean? Were you disappointed?”
“Not really. My baby had his umbilical cord wrapped around his throat, but the doctors got him out safely.”

Isn’t the medical profession wonderful?

Pretty Much Anything to do With Parenting
Never mind blogging, it’s just safer not to reveal your position on anything as someone will get the hump. Get that fence comfortably between your cheeks and stay put.

To summarise, it seems that it is better for parent bloggers to avoid writing about anything. Which is exactly what I just did. You’re welcome.

Fin.

Summer Holiday

In which our reluctant hero tackles a tricky side issue of the summer holidays.

A few weeks into holibobs and, according to antisocial media, parental opinion about how things are going is divided.

In the blue corner there’s the survivalists. Having scraped through July, these everyday folk are nervously approaching the summit of Mount August, hoping to erect a flag and get down without further slips, trips or falls. They’re finding it tough going. Some time away would probably help, but with the cost of four summer nights in a grotty holiday camp roughly equivalent to Greece’s national debt, it’s not going to happen.

In the rose-tinted corner there’s the “Why did you have children if you don’t actually like children?” brigade. For them, summer is stuck in the 1950s. They actually plan their idyllic days out, which I imagine involve skipping through wheat fields, blackberry picking and supping lashings of ginger beer with their lunchtime picnics. Obviously, they find time to tut disapprovingly at the blue lot, who retaliate with a few hurriedly typed uppercuts before retreating behind the sofa to sob into a bottle of gin.

For most of us, the reality is between these extremes. Other parents are off work so you can hang out and ignore your respective kids together, instead of at home alone. You needn’t venture too far or break the bank to fill the days either. With a little effort, it’s not hard to make better, more organised friends who source fun days out and eagerly share on Facebook to help inform your own “planning.” Sorted.

I’ve spent most of the summer having a rest at work. Meanwhile, my wife is finding the holidays a breeze compared to the normal weekday chaos of drop-offs, pickups, work and pacifying tired children who, on a bad day, make the current Trump v Kim Jong-un standoff look like an episode of Topsy and Tim.

The family have got through an insane amount of activities (National Trust visits, mud kitchens, donkey riding, Samaritans volunteering, baby raving, the Wolves in Wolves wolf trail, to list but a few) without me, and seem to be having a ball. I’m almost tempted to join them. Almost.

What’s more amazing is that jobs are getting done in, around and to the house too. Tradesmen are quoting for things, the dining room has been decorated and a mass declutter has started. The house is finally pretty tidy and I’ve not had to wash or iron for weeks. My wife has even created a daily to do list which is pretty much cleared by bedtime. Scary stuff.

I don’t know quite where these recently acquired ninja skills have come from, and I’m half expecting my “Bobby Ewing” moment or a police caution for moving into somebody else’s house, but until such time I’ll sit back.

It’s not all naps and Netflix on the train for me, the humble worker, though. The dumping of tens of thousands of wandering imposters into my well-drilled daily routine causes its own almost insurmountable challenges to be, err… surmounted.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Getting to work
Actually, asides from a few uneducated people causing chaos by sitting in the wrong seats on the bus, this a doddle. There’s fewer cars on the road and I can normally get an actual proper seat on the train. Coincidentally, London Midland lost their rail franchise today. Good. Commuters 1, Everyone Else 0.

However, home time is a different prospect altogether.

Return to New Street
Birmingham New Street has been transformed from an aging concrete monolith into the world’s shiniest shiny new thing. Its mirrored surface extends so high that I can use it to clean my teeth at my desk if I get the angles right. You can’t miss it, yet from about half four onwards you can’t get near it.

The solution? A “British Bulldogs” style charge through the sea of people blocking the entrance. Who says that exposing children to the odd bit of senseless violence is always a bad thing. Useful life skills, innit?

The Station
Steam locomotion has been around since 1804. So how, in the year 2017, can anybody not understand the basic concepts of catching a train? Yet thousands of these social inadequates somehow manage to organise themselves sufficiently to descend on the station concourse every rush hour from July until mid-September.

Buying tickets, negotiating the barriers, using escalators and deciphering the information boards is simply beyond these people. How did they even get out of bed, let alone find the station?

In the absence of a handy shortcut to Platform 9¾, a slow walk with a regular “excuse me” is the only way through. Meh.

The Train
More by luck than by judgement, some of the flummoxed flashmob eventually break ranks and board a train. Further chaos ensues as they wander up and down, trying to find four free table seats at peak time.

Unsurprisingly, they are blissfully unaware of seat reservations. Look at the headrest, or look above the seat. If there’s no ticket, or the display says “available” then sit down in the first seat that you see. Else, find a luggage rack like the rest of us. It’s really not that hard.

Finally settled, they’ll drop some of their cold Burger King chips before heading off with a random little person to play toddler roulette with the “open door” button of the toilets while spending a penny.

The Bus Home
What’s the optimum time for a convoy of seven parents, three grandparents, eighteen children and enough double buggies to fill Mothercare to board a bus? Have a guess. Go on.

If your answer is “Sometime between 5pm and 7pm?” then stop reading now. You’re not welcome around these parts.

The Final Problem
Having negotiated the rest, the half mile stroll back to our house can go one of two ways. If it is raining, which it invariably is this August, then it is fine (if that makes sense?) Tick. If it is sunny, a detour is required to avoid the army of visiting chavs who gather to litter the public paddling pool at the end of our road. Hasn’t anybody told them that this is a local paddling pool for local people? Living in Codsall doesn’t give you a free pass until South Staffs let us back in their county either. The sooner the Great Wall of Tettenhall goes up, the better.

So there you go. I feel much better now. Thanks.

Fortunately, there’s only another five weeks of this daily commuting ordeal for us to survive. Maybe I should take a few days off and spend them travelling with the kids to unwind? That’ll help. Probably.

Fin.

Milk

In which our reluctant hero tackles a touchy subject with great care, in case it is still sore.

Anybody with small people, or anybody with friends or family with small people and a Fakebook account, will be aware that it is World Breastfeeding Week again. Or is it National Breastfeeding Week again? Which one was in June?

Anyway…

Having blogged my blog almost TO DEATH for fifteen months, and sporting my shiny “NCT Blogger” badge last time round, I looked for an old post to share. Strangely, there was nothing. In early August 2016, I was chronicling my then three year old breaking the terrible news that Postman Pat was dead. Greendale is still in mourning, but at least the post gets delivered now. Every cloud and all that.

The logical conclusion was that I had chickened out. I got away with a lot, mainly as almost nobody from NCT read any of it, but a cheeky blog about boobie juice could tip the blog police over the edge if discovered. Besides, my little blog had enough knockers already so it seemed senseless to add to the mound.

Not this year though, so here I go.

We have gone through breastfeeding twice. By twice, I mean with two children, not just twice. That would be silly. To say that the results were variable is an understatement.

First time round, we did the standard swotting up and attended NCT and hypnobirthing classes, which are mandatory for expectant Tettenhall parents.

By due date, we were in no doubt that “breast is best.” Which it is. Probably. We were also confident that our daughter was simply going to be breathed out without so much as a junior disprin, let alone an “epidoodle.” Our new arrival would also miraculously head straight for her breakfast, just like in Hypnobirthing video brainwash number two.

Back in the real world, after several days of failed inductions, a bodged anaesthetic and failed c-section block, much sawing (my wife felt every cut) and stitching up later, our baby was out. Drugged, but out. I did dad duties while mum was sellotaped back together, ready to do what mum had been repeatedly told that she should do best.

Recovery was a nightmare with my wife having to drag a drain bag and stand around to even get close to our child. Nobody slept. Our baby didn’t feed for days. Irrespective of that, we were discharged to work things out for ourselves.

Once home, our living room was transformed into a hybrid milking shed come Boots the Chemist. Pumps, bottles, bags, sterilisers on one side, cream, gels, nipple shields, pillows and a baby in a straitjacket (Swaddle Pod) on the other.

The feeding process took about twenty hours a day. I say feeding, as I’m guessing some of that time must have involved the transfer of milk from mum to baby. We were not helped by a tongue-tie not being picked up at hospital. This caused further distress to our little dot once snipped, whereupon she had to learn her terrible latch all over again.

The severity of my wife’s pain was making me wince in sympathy, and I started to doubt if the whole “earth mother” thing was all it was cracked up to be. Predictably, she was a semi-broken shell after a couple of weeks. In the middle of a particularly fraught night, she told our daughter exactly what she thought of her and decided that enough was enough. I somehow persuaded mum to carry on until morning. Things always seem better in daylight.

So, with breakfast done and sanity partially restored, mum and baby took the bus across town to their first Breastfeeding Group. It was the turning point.

It turned out that in this parallel universe, other mums were struggling to feed too. Who would have thunked it? Armed with proper support, a new outlet to vent frustrations, and shared tales of feeding and disaster washed down with plenty of sugary tea, mum cultivated the mental toughness of Ellen Ripley tackling those pesky Aliens with an emphatic “SCREW YOU!”

Feeding got easier when solids were introduced. Once weaning started, it became apparent what a good job the Breastapo had done on me when I pooh-poohed a suggestion of chucking unused “emergency” formula on our daughters porridge, simply to use it up. Let’s use the cow’s milk instead, eh? Idiot.

Things carried on relatively smoothly until the final bedtime feed was eventually dropped. We did it. Go us!

By the time that the boy was preparing for his grand entrance, we were lots more relaxed about the keeping little people alive thing. Ideally, the wee fella would be another loyal customer of Mum Dairies, but if he was as much of an arse as his sister was then we would rethink.

Once born, this time by less bodged emergency cesarean, I asked the midwives to check for a tongue-tie and was promptly told there wasn’t one. Tick.

Fortunately, as boys are better and cleverer than girls, he took to feeding like a duck to plum sauce. Good lad. He was, however, born with a tooth and enjoyed a good chomp (eek!) His feeding further improved when the tooth was yanked out and his tongue-tie was snipped. Yes, you read that correctly.

The average feed, sponsored by Infacol, was down from about two hours with our daughter to about ten minutes with our son. Was this the dream that we were mis-sold first time round and, if so, can we make a claim? Perhaps not, but it was relatively stress free and normal, if there is such a norm. That’ll do.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The support that we had with our eldest was abysmal. It is little wonder that mums, already sleep deprived, hormonal and as neurotic as they’re ever likely to get in life, crumble.

I’m absolutely in favour of encouraging parents to breastfeed if they can – the benefits are clear – but better support has to be there if wanted or needed. Else, do what you can and don’t be judged for it. Breast, mixed, or formula are all fine. Get the baby fed and try not to go insane or make yourself ill doing it.

Although breastfeeding support has improved locally, there also has to be more done to manage expectations in the run up to becoming a mum or dad.

Soft focus videos of newborns climbing to latch themselves as “Titanic on Panpipes” plays in the background are all well and good, but if your newborn isn’t having any of it then you have a big problem. Some mums may be like Friesians – great – but not all. Give us some advice on how to overcome problems. Be realistic, honest and open with the rhetoric.

There was barely a night in the first six months of parenting that my wife and I were asleep at the same time. I wore about a dozen pairs of slippers out, pacing for hours trying to get our baby to sleep. With better education, we would have sought help sooner and may even have tried something different. Who knows?

William Shakespeare, or the bloke who wrote William Shakespeare’s stuff, once wrote that “No legacy is as rich as honesty.” True that.

And that finishes our story. See, I can write semi-sensibly if I put my mind to it, with barely a pun in sight. Which is probably just as well as I wouldn’t want to make a tit of myself, would I?

Fin.