Stuck in the Middle with You.

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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?

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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)

    Food Glorious Food

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    In which our reluctant hero serves up nine and a half of his five a day.

    Food is back on the menu again, or in the news at least, as the biannual “Children’s lunchboxes still unhealthy shock” story resurfaces. According to an article on the BBC and elsewhere, fewer than two in 100 children’s lunches (that would be one in 100 then, Auntie Beeb?) meet the government’s nutritional standards. Children don’t eat enough fruit and veg and prefer crisps and biscuits? Who knew?

    While our two are a good way off needing a packed lunch each day, presumably the same guidelines apply to feeding the little people once they’re weaned off milk and relying on solids as fuel. Seems logical, but are we doing it right at home? I do hope so as the shame would be just too much if we don’t.

    To test, I decided to look up the governmental guidelines, compare to an average lunch served at our house and smugly show how we are the exceptions to the rule. We’re middle class and have heard of “5 a day” and all that after all so what could possibly go wrong?

    OK. Here goes…

    1. One portion of fruit and one portion of vegetable or salad every day to be included in packed lunches

    Fruit. Tick, tick, tick. No problem with the fruit. The fruit is covered. Veg though? Occasionally a tomato or bit of cucumber may be nibbled at during lunch if there’s a full moon due. Homemade soup is a favourite of our youngest, the eldest rarely touches it. Baked beans and spaghetti hoops count as vegetables too according to the tin so there’s enough here to justify that we provide at least one of each I reckon. Tick.

    2. Meat, fish or another source of non-dairy protein should be included every day. Non dairy sources of protein include lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, hummus, peanut butter and falafel

    Sadly, by “meat and fish” the guidelines are referring to unprocessed stuff as opposed to turkey twizzlers. I’m guessing wafer thin ham doesn’t count either, so probably a no here. Pulses? You may as well try feeding them poison asides from an inconsistent and erratic relationship with hummus which is either wolfed down or refused in equal measures. We get through peanut butter by the bucketful and as I have just decided that the children are, on balance, probably vegetarian (they love veggie sausages – what more proof do you need?) I’m having another tick here thank you very much.

    3. An oily fish, such as salmon, should be included at least once every three weeks

    Oily fish? We’ve barely managed to get a portion down in three years let alone every three weeks. Deep fried fish fingers count though, right? It’s bound to be olive oil that they use at the chippy. Tick.

    4. A starchy food, such as bread or pasta, rice, couscous, noodles, potatoes or other cereals, should be included every day

    Couscous is a no-no due to the texture, and rice is a bit hit or miss too. They’re fine with the rest and we normally buy wholemeal bread or the “best of both” option if white. As lunch normally involves butties or toast, that’s another tick.

    5. A dairy food, such as semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, cheese, yoghurt, fromage frais or custard should be included every day

    Yep. Or ice-cream. Probably. Not that this would be a good idea in a lunchbox. Tick.

    6. Free, fresh drinking water should be available at all times

    Water is always available as we are lucky enough to own a tap despite living in Wolverhampton. It never gets drunk but that’s not a stipulation of the guidelines. Tick.

    7. Include only water, still or sparkling, fruit juice, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, yoghurt or milk drinks and smoothies

    You’ve missed squash off, spoilsports. We give the little people fruit juice or milkshake occasionally. Half a tick?

    8. Snacks such as crisps should not be included. Instead, include nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit (with no added salt, sugar or fat). Savoury crackers or breadsticks served with fruit, vegetables or dairy food are also a good choice

    Our two rarely have crisps as if we have any in the house they are stored above head height and mummy knows where they’re kept. Peanuts, yes but salted or not at all but cashews are a big hit with our eldest. Breadsticks and Mini Cheddars they will eat by the skip full, and raisins also but, oddly, no other dried fruit. Close enough. Tick.

    9. Confectionery such as chocolate bars, chocolate-coated biscuits and sweets should not be included. Cakes and biscuits are allowed but these should be part of a balanced meal

    Chocolate based things are treats if tea has been polished off nicely. Like me, neither of the children are that keen on cake (the little one more so) and we normally go for “healthier” biscuits, if there can be such a thing, like malted milk, digestives or hobnobs. And custard creams. They’ve got custard in and this also satisfies rule five. Tick.

    10. Meat products such as sausage rolls, individual pies corned meat and sausages / chipolatas should be included only occasionally

    Our two aren’t keen on pastry, but the government is having a laugh if cocktail sausages are on the “banned from daily consumption” list. Without those there would be a fifty percent reduction in our children’s protein intake. And mine. I’m not counting that as a parenting fail as it is blatantly silly. Stupid experts with their facts and logic and stuff. Tick.

    So, there you go. We’re not doing too badly, but the difficulty is not necessarily serving the right stuff up but finding the day that the kids are in the mood to eat it. By my maths we scored a massive nine and a half out of ten. Or, using the BBC’s logic, more than nine out of ten. So ten out of ten then. Yay! Tick.

     

    [More details about healthy lunchboxes are here, should you wish to explore further.]

    One Small Step for Man

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    In which our reluctant hero tries to be helpful for a change.

    Regular visitors to my blog will have probably guessed that I am not a proper writer, but a Dad who sits on a train bashing into WordPress at far-too-near-to-the-six-pm-Friday-deadline-for-my-liking each week. Take a picture, think of a name, press the schedule button, then it’s back home to changing nappies and getting stressed about the mess. Sorted.

    I quite like the writing bit which can, at times, be fun. Probably. However, coming up with post ideas that I can run with each week is nothing short of torturous.

    The overarching idea for my blog is to mix things up a bit, reflecting on experiences from a Dad’s perspective in an ad-hoc fashion, rather than creating a diary of sorts. The problem with this approach is that, as a parent, everything exists very much in the present and, to a degree, in the near future. This makes writing about things from the past trickier as each week passes. I can barely remember what I had for tea last night, let alone details about failed attempts at potty training and the like from a few years back.

    Nevertheless, I’m going to attempt to go old school this week. Back to the first year of being a Dad no less. A time before arguing about whether “Team Umizoomi” or “In the Night Garden” should be on before bed was the norm.

    Last week’s post about parenting fails to date was quite popular, so why not try to flip it over, brown for a couple of minutes, and serve back up as a list of lessons learned so far? It’s either that or write a post about taking the family to Thomas Land on the only sunny day of the August Bank Holiday weekend. I think that you got off quite lightly considering.

    So, in no particular order;

    • There’s more to life than books you know – Mr Spock, Supergran or whoever else has flooded the market with their definitive guide to parenting this month aren’t bringing up your baby. By all means read their books, but remember why you have a bin if it all proves to be a load of old rubbish.
    • It’s OK to throw in the towel now and again – Middle-class idiots that we are, we bought some fabulous looking reusable nappies with the best of intentions of going green (no pun intended) once the little person popped out. Trying to get everything washed and dried in November after little or no sleep didn’t really happen. Plus the smell of mushrooms kept making everyone hungry. Off to Aldi for some disposables then, and move on. No shame in that.
    • White washes – Speaking of washing, white baby grows, vests and so on look lovely until they are worn for more than thirty seconds by a real life actual baby. Pick more sensible colours if you can.
    • Don’t make a drama out of a crisis – Once they start finding their feet, todlers fall over and bump into things all of the time. They are also tougher than you think, thankfully. When the inevitable happens, see what their reaction is before making a fuss. Nine times out of ten they’ll dust themselves off and carry on without so much as a whimper as our eldest did after tumbling down half a flight of stairs. Oops.
    • Calpol is your best friend – Obviously don’t overdo it, and try not to spill any if swigging straight from the bottle.
    • Reassess how you carry babies that move – This doesn’t strictly need to be at the side, but once they get slightly bigger and more mobile, work out the most comfortable way of carrying that avoids you getting on the wrong end of the all too frequent headbutt or kick in the groin.
    • The rule of threes – If you think you’ll only need one nappy in your changing bag to pop out for half an hour, think again. A change is always followed by another change two minutes later if you only have one spare. If you have two spares, one of the tabs will snap, guaranteed. Take three.
    • Never take more stuff than you can fit into, under or onto a buggy – I wrote about packing issues a couple of weeks back. You didn’t listen of course. I don’t know why I bother…
    • Play Doh is edible – Probably. So, be careful but there’s more important things to worry about and it never did us any harm, right?
    • Learn some “lyrics” – Tunes aren’t the problem as every melody that you hear in the first two years is basically a remix of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” But learn some words. This will be vital if you’re feeling man enough to go to baby group on your own. Dad Expert Level unlocked.
    • Never go to baby group on your own – Especially once the little people are moving and doubly especially if you haven’t remembered any “lyrics.” What could possibly go wrong?
    • Get into a routine – Boring as this sounds, it really helps whether it is bath time, bed time, meal time, or any other time come to think of it. Sterilising things, tidying up, making tomorrow’s lunch or banging dinner in the slow cooker before bed can make a massive difference the next day. If you’ve had no sleep, everything is that bit more organised and bearable. If you’ve had some sleep you may actually get to sit down for a bit. Yay!
    • Remember that you’re a team – If you’re not doing the parenting on your own, then there really should be no “me” in Team America. So work out who needs to do what, stop grumbling and just get on with it!
    • Get to recognise sounds – Is it a gurgle, a burp, a rumble, or something more sinister? Remember that sound travels faster than partially enclosed smells. Get this right and you can be half way down the garden doing the compost before anybody notices the deed has been done. Your turn.
    • Don’t always assume that “Mum knows best” – You’re both making it up on the hoof after all and you may actually be right. (You won’t be.)
    • Don’t ever let on that you may be thinking that “Mum might not know best” – There are some great tips on subliminal persuasion and so on in Derren Brown’s books. Engage brain before putting mouth into gear, especially if you haven’t mastered The Force to at least Padawan level.
    • Avoid taking advice from anyone who gave birth to their youngest child over two years ago – They’ll barely remember anything about the preceding two years plus and just make it all up. Guaranteed.

    So, there you go. Not everything, but a start for you newbies out there and a timely place to end this post just in time for me to start reclaiming the remote and putting my two and three year olds to bed.

    Testing Times

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    In which our reluctant hero goes back to school. Probably. 

    Thinking back to childhood, memories that often surface include time spent at school. Colouring; learning to read and write; pouring warm milk down the playground grid; making new friends; trying to fly by running down a bank with your coat out like rudimentary wings; the dreaded lost property bag if you forgot your PE kit; not quite making it to the toilet in time. Happy days. Think harder and less happy memories may also surface. Tests. Ugh!

    This week it was examination time at our house with man and boy off to the local Health Centre for the mandatory two year check.

    Now, you would perhaps, logically, think that the two year check was a check to see how said two year old was faring, two years on. You would be wrong. The check turns out to be less checky and more of a test. A test with hard sums and no calculators. A test to see how much Dad has been paying attention over the last two years, and to see how much attention is paid to Dad. What could possibly go wrong?

    The first part I passed with flying colours. Flying red colours in fact, as I remembered to take the red book for teacher to write the test scores in. All by myself. Go me! Tick.

    From then on in things got a little trickier…

    “Can the little one walk up the stairs by himself?”
    “Yes!” Tick.

    So far so good…

    “When he walks up the stairs, does he do it one step at a time, by making sure that both feet are safely on the step before attempting the next one, or something different?”
    “Erm…”

    The problem with tests is that you have to revise. Question one and I am already concerned that I have not put the necessary hours in to get the required Grade C or above. What’s worse is that I should have been prepared for this question having had the same one at a previous exam twenty months ago. But nope. Not a clue. And why would I have? Standing with a clipboard making copious notes on my children’s stair walking technique has never been high up on my list of priorities. Getting them up the stairs for bedtime without resorting to a size eight up the rear is a battle in itself. So I wing it.

    “B. Yes, It’s B.”

    It’s an established fact that “B” is always the answer in multiple choice questions, isn’t it? That’ll do. 3-1 odds. I’ll take that. Tick. Next…

    “Do you think that his speech is better, about the same as, or slightly behind that of other children of the same age that he socialises with?”
    “Erm…”

    Socialises with? Same age? Isn’t this the neglected second child that they’re talking about? Clearly he doesn’t have many of his own friends and mostly hangs round with his big sister and her friends instead. I’m at work when most of this stuff happens anyway so my only reference point is big sister at the same age. Think man, think!

    Now, I distinctly remember her getting immensely stressed months before her second birthday concerned that she “had forgotten to send the invitations out to the party guests.” How does that compare? Hmmm…

    “B. Yes, it’s B. I’m sure. Final answer.” Tick.

    The next bit focussed on physical things like following instructions and copying actions. The boy is pretty good at fetching things and putting them away when asked. He also loves running and jumping and so on and is brilliant at mimicking. This will be a doddle.

    “OK, little man. Can you copy this noise with your mouth? Click, click, click…”

    Nothing.

    “Click, click click…”

    Nothing again. Best help as the health professional clearly hasn’t got a clue and we often do this sort of thing after brushing teeth. Daddy do it.

    “Click click, click…”
    “That’s not right. Silly Daddy!”

    Jumping next. Sadly, further instruction and encouragement failed to remove the superglue that had welded the soles of his pumps to the floor. The same for running. Having grown up with “One Man and His Dog” being about as good as Sunday television got, I wondered if blowing the whistle out of the box of prompts for the test would help spur things along. It didn’t.

    Recognising things in books went far better until the shyness kicked in, and tower building was a particular hit. The hit in this case propelling the blocks to the far corners of the room to a cry of “TIMBER!”

    Anyway, we got through the rest of it with ticks in most of the right boxes. Largely by guesswork and the reluctant participation of a little boy who was less than impressed at having being forcibly removed from the paddling pool on a glorious summer’s afternoon to attend.

    My advice to anyone who has the check coming up is to do your homework. Study, make notes and write the answers on your arm if necessary. Take sweets or doggy-chocs as a reward for good behaviour. Practice advanced Lego construction techniques and get the little one familiar with the “Daily Mirror Book of Facts” to help in the General Knowledge round.

    At the end of the round we scored seventeen points with three passes. I’ll take that.

    Toy Stories

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    In which our reluctant hero receives a rather odd phone call.

    Tuesday, 2nd August 2016. 12:06 pm.

    BRING, BRING!

    “Hello.”

    “Hello Daddy. I’ve got some sad news.”

    “Oh, what’s that?”

    “Postman Pat has died.”

    “Eh? What happened? Did you stand on him or something?”

    I rarely get personal calls at work, and this conversation was probably not one that I would have predicted when I answered the phone. If you missed the news, what my three year old was trying to tell me was that Ken Barrie, the voice and narrator of Postman Pat for 25 years, had sadly passed away a few days before. A message which, given the timing, was probably sent via snail mail rather than as a special delivery, so to speak.

    Although not a big fan of the programme (asides from the Chinese Dragon episode) our daughter loved the toys, a job lot for a tenner off a local selling site, which she would play with for hours. Parcels got delivered far more efficiently that the “real” Pat would ever have managed, Dr Gilbertson and PC Selby would frequently end up together in a makeshift bed on our shelving unit, and nobody ever discovered where Ted Glen hid the bodies. Just like on the TV show.

    Pat rarely gets a look in these days, as is the cyclical nature of toys.

    This made me think about the various things that we’ve had in the house at different stages so far. Another thought followed almost immediately. If I write all of this stuff down instead of just thinking it, that may just pass for an interesting and informative blog post. Advice and nostalgia all rolled into one. You lucky people. Probably.

    So here goes…

    If there are any expectant parents reading, brace yourself for a bombardment of soft toys. Seriously, get to IKEA or Wilkos and buy as many enormous plastic tubs as you can fit in the boot of the car sharp-ish. It’s the only way you’re going to get around the house in a couple of weeks. Trust me.

    While you’re out shopping, see if anywhere sells earplugs as pretty much everything that is going to turn up that isn’t stuffed will be noisy. And repetitive. I read somewhere that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies use the more sinister VTech products to help extract confessions from prisoners. After a few weeks of listening to a loud and tuneless rendition of “The wheels on my bike go round and round, round and round, round and round…” for periods of an hour or more, you’ll understand why this bonafide made up fact isn’t quite so far-fetched.

    As the children grow up, musical instruments start being a favourite. Rightly so as they’re fun, educational and help development. Keep some paracetamol nearby though. We actually have a proper mini drum kit in the loft that I have buried under so much stuff that I’m hoping it remains undiscovered until everyone has left home. Perhaps I should ask Ted Glen to dispose of it, just to be safe.

    Blocks and things that can stack or be built are popular at all ages. Just watch your vase during the “throwing” stage though. Jigsaws seem to go through phases of popularity and the soft toys that sat gathering dust years back will be useful later on, so don’t throw any out.

    There’s just so much stuff these days. To make sense of it, here are some of the bits that we found useful at various milestones should they prove useful;

    0-6 Months

    The Fisher Price “rainforest gym” playmat was a big hit with our two. Hanging animals to pull, kick, rattle, etc. Crinkled bits for texture. Mirrors, rattles, and lullabies too. A bargain.

    We also had a battery-powered thing that made noises and flashed lights when it got kicked. I’ve no idea of the name, but file this idea in the “less annoying than you would imagine” pile. The children loved it and it bought enough time for a shower.

    6-12 Months

    One of the most used things during this period was a play table which the little people could hold themselves up against while doing the various activities integrated into the top.

    Also, walkers were a big hit as the little people tried to get themselves up and mobile. Walkers are also hilarious on tiled floors, especially if the cat is nearby. Get filming and you could earn yourself £250.

    12-18 Months

    Now upright, footballs and things to kick were getting a lot of use. Buggies, the Hoover, toy shopping trolleys and anything else that could be pushed round (and filled up, normally with the cat) became staples. The telly is also becoming worryingly popular.

    18-24 Months

    Role play and building/creating things. Duplo, which is one of the best things invented, Play Doh and anything messy arts and crafts-wise were often brought out. As was the IKEA toy cooker with food, pots and pans which is still in use now.

    The Postman Pat and Peppa Pig toys were much used at this age too. And a mouthorgan is a brilliant, small and cheap source of entertainment so long as you don’t mind getting covered in slobber.

    Note: It’s at this age that we started to notice the split in what girls and boys are drawn to. We’ve never believed in toys for girls and toys for boys, but every morning there was a tea party of sorts for our daughter’s dolls and teddies, whereas our son started playing with things with wheels such as cars, diggers and nee-naws.

    Grandad also built an amazing thing which was basically locks, keys, handles, light switches and so on from the garage screwed on to a piece of wood. Hours of fun for a boy, especially a middle-aged one.

    24 Months +

    At two, our not-so-little little boy likes golf clubs, the remote control Thomas the Tank Engine, cars and garages and the like, and breaking tellies. Our girl likes kid-geek learning books and anything role play related, such as pretending to be at school, hospital, or birthday parties. It is worth noting that baby brother has little choice but to like the latter also, as he’s often the pupil, patient or birthday boy whether he likes it or not.

    Oh, and the tablet. So get saving as the next few years aren’t going to be cheap!

    What’s In A Name?

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    In which our reluctant hero addresses an early parental challenge…

    One of the first important tasks that you’ll most likely be involved in as a dad to be is a tricky one. No, not that. Something far more challenging. And dangerous, if you’re not careful.

    Naming things. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Have a can and you don’t know how to get the contents out? Invented something to open it? Why not just name your gadget after the thing it does? Call it a “can opener” perhaps? Does exactly what it says on the tin. Probably.

    Now this technique is all well and good for shiny inanimate metal objects, but not so useful when considering real live human babies. If it was, all children would be called “Screamy Hungry Stink Face” or variants on this theme, which would never do in polite society. Even in Wolverhampton.

    Naming this blog was tricky enough. What would represent blogging from a dad’s perspective? “The Blogfather” was a possibility but had been used so many times that I may as well have tried to register “Oliver!” God bless Lionel Bart. (One for the kids there…)

    So I considered (and even registered) “Daddy McDadface” as an amusing alternative. A most genius idea until it was pointed out that nobody may get the reference in a couple of months time. And when I subsequently tried to change the name to “David Attenborough” it no longer made sense. So “Babysitting The Kids” it became. Cos that’s what us Dads do occasionally, when we’re not down the pub watching the football, innit?

    The only experience that I had of naming anything prior to having little people was naming the cats. Seeing as they’re called Audrey and Momo Sissoko, you would think I was somewhat overqualified for the job. You’d be right too, but this didn’t give me the required note from my mum to skip P.E.

    Can openers. A blog. Cats. All well and good, but getting it wrong with a person is a mistake that could prove costly. Thirty-six quid in deed poll fees for starters.

    My regular listener may be unsurprised to learn that I’m not a fan of modern names (“Nutella” is so last year.) Names that sound like what your pet dog was called in the eighties are also a no-no.

    Many parents look for other sources of inspiration these days. Naming your child after your favourite finalist off of last year’s Britain’s Got Talent (has it? really?) may have seemed a good, fashionable thing at the time but now you’re stuck with a baby with the middle name “Boogie Storm.” Happy with that? Thought not.

    So, something more traditional then. But what? They’re all so dull.

    After the thirty-sixth night of sitting there with the baby names book and all sorts of “Now That’s What I Call the Best 100 Names of the Year 2011!” type lists, it all started getting a bit much and my interest waned. Perhaps we should not bother and let the little person pick his or her own name when they get to eighteen? They’re going to hate the one that we chose by then anyway so it seems reasonable to defer the decision. Sadly, you’re not allowed. I checked.

    Manning up for a brief moment, I decided that decisive action was needed. In the form of a spreadsheet no less. That will sort it.

    Having Googled “Dickensian character names” to add to our scribbled out list of maybes, an industrious half hour of copying, pasting, concatenating (and my personal favourite, VLOOKUPs) ensued. The result, two massive spreadsheets containing every combination of first name, middle name and our surname possible had we lived in the nineteenth century. Print off, get the red pen ready and start whittling down to about a dozen of each gender. Then simply hand the final decision back, working on the basis that any suggestion I make would be wrong anyway, and done. Easy.

    Admittedly, due to a problem with the spreadsheet, our little people all ended up with the middle name “#REF!” but I feel that they’ve grown into it.

    A couple of years on and I think we made good choices. Quite classic, links to family and heritage, and sensible enough to ensure that they won’t turn their heads if someone is calling after a runaway labradoodle on the beach.

    And no, I’m not telling you what the names are. Get Googling, start a spreadsheet, and work it out for yourself.