Come Fly With Me

In which our reluctant hero longs for some peace and quiet.

On Sunday we went to a Remembrance Day service at Telford Town Park. It was a poignant and well attended event, held in a park with fantastic facilities for children (more of this sort of thing in Wolverhampton please, council) which helped make a family day out of it.

I was busy playing the hymns with my local brass band during the service, which meant that my wife was stuck babysitting the kids. To be fair to them, they were both pretty good. The eldest sat beautifully throughout, taking everything in as flags were raised, candles lit, wreaths laid down and the last post played. The youngest only tried to escape a couple of times, which is impressive for him, joining the cornet section of the band at one point late on. Houdini tricks asides, there was a more tricky challenge to be negotiated. The two minute silence.

Asking a two year old to keep quiet for any length of time is like leaving a President-elect in a room with a big red button with “nuke” written on it, and asking them not to touch anything while you pop out. They’ll probably sit nicely for a bit, but you know that, at some point soon, there’s going to be a very loud bang.

“What’s that noise mummy?”
“Chocolate now please?”

Etc. Etc…

The two minutes must have felt like two hours for mum who deployed well-honed distraction tactics until the reveille finally echoed out to mark the end. Fortunately, nobody seemed to mind the couple of brief interruptions. One mum came over to say “well done” having left her children at home to avoid putting herself in the same situation. Which is a bit of a shame, as surely it’s better to raise the children’s awareness of why there is an annual act of Remembrance and not worry about a bit of noise?

But, as parents, worry we do. Well some of us do, and we’ve all no doubt tutted at the ones that don’t. Quietly, under our breath, as not to cause a fuss.

The worry of being able to keep the children happy and in-check effects a large range of our decisions. From which restaurant to eat at, travel choices, where to go on holiday, and what time we do things to name but a few. It’s not just about disturbing other people either. Yes, a flying fish finger or turkey twizzler in the face and a load of shouting may ruin the romantic meal of the couple at the table opposite, but it’s no fun for us, the parents, either. And besides, it serves them right for not going to somewhere nicer, the cheapskates.

Thankfully, it is getting slightly easier as our children get older. But it’s not that long ago that they were six months old and barely two, and that was a whole different ball game. Half an hour spent eating microwaved slop at the local child friendly restaurant chain may be one thing, but the thought of attempting a long train journey or, worse still, a flight sends shivers down my spine even now.

We’ve all been there. Check in at the airport. Grab some food and maybe a sneaky half. Wander around duty free to kill some time. Join the queue and spot the family with young children. Eek! Panic, then spend the time up to boarding hoping that you’ve won at “seat roulette” with the top prize being that you’re sat nowhere near them.

So, do these parents deserve a medal or do they simply need locking up for their own safety?

If you’re not sure whether or not taking a flight, train or long car trip with young children in tow will be OK, I have devised a simple test that you can try out at home to help avoid a potentially disastrous ordeal.

First of all, head to the smallest room in your house. Line up as many chairs as there are adults, and as many high chairs as there are children, facing a wall about two feet away. Strap the children in, sit down and see how long you can stay there without getting bored or stressed with only a cabin friendly sized bag of paraphernalia and a handful of nondescript snacks to distract them with. If anybody cracks in the first three hours then forget it. To test for a long train or car journey, simply reposition the seats accordingly and shout “Are we nearly there yet!” for the entire time.

So, as parents, what do we do? Stay indoors until the kids reach a certain age? Of course not. Plan, yes. Try to make it as painless for you and everyone else, yes. But at the end of the day children are children and things don’t always go to plan.

And that’s worth remembering.

Let’s Go Fly A Kite

A few weeks ago, we went on a short holiday. Or a long weekend, if you prefer. Holidays used to involve exciting things such as planes, trains and automobiles, meals out, sunsets and lie ins, often in warmer climes. Now they mostly involve collecting vouchers from the newspaper, traffic jams, caravans, sleep deprivation and six-foot tall dancing fluffy rabbits. Which is all fine of course. Except maybe the rabbits.

On our way back home, we stopped off to say goodbye to the sea and partake in one last go of our newly found most fun thing to do on holidays ever. Flying a kite.

On the last two Father’s Days, we have visited the National Trust property at Dudmaston where we made kites at the Family Fun Day. Little cellophane sails held aloft by garden canes stuck down with badly applied sellotape. String with coloured ribbon for tails and thin cotton line that looks like it will snap if blown too hard, let alone launched on a windy day. Having made them, one kite sat behind a picture gathering dust for a year or more and the other on top of a bookshelf in the kitchen. Where better?

We finally got them packed and onto the beach during day two of holidays. Would they fly? No, not at first, but after a little untying and re-sticking we were off! The first kite managed to float pretty well if we caught the wind correctly. The second adopted more a high-speed kamikaze flight path, darting in crazy circles up and down until smashing into the sand below.

Little legs spent much time running up and down the empty beach trying to catch enough breeze for another lift off. Larger legs spent much time tangled up in line as the up and down went more round and round. Eventually, kids worn out, we headed for lunch after a lovely morning whereupon I invested a whacking five English pounds (currently worth about two US dollars) on a proper kite from the cafe.

On the final day, I took this picture on the beach at Talacre.

Flying a Kite

Flying a Kite

I was rather pleased with my photo which should one day end up in the children’s albums if we ever get round to printing anything out ever again. Ahem. (See also this old post.)

It is funny how a photo can evoke different mental imagery depending on who looks at it and when.

In years to come, the children may look at the photo (yes, yes… it will be printed by then) and summon planted memories of a long forgotten, almost idyllic, holiday. Quiet beaches, stormy skies, a coat at least a size too small that should have gone in the hand-me-downs bag, and flying a kite. Which will be nice.

Friends (asides from those on my Facebook “Stalkers” list) and family will get their sanitised highlights through social media and may recall happy times on holidays of their own.

And Mum and Dad, being the only ones who were on the beach at the time, will recall something quite different. Over to Sue Barker to find out why in our “What Happens Next” round.

Within a second of the shutter clicking the kite was released, on purpose, for the second time in a matter of minutes. The first time we managed to jump on the line and quickly stop it. A bit of winding in, a quick chat about the need to hold on tightly and no harm done.

The second time coincided with a gust of wind that propelled the kite at high-speed down the beach towards the lighthouse.

Moments later, a quick thinking mummy (having checked suitability of footwear – old trainers, so fine) pegged it in hot pursuit. Off the kite flew, faster and faster, first over the sand, then the wet bit, then the stony bit, then the sinky bit which were all carefully negotiated in a desperate attempt to catch it.

I had two soundtracks to this rather bizarre scene running through my head. Having decided that it was more Benny Hill theme than Chariots of Fire, the rest of us gave chase too.

Eventually, the kite came to a halt in mud at the water’s edge near the lighthouse. Mummy pounced on it and collected her gold medal. The telling off that followed was interesting in that yes, it was definitely necessary, but the minutes preceding had been so amusing that it was difficult to keep straight faces.

This is an ongoing problem in parenting. If something is a bit naughty, but also funny, should we say anything? Like the time when our eldest, then a two year old, shouted “K***HEAD!” at a driver that overtook us like an idiot. She was right of course but, slightly surprised, the only response I could find was “Have you been in the car with mummy?”

Anyway, having cleaned the mud off the kite, stopped the tears and packed everything up, we headed back to the car and home via the ice cream factory. You can’t go to the beach without having an ice cream after all, even if the ice cream ends up being purchased 35 miles away.

Excess Baggage

In which a surprise award is dished out and our reluctant hero wishes TARDIS technology existed inside a Vauxhall Meriva.

A lot has happened since I last battered a load of randomly selected words into the series of slightly less random sentences and paragraphs that passed themselves off as last week’s blog. Well two things, if you want to get picky. Oh. Yes.

The first thing that happened was that my blog became an award-winning blog. Who saw that coming? Having pulled it together for the last few months, not me. When I say “award-winning” I should probably include the word “technically” or “not” somewhere.

You see, I won an award. Woohoo! And a most prestigious one at that. “Wolverhampton NCT Volunteer of the Month” no less which, in the Blogosphere, is about the equivalent of a proper writer winning the Booker Prize. Probably. But, as the award was awarded for services to blogging, I think that the blog itself should claim most of the credit and therefore the award. Seems legit, so that’s what I’m going with. I’ll create a “Testimonials” section later to capture this magnificent accolade for posterity. I’ll probably also make up some quotes from the Richard and Judy Book Club to big it up, like everyone else does.

Anyway, the other thing that happened was that we went on holiday. Ironically,  I wasn’t planning to do a post this week but instead have a week off and hope that nobody noticed. Clearly I can’t do that now or the NCT blog police will be ripping stripes off and demanding the award back.

So here goes.

Sometime last week. Wolverhampton. Earlier.

“Daddy. I’ve packed my suitcase for holidays. It’s downstairs. In the hall!”

“Erm.. OK” I reply as I locate the tiny overnight case and start to rummage through its contents.”But you’ve forgotten to pack any clothes!”

“Oh… Silly me! I’ll bring some down!”

The inventory of things for a four day break read as follows.

  • 1 doll
  • 1 plastic strawberry
  • 3 replica beach huts from last holidays
  • 1 “What’s in the Fridge” board game
  • 1 toy camera out of a Christmas cracker
  • 1 small furry toy from a fast food chain that I’m still not happy that we occasionally have to visit
  • 1 set of toy eggs

Now I don’t know any sane person who wouldn’t, rightly, agree that this is all pretty essential stuff. But spending four days away, you’re going to need clothes too or risk getting arrested. Again. The following were duly added to the haul.

  • 1 Peppa Pig onesie
  • 1 Upsy Daisy swimming costume

Sorted. We’re off on holiday, so we’ll need something to sleep in and, as we normally go swimming on holiday too, we’ll need something to wear in the pool. You can’t fault the logic.

Considering this, just how the overall baggage allowance for two big and two little people ended up filling the boot of our hatchback car, the parcel shelf, the two foot wells in the back and part of “no mans land” that exists between the children’s car seats is a mystery. A mystery hidden inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma. And that was before the supermarket run en route.

Three nights. In Blighty. We took about a quarter of the amount crammed into the car to Australia for a fortnight or so on honeymoon AND brought clean stuff back.

There’s probably some complicated maths (yes, “maths” – I’m not an American) law describing how the amount of stuff that you cart around is exponentially proportional to the number of little people in the family unit.

It’s been like this for over three years now. I still remember our first trip to the supermarket as a family and my shock at not being able to get a single bag of shopping in the boot. Slings, travel system, changing bag, spare changing bag, spare slings, yes. Food, no. Folk who have been parents for a couple of years know how it works. Newbies may be in for a shock. Get used to it though. There’s no turning back now.

It’s funny how your life aspirations change after becoming a dad. Forget travelling the world, owning a helicopter, or buying your local football club. I long for a day when I can drive somewhere and be able to see cars or an empty road in my rear-view mirror. Just once before I die. I suspect that this day will be a long time coming unless Vauxhall unveil new designs that are a little more Police Box shaped than at present. And is that likely? Pack it in!

Dinosaur… GRR!

In which our reluctant hero reviews a theme park. Probably.

According to that ever reliable font of truth and knowledge that is the internet, an  “involuntary action” is pretty much consistently defined as “an action or reaction occurring without conscious awareness of its trigger.” Hold that thought for now.

The more observant viewer may remember that, a couple of weeks ago, my minimum wage room of chimps wrote a post about going away without the little people and wondering what our next holiday with them would be like.

Back to the present and our official get-it-in-cheap-before-the-kids-are-old-enough-to-get-us-fined summer holiday week kicked off. With a trip to Peppa Pig World no less. Oink!

Having stayed locally overnight, we were one of the first groups to wander in when the park opened. It was an odd, slightly surreal, scene that greeted us. Familiar buildings, but in real life plastic form rather than as painted backdrops to a series of five minute animated shorts. A black threatening sky, where normally clear and blue exists, closed in overhead.

At first I didn’t notice the haunting glockenspiel melody beating out in the distance. My subconscious did, however.

“Recycle, recycle, recycle, recycle…”

Eh? What was that? As my head tried to unravel what had caused this unexpected earworm, Grandpa Pig’s shout of “ALL ABOARD!” went in and out, practically unnoticed.

“Gertrude is NOT a toy train! She is a mini-a-ture locomotive!”

Huh? This time I find that nonsensical words are spilling out of my mouth. That only normally happens in management meetings. Odd.

A fleeting glimpse of a smug looking baby elephant in the distance elicits a different response. My arm unexpectedly launches a right hook in its general direction.

“Edmund Elephant is a clever clogs.”

Fair enough. Nobody likes a clever clogs…

More music. I start to panic and look anxiously around. I hadn’t noticed that so many other people had slipped in. All around, grown men and women are wandering, zombified, mumbling semi-familiar phrases under their breath.

“Dinosaur… GRR!”

“If you are jumping up and down in muddy puddles, you must wear your boots.”

“WE’LL DIG UP THE ROAD!”

“Naughty mummy! You’re playing the Happy Mrs Chicken Game!”

Partly reassured, partly still anxious, I head up the hill into Peppa Pig’s house. By now I’m half expecting heavy red velvet curtains, a checkerboard floor and dwarves talking backwards. I’m relieved to find, when I finally open my eyes, nothing quite so Twin Peaks but a six-foot tall family of plastic pigs in a cartoon kitchen tossing pancakes. Normality resumed. Phew.

As we leave the house, the sun puts his hat on. Right on cue, a familiar theme tune blares out signalling the end of this dystopian nightmare. We finally start to exist in Cartoonland. Snort!

Much as I would rather be writing stuff filled with nineties cult telly references and the like, I’ve been reminded that I should at least pretend to attempt to bring this back on track a little. So, here’s a sort of cobbled together review/not really a review thing, just in case you’re considering going. And to save me getting told off by the blog police.

To its credit, Peppa Pig World was a decent enough day out. The place looked great once the sun came up and the paranoia calmed. The little people loved it, and there’s enough there and in the wider park to keep even the biggest kids (the Dads) happy. For a change.

Pros
The kids like it, with their highlights including;

  • The rides – All of them. Especially the ones that go round and round. And round again.
  • Ducks – apparently there were plastic and real ones.
  • Water – apparently the water was not plastic but real. Apart from the plastic stuff.
  • Jumping up and down in muddy puddles. Pro Tip – take a spare set of clothes and a towel. We didn’t…
  • Peppa Pig, George Pig, Zoe Zebra and Susie Sheep. Real. Not plastic. Apart from the plastic ones.

It’s also good for fitness. We had our eldest practising upright limbo under a 1m pole for a fortnight. On the day, she didn’t disappoint, sneaking through looking like she was walking to get in free. Gold star duly administered.

There’s real life rollercoasters. For grown-ups. Provided, of course, that there’s a short enough queue so that you can sneak on while pretending to go to the toilet. Whee!

Cons
Height restrictions. Check beforehand, as it’s a long way from Wolverhampton if your little people, or better half, are too little to make the most of it.

The obligatory theme park £15 for two non-descript Coronation chicken sandwiches, crisps and a drink. A conspiracy!

Motion sickness. Yes, the back of the car got covered again. Standard. But all of the rides go round and round. And round again. We drew straws for who got to go and “enjoy” Windy Castle. I lost and spent the whole ride expecting a repeat of the Coronation.

Children under eight need to be accompanied by a responsible adult. Consider this and source one as necessary. We got away with it. Just.

Enjoy.

Wish You Were Here

In which our reluctant hero seems to be late. Late. For a very important date. Or something.

Sunday is supposed to be the deadline for the monkeys to finally stop bashing at the room full of typewriters that create my weekly blog post. Sunday. It is Thursday morning, the monkeys are still in bed, and I’m furiously bashing words into my androidpodtunesphone on the train instead. Odd.

Across the course of a normal week, there’s a catalogue of excitement and/or disaster to jog my memory or spark an idea to write about, especially on a Sunday night after two days of “babysitting” the kids. After that it’s easy. Empty my head, insert a few pearls of wisdom (possibly) and pithy remarks (probably) and press “schedule.” Jobs a good ‘un.

So, what has changed this week?

Ah…

You know how normally on a weekend you drag yourself up ten minutes before the necessary transformation into Daderman occurs? All in the vain hope that you may get a shower, and possibly a six-spoonfuls-of-coffee coffee before the “Dad…DAD!” and subsequent twelve hours of chaos? Well, there was none of that last weekend. We went away. Without little people. A brilliant idea in theory, but now I have nothing to write about.

Don’t get me wrong, our mini-break was planned (albeit last minute) but there was no Home Alone scenario here. We booked a B&B and everything. AND we arranged for someone to look after the little people. The cats even successfully fended off the burglars by themselves, bless them.

My memory is a touch hazy (it’s my age rather than parenthood, I suspect) but I think that this is only the second time that we have been anywhere without both little people since the stork dropped off our youngest almost two years ago.

Throwing the temporarily redundant “Wheels on the Bus” cd out of the car window, we nervously headed up the English coast, to a seaside town that they forgot to close down. Three nights to ourselves. Would we still get on? Would we be able to relax? Would the place be nice? Could we manage to communicate for that long without breaking open the emergency conversation starter that is that mammoth nappy from late 2014? The thought of it still makes me shudder…

The answer was, thankfully, a resounding “yes” although I did at one point find myself habitually flicking the remote looking for Noddy on Milkshake while making the pre-breakfast cuppas. We also never left the B&B without baby wipes and a spare pair of pants, but that’s just normal isn’t it?

A couple of days without drama, spillages, breakages, nappies, mess, tantrums, standoffs at mealtimes and the usual routine. And the good stuff, like.. well you know… this and that, too. Stress levels drop. Your muscles untangle. You even find yourself staying up as late as five past ten in a complete act of rock ‘n’ roll defiance which would have seen the B&B room trashed if it wasn’t always me who had to tidy up all of the mess.

While the blog thing is normally meticulously planned (*coughs*) and supposed to be about looking after the little people, this post is – I think – about the importance of the parental unit looking after themselves too. It’s so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of jobs, day-to-day routine and all. Which is important, but so is stopping if only for a bit with a nice brew. And that’s coming from a man who has won gold at many a “forgetting to sit down” competition over the years.

Take a step back. Clear your head. Stay in bed late. Try to remember who you are, both individually and as a couple, single, triple, or whatever your domestic set-up is, again. And most of all have some fun, even if “fun” ends up involving cheating at pool at some point in the proceedings. Ahem.

After a couple of nights, once the earache stops, you’ll miss the little people of course. Although as parents we bang on about how hard it is a times, mostly they’re pretty ace and the effort and self-sacrifice is well worth it. Probably.

That said, within a couple of hours of seeing them again you’ll want to give them back. Normality restored.

I wonder if summer holidays will be as relaxing in a couple of weeks time?

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

In which our reluctant hero faces a dilemma. 

It’s been a funny old week in which I have, yet again, done copious amounts of research and carefully considered all options before making a decision. A decision that I was very nervous about. On the face of it a simple decision. Should we stay in or head out? On the face of it, two simple options. Why is plumping for one so difficult?

As usual, I was not totally sure of the implications of either choice. In our house, we’re mostly comfortable with in. We have spent ages staying in and understand what we have and how everything works. Sort of. Out on the other hand is an unknown quantity. Sure, some of the positives may sound appealing on the face of it. But are they. Really?

And once we commit, that may be it. Stuck with it. No turning back. Which is OK if things turn out nice again, but a veritable nightmare if not.

Now, you’re probably thinking that I’ve gone off on one, forgotten about the “Dad Blog” and started banging on about the EU Referendum. I haven’t. You may also be thinking that I’ve missed an opportunity to segway another topical in or out decision into a post, what with it being National Breastfeeding Week and all. What do you take me for?! 

“So, what ARE you banging on about?” I hear those of you that haven’t clicked back to the relative safety of the Facebooks by now collectively sigh.

Leaving the house. With little people. Simples.

Let us explore the pros and cons…

Out – Pros

It’s a big wide world. There’s plenty of stuff to see and do. Something exciting may happen. You never know, it may even be fun. Better still, you may get half an hour of much needed peace if the little people fall asleep in the car. Yay!

In – Pros

There’s toys, jigsaws, musical instruments, and general making-a-mess-is-ok-if-it-kills-an-hour type stuff everywhere. There’s food in the fridge, and telly or wine/ gin/ toilet duck if things get desperate. It’s also a reasonably safe option as after years of preparation it’s childproof. Asides from, it seems, the freezer drawer door that was smashed by a one year old trying to get an ice-lolly earlier.

Out – Cons

We’re in Britain. It’s expensive. It’ll probably rain for ages and we’ll end up wet, skint and miserable forever. Plus you’ll most likely be mopping up sick within half an hour of a long journey.

In – Cons

YouTube kids.

It’s a tough decision in which the negatives certainly outweigh the positives on either side. The certain disaster and misery of heading out into nailed on floods, typhoons or passing horsemen that typify the early British summer, or listening to the high-pitched tinnitus inducing buzzsaw of American children commenting on themselves opening Kinder eggs or playing Play Doh. There’s no winners here. It’s not going to end well either way.

Of course, the negatives of staying in can be easily dealt with by invoking Article 50 of the Parenting Treaty i.e. hitting the tablet with a sledgehammer.

So, on days when you’ve got two little people to occupy on your own, what’s best? In my experience, going out with one is definitely easier than with two. One’s a doddle. Trust me.

I’ve had some strange looks in the past, particularly being a bloke, while trying to handle two. Football lessons, for example. If you’ve never tried it, a session trying to get a two year old (who has decided she doesn’t want to be there) to run and kick in the right direction, while preventing escaping, lying on the floor, dealing with loo breaks, hunger et al with a six month old strapped to your front is a sheer delight. Do it. Everyone will think that you’re either bonkers or a superhero.

Thankfully, it seems to be slightly easier now they’re both mobile and interacting more effectively, but even simple things like a trip to the park presents different challenges. Quite why the human male hasn’t evolved to develop eagle-eyes, just like Action Man in the seventies, is beyond me.

So, in or out? Hopefully you’ll have thought very carefully before committing. But if you do end up out, take reins.