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.

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.

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.

Flushed Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fin.

Every Loser Wins

In which our reluctant hero assesses the competition.

The more perceptive of you may have noticed a picture of a glittery bauble above and assumed that this is another post about Christmas. You would be quite wrong. It isn’t. Well, maybe just a little.

The bauble was decorated by our four year old for her school nursery’s bauble decorating competition. It is an eclectic mix of glitter, more glitter, shiny things, glittery things, a couple of stickers and a feather for good measure, stuck down with a gallon of PVA glue. Over the course of several sittings, the layers slowly built up until, finally, it was ready for entry into the competition. The time and effort put in was incredible. Best of all, she did it all by herself. All of it.

The temptation to help, be it design tips, submitting draft plans, or simply pointing out the bits missing glue and glitter was torturous. It always is. We could have decorated our own baubles of course but where would the fun be in that? It’s better to sit in the back seat squawking out directions or shouting “ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET?” than actually driving after all.

Will the bauble win a prize? Who knows. Does it matter? Probably not. Or does it?

We all like to succeed, it’s human nature. Doing something well makes you like doing it just that bit more than doing something that you’re a bit rubbish at. Add winning a prize into the mix and bingo. A passion for life. Maybe.

If the task is too easy or too difficult though, you may lose interest. However, if there’s sufficient challenge and things are still achievable then that’s probably about right. Like playing those machines at the amusement arcade where you get to feel a fluffy toy with a grabber three times for a quid. It’s tricky, but with persistence, dedication and about fifty quid in change, you know that you’ll win in the end.

But is competition really the answer, especially when little people are involved?

Like with most things in life, there are pros and cons. Positives could perhaps include increased self-esteem, learning how to win or lose gracefully, understanding the importance of team participation, trying new things, making new friends, learning to set achievable goals, to name but a few. On the flip side, confidence could take a knock or interest in taking part could be lost, causing withdrawal or even stress. Blimey.

Most of the negatives are unthinkable as a parent, especially the stress element. But there has to be a balance somewhere. Life isn’t about winning all of the time, but it can’t be about losing all of the time either. Either extreme is unhealthy, be it for children or adults.

Another consideration in this is our natural competitiveness. As an example, our daughter became interested in board games at about two years old. Once the basic concept of a given game was grasped, we would start to play, but it wouldn’t be long before she start cheating. If rumbled, it was full on waterworks in seconds and she no longer wanted to play. It’s genuinely puzzling as to where this behaviour came from at such a young age, although I distinctly remember her uncle displaying similar traits as a youngster. *Coughs*

Now at a similar age, our youngest occasionally wants to win too, especially in the ‘jama race. He is also prone to the odd bit of cheating too, a recent favourite being “I saw the sea first!!” while driving through Spaghetti Junction on the way to holidays. That’s not the sea, it’s Star City.

The compromise (according to the internet which is never ever wrong) appears to be “healthy competition,” whatever that is.

Having popped my thinking boots on, I’ve interpreted this as probably meaning working out what you motivates you, what you’re trying to achieve, being sensible and, importantly, making sure that you enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing.

So, if you love skiing and it turns out that you’re good at it, great. Ski as fast as you can and try to compete against other skiers if that’s your want. If you love skiing but keep coming last, maybe stop worrying about everybody else. Ski against yourself or the clock instead. Set sensible goals, try to improve, take pleasure from your achievements, do the best you can and enjoy it. And if that doesn’t work, forget the slopes, head for the jumps and bang in an application to enter the Winter Olympics instead, like this fella did.

And there’s maybe a lesson for us all in there somewhere. You may not be the best, but keep persevering and smiling and you can achieve things. Probably the best thing that we can do as parents is to encourage and support our children, rather than set the bar too high and knock them down.

Getting back to the bauble. Our daughter understands that she’s entering a competition, but I get the impression that it won’t be the end of the world if she doesn’t win. She put a load of thought and effort in, did the very best she could all by herself, and enjoyed it without any pressure. And I’m happy with that.

Hopefully the teachers will spot any baubles where a ringer has been drafted in to help come judgment day. If they don’t, rest assured that my paint brushes and tube of UHU are coming out next time. Not that I’m competitive or anything.

Fin.

A Balancing Act

In which our reluctant hero learns something new.

They say that you learn something new each day. It’s true that. Take this morning for example where I, and three fellow commuters, learned not to assume that a BMW driver, who was not indicating, wouldn’t be turning right as we fled for safety like proverbial bunnies in the headlights while attempting to cross the road to the station.

As parents, we instinctively try to help our little people learn and develop new skills. In the early days this may involve encouraging those first attempts at a smile, gripping and shaking a rattle or simply knocking things over. In a way, this stage is probably the easiest as if your child is having fun doing an activity, pretty much any activity, then they are learning.

In hindsight this is a rewarding period as a parent. Knowing that playing with something as simple as a cardboard box will provide hours of giggles and they’ll think that you’re the world’s best Dad as a result is brilliant. Make the most of it. It won’t last.

Different skills become essential to independence as children get older, such as using a spoon, walking, talking and being able to charge a flat tablet back up.

Then there’s the more “academic” stuff, like learning to count and recognise numbers. When our eldest was little, each time we walked up or downstairs we would count each step until, eventually, she could recite the pattern like a performing monkey. Which, of course, we made her do countless times, especially in front of parents with children slightly older. (And don’t tell me that you didn’t do this too, parents of two year olds…) Oddly, our youngest seems to have taught himself the same skill with little help from ourselves AND remembers to include the number eight more often than not.

There seems to be conflicting messages around learning though. There’s the school of thought that children do things in their own time and we should just let them get on with it. Which is probably true, to a degree. Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.

But, by the time that they start at school nursery at three there’s an expectation that children can use the toilet, know about food and eating well, can hold a pencil properly and attempt to write their name, and so on. Yet we are often told that if we do too much at home there will be nothing for the children to learn at school and they’ll get bored. What’s the balance? It seems that you can’t win.

Although primarily focussed on an older age group, there was an interesting article on the BBC website this week which discussed whether homework was worth the hassle. In it, a Texan teacher proposed “I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your children to bed early.” as an alternative approach to extra curricular learning.

Now, I have no idea if this is a sensible approach to adopt with an eleven year old or not, but it seems pretty sound advice for when the children are little.

So, in the first three years, is it better to focus on the things that children are not going to learn at nursery or school later? Do things together and play lots?

If we take the academic element away, that presumably leaves more of a focus on the creative side. Albert Einstein once said that “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” and, being a bit of a clever clogs himself, he could well be right.

So, maybe it is time to chuck the “Differential Calculus for Infants” book in the bin and fetch out the Lego, books, Play Doh and dressing up things instead. And don’t worry. You can always sneak some sums, telling the time, spelling and Spanish lessons in with a few careful telly choices.

School Daze

In which our reluctant hero is not sure what to do for the best. Again.

After almost two weeks, Facebook’s random algorithm that decides which of your “friend’s” posts it will actually allow you to see has caught up. Yes, the last few snaps of little people, kitted out in shiny new shoes and colourful jumpers, ready for a new school year have finally disappeared. Fortunately, normality has returned and everybody is back posting photos of their dinner instead. Phew!

Don’t get me wrong, we were guilty too as our eldest stood beaming ahead of commencing her first full year at school nursery. Uniform is optional but we bought some anyway. Almost a week into term, quite why we reckoned that three white polo shirts would be enough to last five mornings on a three-year old is beyond me. Does anybody have any tips on removing egg stains by the way? (I’m asking for a friend.)

Time moving like time does, it seems that as soon as the little people are out of nappies, they’re into school uniform. Then back out of uniform and into a fresh set after an unexpected incident involving Weetabix.

But before all of this you have the dilemma of choosing a school, nursery or playgroup. And what a nightmare it is.

We have been somewhat lucky up to now. As a family with a stay at home mum, we didn’t have to worry about external childcare for a couple of years. When the time came, we visited a couple of places before picking the nearest playgroup which was a nice enough start to school life. So far, so good.

At three, nursery choices were narrowed by our local primary school not having one and a need, at that point, to find a place that accommodated afternoon attendance. We’ve now switched to mornings so that we can also start our youngest in playgroup for a couple of sessions a week.

Already there’s military style planning needed to manage the respective drop-offs and pick-ups at two events starting and finishing at different times a mile or so apart. By this time next year it could be a lot more complicated.

In the olden days, when I were a lad, it was easy. At three, it was off to the village playgroup, followed by the village primary school. At eleven, a short bus ride was required to get to the nearest comprehensive in the “big” town. Repeat until sixteen, get your GCSE results and then decide whether to do ‘A’ Levels or get a job in Kwik Save with everyone else who left school at that point.

Fast forward to 21st Century Britain and now we have a choice. Or several choices. Thanks Government.

Pick a school, any school. There you go. No, not that one. Did you not read the Ofsted report from 2013? And look at the current league table. There could be a relegation battle on the cards this year. Do you not care about your children’s futures? Shame on you.

So, just how do we choose the right one?

Ideally it will be local and near enough to walk to. Having a nursery so that both children can attend the same place when the youngest starts next September will be a huge plus too.

Now the decisions get trickier. How big are the class sizes? What are the facilities like? How many schools should we realistically be visiting to compare? Is a couple of days assessment by some people with clipboards and a red pen really an accurate measure of how good a school is? If a school can fob Ofsted off, what chance have we got? Do the league tables actually matter? Seemingly so, at least to other parents anyway.

After copious amounts of study, I think that I have finally worked out the modern-day school system which I will attempt to explain below in simple language so that other Dads will understand.

A football club (school) wins the cup (gets a favourable Ofsted), improves its league position, gains promotion to the Premier League and qualifies for Europe. The glory hunting fans (parents) are quick to jump on board, claiming to be life long supporters, and buy the new kit (uniform.) Bus loads of new players (pupils) appear at the club’s training ground (playground) from all over the world (town) during pre-season (school holidays) hoping to win a contract for next season (term.) The transfer window slams shut and the manager (headmaster) faces a dilemma – how to get an oversized, unbalanced squad of varying abilities to perform and achieve success. They try but fail, performances drop and results suffer. A slide down the table occurs and at the end of the season, agents (parents again) battle furiously to sign their star players (children) up to another club (school), preferably with European ambitions. Oddly, the new club that the players join were relegated to the Championship only a couple of seasons ago, before appointing a new manager (headmaster) and bouncing back (did well at Ofsted and SATs.) And the circle is complete.

Bearing this in mind, are we not better just continuing at the place where the eldest is? After all, she’s settled, absolutely loves going there and we, as parents, have been impressed with the set up so far. Sounds reasonable, yes? But there’s no guarantee that she’ll get in, so even that option requires two backup plans, else risk having to go through clearing or win a penalty shootout.

What about home schooling? It’s a subject in the papers a lot at the moment and we’ve not even considered it. Perhaps that’s a better option. It’ll save all of the faffing getting there and back, especially in the winter, and there must be loads of lessons on YouTube that the children can watch.

Or what about grammar or free schools? No, let’s not even go there…

So those are the options and the clock is ticking for us to make a decision. I’m stumped if I know what to do. More study first I guess.