Rules of the House

In which our reluctant hero considers setting some ground rules.

Keen to avoid an end of week meltdown when I’m home alone, babysitting the kids, for a few days and haven’t written Friday’s blog, my wife sent me a link to a Mumsnet thread to fuel my creative juices. The thread was titled “Batsh*t rules about things that don’t really matter.” Charming.

Mumsnet, eh? So this is what mums get up to all day when dads are at work. No wonder nothing ever gets done.

My first task was to try to decipher it. Who knew that mums spoke in strange code? DH, DM, PIL, DS, DD, DC? What on earth does that all mean? Confused, I referred to the Ox Dict of Abbrevos. That didn’t help either. I guessed at “Lawrence, Direct Message, Public Image Limited, Nintendo, Direct Debit and Washington” which made even less sense put in context. Undeterred, I ploughed on.

Rules are like tour guides holding up yellow brollies up on holiday. You know that they shouldn’t really be needed, but unless they are followed, there will be all manner of chaos and the bus is going back half empty.

Back to the thread. There was a fair bit of debate about domestic things, it being a forum mostly for ladies… (*ducks*)

Some of the “rules” didn’t seem that ridiculous to me, just common sense. And simply doing something properly isn’t a rule, is it? For example, the order of washing things up. Starting with glasses and cutlery, then washing things in order of dirtiness, ending with pans is just a logical way of only using one bowl of water isn’t it? Not a rule.

Brown and red sauce featured heavily. Brown sauce for a sausage sandwich, red for bacon. Or vice versa. (Wrong!) Red for chips but not chippy chips as they have to be eaten without. The chips themselves should, apparently, be eaten first and dipped into ketchup. This is partially correct in that you should always eat the best bit last (which, let’s face it, is never the chips) but ketchup should always be squirted all over everything to save faffing. Again, common sense and definitely not a rule.

I used to work with a bloke who would drink coffee up to 11:59 a.m. before switching to tea at noon. Playing devil’s advocate, I once started making a round of drinks at about ten to twelve (coffee requested) but didn’t deliver until noon just to see what happened. It got poured down the sink.

There’s loads of these, from not putting new shoes on the table, to instructions about hanging washing up, and everything in between. Having ploughed through about ten pages, I was unsure as to whether human behaviour is such that we are all somehow hardwired to create and maintain routines, or whether we are just habitual. And is there even a difference?

Although I don’t have prescriptive rules like you lot – I think we’ve all rightly established that common sense is my primary driver, and that I’m nearly always right – I am a quite habitual creature. I started to wonder if any of my quirks have rubbed off.

Occasionally I spot the little people popping crisps into a sandwich, and they’ve started asking for bread and butter to do the same if we have chips.

When dressing, we all usually put our socks on last. I do this as I haven’t dried my feet properly after my shower and am stalling until the carpet finishes the job for me. The kids probably do as that’s a routine that they’ve inherited. They also both want to rinse their mouth out after cleaning teeth as that’s something that I do, despite disapproving glances from the better half.

Now that they’re both quite good at talking, I’ve noticed phrases being copied and recycled. The little one frequently says “Yes, of course you can” if you ask him for something, which makes me chuckle as it sounds odd coming from a two year old. Our eldest frequently yells at her younger brother, demanding that he does something or other that he hasn’t done. She also makes inappropriately loud comments such as “Do they think that the rules don’t apply to them?” at people parked on the zigzags outside nursery too. I have no idea where that comes from although I could hazard a guess.

But they also at times seem to come up with their own routines without warning. These have, over the years, included toast having to be served in a toast rack, ice cream from the “bird cup”, things removed from the bedroom before sleep, slippers or shoes being placed in bed before sleep, bringing a doll or teddy down for breakfast, and having a biscuit and banana before bed, to name just a few. Some have dropped off over time, but some have stuck. I don’t know whether these rituals were started independently, or influenced from elsewhere. Most likely Peppa Pig. Either way, our weekly spend on bananas is outrageous.

It took a while to think of them, but we only have three proper rules at home.

  • We don’t smack, we cuddle in this house.
  • We always at least try to do a wee before leaving the house or going to bed.
  • No treats if you haven’t eaten dinner.

On the whole, they’re pretty well adhered to, although mummy sometimes struggles with the last one.

At two and four, our children are absolute sponges which is why it’s so important to at least try to set a good example. Behaviours influence behaviours. Now if I could only get them all copying something more useful. Like grouting, putting the bins out or doing the ironing. One day…

  

Fin.

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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.

Choosing Your Battles

In which our reluctant hero considers the only two practical options available. Fight or flight.

Being a Dad and being a manager at work are at times spookily similar roles. You constantly have to deal with temper tantrums, toys being thrown out of the cot and general silliness for little or no thanks. And the pay is rubbish.

Fortunately, the minute that you realise that whatever you do you are never going to win, everything gets much easier.

Becoming a Dad and a manager happened at about the same time for me. As if one ill-prepared voyage into the unknown, with only a punctured dinghy for protection, was not enough, I chose two. Idiot.

After paddling against the tide for a couple years, I downed anchor after realising that it wasn’t the winning, but the taking part that was important. Or, put another way, that you need to choose your battles carefully.

There you go. A top Dad tip. You’re welcome. 

Yes, throwing food, not tidying stuff up, and a constant cry of “DON’T WANT TO!” every time you ask for something to be done is annoying, but does it really matter? Is it worth getting upset about, or simply a behavioural issue to deal with at appraisal time?

Although fully aware of the need to choose wisely, I still can’t help going all in at the wrong times.

I once found myself in an hour-long standoff with my then two year old over mess. Quite a lot of mess, but just mess nonetheless.

Picture the scene. A small child, and a childish, tired-and-somewhat-fed-up-about-always-having-to-pick-up-the-mess adult facing each other, dead-eyed like a pair of Wild West gunslingers. Gunslingers separated only by a sizeable spread of Postman Pat toys. In the Wild West. Or the “Dining Room” if you prefer. “Why do I alway have to pick everything up? IT’S NOT FAIR!” Pathetic really.

I ended picking them all up of course in an ending as predictable as that of Titanic (spoiler – the boat sank.) With hindsight, it was a pointless battle to get involved in. And a pointless film to have watched too.

A race to see who could put the most toys away quickest would have been better. As would teamwork, singing or emotional bribery. Or pretty much anything else if I’m honest. Nobody gets upset, Ted Glenn ends up back in the recesses of the darkened toy box (to do whatever Ted Glenn gets up to in the darkness….) and the naughty step is spared a pounding from toddler feet. Jobs a good’un.

Children being children, there can never be any consistency. Our two are different. One is a strong advocate of the grand emotional gesture and occasional full on waterworks. The other is… well… stubborn and will never back down when he’s got something set in his mind. Just like his mother. Probably.

You need creativity in your approach to get to a desired outcome. Trick them into thinking that everything was their idea all along. Give them credit and a pat on the head if they do something nicely. Offer rewards. A Jammy Dodger per task completed perhaps? Even consider being nice if all else fails and you really have to. But above all, avoid a battle if you can.

Trust me, this simple yet effective technique usually ends with a painless win. So much so that I often adopt it at home with the kids too.

Work out what matters and what doesn’t. Take a deep breath and a step back. Nobody actually died when the heads got ripped off all of the daffodils, although they very nearly did. Deep breaths.

If all else fails and military intervention is needed, hit them where it hurts the most. Reassert your authority. Stand up tall. Stick your chest out and get your inner monologue working overtime. “I am a man. I am a man. I AM A MAN!!” Take decisive action. Switch CBeebies off and hide the remote control. Then head home.

That’ll teach them.