Wouldn’t it be Nice?

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)

    Tellin’ Stories

    In which our reluctant hero discovers that there’s more to life than books. But not much more.

    Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

    This week is National Storytelling Week. Coincidentally, it is also the first week this year that I’ve started reading a book that doesn’t feature princesses or a monkey that has lost his mum. And what better excuse for the evil natured programme planners at CBeebies Towers to spice things up by wheeling out Tom Hardy (whoever he is) to do “Bedtime Stories” for the second time in a month. Can’t you give us poor dads a break?

    21st century almost-grown-ups are apparently reading more than ever. Sadly, for many of us, this is largely noise, cranked up to eleven, from the endless inane soundbites and clickbait that we are bombarded with during our waking hours.

    For may parents, the exception to this involuntary rule is the bedtime story. Children’s fiction may not be Shakespeare, but at least it contains coherent chunks that span more than 140 characters.

    Story time is often presented as an idyllic parenting ritual, where sleepy-eyed little people hang on mum or dad’s every word before cuddles and the nightly lecture about not getting out of bed until the sun is “up up” on the Gro-clock.

    And, to be fair, it usually is. It’s the bouncing on the sofa, emptying the re-stocked toy cupboard, arguing over telly programmes, refusing to go upstairs, splashing in the bath, refusing to brush teeth, suddenly becoming hungry seconds after eventually brushing teeth, jumping in the wrong bed and arguing over who’s turn it is for mum to do the stories beforehand that’s the problem. Every. Single. Night. But that’s not the story’s fault, is it?

    We read to our children because it’s important. Important as part of the bedtime routine. Important as it’s usually calm one on one time doing a shared thing, which is nice whether you’ve been out at work all day and missed everything else or not. Important as it fuels the imagination in a way that telly just can’t. Important as it can help increase literacy and learning in the long term, and help shape the next generation of cool kids that hang around in libraries and Waterstones at a certain age.

    But what chance have we got of keeping our children interested in reading once they can do it by themselves?

    My book is on my tablet which is convenient for commuting. But with the tablet comes distractions. There’s enough games, music, films and telly to provide a lifetime of entertainment and the temptation for me, an adult-ish man, not to read is often overwhelming. Children hardly stand a chance.

    Creativity requires time and patience, and often rises from boredom. Proper boredom rarely happens with so many distractions and the constant flitting from one thing to another must have a negative effect on our attention span. (Ooh, look… an aeroplane.) If we can’t concentrate long enough to read a book then we’re unlikely to do so long enough to write one. At this rate we’ll have run out of authors by the 22nd century. Perhaps we just won’t need any by then.

    However, all is not lost in the battle to save the humble story.

    Making time to read with children is the obvious first step. I’m finding that as our eldest is growing up and able to read some words, she is showing far greater interest in the actual stories and is asking questions about them. Which is great when they’re about things that I know about or can make up, less so if querying holes in the plot or anything Disney related, two concepts that sort of come hand in hand.

    Technology, used in the right way, may help too. Love them or loathe them, the gadgets are not going away, so why not give them a big cuddle? The tablet is not just your fifty quid babysitter from Amazon but a seven inch personal tutor too.

    While I’m in no hurry to ditch the old fashioned hardbacks at bedtime, there are plenty of alternatives for the bits in between. We have a free app with old stories like The Gingerbread Man on that our eldest likes, and the CBeebies Storytime app is excellent entertainment for a variety of ages. Even Dr Seuss is available for a couple of quid and there’s loads of phonics apps to help develop reading skills too. Sneaking some fun learning into playtime has to be better than another half hour of American children opening Kinder eggs on YouTube, right? I reckon that our two year old will be reading Dostoyevsky by the time he gets to nursery at this rate.

    There’s creative things to try too. After we read Alice in Wonderland one bedtime, our daughter discussed using our imaginations, being a central theme of the story. She was adamant that she couldn’t make up her own stories until I suggested that changing bits of her favourite story may be a good way to start. So she had a go. Ok, “The Bear Who Came to Tea” may result in a lawsuit if it ever gets published, but she really enjoyed doing it and there were sparks of proper creativity going on, even at such a young age.

    If I can nurture this creativity, I reckon that I can handover blog writing duties by the summer. After all, banging the same old rubbish out each week with a few words and ideas changed is all that I do. In the meantime, there’s always Tom Hardy for her to watch on telly with all of the thirty and fortysomething old girls across the land.
    Fin.

    Potential Deathtraps 

    In which our reluctant hero pops on his hard hat and does a risk assessment. Or something.

    We’re not yet through a month of the new year and the world has officially gone mad.

    In the week that saw a narcissistic reality TV host being made Leader of the soon-to-be-no-longer-free World, Brexit at the Supreme Court, AND The Daily Mail stirring up the frenzy that was the great baby wearing debate, another news item stuck out as being even more scary and ridiculous. Yes, apparently, Sophie the Giraffe is trying to kill us all TO DEATH.

    If you missed the story, a New Jersey dentist reported noticing musty smelling air coming out of a hole in her child’s toy. So she cut it open and found that this particular Sophie had a dark secret lurking inside its insides. A dark, little bit stinky secret in fact, in the form of “smelly, ugly mould” living inside its rubber tummy. Blimey.

    You would think that in this week of all weeks, Americans (and the rest of the world to be fair) would have just a teeny bit more to worry about. But no. Unsurprisingly, in this age of “not news” and “alternative facts” that we live in, Sophie’s secret didn’t stay a secret for long. Soon after, paranoid parents across the globe sharpened their scissors and took action.

    After the cutting, ripping and general butchery was done, guess what they found? Predictably, lumps of otherwise faultless and spotlessly clean ex-rubber giraffe spread across their kitchen worktops. What else?

    As you may or may not know, mould thrives in conditions where it is damp and warm. Sophie the Giraffe’s squeaker also prevents much moisture getting inside. So, unless you are the sort of idiot that washes a rubber giraffe with the other pots and pans in a washing up bowl, thus allowing a load of water to get sucked up, it should remain mould free. In unrelated news, our Sophie ended up in the bin sometime in 2013… *coughs*

    Anyway, this silly story got me worried that killer rubber animals may not be the only potential deathtraps in and around the home. So I wracked my brains to unearth some others.

    And here’s what I came up with, thanks to a little help from some similarly slapdash parents that I know, via the medium of my wife’s WhatsApp.

    The Floor
    Mop your kitchen or hall floors. Go on. Then steam clean them. Then mop again. Once dried, rub with a baby wipe and look what comes off. Would you eat your dinner off it? No, but your toddler is up and down all day and occasionally eats bits of theirs of it. It’s just a bit of dirt though. It’ll be fine. Probably.

    Squirty Bath Toys
    Similar risks, but the squirty toy may be even more dangerous than Sophie the Giraffe, if such a concept can be entertained. Leave forgotten in a cupboard for a few months then watch the black flakes fly out as your little people squirt each other in the bath. A potential deathtrap disguised as a penguin. Eek.

    Scissors
    You think that they are out of harm’s way, but then it’s a quick snip and off to A&E. See also secateurs, which were thankfully spotted before any fingers got pruned in our garden earlier in the week.

    Scooting
    Scooting to nursery without a helmet? The exercise is good, right, and what harm can it do if kept to the pavements? We didn’t have helmets after all. Or scooters for that matter. Now aware, guess what we’re going to be purchasing on Amazon at the weekend?

    Things on the Stairs
    When I were a lad, roller-skates at the top of the stairs were one of the two go to cartoon banana skins, so to speak. The other being a banana skin. These days it’s toy cars, tractors, balls, books, party bags, trainers, dressing up clothes, our cats and pretty much everything else causing the issue. The kids will probably be fine, but if mum or dad don’t one day break a limb, I will be amazed.

    Matches
    Essential for lighting a nice fire to keep your little people warm on a cold day. Also, I’m told, one of the first things to be found and played with when our friend’s little person learned to commando crawl.

    Tooling a Toddler Up
    Not content with encouraging toddler arson, our correspondent reports that her daughter also had a knife confiscated at nursery. Now I know that Wolverhampton can be rough at times but too far, yes? And to think we let our children play together…

    Thermometers
    Vital apparatus for checking that the little people haven’t got a temperature, come the lurgy. However, watch out for attempts to shove it down an unsuspecting ear drum when playing doctors and nurses. Ouch.

    Overheating
    Leading on from matches and thermometers comes overheating. (Anyone would think that this is planned.) Too hot or too cold? It’s a right dilemma for new parents. Fortunately our Asda cellular blanket provided the following helpful advice on the label.

    “Do not let your baby overheat. Keep away from fire and flames.”

    Whatever you say Mr. Blanket. Whatever.

    Play-Doh
    It’s fun and harmless, right? So there’s no problem if your toddler feeds her five month old baby brother a pretend egg then? The salt in it will make it taste nicer. Play? D’OH!

    Sensory beads
    What better development aid than good old sensory beads. Cheap too if you use pound shop Christmas decorations instead of those fancy expensive ones that don’t tangle round toddlers. Keep those eyes peeled just in case. (Not my bad this one, I hasten to add. Although it could have been.)

    Jigsaws
    Keen to make amends for the sensory bead disaster that almost was, our other eagle-eyed correspondent narrowly avoided another potentially disastrous patenting fail. Thankfully she spotted the “Not suitable for children under 36 months” sticker on her toddler son’s six piece jigsaw and hid it before it was too late. Phew.

    I’m sure that this is only scraping the surface of the tip of the iceberg, to mix metaphors just because I can.

    If you think of any more, feel free to let me know in the comments, or on the lovely new “Babysitting The Kids” Facebook page using the hashtag #moredangerousthansophiethegiraffe

    Fin.

    We Can Work it Out

    In which our reluctant hero attempts to shake up governmental policy and employment law to get dads a better deal. Or something.

    21st Century Britain has seen many changes. If we’re honest, most of them since 2010 have been pretty bad. And the less said about 2016, the better.

    One of the more pleasing changes, as reported in the papers this week, is the increasing involvement of dads in child rearing, if rearing is the right word. (I’ve an image of sheep stuck in my head now, but it’ll have to do.)

    Anyway, a survey by “The Modern Families Index” (no, me neither) has revealed that 47% of dads would be happy to take a less demanding job and a pay cut to spend more time with their families. “Happy” is such subjective word, don’t you find?

    Not answering the key question of “who the bobbins did they survey?” aside, the Guardian article that I read raised an interesting issue. Women have struggled to find suitable, flexible work for years, but, apparently, men are now more likely to face discrimination when asking for flexible or part-time work. Blimey. On a positive note, men suffering too may mean that something actually gets done about it. Go sisters! I mean brothers…

    The option of home working or working flexibly is sadly not available to all. With technology potentially making this easier, employers could, and probably should, do more to be not just family friendly, but people friendly. It would be a good start to addressing some of the problems and an easy win.

    But there’s also times in life when all of us need a bit more than a couple of hours or days off, be it flexible, unpaid or extended leave, especially when children appear.

    The government’s flagship policy of shared parental leave has been somewhat of a disaster, possibly as it requires mums to jump out of their hospital beds and back on the work merry-go-round at the first opportunity. Some may want to do this of course, but clearly not many.

    So how do you fix the problem of employers and politicians not understanding what families need? Get a dad to write it all down, obviously.

    Here goes…

    0-3 Months (first child)
    Every new parent has “L” plates on for the first three months. Two weeks paternity leave? That’s not enough time to get your head around the upheaval, let alone deal with any of it. Once the fortnight is up, you need to establish another new routine to replace the one that you’ve just nailed. Double trouble.

    Paternity leave of up to four weeks for those who want it, preferably paid, may be a good start.

    3-6 Months (first child)
    The “L” plates are in the bin, replaced by “P” plates. You’ve passed the first test, but it’s still better to warn other folk that you may be prone to the odd erratic manoeuvre and occasional prang. My blurry memory recalls this period being relatively calm asides from the continued night-time wake ups for mum.

    By this point, mum is pretty much in control of everything else and not shy about telling dad this.

    Dad duties mostly involve giving mum a break and finally seeing their child do something other than cry and poo. This is a refreshing change from quarter one, trust me, and chances are that you’re not missing out on much due to work.

    6-12 Months (first child)
    The second half of year one presents a new and exciting challenge in the form of movement. Why Mother Nature hasn’t risk assessed and let human evolution work on adding an extra pair of eyes in the back of the head is beyond me.

    The calm was indeed before the storm. You suddenly realise that your house isn’t anywhere near as childproof as you had thought. Top tip: Buy shares in UHU. Dad will be needed to remove things that aren’t yet broken, and to fix the rest. You’ll probably find him hiding in the shed quite a lot. Mums should avoid mentioning taking any time off even though they’re in need of a rest.

    12-18 Months (first child)
    It’s a doddle this parenting lark, isn’t it? Stuff is still occasionally smashed into a million pieces and you will have invested in a Mr Bump bruise soother by now. Parents and child are starting to communicate and be mutually understood, which is nice. Mum and Dad are still tired and grunting at each other, but you can’t have everything.

    You finally feel like you’re getting somewhere. You notice rapid developmental changes and playing is so much more fun than it was. Sleep is fixed, dinner occasionally stays on the plate rather than on the floor in-between mouthfuls, and your little person is genuinely happy to see you when you walk through the door after a hard day’s yacker.

    If I had my pick, this is when I would take off, particularly if it’s summer. The hard work of year one has been done. It’s time for a cuppa and to enjoy things.

    18-24 Months (first child, latter stages of pregnancy) and 0-6 Months (second child)
    Top tip. Leave a bigger age gap. A much bigger age gap. About fourteen years should be plenty, with the added bonus of a free babysitter in a couple of years.

    Ok, dads. You had forgotten all about the “uffing” hadn’t you?

    So the situation now is that you have a toddler zooming round like the Duracell Bunny with a faulty off switch, and a better half that needs winching off the sofa every two minutes to go to the loo. It’s just like last time, but with no downtime whatsoever for mum or dad for periods of up to fourteen hours.

    Mum will probably want dad to take some extra time off as she approaches full term. Dad will be adamant that it’s better to save his leave for later.

    Post new arrival, this period pretty much mirrors the first six months as before. Only with a toddler permanently pulling at your legs and stamping their feet any time that you even so much glance at the uninvited guest that is clinging like a limpet to mum. Oh, and with no prospect of a lie in. Or a sit down. Or a cuppa or food anything warmer than tepid. Ever. Again.

    Up to nursery or school age (first and second children)
    Repeat until nursery or school kicks in. This is your life now. Get used to it.

    Nursery or school age (first and second children)
    The dreaded “school run” begins. Too many things to do in too little time while negotiating leaving the house. Plus there’s nativities, assemblies, bonnet making, parents evenings, teacher training days, sickness, mums going off to the spa, and a million other things to coordinate.

    If flexible working wasn’t needed before, it is now.

    So there you go. A solution of sorts. Probably. Why not print a couple of copies off, pop one in the post addressed to your local MP, and bang the other on your boss’ desk on Monday morning. What could possibly go wrong?

    Fin.

    Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

    In which our reluctant hero writes a sort of topical post.

    Thursday 12th January 2017
    It’s early. Too early. I slurp the dregs of my almost cold cuppa and start to apply layers of clothing before leaving for work. Shirt, tank top, fleece, duffel coat, scarf, gloves, hat, thick socks, emergency hat. Pants and trousers too, naturally. What do you take me for?

    As the wind howls, I regret not fishing my long johns out of the drawers before bed. It’s too late now. I’ll take my chances against the elements, rather than risk any fallout from waking the missus up.

    Leaving the house, it doesn’t feel that cold. Maybe it’s the layers. Maybe it’s not that cold. Or more likely a bit of both.

    For clarification, I don’t usually wear every item purchased at the 2001 C&A closing down sale on a weekday morning. But today is going to be different. It’s going to snow. Probably.

    I check my phone. The Guardian’s live snow blog, which is normally the barometer of impending doom, isn’t up yet. So far so good. However, it seems that I am wise in being prepared.

    The BBC Weather app shows two days of intermittent snow for Wolverhampton. ITV News, whatever that is, is talking about gale force winds of 75mph and snow headed our way. Huffington Post are similarly predicting wintry polar blasts. Even The Independent are banging on about something called “Thundersnow” battering poor old Blighty. They’re making it up now. I don’t bother checking The Daily Express’ variant on “UK BLIZZARDS DISPEL GLOBAL WARMING MYTH” as that will just annoy me. Even the Met Office are issuing warnings of yellow snow. Or issuing yellow warnings of snow. Or something. Either way, it sounds bad.

    I was born, and grew up, in Wales in the 1970’s. My blurry recollection is of snow most winters and, when it came, it came good and proper. The world momentarily stopped. We all downed tools (asides from snow shovels) and just got on with it.

    Snowy days were great when I was little as it generally meant no school and lots of playing. Snowmen with coal for buttons and carrots for noses. Snowballs, sledging on bin bags out in the fields, freezing half to death, but back for tea to thaw out again.

    Back then the weather was properly seasonal. These days it seems to flip between nothingness and total disaster. As a result, at four and two, our children have barely seen more than a dusting of snow, which seems a shame.

    Having seen Amazon’s lovely “The Snowy Day” over Christmas, the children, or our eldest at least, are looking forward to making angels in the snow and catching snowflakes on their tongues next time it comes. Idyllic as it sounds, this may sadly not be possible as, the way 21st Century weather cycles are going, the next cold snap will probably be a mini Ice Age.

    Our daughter first saw snow at two months old. I took her out into the garden to look at it, mummified in more layers than I was in this morning. It was cold and bright and she had no idea what was going on. After five minutes outside, new parent paranoia kicked in and it was back to the house where I checked her temperature for the next two hours in case of hypothermia.

    Everything was of course fine, apart from when my frosty hands touched her skin. “SHE’S CRYING AGAIN! I’VE FROZEN HER!”

    It was no wonder that I was worried. As, at the time, a first time parent of a tiny child, everybody who came through our front door had strong opinions (which they were all too eager to voice) about whether our baby was too hot, too cold, about right, or just needed another ten minutes to be done. Take a layer off, and the next person would put it back. Pop a layer on…

    Needless to say, two years on, our youngest had his first glimpse of snow out of Gran and Grandad’s front window as big sister played outside with her uncle.

    The next time it snowed, I took both children to the local park. It was the frostiest of mornings and we managed about ten minutes playing before our son, then one, started crying as his hands were too cold.

    “Well, if you’re holding onto a frozen roundabout wheel without gloves, what do you expect?”

    Nobody ever listens to Dad.

    This (crying and cold things, although not listening to Dad is equally valid) has become a bit of a recurring theme. At a similar age, the waterworks were back on when he stuck his finger into an ice cream for too long. Ice cream and tears were reunited once more last summer, although this time an unprovoked attack by a sugar-crazed bee while we watched “Punch and Judy” in Llandudno was to blame.

    Killer bee attacks asides, preparing against the elements is so much easier now that our children can talk. There are however three golden rules to remember;

    1. Occasionally, little people get “hot” and “cold” mixed up. So if you’re heading out into a blizzard, don’t take the snow suit off and pop swimming trunks on just because they said to.
    2. Prepare for the cold all you like, but at least half of the hats, gloves and scarves (maybe even wellies and socks too) that you start with will be lost within two minutes of leaving the house.
    3. Any item of protective layering not lost in the first two minutes will be unfit for use within a further three minutes. Socks will be soaked and gloves caked in lord knows what having been dragged down the sides of parked cars. You’ll notice a passing dog wearing a vaguely familiar Frozen scarf. Buy ten identical items of everything. Take spares and spares of spares. You still won’t have enough but you’re at least be in with a chance…

    Back to the present-ish.

    Thursday 12th January – 5:14 pm

    It’s snowing. Heavily. I was right. Yay!

    Oh. Hang on… There has been drizzle all day and the snowflakes are dying. My snow blog goes up tomorrow and at this rate there’s going to be no snow. The heavy stuff forecast for tonight better come, otherwise I’m going to look like a right idiot. Again.

    And if there’s no snow I won’t get to post my mildly amusing meme debut. This is terrible.

    Thursday 12th January – 10:26 pm
    Things are looking more promising. The drizzle has turned to ice and snow is still forecast despite it being the clearest of nights. On a positive, it’s also Friday 13th tomorrow. It’ll look like Narnia by morning. Sorted.

    Friday 13th January – 6:04 am
    *Does a little snow dance in the kitchen*

    Nothing.

    Friday 13th January – 8:42 am
    A flurry in Birmingham. Get in!

    Friday 13th January – 8:43 am
    It’s stopped. It didn’t stick. Nothing.

    Friday 13th January – 15:00 pm
    More nothingness in Birmingham. The snow clouds must still be in Wolverhampton.

    Friday 13th January – 17:23 pm
    No snow in Wolverhampton.

    But wait. It turns out that the blogging gods were kind enough to have sent some during the school run. The kids saw the snow, messed around in it for a bit, were late for nursery, and all was well with the world. About an hour later it had gone. No matter. A topical post. Done.

    So, there you go. Some anecdotes and advice about something that didn’t really happen much or for long.

    Don’t forget to tune back in next week when I’ll be out and about putting children’s sun block and paddling shoes to the test at Tettenhall Pool.

    Fin.

    The Age Of Resolution

    In which our reluctant hero resolves things. Probably.

    Twenty seventeen. Or 2017 if you prefer. Or 1720 if you are from America. Yes, it’s time to take a deep breath and pop the humbugs back in the drawer until Christmas 2017 begins next September. We, the parents, made it to January. Go us! Happy New Year!

    Today being Epiphany, most of us will have taken the decorations down by now. The hand-me-down Woolworths genuine plastic fir tree circa 1983 (a fine vintage, I think that you’ll agree) will have been crammed back into the loft. The Christmas tablecloth is on its tenth boil wash to finally remove Christmas from it. Many of us will be back to work. The little people may be back at playgroup, nursery, school, Auntie Doreen’s or wherever. Despite finally dragging the Hoover round, the house still looks like a glitter bomb has been detonated at a tip. Everything is back to normal.

    Earlier in the week, you may even have made New Year resolutions…

    Resolution (noun) – A firm decision to do or not to do something, bang on about it for a few days on Facebook before promptly sacking it off while penning through “The Bumper Book of Lousy Excuses” to justify said sacking.

    It’s January 6th today, so I’m guessing that I’m probably right, yes?

    I’ve never really seen the point in making New Year’s Resolutions and resolved not to make any one new year some time back. To my mind, how they work goes something like this.

    “Yeah, I’m definitely (starting/ giving up/ doing)* [insert name of thing, hobby or person] after Christmas. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for ages.” etc..
    “Well done you. Have you tried before?”
    “Errr… Yes. Last New Year.”
    “Oh, yes. How did that go?”
    “Brilliantly.”
    “Really?”
    “No. Not really. I really stuck to it at first. It was going so well. But then (my budgie died/ Waitrose ran out of quinoa/ my laces snapped/ the batteries ran out/ I tweaked something/ the dog ate it)* and I had to stop. There was nothing I could do. Such a shame. I was gutted.”
    “Never mind. It’s the thought that counts. There’s always next year.”

    (*) delete as appropriate

    If you’re going to do something, just get on and do it. Preferably quietly, and preferably not starting on January 1st if you intend to stick to it. That’s what I always do. Probably.

    Rewind to January 1st.

    10:30 – “I’m going to try to have more patience with the children this year.”
    11:45 – “AAAAARRRRGGHHH!”
    19:05 – *Pours ginger beer*
    19:06 – “Stupid Dry January.”

    What a daft thing to have come out with so early on a morning shift. Doubly so with two whole days of babysitting to negotiate before going back to work for a well earned rest.

    I can’t remember what the children had done to drag me kicking and screaming from my zen like state. I’ll guess at something not worth getting upset about, on top of another dozen or so things not worth getting upset about over a couple of hours. (Top tip: Tolerance levels drop exponentially with time. Pass the baton within three hours if you can.)

    Pointless resolutions asides, such an early parenting fail got me thinking about things that I could maybe do better as a Dad in 2017. Accepting that I would still be typing come next Christmas if I were to list everything, here’s a select few that stick out as hopefully achievable. More New Year’s “aspirations” than resolutions.

    Be more tolerant
    Yes, really. My D- on New Year’s Day wasn’t a good start, granted. But there’s something to work with as long as I remember the golden rule that there’s no point in trying to achieve anything, be it having a wash, making a cuppa or finishing building a house of cards, while left in charge. If they suspect that you’re not paying enough attention you’ve had it.

    Make some photo albums
    I covered this in an earlier blog but, unsurprisingly, haven’t done anything abut it. I plan to start simply, selecting a photo for every month since birth, and see what that looks like. A couple of hours spent browsing Google Photos and a trip to Boots the Chemists is all that’s needed. How hard can that be?

    Do more musical things
    I can play quite a lot of instruments (mostly badly) and the kids love music if our attempts to write a Christmas song for Eric the Elf are an indicator. Re-string the little guitar, get the shakers, Bontempi organ, plastic trombone, mouthorgan and Early Learning Centre Orchestra out and make some noise. That’s the odd half an afternoon killed even if no Christmas number one at the end.

    Work on a new bedtime teeth, toilet and tales strategy
    I’m a trained analyst. A simple brainstorm, project plan, terms of reference, report, recommendations and implementation plan, and I *should* be able to outsmart a four year old at bedtime. Probably.

    Try more foods on the plate
    I’m not proposing scrapping fish fingers and mash and replacing with inky squid risotto here. But our eldest has happily eaten baked potato skin, parsnip (mistaking for a roast potato) and boiled rice over the past few weeks. Our youngest, raw yellow peppers. A spoonful of something new off our plates with their favourites each day can’t harm, unless vindaloo. Also cut back on their sugar intake. It really isn’t their friend.

    Get outdoors
    Yes, it has been colder. Yes, it has been Christmas. But being inside for long periods just isn’t healthy. Tiredness brings it’s own problems, granted, but tiring the little people out physically as well as mentally makes things so much more manageable. It may also help me shift a couple of pounds of dry roasted peanuts and After Eights that have congregated under the layer under my t-shirt over the last couple of weeks.

    See, that wasn’t so bad was it? Not being resolutions, it doesn’t matter when I start them either. And if I forget or give up, there’s always next year.

     

    Fin.

    Question Time

    In which our reluctant hero gets his excuses in early.

    Last minute Christmas shopping. Last minute food shopping. Pub. Wrapping. Re-wrapping. Writing labels. Building a flat pack ice cream shop. Dismantling and re-mantling a flat pack ice cream shop after realising that the sides were on the wrong way. Lugging presents downstairs for Father Christmas. Peeling veg on Christmas Eve. Up before the “Sun’s up up in my room, Daddy!” every morning. Overexcited little people. Opening presents. Trying to work out who sent the previously opened presents. Tidying up the mess. Boiling sprouts to within an inch of their existence. Basting the turkey. Serving Christmas dinner. Serving Christmas dinner to the cats. Pulling crackers at every meal or snack time. Rediscovering the terrible joke in our homemade cracker. Setting fire to the pudding. Putting out hat that was a bit too close to the pudding. Washing up. Eating a wheelbarrow’s worth of Celebrations by coffee time. Bedtime meltdowns. Bedtime meltdowns by the kids too. Tidying up the mess. Again. Trip to the tip. Almost chucking the youngest’s buggy in the skips (oops.) Etc.

    Christmas. Marvellous isn’t it?

    I’ll forgive you for mistaking the above for a thirty second Groundhog Day-esque summary of Christmas Eve to Boxing Day. Close. It is in fact a rather hastily list of excuses as to why I haven’t written, or even thought about writing, a proper post this week. Which is odd as the Christmas period is often seen as a time for quiet thought and contemplation. Its Christmas. With kids. Fat chance.

    Although not contemplated quietly, some deep, interesting, and theological (probably) questions did occasionally pop into my head over the period. A fleeting in and out, like Santa on a speed date. Questions such as (in no particular order);

    • Why are over fifty screws, nuts and bolts needed to build a child’s ice cream shop?
    • Where have I put the allen key this time?
    • When is “Escape to Victory” on?
    • How do you store Lego and Duplo in between builds?
    • How did two grown-ups end up spending all afternoon building the Lego?
    • Why do sprouts taste as bitter as a pint of bitter lemon on a chilly night on Christmas Day, but amazing when fried up as breakfast bubble ‘n’ squeak on Boxing Day?
    • Can our recycling pile be seen from space by a naked eye?
    • Working on the basis that everybody who wants to/has to watch Frozen has seen it more than five hundred times already, couldn’t the BBC have given us parents JUST ONE DAY OFF?!
    • Where did all of the salted peanuts go?
    • How do you make the Rapunzel Doll stop singing? In Spanish?
    • What on earth is a Shopkin?
    • Is the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special a new one?
    • What on earth have the boffins at Cadbury done to the Roses wrappers?
    • Why is “Mrs Brown’s Boys” still allowed on the electric television? (Presumably Brendan O’Carroll knows where the bodies are buried.)
    • How do you make the Frozen Doll stop singing? In Spanish?
    • Next year, will it be easier to arrange for my December wages to be paid directly into Amazon’s bank account?
    • Why are the children upstairs playing hospitals when there’s about half of Amazon’s UK stock sat in the living room?
    • Why wasn’t “Escape to Victory” on?
    • Is “re-mantling” even a word?

    So there you go. Will I ever get answers to these questions? Probably not. Will I be asking exactly the same things next year. Probably. Ho, ho, ho.

    Fin.