Month of Mondays

I read a tweet today that started with the phrase ‘January is the Monday of months’. It’s a sentiment I can wholeheartedly agree with, not least because I spent most of last month wandering around in a grumpy daze, being generally hap-hazard and wishing that it would be over. Here’s a small selection of reasons why:

I made another child cry at a birthday party: Honestly, I’m terrified at the thought of children’s parties taking over our lives at the weekends in the years to come. This is partly because I know the chances of me doing something stupid and/or awkward are enhanced in such situations. This particular example was (I think) only my third experience of being a parent at another child’s birthday party and on the previous two occasions, I’d managed to hide in the corner by the crisps and dip, so well out of harm’s way. 

 

On this occasion, I tried to be helpful. Big mistake. 

 

When the children sat down for food, I noticed that the little girl sitting next to M was having trouble with her party hat. I went to help and apparently managed to put the hat on her with no problem. Or so I thought as, five seconds later, the girl started to cry. As her mum came over, it became apparent that the girl’s bigger sister was sitting next to her and, if you’ll excuse me for being childish, was a massive tell-tale. “THAT MAN made her cry” said the older girl, pointing to me in the style of a witness in an over-dramatic television courtroom scene. “I’m really sorry” I said to the mum. “I was only trying to help with her hat”. The mum seemed ok about it, but any parenting confidence I had tried to build up disappeared quicker than the cocktail sausages on M’s plate. This was even before I inadvertently parked a sleeping H’s buggy right next to the music speaker…

The hopes of two nights’ uninterrupted sleep were cruelly dashed: I have a confession to make. Last week, I was away Istanbul for two nights on a business trip and a little part of me was looking forward to it. Obviously, I would miss my little family a lot but I couldn’t help but think about two uninterrupted nights of sleep sound-tracked only by the comforting whirr of the air-conditioning unit in my hotel room. Needless to say, it didn’t quite work out like I hoped. The first night was spent trying to work out why the air-con wasn’t working, trying to adjust to the two-hour time difference, trying to log on to the hotel WIFI so that I could ‘face-time’ with my family and, above all, trying and failing to sleep. The second night was spent feeling progressively poorly, panicking that the planned all-seafood menu in the restaurant that my colleagues and I were eating in was going to make me feel even worse, eventually feeling even worse, wondering if I was going to be sick in the taxi and then being VERY sick when I got back to my room. The next morning was spent trying to sleep it off but being continually disturbed by knocks on my room door accompanied by a shout of “HOUSEKEEPING!”

 

Apparently, a scribbled note outside the door saying ‘Please do not disturb’ is not always effective. On a positive note – back in the UK, my wife and children apparently slept soundly on both of those nights.

Potty training: To be fair, this could have been far worse as we started in the week between Christmas and new year. M has picked it up generally quickly, although the process has not been without accidents or desperate purchases of more Dettol wipes than usual (our poor sofa cushions). Going into February, M now seems to be able to sit herself on the toilet/potty without clinging onto our shoulders for the whole time, so I’m hoping that this means I’m spared hearing every detailed squeeze, splat and splash of her bodily functions at close quarters.

Tantrums: I’m really hoping that the current strops that M seems to be throwing with alarming regularity are as a result of her own January slump. She seems to be arguing and cross about everything at the moment, especially when my wife has the nerve to start feeding H approximately five seconds before M demands her attention (funny, that). We’ve had an apocalyptic screaming fit about being denied a packet of Mini Cheddars whilst in the car(“MUMMY, WHY WON’T YOU LOOK AT ME?!) We’ve had a thrashing, yelling tantrum about the fact she wanted her miniature princess toys in bed with her and we’ve had all manner of kicking, drink-throwing and stamping hissy-fits about…well…I don’t really know. Also, when you don’t do EXACTLY what she wants during a game or activity, she tells you in no uncertain terms that it’s wrong (“No, no, no, no, NO!”)

 

Coughs and colds: Maybe part of the reason we’ve had the tantrums is because M is coming down with something. We’ve found that, at this time of year, she tends to have a cough equivalent to a 40-a-day smoker. H has been congested for what seems like weeks as well. All the vapour plugs and tummy rubs don’t seem to do anything about the fact that his blocked sinuses make him sound like a pig trying to play the trombone.

Logistics: There’s a great Michael McIntyre sketch about him trying to leave the house with his two sons. Now, with two young children, my wife and I can totally relate to how you have to start planning to leave the house an hour before you were scheduled to. This gets even worse in January with the extra coats, jumper, wellies, gloves, packets of Mini Cheddars  (we’ve learnt our lesson now) on top of the usual drinks, bags, baby wraps, spare pants, portable potties…this is even before we get to the protracted negotiations with M about what toys are being taken along with us, why it’s not really necessary to set the iPad up for ‘Topsy and Tim’ episodes when we’ve only got a 15-minute journey, why we are even going out in the first place and exhausted parental cries of “can you PLEASE put your socks back on!”

 

So, January, I’m not sorry to see you go. I know you’ve tried to win me over by bringing Crème Eggs back to the shops early (a crafty move), but I won’t miss you for these next 11 months. See you again in 2017…

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Oh come, all ye fretful

  


It was Sunday evening. We’d decided to go to a Christmas carol service at the local church. I’m a little apprehensive about taking both the children with us for fear that the birth of the baby Jesus is going to be sound-tracked by H’s baby bowel movements and M’s random stories about dinosaurs, all enhanced by the church acoustics. The promise of a mince pie and sloe gin afterwards keeps me focused though and we are also due to meet some friends and their two young children there as well. So, if M kicks off – I thought – we have safety in numbers.

 

We arrive early to a packed church with hardly any seats left. After a lot of festive faffing, we find ourselves pressed into a pew near the middle (not conducive if we need to make a swift exit). Our friends manage to squeeze themselves into a corner at the back. I think that it’s actually really quite nice that so many people still flock to Christmas Carol services. Most of whom, I imagine, would not have expected a two-and-a-half year old to act as if she were drunk…

 

Here’s how the evening panned out:

 

Greeting/First Carol: M is wedged in between her mum and I, whilst my wife has H strapped to her using the baby wrap. M’s quiet at this point because she’s still weighing up the situation. Meanwhile, I’m absolutely sweltering in my fleece and unable to take it off because doing so would also lift up my t-shirt to reveal a shameful ‘Dad podge’ – a legacy of the fact that I’ve barely exercised in the last month. I also really need a wee.

 

First Reading: It goes quiet as the first reader takes their place at the lectern. They’ve probably practiced endlessly and have waited weeks for this moment. They are maybe rather nervous, but proud. They open their mouth to speak but their words are almost immediately punctuated by the sound of a toddler loudly asking “WHERE’S MY FRIEND?” Her Mum and I explain that her friend is at the back of the church with her Mummy and Daddy and that it would be really nice if M spoke in a whispering voice. The exact type of voice that both Mummy and Daddy are using now, but without the air of embarrassment and desperation.

 

Second Carol: M has got the idea that she can stand on the pew when we all stand up to sing. She does so, but also marches on a spot a bit as well, lending a more out-of-tune, percussive feel to ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ than is really necessary. Suddenly, those Zara boots we bought for her don’t seem like such a good idea. 

 

Second Reading: “WHERE’S THE LADY?” With no thought for my own bladder, I sit M on my lap so she can see the lady reading the second lesson.

 

Third Carol: (for which the choir sing the first verse and the congregation remain seating): M struggles to grasp with the concept that the congregation don’t join in with the first verse, so she turns around and loudly implores everyone to “STAND UP!!” I sit her down and my wife frantically explains the situation to M, before she can accuse anyone of spilling her pint.

 

Third Reading: “WHAT’S THE LADY SAYING??”

 

Fourth Carol: Calm is resumed. I breathe. It’s still really warm though, so I’m desperately hoping for a draft or a small gust of air from somewhere, anywhere. There are people in the church with thick winter coats on – how are they not just sweat puddles by now? “DADDY, WHY AREN’T YOU SINGING?” asks my inquisitive daughter during one of the quieter bits. “Because Daddy has a singing voice like a strangled cockerel”, I don’t reply. Instead I mime exuberantly, as if Christmas itself depends on it.

 

Fourth Reading:  M is studying the order of service and then drops it. I pick it up, she drops it again. All this leaning forward is not helping.

 

Fifth Carol: Choir only, this time. My wife and I realise the next two hymns are also choir only. We exchange a worried look and start to wonder how many people would notice if we snuck out mid-carol.

 

Fifth Reading: M is still sitting on my lap. She starts bouncing up and down. My bladder is NOT IMPRESSED. Meanwhile, H has woken up and immediately demands to be fed. My wife springs into action like a breast-feeding ninja and H is sucking away quite happily within 20 seconds. 

 

Sixth Carol: M is looking at the leaflet again and decides to enter into a Q&A with her mum as to where the three wise men in the picture are going: 

–          M: “ARE THEY GOING TO SCHOOL?”

–          My wife (quietly): “No, they’re off to see the baby Jesus…can you speak in a quiet little voice, please?”

–          M: “NO, THEY ARE GOING TO SCHOOL!” *waves leaflet frantically, hitting a feeding H on the head with it*

–          My wife: “Shhhhhhhh!!”

 

Sixth Reading:  M has discovered the little yellow envelopes that are at the end of the pew for the church donations. A lot of them end up on the floor. There are also a couple of pens there so , thankfully, this keeps her amused during the reading. 

 

Seventh Carol: As well as holding M as we resume the standing (and stamping) for ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, I fill in my address details on one of the few envelopes that hasn’t now been defaced and place some coins inside. Who says men can’t multi-task?

 

Seventh Reading:  “I WANT COINS IN HERE”- M thrusts an empty envelope in our faces. To distract her, I frantically find an envelope that she hasn’t yet scribbled on. She duly obliges.

 

Eighth Carol: The collection occurs during this one. The man collecting the envelopes picks up the discarded, scribbled-on ones from the floor (as well as the laminated description as to why the yellow envelopes are there in the first place) and places them back on the pew. I mouth “thank you” and smile apologetically. He ignores me.

 

Eighth Reading: Is this one of the longer ones? It feels like one of the longer ones. M’s getting really restless now. It won’t be long before the birth of baby Jesus is being proclaimed alongside a loud verbal request to watch ‘The Snowman’ for the umpteenth time this weekend.

 

Ninth Carol: I need to wee. I need to wee. I need to w…OH COME LET US ADOOOORE HIM!

 

Ninth Reading/Blessing: For her swansong, M decides to try and go for a walk around. She makes it to the end of the pew before tripping over her own fleece which was by my feet, staggers backwards and lands loudly in a heap of hymn books, coats and order of service leaflets, ending up at the feet of the man sitting next to my wife. In her own ‘mic drop’ moment, she picks herself up and immediately struts towards our friends at the back of the church, oblivious to the fact she nearly trips up an elderly lady with a walking stick.

 

Merry Christmas, everyone 😀

Things not to say to your wife when she’s in labour

Picture the scene: It’s 6am on a cool autumnal morning one month ago. My wife and I are at the hospital, having received notice a few hours earlier that our son was beginning his journey into the world. After previously indicating that she would prefer a water birth, my wife is now duly sitting in a large bathtub in one the rooms inside the hospital’s birthing unit. The lights are dim, it’s a calming atmosphere and there is a large mural painted on the main wall depicting a wood adorned with bluebells.  The contractions have begun. Those of us not immersed in water (myself, my mother in law and two midwives), wait by the side of the tub. A high-pitched wail comes from an adjoining room. We all pretend not to hear it.

For my part, I am poised. Kneeling beside the tub/pool/massive container of water that also holds my wife, I am gripping the ‘gas n air’ contraption in one hand, whilst my other hand rests on a 2-litre bottle of Evian water. I have been administering both at fairly frequent intervals, along with a pack of Bassett’s Jelly Babies that are within arm’s reach. There hasn’t been a contraction for a couple of minutes so I briefly allow my mind to wander. There is a song playing on Heart radio in the background that I quite like, so I momentarily tune in. I’m more of a rock fan but this song has a pleasant pop vibe that seems to fit well with the current atmosphere. I think to myself that it sounds a bit like Taylor Swift and that I’d ‘Shazam’ it if it weren’t for the fact that both my hands were otherwise engaged and, frankly, using a music app on my phone at this moment in time would probably be frowned upon anyway…

“OOOOOH!” comes the cry from the bathtub.

“Are you ok?” I turn to my wife and ask – a split-second reaction with nothing but concern and helpful intentions in mind.

Snatching the ‘gas n air’ from my grasp, my wife inhales deeply before responding to my innocent question in much more detail than I was anticipating, peppering her answer with more industrial language than I should probably type here and leaving me in no doubt that no, she was not ok, that I should simply be saying more encouraging phrases instead and that the baby really needs to get a jolly old move on.

I mutter that it was just a momentary reaction but, in hindsight, I don’t think I had been told off like that since I shattered one of my parents’ light fittings having decided – at age 14 or thereabouts – to practice my golf swing indoors.

Fortunately, for me at least, more inappropriate ramblings from the aforementioned Heart radio would soon eclipse my innocent question. My wife’s contractions were getting more frequent and it was fair to say that she wasn’t really in the mood for light-hearted radio ‘banter’, especially when said banter consisted of one of the presenters repeatedly saying how much she was struggling with a cold and eliciting as much sympathy from her co-workers as she could. Under normal circumstances, this would probably be unfortunate timing and nothing more, but to my wife – rather competitive at the best of times – this was like prodding a (heavily pregnant) bear with a stick. Needless to say, I doubt there has ever been a more impassioned request to change stations in the entire history of radio broadcasting.

IMG_3010

Within two hours, our son had been born. I will spare you all the details but it all got a bit dramatic towards the end. In a nutshell: a shoulder got stuck, an emergency cord got pulled and around a dozen people rushed into the room to assist with the final seconds of delivery, most of whom weren’t dressed in medical clothing and appeared to be a conference delegation who had taken a wrong turn. It all happened in a flash. The hospital staff were amazing, my wife was amazing, brave, brilliant and so many other glowing adjectives.

Meanwhile, I was still holding the ‘gas n air’.

In the end, H (an abbreviation, we honestly didn’t choose to name him after a favourite member of Steps) weighed 9lb 8oz and, at the time of typing, seems generally happy and healthy, aside from a couple of niggling issues which should hopefully sort themselves out over time.

For instance, we’ve had to consult a cranial osteopath due to an arching back of his neck that makes him look like he’s being overly dramatic and his leg is also bent in a little which, to be honest I hadn’t actually noticed despite the vast array of nappies that we’ve had to change in the last four weeks or so (quite how much babies poo is one of those things that is now vividly coming back to me). He also grunts A LOT. I realise most babies do this but between the hours of 2am-5am most days, it sounds like we have a constipated herd of buffalo in the room with us.

But, he’s finally here and he makes our little family seem complete.

So, it was with a great deal of excitement (or as excited as I could be with only two hours sleep) that I prepared to introduce H to his big sister the following morning. We had been allowed home from the hospital the previous evening and had taken shifts in sitting up with H in our living room. I had the early morning shift and, when M came downstairs around 6am (again), I prepared myself for this wonderful ‘Kodak moment’.

“This is your brother”, I proudly proclaimed, presenting him like some sort of biblical offering.

M paused for a second, gave him a quick cursory glance, then turned back to me and said, “I want to watch Topsy and Tim”.

It was the second time in 24 hours that I’d apparently said the wrong thing.

Other notes:

–          A few weeks on, M has now really warmed up to the idea of a little brother. “He’s lovely” and “I love him,” she proudly states when giving him kisses and cuddles, of which there are plenty. It’s really adorable, except when her cuddles become a little over-zealous and start to resemble chokeholds.

–          I called my mother to ask if she could come over and baby-sit M at 1am on the morning we went to the hospital. I have a feeling that phone call may well hold the record for the largest number of apologies ever recorded within a 60-second conversation.

–          The song that I liked on the radio was indeed by Taylor Swift (‘Wildest Dreams’) so I at least got something right in that moment.

–          The new neighbours were still renovating their kitchen in the days immediately after H’s birth, which was not exactly ideal for catching up on sleep in the day. Both my wife and I very nicely asked them again how much longer it would take following the realisation that ‘2 days’ in their timeline actually means ‘2 weeks’. It’s almost over now (we hope) and they have since brought over a box of Guylian chocolates and a card by way of apology. So, there has fortunately been no need for a dirty nappy through their letterbox…

You had one job

I’ve sometimes struggled with this blog in that I get periods of writers block and can often go weeks – even months – without being able to think of anything new to put down on screen. This lack of inspiration can also spill over into my parenting as, during periods when I’m in charge of entertaining our daughter, I sometimes draw a complete blank – spending so much time trying to think about new, fun methods of entertainment when I could be actually interacting with her instead.  Fortunately, my wife is brilliantly creative like this, so I’ve often survived Daddy-and-daughter time by basically copying her ideas. For instance, I used to love building dens when I was younger but had never even thought about it as a way of keeping M entertained until my wife built a blanket-and-garden chair construction in the garden a few Saturdays ago. The following day, I tried to replicate this concept in the living room, although my effort was not quite as good…

Bad Den

Bad Den

On another occasion, I thought I was being slightly more creative by turning a simple game of ‘Peepo’ into ‘Hide-and-seek’, using a couple of M’s toys as participants. In theory, it could have worked. In practice, it worryingly turned into ‘The Blair Witch Project’…

*Shudder*

*Shudder*

I was again stuck for inspiration a couple of Sundays ago, when my wife was due to attend a spa day. Having foregone the idea of any forward planning whatsoever, I decided to go with one of my default measures, a trip to the local park. After all, there were swings, slides and lots of ducks to be pointed at, all sure-fire winners in the eyes of my daughter. As the weather was nice and I’d decided to go over lunchtime, a decision that had everything absolutely nothing to do with my hope of M’s afternoon nap coinciding with the football, I’d gone into the kitchen to make a packed lunch, safe in the knowledge that M was quite happy playing with a jigsaw. Or so I thought. Turning around to put the lunch ingredients back into the fridge, I noticed that my fish-oil capsule pot had been knocked on the floor, opened and with its contents littered on the floor next to my daughter. That horrible sinking moment of dread kicked in as I panicked, tried to recall my first-aid training and reached over to her, lifted her up and slapped her on the back, before realising that she wasn’t actually choking.

What I hadn’t realised up until that moment was that M could now reach up to the kitchen work surface and pick up/knock off small objects, such as, oh I don’t know, a pot of fish oil capsules. But, in all honesty I’d had warning. For a while now, M has been able to reach up to the top of the freezer (which sits just below the counter for those of you who like detailed information about kitchen layouts) and has used a fair chunk of her time continually pressing and un-pressing the temperature button. It’s happened so often that I’ve now completely forgotten what this button *actually* does and whether having it either pressed or un-pressed is the default setting. My theory is that I’ll know which one is wrong when the kitchen floor gets a lot wetter. Still, at least that would mean we could finally get rid of the huge tub of ‘Fruits of the forest’ that has taken up around 1/3 of our freezer space for what seems like a decade. Anyway, it was only a matter of time before she reached even higher.

But, back to the panic: I rang my wife, despite knowing that a potential swallowing incident isn’t exactly conducive to a relaxing day at the spa. I say potential, because there was no evidence, apart from some burping/hiccupping that may have been unrelated. “It’s only been half an hour” said my wife, in part humour/part exasperation, upon being relayed the drama. “Have you looked it up? She sounds happy enough,” she continued, obviously hearing M babbling away at the other end. It was true – she did seem happy enough and in fact, was actually quite amused by her own burping. “If she seems happy, then I’m not worried”, said my wife, “but keep an eye on her”. This was then followed by the more obvious question “Does her breath smell of fish?”

It didn’t.

Having got off the phone and sat with my daughter whilst she belched over the small plastic streets of her ‘Happy Land’ set, I took the opportunity to Google (other search engines are available) what could happen if a child swallows a fish-oil capsule. I wasn’t expecting complete piece of mind because, personally, I’ve never searched for any kind of symptom on the internet without subsequently picking up on the worst possible scenario and running with it. Of course, this being the wonderful World Wide Web, various pieces of advice cropped up, mainly along these lines:

“THE CAPSULES ARE A CHOKING HAZARD” (True, but as any swallowed capsule/s appeared to have fully worked their way down, even I figured it was safe to cross that one off).

“One capsule won’t cause them any harm, other than the possibility of an upset stomach”  (I’d happily take a dose of Nappygeddon as the only side-effect of my mistake, it would be the least I’d deserve).

“It could actually be good for your child” (Hmm…the pot says ‘unsuitable for children under the age of 5’).

“EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT SURE, GET THEM SEEN BY YOUR LOCAL GP IMMEDIATELY” (This was the one that made me panic again as well as wonder what sort of magic land this person lives in – where they can just walk in and get a GP appointment straight away).

Having fretted some more, I thought the best thing to do was to take my wife’s advice and just watch her closely. So, we did go to the park, went on the swings, went on the slide, watched and pointed at a lot of ducks, ate lunch in the sunshine and had a little run around. M seemed completely fine, the burping had long since stopped and there was no sign either that day or the next of any after-effects from any capsules that may or may not have been swallowed in the first place. These were the thoughts going through my head as I kept trying to re-assure myself, as well as get rid of the horrendous guilt that follows incidents such as this. It could have been far worse, of course, and I tried to switch my mind away when I thought about the potentially more catastrophic consequences that could have ensued for my precious little girl and that I’d be solely responsible for.

But, upon reflection, and after a couple of days of no side-effects whatsoever (not even an explosive nappy incident), it has taught me not to sometimes just go with the flow and not worry too much about entertaining her, but instead to make sure that I’ve at least got the basics of child care right first. Now, I didn’t leave my Wellman tablets in the den, did I?

To wrap or not to wrap?

In these first few weeks as a parent, I’ve found that I’m slowly getting used to all the baby-related logistics required when getting out of the house. Loading up the travel system, carrycot and car seat? Leave it with me. Changing a nappy anywhere at the drop of a hat? No problem. Making sure we have enough wipes and cotton wool to clean up the mother of all poo explosions? Done.

But, there is one thing I am yet to attempt: Wearing the baby wrap in public.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly useful as it keeps baby M perfectly snug in huge swathes of material, enabling the wearer to happily go about their business with the luxury of having both hands free (I didn’t intend for that to be as rude as it sounds). It’s also comfortable and designed for both mums and dads to wear. So, what’s my hesitation? Well, thanks to the wrap’s promotional material, I think it might have something to do with this guy:

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You see, I worry that the wrap somehow turns new dads into posers who stand in front of graffiti-emblazoned walls, whilst their child wears a look that says “This is really embarrassing, just let me go to sleep”.

Would I start trying to stand with my hips poised at a funky angle whilst giving the camera a slightly creepy grin?

I don’t even own a hat, but would I end up searching the internet for one like this striking example – not to mention the black fingerless gloves which give the whole outfit a look that sits somewhere between Freddy Krueger and a failed pop band from the 1980s? All in the name of living up to the high standards set here?

Alternatively, it could have absolutely nothing to do with the sophisticated devil above and more to do with the fact that I still can’t tie the bloody thing properly.