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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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…

Frequently asked questions

I realise that I am letting the cat out of the bag a bit early but, at the time of writing, my wife and I have just one week until our second child is due.

As we’ve gradually told people over the last few months, the reaction has been lovely, supportive and sometimes rather amusing in its own way. So, I’ve compiled all the reaction in the form of some FAQs, plus the answers I have given – or would love to give…

“Was it planned?”

Well…as much as you can plan these things. There was no spreadsheet or PRINCE2 project flow chart because the laptop would have just got in the way.

“How has M reacted to the fact that she’ll be a big sister?”

I don’t think she’s quite clocked on to the full reality of the situation yet. Then again, she’s two and a half, so I’m not expecting her to help out her mum with breathing exercises or to know the symptoms of a Braxton Hicks contraction. She does know (and likes repeating) the fact that “Mummy has a baby in her tummy” but also asks if she and I also have babies in our tummies. I’ve explained to her that I don’t want to have this discussion with her for at least another 25 years and that any ‘baby’ I have is largely made up of Oreo cookies.

“How are you going to manage with a lack of sleep?”

I guess we’ll just have to sleep when we can and manage as we go along. The situation is going to be more complicated by the fact that our new neighbours have decided to fit a new kitchen the week after the baby is due. I’m hoping it doesn’t get to the stage where, in a sleep-deprived state of delirium, I believe that a dirty nappy through their letterbox is a perfectly sane and rational response to the noise.

“Are you having a home birth?”

No. In all seriousness, we weren’t without worry when M was born, so we are definitely sticking with the local hospital this time as well. The staff in the maternity ward were absolutely fantastic and made us feel incredibly grateful for the NHS. In less seriousness, I never managed to get to the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream vending machine on the adjacent wing last time around, so that remains a goal.

“It’ll be a breeze. After all, you know what you’re doing now, right?”

*nervous laughter*  I actually feel as though I have forgotten a lot more than I learned first time round and I’m now needing to frantically remember how to put up a crib, swaddle a small baby effectively and know what a TENS machine is (disappointingly, it is not a form of hospital-based bingo). The flipside is that there is almost a level of complacency that comes with a second child. Hence this attempt at writing a birth plan for my wife…

A plan...

“Can you afford a second child?”

It will be fine once we start sending M out for coal.

“What are you going to do with M if the baby comes in the middle of the night”

In all honesty, this is the question that is mainly playing on my mind as well. Being something of a worrier, I have now convinced myself that baby will commence his/her journey in the early hours of the morning. If, in the timeless words of Will Smith, it was ‘just the two of us’, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue but, as that’s not the case, I’m therefore fretting about what we do with M. My wife thinks it would be quite traumatic for her if we were to take her, but with my mother – at a good 30 minutes away – being our closest babysitter and no neighbours that we know well enough to call upon, I’m not sure we have much choice other than to bring her with us. The flipside is that M has a doctor’s coat and toy stethoscope/thermometer in her dressing-up box, so we could just turn the situation into a really realistic role-play scenario…

“I bet you’ll be pleased if it’s a boy?”

No, actually more scared. To be honest, but I’ve found it a bit strange (not in an unkind way) that people would assume I am more excited about the prospect of a boy. I know this is entirely my issue, but I feel as though there would be a certain pressure on me to teach my son the ways of the world etc. Those who know me know that I’m not really the alpha-male type, am terrible at DIY and never really got round to properly learning how to ride a bike. In other words, I don’t think any son of mine would turn out to be the next Chris Hoy or Bear Grylls. Having said that, I did once help to bury a dead sheep. I should probably just stop there…

“So, with two of them,  you understand everything there is to know about Isofix bases by now?

See above – hell, no.

“Where will the baby sleep?”

We have a two-bedroom terraced house so space is already a bit tight (although some space will be freed up once my wife’s planet-sized birthing ball gets deflated). The baby will sleep in our room initially so we’ll probably end up creeping around our own bedroom in scenes reminiscent of Mission: Impossible.

“What names have you decided upon?”

*tongue placed firmly in cheek* If it’s a girl – ‘Aphrodite’, because she was the Greek goddess of love and there is just SO MUCH love. If it’s a boy – ‘Vernon’, because we used to like watching Family Fortunes.

“How are you going to stop next-door’s cat from climbing into the crib/M’s bed etc?”

Well, my approach is quite unique in this respect as, unlike my wife, it involves NOT FULLY OPENING THE BEDROOM WINDOW SO THAT THE CAT GETS IN. Failing that, I have two words for you: Water pistol.

“Will you have any more children after this one?”

No – and just in case you missed that, NO. Regardless of whether we have a boy or a girl, the thought of being outnumbered by children terrifies me. Mind you, so does a potential visit to the vasectomy clinic.

Oh karma, my karma

“Who so diggeth a pit shall fall therein.” – Proverb

“Like gravity, karma is so basic we often don’t even notice it.” – Sakyong Mipham

“Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma, chameleon.” – Boy George

In all honesty, I can’t remember the year or exactly how old I was when this incident took place, but let’s just say that it was one summer in the early 90s whilst I was still in my early teens, was yet to buy my first Pink Floyd album and it was also during a period in which my acne practically had its own postcode.

My parents and I were on holiday in Argyll, western Scotland. We used to spend a number of holidays there as we all loved the area, it was beautiful, peaceful and relaxing – apart from when the wind really picked up from the sea and started removing the tiles from the roof of the cottage we stayed at as if they were confetti.

Unfortunately, this story involves a moment that rather punctured that peaceful, relaxing vibe. It is at this moment that I should warn you not to read any further if you are just about to eat, still eating, slightly squeamish or just getting a bit bored (I promise that I won’t be offended).

Anyhow, to very briefly set the scene, when we stayed there, I used to sleep in one of those bunk beds with a wooden-slatted base at the bottom. Sometimes, I slept on the top bunk, sometimes I slept at the bottom, I was a crazy, unpredictable child you see. Both bunks were very comfortable and it was a shame that, after this one particular occurrence, they were never quite the same again.

Given that this was over 20 years ago, it’s probably not surprising that I can’t remember the cause of what actually happened. Perhaps I had a migraine (I am occasionally still susceptible to them), maybe I had some other virus or maybe it was just because I had eaten way too many fizzy cola bottles. The bottom line is, one night, I was sick. Not just mildly sick, I mean I was SICK. The sort of sick that made you wonder if you hadn’t accidentally regurgitated a vital organ or whether your belly button had been permanently wrenched a few inches higher.

Whilst the exact details are thankfully sketchy, I definitely know that it was a long time before I was that sick again. In fact, not until an incident involving a bottle of ‘Apple Sourz’ in a unnamed Brighton nightclub many, many years later. But I’m not going to get into that.

So, despite the fact that I felt absolutely rotten, could barely move afterwards and had the sort of complexion normally reserved for one of the Cullen family in the Twilight movies  (I was dragged to see all of them by my wife, ok?) the sympathy in this lovely little story should be completely reserved for my parents who, of course, ended up having to clean the ‘debris’ from the bed, floor and, most trickily of all, from between the corners and joins of a large number of those wooden bed slats. Simply put, it cannot have been pleasant.

Regardless of the horror they experienced and the amount of Dettol they must have used, I simply assumed that, over time, my parents would have largely forgotten about the incident. After all, if my memory is a bit hazy when remembering the details, surely they would have just chalked it up to just another aspect of parenting they had to put up with and moved on, never to mention it again?

"We're going to need a bigger bottle…"

“We’re going to need a bigger bottle…”

Fast-forward at least 20/25 years later to a few weeks ago. M picked up a virus or bug from somewhere and the first thing to mention is that it fortunately went away after a couple of days and was not serious. However, she was really poorly and, one night, woke up around 1am clearly distressed. I got out of bed, went into her room and picked her up, hoping to calm her and soothe her back to sleep. That was when I heard ‘the noise’. You all know it, the noise that is to a bout of vomiting what a flash of lightning is to thunder. Standing there in just my pants (sorry for the visual image), I knew what was coming…and I could do nothing about it. Linda Blair from ‘The Exorcist’ was about to have some serous competition.

I was covered, M was covered and so I bolted to the bathroom to clear her up first and try and calm her down, all the time looking like I’d just been ‘gunged’ on Noel’s House Party. Even with my wife gallantly assisting, the whole operation took a while. Getting past it mentally took even longer.

The next day, I sent my mother a text to update her on M’s condition (she was due to look after her a couple of days later). I’d suddenly been reminded of the bed slat incident so mentioned that this was probably karma catching up with me over two decades later. I just expected her to just shrug it off to be honest, if she even remembered it. This was her reply:

“I have to tell you honestly that crossed my mind!!! Hahaha xx

So there we go. Whilst parenting is a wonderful, fulfilling, amazing experience full of love and joy, it also has a habit of bringing up (pun totally intended) your own childhood incidents and exacting revenge for them. The bed slats may be long gone, but they clearly have not been forgotten.  Bon appetit!

Eternal sunshine of the toddler’s mind

What could she be hinting at?

As my daughter has got more independent, mobile and interactive, I’ve often found myself wondering exactly what is going on inside her head. For instance, she spends a lot of time just wandering around holding random objects with such a determined sense of purpose, but her motives appear amusingly unfathomable. Given that she can’t verbally express herself in the way she would like (and the fact that she’s not allowed to play with pens ever since the whole ‘drawing on her own face’ incident), I’ve had a guess at what her various thought processes might have been over the last couple of weeks:

Wednesday 30th April. Woke up, had breakfast, pointed at lots of stuff, walked around picking up objects, dropped them, repeatedly attempted to climb the stairs, pulled down various books and DVDs from low shelving, ate most of my lunch but threw the rest on the floor, had a nap, ATE A BANANA, drank some milk, went to the park, toddled around in random directions, came home, tried to clamber into the recycling bin, had dinner, had more milk, had a bath, used a sponge to soak the bathroom floor, had a book about owl babies read to me, kicked up a fuss when it was time for bed. Standard.

Thursday 1st May. WORST. DAY. EVER. I should have realised something was up because the parents had been nervously talking about something called the ‘Emmemmaarrjab’ and Daddy was working from home today. At lunchtime, they took me to a brightly lit place that smelt vaguely of TCP, where they lulled me into a false sense of security by letting me play with different toys to the ones I have at home, whilst they sat around reading magazines about property and gardens. However, I was then taken into a room to be held tightly by the parents whilst two people I’ve never met before put injections into my legs. They hurt, so I screamed, wriggled and sweated A LOT. Post-injections, one of the people I’d never met tried to put my discarded sock back on me, so I shouted and kicked out at them. Telling me that I was “stronger than a lot of boys” didn’t help. Afterwards, the parents looked rather upset and kept saying to each other how hard they found the whole experience, whilst cuddling me and telling me it will be ok. So, THEY found it hard? Well, TRY HAVING THREE SHARP OBJECTS STABBED INTO YOUR LIMBS IN QUICK SUCCESSION AND SEE HOW YOU LIKE IT.

Friday 2nd May. I’m still not over the trauma of yesterday, so I refuse to engage happily with the parents or even make eye contact, let alone give them a smile or a cudd…wait, is that their breakfast? Hi!

Saturday 3rd May. Went to a big party today with the parents and my auntie. The birthday boy was 5 and there were lots of older children in bright items of clothing called ‘superhero costumes’. Not to be deterred by this, I announced my presence by repeatedly walking right into the middle of the fun and games, often dragging a large plastic chair with me (just to emphasise the point that I was there to be entertained). It was great fun and the food was good, especially the cheese-based stuff. For some reason, Daddy seemed very excited about colourful, edible objects called ‘party rings’. I can’t take him anywhere.

After food, we went outside where there was a large play area with swings and slides. I love these things, but the parents still won’t let me climb back up the slide. They’ve been funny about that ever since we went to soft play.

Sunday 4th May. Today’s goal: Pull out every possible item of my clothing from the box next to my cot, chew the sock-ons, drop the bibs through the gaps in the stair gate, put some leggings over my head and leave the rest lying at random intervals upstairs. Whilst I’m at it, I’ll also remove the plug-in air freshener, spilling the liquid over myself as well as everything I come into contact with. Nobody will want to go within a mile of anything that smells like ‘Evening Primrose’ ever again.

Monday 5th May. Today was a bank holiday, which appears to be an excuse for a massive skive. Anyway, I went for a long walk with the parents today and had a picnic in a large field. They let me have a run around as well. I thought I’d have a bit of fun by toddling towards piles of sheep poo, waiting for them to quickly try and catch up with me before veering away from the poo at the last second. I also kept pointing at the sky on random occasions. Fools – they looked every time.

Tuesday 6th May. I’ve got the sniffles AGAIN. It’s very uncomfortable and apparently I need to have drops put into my nose to relieve the snot. I hate those drops and I assumed that stuff was supposed to be coming out of my nose, not going back in? Anyway, I’m making my displeasure known by coughing loudly into the face of anyone who picks me up.

Wednesday 7th May. Still feeling poorly, although the viscous blackcurrant-flavoured liquid that the parents have been giving me has soothed the cough a fair bit. Memo to self: when older, develop a banana-flavoured cough remedy and, after I’m rich, use the proceeds to buy tonnes of actual bananas.

I did feel well enough to play with my wooden ‘Noah’s Ark’ toy, though. The parents like to keep all the pieces together, but I find it much more interesting to put Mrs.Noah and at least one of the giraffes on top of the radiator. I think they enjoy it there; it’s nice and warm.

Thursday 8th May. Today’s goal: Try and reach the remaining parts of the television screen that I haven’t yet managed to smear with my fingerprints. Problem: I can’t reach. The parents say that I’m due a growth spurt, so I hope that this happens before bedtime.

Update: No growth spurt before bedtime. The clean part of the television screen remains un-smeared. This is my Everest.

Friday 9th May. Today was the first day in ages that I’ve not had a single banana – disgraceful. The pear replacement service simply doesn’t cut it. I might call Esther Rantzen.

Saturday 10th May. Mummy had to work today, so Daddy put me in the baby carrier and took me for a walk in the countryside. It would have been lovely if he had managed to put my shoes on properly so that they didn’t keep slipping off. I’d also have preferred it if he had looked at the weather forecast and put our raincoats on before we left, so that we didn’t get drenched on the way back. Plus, the clambering over that gate (twice) was rather uncoordinated and awkward. At least the view either side of his head was nice.

Sunday 11th May. The parents were watching something called ‘The Eurovision Song Contest’ last night. According to the news this morning, this contest was won by a lady with a beard. So many questions…

In other (much less competent) singing news, the parents have been adding their own verses to ‘Wheels on the bus’ by using different noises and voices. As fun as this is, I can’t imagine a scenario whereby Elvis, a pack of seagulls and any number of elephants would be on the same bus all at once.

Monday 12th May. Why does society dictate that both feet should either have socks on or socks off? I find it much better to walk around with just the one sock on and I therefore laugh in the face of your draconian sartorial principles.

Tuesday 13th May. Daddy didn’t get home until well after midnight as he was out at a concert. Despite his pitiful efforts to keep quiet, my peaceful slumber was briefly disturbed, so I decided to wake up at 5.30am this morning. That’ll teach him.

Soft play politics

Just before my daughter turned 1, I came home from work one evening to find her clambering all over the littered sofa cushions as if it were her own personal soft play area. As well as being one of those “she’s not a baby anymore” moments, it also made me realise that she now needs more exercise if there’s to be any hope of getting her to sleep at anything approaching a reasonable hour.

So, the following weekend, my wife and I decided to take M to an actual soft play area. This was to be my first time experiencing this (my wife was a veteran of four visits), so I was initially a little apprehensive at the thought of somehow making a huge faux pas.

“Don’t worry, there are rules written on the wall”, my wife said, which was part witty remark and part instruction.

But, I figured that I was just being silly. After all, I was pretty sure that I could restrain myself from performing a running jump into the ball pit or re-enacting ‘The Hunger Games’ in the climbing area.

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Not an actual soft play safety notice

Despite the fact that we had to book a session first, we arrived to find that there were only a handful of other parents and children there. It started well enough, we found a table that would function as our base and proceeded into the ball pit. M was a bit apprehensive about this, but my wife and I joined her as reassurance, all the while trying not to think about all the dirt and encrusted bogeys that might be hidden at the bottom. We then went guided M up the mini steps next to the ball pit and down the adjoining slide. She absolutely loved this, but started to get a bit stroppy that she couldn’t climb back up the slide itself.

There’ll be more on that later.

We then noticed that, behind the ball pit and steps, there was a play area that was currently empty. In this particular section, there was a notice stating that it was ‘recommended’ that children under the age of 5 did not go in. This was presumably because it was a bit darker, there were a couple of large, exercise-style bouncy balls within and the steps were slightly bigger. However, being the determined little individual that she is, M wanted to go in and my wife seemed happy with this: “It’s fine, you’ll be with her”, she said.

So, in we went. I held M’s hand as she looked around and I helped her up one of the steps. It was at that moment we were seen by a fellow parent, with a son about the same age as M, on the other side of the netting. The little boy stared in the direction of M and I. His mum glanced over as well. “No, Callum, you can’t go in there as you’re not old enough”, she said, giving me an extremely disapproving look in the process.

With that one sentence, I had been firmly put in my place and told, in no uncertain terms, that she did not approve of my parenting. My soft play experience was only 15 minutes old.

I whisked M away to the car area (the soft play cars, that is, I didn’t take her outside and just leave her by the front wheel of a Nissan). We played there for a little while, whilst I tried to shake the feeling that my soft play ‘parenting card’ had been well and truly marked, probably with red biro.

A short while later, my wife came over and we decided to head back to the slide. One of us would escort M up the steps and place her on the slide, whilst the other would wait to catch her at the bottom. It was good fun and the smile on M’s little face as she came sliding down was lovely. However, as I mentioned before, there was a slight snag as M wanted to climb right back up the slide, clearly oblivious to the older children who were about to hurtle down towards her. So, every time I went to escort her away, she was not best pleased and made her feelings known. Sitting in the area next to the slide was the same mum as before, along with two others. As M cried, they looked over, fixing their collective gaze on my unhappy daughter and I. Feeling rather uncomfortable, I handed M over to my wife and took a bit of a breather.

Now, I can be overly sensitive sometimes and more emotionally robust people might have just ignored the other mums and got on with things, which is why I passed the baton quickly over to my wife. She’s a teacher and used to interacting with parents, therefore I figured she wouldn’t take any perceived slight as personally as me. So, she took M to play with some soft cubes and soft animals before heading back to the slide. But again, each time, M took exception to being removed from the slide once she’d reached the bottom (her mum had come down with her). A few minutes later, my wife brought M over and sat next to me, with a slightly embarrassed look on her face. “They are really judgmental, aren’t they?” she said, subtly gesturing over to the trio of seated mums, who appeared to be glancing disdainfully in our direction.

So, we just sat there for a while, looking rather awkward, like a couple of naughty schoolchildren who’d arrived late for class and neglected to do their homework.

For the remainder of our allotted time, we accompanied M around the soft play area almost apologetically. We left before the other mums had the chance to bring out the pitchforks and burning torches, although I assume that these are probably on an extensive list of items ‘not recommended’ for soft play.

Over-sensitivity and exaggerations for comic effect aside, I appreciate that my fatherly experience is limited (this blog isn’t called ‘The Experienced Dad’s Diary’), but I do know that this parenting business is hard enough without fellow parents making you feel like you are doing it all wrong. After all, each child is different and, as we all know, there is sadly no ‘one-size-fits-all’ manual.

Still, it wasn’t necessarily a bad experience. Slide removals aside, M seemed to enjoy herself and, as my wife put it when we were sat down: “There’s a blog post in this, isn’t there?”

How right she was. As our daughter gets older, it probably won’t be the last of its type either. In terms of soft play though, I might just stick to re-arranging the sofa cushions for the time being.

Revisiting the due date

This Tuesday (9th April) marks the anniversary of our daughter’s estimated due date. Of course, she would eventually keep us waiting for some time after that date, but it’s amazing how quickly a year goes when you’ve been living in a whirlwind of nappies, feeding, disturbed nights, first smiles/giggles/walks and enough snot to irrigate a small country.

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Looking back, it was this time last year that I was making sure I was never more than 5ft away from my car keys, downloading a ‘contraction timer’ app onto my phone and shopping in Tesco for multiple bottles of hand sanitizer and one of those inflatable travel pillows that only seem to be effective if you can somehow crane your neck to a 90-degree angle.

So, whilst thinking of those currently in a similar position (it doesn’t have to involve Tesco – other supermarkets are available), I thought I’d share this brilliant and very amusing article from Buzzfeed about the 26 stages of childbirth from a man’s perspective. Yes, 26.

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Plus, here’s my post from March last year, when I was immersed in a lot of planning, a fair bit of panicking and also wondering whether it would be acceptable for me to go looking for ice cream once we’d arrived at the maternity ward.

Best wishes to all parents-to-be 🙂