Moving house and freaking out

“How do you cope with change?” is one of those stock questions you tend to get asked in job interviews and a good answer usually goes along the lines of “Change is part of everyday life and you have to embrace the positives and the challenges” etc. etc.

I’ve given those answers in interviews before and, on the whole, I generally believe in them. However, if someone had stopped me in the street and asked me the same thing during the last week in October, the first thing I’d have said (apart from “Sorry, who are you and why are you asking me random questions?” or “Please let go of my coat”) would have been “Well, I’m currently handling change VERY, VERY BADLY”.

We moved house just over a month ago.

I had lived in Dorking for over ten years and – with my old family home long since sold – it had become my adopted home in more ways than one, ever since I moved there in the spring of 2006. I had a one-bedroom flat near the centre of town for those first five years and I met my wife just over a year afterwards. We got married in 2009 and then we moved into what is now our old house in the summer of 2011. In all honesty, for most of the time I was never really that fond of the house and I kept telling myself that it was just a stepping stone to somewhere else once we had (hopefully) started a family.

By the end of our time there though, I had genuinely come to see it as home and had even embraced its little quirks. For instance, there was something strangely comforting in the winter about the smell of the dehumidifier that we needed in the bedroom because of the slight damp problem, whilst decorating the place for Halloween became less of a job because the vast numbers of spiders that lived in the roof of the conservatory did a pretty good job of it themselves. Even the cracked bathtub casing that had been there since before we moved in became less of an annoyance and more of a routine topic of conversation (“we’ll replace the whole thing eventually”). We never did.

Mainly though, I came to warm to it because of the memories it will always hold. It was the first place we bought both of our children home to. It was the place where they had their first birthdays, first Christmases and where they grew up to become the lovely little people that we have now. On the week that we moved out, I thought about the fact that the person buying our house would probably, as one of their first jobs, take down the wallpaper that had adorned Millie’s bedroom since just before she was born and my heart broke a little.

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But the truth was, we needed to move. There were now four of us and we’d outgrown the house. We’d simply run out of space and it didn’t seem fair for Millie to have to share a room with Henry’s grumpiness every single morning (she once tried to sing him back to sleep with the angriest version of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ that I’m ever likely to hear). On the flipside, Henry probably didn’t appreciate Millie’s lack of spatial awareness and blatant disregard of what constitutes speaking in a ‘little voice’ on those occasions when he was actually trying to sleep.

Another consideration was that our new neighbours for the final year of us living there were pretty rude and inconsiderate – I’m actually being diplomatic here, partly because I don’t want to come across as intolerant and partly because both of my parents read this and don’t like me swearing. Essentially, they’d moved in an starting renovating their kitchen the very same week we bought Henry home from the hospital, not letting us know when they were planning to do the work, which always coincided with those precious few moments of sleep that my wife was desperately hoping to have. The neighbourly relations deteriorated over the next few months. Key moments included their bathroom renovation (maybe they had a cracked bathtub casing as well) which we only found out about when they started hammering on the walls one Saturday morning, which also placed their new ‘power shower’ on the adjoining wall next to Millie’s room and subsequently reverberated loudly every time they turned it on. Then there were the late, loud drunken parties and the obligatory parking issues…but I digress.

Having made the decision, it was easy to be swept up in the initial excitement about finding a new house. We didn’t look at many but there was one house that we both agreed on and I can’t emphasise in writing how much of a surprise this was to me at the time. We accepted an offer on our house in June and put in a successful bid for our new place shortly after. Then, as is often the case with these things, the process dragged on and on. Henry was too young to be aware of anything going on – he was just happy smearing pieces of soggy biscuit over everything we were trying to pack – but Millie was understandably unsettled about it all. She had a pretty good idea about what was happening, having watched the (seemingly countless) episodes of Topsy and Tim that involved the family moving to a new house one street away, without any hitches or problems whatsoever. For realism, I would have preferred at least one scene where the Dad gesticulates loudly because he can’t find the packing tape and bubble wrap.

So, we were worried about how Millie would transition. One of the first things we did once we were in was to make sure that her bedroom was set up for her, so that she would at least have her bed, toys and clothes in her new room as her ‘constants’ in order to make it all seem less scary.

As it turns out, it wasn’t her that struggled with the change, it was me.

After the adrenaline rush of moving day itself, I can’t really describe what happened other than to say I pretty much froze. I was hit by the panic that I’d moved far away from everybody and everything that I knew. In many ways, it was irrational as my mum was only 15-20 minutes further away than she had been, whilst at least three or four of my closest friends are slightly nearer (in terms of travel time, if not distance). Even so, for the first few days I couldn’t even bring myself to walk the length of the new garden, let alone summon the energy to unpack and move furniture. I felt totally lost and adrift, I couldn’t eat and was unable to think clearly or focus on even the simplest of tasks. Prior to the move, I hadn’t even considered the possibility that I’d feel remotely this way (other than getting sad when I ordered our final takeaway from Red Chilli on our last night in Dorking).

My lethargy was the polar opposite to my wife, who could have set Olympic records in nesting, so furious was her mindset to get the house looking as much like ‘ours’ as possible. It’s to her immense credit that we’ve made a great deal of progress on the house since moving day and for that, I am very grateful.

In the moments when I’m being kinder to myself, I remember that, in the last few months, I’ve left a job that I loved (one of the ironic downsides of contracting is finding somewhere you really want to stay, but are unable to) as well as having left my adopted home town after over a decade there. Friends and family have spoken to have largely reassured me that it’s normal and all part of being human, all of which has helped make me feel a bit better.

So, it’s been a weird few weeks but, on an upbeat note, the children have settled in surprisingly easily, they have a bigger space to play in and their own bedrooms. Plus, Christmas is coming and we now have an actual fireplace to hang our Christmas stockings on, as opposed to tying them onto the stair bannisters with random pieces of string.

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I’ve also managed to write something on here for the first time in 10 months. It’s going to take me a while, but maybe I can start to embrace the positives of change after all…

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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.

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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.

Downstairs…part 2

Sequels are usually disappointing – whether it’s a bold but ultimately futile attempt to move the story in a new direction (the second series of Broadchurch, for example), a lazy re-hashing of the earlier plot in a different setting (The Hangover Part II) or a tired continuation of the previous narrative that you’d hoped would have just finished after the first effort (Hello, ‘Saw’ franchise).

Which leads me to report that, continuing on from my last post, M’s loudly stated preference for sleeping on the sofa downstairs at night – instead of her bed – continues to occur.

Going with the assumption that she felt trapped by her cot – she used to frantically kick off her swaddling blankets when only a few weeks old, so this theory didn’t appear to be totally wide of the mark – we decided to go with the option of detaching one of the sides, in a bid to make it feel less like a wooden-slatted prison.

Surprisingly, given the monumental effort involved in assembling the whole thing in the first place, this task didn’t require the full-scale project plan and regular progress reports that we’d previously assumed. Instead, I just removed the screws and the wooden frame that prohibited M’s desire to go downstairs post-bedtime had come down. Even taking into account my distinct lack of DIY skills, there was no triumphant gaze to the heavens and no fist-pumping gesture of victory. The Scorpions didn’t even bother to write a song about it. It just happened.

So, you might wish to know, were the sleeping problems magically solved and the pleas to be taken downstairs curtailed?

Of course not.

Rather than just happily snooze away in her more accessible bed – which she loves jumping on and playing in during the day – M is now free to get out of bed, use her little fingers to prise the bedroom door open and waddle over to the stair-gate if she so wishes – which she does.

The first night this happened was actually rather scary. Not because of her, but instead because we thought that the house next door might be being burgled whilst the neighbours were away. It subsequently turned out that the mysterious shuffling noises we were hearing were as a result of a small child trying to walk across the landing in her sleeping bag.  On that occasion, I wasn’t too frustrated by her lack of sleep, as it was quite funny looking up the stairs, subsequently being greeted by a cheesy grin and a “Hello Daddy”. It also saved me from going outside to investigate a possible home invasion – although I’m not sure how scared off any potential intruder would have been by the sudden appearance of a man wearing tartan sweatpants and fluffy slippers, wielding a rolled-up copy of ‘World Soccer’ magazine.

So, the hope of making a breakthrough has dissipated and we appear to be back where we started, hoping that this is just a phase that will somehow get to a point where it just works itself out. In the meantime, we are still trying to work out work out ways of accelerating the process of getting to that point, preferably before I end up spending half of my salary on ‘Clarins Men’s Anti-Fatigue Fighter’ (other male skincare products are available).

One potential solution has been to lay a duvet and/or my old sleeping bag on her bedroom floor and sleep adjacent to the bed until she goes to sleep, with the hope that this method will get her used to sleeping soundly in her own space again, rather than waking up and yearning for the sofa. I should point out that the sleeping bag has been washed since my younger, drunker days, when it reeked ever so slightly of poor decision-making, Southern Comfort and Lynx Africa.

At the time of writing, this approach seemed to work last night and, from my viewpoint, was actually a bit like camping. In fact, for the brief period where I had my head by the nappy bin, it was more like festival camping.

So, tonight, we go again. I’m not expecting any sudden upturn in results but I would definitely settle for a gradual return to the good old days when she would, more often than not, sleep through the night in her own bed. Fingers crossed, then – I really hope this doesn’t become a trilogy.

The magic of downstairs

Up until fairly recently, M had always been a pretty good sleeper, more often than not sleeping through the night. My wife and I realise how fortunate we have been compared to a lot of parents with young children, to the extent that it has often felt a bit awkward speaking to fellow parents whose offspring are not necessarily as peaceful during the precious wee hours. We’ve tried to downplay it, worried about inadvertently appearing smug or somehow boastful.

Either way, the peaceful nights have recently come to an abrupt halt as M has, more often than not, decided to wake up around 1am/2am and called out for one or both us. We’ve awoken, rummaged around for our glasses and found her arms aloft – ‘Shawshank Redemption’ style – with her mouse in hand, pleading for us to take her away from the warmth of her bed to the dark, slight drafty land of downstairs.

Downstairs!

“Downstairs!”

At first, this seemed to be a curious request but I guess I can see her point – downstairs is so much more fun. After all, it holds all the milk, food and biscuits, the play kitchen and the inhabitants of Happy Land (none of whom – going by the contented, carefree grins on their faces – appear to have experienced the trials of being woken up at 2am). Downstairs also holds the television – gateway to the magical worlds of ‘In the Night Garden’, ‘Peter Rabbit’ and ‘Show Me, Show Me’ plus, for a brief but glorious period of time, the football that M would request after only the tiniest piece of encouragement from me.

Gina Ford would probably berate Mrs.D and I to within an inch of our lives because our response to this plea hasn’t always been consistent. Our first attempt at a solution was to go into her room and attempt to soothe her back to sleep, either via a cuddle, a reassuring hand on the tummy, a quick story or a couple of verses of ‘Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star’ – although quite how soothing that last option is remains highly debatable, given that the only thing that could make my singing voice even worse is the grumpy, half-conscious croak that comes with being woken up abruptly.

Given the basic desire to try and get back to sleep as soon as possible, the soothing often gets bypassed in favour of bringing her and mouse in to sleep with us (whilst telling her that downstairs itself is ‘asleep’) in the hope that the comforting presence of Mummy and Daddy will send her gently back to the land of nod. Very infrequently, this works. More often than not, none of us end up sleeping as M thrashes around and manages to take up most of the space, leaving her mum and I with our pillows resting on our bedside tables and dangling from the sides of the bed like a doomed Wile E. Coyote.

On the occasions we have managed to reclaim some territory, the flailing limbs and mouse-based facial flogging inevitably force us back out to the sides again.

So, the third solution is to adhere to her request and take M, her mouse and her pillow downstairs. Being too sleepy to sit and wait for her to fall asleep again, attempt to take her back up before she awakes again and discovers the ruse, it’s easier to set up camp for both of us in the living room. Our sofa is L-shaped so, without saying a word, we place her gently on the smaller section, with her head towards the corner, before quietly picking up the spare duvet now permanently parked by the side and hoping for some shut-eye. It doesn’t always work like that, of course. One particular night, I placed her in the usual place but, in the time it took me to gather the duvet, she had wriggled towards the centre of the sofa, leaving me with no option but to adopt a foetal position on the end.

Having not helped ourselves with our lack of a stable approach, we’ve tried to fathom what might be the cause of this change in pattern. Separation anxiety, maybe? Bad dreams? Fear of the dark? Just a normal stage in the growing-up process? We’ve tried other, more preventative methods based on these theories. For instance, I’ve placed some of her cuddly toys in her cot-bed to make it seem less like a wooden prison. Unfortunately, you could argue that this makes it instead seem like a particularly over-zealous job interview.

"Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team"

“Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team”

We’ve tried putting more of her toys upstairs as well – although this hasn’t been enough of a distraction to prevent her from occasionally walking around with her potty on her head just before bath-time.

On the off-chance that a new-found fear of the dark was the cause, I bought one of those gentle night lights – the light from which turned out to be not that gentle, unless your idea of ‘gentle’ light is more akin to the blinding death of a star.

Some forums I’ve looked at have suggested removing the cot bars altogether, so that her bed is more like, well, a bed. However, I’m still not comfortable with the idea of her getting up and wandering around on her own at night. Plus, removing the bars on this particular cot would seemingly require more pairs of hands than a Formula 1 pit crew and a Master’s degree in engineering.

So, with no steady return to the good old times of sleeping through, we just have to assume that this is just part of her being a toddler. Another phase – albeit one that seems to be lasting longer than other phases. In the meantime, we’ll have to wait and hope, whilst pulling over the spare duvet and saying “Goodnight” to the magical land of downstairs.

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.

The Novice Dad’s Diary Awards

 

IMG_2103Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great pride that I bring to you the first annual Novice Dad’s Diary Awards. The awards have come a long way from their origin as an over-caffeinated idea on the 17:54 train from Waterloo, so I am delighted that they are now a reality (of sorts). It is an especially satisfying moment following the bitter and protracted legal battle that occurred between this blog and a well-known brand of sauce, simply because I initially wanted to call them the ‘Daddies’.

Anyway, despite the lack of an esteemed celebrity host (Stacey Solomon wouldn’t return my calls), it’s time to grab a glass of follow-on milk and congratulate the winners.

Best Song or Rhyme: Old MacDonald had a farm.

An undisputed classic. Simple melody, great fun and you can make it up as you go along, especially if you have a plethora of cuddly toys at your disposal. Plus, who needs one of those brain ‘workout’ puzzles when you have to simultaneously sing and remember what noises a rabbit makes.

Most Depressing Song or Rhyme: Puff the magic dragon.

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I used to love this, until I looked up the lyrics again a few months ago. Putting aside the rumoured and rather unsubtle drug references, Puff was very happy living by the sea in a land called Honah Lee, roaring and frolicking in the autumn mist with his friend. Then, one day, his friend just stopped coming to see him, apparently because painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys. From then on, the remainder of Puff’s long life was spent living in a cave, sad and lonely. Stay happy, kids!

Also nominated: Three Blind Mice, Rock-a-Bye Baby, Five Little Ducks (nominated before I learnt that all of the ducks did eventually come back).

Worst Place to Change a Nappy: Train toilets.

More specifically, a dirty toilet on a speeding, jerky train, which also has one of those cubicle doors that just decides to slide open whenever it feels like it. Hand sanitizer gel may kill 99.9% of bacteria, but it won’t erase the trauma from your mind. Nor does it relieve the travel sickness.

Also nominated: Box Hill car park.

Best Product: Nappy bins

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I’ll be honest. Before our daughter was born, I practically bristled at the very idea of having a large poo receptacle in our house. Now, I can’t even begin to imagine the alternative horror of endless plastic bags, used baby wipes stuck to my clothes and searching on the internet for the cost of regularly fumigating the house.

Also Nominated: ‘Sock-ons’, teething granules.

Worst Product: Swaddling wraps.

I’m sure they’re great if being used to contain a plastic baby Jesus for the entirety of a nativity play but, in my experience, they’re not so great if you are trying to swaddle a real-life baby who would like to move her legs more than a few millimetres.

Also Nominated: Variable-flow teats, babygros with too many buttons (unless you happen to work as part of a Formula 1 pit crew).

Most Terrifying Potential Companion: Rosie.

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Rosie is my wife’s childhood doll, who has made an appearance on this blog before, due to her sunken eyes, demonic twitch and general demeanour of pure, unadulterated evil. Naturally, I hope that M never takes a liking to her. There was only ever one winner of this award, partly because all of the other nominees either mysteriously vanished or were found chopped into pieces on the patio.

Also nominated: May they rest in peace.

Most Baffling Technology: The CDs that insert your child’s name into each song.

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Genuine question – do they actually record the same song over again, replacing the name each time? How many versions is that? How many ‘takes’ is that? Is it recording studio trickery? Doesn’t it make the singer go insane? I’ve spent far too much time thinking about this.

Best Display of Patience: The lady next to me on our flight to Seville in November. I’ve mentioned this stoic hero before, but this award is well deserved. There can be few things more annoying when you’re trying to sleep on an aircraft than being repeatedly hit on the nose with a small plastic duck. Unfortunately, our winner could not be here this evening, so the duck is accepting the award on her behalf.

IMG_2095The Multiple Essentials Award: Bibs.

I’m not necessarily saying that our daughter dribbles a lot, but there’s more than one reason why the flooding was really bad in Surrey this winter.

Also nominated: Baby wipes, toy mice.

The John Lewis Award for Emotionally Manipulative Advertising. SMA Follow-On Milk.

“We ARE doing great”…

The Occasionally Tasty Baby Food Award: ‘Goodies’ Organic Apple and Orange Soft Oaty Bars.

IMG_2094Whilst only a few steps away from stealing candy from a baby, these are a useful alternative if you’re desperate for pudding on a Sunday night, the local shops are closed and you haven’t got any eggs for an emergency sponge.

Also nominated: Heinz baby porridge (blueberry flavour).

Most Cack-Handed Attempt at Putting on a Baby Backpack: Me.

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After numerous unsuccessful attempts in a Dorking car park, I eventually managed to lift both daughter and backpack onto my shoulders, all the while arching my back as if I was avoiding bullets in ‘The Matrix’. I briefly caught M’s reflection in the car window as she was being hoisted up for the final time. She did not look impressed.

The Matthew McConaughey Award for Pointing: Our daughter.

This award was named in honour of everyone’s favourite Oscar-winning Texan who seems to mark every statement with a jabbing forefinger thrust. M takes herself far less seriously, but that hasn’t stopped her from continuously pointing at everything, anything and sometimes absolutely nothing at all. This one’s for you, Poppet.

The Excessive Competitiveness Award: My wife.

Picture the scene: It’s Christmas and our 8-month old daughter is mastering the basics of crawling. My wife joins her, presumably in order to provide encouragement. Instead, she proceeds to race our daughter across the living room floor and wins comfortably. Mrs. D then raises her hands aloft at the victory. On that most festive of days, a monster was awoken.

Most Aero-Dynamic Breakfast: Porridge

Also nominated: Weetabix.

The Makeshift Chair Award: A shoebox.

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By my side of the bed in the corner of our bedroom lies a shoebox, where M likes to sit and reflect whilst bringing all manner of things with her, as if she were a little blonde magpie. ‘Gifts’ that have been left there in recent weeks include various bibs and socks, a pair of pants, a contact lens container, my glasses, My wife’s watch, a hair clip and, bizarrely, an empty jar of harissa paste from the recycling bin.

So, that’s it for the awards this time around. Thank you for your company, but it’s time for me to head off to Elton John’s after-show party. I just hope he doesn’t get drunk, maudlin and start singing ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’.