Of mice and many

Life is hard. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”.

On second thoughts, it may actually have been Brad Pitt in ‘Meet Joe Black’..?

Anyway, it’s tough out there and all parents want to protect their children as best they can from the grim reality that is the modern world and the heartache and upset that it brings with it. It’s an impossible task though and there is one early trauma that many of us will have gone through as children – the gut-wrenching heartbreak that is the loss of a favourite toy, whether it’s only a temporary loss or something sadly more permanent.

Most people have a story to tell along these lines. My mother, for example, lost her beloved pink rabbit in Scotland when she was little and still hates being reminded about it (sorry, Mum).

My own particular experience did not involve a rabbit, or another stuffed companion such as a bear or even my prized Garfield, but ‘Benny the beetle’. Benny was a small rubber beetle (naturally), who was included inside a party bag following a friend’s birthday. I’m not entirely sure what it was that made me connect with this tiny insect toy, but a bond was formed and I ended up taking Benny with me everywhere I went. He even accompanied me during a family holiday to France a couple of years later. On one lovely sunny day during this trip, my parents and I had been out for a picnic. However, when we got back to the holiday home where we were staying, I realised that Benny was nowhere to be found. Panicked and upset, I forced my parents to join me in a frantic search mission that took in the entire house, surrounding grounds and eventually involved us going back to the picnic area, despite (I think) it being at least an hour away. I’m sure one of my parents can verify this, as it obviously wasn’t me doing the driving.

Having painstakingly combed the area, Benny was still missing. With the light fading, and with me feeling tired and dejected, we headed back to our temporary home. However, shortly after arrival, my mood changed completely when I realised that I had actually left Benny wedged between the pages of the ‘Asterix’ book next to my bed.

In this instance, mine was a temporary loss, however this is tempered by the sad fact that I don’t actually know where Benny is these days. Due to his small frame, he got lost again years later, this time for good. Despite the fact that I am now 35 years of age, I’m like my mother in that this genuinely makes me feel rather sad every time I think about it.

Fast-forward to the present day and I am aware that the day may soon come when my daughter loses one of her cherished toys. With this in mind, my wife and I were given some wise words of advice from my mother-in-law, who said we should always have a duplicate in reserve should anything happen to whichever one ended up as the favourite.

Being very young and fickle, M has only recently developed an interest in soft toys, previously preferring to play with objects that made more of an impact when they were whacked against her high chair or dropped down the toilet. But there has always been one constant presence, which has been especially useful at bedtime as it has become her comforter. When you hand it to her, she automatically grabs it with one hand and sticks her other thumb in her mouth. It’s like flicking on a rather loveable switch.

The toy in question is a little stuffed animal called a ‘Chimboo Mouse’ made by Jellycat, a company that makes really cute little toys. I don’t wish to cast aspersions, but if you don’t make at least one ‘awww’ noise when looking at their website, then frankly you have no soul.

So, given the level of attachment that M has to her mouse, we decided to follow my mother-in-law’s advice and buy a spare in case of accidental loss or even potential damage as a result of it being chewed beyond recognition. The problem is that Jellycat have since amended the range. The new mice on the block are still the same size, colour, fabric, dimension etc. and the only difference is that the face is more rounded, less narrow. This is presumably to make them look even cuter but it also makes them look strangely less mouse-like. It is a noticeable difference though and one that I’d guess would not get past most children if you were to try and replace their favourite toy with an imposter.

So, after a lengthy deliberation, we decided not to purchase the not-quite lookalike mouse from Jellycat directly, but instead search for a true duplicate elsewhere. In such circumstances, all roads lead to eBay.

The good news was that we did indeed find two of the older Chimboo mice for sale, both unused and with tags. The bad news (and I don’t think I’m overstating this) was that the people aiming to sell these mice were pure evil and clearly trying to exploit desperate parents in a bid to make a large profit.

I don’t like naming and shaming, but the worst offender was (and still is) an eBay business known as ‘cheddargorgetoyshop’. Despite the fact that you can buy the new Chimboo mouse for £9 from the Jellycat website, they have listed one of the original range for £24.99. They’ve even described it as a ‘rare piece’. Now, you can argue whether that’s technically true or not, but I personally think they’ve got more cheek than Beyonce.

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(By the way, I’m sorry if I appear to have gone all ‘Daily Mail’ on you, be assured that I’ll be having a shower after writing this in order to try and scrub off all of the middle-class rage).

Meanwhile, the other seller was a fellow parent with a spare mouse that had never been used. Again, this seller had described their mouse as ‘rare’. The starting price was £0.99, so my wife swooped in, contacting the seller to say that she would be happy to pay £10 (£1 above the standard Jellycat price). The seller refused, clearly believing that that she could get even more by sticking with the auction format. With my wife refusing to join the auction on principal, I formed the other half of our tag-team and entered the bidding. Six days later, the final hours and minutes of this auction turned out to be more tense than ‘Gravity’, ‘Apollo 13’ and a World Cup final penalty shootout put together. But, I’m proud to say that I prevailed and the mouse was won for a price of £6.80. Victory was ours.

There’s a slight twist to this winning tale though, as we accidentally introduced both mice to M at the same time, so she’s now used to having two of them. So, it’s back to the search we go, this time for a third mouse…

Scrambling to buy a replacement need not be the only course of action though, as social media has provided a platform for potential child/toy reunions. In December, my sister-in-law shared a link on Facebook in which somebody had found an old teddy bear on a train to Kings Cross and posted a picture of it in the hope that the bear might find its way back to its owner in time for Christmas. I duly shared it as well and, in the coming days, there would be a number of times where I would wonder whether the bear did make it back home. Similarly, this week I saw another shared plea, this time for the safe return of a stuffed toy lion who had been separated from its owner in a local branch of Tesco.

So, in the event of a lost toy, the modern world does actually give us hope.

Now, I can’t offer any solutions to bigger problems such as the global economy or how to make Piers Morgan disappear, but what I can do is to reach out to you good people on behalf of the lost toy cause. People of the blogosphere and the wider world: If you come across a lost toy, look after it, share its details and do what you can to get it back to its rightful owner.

However, If a toy is tragically lost, I hope all sellers and vendors will consider the greater good and offer potential replacement toys at a reasonable price, instead of trying to squeeze as much excess profit as possible from frantic parents (I’m looking at you in particular, ‘cheddargorgetoyshop’).

If we all come together in this, both parents and children will sleep easier at night in the knowledge that childhood companions are safe and sound.  We can do this, so let’s try and make the world a better place, one small soft toy at a time.

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Don’t hold it upside down and start swinging it around

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Since the turn of the year, our plans for becoming ‘baby-ready’ have really kicked into gear. In the last couple of weeks, we have put wallpaper on the remaining wall of the nursery, ordered enough equipment and supplies from Amazon to single-handedly keep them afloat for the next year (they might even be able to pay their taxes this time) and have even started looking at offers on nappies. I bought a couple of packs of nappies the other day after having a brief, but concise discussion with my wife about what type we should buy. It went like this:

Me: Do you think we should buy cloth nappies or disposable ones?

Mrs.D: Definitely disposable. I’m not washing shit.

Another part of the planning process was to learn how to cope in an emergency. So, last week I finally attended the baby first aid course that I had scrambled to get a place on.  I say scrambled, because these courses seem to get booked up very quickly and, given that our child is due in 3 months, I figured it best to get a place as soon as possible because I knew absolutely nothing about first aid – or babies, for that matter. My wife, being a teacher, is qualified in first aid so I was doing this on my own.

The course was held one evening in a local nursery (or ‘active learning centre’). I was the first person to arrive and was promptly led through a vast array of corridors that made me wonder whether I was going to somehow stray into a snowy forest and find myself talking to a eunuch. However, I instead ended up in a tiny classroom with the heating cranked up to its maximum – it felt somewhat appropriate that dealing with a raised temperature was going to be one of the topics.

As other parents-to-be turned up, it became clear that everyone else at least knew one other person there, mainly due to them all being members of the same pre-natal class. Having shown a reckless enthusiasm by positioning myself right at the front next to the demonstration tables, I was hoping that I wouldn’t end up getting paper aeroplanes or spit flung at my head by the popular kids, just for trying too hard and making copious amounts of notes all the way through.

Our tutor began by introducing the emergencies that we were going to cover. These were ‘unconscious (breathing and non-breathing)’, ‘choking’, ‘raised temperature’, ‘burns’ and ‘bleeding’. All of these instances have different methods, depending whether or not you are dealing with a baby or a child. I started writing, aware that there were no course handouts. Between the frantic scribbling, listening to the tutor and looking the slides on the wall, I felt like I was conquering the male problem with multi-tasking.

Having first learnt the steps needed to check if a baby/child was breathing and how to then administer CPR if they are not, it was time for us to demonstrate this ourselves. There were three of the demonstration tables in the classroom and on each lay a plastic model of a child’s head and chest, as well as a model of a baby. Our ‘baby’ had a name (Annie), presumably because having a limbless torso lying next to it just wasn’t quite creepy enough.

I was the second one to go forward, having craftily studied the man before me. He was in a suit and looked confident. I was in jeans and looked petrified. Yet, having examined my scribbles and engaged with the other people in the group as if it were a collaborative exercise, I managed to get the steps correct. I looked, felt and listened for breathing. I then open up the airwaves, covered the baby’s mouth and nose with my mouth and provided short, sharp breaths. I then started on the chest compressions, pushing down on the breastplate to the tune of ‘Nellie the Elephant’. This song (as well as ‘Stayin’ Alive’, which has the same tune) helps you get the correct rhythm for the compressions. It also makes you wonder how many other children’s songs that the Bee Gees plagiarised throughout their career.

Anyway, having said goodbye to the circus with a trumpety-trump (trump, trump, trump), I turned to sit back down and breathed a sigh of relief – before realising I had forgotten to put Annie’s head back into position and ‘she’ now had an arched back that wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Exorcist. I quickly amended this before cleaning the doll with the alcohol wipes that were provided.

The lady who was next stood up, examined Annie and then announced that she was “just going to wipe off some of the excess alcohol”. Whilst my resuscitation skills may have been up to scratch, my cleaning afterwards apparently bordered on the excessive. In my defence, the smoky bacon-flavoured crisps I’d eaten that afternoon had been repeating on me, so I figured I was actually doing her a favour by being thorough.

When it came to performing CPR on the torso, a little more force was required that just a short breath and a gentle press. Well I say ‘a little’ because a clicking sound on the torso told us how much pressure to apply and it is a surprisingly large amount. The tutor told me to just use one hand and to straighten my arm, with the end result being that I looked as though I was struggling to unblock a U-bend rather than save a life. By this point, everyone in the room was looking towards me and, for some unfathomable reason, I gave a Wallace and Gromit-style cheesy grin before pressing away and cursing myself.

During the choking section, we learnt the Heimlich manoeuvre, but the process for dealing with a choking baby is quite different due to the delicate nature of their still-developing organs. Despite having said this, the tutor was still at pains to point out that the procedure definitely doesn’t involve holding the infant by the feet and swinging it around, ‘Gangnam Style’.

The different ways of dealing with a raised temperature were quite varied and I learnt that Calpol is the must-have of the child medicine world. By the time we got to burns, I was getting almost a little cocky as I was able to proactively name the three types of burn, largely thanks to having watched 10 seasons of ER.

Surprisingly enough, it was the bleeding section where I came a little unstuck as the tutor pointed out that we should all know how to wash and wipe a small cut or graze. The question in my mind was, which of these comes first?  Having gone through the more complex stuff at the beginning, I felt it was a bit like a qualified engineer asking which way up to hold the spirit level. Rather than potentially embarrass myself in public, I settled for asking Mrs.D when I got home.

So, after 2 hours the course ended. I was a little disappointed in the lack of certificate or even a badge or sticker but the main thing is that I now feel a little bit more confident in my fledgling ability as a parent. Joking aside, I would certainly recommend the course to any parents-to-be as it was really well delivered and the skills that were taught are invaluable. But, as our tutor concluded, I’m just hoping that I never have to use them.

The NCT Baby and Child First Aid course was provided by the British Red Cross. Information on all of the topics covered in the course can be found by clicking here.

The hardest, but most rewarding thing we’ll ever do

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There are certain things in life that are both exciting and terrifying in equal measure – going off to university, starting a new job, getting married, travelling on the London Underground. However, I’m discovering that nothing swings between these two emotions quite like the realisation that you are going to be a parent for the first time.

Yes, despite being barely able to look after myself, I am going to be a dad.

My wife and I have had the 20-week scan, which actually turned into 2 scans that were 14 days apart as, first time round, our little baby decided to adopt an aircraft-style ‘brace’ position, meaning that not all of its bits and pieces could be measured properly.

So, having hoped that all of the worry and tension that had built up over the past few weeks would be eradicated, we had to wait another 2 weeks for it to be confirmed that everything looked ok and all the parts were in the right places. I was a bit frustrated after the first of these scans because of this emotional compression, but Mrs.D pointed out that we were instead in the fortunate position of being able to see our little baby twice.

How right she was. It was truly amazing to see how the baby had grown since week 20 and to see its little heart pumping away for the first time. Judging by these early images, our offspring has the potential to be an Olympic gymnast due to its energy and dexterity. If there’s a future Olympic event that involves holding your foot near your mouth, I’m placing a bet on our child winning a gold medal.

We also now know the sex of the baby and what name we would like to call him/her, but we are keeping this to ourselves for the time being. After all, nothing potentially spoils a name like someone saying that it’s also the name of their first dog or the person who broke their heart 10 years ago.

Anyway, having been told that everything looked ok so far, we headed out of the hospital, breathed a sigh of relief and then jointly had one of those excitement/terror moments. “It’s just become a bit more real now, hasn’t it?” I said. My wife nodded and gave me a wide-eyed look that projected happiness combined with the realisation of what we are about to take on.

Even though now we are only just entering the third trimester, the planning starts now and there is a lot to consider and become familiar with in a comparatively short space of time.

For instance, we have ordered wallpaper for one wall of the nursery and painted the rest of the room over the Christmas holiday. We have also ordered a travel system. Now, having previously worked for a public transport organisation, I naturally assumed that the phrase ‘transport system’ referred to the infrastructure of a bus or underground train network. Not in baby world, it doesn’t.

Instead, it seems to be the name of any type of buggy/pram/pushchair/jogger hybrid that carries your little angel around. There are numerous options for this and I think we pushed the saleswoman in John Lewis to breaking point by asking every conceivable question for about an hour before finally settling on what we hope is the right model for our child. “Are you an urban couple?” we were asked at one point. “No idea” we replied, slightly baffled, before images of Mrs.D and I as some unconvincing rap duo appeared in my mind.

Anyway, the contraption we have bought should move around effortlessly, carry various accessories as well as the child itself and easily fit into our car boot (once we have removed the wellies, umbrellas and assorted crap currently in there), but still looks like it could turn into Optimus Prime at the flick of a lever.

We also apparently need to start thinking about day care, a full 3 months before the baby arrives and a good year before my wife returns to work after maternity leave. Do we opt for a child-minder or day care centre? We are not nearly posh or wealthy enough to consider a nanny. Again, the options are less than straightforward. Whichever one you turn to though, the cost is mind-boggling. I am already thinking that our child needs to damn well end up as a highly successful career professional, who is able to keep me and Mrs.D in the style in which we deserve after probably having to sell our kidneys on ebay in order to fund his/her early years.

These are just examples of the logistics though, whereas what terrifies me most is the actual ‘care’ of the child. I mean, how does it work? There’s no manual. A lot of parents that we’ve spoken to have said that they just ‘wing it’, but I would feel a lot more confident with some sort of technical handbook that tells you the exact solution for dealing with every little problem that may occur. For instance: When the baby cries, how do I know if it is hungry, tired, needs its nappy changed, is unwell, in pain or just not happy about wearing the Tottenham Hotspur bib that I will inevitably buy once its born?

Despite this inherent human design flaw that neglects to supply a manual with spare parts for your baby, I have been reading various baby books and have bought ‘Parenting for Dummies’ in order to try and pick up as many nuggets of information as possible.

For example, I have learnt that you need ‘muslin squares’ to mop up ‘possets’. From this, I have discovered that possets is a ridiculously cutesie term for small amounts of baby puke and that you really need to learn how to properly pronounce ‘muslin’, just in case you accidentally cause offence.

But, going back to the care aspect; next week, I have a baby first aid class, which I am actually quite scared about. You see, I don’t even know the correct way to hold a baby. My current attempt is somewhere between a fireman’s lift and diffusing a bomb. I have images in my head of me inadvertently removing the head of the plastic practice baby whilst other Dads are successfully performing baby CPR, simultaneously changing a nappy and also wondering who the class psychopath is.

Changing nappies is another thing, as I am not good with poo. According to testimonies and vivid eye-witness accounts from friends who are parents, this stuff goes projectile and gets everywhere. The shit doesn’t necessarily hit the fan as cover every single corner of the room instead, getting in places that you never thought would be susceptible to a faecal invasion. I’m slightly ashamed to say that, when I first heard about this phenomenon, my immediate concerns were for my laptop and Playstation. Combine this with my inability to wrap presents and nappy changes become a recipe for disaster. According to one of the books I’ve read, new-born babies need about 60 nappy changes per week. I think we can all agree, that’s a lot of poo.

But, putting aside quips about travel systems, guidebooks, money and flying faeces, I really hope that I’m going to be a good dad. Like any parent, I just wish for a healthy baby and, later, a happy child. Before that though, there will be countless nappies to be changed, sleepless nights to be had, a fair bit of crying, lots of equipment to be carried around, plenty of badly-sung tunes about animals, a plethora of goofy noises and much, much more.

It’s going to be a long journey, one that will change our lives forever and will be exciting and yet terrifying in equal measure. It will be quite possibly the hardest, yet most rewarding thing that my wife and I will ever do – and you know what? I can’t wait.

Lights, satsumas…baubles!

Christmas!

I’m a big fan of Christmas and am also one of those sad people who has a ‘number of sleeps to Christmas’ app on my phone (24 sleeps at the time of writing, if you didn’t know and were vaguely curious). Anyway, this year I have decided to be proactive – hence why I am writing this on the first day in December – and try to make my Christmas experience even better by following these guidelines (although a good start would probably be to stop using words like ‘proactive’):

1) Stop mocking town Christmas lights:

Ok, so they usually never change and there is always something wrong with them. For instance, in the town where my grandparents lived, the same decorations were wheeled out for about 20 years running and unfortunately, but most memorably, the characters depicted (Santa, a snowman, a choirboy etc) all looked like they were being hanged. Where I live now, the lights have just gone up and the illuminated sprigs of holly and berries have a worryingly phallic shape to them (especially when they move up and down). But we shouldn’t mock. After all, England is a grey and wet old place and anything that goes some way to making a branch of Wilkinsons look pretty should probably be celebrated instead.

2) Don’t get ‘affected’ by the John Lewis advert.

They do it every year and we all know the formula, but it still works every time: Classic 80s song given a slow, piano-based makeover and sung in a cutesy female voice. A sad/happy storyline that involves a family growing up together or a cute child revelling in the joy of Christmas. This year, we have the surreal (and slightly pagan) tale of a snowman somehow travelling up and down the country to buy the perfect gift for Mrs. Snowman, sound-tracked to a mellow version of ‘The Power of Love’. That lump in my throat was just a large piece of toast, honestly…you’re a bunch of bastards, John Lewis marketing department.

3) Learn to wrap presents:

I am very envious of my wife. Creative sort that she is, the presents that she wraps are always beautifully symmetrical, decorated with ribbons and bows and they look so good that it is almost a shame to open them. Mine, on the other hand, usually consist of a 50/50 ratio between wrapping paper and sticky tape, whilst even the simplest shapes are so ineptly packaged that it looks like I have been involved in a fight to the death with whatever happens to be inside.

4) Take ownership (or at least 50%) of tree-decorating:

My involvement in the Christmas tree process typically extends to buying it, carrying it home and plonking it in the designated place in our living room. Decorating, however, has become the sole domain of Mrs.D. It’s not that I don’t want to do it, in fact it was one of my favourite Christmas activities in years gone by. Recently though, I’ve found that the fun goes out of it when you are being relentlessly project-managed and all your decorations are removed and repositioned (“there are too many baubles in that corner!”) This year though, I am determined that I will not be relegated to just putting Slade on in the background (I probably will).

5) Buy a Christmas jumper:

Yes, a PROPER Christmas jumper. One that contains 75% of all the colours known to man, has at least 4 reindeer on it and a couple of flashing lights (usually positioned around the nipple areas). I know they used to be tacky and the stuff of nightmares that would be knitted by your gran, but last year they appeared to make a surprising comeback in the fashion stakes. Of course, as it was last year, I may well have missed that particular bandwagon and will instead look like a gormless idiot, given that I am 34 years old and not a skinny hipster from Shoreditch. But hey, it’s Christmas.

6) Make Eggnog:

Truthfully, I don’t actually know what this is and, given the fact that it looks like it belongs in a fertility clinic, I’m not 100% convinced I want to drink it either. However, it appears to be a Christmas institution and is supposed to be incredibly potent, which is good enough for me. Besides, this is the only time of year where you can consume things that are utterly revolting in the name of tradition (Brussels Sprouts, anyone?)

7) Stop trying to do the Irish accent whilst singing along to ‘Fairytale of New York’:

This is self-explanatory, really. I love this song but my warbling is dreadful enough without also adopting an inconsistent blend of Irish, Scottish and Welsh with a hint of Jamaican thrown in.

8) Be more imaginative with buying Christmas presents.

This is to any members of my family who end up receiving a Christmas candle/ basket of bath soaps/condiments for cheese/anything from Millets: I AM VERY SORRY.

9) Remember what Christingle is:

Every year I have to ask my wife to tell me what it actually symbolises and I seem to forget pretty much straight away. The only thing I can recall is that it has something to do with a candle and an orange (will a satsuma do?) This probably sounds laughably pathetic, but at least it’s an improvement from last year, when I still thought it was a character from ‘Emmerdale’.

10) Be thankful:

I am usually a pessimistic person and tend to focus on and worry about the negatives, rather than concentrate on all the positives. This year though, I will try my hardest to do the opposite. After all, I have a lovely wife (when she’s not decorating the tree, anyway), a loving family and a fantastic group of friends. I am a lucky man and it’s only right that I remember that as we head into December. Happy holidays, everyone 🙂