No escape from the garden

Night Terrors...

Sadly, the time has come to admit defeat. I fought long and hard against the overwhelming inevitability of it all, but to no avail. My daughter has become besotted with ‘In the Night Garden’. Iggle Piggle has won.

As per many a story about a classic struggle, this all started in a branch of Homebase one Sunday afternoon. The three of us had finally arrived at the checkout after probably the most protracted discussion in history about a new bathroom mirror, when M suddenly pointed at the obligatory stack of discounted DVDs placed nearby and excitedly exclaimed “Piggle!” in reference to the ubiquitous blanket-carrying creature whose features adorned one of the disc covers.

“How on earth does she know that?” asked my wife.

Our surprise was because, at the time, M’s range of vocabulary was only just starting to take off, so it seemed amazing to us that she knew the name of a character from a TV show that we had proactively tried to avoid on the grounds that we thought it was, well, a bit weird.

And so the seeds of obsession had started. In all honesty, the finger of blame points squarely at my mother. She owns an Iggle Piggle doll from her teaching days and therefore must have introduced her granddaughter to the blue tyrant at some point.

We tried a number of diverting tactics and it seemed, for a short time at least, as though Peter Rabbit (albeit the new televised version of Peter Rabbit) had saved the day – despite it being aimed at children slightly older than 18 months. After each brief episode had finished, M would point at the TV and turn to us with a forlorn look on her face, exclaiming “Bunny…”. Truth be told though, I don’t think she had ever watched a full episode, instead she would get most excited about the cheesy, over-earnest theme tune which sounds like it is being sung by a man straining against the effects of a hernia:

Despite the adventures and hi-jinks of Peter and his friends, In the Night Garden eventually wormed its way to the forefront of M’s conscience by virtue of the fact that it is cleverly scheduled on the CBeebies channel just before she goes to sleep each weeknight. Much to my chagrin, its calming and otherworldly vibe seems to strike just the right tone before bedtime.

But it is this otherworldly feel that, frankly, creeps me out a bit. According to Wikipedia, In the Night Garden consists of ‘ a mix of actors in costume, puppetry and computer animation’. In print, this combination might sound perfectly normal for a children’s TV programme but, when you watch the show, it just doesn’t seem quite ‘right’.

Which comes to my – and my wife’s – main gripe about the show: The normal laws of the universe just don’t seem to apply in the garden.

For instance, let’s take the Ninky Nonk and the Pinky Ponk. The former is a living, breathing train seemingly without eyes and ears but which still needs to sleep at the end of the day and can travel up trees. The Pinky-Ponk is also without facial features and is an airship with various fins, propellers and which emits weird noises. But the most unsettling thing about these colourful contraptions is the fact that they seem to be able to bend the rules of physics. Usually, they appear smaller than the main characters – Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka. Yet, these three are still able to fit normally inside Ninky Nonk/Pinky Ponk, subsequently being dragged up trees and spun around in circles in the air, all the while appearing considerably more comfortable than any commuter travelling on South-West Trains.

In fact, Pinky Ponk’s tendency for manic spinning around actually made me feel slightly nauseous whilst watching one episode, so I’m amazed that Makka Pakka hasn’t yet pukey puked.

There is also the weirdness of the characters themselves. Aside from the random noises and whistles that make up the language of the night garden, each inhabitant displays some pretty odd characteristics:

Makka Pakka’s obsession with cleaning other people’s faces and collecting stones is, to put it mildly, a bit of a worry. Frankly, it’s the sort of behaviour you would expect to hear about in a news report covering a serial killer in the American midwest.

Upsy Daisy likes to sing loudly through a megaphone like some sort of crazy bag-lady and carries her bed around with her in what may be some sort of Tracey Emin-inspired piece of performance art.

The Pontipines and the Wottingers sound like something out of West Side Story and, unfortunately for them, are neighbours in a miniature semi-detached house at the foot of a tree. Despite the outward pleasantries that comes with them being tiny wooden toys, I fear that there might be a feud silently raging within those walls. The Haahoos, meanwhile, have this slow, creepy floating vibe that remind me of Reeves and Mortimer’s sketch about Masterchef in the Lloyd Grossman era (the friendlier days – before it got all arrogant and shouty).

Finally, of course, there is Iggle Piggle himself. Looking like the product of an illicit relationship between the Pilsbury Doughboy and one of the Smurfs, Iggle Piggle magically arrives via boat in the garden every episode before leaving the same way at the end, sailing across the sea back to – well, who knows? It is safe to assume that his journey doesn’t take him across the English channel, as there is no P&O ferry in sight and barely a hint of an English celebrity doing a charity swim. Wherever he lives though, Iggle Piggle clearly has very poor healthcare coverage, as he unfortunately still has bells, squeakers and rattles embedded in his body. Ideally, he should also see someone about the loss of balance he also seems to frequently experience. I’ve had labyrinthitis before – it’s not fun.

But, before I get too carried away and in case you think I am alone in my mistrust of the programme, I received the following comments on Facebook when I posted the simple sentence:  “In the Night Garden freaks me out”:

“Don’t ever watch it!”

“Me too – weird as hell!”

“If you listen rather than just watch, Upsy Daisy sounds like she’s having a permanent orgasm!”

“Wildly inappropriate…Iggle Piggle trying to get into Upsy Daisy’s bed!”

And, more worryingly: “Just wait; Give it 6 months and you too could be booking ‘In the Night Garden Live’!”

The show’s popularity is there for all to see. Not just in the DVD stands by the tills at Homebase, but also in books, toys, puzzles, games and various other forms of merchandise. It’s quite surprising, considering that only 100 or so episodes were made before the BBC pulled the plug in 2010, possibly because it became too expensive to make.

These 100 episodes are seemingly played on a loop on CBeebies, much like the episodes of that other ubiquitous show, Peppa Pig, which always seems to be on every other children’s TV channel and somehow happens to be playing the same episode every time I happen to watch it (the one where Daddy Pig drops his keys down the drain at the beauty spot and they have to dig up the road – in case you were wondering).

Given this enduring popularity, maybe the issue is actually with me (and possibly the other people I’ve quoted in this post as well). Maybe I’m too cynical? Maybe the creative youthful imagination and acceptance of the weird and wonderful has simply deserted me over time? Maybe I’m simply old-fashioned and I like my television shows to generally make sense or at least have some kind of rational explanation for any weirdness? After all, this would explain why I was so annoyed by the endings of Lost and Quantum Leap.

Whatever the reason, In the Night Garden has become part of our daily lives and appears to be here to stay, despite my misgivings.

In fact, I’m sure that there will be times where I’ll actually welcome it’s catchy little theme tune as it diverts M’s attention away from trying to draw on the walls or pour her milk on the carpet. I’ll be thankful for its soothing presence as it calms her down in time for bed.

But I guess that’s how it wins over the parents as well – meaning that once it’s got you, there’s just no escape from the night garden.

Darn you, Iggle Piggle. Even though you always leave…we know that you’ll be back.

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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’.

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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(Almost) a year on: snot, steps and stairs

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Our little daughter is now only a few weeks away from turning 1. Being possibly influenced by the fact that I’m married to a teacher (and also because I decided upon the lazy idea of another list-based blog post), I thought that it was time for her first report card.

Etiquette:

One Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting on the sofa watching M happily play with her toys, when she crawled over, grabbed my knee to hold on as she stood up before vigorously wiping her snotty nose across my leg. As if that wasn’t enough, she then proceeded to break out in a big, cheesy grin as if she’d never been more proud of herself. Clearly, there’s room for improvement here. E-

Sporting Prowess:

A+ for persistence. D- for awareness. The reason I include this second mark is because M’s current sporting event of choice involves the stairs, a part of our home that she is developing something of an obsession with. Now, before I say any more, I’d just like to clarify that my wife and I have a gate at the top of the stairs, but not the bottom. We also like to let her explore in general, but always keep an eye on her and stay very close whenever she heads towards the stairs during those times when we haven’t used her toy basket to block her passage to them. What I’m trying to say is that there’s no need to call social services.

Anyway, her event goes as follows:

Clamber quickly up the first two steps. Slowly climb the third. Tentatively navigate the fourth. Realise that it’s actually quite high. Stand up. Turn around whilst holding the bannisters for balance. Grin through the bannisters. Face away from the stairs. Grin again. Do some weird squat-thrust-type movements whilst making “ooo” “ooo” noises (presumably for extra technical points). Hold arms out. Fall into daddy’s arms and make an “ahrarr” noise that may either be a laugh or a baby-talk version of R Kelly’s ‘I believe I can fly’. Repeat ad nauseum.

Although I’m obviously making sure she is safe, I realise that I am also inadvertently encouraging this game at the same time. This must be one of those ‘Catch-22’ moments of parenthood.

Sporting Prowess Module 2 – Teamwork:

I attempted to share the excitement of team sports with her by setting up a mini rugby game whilst the 6 nations was on, with M and myself playing against the intimidating opposition in the picture below.

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It didn’t quite work, as the picture was taken in the 10-second window before the goalposts were knocked down by my team-mate. She didn’t even take the ball with her. And yes, I know that Twickenham doesn’t have a radiator behind the try-line. D-

Motor Skills:

Pretty good for her age, although she has trouble reaching the clutch pedal and doesn’t tend to indicate when approaching a roundabout. B+

Talking:

She’s usually very chatty, unless she is in an unfamiliar situation or meets someone she doesn’t know, in which case she just performs the obligatory ‘child stare’. When she’s comfortable and happy though, the sounds and non-words are many, ranging from “wawawawa”, “shzrrrrr” and “ahoooo” to an occasional disturbing throaty gargle that makes her sound like a gremlin. Even though it’s far too early for a first word, sounds that are similar to words sometimes take us aback. Given her unbridled enthusiasm when given one, I’m convinced that her eventual first word will be “banana”. A-

Physical Development:

Her crawling is surprisingly quick, especially when It comes to making a beeline for the aforementioned stairs, or random parts of the floor that may still hold some dropped banana from earlier.

Standing is pretty much conquered, although she does tend to hold on to something in order to steady herself, mostly my or my wife’s legs. As adorable as this is, it’s also rather inconvenient should you want to, you know, move. She’s making good progress with the walking too and, for some reason; she saves her best efforts for when out in public. It’s quite amusing to watch the slight panic in other people’s faces when she starts tottering towards them like a drunk in high winds. B+

Emotional Development:

She’s started to have her first few tantrums. Most of the time, this can be quite maddening as, so far, they’ve tended to be due to the fact that we’ve blocked her path to the stairs or that it’s time for her to go to bed but she would much prefer to stay up and stick her fingers in our food before going over to wipe them on the television. On the odd occasion however, it can actually be quite amusing. A couple of days ago, she was having fun with her baby-walker before the wall brought an abrupt end to her journey across the living room. Upset that she couldn’t go any further, she proceeded to look cross, babble loudly in frustration and throw her arms down in disgust. Whilst this instance may have been quite funny, I doubt I’ll find the majority of tantrums over the next 18 years quite as comical. C+

Sleeping:

Much like a football manager who is only as good as their last result, M’s sleeping pattern only seems as good or as bad as the previous night.  On the whole, she is actually quite good, but the one consistent is that she saves her most unsettled nights for Sundays. As this is right before the start of the working week, the disruption is about as welcome as a fart in a crowded lift. C+

Teeth:

B+. Eight of them so far, all causing considerable pain when you get them clamped round your finger whilst trying to administer her teething granules, which I suppose is rather ironic.

Bathtime:

Hates her hair being washed, repeatedly tries to stand up in the tub, grabs and chews the sponge, hates the sponge being taken off her, hits me in the face with the sponge and squeezes the water from it outside the tub, making me arguably wetter than her. All of which is much to her delight. Rubber ducks and her own toothbrush are only an occasionally effective distraction technique. D+

Social Interaction:

Very sociable once she’s figured people out. Possibly a little too sociable with other babies and children especially, as she gets rather ‘hands-on’ with them. Which reminds me that we need to clip her nails even more regularly. She’s like Wolverine. B+

Eating and drinking:

Breakfast tends to be messy. Many years from now, when we’ve long-since moved, the next owners of our house will still be finding mysterious pieces of encrusted, flung porridge in random parts of the kitchen.

On the plus side, we’ve been combining milk with weaning onto solids for a while now and M doesn’t seem to be at all picky. She even loves cauliflower cheese, which proves that there must be something wrong with her taste buds. Trying to give her water after meals is a struggle though, as she just uses it as mouthwash before spitting it out and wearing a look that can only be described as ‘contemptuous’. B+

Inquisition:

Seemingly wants to know about EVERYTHING. Current objects of fascination include mobile phones, the stairs, the TV remote, any toggles on an item of clothing, the stairs, anything stacked up on shelves that can be knocked down (books, DVDs etc.), the washing machine, the stairs, the door stop holding open the kitchen door, any food that you happen to be eating, any drink that you happen to be drinking, the stairs, the tumble dryer, anything that happens to be between her and the stairs, her own socks (still). As lovely as her curiosity is, it’s also incredibly exhausting when you have to pick her up and direct her away from the bin for the umpteenth time that afternoon. A-

Musicality:

C+. She’s obviously not writing her first concerto or breaking out the MC Hammer-style moves yet, but M does enjoy music and watching people dance and sing. This is surprising, given that I have a singing voice that sounds like a seal being clubbed to death. In fact, it’s even worse than this:

Storytelling:

C+. Enjoys being read to, providing she’s not wriggling away and trying to get to the stairs again. She also seems to enjoy telling the odd story herself as well. A couple of weeks ago, I picked her up from the child-minder for the first time. On the way home, she was babbling away in the back of the car as if telling me all about her day. It was strangely emotional.

Her thesis on the industrial revolution:

Ungraded. She’s still working on the introduction. It’s very shoddy work, if I’m honest.

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.