My Boy

The room is dark, barely lit by the low, amber lighting penetrating from the hallway. The blue curtains are drawn tight and outside the rain lashes down in squally gusts,

But inside it is warm and still and silent, and you are lying there serene, precious, everything I ever wanted.

I am looking at you. You are finally sleeping soundly, curled up in a tangle of super hero emblazoned sheets, cuddly toys and books; the usual detritus of a nightly struggle with sleep.

I am looking at you, my eyes tracing the contours of your nose and chin.

Your skin is soft and clear in this beguiling half-light. My boy, such perfection, such beautiful perfection.

The rain hammers on the window. Through the curtains I see the sulphurous blur of the street light outside, wind rattled tree branches mottling the glow.

It is a reminder of the outside world, and it forces itself into my reverie. The darkness and the light.

What future for you my boy? What legacy for you, my beautiful child?

There will be heartbreak and sorrow and fear and pain to come for you. This darkness lurks on the horizon, for it is a certainty of life.

The savagery of humanity. My boy, do not be fooled by the veneer of civility, for beneath the shine there lies snarling fangs.

And my boy, there will be times when you will need to bare your teeth too. When you do, make sure you do so for truth, for love and that your cause is just and proportionate.

I am breathing in your beauty, a strong emotion somewhere between contentment and euphoria breaking over me. This feeling, almost overwhelming at your birth, hasn’t waned.

It is a connection unlike any other; deep, primal, urgent.

I am moving a lock of hair off your forehead. You stir but don’t wake. I nuzzle in and inhale the sweet earthy smell of you.

My boy, we have made it through the day. It is a filthy night, cold and wet outside.

But in here there is the soft cocoon of profound love, as old as the universe itself, holding back the night, bridging the void.

And, for now, pushing the darkness back to its dank edges.

 

Hiding in the toilets

I am a 6ft man, 44 years old, strong, physically capable. But it’s Saturday morning and I am hiding in the toilets of the Science Museum in London.

This is not usual behaviour for a 44 year old father of two, but trying times call for radical solutions.

I have my head in my hands and I am wondering what on earth I was thinking; why did I think that a family outing to one of London’s busiest attractions during the school holidays was a good idea?

And what the hell was I thinking going above my three pint policy the night before? I know, through years of tried and tested experience, that anything more than three pints results in a hangover the following day.

I screw my eyes up and push my knuckles further into my pounding temples.

What the fuck was I thinking?

Half a day has passed and I can summarise these precious five hours of family time in two words – queuing and shouting. Lots of loud, fruity shouting.

In fact those two words would probably summarise most summer holiday outings with the children these days.

The idea for the trip to the Science Museum cames from a place of well meaning. As a parent I am bombarded by messages from experts and the media telling me to expand my children’s minds, feed their curiosity.

Your children need Sciencing” the experts shout.

Well this morning, there has been no sciencing going on.

My daughter, the eldest, has been a devil child since breakfast, a mood prompted by the fact that we wouldn’t let her wear her Wellington boots to London

But Daddy! Paddington Bear wears wellington boots and he lives in London!” she claims

But darling it’s 26C outside and it hasn’t rained in three weeks. You don’t need boots on!” comes my exasperated response

BUT DAAAAAAADD….”

And so it goes on. All effing morning.

And the youngest, my son is adopting a position of oppositional defiance to everything, since we stopped him from pouring the entire contents of the sugar bowl onto his breakfast Cheerios.

Ah cool, look at this, it’s how electricity is conducted” I say, pointing at a wired up circuit board

It’s boring, I don’t want to be a Sciencer dad!” 

I find this funny. The funniest thing I’ve heard today at least. But my barely stifled laugh at this cute word play makes him even more furious and entrenched.

He refuses to move from the Wonderlab and screams until I consider bribing him with chocolate.

I raise my eyes to the heavens, let out a big sigh and mentally cross “parent of the year” off the award list.

I have learnt two things already this morning. Never go on a family outing to London on a hangover; and the kids really don’t give two shits about Science.

They would rather be at home playing with the dead flies that gather in the corner of the rooms and tormenting the neighbour’s cat. I suppose it’s a kind of science.

The whinging and wailing carries on all morning. “I’m bored. This is boring. This museum is stupid and boring. Daddy, you are stupid and boring”

I try to shrug the personal insults off, the kids are still only young, they don’t really know what they are saying, but these tirades sting a little.

Despite the fact that we have been shovelling thousands of calories into their tiny little faces all morning, the kids start complaining that they are hungry around about 11:30.

Maybe that’s what we all need, I think, some sustenance.

My hangover is still there, niggly, a bastard behind the eyes, but the idea of some comfort food lifts my spirits.

Except that there is a fourteen mile queue for anything vaguely resembling sustenance.

My wife volunteers to walk a few blocks to find a food shop that is a little less crowded, and so the kids and I sit outside the museum and wait.

My children entertain themselves by terrorising the grotty pigeons that congregate in the grey concrete square, the first time they have enjoyed themselves all morning.

I note that this is pretty typical. Behind them lies a building of wonder that holds the secrets to the laws of the universe, but they are happiest running around a piece of concrete chasing flying rats.

I settle back and watch them. I begin to enjoy the fresh air, the space and the fact that the children are finally out of my face and out of my hair for a few minutes.

Maybe this day trip thing can work

My wife returns with some croissants, coffee and various sandwiches and the children come running, laughing and giggling. Things are looking up.

But no sooner has my wife put the bags down and starts searching for hand wash, then the children start grabbing at the bags, and fighting over who gets what. I try to intervene, and I am quick, but I realise I am not quick enough.

My son grabs the croissant bag and like a slippery little eel runs away with it. My daughter follows screaming like a banshee, clutching some sandwiches. My son trips and spills the croissants all over the floor, right into the pigeon poo, grazing his knee badly and letting out a piercing howl.

My daughter, bereft that the croissants are gone, throws the sandwiches at him, the egg and cress exploding as they make contact with concrete and forehead. They too are now gone.

And so, at this point, is my sanity.

I calmly make my excuses, I need the loo I say, but really I don’t. I just need some peace and quiet.

I make my way, slowly, to the toilets, enjoying every child free step. There is another bastard queue this time for the toilets, but I don’t mind, because it is all child free.

Eventually I get in and lock the cubicle door. I am free, for five minutes I am free.

And so this is how it came to be. A grown man, holding his head in his hands and hiding, from his own children, in the public toilets of London’s Science Museum.

I am not proud of this situation, you understand, but sometimes you have just got to do what you gotta do.

And sitting here in the relative still and calmness of the Science Museum toilets, I come to terms with the fact that my children are probably never going to discover cures to illnesses or make life changing scientific breakthroughs.

But if we can all make it through the day still speaking to each other, still alive, still breathing, then that’s something to be proud of.

I laugh to myself, as I reflect how I have had to re-adjust my expectations since becoming a father. Some days we are lucky if we leave the house without 47 arguments.

I also reflect on the fact that I have spent more time hiding from my children in toilets than I have hiding in toilets from anyone else.

I sigh, and stand up. I flush the toilet even though it doesn’t need flushing (after all, I need to be able to justify to the queue outside why I have occupied a stall for close to ten minutes), unlock the door, take a deep breath and steel myself for re-entry back into family life.

 

 

Growing Up

The days clatter by, without so much of a pause for breath or space for reflection. The rattle and hum of every day events and the constant manic juggling of priorities leaves little space for anything else.

Which child needs to be where at what time? What should they be wearing? Has he got a temperature? What will they need once they get there? Which mode of transport will we take? Which child have you got today? Does it make sense for me to pick up child A? But wait I have a meeting at that time, and I can’t shift it. Can you pick up child B and take them to X’s house? So who is on dinner then?……

And so it goes. Planning and re-planning. The endless prioritisation. The re-prioritisation. The compromise and servitude and the flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants from one thing to another. It’s precision on a military level.

This is modern day parenting and it is an incessant, white knuckled ride down life’s turbulent waters. A ride that can finish at the end of the day in one of two ways;

if I’m lucky, the day will finish in the cosy confines of a warm and dimly lit bedroom surrounded by books, cuddly toys, soft furnishings and hushed words.

Or it could finish amongst the waifs and strays of society in the strip lighted waiting room of a local A&E, praying to whatever god that will listen that everything is going to be OK.

It is stressful, and manic, and full on, and brilliant, and boring, and amazing and it can really blow your mind. Parenting should be on a Class A list.

But then a space for reflection opens up. A pause in the mania of everyday life.

Maybe it was that afternoon to myself in the park. Maybe it was that stolen hour in the swimming pool.

It is space that has enabled a bit of perspective. It brings a sense that changes have happened, but that I just haven’t noticed them as I spend another day plummeting down a cliff in a tin dustbin.

And as I walk in to the house I see it immediately.

I see a massive space in the hall.

This is a space that used to be occupied by the hulking, shabby frame of the pram.

A space in which the pram used to sit in its very own puddle of water, leaves and dirt, snagging jumpers and pecking knees and shins on every walk past, like a grumpy buzzard desperate for attention.

Now there is space. Lovely, wide open, pram-free space.

The pram. That universal symbol that tells everyone else that the person pushing it has just had their world turned upside down.

And we sold it. We sold the pram. WE SOLD THE PRAM!

And there is something else too.

I look on the table. There are no longer wet wipes there. There’s none upstairs either. The ones at the bottom of my day bag have gone too. The emergency pack in the bathroom are full, bloated gathering dust. Like the last guest at a party.

There used to be packs of wet wipes everywhere, constantly in use, constantly being replenished. Open any given cupboard on any given day and piles of wet wipes would fall out.

There would be no mercy for me if I came back from the supermarket having forgotten the giant value pack of wet wipes.They were new-parent essential kit. Run out at your peril.

Now, nothing. No more wet wipes. Except the emergency pack in the bathroom, gathering dust on the shelf.

And nappies.

Nappies are no longer on our shopping list. How the bloody hell did THAT happen? More importantly, when did that happen?

I remember a time, when both children were in nappies, and it felt like it would never be over. The daily fight to the death over the change mat, the nappies and the wet wipes.

At one stage I thought I was going to die, suffocated by great boxes full of them.

Death by nappy, what a way to go.

And sleep. Oh welcome back beautiful, precious sleep. You were gone for 5 years and I have the permanent eyebags and grey hair to prove it. But when did you return? I missed you so much, but I didn’t even see you come back into my life. I promise to never let you out of my sight again.

No more prams, no more nappies, fewer wet wipes, fewer sleepless nights. We are out of a phase of childhood that will never return.

And I found myself talking over the fence to our neighbour this weekend. She has just had a baby boy. I am listening to everything she is telling me. She has that edgy look of wonder, sleeplessness and panic that all new parents share.

I am nodding in all the right places and making all the right noises. I am listening, not judging, not offering my opinions. I’ve been here myself. The baby is so small that it can still be bathed in the sink. Other people’s opinions are not helpful at this point. The one thing that new parents need is sleep. Not more opinions.

But I am biting my lip. I am trying ever so hard. I am stopping myself from saying something, something I promised myself I would never say to a new parent.

But the urge is so strong, the instinct to say it so powerful.

You should cherish these moments, they grow up so quickly you know

I really want to say it.

And I can hear them all goading me – the space where the pram used to stand, the lone nappy lodged behind the radiator amongst the dust and spiders; the bloated pack of emergency wet wipes in the bathroom. I can hear them all whispering at me, urging me to say it.

But I resist and we part company. I smile to myself because I wanted to say it. They are words of wisdom, delivered from a well-meaning place, after all.

They really DO grow up so quickly.

Sweet Dreams

This was an actual conversation that just took place at bedtime. I was trying to explore bullying and feelings / emotions with my kids. I’ve clearly got some work to do.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Me: (finishing story about the ugly duckling) “why do you think the duckling was sad?”

5yo: “Because everyone was mean and calling him ugly

Me: “Yes. True. Some people might call you ugly one day. How would you react to that?”

5yo: “Punch them!

3yo: “Kill them!

Me: …………….

 

Staring out to sea

I found this letter I wrote home, the first time I took my daughter on a long haul holiday back in 2010. She was seven months old. As this site is as much about therapy as it is about providing a record of the parenting journey, I figured I should post it

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Yesterday I spent most of the day staring out to sea.

I did the same yesterday.

I plan to do the same tomorrow.

It’s not that it is a particularly captivating scene. Nothing much changes. It’s big. It’s blue. And apart from the odd jet-ski ripping past and para-glider coming into land, it remains relatively constant.

So why is it so captivating?

Perhaps it’s the way that the crests of the waves capture the sunlight and send shards of light twinkling all directions?

Perhaps it’s the tantalising fragrance of salt, fresh limes and divine frangipane carried by the trade winds that ventilate the island?

Perhaps it’s the fact that we have secured a spongy raised water bed, right on the beach that is the size of a small room and with as many soft furnishings as an Ikea showroom that allows Asha to roll around to her heart’s content?

Perhaps it’s the fact that there is a nice man who keeps bringing us drinks and food all day long?

I dont know.

All I can say is that for a view that changes only once every half hour or so, this is strangely compelling.

So what of Bali? Well we have hardly seen any of it. There really is no need when you have a swimming pool right outside your front door and a beach about a cricket balls throw away.

Our hut is beautifully arranged, along with 7 others nestling in the tropical undergrowth, around the centrepiece swimming pool. We have an outside shower where you can enjoy a nocturnal cool down under the stars listening to the gentle burr of the Cicada’s and surrounded by the enveloping fragrance of jasmine. 

To one side of the hut there is a massage table under a thatched Pagoda shade, and everywhere else is lush green foliage, hidden statutes, paths and God heads, bright tropical flowers and the constant sound of gongs, wind chimes and trickling, running water.

What we have seen is reminiscent of both Sri Lanka and Zanzibar.

But unlike the former that has been torn apart by conflict and the latter that has been criminally overlooked by corrupt governance, there is something balanced about this island.

From the diversity of cultures, to the gentle ambiance of the people; from the sticky warm fresh fruit served with coffee and a smile first thing in the morning to the gentle flux and flow of everyday life. This just seems to be an island that gives something back.

Unlike the happy mania of Jakarta, the people here seem more considered, down to earth.

Asha is not a celebrity here, in the same way that she was in Jakarta, but people have much more refined views. They still take her, and fuss over her, and tickle her until she smiles her smiles but you can tell people are taking her in when they look at her.

And they have time to see her in a different way here.

One man we met was captivated by her and said she had amazing charisma.

Another, after many minutes of looking at her, compared her to the Hindu Goddess Krishna.

I have been glowing with the inner pride of knowing I have a charismatic God baby ever since.

Like I said, Bali gives something back.

And despite the fact that we have forced Asha across 8 time zones, made her stay up late far too many times, dropped her on her head on a hard marble floor, made her sleep in a room where even the mosquito’s sweat and watched her vibrate for 2 hours after feeding her some chilli fish she is just loving every minute of it.

She continues to squeal, gurgle and grin her way through every day.

She is very happy here.

And as I write this next to the swimming pool fringed with mini Baobab trees with fragrant pink flowers, I know that I feel extremely content here.

And I am sure my wife, who is currently indulging in a one hour body massage, is also feeling it too.

And later today we are going to go and stare at the sea.

Tomorrow we will do the same.

I will let you know if anything has changed.

xxxxx

The Toddler Resistance Movement – A Guide to International Travel

As a member of the Resistance you should know by now that our objective is to create as much fuss, noise and disruption as possible whilst maintaining continuous supply lines of yoghurt, entertainment, snacks and sweets. So follow the guidelines on international travel below and you will be in receipt of a bumper payday of all things good my fellow toddling travellers.

On the way to the airport

  1. Vomiting just as the Ugly Giants are leaving the house is a great way of reminding them who is in control of this family holiday. Extra points will be gained for vomiting on carpet. At the very least it will result in the Ugly Giants cracking the DVD player our early doors, which means hours of Finding Nemo for you, my jet-setting friend.
  2. A couple of well-timed requests for toilet breaks during the car journey is a good way of keeping the pressure on. Refuse to go and then request a toilet break EXACTLY at the point where the Ugly Giants have just passed a service station.
  3. Regardless of the toilet break outcome, go in your pants. ALWAYS go in your pants.

At the airport

  1. Implement the four point plan as follows i) Demand to press the button for the car park ticket. ii) Demand to see the car park ticket. iii) Demand to play with the car park ticket. iv) Lose the car park ticket. The four point plan is just for kicks people.
  2. Refuse to go anywhere in the airport without either a piggyback or a ride on a luggage trolley. You are goddam toddler royalty and walking is for TWATS and LOSERS.

At passport control

  1. Demand passports. Chew passports. Hide passports. Lose passports. Your job here is done.

At the security check

  1. At a high and persistent volume, randomly complain about something i.e. your ears. Demand to have them replaced. This is just for kicks people.
  2. Stick metallic objects in the Ugly Giants pockets. Keep doing this until the scary looking man with the baton has stripped your daddy down to his underwear, and has him bent over the conveyor belt.
  3. When all medicines and liquids are out in the open, mainline the Calpol. You will feel the benefits in 10minutes.
  4. Insist on being last through the X-Ray scanners. Throw a tantrum if you have to. Just be the last through. When you are sure that all the Ugly Giants have gone through, make a break for the bastard car-park. This is not just about snacks, this is also about Freedom, my itinerant friends.

At Duty Free

  1. At a high and persistent volume complain about your shoelaces. Keep the pressure on. The Ugly Giants are weaker under pressure and more prone to cracking open the entertainment and sweets.

On the flight

  1. During boarding it is a good idea to loudly and repeatedly request items of clothing that you know have been left at home. Become inconsolable until the treat jar is cracked open. Boom! Payload!
  2. On the flight, kick the back of the chair in front of you as hard and as frequently as you can. The Ugly Giants love this.
  3. When the seat belt lights come on everyone will sit down. This is a perfect opportunity to get up and go for a stroll. The aisles will be clear of idiots, leaving you to have a gentle and unimpeded walk. Ignore the shouting from the flight crew.
  4. Demand stuff from the painted ladies. They are paid to have more patience than your Ugly Giant. And they have a trolley. A trolley full of salty snacks and fizzy drinks. And they CANT SAY NO! Boom!
  5. Half way through the flight, just as everyone has settled in, run up and down the aisles shouting. This is one way to freak the Ugly Giants. If you can learn to shout the word “BOMB!”, even better.
  6. Stay awake the WHOLE bastard journey. The Ugly Giants will be like putty in your hands by the end.

Before landing

  1. Scream loudly every time the PA breaks into episode 47 of Peppa Pig. Make the pilot adopt a perpetual holding pattern over the Middle East until episode 50 of Peppa Pig is finished. The pilot is your bitch now.
  2. Go for another stroll when the seat belt lights are on. Pull as many levers and press as many buttons as possible. Innocently ask why the engines are on fire. Disrupt and disobey. This is your role, live up to it.
  3. Refuse to hand over the headphones, blanket, in-flight magazine and soft toys. They are YOURS goddamit.
  4. Fall asleep two minutes before landing.

On arrival

  1. React badly to being woken up. This should result in a snack pay-out.
  2. The luggage carousel is your objective now. All roads lead to the luggage carousel. Once at the luggage carousel jump on board. Enjoy the ride! Don’t get off unless there are snacks proffered.
  3. Finally, once through passport control, demand to go back home. Keep this up throughout the duration of your stay. The Ugly Giants love these constant reminders of who is actually in control of this goddam family.

 

If you are reading this, you are the resistance.

The Toddler Resistance Movement – Guide to the Supermarket

Fellow comrades, listen up. For the Ugly Giants, the supermarket is a necessary chore, but if you follow the guidelines below the supermarket can become your own personal playground with added food and fizzy drinks. If you follow the steps below you will be in line for a juggernaut payday from the Holy Trinity of Toddlerdome – snacks, fun and attention. BOOM!

  1. Before even entering the supermarket, seek out the children’s rides and demand a go on whatever flashing monstrosity is at the entrance. Run screaming into the carpark if you don’t get your way.
  2. At the entrance insist on riding in a shopping trolley. Subsequently demand to get in / out of the shopping trolley every 10metres or so. The Ugly Giants love the exercise. Twats.
  3. Once inside, alternate between dawdling painfully slowly in some aisles and sprinting like a cackling loon down others. If you run into other shoppers, throw yourself to the floor and scream hysterically until they realise it was their fault. This should result in a yoghurt or muesli bar payoff.
  4. Take off all your clothes and randomly distribute them around the store. Socks, pants and soiled nappies are known as #aislemines and should be deployed near fresh produce. This is just for kicks people.
  5. Find the aisle with glass jars, crockery or high value electronics and insist on spontaneous and robust play with all items. NB dropping plates on the aisle floor and then screaming hysterically will result in a snack payday.
  6. Your role is “The Confuseriser”. Create Maximum Confusion by offloading items that the Ugly Giant puts into the trolley and uploading other unwanted items. Not only is this great fun, but it could also lead to a placating bag of Minstrels. Every little helps, my supermarket warriors.
  7. Make it your priority to find the pastry, cake and bread aisle. Quickly stuff your cheeks with whatever comes to hand. Teeth marks count as possession in the cake aisle, so a half eaten croissant is effectively yours. Bite everything until you are stopped. THE PASTRIES ARE YOURS!
  8. Situational awareness is key in our struggle, comrades, so be sure to make a note of the aisles where the yoghurt and cheerio’s are kept. You will need this information for the POWERPLAY.
  9. The powerplay approaches. Prepare for the powerplay by getting properly lost.
  10. Next find a security guard and put on your best Lost Child Look – tear streaked eyes, finger in mouth, lispy, half formed words….you know the drill comrades, we are talking CHARM OFFENSIVE, defcom one.
  11. Once taken to the customer services desk, all stars are now aligned for the powerplay. As soon as staff backs are turned, grab the intercom and shout the following words “This is a customer announcement: All Gin is now three for one in aisle seventeen. I repeat, THREE FOR ONE ON GIN”. 
  12. In the resulting madness, find your way back to the Cheerios and yoghurts and GO. NUTS. You should be able to do a couple of packs before you are busted.
  13. If you and your Ugly Giant have not yet been arrested, congratulations, you are still in the game. So insist on helping* at the checkout. If denied, find a pensioner and wedge your head between their legs whilst screaming “IT’S SO DARK! I CANT BREATHE!” until security is called to break up the #pensionerwedgie
  14. Make a loud beeping noise every time the till operator scans an item. Carry on BEEPING LOUDLY. For ever. Or as long as it takes to get a chocolate profiterole.
  15. On the way out, carefully place cigarettes, batteries and alcohol miniatures in your Ugly Giant’s pockets and then alert a security guard. Again, not for snacks people, this is just for fun.
  16. At the exit, find the children’s rides and stage a sit in. HOLD. YOUR. NERVE. You know it and the Ugly Giants know it – they cannot leave without you. BOOM! Before you know it you will be riding off into the Cheerio and yoghurt coated sunset with Postman Pat and his black and white cat as accomplices.

*helping broadly defined as – “eat all consumables”

#aislemines

#pensionerwedgie