Starting a family means that you continue the genetic line, silence the biological clock, satisfy the nurture instinct and create something that is utterly magical; but there also some less explored and rather more unconventional benefits to starting a family. In this light hearted blog I explore the top five unconventional reasons I have observed; from being excellent burglar deterrents to improving upper body strength, children really are the gift that keep on giving.
1/. Children, and their accompanying paraphernalia, make great burglar deterrents
Many burglars case houses out before they break in, looking for signs to suggest the residence is uninhabited. For the past three years our house has looked anything but uninhabited. Blood curdling screaming through the night? Check. Lights going on and off at all times of the day and night? Check. Visitors, guests (and sometimes ambulances) arriving at all times of the day and night? Check. For anyone watching, our house is alive, it is living, breathing, almost pulsing with the thrusting signs of life; The message is clear, our house shouts “I am occupied. I am full of life! And there are likely to be hormonal, sleep deprived, caffeine and adrenaline fuelled adults inside me who will do crazy stuff to protect their children. For the love of God, stay away. STAY AWAY!”
Our house is also full of tat. The gloriously garish, flashy lights, zippety-ping-noise kind of plastic tat. In a desperate attempt to appear civilised, we tidy it away every night, into the fireplace alcove. We have so much it has started to go up the chimney stack. But every morning, within five minutes of releasing the children, it is everywhere again. And I mean everywhere. In cupboards, in draws, in DVD players, in coat pockets, and from time to time, actually in the children. I went to work the other day with a flashing wand sticking out of my coat pocket. I can only assume my youngest stuck it there, thinking it might be helpful for me at some point in the day. Which it wasn’t, but I appreciate the thought.
Some of this tat is on a hair trigger. One slight touch and off it goes, whirring, singing, flashing. Sometimes you don’t even need to touch it to set it off. I have also seen amazing chain reactions. Early one morning, at stupid o’clock when I was on the red eye shift with the youngest, I accidently set off one of the travelling toys, by nudging it out of my way with my foot. Before I could stop it, the damn thing went wobbling, flashing and singing straight into the pile of other toys, sending them all crashing down, and in turn setting them all off. It was a glorious cacophony of noise, a symphony for the young, an LSD inspired mash – up of nursery rhymes, lights and movement. These days we don’t bother tidying up at night time. We just leave it all on the floor as a burglar alarm, a feel-good minefield of colour and noise.
And even if a burglar made it through that lot, they would still have to contend with our two stair gates. And these are not just any stair gates. Firstly they are not even a pair, so they rely on quite different logic to unlock them. And it is the kind of high level logic that you would need to be successful on the Crystal Maze.
Secondly, when you do eventually break their code, they are incredibly noisy and screech and squeak open, as if offended that someone should be smart enough to have worked out how to get them open. And lastly, the bottom stair gate is heavily, almost dangerously, spring loaded. I can only assume that there has been some sort of a dreadful mix up somewhere along the line and that we actually have been sent a bear trap, and that somewhere out there, there is someone trying to trap bears with a baby stair gate.
All of this, plus baby monitors that can be excellent surveillance systems, combine into the ultimate home defence system. If the burglars are not put off by the tremendous din coming from the house at all times of the day and night, and can make it through the plastic tat minefield and then negotiate the noisy bear trap stair gates, then quite frankly I will welcome them, shake their hands, and give them the run of the house.
2/. Children help you to appreciate much more; “the magic of 8pm”
Before children, all day, every day was happy hour. Well not quite, but you know what I mean. I had the freedom to come and go as I pleased, I had the nimbleness and flexibility to decide my actions on the hour, by the minute, the world was my oyster. Now with a baby and a toddler my personal freedom is generally subject to the needs of both. And boy do they have needs.
However my wife and I have pretty much got a routine sorted (at the moment) which sees them both into bed (and generally asleep) by 8pm. This is the magic hour. And although normally it has to be said that once everything has been tidied, plastic tat burglar alarm set (see above), laundry done, personal admin sorted and food for the next day cooked, it is closer to 9pm, but the point is this – at 8pm, with both of the crazies in bed, there is a CHOICE – I can actually choose a course of action rather than it being dictated to me by a mini-me holding a sharp stick.
And children remind you that choice is a beautiful thing. Before children, 8pm was just another number on the clock, another hour in that beautiful tapestry of life, perhaps even taken for granted sometimes. Now it is the beginning of adult time, the gradual return of a little bit of choice, of freedom (however small) – maybe open a bottle of wine, read a good book, watch a movie, recharge the batteries, go into the garden, plant some seeds, listen to the radio, heck even TALK TO THE WIFE!
8pm! 8pm! You are beautiful! I could never understand your value before, 8pm, but now I love thee, and what you represent.
3/. Children give you a second education
Even when my babies were very small there was something inherently valuable for me in seeing the world through the eyes of another. This lesson in empathy was an education in itself. I learnt to read the body language of my baby – Was I being too loud? Was my tone too harsh? Was I holding the baby too tightly / not tightly enough? Was he hungry? Was he tired? Was there a draught coming through the window and making him cold?
And now the eldest is starting to talk and has entered the “why?” phase, I am having to think on my feet and provide reasonable answers to difficult questions. And learning to be dead honest when I cannot answer the question. And some of the programmes we watch now are teaching me things I had forgotten, or were hiding in the deep recesses of my consciousness – lessons about our planet, about the flora and fauna that inhabit it, and about why things are the way they are.
You also get some great questions that are challenging both in a straightforward way, but also in a complex existential way – for example why do rabbits live underground, but squirrels live in trees? Why do people play tennis? Why does Grandma always look happy, while Granddad always looks sad? What did you do at work today? And it is was this last question that has affected me the most. My eldest asked me this in the car on the way home from work. I explained that I had some meetings, answered some emails and took some calls. She thought about this a while and then, deep frown on forehead, asked again “But Daddy, what did you do today?” To this day it has been the question that has come closest to sending me plummeting into a mid life crisis.
Every day, all of life’s great mysteries come out in a stream of words and childish naivety and enthusiasm. And it is magic, and life affirming and infectious and it pushes me to dust off the cobwebs and crank my poor, tired old brain into gear once more and start to learn and understand and gather knowledge so I can also pass this on. Having children has also helped me have a second childhood, which in a way is an education. I never watched anything like the Jungle Book or Lion King growing up, and was perplexed by people with children who made reference to strange and exotic sounding creatures and titles on television. Now I consider myself to be something of an expert on children’s television and can proudly tell the difference between a Teletubbie and a Tombliboo. Heck I can even do the voices, sounds and words of both creatures. And if learning this strange new language, which makes my children laugh every time, is not an education, I would love to know what is.
4/. Children help you to improve your upper body strength
Before children I was pretty fit. I cycled to work every day, played football three times a week, went running and played a lot of racquet sports, as well as eating reasonably well. As someone with an athletic shape however, I never had a strong torso or core strength. I could run for hours, and was competitive in triathlons, but couldn’t manage more than three or four pull ups or push ups.
Since having children my upper body strength has improved no end. Most days I find myself lifting each child on average about 10 – 20 times. At weekends this can be more, anything up to 30 times. With one child weighing about 13kg and the other close to 10kg this can be up to 60 reps each day. As a result somebody recently pointed out that I had developed triceps. I was so proud. I have never had triceps, and had assumed these were only the property of gym junkies and cover models.
All that awkward turning and lifting you do as well – putting babies in car seats (great for core strength), picking things off the floor whilst holding a baby (squats), carrying car seats (bicep curls) – really builds strength, without having to go to the gym. The other day I found myself walking back from town, up a pretty steep hill, pushing the double pram and baby with one hand while carrying the other (plus a full backpack) on my shoulders. When I got home I calculated I was carrying 18kg on my shoulders and pushing an additional 24kg on a 5k walk which culminated with a long push up a steep hill. It was a fantastic, free, low impact work out, in the fresh air, with my family. And the best thing about it? Apart from there not being a gym in sight, it gave me time to chat to my kids, pointing things out and taking flights of fancy with their imaginations. Children do make you stronger – emotionally, mentally and spiritually. But they can also make you stronger physically.
5/. Children give you an extra pair of eyes, ears and hands.
Since my eldest has been able to communicate, I have benefitted tremendously. She can point out friends in a crowd, alerts me when something is not quite right (i.e. a light left on in an empty room, or a tap left running) and rectify things when they go wrong. For example the other day my front door slammed shut leaving me stranded outside, with no key, and no way of getting in, and the kids inside. I was able to call to my daughter through the letter box, and she was able to listen to the instruction and open the door from the inside and let me back in. This was an amazing piece of comprehension / action for a two and a half year old and she literally saved me from having to kick the door down.
She is also now at a point where I can give her things and give her a simple instruction, and she will, nine times out of ten, happily carry out the instruction (albeit with a slight detour to go and inspect an interesting insect or to poke her brother in the ear). The best moment came the other day, however when she pointed out a new and growing hidden damp patch in our living room. Children find their ways into all manner of places, and the smallest nooks and crannies in the house, places that haven’t felt the imprint of human for decades (which is presumably why they were the perfect design to be sent up chimneys). My wife and I would never have found the damp patch until it had announced itself on a grander, more costly scale, but thanks to my daughters inbuilt desire to explore and fit into the smallest spaces, and increasing desire to report on EVERYTHING she sees or does, we were alerted to the problem before it could become a bigger and more costly problem.
And while I wouldn’t yet trust my eldest to look after my wallet or smart phone for the day, its brilliant just watching her get more and more helpful every day – bringing toys to soothe the youngest when he is having a meltdown, fetching knives and forks to set the table and using the dustpan and brush to sweep up after dinner time (entirely voluntarily I may add). And the day that she fetches me my slippers and a bottle of beer from the fridge will be a day to truly celebrate. Until that time I am enjoying watching them both grow into their lovely little personalities and reaping all of the benefits- both conventional and unconventional.