The Last Push

“One more Peppa Pig and then it’s time to go to bed. No, I said ONE more. JUST. ONE. MORE!”

“Brush your teeth, properly. PROPERLY! Don’t stick the toothbrush THERE!”

“Put your pyjamas on. Where are you going? Put your pyjama trousers on! Not on your head! Take them off your head! Take the trousers OFF YOUR HEAD!”

The bed time routine. The last push. The eternal battle between adult and child; one party desperate to push the envelope, milk the minutes and extend the day; and one party desperate to curtail, to finish, to seek closure.

The friction. The tension. The exhaustion.

Sometime around 6:30pm our family moves into the bedtime routine. I feel it as a parent, and the children are feeling it too.

The older child might complain of tiredness, but the younger child will never let on, and will continue to run around the house, a morass of flailing limbs and wobbly sprinting.  

But he will be betrayed by the occasional flop on a chair, a rubbing of the eyes and the ultimate give away – the yawn.

This is the signal. The yawn.

It’s time to warm the milk and put on the DVD.

It’s a familiar routine, goodness knows how it started but it kind of works. Warm milk in front of 20 minutes of whatever DVD happens to be in vogue at the time.

Each child gets to choose one episode. These are the rules.

It is beautiful watching each one take it in turns to choose their episode. They revel in their empowerment, exercising their right to choose and they deliberate for what seems like an age before finally selecting their choice.

Each selection is accompanied with gleeful bragging rights and a giggly sprint back to the sofa.

The other child will take exception to the choice, but it will be only temporary. It is all part of the pattern, part of the routine.

And the episodes will finish and there will be a momentary tantrum when the television is turned off, but both children know that there are bigger fights ahead, so they reserve their energy.

The parents may have won this battle, but there is still a war to be waged before this day is out.

Climbing the stairs is another battle. The older child is quick, up in a heartbeat, mind set on the mischief that can now be caused in the upstairs domain.

The younger child delays, deliberating over each dangerous step; pausing to inspect every wood knot on the handrail, every speck of dust on the stair runner and every dead spider that resides on the Staircase of Wonder.

There are some nights when I can deal with this, and sometimes even entertain this journey of exploration. But tonight is not one of them. My objective is to complete the routine as quickly as possible, get the children safe and snug into bed and get back downstairs to whatever treasure awaits.

And the treasure could be a glass of wine, it could be a pint of beer, it could be a favourite television show, a conversation with the wife, a favourite book or just simply a sit-down-and-stare at whatever object happens to be in eye line.

It doesn’t matter what it is. It is a reward.

A reward for knowing I have made mistakes that day, but that I will grow from them

A reward for knowing that I have done the best I can, that I have been the best I can be and that I have loved with as much room as there is in my heart.

And a reward for knowing that I have got my children safely through another day, with some degree of decorum, mental health and personal hygiene still intact.

So the reward is there in my mind’s eye. It looms larger and larger, sometimes taunting, sometimes alluring. But it’s there.

And it’s there, calling like a wanton siren from the shadows, when for the millionth time toothpaste ends up smeared on my black work jumper.

It’s there throwing its hair back and fluttering its eyelids as one child escapes half naked back downstairs and the other attempts to flush their face flannel down the toilet.

It’s still there, beguiling and flirtatious, as the young one refuses to get undressed and the older one, cackling manically, does a naked swan dive into the laundry basket, sending clothes spilling over the floor.

It’s like herding cats. Crazy, psychotic toddler cats.

But soon we are reading books. Nearly there, last push.

Same rules apply, each child gets to choose one book.

Some nights the book choices are great – short, easy and quick, entertaining even for the adult.

Other nights the choices are long, deadly dull books.

Tonight is one of the latter. I resist the urge to persuade the child to choose another book, and read it for the umpteenth time, almost on auto pilot. I get no enjoyment from it, but the children are spellbound.

Then I tuck the older child up, she goes down easily and snuggles up in her duvet. The younger one is still fighting, refusing to get into his grow bag, starting to meltdown.

I am not in the mood for this, and I can feel a knot of tension rising in my chest. I start to sing and rub his chest and immediately his eyes open and his body relaxes enough for me to get his legs and arms into the grow bag and the zip done up.

I breathe a sigh of relief and pull the side of the cot up, the final signal that it is over, the day is over.

I kiss them both good night and they both make one final complaint, but I am walking out of the door, and it is a half-hearted complaint. The day is over and they know it.

I find something to do in the room next to them for a few minutes and then check back in on them.

Both fast asleep, snoring.

I allow myself a smile. I am standing there, a muddle of warm tingly emotions, fatigue and exhaustion and I watch them sleep and my heart melts.

I count my blessings that I have steered them safely through another day. One of many in what I hope will be a long and happy journey.

I count my blessings that they are safe, that we live in a country of peace, where bombs do not drop, and warmth and shelter and love are a given.

I count my blessings that however exhausted I am come the end of days, the love I feel for my children is a constant presence in my heart.

This is the bed time routine.

I make for the landing and close their bedroom door behind me, the last stage in the process.

I check my watch and make a quick calculation. I can get through the tidy up process and still have an hour or so for myself. My shoulders relax and I breathe out a sigh of relief.

The cork comes easily out of the bottle of wine.

The last push is over. For tonight at least.

 

I originally wrote this post as part of an anonymous blogger feature on mypetitcanard.co.uk, go check it out, its a great blog. Or follow on Twitter @MyPetitCanard

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Breaking Bread

"You know where you can stick your noodles!"

“You know where you can stick your noodles!”

Look out for the cup, if you keep tipping it you are going to spill it! Don’t tip it, it’s going to spill. IT’S SPILT!

Sit down please. Sit down please. SIT. DOWN. PLEASE! No, not on your face, on your bottom….”

Don’t throw the fish finger. DO NOT throw the fish finger. If you throw the fish finger…I TOLD YOU NOT TO THROW THE DAMN FISH FINGER…..”

Ah! Meal times with the family.

The stress.

The tension.

The chaos.

THE MESS!

It’s not that I even like Cheerios (which is why it was so hard to explain to my co-worker that time I went into work with a phalanx of them stuck in my beard).

So why do I bother insisting on this anarchic routine twice a day (three times at weekends, goddamit)? Wouldn’t it just be easier to just leave a pile of food on a plate on the floor and let them pick at it like skanky hyenas over the course of the day?

Sure it would.

But there is something in that which goes against every fibre of my being.

And this is probably because both my wife and I come from families where food is a deity, and meal times are the closest to worship we will ever get.

My name is the Secret Father, and I’m a foodie.

There, I said it.

If it is not home grown, organic, fair trade and hand knitted I don’t want to know. And I expect this ethic to extend to my children too.

So you can imagine my chagrin when, having prepared a chickpea (organic), spinach (from the allotment) and garlic (organic, home grown) dhal, I have to sit there and watch as my son picks out all the spinach and all the garlic, and then painstakingly removes each damn chickpea, one by one, until he is left with nothing more than a bowl of dhal stained rice. 

Which of course because it is a starchy carbohydrate, with very little nutritional value, he adores.

And then the whinging starts. “Hungry. Hungry. HUNGRY!”

And this then leads to “The Discussion” between Mrs Secret Father and myself;

Mrs SF: “Well, we can’t let him go to bed hungry”

Me: “Why not? He needs to learn to eat what he is given”

Mrs SF: “But he will wake up in the night hungry!”

Me: “Just leave him. He won’t starve himself”

Mrs SF: “I’m going to get him something else to eat”

Me; (hissing) “Don’t! Don’t do that! Don’t. Do. It”

Mrs SF: *returns with a selection of yoghurts, garlic bread and Cheerios.

Me:*gives wife a Paddington Bear stare.

You get the picture.

Basically my wife comes from a family of feeders. She would be mortified if one of her brood went to bed one calorie short on their daily allowance. Because that would mean she is a BAD MOTHER.

And I come from a family where if I left anything on my plate, my father and brother would swoop like vultures within seconds and pick over the carcass of my leftovers.

And if I left it, I knew there was nothing else.

And I knew that feeling hungry was a rubbish feeling. And I learnt that when I was hungry it was harder to play football, harder to run and jump and harder to cycle so far from home that the Police had to be called.

And as a boy, that just wouldn’t do. So I ate everything I was given.

But now these days, after a long day at work, when everyone is grizzly and just a little bit short with the day, it is tempting some meal times to just give in. Because being out to work full time, there is only so much “quality time” that I can have with my children.

And sometimes, just sometimes, I don’t want to have to spend that “quality time” being strict and grumpy and stern at the dinner table. Meal times should be fun.

So I don’t want to have to spend that time repeatedly insisting, like some demented parrot, that a 2 year old child who is off their head on carbs and yoghurt, should “sit nicely at the table” for a few more minutes.

Because frankly, asking a 2 year old to just sit still is hard enough without complicating things by adding the “nicely” bit.

I don’t want to have to negotiate every damn mouthful of whatever it is that my children are refusing to eat that day. Because let’s face it, my toddlers are the SAS of negotiation and will have me waterboarding a bowl of Calpol in no time.

I don’t want to have to spend 25 minutes on my hands and knees wiping the floor clean, whilst simultaneously having leftovers poured on my head by a cackling child. Because whatever fashion is on trend at the time, squashed knee raisins and rice noodle hair is never going to be a “look”.

And I don’t want to have to keep hounding down an errant toddler who has breached the sacred perimeter of the dining room table for the 50th time in five minutes, just because they can’t possibly eat another mouthful unless Iggle bloody Piggle is sitting with them.

And because yelling “STOP twerking at the table!” is something I should never have to shout in my own home.

And so I frequently ask myself – why do I bother? Why not just feed them pizza, cake and fruit shoots and let them eat it all in front of CBeebies? Why not just let it all drop for an easier life?

Because I can’t.

And the answer is both profound and frivolous.

Frivolous because part of me (the weird-uncle-that-lives-in-the-loft part of me) actually enjoys the noise and vibrancy and chaos of meal times.

That’s not to say I enjoy having sausages squashed in my ears (because sausages are big and my ear holes are small), but there is something rather great about a noisy, colourful table, heaving with food, vitality and conversation.

Even if that conversation is just increasingly shouty, repetitive instructions.

And the answer is also profound because meal times are a celebration. They are a celebration of nurture, life and energy; of the family unit with all of its drama’s, weaknesses and foibles; and of the human condition. We may be weak and fragile and yet we are a social animal that craves company.

And what better company than those sitting around a table devouring a delicious meal together?

Food is what keeps us going, and mealtimes have been uniting people, families, tribes and clans throughout history, providing sustenance, company, rest and a chance to connect over the breaking of the bread.

Despite the tantrums, the persistent nagging and the occasional flare up, I am going to continue to teach my children the importance of eating as a family. However much they play up, my instinct tells me that this connection will be invaluable in years to come.

So that when my tribe eventually breaks up, which it inevitably will do, we will hopefully always have that one thing remaining in common.

The love of a decent family meal together.

 #cheeriobeard

#waterboardingcalpol

#squashedkneeraisins

Happy Days!

You lovely people. You lovely people! Yes you (looks straight at you)

A few weeks ago I wrote on this blog about how I had two choices when I became a father; develop a healthy addiction to horse tranquilisers or take up therapeutic writing.

I chose the latter, largely because it is free (yes, I am a cheap skate), but also because it looked like fun.

And having reached my first blogiversary during February I decided to ask you lovely readers for nominations for the MAD Blog awards 2014, because it was my birthday and I was feeling temporarily empowered.

And lo and behold I have received nominations in three of the categories – i) MAD Blog of the Year ii) Best Blog Writer iii) Best New Blog

I was on the London – Oxford X90 bus service when I found out I had been nominated, and let out a little whoop of joy, loud enough for the remainder of the journey to be a little bit awkward.

I dread to think what would happen if I get into the top five

Fire a hundred white doves over the neighbourhood from a glitter cannon? Maybe.

Semi-naked pants dance in the living room? Goes without saying. 

High speed handbrake turn into work parking place with “Roar” by Katy Perry playing at top volume out of wound down windows? Hmmmm.

So a massive thank you to all of you who have voted for me already. You made my day.

And if you haven’t already voted for me, please do here http://www.the-mads.com/awards/ (or click on the nominate badge on my blog pages) and please vote against one of the three categories I mentioned above (preferably Best Blog Writer).

And if what I write about doesn’t totally float your boat, then that’s fine, I know I am not for everyone.

In that case perhaps I can suggest this selection of some of the finest writers on the interwebs as worthy of your vote?

An incredibly thoughtful, very well written blog from the lovely Tric http://mythoughtsonapage.com/about/

The most hilarious and anarchic parental writing from the amazing Justanormalmummy http://justanormalmummy.blogspot.co.uk/  (@wallymummy on Twitter)

For a superb journey into some of the coolest photography around check out http://capturebylucy.com/ (@capturebylucy on Twitter)

For excellent, thoughtful and challenging writing on motherhood and mental health try http://delusionsofcandour.wordpress.com/ (@SamCandour on Twitter)

For a funny, wry and often acerbic look at fatherhood check out http://haplessdad.blogspot.co.uk/ (@haplessdadbog on Twitter)

Thank you once again to everyone who has nominated me.

Competitions like this are great for the blogging community, of which I am part, so it is a win-win.