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.

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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: …………….

 

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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

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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 – 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

Why men matter (and other reflections on gender equality)

Many reports and studies show that there is increasing equality between parents in terms of traditional parenting roles and responsibilities;

For example British men are spending more time on domestic work than their forefathers (an increase from 90 minutes per day in the 1960s to 150 minutes per day by 2004), are taking increased responsibility for caring for their children (from 15 minutes to 2 hours per working day between 1975 and 1997, an 800% increase) and are increasingly becoming the parent with sole responsibility for childcare during the working week (21% of fathers of under-fives are solely responsible for childcare at some point during the working week)

While there is still some way to go before we can begin talking about true equity and equality between the sexes, these are positive trends.

And yet public media is unfortunately still very much geared to reinforcing the traditional “doofus father” stereotype – the blundering, largely absent, beer and sports obsessed icons of yesteryear, petrified to change a nappy, incompetent at meal times, useless around the house, and generally setting a bad example to their children.

And to compound this stereotype, society is also not currently particularly geared to accepting the change in the zeitgeist which the statistics suggest is happening,

Whether it is detail such as the fact that nappy change facilities are still largely positioned only in female public toilets; that there is still poor or non-existent pre-and post natal support for fathers; that marketing and advertising for baby products is still geared towards women.

Or more at the macro level like for example the fact that until recently there has been dreadful inequality between paternity and maternity leave entitlements, it is little wonder that men may feel intimidated by impending fatherhood.

Traditional notions of masculinity still pervade a man’s everyday life too. One only has to see the incredibly damaging four “rules of masculinity” pioneered by 1970s American psychologist Robert Brannon, to understand how many fathers have been coded to act.

  1. No sissy stuff – reject all that is associated with femininity
  2. Be a big wheel – wealth, power and status define your success as a man
  3. Be a sturdy oak – reliable and strong in a crisis
  4. Give ‘em hell – men are associated with risk, daring and aggression

These notions are damaging because they are divisive. They perpetuate notions that it is somehow emasculating to let your female partner go out to work while you look after the children at home.

Even though the proportion is at a historical low (and despite all the positive advances mentioned above) a recent study revealed that nearly one in five British men still believe that it is the woman’s role to stay at home and look after the children. Those one in five constitute an important critical mass, and one which needs to be addressed if a tipping point for societal change is to be reached.

For some families it no longer makes as much economic sense to automatically designate the father as a breadwinner because according to a number of studies the gender pay gap has all but disappeared in low income families and findings by the National Equality Panel in 2010[i] found that the earnings gap is continuing to narrow.

And this trend is likely to continue across all demographics as young girls / women now outstrip boys / men not only in school participation, graduation and results but also in further education and training.

So going forward, men in the UK are likely to have much more of a role in bringing up their children than their fathers, or their fathers father’s, ever did. And new research shows that this is perhaps no bad thing.

Researchers and child experts are realising that there are incredible benefits related to this societal shift. Research[ii] shows that infants of highly involved fathers have higher cognitive functioning, are better problem solvers as toddlers and have higher IQs by age three.

As well as better cognitive functioning, infants of highly involved fathers show better social and emotional development and well-being. And if that is not enough, involved fathers lead to less disruptive behaviour, less depression, less sadness, less lying and substance abuse and a myriad of other negative development outcomes in their children[iii]. And when men participate fairly in the home, research shows that everyone is happier and healthier.

What this boils down to is the need for gender equality and men can be important agents of change in this regard. An excellent recent report from the Government Equalities Office[iv] (which dad blogger John Adams – @dadbloguk – contributed to) points out some of the challenges that face individuals, organisations and societies when pursuing equality.

But the report argues that the key thing is to ensure that male voices are included in dialogue about gender and that actually, in doing so, amazing opportunities may arise. Many men will have much to gain through gender equality that allows for new ways of working and living for both men and women to flourish.

As UN Under Secretary General Ban Ki Moon points out, the evidence is clear

“Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all”

This all strikes a very resonant personal chord with me. I have recently cut down to a four day working week in order to spend more time with my family. It initially wasn’t easy, and I had to have a number of tough conversations with my manager, my colleagues, my wife and most importantly, with my ego.

But it very quickly became a conversation about opportunities. My reduction in work hours, provided my wife with an opportunity to pursue a more challenging career and I got some all-important time off to be a better father and better husband.

The important thing to conclude is that new shifts towards gender equality are exciting and will benefit organisations, individuals and ultimately society. There is still a long way to go however, before a true tipping point can be reached.

However through modelling opportunities presented by pro-equality governmental and organisational policy, and continued dialogue around gender equality and the roles of men and women in society, there is no reason why a more equal vision of society cannot be achieved in our lifetime.

 

[i] Report of the National Equality Panel; Executive Summary, January 2010

[ii] See for example “The effects of father involvement: a summary of research evidence” Father Involvement Initiative, fall 2002

[iii] See for example this comprehensive conclusion of the impact of the father on their “children’s learning and achievement” Fatherhood Institute, May 2013

[iv]Men as Change Agents for Gender Equality”, Government Equalities Office, June 2014

Perfect Moment

A vivid but chaotic dream is interrupted by the sound of the bedroom door slowly sweeping across the carpet.

I am bought quickly into the room by the sound.

I open an eye and can see the door opening, but as yet no figure in the doorway.

The adrenalin and dull shock from the rude awakening quickly subside. I see the hazelnut curls on the top of my daughters head bob past the end of the bed, her footfall padding lightly on the carpet.

She rounds the bed post and her full face comes into view. She is full of sleep and there is no emotion on her face.

I don’t want to wake up yet. I don’t want the embrace of sleep to leave.

I hold my hand out to my daughter and close my eyes. I hear her feet pad a few more steps on the carpet and next thing I feel is her grip tighten around my wrist as she pulls herself into bed.

She collapses next to me and snuggles in tight, breathing loudly. She hasn’t quite yet worked out the concept of personal space, and while her head lies awkwardly across my jaw, and I receive a couple of accidental knees and elbows in delicate areas, her final position is comfortable enough for me to draw her in close.

She sighs loudly, contentedly. She appears to be in no immediate rush to go downstairs today.

She shuffles a little bit in the bed and nestles finally and comfortably in the crook of my shoulder. My face is now buried deep in her forest of curls.

I love being in here. It is soft and warm and smells sweet and earthy. I gently run my face through her billowy cloud of curls.

I chance a look at her, and her eyes are shut. Her breathing is soft and rhythmic, her chest rising with every breath, her warm outbreath kissing my shoulder. She is still and content. I close my eyes and my mind starts to wander.

I can hear morning birdsong outside, carried through the open window on a warm summer breeze which gently disturbs the curtains. In the distance there is the bark of a dog and the hum of a car engine. I can feel myself drifting, the warm embers of sleep burning on.

I have no idea how long we lie together, it doesn’t matter. I am snuggled up close to my daughter and we are still and quiet and entwined. She is safe, and warm and loved.

I don’t want this moment to end.

The Toddler Resistance Movement – A Guide To Swimming

After a particularly traumatic swimming experience I found my toddlers in their room, writing this on their Fisher Price tablet. Be warned people, they are getting organised!

The Toddler Resistance Movement – A Guide to Swimming

The Ugly Giants think that going swimming is all about learning to swim. Idiots. Whereas we all know that the objective of swimming is to get them to empty the bastard treat bag as quickly as possible. Follow these steps and you will be drinking Coca – Cola and grazing on smoky bacon flavour Wheat Crunchies before you are even out of the changing rooms.

1. Whinge to the Ugly Giants in the days / hours / minutes leading up to your swimming lesson. Shouting about it loudly and frequently makes it happen quicker, and therefore gets you to that treat bag quicker. Fact

2. Once at the swimming baths, refuse to get changed. This should result in a decent treat payout. Refuse the banana, let that sweat in the change bag. Hold out for the Organix muesli bars. The Ugly Giants love the smell of chlorine and humid banana on their clothes anyway. Freaks. 

3. Once changed, refuse to wear goggles. In fact refuse to wear any kind of bastard swimming aid. This includes floats, goggles and swimsuits. This stuff is for losers, and will hamper your chances of executing the mission. Stay focussed. 

4. Having spent the whole morning demanding to go to your swimming lesson, refuse now to get into the pool until you get to call shotgun on the floating aids. The acoustics in this place are ace my fellow swimmers, so to secure the holy grail of floating aids (the shark fin float), cry loudly. Remember you are slowly breaking the Ugly Giants in preparation for the ultimate treat payload – Strawberry flavoured Petit Filou yoghurt.

5. If the swimming instructor is one of those tenacious types and refuses to immediately let you into the basket of floating aids, shout “STOP TOUCHING ME” very loudly. I have noticed this gets you what you want. 

6. Run everywhere. The adults will soon tire of telling you to stop. Once they have stopped nagging, run as fast as you can and fall over dramatically, preferably into the pool. This may hurt, but it should result in a heavy treat payload. A small price to pay for that buttered slice of raisin Soreen, my aquatic friends. 

7. Spend 10 minutes warming up by removing all buoyancy aids from your swim suit. This is a good test to see if the bastard life guard is paying attention. You will need him / her later on (see 10 and 11 below) 

8. Create the illusion of walking on water by strapping all buoyancy aids to your ankles and moving swiftly across the surface of the water whilst shouting “I’VE BEEN TOUCHED BY THE HAND OF GOD” This isn’t for snacks, it’s just for kicks people. 

9. The swimming pool is big and cold. When the instructor is not looking, head for the warm bubbly place with the “no children” sign. Get in, keep your head down and keep pressing the bubble buttons. You may get 5mins or so of chill time. Use this time to eat the bag of Monster Munch you smuggled in down your swimming nappy. 

10. Now we’re building up to the piece de resistance. Grab some attention by floating motionlessly and face down on top of the water. This excites the Ugly Giants. (NB an advanced technique in this regard is to collaborate with the other children in the pool and coordinate a Mass Face Down Float (MFDF). If nothing else, this allows you to see which of the Ugly Giants is paying attention) 

11. Alternatively sink to the bottom of the pool and stay there as long as you can. This is a sure fire technique to get the Ugly Giants away from their iPhones. They spend too long on them anyway. Bastards.

12. Now you have their attention, EXECUTE THE MISSION. Remove your swimming nappy and take a massive poo. Ideally it will be a two day stored up poonami. The bigger the better. (NB This is also a good way of testing the pool evacuation procedures. Anything more than a 60 second delay, report the bastards to the local council). Once out of the water, use this as an opportunity for naked screaming. This will yield a quick snack. 

13. The Ugly Giants understand that you are going to be hungry after swimming so once in the changing room use this opportunity to scream loudly until they have emptied their treat bag. Demonstrate how hungry you are by stuffing everything into your mouth at once. Including the buoyancy aids you have smuggled out in your swimming nappy. 

14. Spend as long as you can in the changing rooms. Changing rooms are either freezing cold or stiflingly hot. And the acoustics are amazing. The Ugly Giant’s resolve will weaken quickly under these conditions, so use this as an opportunity to scream loudly until you have emptied the treat bag and negotiated your way to a double showing of Toy Story and pizza in front of C-Beebies when you get home. What you do in the changing room echoes for eternity. 

15. Remember, collaboration is a key weapon in our armoury. The Ugly Giants are rendered useless in the face of a double toddler, steamy naked, screaming onslaught (DTSNSO). So if there are two of you, do what you can – drop your clean clothes in the puddles, make a naked break back to the pool, swan dive into the sanitary bin, lick the floor. Whatever you do make it noisy, make it big and make it quick. Those fruit flavoured jelly tots will soon be yours. Shock and awe people, shock and awe. 

16. And remember people, to keep those snacks coming, you need a repeat performance. Plant the seed by repeatedly and noisily demanding to go swimming again during the journey home. The Ugly Giants will be like putty in your hands by this point. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Over and out.

 If you are reading this, you are the resistance

 

 

 

 

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