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.

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 School Run

The Toddler Resistance Movement Guide to the School Run

Latest update from the front lines comrades – it’s September and that means school has started. Now we all know school is great – tonnes of snacks, loads of shouting and running about and the mud pie kitchen. Oh yes, the mud pie kitchen! I mean, what’s not to like?!

But we all know that we can’t let on that we like school too much. We are a Resistance Movement after all, and we can’t resist something if we outwardly show the Ugly Giants that we like it. You feel me? So here’s the deal. Follow these instructions and resist, my schooled chums, resist!

1/. Wake up late and refuse to get out of bed until all your favourite clothes are laid out on the floor for you. Preferably in the shape of Olaf from Frozen.

2/. Swap out your pants / knickers at least sixty seven times. It’s an autumnal underwear palette you are after. Refuse the monochrome look, it’s so last year.

3/. Stuff your school jumper down the back of the sofa. This is an important plant that you can call upon later (see 15 below).

4/. Refuse to wear socks. Hold out for a multi-vitamin. Force the Ugly Giants to play their trump card early.

5/. Once you have the multi-vitamin, demand, in increasing levels of volume, to wear socks. Insist on putting socks on yourself. Scream at anyone who breaches your 5 metre perimeter until you have satisfactorily aligned your socks with your chi, any nearby ley lines and the eight planets of the solar system.

6/. At breakfast scream for Cheerio’s. A resistance movement cannot be sustained on an empty stomach and these little sugary O’s are perfect marching fodder. Half way through your bowl of sugary, salty breakfast cereal, stop and demand a fried egg on toast or anything else that requires the Ugly Giants to break open the cooking gear. Sprinkle Cheerio’s on the floor until you get what you want.

7/. You are holding out for an important Verbal Signal of Weakness (VSoW) from the Ugly Giants so procrastinate as much as you can. Use these precious minutes to discover a brand new hobby (such as dust inspecting or cognitive complexity theory), ask some important questions and demand answers (e.g. “why are big things big?” or a variation “How can big things be so big?”) or if you have a younger brother or sister simply hide him / her in a cupboard until the Ugly Giants are about to call the Police.

8/. If you have done everything right my learned friends you are probably nearing the point of VSoW so adjust your socks. The Toddler Resistance Movement demands sartorial perfection so get it right. Twenty minutes of committed sock fiddling should just about do it. Listen out for the Ugly Giant’s VSoW.

9/. “Come ON, we’re REALLY late”. There it is! BOOM! You’ve done it. The VSoW. The reveal. The Ugly Giants are now putty in your hands. You can hold out for pretty much any type of bribery. Whatever you want from the snack tin, it’s yours my fellow schoolers.

10/. They are weak. They are vulnerable. Now is the time to hit them with the Holy Trinity. Tell them you don’t want to go to school, you want to change your socks and that you are so tired that you need one of the Ugly Giants to give you a piggy back from the breakfast table to the front door. That should get you an oat bar, at the least.

11/. When brushing your teeth, the Ugly Giants will shout “BRUSH, DON’T CHEW”. They don’t really mean it. Chew, like your life depends on it.

12/. Before leaving the house, demand the micro scooter. Demand every single piece of safety kit and clothing to go with it.

13/. Take off the safety kit and clothing. It’s clashing with your autumnal palette.

14/. On the walk to school, stop off and talk to cats, pick flowers and inspect beetles. Feed the flowers to the beetles and feed the beetles to the cats. Try and eat the cats yourself.

15/. At the school gates make one last stand. Ask difficult questions, ask for your jumper (which is stuffed down the back of the sofa. BOOM! Payload!) or adjust your socks. Anything to avoid actual school.

16/. If you have followed all the steps above you should be entering the school just as the gates to your classroom are locked. This will cause the Ugly Giants an embarrassing trip to School Admin to plead their case and get the gates unlocked.
If you have achieved this then congratulations, YOU ARE THE RESISTANCE!

#VSoW
#sockfiddling
#toddlerresistancemovement

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.

Time flies

WordPress informed me this week that my blog has just turned one.

It took me by surprise to be honest. How time flies.

Sometime back in February 2013, as a stressted out, burnt out father of two under-threes, I decided I had two options.

1. Take up writing 

or

2. Develop an alcohol / crack addiction.

I chose writing.

Because frankly, first and foremost, that is what this blog started out as for me.

Therapy.

Cheap therapy.

And over time I have attracted a small but loyal, and very lovely group of readers who have kept me going with their humour, anecdotes and empathy.

I have enjoyed blogging much more than I could ever have imagined and it has opened me up to a great new community of people, with new opportunities and new possibilities. I love it.

Which is why I have decided to celebrate my first birthday by nominating myself for a MAD Blog award. It’s my birthday present to me!

Self nomination is not a very British thing to do, and it is certainly not a very “me” thing to do, but hey, it’s my birthday, so like whatever.

So if you have enjoyed reading anything on my blog over these last twelve months and you so feel inclined, please do nominate me under the “best writing category”.

You can do that by clicking on the “nominate me” badge on my blog page or by clicking the link above and following the instructions – my webpage is https://thesecretfather.wordpress.com

And if not, then no worries, vote for someone else, in one of the many other categories. Competitions like this are all good for the blogging community, of which I am part, so it is a total win-win.

Happy blogging birthday to me!