Bastard Holidays

You look tired, why don’t you book a holiday – give yourself something to look forward to. I’ve just been on one with my boyfriend and it was amazing

These were the simple words, uttered by a friend in the kitchen at work today.

Well my smug, well rested and bright-eyed friend, these are the reasons why a) holidays are actually bastard exhausting these days and why b) holidays are not bastard well meant to be looked forward to anymore

1/. For you packing means throwing a few clothes in a bag and walking out the door. For me packing begins weeks before the holiday begins, if not months. In fact I have started packing NOW in April for a holiday we are planning in August (* takes a hit of gin to stop the twitching)

2/. You won’t have your face clawed off by a bezerk toddler if you forget to pack Peppa Pig leggings.

3/. Studying and thinking about holiday property room configuration is about as tedious as reading Mr Messy on a perpetual loop. Oh I forgot, you have no idea how tedious either of those things are. Bastard.

4/. Your journey to your destination will be a chance to watch the landscape go by, catch up on the latest movies, read a holiday novel or get some restful sleep. For me it will make Marlow’s journey up the Congo River look like a fairground ride. Because listening to two toddlers having a screeching competition for two hours whilst stuck in French traffic is not something anyone should have to go through. (* sets up Amnesty International on speed dial)

5/. Upon arrival at your destination you can fling open the French doors and flop onto your bed. I, on the other hand, will have to immediately set up a perimeter and carefully remove the car seats before the squashed raisins, brioche and colouring pens begin to fuse, multiply and morph into a deadly contagion like they did Last Time. (* sets up Centre for Disease Control on speed dial)

6/. Holiday property brochures always lie. For you this isn’t an issue. For me that bastard line in the configuration plan which turns out NOT to be a wall between rooms, but a line to denote a change in flooring materials, will mean sharing a room for TWO FECKING WEEKS with my wife and two bastard snoring children. This means wake up at 06:30, lights out at 19:30, no down time, no drinking and shouting loudly and definitely no sexy-time.

7/. For you, free standing glass cabinets and unfenced gardens will provide charming property character and a pleasing sense of boundless space. For me, these things will provide The Crazies with their first experience of near death base jumping, and free-range and self-guided toddler tours of local highways and electrical sub-stations.

8/. Your holiday is a chance to indulge in two weeks of pure hedonism, escapism and down time. For me I will need to put all my own needs on hold in order to plan and execute exciting child centred activities, fun and games EVERY DAY for two bastard weeks. But it will be the fact that I forgot the bastard Peppa Pig leggings that will dominate conversations for the entire journey home. In between the bastard screeching competitions of course.

9/. Your evenings will be spent on balmy terraces, enjoying fine wine, leisurely food and scintillating conversation. Mine will be spent ramming food down my mouth as quickly as possible, shouting loudly at my wife and watching while one child feeds fish fingers to a tank of expensive looking oriental fish, and the other asks an angry looking man at the next table why his nose is so big.

10/. You will lounge on a beach recliner and will luxuriate in a thirty second application of Hawaiian Tropic sun cream, the mere smell evoking a tropical paradise. I, on the other hand, will be spending half my days sprinting up and down the beach trying to marinate my slippery children with a dense pasty gloop just to get minimal sun cream coverage. And don’t get me started on the question of bastard sun hats; because this is a question where Superglue is the only answer.

11/. Because by the time I have finally cleared the laundry backlog from this damn holiday it will be time to think about packing for the next bastard holiday.

So there you go my relaxed and just-returned-from-holiday-faced friend. If I sound bitter, it’s because I bastard well am. Bastard Holidays can feck right off.

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To the power of two

The transition from a family of three to a family of four can often be extremely difficult. New bonds need to be formed, new patterns established and a new personality accommodated in the already complex dynamics of a thriving household. It is no wonder that two children can seem exponentially more challenging than one. But eventually there comes a moment when all the stress is forgotten.

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Those first few weeks as a family of four were extremely difficult.

My daughter, who by now at 21 months had started to mellow, became very volatile again and her sleep was disturbed.

Regardless of the amount of care we put into carefully introducing my daughter to her new brother, jealousy still reared its very ugly head.

And while my son was a very laid back baby, going back to a few hours sleep a night was very difficult for me to do.

And my son’s crying used to wake my daughter.

And she became tired and cranky

And as a result we all became tired and cranky.

It was intense.

Exhausting

Every day was just a relentless process of giving. Giving every last bit of myself to little sponges of seemingly infinite need.

And the nights were worse.

No escape.

No respite. Night after night of bleary eyed wake ups.

A feed would finish and just as quiet returned to the house, and I began to feel the warm embrace of sleep, a whimper would start up and within seconds crescendo, jolting me into reality.

The days and nights merged into one feverish process of giving.

Giving to my children. Giving to my wife. Giving to my job.

And it was the depths of mid-winter. The joys of autumn and Christmas long gone, the promise of Spring not even signalled by a snow-drop.

The days short, dank and cold. The nights long and claustrophobic.

It was a harsh winter.

Barbaric temperatures and rain and snow kept us all indoors and behind bars.

The screaming and crying began to echo off the walls, a stereophonic reminder of the responsibilities of fatherhood.

And then I became sick. It was inevitable.

It was winter. I wasn’t sleeping. I was stressed

It was probably just a normal virus, the kind of winter sickness as a young single man I would have cast off within days.

But in this new state it lingered. For days. For weeks. For months.

I eventually began to shake the virus off and we moved into Spring, my son getting stronger, the night feeds becoming less, my daughter becoming more accepting.

It was still incredibly difficult, harder than I ever thought it was going to be. But there were signs that things were changing.

I once caught the two of them sitting and giggling at each other. It lasted a full four minutes. Four minutes of beautiful, unreserved joy.

I stood and watched and listened, daring not to move, lest the spell be broken, letting the beautiful and heart breaking sound of their euphoria break over me.

And this summer, a brilliantly tempting vision of a potential future has started to shimmer, mirage-like, on the horizon.

With the weather getting better and the back door frequently open they have both started piling outside together; a little crackling ball of fizzing energy, rampaging around the garden, pulling up flowers, eating worms, falling over, getting up, noses in EVERY corner.

No stone unturned.

Six months ago, they were screaming and crying and hanging off my legs and ankles, demanding attention, demanding time, demanding food, demanding love. Now there is occasionally peace.

They will be reading together

They will be in the sand pit together

They will be hunting for slugs together.

My daughter always initiating, my son the little wobbly accomplice.

And just this week an event happened that inspired this whole post. An event that is still as poignant now as it was all those days ago.

I was upstairs in the bathroom, facilitating the bedtime routine. It is easier these days.

But this night the kids disappeared. I heard joyful giggling. I called out to them to come.

Nothing. Just giggling. Lots of giggling.

I called again.

Nothing. More giggling.

I started to get annoyed. That familiar feeling of bedtime routines coming back, the knot of tension building in my chest. I strode into the bedroom ready to admonish.

I stopped in my tracks. I paused. And then I let out a huge belly laugh.

In front of me were my kids. They were both stood there, cheeky grins on face, staring at me, waiting for my reaction.

Because on her head, my daughter had her clean knickers, her pigtails sticking out of the leg holes. And on his head, my son was wearing his trousers, the legs of which were dangling down like giant dog ears.

There was something about this simple moment that levelled everything.

In my laugh, months of stress and tension had been unleashed.

And when my kids saw that I was laughing they both burst into hysterics. My son laughed so hard he fell over, the trousers falling further over his eyes. More laughter.

They had planned this together. They wanted to entertain.

That moment made me realise that the crying and screaming and jealousy and tantrums that used to echo around the hollow chambers of my mind, are gradually being replaced by giggles, laughter and squeals of delight.

I can see them every day, forming bonds, entertaining and looking out for each other. They are little buddies.

photo#4

And that is why tonight I am sitting on the decking writing this post.

Both my children are bathed and washed and safely in bed. They sleep through these days.

And I am looking out over my garden. I am remembering the trousers on head incident and I allow myself another chuckle.

It is a warm, comfortable evening. The sun is setting and the smell of summer jasmine and honeysuckle is carried by a gentle breeze. The shrill cry of Swifts echoes overhead. A lawnmower burrs in the distance, providing a gentle backdrop to this perfect scene.

I have a cold beer.

Tonight I am happy.

Tonight I take a drink to the power of two.

This post originally appeared on the Daddy Cool Project website. The Daddy Cool Project (DCP) is a London-based voluntary organisation which aims to help diminish negative stereotype of dads in the UK. It also highlights the importance and positive impact of fathers and male-role models living and working in today’s society. They do some really great work – go check them out at www.daddycoolproject.org.uk and follow on Twitter @daddycooluk

Childbirth is painful, but have you ever been kicked in the nuts?

This penultimate #fathersdaymonth post comes from Stuart at @mvd_stuart. For those of you who dont know, he is one half of the dynamic duo that make up www.mummyvsdaddy.com

With his wife @mvd_sarah they run a brilliant and innovative blog that provides a space for the often contradictory (and sometimes agreeable) mix of opinions between a mother and father which make up the rich tapestry of parenthood. 

If you need any more convincing, they were also BiBs finalists this year. Go check their blog site out and follow them on Twitter.

I particularly like this #fathersdaymonth post because it is utterly tragic and brutally honest. And yet somehow, Stuart manages to work a thread of mischievous humour throughout. For this alone it’s a brilliant post. 

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Before meeting my wife Sarah, I had never imagined that some day I would become a father. I was a lazy, childish and slightly mental teenager who at the time found kids nothing more than irritating.

Having children of my own was ‘never’ on my life’s agenda and for me nobody was going to change that. But apparently things do change.

I was 23 years old when I learned that I was to be a Daddy for the first time. Despite my reservations from years gone by, I was ready to step-up for what was to be my little girl – but other plans were made for her.

My first experience of a hospital delivery suite was the 13 hours 50 minutes delivery of my daughter, with my wife and I knowing we would be leaving the hospital empty handed.

On April 24th 2006 my first child Ryleigh Jayne was born sleeping, and to my shame on that day I made the horrendous choice to not look, and to not hold my daughter before she was taken from my life forever.

To this day I consider myself a bad father because of my decision that day. I may try my best for the children I have with me now.

But the fact remains the first thing I ever did as a Father was turn my back on my daughter.

Of course I wanted to see and hold her, but I did not have the courage or strength to do it. I will forever be disgusted with myself.

Ryleigh was delivered at 4 months gestation, after being given just a 5% chance of reaching full-term but then a 0% chance of survival at birth. Before our daughter began suffering we had to do what was right for her, as heart-breaking as it was and will forever be.

Ryleigh had Cystic Hygroma with Fetal Hydrops, and Turners Syndrome.

She will of course always be my first child.

Needless to say the issues we had with Ryleigh made the next pregnancy with our daughter Rhianna all the more stressful. Both me and my wife were always worrying that something may again go wrong. Instead of looking forward to every ultrasound scan, we feared them, as it was an ultrasound which first revealed Ryleigh’s problems.

In the latter stages of the pregnancy with Rhianna she was measuring quite small, which added to our fear that perhaps something wasn’t right – but thankfully our fears were without foundation.

First impressions of the delivery suite this time around were completely different. This time I didn’t arrive knowing I would be leaving again without my child, although at the back of my mind, a little fear of that remained. I was after all yet to be a Dad physically, so this was still all new to me.

I did my best to stay positive as it goes without saying Sarah had so much more to worry about. Yet I proved to be pretty useless to her.

It turns out that my usual cool, calm and collected nature didn’t apply within the walls of a hospital. The experience of child birth took me by surprise to say the least.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. As a man, by far the most common comment I see and hear about child birth is how lucky men are, and that I as a man could never imagine (or stand) the pain of giving birth. Of course the comments always come from women.

To those women my response is have you ever stopped for a second to imagine just how much more painful it would be for a man to give birth? Excuse my phrasing, but our holes are tighter than yours, so of course we consider ourselves lucky that giving birth isn’t our role. But rest assured we appreciate what you go through.

I must admit that I myself have in the past asked women if they know what a proper, full on kick in the nuts feels like and placed it arguably up there alongside child birth on the top shelf of painful experiences.

Although I have always said it in jest, but with a straight, dead-pan face giving the impression that i’m being serious. Just for my own entertainment, it never fails to get a reaction.

In reality the pain women bear during child birth is incredible without a doubt, and as the very proud Father of four (plus my angel Ryleigh) my wife has shown her strength time and time again, not that I have ever doubted her.

For the want of a better description she has seemingly breezed through each delivery and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

As for me though, and my role as her “birthing partner” I have been pretty useless and overwhelmed every single time which surprises me.

I am and have always been a super relaxed man, I take everything in my stride but upon arriving at the delivery suite I fall into a corner and have become almost invisible until it’s time to cut the cord. But I have always been there and at her beckoned call if ever she has needed or wanted me. So I did my bit, albeit a very small bit.

Do I feel I should have done more during the birth of my children? Most definitely.

Do I feel like my wife needed me? Honestly, no.

Because when she needed to be the one to take things in her stride she went head to head with that pain threshold and won comfortably

Although perhaps comfortably is the wrong word!

The whole experience of child birth from a Dad’s perspective was for me far less traumatising than I expected, but far more overwhelming if that makes any sense at all.

Before you become a Dad for the first time all you know is what you hear, or what you have been told by friends or family members who have children. And if the people you know are anything like my lot they will say just about anything to try to put you on edge.

If you are an expectant Dad I would advise against you reading any baby books or asking people what it’s like because there is no routine for child birth.

Your experience of it will be unique to you, so do whatever you can to enjoy and make the most of it because once that baby comes squeezing out (or sliding, depending on the size and shape of your partner) that’s it.

But you can forget about silence, and forget about doing things your way ever again!

Inside the delivery suite you will see your partner in a whole new way, however long you’ve known her. She will not only abuse you physically, but verbally too.

She will at times give the impression that you’re needed, but as soon as you step within reach she will be clawing at your arm like a f****d off raccoon. You will also hear all kinds of new sounds. Just pretend it’s aliens, it’s less scary that way.

And as for the smells… sorry ladies, there are new smells in there too – ask your partner and the look on his face will tell you that he wants to say yes, but is terrified of doing so.

Finally, I want to remind the dads out there that the delivery suite represents your last chance to prepare your partner for Motherhood. She may find these following things irritating at the time – but it’s for the best.

Firstly, do not be afraid to poop yourself and scream for some clean pants.

Secondly, if you feel a bit sick be sure to get some in her hair – she needs to learn to cope with this.

Lastly but not least, if you fancy a cuppa, and the midwife is refusing to make it because she’s delivering your baby, you are well within your rights to throw a tantrum.

One born every minute

It is actual Fathers Day! And this is the fourth in the series of #fathersdaymonth guest posts. This one is a second post from @dadvsthekids. You can read more from him on his new blog http://www.dadvsthekids.com

It’s a post about childbirth. And I particularly like this post because it is funny. Really funny. But also that there is a great central message here. Kids dont play by the rules. Neither should you. Stick your hands out and get them dirty.

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Hi. I’d like my coat dry-cleaned please. That stain? Yeah, it’s just my wife’s blood. Do you reckon you can you get that all out?”

Okay. Let me back up a bit.

THE KID IS IN MY HANDS WHAT THE HELL DO I DO?!?!?”

Okay. Maybe I need to go back a little bit more. Because if you’re bringing a child into this world, you need to be prepared. But not prepared in the way you think you know right now.

This is the birth of our second child. I got this. I read all the magazines. I diligently attended all the birthing classes. I even managed to get in good with one of the staff on the maternity ward (ok, it was my mother-in-law) and secured a serene, private hospital room to welcome our latest ‘miracle of life’ into the world with the aid of the finest drugs the NHS has to offer. NAILED IT.

From the Dad’s point of view, as long as you’ve picked up the TENS machine, remembered the overnight bag, your ONLY job in the delivery room is to hold your wife’s hand, offering appropriate, positive commendation whilst resisting the temptation to take a hit of the gas and air whilst the midwife’s back is turned.

We’d been through this already with child no.1 – I knew the drill. I knew my place. So when the contractions started that summer afternoon in 2006, it was like the Rocky theme tune was playing in my head all over again. All those months of training has led to this.

 Mrs DvK calls her parents and we arrange to drop off our firstborn. Because who wants to traumatise a 2yr old child with shrieking contractions and profanities, right?

“Yep,” she breathes into her phone through the mild contractions. “We’ll drop him off to you Mum, and then we’ll go home and collect my stuff before meeting you at the hospital. The contractions aren’t too bad, so we should have plenty of time.” I make a mental note to pack myself extra magazines and maybe a Mars Bar.

An hour later, we’re back at home. Mrs DvK is on the sofa, wrapped up in the TENS machine, timing the contractions whilst I make the last few phone calls to friends and family.

Informing the maternity ward of our imminent arrival, I try my best to sound confident and jovial. Don’t be fooled – judging the window between “should we go in now” and “I can’t believe that moody cow sent us back home” is another rite of passage for all paranoid new parents. If you don’t sound convinced, then they won’t be.

“Did you call the midwife?”

“Yes hun”

“Did you put my slippers in the bag?”

“Yep.”

“Have you put the car seat in?”

“It’s done.”

“Did you pack the baby vests?”

“Yes….”

“The green ones and the white ones?”

“YES.”

Apparently no one cares if I packed my Mars Bars, but whatever. I take charge of the conversation. “Right, I’ll get everything in the car.” I slip my hands into my coat, help Mrs DvK up from the sofa and march ahead for the front door. “Let’s go!”

The first scream of pain hits me with brute force. I’m not supposed to hear that until we’re in the delivery room am I?

I turn around and for the first time, I see paralysing fear in my wife’s eyes. By the Power of Greyskull: THE LITTLE GIT IS COMING NOW.

NINE. NINE. NINE.

“I can’t move! I can’t move! I have to push!” she screams. The sheer ferocity of the contraction is too much and Mrs DvK, in a hysterical panic starts to remove her clothes.

“NOOO! Not in the living room on the carpet!” My cry falls on deaf ears. But Mother Nature has taken over and gravity is the first to say hello. With one push, her waters break, spilling out onto the floor.

Imagine what you’ve seen in light-hearted romantic comedies and hilarious TV sit-coms.  But without the canned laughter. Nobody is laughing now. It’s EVERYWHERE.

“WIFE IN LABOUR! BABY COMING! SEND AMBULANCE!” My adrenalin fuelled stuttering to the 999 operator reveals I am way in over my head. This is uncharted territory.

My wife and I are alone, with no medical professional, no drugs, and no way out. There isn’t an app for this. Mrs DvK is about to endure childbirth cave-man style, and I didn’t even get to start thumbing through my fresh copy of GQ. Typical.

Despite all the odds, she’s still on her feet. Everything is a blur. The second push is more dramatic than the first.

And then it happens.

I can see my son’s head.

My stupid brain frantically tries to recall anything from the birthing lessons that can help in this situation. Nope.

One thing I can guarantee, new Dads: Time will slow down when you see your child for the first time. I don’t remember the exact moment I dropped the phone and extended my hands to catch my son. That primal need to protect him at all costs is something that you can never fully put into words. This tiny child is fighting for survival from his first breath and he’s relying on you to step up.

The umbilical cord is still wrapped around his neck. But he’s crying. That’s a good thing right? “Yes, yes that’s a good thing you idiot”, I think to myself, “that means he’s breathing.” Unwrap the cord dammit, unwrap the cord.

Mrs DvK finally crumples to the floor in a shock, tired heap. I remember I’m still on the phone to the 999 operator. “THE KID IS IN MY HANDS WHAT THE HELL DO I DO?!?!?”

“Get blankets. Keep them comfortable. Another midwife and an ambulance are on their way sir.” The reassuring tone of the disembodied voice make me think this is definitely a more regular occurrence than I’ve been led to believe. Did she just call me Sir?

Your child will shock and surprise you from the second they are born. Just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they’ll blindside you with an emotional uppercut and you’ll be left wondering why you weren’t prepared and begin to doubt your ability to keep another human being alive.

To those who have such trepidation, I say USE that. Use that fear to fuel that primal maternal/paternal bond, not shy away from it.

The books and the classes and the well-meaning (but sometimes conflicting) advice from family and friends have their place.

But you’ll be surprised what you’re prepared to do for your child when you use them as the measuring rod of your success as a parent, not the photo-shopped magazine version we all find ourselves aspiring to.

If catching my son mid-delivery taught me anything, it’s that kids don’t play by the rules. And neither should you. Stick your hands out and get them dirty.

The real professionals arrive less than 10 minutes after the delivery and do their thing.

Actually, one of the ambulance paramedics, built like brick house, and who’s probably seen more than his fair share of multiple car pile-ups, confesses he is squeamish at the sight of women giving birth. Outstanding.

He offers to make himself useful by putting the kettle on and making the bed. 

Mother and baby are eventually given the all clear by the midwife and within an hour they’ve gone, and our new son is already asleep.

Aside from the stream of text messaging well-wishers, the eerie quiet is a stark and bemusing contrast to the heart-stopping moments that preceded it.

I look at my blood-covered watch. It’s nearly 8:30pm.

“Fancy catching the last few minutes of Eastenders?”

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This was originally a guest post for @ministryofmum. Go check out her superb blog at www.ministryofmum.blogspot.co.uk

 

Why yes, I happen to speak fluent parturition.

This third #fathersdaymonth post is a lovely meditation on childbirth and fatherhood. There’s also even time for a humorous reflection on the curious and beautiful oddities that we spawn.

This post comes courtesy of Shawn Brown whose lovely blogs and beautiful poetry can be found on his blog page Circumstantially Wonderful – http://sextonsongs.wordpress.com/ – go check it out.

I hope you enjoy this post – please do feel free to leave comments and feedback

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As I was tucking in the Easy Bee (3yrs old – our 2nd of 3);
making absolutely certain that no rough part of the blanket
was touching her face in any way, at all, she says:

Dad, your hands are cold… and they’re warm

My First Born (6yrs) feeling it necessary to contend this paradox
interjects with a voice muffled by her deep nest of covers:

“…that doesn’t make any sense

weellll…” EZB continues in a single breath: “they’re middle… they’re medi… uhhh… meti…
meady…ummmmmmmm…  meaty… meat. We eat meat. We eat fish. Mosquitoes itch us. Right Dad?”

What?

My strange and beautiful children.
Where did you come from?

Oh right, I remember …

(eyes glaze dreamily, hand strokes scruffy chin):

… the muscles of my wife’s lower back rippled
(i didn’t even know we had muscles like that there)
she was turning a deep red with the effort
and still the midwife was demanding: push!

I thought: NO! she’ll burst! no one can do this. STOP!

but then…

I was called around to the front
and there was the top of our little one’s head
I teared up and I repeated: push.

In a moment the child rushed out into my hands
and I picked her up and put her on her mother’s chest.

Our daughter. Born under the water of an inflatable kiddie pool in my kitchenwhere you would sit, in fact, if you came for dinner.

I was no stoic hero (in this case or the subsequent two births)

I was trying to maintain focus on my wife

Trying to take care of the little logistical problems of having a swimming pool in the kitchen
(in which a baby is about to be born)

Trying to be as helpful as a man can be (when he’s long ago completed his required contribution for this somatic/biological process)

Trying to get the back rubs and breathing and moral support just right

Trying to be completely present in this horribly beautiful adventure

But also, I was trying to keep how terrified I was from showing
and adding drama where extra drama was definitely not needed –
hoping I wouldn’t freak out and run screaming from the room
with my arms flailing above my head.

Inside I felt like one of those tiny excitable dogs
dancing around pointlessly with their little nails
clicking on the linoleum floor;
all nerves – no steel.

My wife? Well, she was amazing, powerful…
at one point amidst the pain
she looked up at me clear-eyed and said quietly:
“this hurts more than I thought it would.”
I knew she was strong, but I was in awe.

The first birth was swaddled in novelty:
attending the birthing classes with all of their predictable hilarity
acquiring all the specialized terminology; the jargon of birth

Learning that an umbilical cord is gigantic!
(worth going to class for that information alone – I was pretty ignorant).
Entering into the culture and convictions attendant to home birth
(I felt like a spy from normal-land infiltrating a strange realm
where people very seriously consider consuming parts of their own body)

The whole time I’m thinking: well, sure, but this is just one day –
then what do we do?!
Well, no one can really answer that question.
And this one day?

Nothing could have prepared me for this reality of flesh and bone…
our lives are normally so sheltered, avoiding pain wherever possible,
but this was raw – visceral – utterly exposed
and no matter how hard I tried or what I did
I couldn’t save her from that

– nor would she want me to-
and I was afraid.
the most dramatic culmination of our being one
and we would be so dramatically separate.

Together, intimate but deep within ourselves; our experiences so different.
I was there for support, a hand holding hers, a body to lean against
but ultimately all I could do was stand by and watch her bear it;
which she did with determination and grace
and it was hard and it was raw and it was miraculous.

And then I fell in love.
I was overjoyed with all my tiny new babies,
they were unspeakably beautiful to me

And I swear I didn’t mean to think this:
but, wow, they were also funny looking.
being born is hard work and it showed…

The first debuted like a cross between Yoda and Gollum
I just kept thinking: which of those parts came from me?

EZB (our 2nd) was a little garden gnome;
bright red and fuzzy – a little girl version of the biblical Esau.
and the boy (8 months now), poor kid,
he looked like Roger Ebert after his jaw was removed
(I thought of even worse stuff but my wife said not to write it here.)

But then their tough elastic little bodies
recover from the pressures and trauma of the birth
and they slowly unfold into all of their exquisite oddness;

The wondrous strange combination of things which they inherit from us
and are stuck with for the duration of their lives
(whether they like it or not)

And the things that are their own:
the unique otherness which they begin to foster and protect
whether we like it or not.
from the beginning until now and on till then
they are all so very beautiful.

And as I knelt beside my wife and this other brand new person
my heart still dancing its irregular jig
I choked out: is she breathing?
that child picked her head up off her Mama’s chest
opened her eyes wide and looked directly at me –
calm down, Dad.

 

Birthdays aren’t always about the kids; A blog post celebrating the celebrity of The Birthday Cake.

Kids birthday’s are a riot of colour, noise and fun, with the primary objective of giving the celebrating child a day to remember. But birthdays aren’t just about the kids. There is sometimes a quieter celebrity which often threatens to steal the show. The celebrity of The Birthday Cake.

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I have long forgotten how to celebrate my own birthday properly, usually perfectly content to let the event slip silently out of sight (as long as a little bit of a fuss is made for the zero ending birthdays).

So since becoming a father I have had to re-train myself to acknowledge the birthday as a key event in my children’s lives, and to re-engage in the ceremony of birthday for the benefit of my children.

As a result I have spent what seems like most weekends for the last 12 months or so, attending these wonderfully intense little explosions of colour, noise and vibrancy as child after child passes yet another milestone mark in their lives. And toddlers birthday parties are a sight to behold, populated by clumsy, wobbly zombies, each one vibrating with the raw energy of life itself; too young to really know what is going on, but old enough to know that a bouncy castle + balloons + friends + sticky cakes = best time EVER!

And the more birthdays I have attended, the more I have observed that there is a fundamental competition going on behind the scenes. Which parents can hire the best hall? Which parents can get the best bouncy castles? Which parents can get the best entertainment?

But it appears that the one factor that trumps everything else is the food. For my circle of friends at least, the more homemade, the more organic, the more wholesome the food, the better. For example a hand knitted flapjack using fairly traded sugar and Goji berries from an indigenous tribe cooperative in Latin America would score you BIG parent points.

But the thing that really trumps everything else is The Birthday Cake. Ah yes. The Birthday Cake. The ultimate symbol of the Super Parents. The Birthday Cake. The thing that shouts “Look at us. We have given birth AND we can bake. We are multi-tasking, home-baking, sustenance-providing SUPER PARENTS”

Ever since I became a father, my Facebook and Twitter timelines have become chock FULL of my friends pictures of their children’s Birthday Cakes (ironically, with not a child in sight). Some of these cakes are so utterly magnificent that the creators’ children probably didn’t eat for days whilst they were painstakingly crafting them.

And while my wife and I have largely resisted the lure of The Birthday Cake for my daughters first and second birthdays, I could see all this changing for my daughters recent third birthday.

It was a Saturday afternoon, about two months before the birthday. My wife asked my daughter if she would like a birthday cake. A perfectly reasonable question you might think, but let’s unpack it a little bit. My daughter was approaching her third birthday. Her opinions and views of the world are not yet fixed. Given that this question was her first introduction to the dialogue about birthdays, it is now likely that her view of birthday’s evermore will be first and foremost defined by the presence or otherwise of The Birthday Cake.

And in addition, it wasn’t just the question that was asked, it was the way it was asked. A glint in the eye, a conspiratorial whisper in the voice and a subliminal and very slight nodding of the head as the question was delivered. I realised my wife was, consciously or not, making it impossible for my daughter to say “no” to this question.

Naturally my daughter picked up on all the cues and gleefully replied “yes”. And that was it. Two months of discussing the party once the kids were in bed followed, with The Birthday Cake taking centre stage.

At one point, when I felt the party was in danger of mushrooming into a vast logistical and administrative undertaking that we would need an army of volunteers to help deliver, I suggested that we buy a cake from the local Posh Cake Shop to reduce the burden on the family. The frown and withering stare I received in return was enough for me to understand that what I was saying was tantamount to adultery and betrayal. I filed that suggestion into the mental box in my brain marked “Pandora” – along with the recent suggestion that we turn the kids sandpit into a raised bed for my carrots – and tried to change the subject to a safer, more mundane conversation, about balloons or something.

However, the worst thing about all this was that we decided to do a joint birthday with some of our best friends. This would mean there would be not one, but TWO cakes. And those cakes would be IN COMPETITION!

And sure enough the cake was an ongoing topic of conversation between the two matriarchs in the run up to the party. Some nights my wife would come off the phone from her friend, frustrated and grumbling about an added twist her friend had added to embellish her cake, walking off cursing into the kitchen to find something that could be added to our cake to fortify it.

As the party approached the conversations between the two women literally turned to sledging each other over their cakes. I got an insight into how men must appear when we do that blokey, sledgehammer, put down thing i.e. great fun for those of you in the middle of the banter, but extremely uncomfortable viewing for those watching and not quite sure of the rules.

Then came the day of the party. For my daughter, the party was all about bouncy castles, her friends, balloons and hilariously bad dancing to Katy Perry (can it be torture if they appear to enjoy it?). But for all the adults, underneath all this superficial colour, happiness and noise, was the underlying tension of the two cakes being pitted against each other; two houses going head to head in a glorious cake-off. The battle for cake supremacy had begun.

Someone dimmed the lights. I don’t know who. It didn’t matter. A hush descended on the room. Everyone turned to face the glow of candle light coming around the corner. The hilltop fires had been lit! The Birthday Cakes were here! CAKES!! INCOMING!!!

I must confess, while I had been, up until this point, less preoccupied by the quality of the cakes and more concerned about the survival of my CD collection (which was being frisbeed around the room), I was by now desperate for our cake to be beautiful; to be the show stopper; to resemble everything you might find in a Posh Cake Shop, and – with the benefit of the infinite love of a mother poured into it – much, much more.

The first cake arrived to a collective gasp; a deep, dark dense chocolate cake with elaborate bursts of coloured icing, crackling like fireworks against a midnight sky. The cake-makers face was lit up by the candles, a portrait of happiness and pride.

Then came our cake. More gasps of appreciation. And I was amazed! This was a lighter, pink affair over two tiers, each lovingly adorned with beautiful, delicate thin wafer flowers and studded with pink and white chocolate buttons.

And ff this cake had been a car, it would have been a pink Lamborghini. It would have come screeching into the room, exhaust throttling, tyres burning, a perfect hand brake turn at the end for the adoring crowds. It was a stunning, prancing horse of a cake.

The candles on the cake lit up my wife’s face, a pink halo burning above her head. My daughters face also lit up. She tilted her head down, beamed a beam as wide as an ocean trench and clapped her little hands together three times. Her shoulders bobbed up and down with excitement and she was squealing with joy. A burst of pride spread across my chest.

And my goodness, it tasted amazing. Admittedly it was helped by the TWO packs of butter that were helping to hold it together, but raised cholesterol levels aside, this was a job well and truly done.

So there it was, two months in the planning for both families, demolished in seconds by a hungry and appreciative audience. And it dawned on me. As the cakes were being brought through and all eyes were trained on them – flashbulbs popping and the crowds parting to let the sugary sweet VIPs through – that birthday parties are without doubt primarily about the children; but that the cakes take a certain celebrity too.

And on this occasion it was the mothers that had embraced this celebrity and gone head-to-head, two matriarch lionesses on the Serengeti savannah, circling each other, measuring each other up; each cake cub crying for attention, a symbol of life, creation and nurture. A symbol of pride, dedication and selfless giving, all wrapped up in a sugary-pink icing casing.

And as the chaos died down I decided that next year I am going to get involved. And it’s going to get serious. I have decided the cake will have turrets and minaret’s, delicately sculpted in an Arabic style. And there will be marshmallows and Lindt chocolate. And Spiderman and Winnie the Witch will be involved. And I will take photos of it, and post them on any social media site that will have me.

Oh yes.

It’s cake war.

5 unconventional reasons to start a family

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.