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: …………….

 

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 – 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 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

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.