Monthly Archives: October 2012

Blue versus pink…

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I have two brothers.  My dad has two brothers.  They both have two sons.  My mum is one of four kids, and she’s the only girl.  You get the picture: my family is overwhelmingly male.   Growing up, there were never any girls around, bar the occasional obligatory aunt.  So, when our first child was born, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised that it was a boy.  “It’s to be entirely expected,” I thought to myself.  “And if we ever have another, it’ll be a boy again – guaranteed.”

 

And then, two-and-a-bit years ago, my daughter arrived into the world.  Suddenly, I had to deal with the wonderful challenge of being a dad to a little girl.  It’s been absolutely brilliant, and I just adore her – but recently, I’ve started to worry about what life is going to be like for her growing up.   Only the other day, she declared: “I can’t have this.  It’s BLUE.”  Now, I’m certainly not one of those parents who insist that their children dress in gender-neutral beige – but seriously, is it really healthy that two-year-old girls automatically assume they can’t use a toy because it’s blue?

 

To be honest, though, much as I worry about what it’ll be like for my little girl to grow up in what is still, so often, a world where men get the upper hand, this kind of gender stereotyping doesn’t just affect girls.  My son unexpectedly burst into tears the other morning when I gave him and his sister their breakfast in identical pink bowls (it wasn’t a deliberate move; they were just the only clean ones to hand, and I couldn’t be bothered to empty the dishwasher).  What kind of world do we live in where the idea of girls using blue stuff and boys using pink stuff every once in a while is likely to bring our children out in a cold sweat?

 

Anyway, as I told my wife the other day, I’ve made a few decisions.  One of them is that I’m definitely not going to ‘give my daughter away’ if and when she gets married.  I mean, how crazy is that?  She’s not my possession to give to another man.  And don’t give me any of that “oh, but it’s just tradition” malarkey.  That’s not a convincing enough argument.

 

So there I was, espousing my views on all this.  And then my wife, who’s nearly always right, gave me one of those looks.  She paused, and sagely commented: “I’d imagine you’ll end up doing whatever SHE wants you to do.  She’s your little girl.  And she’s already got you wrapped around her little finger.”

When it doesn’t go to plan…

 

 

 

Before we had kids, my wife and I talked lots about how we wanted to raise our new arrival, helping him or her to grow into a happy, healthy, sociable little person.  We read books, we listened attentively at the ante-natal classes, we even bought a whole load of baby-related tat which, in hindsight, was almost universally surplus to requirements.  But there are some things about being a parent that you simply can’t quite prepare yourself for.

 

A friend of mine commented to me the other day, “what should you do when your toddler ignores you?”  It was a pertinent question, not least because I’d spent that morning trying to reason with an extremely irritable four-year-old, who’d decided to disobey every reasonable request that came his way.  The slightest plea for some basic courtesy led him to declare “I’m not listening to you ANYMORE” – something which, believe me, is sure to test the patience of even the most chilled-out dad.  I honestly left the house feeling relieved to be heading to work – not a particularly nice experience, to be honest, but one I think most parents will be able to relate to.

 

One of the hardest things about being a dad is seeing it go pear-shaped even when you’ve supposedly done the right thing.  You get down on their level, you listen to them, you try to empathise (they’re only little; they’re tired; they don’t quite understand what you’re saying).  And yet, they still don’t do as the books suggest they should.

 

On the morning in question, I hadn’t slept much (was it only our household that seemed to implode as a result of the clocks changing?), I’d been getting up for what seemed like half the night with child number two, and then child number one woke far too early with an attitude problem that could well have resulted in him being electronically tagged if he hadn’t perked up by lunchtime.  The whole experience was stressful and frustrating, until I remembered something a very wise, older friend with grown-up children said to me once: quite simply, “they all get there in the end.”

 

As parents (especially parents who feel like we’ve done our homework) we can place a huge amount of expectation on our children.  We admire others’ offspring but fret about the fact that ours seemingly don’t behave properly all the time, or don’t eat all their tea, or don’t give elderly ladies with moustaches a big, warm hug as soon as they walk through the door.  We can easily forget that, sometimes, it doesn’t need to all make sense.  Yes, it’s completely illogical to us that the four-year-old in front of us is getting cross and grumpy – but then, the world isn’t yet a completely logical place when you’re only four.

 

So, to my mate who wants to know what to do when your toddler ignores you, I say: I’m not sure, really.  I’m still working it all out myself.  But I reckon it’s pretty likely that the moment when he or she is ignoring you is usually not the moment to start trying to reason with them, adult-style.  Sometimes, even though every fibre of our being wants to exclaim “BUT I DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW YOU CAN BE THIS INFURIATINGLY UNREASONABLE!” it’s better to walk away, let them have their meltdown, and then come back with something fun and distracting.  The maddening behaviour can then be talked through a bit later, when the child in front of us at least has a chance of taking it all in.

 

In fact, come to think of it, it’s not a bad tactic for adult relationships, too…

 

Zzzzzz…

 

When I knew I was going to become a dad for the first time, I was well aware that things were about to change in a big way.  My social life would go out the window, I thought; my Saturdays would apparently become devoted to soft play and swimming; and from now on, it would be entirely normal to take about three hours to leave the house.  But one thing I don’t think I was ever quite prepared for was how I’d get SO LITTLE SLEEP.

 

Obviously, I knew that kids woke early, and that the days of long, lazy weekend lie-ins with a coffee and the papers was a thing of the past.  But I don’t think I fully realised just how all-encompassing the lack of sleep thing is.  Maybe it’s just that my two kids are particularly bad at getting their full eight hours through the night – but I reckon most parents-to-be are blissfully unaware of the effect it can have.

 

Is it just me, or do all dads get The 4.30pm Slump?  While everyone else in the office is perky and bright, I find myself flagging.  When someone suggests a drink after work, my first thought is “Nice idea, but that would RUIN my chances of being in bed by 9.30.”  What’s more, I have a sneaking suspicion that, when my kids eventually reach an age where I need them to get up at a reasonable time, they’ll finally decide they do want to have a lie-in after all, and I’ll be the one urging them to get up early.

 

I reckon that dads of the world – and mums, for that matter – should unite and campaign for a daily siesta in the office.  Secretly, most parents would seriously consider trading in their paternity or maternity leave for a regular afternoon nap.  Until then, though, we’ll just have to rejoice in the 6am starts, even at the weekend, and desperately try to enjoy following the plot of the latest episode of Me Too on CBeebies.

First evers…

One of the fun things about parenting is the many ‘first evers’ that come your way.  There’s the birth, of course, and the first steps.  And the less cute but still quite endearing moments (first poo in the bath is one that immediately springs to mind).  This week, I had what felt like quite a momentous ‘first ever’, when me and my wife made our debut appearance at a school parents’ evening.

Working full-time has led to a funny old mix of emotions about my little boy starting school.  I’ve only been able to drop him off once, and that was all a bit of a rush (not helped by the fact that neither of us knew where we were going, with the result that someone from Year 5 had to lead us pityingly to my son’s classroom).  I’ve never collected him at the end of the day, I don’t know much about the children he’s building friendships with and, for the first time, I’m seeing him embrace a whole part of life that has very little to do with me.  Not being there to do the walk to or from school is frustrating at times; when you add in the fact that the playground is still very much the preserve of mums,  you can end up feeling that, as a dad, the whole school thing isn’t something you can easily get involved with.  And yet, there’s so much about the parents’ evening experience that felt encouraging.

As we sat there, hearing our boy’s lovely teacher chat about the six hours a day she spends with him, it was an unexpectedly moving moment.  This lady seemed to know our little lad really well: she’d already worked out some of his personality traits, she could tell us what other children in the class thought of him, and she really gave us a real boost when it came to thinking about how we parent him.  She also said something that really challenged me.  Reflecting on the kind of role models the very youngest children see before them at school, she commented, “There are hardly ever any men.  Reception teachers are all women.  It’s the mums that volunteer in the classroom.  These children would really benefit from some male role models here, too.”

So, although work is busy, the Blackberry is permanently flashing away and there’s always another email to answer, I want to make sure I don’t forget to have a meaningful input into this hugely important area of my son’s life.  Yes, lots of us dads are busy – but so are most mums, irrespective of whether they also work full-time. There are all sorts of options: taking one day off each term to volunteer at our local school, joining the governing body, even becoming the class rep for the school’s Friends’ Association.  Or, at the most basic level, simply making sure we regularly ask our children plenty of engaging questions about what they get up to at school.  All this stuff would hopefully have a beneficial effect on the kids – but to be honest, I reckon we’d rather enjoy it, too.

The importance of the bendy straw…

 

 

 

All is quiet in our house: both kids are sleeping soundly, my better half is nowhere to be seen and I’ve had a bit of time to think about what life might be like come January, when we will officially become the Jackson Five.

 

Yesterday, I was chatting with a colleague who’s recently become a dad to twins.  We were reflecting back on the conversation we’d had a few weeks back, when my one little piece of advice had been: pack a bendy straw or two in the hospital bag.  The reason?  Labour is thirsty work, and it’s quite hard for most women to sit up when they’re in the full throws of having a contraction.  So, take along that bendy straw and she’ll be able to have a drink whilst still lying down.  (I KNOW.  Sometimes, I surprise even myself with how insightful I am).

 

When our third child arrives, I think I’ll need to bear in mind a more important tip, though: namely, don’t walk into the wrong delivery room.  When our daughter was born, I nipped out to go to the toilet, and happily wandered back in to what I thought was the room in which my wife was giving birth.  There was certainly a woman in there, and she was most definitely trying her absolute best to push that baby out.  But I’d never met her in my life before.  To say that the midwife was mortified would be the dictionary definition of the word ‘understatement’.

 

So, come the new year, I’ll most definitely have a bendy straw about my person at all times.  But I’ll also make sure I have a pen and paper in the other pocket, to note down exactly which room my wife can be found in.  Better to be safe than…arrested.

Discos…toddler-style

We moved to our village about nine months ago now, leaving behind the bright lights of south-west London for the leafy trees of Hampshire.  It’s a lovely little place, there’s a great community, and at least 50% of the local population still have their own teeth.  But one thing that’s taken a little while to work out is what to do with the kids at the weekend.  In London, there seemed to be hundreds of activities: little music groups, playgroups for dads and kids, yoga for newborns or whatever.  Down our way, there doesn’t immediately appear to be so much going on.  But, scratch beneath the surface, and it’s all there.

This weekend, I’m taking my daughter off to a special disco for toddlers. My new, local dad friend (every father needs one) invited me along.  I’m sure my little girl will have a wonderful time; my only concern is whether I’m expected to join in.  Generally speaking, with the exception of the ages of 0-10 and 18-21, going to any kind of music-led dance experience should be avoided at all costs.  Especially if you’re a man.

From secondary school onwards, there’s the all-encompassing embarrassment of school discos, where your best friend is usually copping off with that girl in Year 8 and there’s always a very large girl crying in the corner (often the best friend of said girl in Year 8).  That mostly continues through until university, when it’s suddenly de rigeur to go clubbing with the rest of the student population.  After that, it’s all work Christmas parties and enforced jollity – which is why the idea of having to partake in a disco, sober, on a Saturday morning, slightly fills me with dread.

Surely, I argue, my daughter will have to put up with enough embarrassing dad dancing from me at weddings and family parties in the years to come – so is it really fair that I start subjecting her to it now?  Hopefully, she’ll have a great time.  But as I’ve already explained: if we hear even so much as the opening bars of Saturday Night by Whigfield, we’re doing a runner.

It’s a Dad’s World…

It’s cold.  It’s dark.  It’s 4.15am on a Wednesday morning, to be precise. And I should be in bed.  Instead, I’m singing some kind of bizarre (or, I would argue, inspired) theme and variations on the tune of “Yes, my name is Iggle Piggle.”  It all seems to be working quite well: my scamp of a daughter is slowly drifting off to sleep, and I feel quite smug about the fact that I’ve managed to settle her.  Bed beckons, I think.  And then, she utters the words no parent wants to hear at that time of the morning: “I need a wee.”

When I discovered, five years ago, that I was going to be a dad, I experienced that age-old heady mix of giddy excitement and paralysing fear.  I prepared as best I could: I felt like I was on first name terms with Gina Ford, I knew my social life would be turned upside-down, I even managed to remain calm when, at our ante-natal class, our midwife produced a fake breast to demonstrate how a new mum might feed with an inverted nipple.  As you do.  But nothing could prepare me for the seemingly unending lack of sleep.

Someone at work told me the other day that his two kids have always slept through the night.  ALWAYS.  Even from birth.  How on earth can this be true?  His son and daughter both wake naturally at 9am.  If you’re about to become a dad, be aware: THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN TO YOU.  Although I’m sure Gina would have something to say about my no-doubt bad parenting habits, my own little theory is that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to control your kids’ sleep patterns.  They either sleep through, or they don’t.  In our house, 4am appears to be the new 7am.  Me and my wife frequently discover a small human-shaped mound at the end of our bed in the mornings.  And I’m pretty sure I’ve sung every CBeebies theme tune (and even a few from that Channel 5 alternative with the scarily smiley Mancunian woman) in the wee small hours.

Over the last four-and-a-bit sleep-deprived years, I’ve learned what it’s like to be a dad.  There have been some slightly suspect moments, and it’s been a huge challenge to juggle home life with work life – especially when the two collide.  But, with my eldest having just started school, I now feel pretty happy about how the whole parenting thing has turned out so far. This Diary of a Desperate Dad will hopefully give you a little window into the world of a father of two, with another on the way.  From sleepless nights and the challenges of joint parenting, to playground peer pressure and dealing with other people’s children, I’ll be pondering what it is that makes dads (and their kids) tick.

More tomorrow – but for now, I reckon it’s time for a siesta in that meeting room downstairs.  I think I’ve deserved it.