Monthly Archives: December 2012

The most…exhausting time of the year…

Most wonderful

“It’s the most wonderful time…of the year.”  Andy Williams wasn’t wrong – but for a more accurate Christmas song, he should have added in a few extra lines.  It’s all very well to have the whole “kids jingle belling and everyone telling you, ‘be of good cheer’” bit – but surely, it needs to be followed with something about it being exhausting if you’re trying to keep two under-fives entertained all day, track down a shop that sells non-alcoholic mulled wine for your pregnant wife (isn’t hot Ribena good enough?) and sort out a few last-minute near-nightmares at work.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas: not just for the wonderful story of that night in Bethlehem but also for the HUGE Radio Times, the tins of sweets, and the frankly disgusting foodstuffs that it momentarily becomes entirely normal to consume (sticky date stuffed with gharishly-coloured marzipan?  Why, I thought you’d never ask).  But if you’re not careful, all this expectation and excitement can only lead to disappointment.

As with most Christmases, ours began with the traditional trip to the soft play centre up the road.  We had some of our best friends staying over for the night, breaking up their five-hour journey to Southampton.  The feverish excitement about a) the fact that J and B would be STAYING FOR THE NIGHT IN OUR ROOMS AND WE CAN HAVE STORIES TOGETHER AND IT WILL BE SO, SO FUN, WON’T IT DAD; b) the realisation that Christmas Day was now only three sleeps away; and c) the general carnage that’s created whenever you cram two families into our house, meant that it was only logical to escape momentarily to the land of multicoloured balls.  But for my little girl, it was already all too much.  She’d been grinning for about a week at the idea of her friends arriving, and her heart rate had been further increased when she met “scary Father Christmas” in his grotto one afternoon (“I run away, Daddy.  I not like him in his house”).  By 22nd December, she’d evidently had enough of all this frantic seasonal activity, as I found out when I discovered her eschewing the delights of the soft play and opting instead for a quiet kip round the side of the inflatable rollers:

 Soft play

Since then, we’ve managed to pack in a trip to the in-laws, a flood-ridden journey to a wedding in Wales (I remain disappointed that the woman at the Severn Bridge toll wasn’t the same as the one from the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special) and a few other journeys here and there.  It’s all been lovely – and we’ve had some brilliant moments along the way with great family and wonderful friends.  But next year, we’re staying at home.  The conclusion from the Jackson family Christmas of 2012 is that it’s probably best to always try to take this time of year at your kids’ pace.  And if your two-year-old’s already hit the wall three days before the most wonderful time of the year, you really should consider taking it easy in 2013.

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Rock ‘n’ roll Saturdays…

Gin and tonic

It’s 7.30pm on a Saturday night.  Usually, my wife and I would have just completed the marathon that is kids’ tea and bedtime – always a mixture of loveliness and hideousness in pretty much equal measure.  This time of the day tends to involve picking fishfingers up off the floor, slowly emptying the bath of 52 different plastic toys, or having a debrief on what the reasons might be for our son freaking out at the presence of a leek on his plate, or our daughter suddenly deciding that the world has come to an end because her Peppa Pig cutlery is still in the dishwasher.

But tonight, the children are staying with the grandparents, the house is calm, and we can drink gin and play our own music and not watch Iggle Piggle making a tit out of himself in the Night Garden yet again.  The problem is, I think we’ve forgotten what normal, grown adults do on a Saturday night.  We used to be able to relax, have a drink, and get ready to go out.  But now, four-and-a-bit years on from having kids, my wife is currently busy making chutney as a Christmas present for our son’s teacher (she probably hates the stuff), while I reply to work emails and mess about on Twitter.

This has to stop.  NOW.  Time for another gin, and dinner in a really nice restaurant that doesn’t have any highchairs, AND A LIE-IN IN THE MORNING. A full eight hours of blissfully uninterrupted sleep is such an unbelievably exciting prospect, there’s a real risk I won’t be able to sleep tonight.

The birds and the balls…

The birds and the bees

“Why do boys have balls?”  It’s a good question.  It’s a question I knew was going to be posed in some form or another before too long – after all, my son’s four, he’s got a sister, and she thankfully doesn’t have a scrotum.  It’s hard not to notice such differences at bathtime, even if you’re not a particularly observant child.  Admittedly, the specific nature of the question took me slightly by surprise – in particular, my boy’s focus on the whole “balls” thing.  Surely, that’s not what you notice first.   You only get on to the age-old “what’s the point of your bollocks” question when you’ve well and truly come to terms with the willy – don’t you?

I don’t remember what conversation, if any, I had with my parents about procreation.  To be honest, I think there must be some kind of evolutionary function that ensures we banish such memories from our minds.  But I knew I’d have to have an answer up my sleeve for if and when I was asked a question along those lines by one of my kids.  The only problem was, I hadn’t yet even begun to formulate that answer in my head.  Hence my answer to the question, which went something like this: “Er…for the tadpoles.”

THE TADPOLES?

Even I didn’t see that one coming.  Inevitably, the discussion couldn’t end there.

“There are tadpoles in your balls, Dad?”

Right, I can get out of this one.  I really can.  It’s easy.  I’ll explain it clearly and calmly; after all, it’s no big deal.

“Yes!  That’s right!  Yes!”

“Why, Dad?”

Would it be wrong to ask his mum to continue the conversation from here?  Of course it would.  Of COURSE it would.

“Well, it’s so that…well, look at Mum – she’s got a baby in her tummy, and that baby started growing when I gave her a tadpole.”

The look of utter confusion on my son’s face at this point is something I’ll never forget.

“You gave Mum…a tadpole?”

“Yes!  And then it grew even bigger into the baby that’s in Mummy’s tummy!  That’s lovely, isn’t it!  Now, do you need a hairwash tonight?”

At that moment, my son turned to his little sister, raised his eyebrows, and gave me a look that clearly said: “We’re not done with this yet.  Be in no doubt: this conversation will continue.”

In my head, I’m a dad who’s always going to be completely at ease with my kids.  I’ll be happy to talk to them about anything.  I’ll merrily discuss the menstrual cycle with my daughter (I’m sure she’ll be delighted when that wonderful day arrives), I’ll maturely and supportively highlight the dangers of internet pornography to my son before he hits puberty, and I’ll read up on some really good ways to share the facts of life with my kids at the appropriate time.

In reality, however, it doesn’t quite work like that.  After a tough day at work and a long commute home, all the good intentions go out the window when faced with a left-field question from an inquisitive four-year-old.  As for that moment when the conversation with my son continues, so long as he doesn’t ask me any more details about that lovely moment when I handed over the tadpole to his mother, I think we’ll be fine.

Breaking news: woman falls pregnant…

Photographers outside King Edward VII hospital

So, the world has officially gone royal baby mad.  Poor Kate is only a few weeks’ pregnant, yet there are already enough column inches devoted to her not-even-visible-yet bump to stretch round the world and back again.  As I saw someone observe on Twitter today, if you thought the Daily Mail’s coverage of Suri Cruise was excessive, wait until you see what they’ve got planned for this little one.

In my line of work I receive a fair few press releases on a daily basis – and today’s collection really did plumb the depths.  Everyone seemed to want to jump on the back of the royal couple’s news with a tenuous reaction, often linked to shamelessly promoting some kind of product or another.  No sooner had Kate’s pregnancy been announced than Paddy Power was sending out details of what they reckoned the future heir would be called.  Apparently, John, Charles and George are the favourites for a boy, but a girl’s bound to be called Mary or Victoria.  And remarkably, they’re offering evens when it comes to whether or not it will be a boy or a girl.  Funny, that.

TV and radio networks across the globe have gone into overdrive about the news, too: outside the hospital where Kate is being treated, there are now crews from Australia, America and most European countries, many of which ran this as their lead story for much of yesterday.  24-hour news channels in the UK, meanwhile, faced that dilemma of having to cover a story that isn’t really a story, once you’ve got beyond the fact that a woman is pregnant.  Cue all sorts of royal biographers and other hangers-on, paid to witter on about whether it’ll be twins, or what Charles probably thinks of it all, or what the doctors will be doing right now, or whatever.

Amidst all the chaos and attention, how will the parents of our future king or queen be feeling tonight?  Discovering you’re going to become a mum or dad for the first time is a daunting experience for mere mortals like you and me, so goodness knows what it must be like when your first trimester happens in the glare of the media spotlight.  Back in 2007, I remember going to Boots with my wife to buy a pregnancy test kit (we could have got one from Sainsbury’s – it was much closer to our flat – but there’s something quite comforting and reassuring about buying that sort of thing from Boots.  Or is that just me?).  Anyway, I couldn’t understand why they were on a ‘Buy One Get One Free’ offer.  Surely, I thought, it’s not the kind of accessory you need twice in quick succession – unless you have the gestation period of a gnat.  And then I realised: seeing the blue line once is never enough.  You simply HAVE to do another test, just to make sure that the enormity of what that little white stick is telling you really is true.

So, back to those royals.  Understandably, all the media attention is on Kate this week – but what about William?  He might well be entirely used to the photographers and the protocol, but he won’t be any more prepared than you or me when it comes to how to be a dad.  There’ll no doubt be a whole host of doctors, nannies and advisors around him, all of whom are bound to cost a fortune.  But will that really increase his chances of always reacting calmly when his toddler throws their food on the floor AGAIN?  Will being second in line to the throne make it easier for him to not have a row with his wife when they’ve both been up all night?  And will his child always behave politely with his great granny, especially given that she’s really rather important?  No chance.

I hope everything works out okay for them.  It’s still far too early for the world to know she’s pregnant.  I also hope that when the baby is born next May, they give it a really random name (Princess Shaznay?  Prince Dean?), if only to cause outrage in the Daily Mail – and to make me a fortune at Paddy Power.