The myth of a ‘perfect family Christmas’…

Keep calm

“Snow is falling, all around us.”  Well, it’s not, is it?  Let’s be honest: it never, EVER snows at Christmas.

“Children playing, having fun.”  Really?  Two of mine have spent this week being sick, and the other one is fretting about the fact that he might not remember his lines in the school nativity play tomorrow.

“Tis the season, for love and understanding.”  Or, to be more accurate, the season for being in the office till late, wondering how on earth you’re going to get everything finished.  And when it comes to ‘understanding’ within a family, that’s easier said than done.  I’m still not convinced my gran has forgiven me for failing to pay in the £10 cheque she sent me in June.

The more Christmas looms, the more I realise my own inadequacies as a parent.  Every film, TV programme and advert paints an idyllic picture of family life – but behind closed doors, there’s a baby trying to climb inside the dishwasher, a 3-year-old who thinks it would be a great idea to draw a Christmas tree on the kitchen cupboard, and a 5-year-old who’s so worried about delivering the line “We’re going to Bethlehem”, you’d think he was auditioning for RADA (to be fair, he’s obviously VERY talented, having beaten every other boy in his class to the role of Joseph.  And no, I’m not competitive at all).

This is our first Christmas with three children – and to be honest, if we can get to the big day without having some kind of meltdown, it’ll be a miracle on a par with the virgin birth.  In a moment of madness, no doubt brought about by a sleepless night, we thought it would be a good idea to host ten adults on Christmas Day.  We’d just about got our heads round what we were cooking (answer: turkey, and lots of it) when my dad phoned with a classic question:

“I’ve been thinking…”, he rather ominously announced.  “Are we having turkey on Christmas Day?”

I confirmed his suspicions.

“Do you think we should have duck as well?”

Clearly not.

“I’d quite like duck.”

That’s nice.  But you’re not having duck.  We don’t have room in the oven for a duck.

“No problem.  Tell you what, I’ll just part-cook it at home, then we can finish it off in your oven when we arrive.  Everyone else can have turkey, and I’ll have my own little plate of duck.”

YOU’RE NOT HAVING DUCK.

All this is exacerbated by the fact that in my day job, Christmas is the most manic time of the year.  There are seemingly endless carol concerts to attend and special programmes to make, all of which result in even less time than usual to write cards or buy presents.  Yesterday, we reached the low point of running out of toilet roll – so frankly, I’m not sure how we can be expected to write loving messages to our nearest and dearest when we don’t even have the ability to defecate with dignity.

I’ve decided: in our house, we’re not going to try to live up to some unachievable festive ideal.  Apologies in advance, but we won’t be sending any Christmas cards (except to my gran, to thank her for that ten quid in the summer).  We will see no shame in cooking stuff out of a packet, and if we manage to get out of our pyjamas by midday during the holidays, we’ll consider it a bonus.  And while the world around us insists this coming weekend should be about “feeding the cake” (IT’S NOT A MAMMAL) and making your own Christmas wreath, I’m going to escape to Paris for two nights with my wife, to celebrate her 30th birthday in the presence of ABSOLUTELY NO CHILDREN WHATSOEVER (well, none of our own, at least).

Given that we’re going to Paris, I might even pick up a confit de canard for my dad.  He can have it on Boxing Day.

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The truth about cowboys…

The Magnificent Seven

My little boy, who still seems very little to me, is now in Year 1 at school.  I still find this hard to believe: the memory of squeamishly cutting the cord when he was born is there in my mind, ever present, as if it happened only yesterday.  Can he really be five years old already?

As our kids grow up, us parents have to permanently adjust to new situations: there’s the whole ‘THEY CAN EAT SOLIDS!’ and ‘THEY CAN POO IN THE POTTY!’ stuff, which is either deliriously exciting or rather tedious depending on your point of view – and then, when they get a little older, we have to deal with the practice of letting go and allowing other adults to also shape our little ones’ lives and experiences.

I tend to take a fairly relaxed view of this kind of thing, figuring that it’s a good idea for my children to be influenced by other, more responsible adults than me.  Admittedly, when my own dad encouraged my son to light the fireworks on Bonfire Night I was slightly more protective than usual (I know what my own father can be like with his attitude to safety: this was the man who once left the cover off the cesspit, which certainly didn’t amuse my mum when she fell straight into it and was left clinging to the vegetable patch in order to avoid getting completely submerged) but on the whole, I like to see my children learning from other adults.

This is never more the case that when it comes to my son’s experience at school.  It’s been great to hear about the ways in which he’s learning about the world, and to occasionally be able to watch him discovering something completely new myself (although I fear he still hasn’t got over his encounter with Neanderthal Woman at the National History Museum):

NHM

I did, however, have mild cause for concern recently when it came to the subject of his education.  Flicking through what was on television on Sunday afternoon, I came across The Magnificent Seven – a sure-fire hit for a five-year-old boy.  He gleefully watched the cowboys on-screen and, a moment later, some rather evil-looking men appeared, brandishing guns.

 “I know who they are, Dad,” my son confidently declared. 

I let him explain… 

“THEY…are the Catholics.”

I was sure I must have misheard him.  Nope…

“The Catholics, Dad.  They’ve got guns.”

What had his teachers been telling him?  I needed to know more about my five-year-old’s unfounded religious bigotry.  Tempted as I was to call his mum into the room to continue the conversation from hereon in, I thought I should bite the bullet (if you’ll pardon the pun).  

“That’s interesting.  Why do you think they’re Catholics?”

“Because they’ve got guns and they’re going to kill the king.”

After a little more gentle questioning, it transpired that his class had been learning about the Gunpowder Plot at school.  The men on the screen had guns.  Therefore, they must be Catholics.  End of story.  Life really is wonderfully simple when you’re only five years old.

We talked about cowboys for a bit, and about Catholics for a little longer.  My boy now knows they’re not necessarily one and the same.  So, the lady he spends six hours a day with every weekday is not, on closer examination, teaching him anything fundamentally intolerant – which is a relief, to be honest, because we’ve only got 10 minutes with her at parents’ evening next week, and that really wouldn’t be long enough to discuss our son’s spelling test AND her views on inciting religious hatred. 

Oh, to be a pensioner…

Old woman

It would be fair to say that there’s not a lot in common between my octogenarian grandmother and my three-year-old daughter – but they do share some similarities, mainly by virtue of how old they both are.  Have you ever noticed how only the very old and the very young feel the need to tell you their exact age  (“I’m eighty four!”, “I’m three–and–three–quarters!”, and the like)?  Those at the extremes of the age spectrum can also get away with being extremely rude to other people, given that it can supposedly be explained away by the fact that they’re either past the point of no return or have yet to understand how they should behave.  Never more so than with food: they have no qualms about being really fussy about what they will or won’t eat, and nor are they afraid of telling whoever’s cooked it that it’s a bit dry/cold/hot/not as good as the one someone else makes.

I was pondering all this the other day, thinking about what age is the best to be, EVER.  I’m quite looking forward to being a pensioner, for all the reasons outlined above; however, whilst I’m sure there are many advantages to being a lairy old man, I reckon life really doesn’t get much better than when you’re aged three – especially if, as in the case with our three-year-old, your older brother is also your best mate.

We have three kids, the youngest of whom is frankly so smiley and easy we’re very glad we had her last, otherwise she’d have lulled us into a totally false sense of security before any siblings came on the scene.  But, for all the sleepless nights and general chaos caused by our first two so far in their little lives, I wouldn’t change it for a moment.  And now that they’re a little older, it’s amazing to see their friendship and closeness together grow stronger and stronger.  Our three-year-old looks up to her big brother like he’s some kind of superhero, and he completely adores her.

Happy kids

Is it always this way, though?  NO CHANCE.

Despite the fact that they’re best buddies, and we have all sorts of photos which perpetuate the fallacy that our home is a permanently harmonious one, the reality is often rather different.

We now live in a world where the impression we give of our own parenting to everyone else is an increasingly sanitised one.  In the 1980s, the done thing was to take a few photos of your family, put them in an album, and leave it on the shelf somewhere to gather dust (my mum also kept my umbilical cord in a photo album, but I suspect that would never be classed as normal behaviour, no matter what the decade).  Nowadays, everyone’s Facebooking and Instagramming pictures of their happy children, with nostalgic hues of colour around the borders of the photos to give them a feel of some idyllic snapshot of a bygone age.  A quick scroll through my Facebook news feed reveals babies sleeping soundly, siblings sat eating ice cream together, and glorious family walks in the autumn sunshine.  Everyone’s smiling, everyone’s happy, every parent seems to want to give you the impression that it’s all rose-tinted and glass-half-full where they are.  All of which can make you feel completely inadequate when your children have begun the day by refusing to wear any underwear or threatening to flush their sibling’s favourite teddy down the toilet.

Young kids – or at least, the young kids who live in my house – regularly fight, bicker and cause all sorts of ridiculous arguments over something you or I would describe as completely inconsequential.  Nevertheless, I’m left in no doubt that there are an awful lot of benefits to being little.  That sweet spot between toddler age and going to school is a particularly wonderful time: no responsibilities, days filled with fun and, in the case of my middle one, a big brother who, most of the time at least, loves to keep her entertained.

What’s more, when it all gets a bit too much, it’s entirely acceptable for a three-year-old to go and have some time out in the laundry basket – something I think those of us who are a little older wouldn’t object to doing, either, given half the chance…

M

What’s in a name?

Road Rage

For the last few weeks, I’m pretty sure that about 70% of my conversations with my eldest two kids have revolved around names.  In particular, not calling other people names that are completely inappropriate.  This ranges from their descriptions of me (as my two-year-old calls out “have a good day at work, Farty Pants!” every single morning, I can only be thankful that we’re not anywhere public) through to how they talk about other relatives (“Grandad’s a scallywag”, “Hello Mr Underpants” – you get the picture).

It’s a tough one, this: you want your kids to have fun and be able to mess around, but when their primary name for you is inspired by flatulence you know you need to start to draw some boundaries.  The problem, of course – as with all aspects of parenting – is that you have to practise what you preach.  There’s no point doing the pious get-down-on-their-level-and-explain-what’s-right-and-wrong thing unless they then look at you and then see someone who’s a model of manners and respect.

Most of the time, I like to think I’m a relatively polite and friendly individual, not particularly prone to anger or inappropriate language.  Note my use of the word ‘Most’.  Today was one of those exceptions to the norm…

Everything was going so well: as a family, we were being gloriously antisocial, hanging out together and doing all sorts of fun Saturday morning activities – pottering about, sorting the garden, that kind of thing.  Me and the eldest two headed off to the dump at one point, and even the struggle to get a cumbersome piece of old furniture out of the car on my own didn’t dampen my spirits.  The drive home was sunny, there was the smell of summer in the air, and everyone seemed to be very glass-half-full about life.  Everyone except the old man in the car behind us…

As we arrived home, he hooted his horn.  And then, in very quick succession, he did it again.  And again.  All because I was reversing into our drive, and he wanted to get past.  Shaking his wizened fist at me, and with the look of a villain from a Roald Dahl story, he instantly managed to fire up a torrent of anger and indignance within me.

I couldn’t quite believe he was getting cross about the fact that I’d arrived at my destination (what did he expect me to do?  Continue to wherever he was going and park just in front of his chosen space?) and I’m not proud of the behaviour that followed.  Although I am quite proud of the fact that I only swore under my breath.

The main issue in all this is that the kids rejoiced in telling their mum about “that STUPID IDIOT” on the drive home.  In a remarkable show of memory, they happily relayed every single one of my descriptions of the septuagenarian road-rager, before going on to tell me how it wasn’t really nice to say nasty things about other people or call them names.  Well, quite.

I guess it’s not all bad: after all, it’s surely important for your kids to see you arguing occasionally, or getting cross, or not doing the right thing.  Just as they’re learning about the world around them as they grow up, so we’re learning how to parent as we go along – and it’s healthy for them to know we’re not perfect.

Whether or not it’s healthy for my two-year-old to now know the phrase “silly arse” is another question altogether…

Life’s Big Questions…

Question mark

 “I’m really scared, Dad.”  So began a conversation with my little lad the other night, when he appeared at our bedroom door after I thought he’d long-since drifted off to sleep.  “When are you going to die?”  Before I could attempt some kind of meaningful answer to such a significant question, he immediately followed it up with another thought which, in his mind, was just as important: “And also, Dad, I’m very sad because when I’m at the really big school, my scooter won’t be big enough for me any more.”

I can’t really remember my parents’ approach to tackling life’s big questions with me when I was four – but when it comes to how I’m handling things, I tend to just muddle on through.  Despite my best intentions, and the fact that I know these questions will definitely come up at some point, things rarely go to plan.  I’m still slightly scarred by the whole ‘tadpoles and eggs’ conversation about how babies are made, and the look of utter confusion on my son’s face when I tried to explain to him the meaning of life is something I’ll never forget (more on that here: https://diaryofadesperatedad.com/2012/12/12/the-birds-and-the-balls/).  When it comes to the cheery topic of death, it’s surely even more important to try and give your child a vaguely acceptable answer.

One of the challenges of having school-age kids is that you can no longer sugar-coat everything in life – and nor should you.  Our middle one, who’s nearly three, still has a blissfully positive and rosy approach: everyone is presumed to be a friend rather than a foe; days are filled with fun activities and play-dates galore; and life’s big questions have yet to make their mark.  But by the time you’re nearly five, you have an understanding of the world around you, and an awareness that not everything is always as it should be.  So as a parent, when your child tearily asks you about dying, it’s not really acceptable to tell them everything will always be okay.  Setting your kids up with a false sense of security is pretty irresponsible; but equally, telling them that, you know, Dad may well die tomorrow or contract some kind of hideous illness, isn’t exactly the right thing to do either.

I therefore tried to explain a few things to him: Mum and Dad would hopefully be alive until he’s a really big grown-up; if anything ever happens to me, Mum will be here to look after him and his sisters; and there are so many people who love him – grandparents, godparents, friends of ours he delights in playing with – that there wouldn’t be any shortage of adults to do the stuff he enjoys doing with Dad.  To be honest, I was quite pleased with my answer (it was certainly better than the tadpole one).  I felt I’d been clear, without overdoing the detail, and I was confident I’d given him a response that even my wife would have been quite impressed with.

So, I waited for a moment, allowing him to take it all in.  And then he looked at me, rolled his eyes, and sighed.  “That’s fine, Dad – but what about my scooter?”

Happy families?

Toasted marshmallows

We have a family quotes book at home.  There are all sorts of gems in there, many of which have come from the mouths of our kids over the last five years.  My favourite is probably “You’re ACTUALLY worse than Mussolini” which I apparently said to my wife in March 2011 (although neither of us can remember the context), closely followed by “Dad – you’ve got lovely footprints”, an astute observation made by my son in May last year.

Yesterday, a new entry made its way in, as I found myself irately saying to our four-year-old and two-year-old that oft-repeated phrase, “My name is NOT Mr Underpants – it is DAD.”  This was the end result of a completely farcical bedtime routine, during which time they both proceeded to want a story, want another drink, want to share a bed, want me to sing them a song, want a wee, and then not want a wee after all.  After getting progressively more irate with them as the minutes ticked by, they then clearly read my mood very well by beginning some kind of football-like chant in my direction, in which their father took on the new name of Mr Underpants who had his own special song.

It’s often the most ridiculous things that tip you over the edge as a parent.  After a busy day at work and a frustrating commute home, it should be joyous to have two excitable little kids calling you a silly name.  And often, it really is.  But just sometimes, when they’re trying your patience and you can’t think of how to make them stop, it can all too easily make you feel like you’re dealing with nightmare children.  The other day, I actually found myself telling our eldest to “grow up”, and had to immediately remind myself that he’s only four and, you know, the wonderful thing about being four is that you really don’t have to grow up just yet.

Sometimes, though, the pressure to have a good time with your kids can only make matters worse.  We had an experience like this on holiday last week: my wife and I had set up a barbecue, put up a wind-break, assembled the outdoor table and chairs and generally put ourselves through a right old mission, all in the name of having some Enforced Family Fun.  The five of us would eat merrily in the Cornish sun outside the little van we were staying in, the children would laugh happily, and we’d all have toasted marshmallows at the end.  Or so the theory went…

The reality was rather different: the wind blew a gale, the kids didn’t want any meat, and the barbecue burned through its foil base to singe the nicely manicured lawn underneath.  But the marshmallows – they were a guaranteed winner, surely?  This one was non-negotiable – so when Child Number 2 decided she wouldn’t even try one from the barbecue, we weren’t having any of it.  “You’ll love it!” we cried; “you have to try JUST ONE.”

Why did she have to?   What possessed us to think this was some kind of essential ritual for every two-year-old?  We’d built Marshmallowgate into such a big issue that suddenly, it wasn’t possible for our little girl to just eat a date stick instead.  And the result?  Well…

DSC_0163

Is it just us?  Or do any other parents suddenly find themselves having gone down a path of We Must Do This Because It’s What We’ve Planned…for no apparent reason?

Suffice to say, me and my wife ate all the marshmallows.  We felt a bit sick afterwards, but we were comforted by the happy sound of our kids singing Mr Underpants in the caravan.

Perfect day?

Lou Reed

 

Lou Reed had a pretty clear idea of what a perfect day should contain.  According to that great singer, it goes something like this: “Just a perfect day, feed animals in the zoo.  Then later, a movie, too – and then home.”  In the Jackson family, today was meant to be one of those days.  It was even set to include our very own version of feeding the animals in the zoo: a trip to an Italian restaurant with our three kids plus my gran in tow.  But whereas Lou’s perfect day had a decidedly happy ending, ours was altogether more fraught and ridiculous, proving it’s impossible to predict how life with a young family is going to turn out on a day-to-day basis.

For the second day running, the fun and games started at 6am, with arguments about who really needed a wee the most.  On this occasion, the two-year-old won the much-coveted race to the toilet, sending the four-year-old into a fit of entirely disproportionate despair.  After six hours of on-the-edge behaviour from all three children, we finally managed to bundle them all into the car and head off for lunch with my gran.  And that’s where it all started to go badly wrong.

Already running slightly late, we turned up at the restaurant to be immediately greeted by a friendly waiter, who smiled and rather perceptively commented: “you must be Sam.”  I confirmed his suspicions.  “Your gran’s not here,” he continued.  “Her car won’t start.  So she’s phoned to ask if you could go and pick her up.”  Right, back in the car, to drive the two miles to her retirement village, leaving my wife to order anything on the menu that would keep our children’s feral behaviour at bay.  Ten minutes later, after battling the Sunday afternoon traffic, I’m there.  But crucially, she’s not.  Gran’s gone for a wander, it seems…

After walking around the retirement village for a bit and being given more than a few suspicious looks, I jump in the car to retrace my steps.  Patience is not something my gran is blessed with in abundance; could she have given up waiting for me and decided to walk to the restaurant, despite her dodgy hip and much-needed stick?

A mile and a half later, there’s still no sign of her.  I call my wife.  Her mobile rings.  I can hear it on the seat next to me.  This is not good.

Back to the retirement village I go, by this point convinced that Gran is either stuck on her stairlift or has jumped in a car with someone who looks a little bit like me.  The banging on her door and shouting through her letterbox wakes the gentleman in Flat 3, but she remains missing.  I’m just about to go and ask the warden for a key (by this point, I’ve convinced myself that I’ll have to start organising Gran’s funeral in a matter of hours) when the restaurant phones.  Gran has arrived – but my wife apparently has no idea how she got there.

By the time I return, this formidable octogenarian is necking a large glass of wine and recovering from what she’s since revealed was a two-mile trek on foot.  After berating me for not noticing her waving her umbrella from the cycle path she’d decided to walk down, we eventually tuck into lunch.  All is going very well until the two-year-old vomits her entire meal over herself, her mum, and the floor.  At this point, all I want to do is nick Gran’s wine and down the remainder of what’s in the glass.

After the inevitable clean-up operation, our day continued to get ever more bizarre and unpredictable.  I provided a shuttle service at the end of the meal to get everyone back to Gran’s flat – a place I genuinely believe may be hotter than the sun – where my wife and I were then encouraged to go through a pile of belongings she no longer wanted (but which she thought would be perfect for us).  My highlight was a VHS of my school jazz band in 1998; my wife’s was a used washing-up brush with food in the bristles.

On the way home, we had to call in on 91-year-old Auntie Jane (why did we agree to do this on the same day?  WHY?).  On arrival, she appeared to be watching some kind of soft porn video: a man and a woman, both topless, were lying in bed kissing, whilst some rather inoffensive piano music played underneath.  We were assured it was just a home video (well, quite) from the 1970s, which featured all sorts of family members performing in a play Auntie Jane had written herself, so we didn’t protest any further.

Once home, teatime involved the usual kids-based carnage, and we eventually got our little monkeys into bed a couple of hours ago.  What.  A.  Day.

This morning, someone mentioned to me how lovely it was that Sunday can still be a day of rest.  Next Sunday, they’re having my kids for 24 hours – and I might see if they’d like to hang out with a few of my elderly relatives for the afternoon, too…

Happy families?

Holiday

Sometimes, as a parent, it’s easy to think you’ve got everything under control.  “Well, this isn’t as tricky as people make out,” you smugly say to yourself, as your kids play happily together and you can, for once, actually see your living room carpet underneath the mass of naked (and therefore slightly demonic) dolls and little pieces of feet-destroying Lego.  Those rare moments of domestic bliss are what you cling to for the majority of the time – because unfortunately, any parent who tries to convince themselves that their life is anything other than hideously chaotic is lying through their teeth.

Since becoming a dad, one of my observations has been how quickly the definition of what’s normal changes.  Before having kids, I wouldn’t have taken kindly to someone walking into the bathroom while I was sitting on the toilet.  Now, it’s become entirely commonplace for a toddler to be attempting to make a den with the loo roll while I’m trying to use it for entirely different purposes.  Similarly, there was once a time, not all that long ago, when I’d think it more than a little strange to wake up with more than one person lying next to me in my bed.  Nowadays, I’m lucky if there’s any space for me at all by the time it gets to 4am.  So it was with a slight sense of trepidation that we booked a holiday away with friends earlier this month.  Has our definition of normality changed so dramatically that our family habits are now not fit for consumption outside our own household?

Thankfully, our Easter trip was a resounding success – even though the idea of two families going away together is one of those things that’s meant to permanently ruin a friendship.  When I was little, it’s not something we ever did, and there are plenty of nightmare stories which suggest my mum and dad were wise to avoid trying to play happy families with other people.  I remember them tentatively trying it once with a family who lived over the road, just for an evening.  We played the board game Scattergories; they expressed amazement that we might win a round against them, given that they went to private school and we didn’t.  They weren’t invited back.  Another horror story I once heard involved two families with young kids going on a summer holiday together.  The parents clearly had different ideas about how to spend their evenings: one pair wanted to relax and leave the washing up until the morning; the other basically wanted to deep-clean the apartment each night and lay the table for breakfast the following day, with no speck of dust left visible to the naked eye.  Not only did they not return for a holiday en masse the following year, it seriously threatened the health of their friendship in the long-term (and for the avoidance of doubt, can we please agree right now that the family who couldn’t be arsed to do the washing up were 100% in the right?).

So, what are the must-haves for any holiday with another family?  Firstly, it’s no use booking a break purely on the basis that the adults get on marvellously well.  If the kids can’t stand each other, you’ll all be miserable.  Secondly, you have to be genuinely willing to let your friends tell your kids off if they’re being irritating.  Holidays are too short to worry about whether it’s your own child you’re disciplining, or if the little monster in question actually belongs to someone else.  Next, it’s crucial to embrace the idea that you don’t have to DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER ALL THE TIME AND KEEP SMILING BECAUSE ISN’T IT JUST SO LOVELY AND FUN TO BE ON HOLIDAY TOGETHER!  Sometimes, it’s not.  We all need our own space.  Spending every single waking moment with my own family fills me with enough trepidation sometimes, without having to factor in someone else’s wife and children – and I’m sure the feeling’s mutual.  And finally, if you have high expectations about the amount of quality time you’ll all get as adults in the evenings, think again.  Chances are, there’ll always be at least one child who’s either being a nightmare or having a nightmare, and you’re more likely to find yourself pouring the Calpol than pouring the wine.

Anyway, our holiday was great fun, full of laughs and happy children and an awful lot of swimming.  We all fed our kids far too much chocolate, rejoiced in being up ridiculously early most mornings, and went to bed very tired but very content.  Our next challenge will be half-term with the grandparents in May.  Wish us luck…

Your mum…or your man?

maternity ward

One thing I’ve discovered about parenting is that it’s awash with code words, hidden meanings and seemingly endless medical jargon.  If you thought learning Mandarin was hard, try deciphering some of the maternity-speak that frequently gets bandied around.  From NCT to VBAC, via the epidural and the ever-so-delightful ‘sweep’ (if you don’t know, don’t ask), becoming a dad involves having to learn a whole new lingo.  There are the hidden questions too, my favourite being when the midwife asks: “And who will be your birth partner?” – roughly translated as “Will HE be in there with you, or will you be bringing your mum instead?”

The whole “birth partner” issue kicked off online this week, thanks to an article on the Telegraph’s Wonder Women blog (I follow them on Twitter.  Don’t judge me, alright?).  Basically, the whole question was whether or not women should allow the father of their soon-to-be-born child to be present with them on the labour ward.  Now admittedly, as has been highlighted in these quarters before, I don’t exactly have an unblemished record in this area when it comes to the birth of my own children.  Moments after my son was born, I got mistaken for a doctor and merrily went along with it for a moment, directing a couple of patients to some ward or other (I was in medical scrubs at the time, and a little delirious).  It probably wasn’t the most responsible thing to do, but I do remember it felt quite daring and Mr Bean-esque.  And then at the birth of my first daughter, I did what every birth partner is surely prone to do, accidentally walking in on the wrong woman in labour.  My excuse?  It was very early in the morning, I’d been up for hours, and I just got a little bit confused about which room my wife was in after I’d popped out to the loo.  But by the time child number three arrived, I like to think I was a model example in the role – which surely qualifies me to now speak as an authority on the subject.

A quick disclaimer here, before the inevitable whinges: yes, I realise that it’s the woman giving birth, and yes, of course it should ultimately be her choice as to who’s in the room with her, and YES, I wholeheartedly agree that a midwife saying “now then, sweetheart, I’m just going to stitch you up – there’s a bit of a tear down there” isn’t what any man wants to hear being said to his wife.  But still, the idea of excluding dads from such a fundamental, exciting and, yes, raw experience is something that shouldn’t be done lightly.

You see, the world around us would have us believe that having a baby is all soft-focus and sugar-coated.  The adverts are full of grinning parents cooing over a (probably) airbrushed baby, breastfeeding mothers whose breasts are unfeasibly pert, and fathers with perfect teeth and jumpers with no bobbles on them.  No one’s got any baby sick on their shoulder, there’s not a knackered face in sight, and when it comes to the delivery room, with the exception of the brilliant One Born Every Minute there’s very little reality on show.  Dads need that dose of reality, too: it helps us understand just a little of what new mums are going through, and how extreme and exhausting the whole process of being in labour has been.

Being present at the birth of my three children has deepened my relationship with my wife.  It’s given me an even greater respect for her (there’s nothing like witnessing someone pushing a baby out to make you reconsider your definition of extreme pain), it’s helped us both to realise that we truly can tackle things together as a team, and it’s also reminded me that there are certain times in your life when your really do need to stop taking a look at other people’s photos on Facebook and instead focus on the task in hand (to be clear: it was me on Facebook, not her.  That really would have been impressive multi-tasking).

If I’d relinquished my birth partner role, I’d never be able to tell my son about the moment when, just after he’d been born, the German anaesthetist got confused over the conversion rate between pounds and kilograms, consequently telling me that the boy I was holding probably weighed “about 13 pounds”.  I’d be robbed of explaining to my first daughter about the time she was born, when Daddy witnessed two ladies giving birth – one of whom, at least, was definitely her mum.  And I’d never be able to regale my youngest with the tale of how the dodgy wheelchair with a mind of its own seriously risked her being born in the hospital canteen if I hadn’t managed to get it under control and transport my wife up the correct corridor to the maternity unit.

So, mums-to-be – us dads realise that when it comes to talking about how dilated you are in labour, or exactly where you’d packed the breast pads in the hospital bag, or how painful your perineum feels after that episiotomy, many of you would instinctively turn to your mum rather than us (to be fair, in the case of the final example we’d definitely rather you did so, too).  And yes, as modern, 21st-century dads who know how to cook a risotto and might even admit to having shed a little tear when we watched Love Actually, we fully embrace the notion of an empowered woman’s right to choose who’s in that room with her when she’s in the throws of giving birth.  But please: think carefully before you pick your mum over your man.  Although you might reckon it best to leave us out of the equation, in years to come you’ll look back and laugh with us at how utterly ridiculous, amazing, terrifying and bizarre the whole process of having a baby is.  And your baby, who by that point may well be taller than you both, will probably thank you for it.

(That original Telegraph article I mentioned is a good read.  You’ll find it here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/mother-tongue/9936269/Keep-Daddy-out-of-the-delivery-room.html)

A new Aston Martin – for just £2000…

Silver Cross pram

I have a confession to make: occasionally, I find newborn babies to be quite boring.  I realise this is a terrible thing to say, as someone who is currently in possession of one myself.  But let’s face it: all babies really do is eat and poo.  They don’t even sleep much.  And whatever their parents proclaim, most babies look exactly the same.  That’s not to say I’m not over the moon to be a dad to little ones, or that I don’t love them (I cried like a baby, appropriately enough, when each of my three children was born).  Let’s be honest, though: kids only really start getting interesting from around a year onwards.  Before that point, it’s a pretty hard slog.  Yes, you love them like crazy; yes, you feel so unbelievably blessed to have these precious people in your life; but it’s still exhausting and, often, unrewarding.

One thing all babies have in their favour, though, is that their needs are very simple.  A bit of food, the occasional nappy change and a roof over their heads is all that’s required.  Despite this, the marketeers would have you believe that you’re at risk of being arrested for child neglect if you don’t spend your hard-earned cash on a whole load of baby-related tat.  And this week, the idea of must-haves for newborns reached a new nadir with the announcement that Aston Martin have teamed up with Silver Cross to create “the most exclusive pram in the world.”

The Silver Cross Surf (Aston Martin edition) will only be available in Harrods – obviously – and will have all sorts of luxury features including “air-ride suspension” (eh?) and a certificate of authenticity, something that will obviously be of great use when trying to lug the thing into the boot of the car or cart it onto the bus.  Further design details included to tempt the cash-rich clowns who’ll buy this product are its suede-lined seat pad (how do you clean the vomit off that one?) and its fully reclining seat – factors which, according to a Silver Cross spokesman, means “this really is a must-have for the most fast-paced lifestyle.”

Must have?  MUST HAVE?  I’ll tell you, Mr Silver Cross Spokesman, what a must-have is: breast milk.  Honestly, have a word with yourself.

It’s an extreme, obviously – but this kind of nonsense is one of the things that just makes me look forward to my little ones getting past the baby stage.  A couple of months ago, on the day I went to collect my wife and Child Number 3 from the hospital, I nearly got a parking ticket because someone had turned up on the ward, camera in hand, to try to flog us a ‘photo memory pack’ there and then.  Dazed and knackered, we ended up just letting the woman take a load of photos, benignly agreeing that yes, it would indeed be lovely to get a photo of our wedding rings entwined around our newborn’s face – and of course, you’re absolutely right, eighty quid is such a small price to pay for such a precious memory.

So, although most of us won’t have the spare cash to waste a couple of grand on a pram, it’s still easy to end up frittering away your hard-earned money on a whole load of other nonsense that, let’s be honest, most little ones won’t even notice.  What’s more, just as all babies are strikingly similar, the one thing you’ll discover about all prams is that no matter how much they cost, you’ll still never, ever be able to get the sodding thing to steer in the right direction when you’re running horrendously late.