When do children learn abstract thought? The idea that something may be seen as something else?
With kids it’s usually quite simplistic. Recently, S, my second son (now around two years old) held up an oatcake he was munching, looked at where he’d taken a crescent-shaped bite out of it and said: “Moon!”
Showered with praise for his inventive, creative thought processes it got me thinking: “When did that happen?” Perhaps it was always there, only S has finally learned the communication skills to go with his thought processes (we’re still on one or two word ‘sentences’).
However, as with all these things, it can backfire so it inevitably did. In public.
For some reason S is obsessed with owls. It may well be down to Meg & Mog some of his favourite books (for unitiated Meg, a witch, is accompanied on various madcap adventures by Mog, her cat, and the imaginatively named Owl).
The obsession with owls has extended into drawing (one of his favourite activities). Every time the pen and paper comes out he will hold out the pen expectantly to the nearest parent and ask “Owl? Owl?” repeatedly, until you draw him an owl. Two circles for eyes, a beak and wings usually do the trick. Thankfully, for me, he’s doesn’t demand a life-like representation.
As a result every time S sees two cirlces, even moderately close to one another he chimes up with “Owl! Owl!” until you acknowledge him with a “Yes, it does look like an owl, doesn’ t it?” Temporarily sated he’ll move on until he finds something else he can liken to an owl, the moon or one of his other limited vocabulary of words.
The innocence of childhood
Last weekend we went, as a family, into town. S was moving up the transport ladder of life and had taken over B’s scooter — so B needed a new, bigger one. New scooter assembled we headed to a nearby park to let the two boys try out their respective wheels, whilst my wife got our youngest to sleep.
The park in question is not in a great area of town, it’s a bit of a hang-out place for drunks late at night but at about three in the afternoon we were safe enough.
Not safe from graffiti though, sadly. Slap bang in the middle of the path to the park some ‘wit’ had drawn a large, spray-painted cock. And not a feathered one.
It was pretty basic: a domed penis head and two large, round, spherical testicals.
It was inevitable. It wasn’t his fault. How was he to know? To be fair to him, we did approach ‘it’ upside down… with ‘it’ pointing towards us as it were… and the balls at the top.
S saw it… screeched to a halt and looked at me, joy lighting up his face. “Owl! OWL!” he yelled, grinning and pointing. Passers-by were slowing down to see what he was shouting about. Much mirth all round as, slightly pink-of-cheek I said: “Yes darling, it does look like an owl, doesn’t it?”
Yet another page to add to the list of ‘Things to embarass your kids with when they’re older’ file. It’s filling up nicely.
My man ranking is at an all time high.
For those that don’t know what a man ranking is allow me to explain. It’s basically how useful as a stereotypical man you are. We’re talking lifting heavy things; fixing stuff… you know, the sort of stuff your Dad was (or was supposed to be) good at.
Before all the feminists leap on me I’m aware that women are good at that stuff too — indeed, they’re usually better than me. Until recently my “man ranking” has been pretty low, bordering on non-existent. Even my wife (who loves me dearly, bless her) has so little faith in my ‘manliness’ that the minute anything breaks she’s reaching for the Yellow Pages, lest I try my DIY on it.
My DIY usually amounts to “Y I Don’t” — the main reason being, I usually make things worse.
However, with three kids in the house “calling out a man to do it” isn’t as financially viable as it used to be.
Therefore, in recent weeks I have:
- removed our old integrated dishwasher;
- installed and plumbed in a new dishwasher;
- trimmed the skirting board to fit aforementioned new dishwasher;
- fixed a flooding sink;
- removed a room full of carpet and (more exhaustingly) heaved said carpet into the loft pretty much single-handed (carpet is heavy!)
Now, that little lot may not sound like much. In my house, I am now almost akin to the Andy McNabb of DIY. Adding in that I carted the heavy kitchen appliances into and out of our garage on my tod and I also have the glow of Herculean strength too. I was practically bellowing “Grrrr… I am man!” come the end of it.
It’s all extremely stereotypical and unnecessary. However, having kids changes your perspective on a lot of things. I know see everything I do through the prism of my children’s eyes. Even the watchful gaze of my wife has a new filter, that of “mother of my children”.
I want to protect them all, to provide for them, to shelter them from all that is bad, dark or evil. I want to make it that, when they turn on the tap water comes out… and preferably not all over their shoes.
Midway through plumbing in the dishwasher, when I just could not a crucial pipe undone (forgetting that for some reason, some plumbing washer turn the ‘wrong’ way) I was almost in tears.
The stark reality of having to “call a man” to come and fix my latest cock-up was drilling into my soul. Through the prism of my kids’ eyes I saw “This man can do it, because Daddy can’t…” It was almost too much to bear.
When I finally thought to try turning the washer the ‘wrong’ way the eureka moment as it came undone was like a Cup Final goal.
See? Daddy can do it. Sometimes. And for all other times, there’s Mummy.
My son is a masochist. Well, kind of… but more likely I need to exercise the judgement of my 30+ years and help B (four years old) deciding what is and isn’t fun/funny.
Recently we’ve been enjoying playing this game where I adopt a silly, high-pitched voice and talk ‘as him’ — saying hilariously unlikely things such as: “I’ve had such a lovely day today Daddy, I’m going to tidy up without making any fuss and go straight to bed.” which is met with gales of laughter and a snorted: “Nah!” as we both know he is extremely unlikely to say that. It’s a bit like a ventriloquist act – but with B as both dummy and audience and he didn’t even need to sit on my knee!
That’s the game. Complex, I know. And trouble-free, right?
Many times now B will request: “Daddy – do funny talking as me.” and the game will renew with ‘me-B’ saying more and more unlikely things.
Now, as any Dad will know, the laughter of your children is a rush no drug can replicate. Making someone that important in your life happy, nay so happy they laugh to the point of struggling for breath is a magic that never wears thin.
When B requested the “funny talking” one bath time I had my ‘act’ down pat. Warming to my task and feeding off my audience I had ‘me-B’ saying more and more unlikely things. The more unlikely the funnier it was, apparently.
“Um… Daddy.” high-pitched ‘me-B’ squeaked. “I’ve decided I don’t like my toys any more… no… so I’d like you to put them all in boxes and give them to charity – yes, thank you, ‘bye!” me-B concluded — cue rivers of laughter from B. “Again! More!” real B chimed.
“Yes and Daddy…” me B went on “I don’t really need a bed any more, no. You can sell my bed and I’ll have a cardboard box instead… and I won’t need a duvet, just a blanket… made of nettles.” me-B continued, revving up. Gales of laughter. “Again! MORE!” real B managed to snort.
Part of me was thinking “How can he enjoy this? It’s really mean!” but then, the fact it was so unlikely was kinda the point. As ever, despite my subconscious alarm bells, I pressed on.
“Yes and Daddy…” me-B chirped, finding gaps between real B’s hoots of laughter to talk, “I won’t need Uncle Simon either… you can throw him in the bin.”
At this point you should know ‘Uncle Simon’ is B’s teddy of choice. My wife an I desperately tried to avoid having a teddy of choice for the precise reason they don’t last. We’d seen too many parents retracing their steps looking for the lost ‘Bobby the badger’ or ‘Timmy the teddy’ with tear-stained kid in tow; or having to drive the 300-miles back to Grannys house to retrieve said teddy; or re-stitching teddy’s arm on for the 500th time to the point teddy’s arm was more stiching than arm.
No, we knew better. Teddies on rotation, he won’t get attached to any particular one then. Sorted. Except he did get attached to one. A toy giraffe. Said giraffe was given to him by my brother-in-law so there was only one option when we asked the then 3-ish-year-old B what to call him.
The trouble that has caused with various baby-sitters is another story (imagine your child telling the baby-sitter: “I need Uncle Simon! I can’t go to bed without Uncle Simon!”)
Anyway — ‘me-B’ had gone a step too far. Invoking Uncle Simon was always a bad idea. Threatening to put Uncle Simon “in the bin” was beyond the limit.
From gales of laughter B’s face crumpled. “Then I’d be really sad!” he wailed and my heart shattered. Whilst nothing makes a parent’s heart soar like making their kids laugh; making them cry is the opposite in every way.
Masses of reassurance, cuddles and “It was only a game” followed. In the thrill of entertaining him with my ‘hilarious wit’ I’d forgotten something important: he’s just a kid. He doesn’t get it — even when it seems like he does.
At the birth of my daughter I did just that… Call the Midwife, only she didn’t get there in time.
It’s something every pregnant woman dreads and every Dad-in-waiting prays will never happen to him.
It happened to me… and it was more wonderful than any words can describe.
It started with a kiss…
Or so the song goes. Some nine months or so ago it may well have. However, on this chilly Sunday morning it started with a nudge in the ribs at around 7am.
My wife was nine days past her due date at this point and even her stoicism was being tested to the limits.
B and S (children one and two) had both been late. B by six days, S by a couple. We thought ‘Six, then two… this one’s bound to be on time!’ — we were wrong.
After a couple of ‘sweeps’ (if you don’t know, don’t ask, you don’t want to) being induced was looming large on the horizon. Something we were both pretty keen to avoid.
As I blurrily came to on that Sunday morning, unbeknownst to me my wife had been awake for about an hour having “felt a pop” which had been her waters breaking.
With me blinking my way to semi-consciousness she told me “I think something might be happening, so I thought you could get the boys up and call our friends to see if they’re ok to have them today. Just in case…”
We’re both pretty cautious people so caveats like “Might be happening” are par for the course. I got out of bed, got the boys up and whilst making their breakfast texted our friends. They live just around the corner and, as we’d been planning a home birth, had been on standby to take the boys off our hands for the day — when it eventually arrived.
B’s birth had been a 16-hour marathon. S’s had been a good 10-12 hours so, even though we’d been warned baby #3 could come quickly I was banking on having a fair bit of time. After all I thought, even if it’s HALF the time of S’s labour we’ve got a good 4-5 hours. How wrong I was.
With the boys munching Shreddies and cornflakes I went upstairs to throw a last few bits into their overnight bags. My wife was out of bed and in the loo so I thought I’d check on her. A gentle tap on the door got no response… somewhere in the back of my mind a small alarm bell went off.
Eventually she unlocked the door (note to women: when pregnant and at all near labour do not lock doors) and I opened it. She was on all fours clearly in some considerable pain.
Despite that faint ringing in my brain logic still shouted loudest: ‘Childbirth is painful!’ it said ‘She’s just starting labour – nothing to worry about.’ She groaned something about thinking the baby was coming and for me to call the midwife – so I did. I’m still presenting the cool, calm exterior to try and keep a lid on things.
Logic: It’s an ass
After calling the wrong number first (delivery unit not much use when you want a community midwife) I was then put on hold waiting for a midwife. By this point the boys are upstairs, considering getting dressed but generally just playing and having fun.
Whilst I was still on hold my wife had crawled to the edge of our bed and was leaning on it looking damned uncomfortable. I’m cooing platitudes to reassure her and I’m still on hold… and the voice in the back of mind (the one in the room with the alarm still going off) is saying: “Hmm… wasn’t she in that kinda position when she had #1 and #2?” But of course good ol’ logic is still loudest and shouting “Nah! It can’t be coming that quickly.”
However, soon even that doubting Thomas was drowned out as my wife started to, rather loudly, insist “She’s coming. I think the baby’s coming now!”
As I said, my wife’s usually pretty reserved and, having watched her have two kids before, I know she’s hard as nails when it comes to pain threshold. Therefore, I’m getting pretty concerned, pretty quickly. Still on hold for a midwife I decide I’d better phone 999, just in case she’s right. Note “just in case” – I was still doubting it even then.
After explaining the situation to the call handler I was asked which service I wanted. Rather a stupid question I’d have thought. I’m not going to want the fire brigade to deliver a baby, am I?
Eventually I get through to the ambulance service and, retaining my cool give them the address and details so they can get an ambulance on the way. I’m still thinking “I’ve got a while… worst case scenario the paramedics can help us deliver the baby.”
Can you see the baby?
The voice on the phone is asking me questions, as I get towels and things ‘just in case’. “Can you see the baby?” he asks. I check.”Nope.”Wife has other ideas – she still says it’s coming.
Moments pass with more questions. I’ve got my wife’s mobile in one hand and the other is gently rubbing her back. “Can you see the baby?” the on-phone medic asks. “Still nope.” I say… and then seconds later eyes and nose appear.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so surprised. I’m not sure if I threw the phone or just dropped it. Why-oh-why I hadn’t put it on speaker-phone I don’t know. About a million thoughts raced through my head one of which was ‘Is she breathing?’ I stared at my upside-down daughter for what seemed an age before I noticed bubbles coming from her nose. Bubbles meant air… good ok… breathe… phew… right.
I found the phone again and got it on speaker this time, as I held on to the baby’s head. “Support the head.” said the voice, seemingly unphased by the ordeal of having been thrown across the room. “I can see her!” I told my wife, “She’s ok!” and, at advice from the phone “We need to get her out with the next contraction ok – so push down hard when it comes…”
Phone voice said, helpfully, “Don’t drop her…” and moments later my daughter came into the world in one, wonderful, unimaginably heart-stopping go.
Phone voice got flung again in the ensuing seconds. R was rather still, quite pale and gut-wrenchingly quiet. She also had the umbilical cord around her neck — twice. Not taught, thankfully, but in two big loops. Both wife and I spotted this and in a few panicky seconds which seemed like hours managed to untangle her.
I tipped her forward on one hand, rubbing her back to try and get blood to her head. Where this instinct came from I’ve no idea. Probably from having seen my two sons born, possibly from watching too much One Born Every Minute…
R’s bluey-white skin started to go a heart-soaring shade of reddy-purple and then… a gurgled”Waaah!” the best sound any mother or father will hear at childbirth. Waves of “She’s ok… thank God, she’s ok…” flooded through me.
As if that weren’t enough of a blur what happened next is all rather jumbled too. These scenes were included in the next hour or so:
- At some point S (#2 son) barged into our room and saw what will probably cost us a fortune in therapy one day
- Our friend arrived to get the kids (definitely before ambulanceor midwife) and I bundled the boys out the door with any clothing possession of theirs I could lay hands on. I may have hugged our friend quite hard – I was rather charged up on adrenalin at this point
- The ambulance arrived and the paramedics (presumably more used to dealing with drunks and grannys falling over) seemed rather more panicked than us. They kept offering my wife oxygen which, given she’d just had a third child without so much as a paracetamol seemed rather ridiculous
- The midwife arrived and took over — shooing away the paramedics who were asking my wife to ‘Cough out the placenta’
- Someone asked me what time R had been born… which was the first time since I’d got up that I looked at the clock. We guessed in the end!
All in all it was one of the most amazing, scary, marvellous and terrifying things I have ever done.
Pleasingly I’ve got loads of kudos having delivered a baby. I’m now among an elite group of Dads to have done so. I do feel a bit of a fraud though. I did what I had to really. There wasn’t much alternative. My wife did all the hard work (again), I just caught the baby (I didn’t drop her!).
Still. It’s quite a story to tell R… one day.
Hello. It’s been a while.
Firstly, thank you to my subscribers. All three of you are much appreciated. In fact, both of you — as I think the other one is me!
Secondly, apologies for the prolonged ‘radio silence’. I just checked. My last blog post was in November 2010, nearly 18 months ago. A lot has happened in that time, most notably I am now a proud father of three. My third child, a daughter, ‘R’, was born just over two weeks ago.
Her birth is a whole other story… one I hope to write up for these pages soon.
This is just a quick “I’m back” post… and a promise that I won’t leave it so long next time. Brace yourself for more grumpy Dad-ery with, I hope, a smattering of humour.
Ah, potty training.
If you’re reading this as a parent who hasn’t yet reached this stage in your child’s development – good luck.
If, like me, you’re a partent currently going through this wonderous process, I hope you can empathise if not sympathise.
Our eldest, ‘B’, has been cracking on with potty training for the best part of a couple of months now. I shouldn’t say “training” any more as he has, bless him, pretty much cracked it.
Pretty much. There’s the odd accident but even with my sketchy memory of my childhood I can remember ‘accidents’ occuring when I was five-years-old – perhaps even older.
B’s doing brilliantly. But you don’t want to hear about my (and his) triumphs. Be honest, that’s not why you read this.
Lots of our friends are struggling with potty training their kids – we just got lucky. We timed it right, B was ready and we absolutely showered him with praise when he so much as looked at the potty.
If he actually did a wee or poo on the potty you’d have thought from the crazy celebrations we went through that he’d landed a rocket on the Moon, or scored the winner in the Cup Final.
He loves it. We even developed a ‘wee-wee-on-the-potty’ dance.
This made potty training a lot less stressful for all concerned. Of course, it has it’s draw backs.
B is now so chuffed with himself when he produces the merest dribble on the potty that he cannot wait to tell whichever parent wasn’t in attendance to witness this stellar event.
The minute the last drips of urine emerge he’s off. “I’m going to tell Mummy!” he shouts as he heads for the stairs. With pants and trousers around his ankles he cranes around the bannister to annouce at the top of his voice: “Mummy! I did a great wee-wee!” – all wee-wees are “great” in B’s world irrespective of size or the trauma induced to get him to actually do it in the first place.
This was fine – it was quite endearing in fact. We certainly weren’t going to discourage him – rather he was pleased as punch with using the potty than not using it at all.
That was until we went on a Trans-Atlantic flight.
Toilets on planes are tiny!
I’ll be honest, I was dreading it. Two kids (one toddler and one babe in arms); crammed into a flying tube with no escape, limited toys and death stares from a couple of hundred other passengers everytime one of them made so much as a peep. Using a toilet on a plane, with a toddler hadn’t even crossed my mind – perhaps my mind was protecting me from exposure to this idea.
Then it happened. After several hours on the flight and many apple juices downed B must need the toilet now we thought. Bracing myself to ride out all his protests (better that than all of us sitting there around his wee-wet seat) I took him to the toilet.
Good grief plane toilets are small. You knew that – but they’re even smaller when you have to fit a toddler and a potty in too. But we managed it. With me perching half on the toilet and half in the sink I found a space on the floor for B’s potty (I daren’t risk the actual loo – those things are scary enough for grown-ups!).
B was magnificent. Not only did a wee emerge but after a spell of slightly purple faced pushing so did a poo which, I think, surprised both of us. The usual effusive shower of praise ensued. High fives all-round for this mid-air miracle.
We were both looking very pleased with ourselves as we trotted back to our seats. It was then that B saw his Mummy and the inevitable happened. “Mummy! I did a great wee-wee and a great poo-poo!” he bellowed at maximum volume.
Mummy was, of course, as delighted as I was. The many passengers within earshot, probably less so.
I’m back… and I’m sure you’ve all missed me terribly. Yes, all three of you dear, dear readers.
To explain my absence, my Daddy experience now extends to two children. Boy number two was born in early April and after two blissful weeks of paternity leave spending time with the new arrival, my older son (still not used to saying that!) and my wife – I’m back.
I’m back at work, I’m back writing my blog and back leaving the largest share of the childcare to my hardworking wife. Despite huge waves of love and adoration for the new arrival (let’s call him ‘S’ for ease of writing); renewed love for older son ‘B’ (babies are great but two-year-olds are so much more interactive!) – my wife is vying to be top of the tree herself.
There’s nothing like the wonder of childbirth to refresh your memory about just how fantastic a woman can be. I’ll spare her the embarassment of sharing the details online but suffice to say: she was nails. Massive amounts of respect due and (I hope) delivered.
Team work – it works
So, now I’ve gone back to work the home dynamic has changed quite a lot. For the first time, my wife is now outnumbered. During that fantastic two weeks of paternity leave it was two-on-two. Two kids, two adults. If ‘S’ needed feeding, I could tackle the needs of ‘B’. If ‘B’ wanted some mummy-time, I could hold on to ‘S’ for a cuddle.
There were numerous times during that two weeks where the rose tint to everything was blurred when the thought of “What will my wife do in this situation when she’s outnumbered?” Like times at the park when I’d have ‘S’ in the papoose and ‘B’ would make a beeline for the gate/road. No problem during parternity-heaven – wife could just trot after him and bring him back. As parents will remember, running with a newborn strapped to you in a papoose is a little like running with your trousers around your ankles. Clumsy and slow.
Thank heavens my wife is a wonder. She has taken it all in her stride and, to his credit, so has ‘B’. After a tough adjustment period and getting very Daddy-clingy he’s adapting to being an older brother really well.
So where does the team-work element come into it? Even writing this I’m doubting myself – it seems (and feels) that at times my wife is doing it all. Ok, if not all then a lot.
Fellow Dads – it doesn’t have to be this way. No, nature has not endowed us with the assets required to tackle those middle-of-the-night feeds. We all know if He (or She, or it?) had we’d spend a lot more time ‘on our own’.
I like to think I weigh in. My wife does (and, thanks to nature has to) tackle most of ‘S’s’ through-the-night requirements. So in the day (at weekends and when I’m around) I tackle as much of ‘S’s’ needs as I can. Nappy changes; rocking to sleep; walks; chats; cuddles – those things. Sure – sometimes only a boob will do. But otherwise I give it my best shot.
Also – my job means I come back late a couple of times a week. Those are long days – for all of us. But despite slogs on trains, battles with colleagues etc. I try to remind myself that since I left that morning (usually waking up ‘B’ on the way) my wife has been juggling two under-3s all day, without a lunch break, tea break, sneaky browse of the BBC website/that new game doing the rounds on email etc.
I get home from work, usually in time for story time (a great treat) and then I insist my wife takes the evening off. I cook dinner; put some washing on; hang the laundry up; do the washing up; take care of as many of ‘S’s’ needs as I can and get my wife a glass of wine/newspaper/blanket etc. to aid her transition from ‘family survival mode’ (aka ‘being a Mum’) to relaxed wife mode.
I don’t get it right all the time – not even my wonderful wife does. But I get it as right as I can. She often ruins my plans herself, insisting she has this one chore she “Just has to do…”
It’s important to remember that we’re on the same team. Not that the opposition are our kids (though at times it feels like it!) but that we have to pull together. What our kids need is two parents at their best. A fresh and bouncing Daddy with a knackered Mummy is no good. Two parents (moderately) well-rested is much more fun for everyone.
It’s a team game – sometimes you need to make some smart substitutions to win.