Sunday, 26 May 2013

10 tips for a pain free half term

I lie here on a sun lounger on the terrace of my villa in Tuscany. My wife, an ex underwear model, and my nanny, a top heavy 21 year old from Stockholm are playing blissfully in the extensive garden with my two beautiful children. The kids are still on a high after landing their first big modelling contracts. My daughter leaves the fun momentarily to skip over to tell me that she loves me and that I am the best dad in the world. Our award winning chef is inside preparing dinner. Life is good!

This is how I'm spending my half term. But, despite my Hollywood lifestyle, I know the pain you are going through. I know that, whilst you would like to be at my villa in Tuscany, you are in fact preparing for a week in the pissing rain touring the soft play venues of Wolverhampton. There is nothing I can do about that. But what I can do is give you some advice, dragged from the ever distant memory of when I too lived that life, about surviving the half term break.

Hapless Dad's 10 tips for surviving half term:
  1. What ever you do don't go on holiday. Until the kids resemble human form, about the age of eight, a week away will involve doing exactly what you would have done at home. The only difference is you'll have a 2 grand sized whole in your wallet.
  2. Visit farm based venues. Avoid the touristy ones as they will be rammed full of people wearing tracksuits who clearly are not planning a trip to the gym. Pick something local. Once the kids are fed up of looking at a couple of chickens and a cat they can use the indoor soft-play.
  3. Convince yourself that being a good parent involves encouraging your kids into sport. Book them in for football camp, rugby camp, tennis camp, ballet camp, swimming camp, small bore rifle shooting camp, judo camp and rhythmic gymnastics camp.
  4. Visit relatives. They wont have seen your kids for a while and will want to take them off your hands for a bit while you catch up on some snooze time.
  5. Re create an all inclusive break in Spain from the comfort of your own home by drinking at 7 o'clock in the morning, surviving on fry ups and watching the Jeremy Kyle show.
  6. Convince yourself that being a good parent involves improving your kids academic performance and exposing them to kids from different cultures. Book them in for a week's intensive mathematics coaching with a group of students from Beijing.
  7. Persuade a friend or neighbour to make an anonymous call to social services about your parenting. You will have a few child free days while they work out the allegations are false. Or longer if they are true.
  8. Join a cult. Cults tend to be organised and days are crammed full of activities. Leave a day early to avoid the mass suicide.
  9. Join a local church or religious group (see tip number 8)
  10. Set up a tent in the garden for the kids to have an adventure. Make sure the doors to the house are locked so you can enjoy a lie in.
Hopefully one of my suggestions will be suitable for your family. On a final note, whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of a 'day trip'. Whether it be LEGOLAND, Peppa Pig World, Windsor Safari Park, The Sea life centre, Madame Tussaurds, Bristol Zoo or the Bovington Tank Museum the result will be the same. You'll pay £70 to get in and once the kids are bored with lego, Peppa Pig, a baboon 400 yards away, some goldfish, a waxwork of Keith Chegwin, some hamsters or a Chieftain tank you WILL end up at the indoor soft-play. Just like the one half a mile from your house!

Enjoy your half term!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Organised crime and successful parenting

I sit here at my laptop, my iphone never more than a few feet away. My daughter is enjoying mum’s new Kindle. My son is simultaneously battering her over the head with the wii controller. It’s hard to imagine how parents ever survived without technology.

However, I’ve come to realise that technology may be the single greatest barrier to effective parenting.
Now, I know what you’re thinking! Here comes another middle class parent harking back to the days when kids had a tangerine and a bit of string in their stocking. A family forced to lick the inside of the coal shed clean because they couldn’t afford turkey for Christmas dinner.
In reality our kids live in a world of technology. No matter how much effort you put into teaching your 5 year old how to play hop scotch it is still less attractive than a 12 hour Ben 10 marathon. Added to that I’m sure the lives of many children have been saved due to the advent of the mobile phone.
So what’s the problem? Well, let’s start with my trip to Palermo:
You see I’ve always wanted to be a gangster. The Godfather, Goodfellas, Casino, The Sopranos. I adore them all. From Scarface to The Krays I live and breathe the gangster genre. I love the clothes and the lifestyle. I love the attitude and the money. I love the gambling and the steamy nights in hotel rooms with the girls from Icelandic Air. I love the idea of living life exactly as you want with no consideration for anyone else. I love the adrenaline and excitement of it all.
 Could I be a gangster in real life? No! I’m the man who thinks the FBI is planning a dawn raid when I have an overdue parking ticket. The stress would kill me and I’d never cope with the shifts. Robert De Niro spends endless hours in nightclubs celebrating a particularly lucrative high jacking. I’d be hard pushed to drag myself away from Downton Abbey long enough to collect a winning lottery ticket. Problems with your boss at work? Imagine what it would be like if he could just have you clipped! (although the opposite is quite a tantalizing proposition)
So the gangster life is not for me, but there are certain aspects I can enjoy. Italian food and Italian wine. The simple pleasure of sipping espresso at a pavement cafe and where better to experience that than the Mafia capital of the world, Palermo.
So my wife arranged for a city break to Sicily’s capital for my 40th birthday.  The place was not what I expected at all. At the same time it was probably the most interesting place I have every visited. It was the most incredible concoction of Italian, Norman, Middle Eastern and North African influences.
At every turn a new and exciting image awaited – a row of bomb and bullet damaged, second world war, Baroque style buildings stepping back from the narrow busy street to reveal the most exquisite cathedral. Never have I seen a catholic church which included the minaret from a mosque framed by a Norman arch. Breathtaking!
I am fully aware I'm starting to sound like a bit of a girl but I will get to the point I promise.
Palermo is also one of the busiest, dirtiest, smelliest and congested places I have ever experienced. Like many other Italian cities, much graffiti was the order of the day. The taxi ride from the airport? Oh my god! It was like joyriding in a stolen fiat with a drunk rally driver.
Rubbish was piled up on the street, no doubt the result of some Mafia influenced contractual problems or government ineptitude. Or maybe no one fancied working today, preferring a coffee and a cigarette.
And then there were the police. I mean what other police force would drive Alfa Romeos? – Every police car I saw was static, it had probably broken down, but god they looked cool. Cigarette in one hand, mobile in the other, blissfully ignoring the myriad of minor criminal offences going on around them.
The surprises kept on coming. Waking up on the Sunday morning I stepped out onto our hotel balcony to be presented with a sight I never expected. People running - lots and lots of people running. Individuals, small groups, large groups, men, women, old and young, all in their running kit of for a Sunday morning workout.
This was something I never expected to see. Perhaps it’s the way the British are conditioned to think that the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle is the panacea for weight loss and health. We are forever presented with the idea of the Italians and the French eating cake for breakfast, and wine for lunch only to live a blissfully slim and attractive existence up until the point they die of lung cancer. I suppose I thought the Sicilians would be too cool to run.
So, aside from sounding like a cross between Judith Chalmers and the Sicilian tourist Board, what on earth has all this got to do with parenting? Well, something I didn’t mention is that we went without the kids. And like parents the world over, when you have time without your kids you talk about your kids and watch other people’s kids.
Now, we all know that the British are appalling parents. You only need to sit in a French airport to see that. The contrast between little Francois and Veronique sat quietly reading waiting for their flight whilst some hideous IT consultant from Guildford chases the equally hideous Oliver and Pippa up and down the departure lounge as they wreak havoc is almost laughable.
I always assumed this was down to poor discipline. I just thought we were weak and had lost sight of a child’s position in the hierarchy of the home. I thought the French and Italians just had a clearer, almost old fashioned understanding of who was boss. This is true. But during the course of the trip something pervaded my subconscious which I didn’t fully appreciate until I landed back in Blighty.
On arrival at Gatwick I noticed children. Noisy, attention seeking children misbehaving right in front of, and sometimes attached to, their parents. And what were their parents doing about it? Well, in almost all cases their contribution to the discipline of their child was “for god’s sake can you leave me be for one second while I send this text!”.
It struck me immediately. Sicilians are passionate about their kids. They are everywhere. In shops, restaurants and parks. We spent one blissful Monday evening in a lovely restaurant watching an extended Sicilian family enjoying a celebration. Kids of all ages were in attendance, at 9pm on a Monday night. We couldn't take our eyes off them. It looked like a scene from the Godfather.
I sat in a park near to our hotel sipping a cappuccino and watching mums and dads with their kids. Not an unusual sight. But it dawned on me that at no time – and I mean NO TIME DURING OUR ENTIRE STAY - did I see a mum or dad on their mobile while they were with the kids.
They were giving their kids their un-divided attention. Actually interacting! But back in London it was universally the opposite. Parents everywhere sat – texting, tweeting and updating their facebook status to “my child is screaming whilst hanging onto my leg”.
I can’t prove this is a major influence on behaviour. I’m no expert. But all children’s behaviour has a pay-off for them. Everything they do is to achieve a result. Now, if mum’s busy tweeting, perfect behaviour won’t get her attention. But bad behaviour will guarantee a reaction, even if it’s a negative one.
So the moral of the story is technology is a positive influence on our world and gives our kids experiences that we could never have. But for pity sake put down the mobile down for 5 minutes and have a chat!!
Now, where the bloody hell is my phone? I need to tweet about this blog entry!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

What's in a name?

What’s in a name? Quite a lot it would appear. Take the Beckhams for example. Harper Seven is blissfully unaware of the interest in her name. Let’s be honest she’s blissfully unaware of anything at the moment except her next opportunity to have a crack at mummy’s boobs.  Just like her dad!

Most people were intrigued by the Beckham’s choice but it’s more important than just a name. It goes to the very heart of the way we view our own position in society and our expectations for our children’s’ future.
My initial reaction was a gentle snigger. This was followed swiftly by references to barmy celebrities and their wacky worlds and other famous offspring with names such as Apple, Dweezle, Moon Unit and the one I can never remember that belongs to Tom Cruise and Katy thingy. Then came the jokes. “Should have named my girl Guildford Four, Jackson Five or Birmingham Six” etc etc.
Average people agonise over names. But it’s not about picking a name for its uniqueness. For Bob average it’s the exact opposite. Most people pick a name they like but also one that will blend in. They look at the 100 most popular from the previous year. They buy a book or two. They check with their friends to make sure they haven’t missed any obvious jokes or unfortunate anagrams. They google the name to check it isn’t linked with a famous serial killer, paedophile or Conservative MP (or all three at once).
They may have some obvious points of reference to help them choose. They may have a family name. They may be Welsh, Scottish or Irish which would provide a long list of additional options – one just as unpronounceable as the next. I am Welsh and I have given both my children strong Welsh middle names, but not first names. Their first names are as top 10 as they can get. Just enough for them to be sure of their cultural identity but not so obvious as to raise a chuckle during school assemblies or to subject them to a lifetime of spelling things to people in call centres.
The big difference here is the assumption of what the future holds for your child. Harper Seven is only really going to work for you if you are special in some way (and I know we are all special blah blah but you know what I mean!). The Beckhams clearly think their children are going to follow the same path as them. If they at any time considered that their little girl was going to end up in an insurance office in Stevenage then Harper Seven was the wrong way to go.
The rest of us start off with the idea of the insurance office in Stevenage and hope for the best. Don’t get me wrong insurance can offer a very well paid, rewarding and successful career but no one’s going to stop you in M and S for an autograph or hack your email.
And then there’s the bullying.  We hope that our offspring will escape secondary school with the minimum of bullying but one certain way to guarantee at least a little bit is to have a silly name.  The reality is that those of a celebrity/staggeringly rich disposition don’t have to worry about such things. If anybody even breaks wind next to little Harper they’ll be flat on their face in a Vulcan death grip long before you can say “ex SAS soldier seeks close protection work – celebrity considered”.
Of course we all mock celebrity name choices and yes I do believe it goes to the very heart of how you see your kid’s future. The thing is it’s not just celebs who are guilty of this – we all are. We are a middle class family, the type with shrill voices who can’t control their odious children at airports, and we agonised long and hard about names. Yes I felt we had to have the Welsh element somewhere but other than that we could choose anything we wanted.
 Or could we? Of course we couldn’t because perception of class and social status intervened. Let’s be clear, when I say I grew up on an estate I mean one that had a community centre, not one that had a gamekeeper’s cottage. Never the less I consider myself middle class and that guides your choice of name. We may well have toyed with a Jacob or a Benjamin but there were no Kyles or Brandons crossing my threshold. In fact we excluded anything that might appear at the top of an ASBO almost immediately.
So blending in is the key to the average parent’s name choice. Blending in to the relatively small and tight social group you feel you belong too or want your kids to belong too. If you think about it that’s exactly what the Beckhams have done too.
And anyway you know Harper will be in next year’s top 100!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The toddler olympics 2013

The government in its infinite wisdom has decreed that toddlers and small children should have three hours of activity every day. My question is how am I going to limit my kid’s activity to three hours?

I have a boy who is five and a girl who is three. This translates into a life of aaaaaaarrrrgggghhh.
The reason the early days are best described as aaaaaaarrrrrgggghhh can be summarised in one word. Activity! Each child is different of course. Some children are good at numbers, some have outstanding language skills, some (although it’s not really fashionable to suggest it) are thick, but the one thing they all have in common is that, if they are physically able, they move, all the time.
This is not movement in the way adults categorise it of course. Pre- school children and toddlers don’t worry about exercising three times a week to develop their aerobic capacity and VO2 max. My son is staggeringly disorganised when it comes to his upper/lower body split. I have tried to suggest that he organises his sessions using only compound moves in a circuit followed by some high intensity intervals to torch that fat but he’s got different ideas all together.
I’ll give you an example. For the last few months my son has travelled around the house, and any number of public venues, on all fours. He thinks he’s a tiger. A kung fu tiger to be precise. He likes tigers and he loved Kung Fu Panda. I say loved because he only got to see it once. My daughter still has the bruises from the post film excitement so sadly the DVD had to be ‘lost’ along with the bow and arrow, the Bob the Builder power drill and any musical toys received at Christmas from people who don’t have to put up with the noise.
Just think about that for a moment. He spends all day moving around on all fours. If you are reading this in suitable clothing drop down to the ground and move across the room on all fours any way you can. Hard going isn’t it! He does that from 6am till bedtime.
When my daughter was two she went through the ‘on things/ off things’ stage. She would get onto a chair and back off it again approximately 478 times an hour. That sounds gruelling enough I know but bear in mind for my daughter the seat area was at chest height. In an adult this would be evidence of an Olympic level of physical conditioning. For my daughter it was just something she did because she knew it made steam come out of daddy’s ears.
These examples are just two that spring to mind immediately. They are not performed in isolation either. They happen in conjunction with running back and fore for no apparent reason,  fighting, playing football, scooting, cycling, terrorising the dog, dancing to ‘bust a move’, dressing up, crying, screaming, losing dad’s phone, scribbling all over mum’s new diary, climbing on the windowsill in the nude........... and defecating. Then it’s time for breakfast.
Let me be clear. I’m not disagreeing with the idea that toddlers should be active. I just can’t imagine a situation where they aren’t.  If I got up one morning and decided to turn my kids into the type of children channel five would want to make a documentary on (I’m thinking “Brittain’s fattest idiots” or “When Toddlers Explode”) I just wouldn’t know how to achieve it. I could easily feed them McDonalds four times a day and sneak it into hospital for them later on down the line but short of nailing them in place I simply could not stop them moving.
The suggestion from the government is that activity and good nutrition helps prevent a whole host of horrible ways to die. It argues that a life of eating well and exercising leaves you with a long list of really lovely and interesting ways to die. I am a keen runner myself and I’m sure that my 20 miles a week is guaranteeing me the pleasure of passing to the next world via the bonnet of an out of control Ford Focus rather than from something like cancer or diabetes.
All sound advice for adults and that ever increasing band of 9 year olds who’s Facebook status is always ‘sitting’ but completely unnecessary for the average toddler. It’s like issuing guidance that men approaching 40 should consider purchasing a bum bag – I mean who needs advice to do that? It’s a fabulous bit of kit.
So where does this leave us in terms of the ever increasing obesity levels, chronic illness, suffering and death? Will the activity guidance for toddlers set children on the road to a lifetime of zumba and yogalates? No! Those who want to exercise will and those that don’t won’t.
Experts argue that human beings are meant to move and exercise. This has seen the rise in popularity of functional exercise and nutrition programs based on the lives of cavemen and primitive cultures. The fact is that our sedentary lifestyle is not going against nature it is following nature’s blue print for our species. Nature has given us the intelligence and ingenuity to come up with any number of ways to do less and eventually this will kill us. But something has to. A meteorite did for the Dinosaurs – human beings are constructing their own demise with cars, dishwashers, pre-prepared vegetables and those soap dispensers that you don’t even need to plunge.
Meanwhile toddlers all over the world will do what they are meant to do. They will run, jump and play in more creative and energetic ways than any adult could ever imagine. Some will compete in the Olympics, some will get so fat, that a poorly paid Latvian woman has to help them off the lavatory. Either way, guidance from the government will make sod all difference.

Monday, 20 May 2013

10 top tips for surviving kids parties

There are things in this world that would scare any man. Great white sharks, the Eurovision song contest and marriage guidance counselling to name but a few. However there is one thing guaranteed to reduce even the toughest hombre to a quivering wreck. The prospect of a kid's party. Here at hapless dad we feel your fear and we understand your plight. So here are my tips for getting through this finger nail removing ordeal in one piece:

Sun Tzu in The Art of War suggests: "To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence: supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting".

In layman's terms, the ultimate solution is to end the problem before it starts. With that in mind here are some suggestions:
  • Try to pick your kids up from school quite regularly. This will allow you to intercept and 'lose' any party invitations.
  • Never have parties for your own children. This will ensure they become a social pariah.
  • Demand something completely unachievable from your offspring using the party as a threat. Examples could include, "If those roof tiles are not replaced by 11 you can forget soft-play"
  • Prior to the event, arrange for your child to have regular play dates with the birthday girl or boy. This will give them ample chances to fall out.
  • If this doesn't work try to fall out with the parents. A drunken pass at the wife can work but this does carry a risk, however small, of reciprocation, so always go for the dad. The chances of him fancying you are much lower so there is a good chance of making relations uncomfortable enough for them to think twice before writing the invitation.
  • Buy a caravan. A rather expensive option but this will guarantee that weekends are tricky.
  • Divorce. This is the ultimate defence. However there is an element of risk v reward. If you can guarantee custody during the week you are home and dry. If you get weekends then your ex will spend her Saturdays and Sundays enjoying 'afternoon delight' with her pilates instructor while you spend your weekends at playzone.
In the event that these suggestions don't work here are hapless dad's 10 top tips to lessen the horror of the experience.
  1. Arrive late: Try to get there just as food is being served.
  2. Always take a book, kindle, ipod or some flat pack furniture you've been meaning to assemble.
  3. Experiment with disguises to avoid polite conversation.
  4. Never sit with the parents group. As dad they won't know who you are anyway so you've a good chance of some peace and quiet.
  5. Attend all parties in working men's clubs. They will have a bar.
  6. Text all 'tidy' parents before hand to make sure they are attending as well.
  7. Make regular trips to the toilet. This will ensure you miss many of your child's transgressions. Plus if your child is upset it will be dealt with by well meaning mums.
  8. Ask someone who knows your child to keep an eye for '2 seconds'. Disappear for half an hour.
  9. Silently give all the children at the party really insulting nicknames.
  10. Leave early. Always apologise profusely and pretend you have another party to go to. This will give the illusion of your child's popularity.
There is one aspect of the kid's party that deserves individual attention. The food bit. I can't give you any solutions here. Each parent plays a role and there are only three to choose from:
  1. Fuss round all the children making sure they have enough food.
  2. Talk only to your child and steal their mini pizzas when they are not looking.
  3. Stare blankly at the table with your arms folded.
I can't advise. Pick your style and stick to it. There are no other options available.

Anyway, I hope that's been of help. Enjoy the party, if you haven't found a way to get out of it yet!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Leather trousers: The enemy of ambition

I’m  40, I’m fat, I’m bald and I’m enjoying my midlife crisis with gusto and enthusiasm. My wife has vetoed the idea of the 18 year old Swedish mistress, laughed at my suggestions for a tattoo and actively encouraged the purchase of leather trousers. She knows I’ll never really put up with the chaffing.

However my time of life has forced me to address the question of ambition. Not mine you understand (that ship has well and truly sailed) but that of my children. You see I’m just not that ambitious and I’m completely comfortable with that but I’ve started to worry about whether I’m passing this attitude on to my kids.
Everyone’s midlife crisis takes a different form. For me the challenge has been to embrace the fact that I am ordinary. I live in a normal house on a normal street with my wife, who I met at school, a five year old son and a three year old daughter. I have a valuable profession and one I am extremely proud of, but one that is very ordinary. I have an MPV that looks like an unregistered taxi but has nifty sliding doors which, I’m told, are really useful in the school car park.
I’m not complaining because when it comes down to it I’m just not that ambitious. The trouble is parenting changes your expectations, not for yourself but for someone else.

My son could be politely described as, physically active with a unique personality. That means he hits his sister with a range of improvised weaponry, can’t be taken to parties that have a bouncy castle and once stripped completely naked to poo under the kitchen table. As a parent you secretly hope that this confrontational attitude and determination to do exactly what he wants will ensure he becomes captain of the rugby team, the head of the debating society and eventually secretary general of the UN. He will enjoy a blissful existence in a period property in the Cotswolds with an ex underwear model, two handsome children and a Toyota Prius.

But what are the chances? No one on either side of our family is anything other than ordinary. We’re all fairly intelligent with white collar jobs, nice kids and family saloons. We weigh too much and talk about this over wine and chocolate. We prefer the local pub to the golf club. We are teachers and nurses and we work in banks. All fine professions but certainly a cure for cancer short of a Nobel prize.
My point is will my attitude to life affect the ambition of my children? I often use the phrase “I just want my kids to be happy” and that is my genuine hope for them. The fact is just being happy is the true enemy of ambition. Ambition by its nature is driven by wanting things to be different, to be better.

Not only that but I am an inverted snob with a penchant for the underdog. Many parents want to get their kids into ‘that school’. I don’t. I can’t bare the parents who want to get their kids into ‘that school’ or the hideous offspring they produce. I would be happier if my kid was in ‘the other school’ but still succeeding. Success despite, not because.

But is this attitude selling them short? Should I be fighting tooth and nail to get them the best of everything? To surround them with people who have drive, clarity of purpose, heated towel rails and good teeth?

All I can say for sure is that the other day my son was asked to join in with an activity with some other children. He placed his hands behind his back in that way he does when he’s a little nervous and said “I can’t do it”. It broke my heart.

It had never occurred to me that the idea of not being able to do something would register in a child so young. Or that a boy like my son wouldn’t have the confidence to try. Neither my wife nor I have ever knowingly acted in a way that would make him feel that way. On an average day we’ve screamed ‘don’t do that’ at least 18 times before he’s plunged his sisters face into her cheerios but we’ve never uttered the word ‘can’t’.

Maybe this is how it starts. Maybe that fear of giving it a go grows and grows as you get older. Maybe you reach the point where you are so afraid to fail that you just stop competing. Maybe you get so used to not competing that eventually you just settle for ordinary. Maybe then you decide you just want your children to be happy rather than pushing them to be better than everyone else.

Or just maybe this is one of those things you have no real control over as a parent. We assume that every adult is unique with their own set of skills, values, personality traits and chronic ineptitudes. To put it another way, we are all thick, just in different subjects. Yet from the moment they are dragged, kicking and screaming out of whichever exit-hole they choose to enter the world, we are conditioned to believe that there is a blue print for children. Books tell us what time they should go to bed, when they should eat solid food, and that by the age of 18 months a ‘good’ parent will have trained their child to do Sudoku. But do you know what, and I’m whispering this as quietly as I can, maybe kids just are what they are and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it!

So what does this mean for my midlife crisis? Well, I know in my heart I’d have never coped with that 18 year old Swedish blonde. I tend to be in bed by 9.30 (I mean, who goes out at midnight?!) and she’d play havoc with my back. Tattoos hurt and whilst leather trousers are not illegal they are certainly immoral.

And the kids? Well, they may have all the ambition in the world, or they may have none. Maybe one of my kids will lead a grand slam winning team or, in the case of my daughter, win one of those competitions where you eat as many hot dogs as you can. If ambition is hereditary then a life of blissful ordinariness awaits. All you can hope as a parent is that they are content with whichever path awaits them.

Friday, 17 May 2013

I think I might be a lady-boy

It’s official. I think I might be lady-boy!

Quite a statement I know. I began this voyage of personal discovery after reading an article on ‘humble bragging’. Here’s an example:
“Oh my god, night-mare at soft-play again! Emily was climbing the highest climbing frame and jumping off. She’s only 2 for god’s sake. We’ll be in trouble with social services at this rate”. Lol x

This adult is not suggesting they have been completely irresponsible in letting their two year old undertake an inappropriate and downright dangerous activity. They are not arguing that as a result of this criminally negligent parenting, said child should be removed to a house of safety. What they are telling you is that, in their opinion, their two year old is incredibly advanced.
After several beers and 38 seconds of focused thought I was able to come up with a truck load of other examples. All designed to subtly tell everyone how bloody marvellous their odious children are without suffering the social embarrassment of being up front about it.

Bragging is not the only child centred situation where people say one thing but mean something completely different. Here are some more examples:
“Come on now you never behave like this at our house”.

This kind of phrase is delivered by all adults who have regular contact with your kids without you being there. This could be a relative, childminder, teacher or neighbour. Is it a compliment for the child’s excellent behaviour at their house? Is it designed to curb the child’s behaviour in the present situation? No! It’s a sentence designed to tell you that they think they manage your child’s behaviour better than you do. The sentence is spoken to the child but it is meant for the parent.
How about this one: “Stop showing off!”

A simple phrase you may think. Oh no! This is a parent’s secret weapon in the battle to explain their child’s appalling behaviour. It is used only if there is another adult (not parent) in the room just as little Jacob sets about shaving the dog or trying to force his sister into the tumble dryer. This short phrase effectively means ‘my child is only behaving like a nob because you’re here’. Ipso facto, your fault! Ever used this phrase when just you and your wife/husband/partner are in the room? No, of course you haven’t!
I could go on. There are literally hundreds of phrases of this nature. All designed for adults to boast, brag, insult, shift blame, criticise and generally act in a very unpleasant way – and get away with it!

The thing is this is not a new phenomenon. Every heard a phrase like this? “Gosh Sally you are so lucky. You’ve got such womanly curves”. Roughly translated: “I think you are fat!”
That’s right. The female of the species uses this secret language almost continuously. I give you this small sketch as an example. Picture the scene. You are in soft-play (a level several feet below the ice prison depicted in Dante’s inferno) and your son runs up to tell you someone has hit him.

Son: Mum, Oliver just hit me!
Mum: (said within clear earshot of Oliver’s mum) Never mind my little soldier, I’m sure Oliver didn’t mean it but If he’s going to be nasty find someone nice to play with.

I think we all understand the implication of that phrase and who it’s meant for. Now let’s play that scene again with a dad:

Son: Dad, Oliver just hit me.
Dad: Stop crying you girl! And no one likes a grass!

Of course when men were men this was not a problem. Our Dad’s didn’t have to navigate this new and subversive language. In previous generations Dad’s just didn’t spend so much time with women and kids. It wasn’t expected and the opportunities weren’t available. Women weren’t in the workplace or the pub and men had a completely different relationship with their kids. I’m not saying they didn’t spend time together and I’m not saying it was a worse relationship. But when they did it would be specific dad/child activities such as going to the rugby, gardening, brewing beer, smoking or sawing things in the shed. The task would be the same regardless of the sex of the child. If mum couldn’t take child to party it wasn’t dad who stepped in. It was Nan (and certainly not with granddad in tow!)
There were of course social occasions where men, women and kids were all together. But it was completely expected and understood that the men would all stand together looking petrified while wives, grandmothers and aunties fussed around the kids as nature intended.

I am not suggesting for one minute that the sexes should exist separately. I go to pubs all the time but I would never go anywhere that was just full of blokes. Work is the same. I have always worked in female dominated industries so for me, working in a male environment is very difficult to get used to, and a damn site less fragrant. I enjoy female and male company in equal measure. In fact many of the women I know would much prefer to be in mixed rather than single sex company. The dynamic just seems to work.
However, science gives us a clue that the separation of the sexes and their hideous offspring might have been a good thing. It is fact that male testosterone levels drop around crying babies and crying women. Why is this? Well, crying is really annoying and an immediate drop in testosterone prevents us from slightly over reacting to this situation by throwing the culprit off a multi story car park. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what happens to the testosterone levels of a man who is constantly surrounded by women and small children. All quite helpful if they are a stay at home dad or need to wear a gillet and be very jolly on a bouncy castle at kids parties. However, not so helpful if they come across a burglar in their kitchen at 2 am. Using a puppet to explain to them how naughty they are being just isn’t going to cut it.

My point is this. For real men, this subtle language is just as it should be – totally below their radar. Real men are not aware of the subtle nuances of female speech patterns in the combat zone of parenting. Real men don’t read the subtext.

My problem is that I am so used to female company that I pick up on every single subliminal message. However my natural response is completely male. I can’t partake in this phoney war. If someone has the bloody cheek to tell me I’m a crap parent, or my son’s naughty, or my daughter’s thick, or I’ve got a fat arse, however it’s disguised, the entire core of my being wants to smash their head repeatedly on the nearest concrete object.
Imagine the stress. During the course of a two hour children’s party or family occasion my body is in a constant state of fight or flight. If we didn’t have a punch bag in the garage I’d be doing time.

So what’s the solution? Well there isn’t one. I just need to come to terms with being a woman in a man’s body.

DIY and the successful Dad

Nature would have us believe that men are the stronger, more aggressive sex. We are built to with stand long hunting trips, sabre tooth tigers and double glazing canvassers. There are however some key phrases that can reduce even the ruffty tufftyess man to a quivering wreck. “I’m pregnant” is probably right up there. “We’ve got two kids parties on Saturday” would also feature pretty prominently. For me, and forgive me I can’t remember the exact phrasing, it involved the words PATIO, YOU and BUILD.

The thing is modern men often moan about how they have to do soooo much with the kids and how they have to wear gilets and scarves and pretend to enjoy bouncy castles and yes that fills me with horror too. We grumble constantly about the fact that our dads never had to do all this baby stuff. However, if I’m being honest, the thing that scares me more than anything is the thought of having to do all the things my dad actually did.

You see, my dad could change a gear box on a Ford Anglia. He had a vegetable patch. He put up shelves and made his own beer. He made me a ‘gambo’ which I could race down the hill near our house. Just to clarify, for those of you who HAD heard of avocados before you went to university, a gambo is a cross between a skateboard, a go cart and a portable gallows. Built from planks of wood, pram wheels and steered with string it provided hours of near death experiences for a range of inappropriate age groups.
Now I’m not naive enough to think my Dad undertook these demanding tasks because of his love of all things practical. He did it to get away from the kids for half an hour. And as soon as he was earning enough money to pay somebody else to rebuild his gear box, he did so. But the fact remains for a very large part of my childhood he did do these things.
I can’t do any of those things and until five years ago it wasn’t an issue. I had already met someone and fallen in love some years before. And let us be perfectly clear, my lovely wife didn’t choose me because of my ability to fix the Dyson. She chose me because I could down a pint of Lowenbrau quicker than her, a feat never previously achieved by any man. There were some other reasons of course but we don’t need to worry about all that now we’re married.
The thing is having kids changes it all. From the moment you have that nervous laugh and that weird hug (that isn’t like any kind of hug you’ve ever had before) when the test comes out positive your wife begins to view you not as the man she married but the man her father was. All of sudden you find yourself building furniture. Lots and lots of furniture!

To a certain extent of course I can understand that. Somebody’s got to build the nursery furniture and to be fair to my wife she had the inclination and the ability. Unfortunately, anyone who has ever endured the physical contortions of putting together flat pack furniture would know that pregnancy makes the whole process a little cumbersome. God knows how large people cope. Their houses must be furnished exclusively with ready-made items.

But then things took a slightly surreal turn. “I think we should have a patio. You and my dad could build it”, she said in all seriousness. I didn’t answer for a little while as I assumed she was talking to someone else. Maybe the effects of the third trimester meant that my wife was hallucinating. I had to assume she was seeing things. A landscape gardener perhaps!

“It’ll be cheap and easy you’ve just got to clear out all the gravel, move all the shrubs, flatten the garden and lay the patio!”. What I actually heard was “all you’ve got to do is cut the chest open, take out the old heart, put in a new heart and sew the chest back up!”

I laughed out loud. That was the equivalent of poking a wasp’s nest with my willy. Suffice to say a civilised and amicable discussion ensued whereupon I agreed to do whatever the enraged pregnant woman said.
So it was that I spent my well earned paternity leave building a patio. And when I say well earned let me put it into context for you. I know at least two men, who have made the decision to commit to a lifetime’s hard work and have another child just because of the tantalisingly attractive thought of two guilt free weeks off work.

On completion I have to say that I was remarkably pleased with myself. I mean don’t get me wrong it is the worst patio ever. Anybody who stands on it can see that (as luck would have it, despite its critical importance to our very survival, my wife has never set foot on it). The slope of the patio is so drastic the Swiss Olympic downhill squad have asked to train there. Mountain goats occupy the lower levels towards the fence, afraid to venture north towards the barbeque. But prior to this point my main contribution to the world of DIY was a set of vertical blinds in the kitchen. They took me two days to put up. I created several new swear words after practicing the ones I knew so much that I got bored with them. The dog ripped them down.

I suppose I could finish this piece with a sage like comment about how men gradually begin to fulfil the role of dad. Every year older the children get you invariably find yourself making stuff. You put together bikes and scooters and castles and beds and wardrobes and desks and art tables and trampolines and, once, a big proper wooden wendy house thingy. The thing is I’d be lying because, in reality, our parents still do it for us. They visit us often and every time I come home from work I find something has been moved, or fixed, or improved. So perhaps, whilst some men are genuinely handy, for the rest of us the key to DIY success and true fatherhood begins when the previous generation stops doing all your work for you. That scares me to death!

Children's TV and my son's future in crime

I watched one of those programs last night. I think it was called 100 thingiest thingies. You know the sort. A random collection of celebs count down the most popular TV theme tunes/adverts/action movies/last episodes/comedy characters for our enjoyment and the chance to reminisce. This one was about children’s TV programs.
Normally I would have just enjoyed the clips from Hong Kong Phooee or Jamie and his magic torch and gone to bed content. Since having kids I can’t help but view children’s programming with a more critical eye. To put it bluntly I’m worried that children’s TV is influencing my son into a life of crime.
Let’s start with a very unfortunate character trait I have. I tend to over analyse things. This has been quite useful over the years when applied to work problems, academic study or buying nice coffee. But it’s also impossible to switch off.
As a child I would sit on the sofa at home watching Mr Ben. I’d try to focus on the exciting adventure of the day but the same question kept appearing in my head. Why does the shop keeper allow this idiot to come to his shop every day, hide in the changing room for half an hour and hire.........absolutely nothing?
Let me just clarify that. You own a fancy dress shop. A man comes to the shop every day, puts on a ‘costume’ , spends half an hour in the changing room and then goes home. What’s the first thing that springs to mind? Pervert!
Quite aside from the basic weirdness, you have a business to run. It would only need to happen a few times before you politely asked the man in question to hire something or leave the shop.

Mr Ben wasn’t my only source of confusion. Don’t get me started on why the villains in Batman wore masks but had their names printed on their jumpers. Or why their lairs were always on a slant. Or why Aunt Harriet had never noticed the massive red phone in the study. Or why the exit/entrance of the Bat cave had a false NO ENTRY barrier in front of it even though to all intents and purposes it was the side of a mountain and therefore had no feasible requirement for a NO ENTRY barrier in front of it.

Childhood was hard work for me. I had a lot of headaches.
Now I have two kids of my own. My daughter is barely aware of television, even though it runs continuously in our house from 6 am. My son is another matter all together. He would watch TV all day if allowed.  At one point he was watching so much we had to ban the Disney channel because he started to develop an American accent. If he calls my wife Mom again she’s likely to throw him out of an upstairs window.
My son’s TV addiction means I now have to worry about every single thing he watches. Luckily the majority of children’s programming today is well thought out with a good deal of educational content. The BBC is particularly adept at this kind of stuff.

Take Balamory for instance. Now, I’ve been to a remote Scottish fishing village. The one thing that sticks in my mind is that every single person I met seemed to share the same head. Not this one though. There is every shape, size, sex, colour, religious denomination, age, sexual orientation, physical infirmity and unfortunate hair style known to man. It’s like the BBC picked up two streets from the middle of Hackney and dropped them by accident on the Isle of Arran. Politically correct of course but possibly the only opportunity for many children to see people from such diverse backgrounds.

On the whole however children’s programming follows a number of key themes.
1.       Cool adult jobs done by kids – generally secret agents.
2.       Animal Super heros.
3.        Average jobs made glamorous such as Postman Pat, Bob the Builder, Handy Manny and the various train drivers, bus drivers, crane operators, delivery staff and shop workers featured on CBeebies.
4.       Children taking too long to do very simple things with over detailed commentary. Perfect examples would be Dora the Explorer and Little Einsteins.
5.       Pirates

The first four are pretty harmless and actually make sense. Being a secret agent is clearly fantastic. Exploring is exciting in any form and who in their right mind wouldn’t want a super dog? I can also understand the allure of a range of manual jobs. I mean, kids like to hit stuff with other stuff. They like to dig things. They like to carry things. They like tractors. Not only that but manual jobs are simple to understand and have a defined outcome. They do lack in ambition and material gain but I can’t see ‘Harry the Hedge Fund Manager’ or ‘Pedro the Plastic Surgeon’ taking off. My worry however is Pirates.
From a four year old boy’s perspective Pirates are fantastic. Let’s look at the facts:

1.       Great costume
2.       Big ship
3.       Treasure
4.       Sword fights
5.       Adventures involving maps

It doesn’t get much better from a four year old boy’s perspective. In fact the allure of the Pirate carry’s on into adulthood. Just look at Pirates of the Caribbean. Admittedly the chance of a fleeting glimpse of Kiera Knightly’s bottom is rather compelling but I reckon the Piratey aspect had a great deal to do with it. So what’s the problem?

Well I have thought about this a great deal. I have been through every single children’s TV program known to man and I can’t think of one other genre that is based on a criminal enterprise. From a kids perspective a bit of ‘yohoho’ and’ hahaaar me hearties where’s me gold dubloons’ is a slice of fried gold. However I suspect the sight of a pirate would have a slightly more sobering effect if you were just off the Somali coast.

So there you have it. My son’s favourite TV characters are a band of thieves and murders with a penchant for pushing their newly bloodied victims into shark infested water. A slight departure from the Care Bears that’s for sure! I have to assume that in time my children will be tutting away as their own kids sit glued to the TV enthralled by the comedy hi Jinx and wacky adventures of Darren the drug dealer and the ASBO crew.