Me and my embarrassing mouth

Did I really just say that (image source: kotaku.com)

Did I really just say that (image source: kotaku.com)

The thing about karma is that it revels in pulling people off their high horse and giving them a good spanking. Only last week I blogged about how annoyed I was in the way I was spoken to on a health visit with my son. Well this week karma decided some payback was in order.

It happened on the way home from collecting my boys from school and pre-school. We needed a few items for dinner that night and had popped into the local supermarket. Now my two year-old only needs to hear a name once to remember it. It’s a great skill to have. I think he’ll grow up to be a politician; with his memory for names to go with the usual self-centred and slightly sociopathic tendencies of all toddlers he’ll be perfect.

Anyway, he was very tired this day so I was chattering away to him, using distraction so he would forget the tantrum he’d just had on hearing we had to go shopping. I asked who he thought we’d see at the shop and he immediately said John,* a young guy who usually works at the deli counter who always makes a fuss of my youngest.

As we walked down each aisle I would ask my youngest if he could see John. It was a great game which meant we completed the shop without further tears. Then, as we got to the checkout, my youngest started shouting “John” at the top of his voice, and a slightly embarrassed young man waved back from behind the till. So far, so normal.

When it was our turn to pay, John served us, but my little one kept pointing to the next server, a man also called John, saying “Two Johns, two Johns.”
“Oh,” I said in a sing-song voice. “You’re right. There are two Johns. How funny. I wonder how people tell them apart? Do you think they have nick-names or something?”

Costume for my next shopping trip (image source: www.todevice.com)

Costume for my next shopping trip (image source: http://www.todevice.com)

It was one of those occasions where I clearly wasn’t thinking, just talking to keep my son occupied, because as soon as the words had come out of my mouth a feeling of dread hit me. You see, one John was white, the other black.

I looked up to see “white” John give me an odd look, as if to say “was that a racist joke?” I stood there for a moment, my sense of discomfort increasing exponentially as I failed to think of a get out, my silence compounding the perceived crime. Meanwhile, “black” John looked across as if to say “did I hear you right?” I could have died.

The good news is that I didn’t compound the error by trying to talk my way out of it. Instead, I continued as if nothing was amiss, despite my scarlet face, and the moment was broken (at least I hope it was). Still, it got me thinking. Could the nurse from last week have been thinking the same thing? We can all be so quick to judge people, yet with one unthinking, innocent comment I could have understandably been mistaken as a rabid racist. I think I may owe that nurse an apology, or at the very least the benefit of the doubt.

Karma can be a complete bastard sometimes.

*Name has been changed to protect the innocent

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Not bad – for a man

I’ve been looking after my youngest boy for about 16 months now and while we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs, I wouldn’t have traded this time for the world. There are, however, odd moments where I am still pulled up short by the reaction of some people to seeing a man coping with looking after a toddler.

Not as brave as my boy! (source: blog.al.com)

Not as brave as my boy! (source: blog.al.com)

At this time of the year in the UK, every child 3 years or younger has the chance of a free flu vaccination (along with the elderly, people with certain medical conditions and key worker groups.) This year, rather than delivering the inoculation via an injection, it has been changed to being ingested nasally.  Today was the day of my son’s appointment, so I spent most of the morning explaining to him what would happen so that he wouldn’t be scared. The conversation went along the lines of “you’ll see a nurse, they’ll give you medicine up your nose and it will tickle. Isn’t that funny?” When it was our turn to be seen we followed the nurse into her office. My son was happy, because his nose was going to be tickled. The first question I was asked was “I take it you’re the father?” “No,” I replied. “I just found the poor child wandering the streets, a blank look on his face indicating loss, loneliness or some other trauma. As he looked a little on the pasty side I thought he needed a flu inoculation, so that’s why I’m here.” I didn’t say that, of course, but I was immediately annoyed. Do mothers ever get asked that question?

I explained to the nurse that I’d told my son what would happen and as the medication was squirted up his nose he didn’t flinch. Not once. I was so proud of him. The nurse turned to me and said “Well done. You obviously prepared him really well.” On the face of it, this was a compliment. However, the way she said the phrase meant that she left three words hanging unsaid: “for a man.” Now, if I was a 17 year-old kid still struggling to come to terms with the fallout from a one-night stand and who had no clue about life but was being placed in a position – of his own doing – of having to look after a child, that comment may have been appropriate. But I’m not. I am a 42 year-old father of two who chose to look after his youngest and has managed quite well despite the odd raised eyebrow and sexist remark from a very small proportion of the female population.

And it is sexism. Just read the above again and swap my role for that of a mother and the nurse for a male doctor and see how it reads. It doesn’t look too good, does it? And before anyone jumps in and says that you are being overly sensitive, just stop and think for a moment. “You’re being overly sensitive, love” was the stock defence that many women have faced for years (along with keep your knickers on, it’s only a joke) by the casual sexist. I was there. I know how it was meant.

So true (source: tarusjames.com)

So true (source: tarusjames.com)

I’m not for a minute equating my position to the tawdry way women have been, and still are, treated by some members of my gender, but given how long and hard women have had to fight for equality (and they are still waiting) I’m still surprised by the reaction I get from some  (usually strangers and often professionals) to the fact that my kids aren’t running around in filthy clothes, half-starved, swearing and smoking whilst knocking back the whisky because they are raised by a man. Except for breast-feeding, there is not a single thing that makes child raising the sole preserve of women, in the same way as there is not a single thing that makes the military, mining, engineering or any of the other traditionally male-dominated roles the sole preserve of men.

Here endeth the rant.

Parental fear and why I should win the Nobel prize for physics

A physicist who is trying too hard.

Quantum mechanics the hard way (source: http://www.gizmag.com)

I love science. I love that there are millions of people working to understand the world around us. I love that as part of their work that they will make observations, build hypothesis, define test methods as to whether their hypothesis are valid or not and then test them. But most of all I love that scientists then publish the results in the hope that somebody will either verify or trash their conclusions. Yes, they are happy to have their conclusions trashed because it increases our overall scientific knowledge. There are very few professions that are as open-minded to new evidence, or as willing to change their minds, as scientists.*

The multiverse theory in action (source: runluaurun.com)

The multiverse theory in action (source: runluaurun.com)

Now, within quantum mechanics (bear with me) there is massive disagreement over the structure of the universe. To keep it simple (because it needs to be for me to understand it) there are scientists who believe that there is one Universe, and others that believe there are an infinite number of universes, where anything that could have happened in our past, but did not, happens in one of these other universes. Think Sliding Doors but with less winsome smiling and more death and violence.

The problem with this many-worlds theory, other than people saying “that’s not science, you’re just making that up”, is that it’s impossible to prove.

Until now.

I am about to introduce new information and test method that should prove the many-worlds concept, and you get to read it here first.

Let me start at the beginning. Before becoming a parent, everybody gives you advice. They tell you about how tired you’ll be, or how you will be amazed at your child’s first smile. They will tell you that it all goes so quick, to cherish every moment because before you know it they will be having children of their own. But there is one thing that nobody tells you about, one thing that you have to discover all by yourself.

The fear.

Parents live in fear of what may happen to their children. We see danger everywhere. Most of us parents learn to deal with this fear, sending our children out into the world with a permafixed smile on our faces and a strong Gin and Tonic in the house.

The thing is, why do parents fear so much. When I walk down the road I feel totally secure, so why is it that when my six-year old walks down the road I see him tripping over the kerb, falling into the road and being squished by a passing car? When I see my two-year old climb the slide in out garden, why do I always envisage him tripping over the top step to land face first on the ground below. Perhaps I’ve been watching too much ‘You’ve been framed‘, but I believe it’s due to something else.

Simulation of  Large Children Collider results (source: wikipedia)

Simulation of Large Children Collider results (source: wikipedia)

This is where my theory comes in. From many years of observation I believe I’ve discovered that people, on becoming parents, develop a special parental sense that allows them to detect what is happening in the other multiple universes around us.** Forearmed with this knowledge they are able to keep their children safe***. Us parents prevent our sons from putting their hand in the mincer, from allowing our daughters to bleach their own hair with toilet duck, because it only takes a glance to know that the child is up to something. We can see clearly what is about to happen and intervene before disaster strikes. Take that bats with your sonar, or homing pigeons with your in-built sat nav, us parents can pierce time and space with just a thought (though the price we pay is high blood pressure, a weak heart, premature greying and bags under our eyes.)

Anyway, in classic physics style, to test this theory I propose that we put millions of children into situations that raise the fear levels of their parents. We then ask the parents what they foresee happening and compare the results. If the parental answers are the same, given the huge sample size it should validate my theory. The cost of such testing would be enormous, but I have designed a device to do this – called the Large Children Collider – which could be built underground in Switzerland.

So there you have it, a clear, simple to follow test for the multiverse concept without the need of complex mathematics or any scientific knowledge. Now laugh at me, my science friends. I look forward to your apologies when I receive my Nobel prize.

* I appreciate that I’m ignoring hundreds of years of scientific scandal, rivalry and down right intransigence.

**This is not to be confused with the eyes-in-the-back-of-the-head sense that is also observed in teachers

***Yes, I know that the many-worlds theory talk about events that have happened in the past, rather than the future, but it spoils the gag so just leave it.

Brainwashing children

You will support my football team

You will support my football team

It sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it, brainwashing children. It’s like something out of a horror story; evil parents turn their kids from pleasant, everyday children into killer zombie monsters; but I’m of the opinion that brainwashing has a bad press. You see, all parents either brainwash their children, have done in the past, or will do so in the future, and the children turn out fine. Mostly.*

Nose-picking in progress.

For a start we brainwash our children into behaving in certain ways. I know that some people would call this teaching or educating, or other such fancy terms, and it is true that brainwashing your children to suppress their natural animal instinct of beating someone smaller than themselves until they get what they want is a good thing, but there are other behavioural rules which we inflict on children that are purely designed to ensure they fit into societal norms; rules which seem ridiculous when put under scrutiny**. Take nose picking. I find nose picking unpleasant and tell my children to blow into a tissue as it more hygienic. In some parts of China, nose picking is the norm. It’s seen as a good way to clear the nose. To somebody from these areas, the thought of blowing snot onto paper which you then put into your pocket in case you need to blow your nose again is seen as disgusting.

Still, I’m not inhuman. I understand the need to brainwash children into behaving as well-rounded members of a community. There is another, more insidious form of brainwashing that is less easy to justify: brainwashing your children to like what you like. Sometimes this happens by accident. For example, I love cricket but I swore never to force my boys to play a sport unless they wanted to. Still, as they have watched cricket since they were born, have had the rules explained to them in detail, and (most importantly) have grown up in a time when the England Cricket team is quite good for once, it was only a matter of time before they started playing cricket in our garden each evening.

Other times, I have made a more conscious decision to brainwash my children. I am a fan of Ipswich Town Football Club, so as soon as my first son was born I bought him a replica shirt. He has had a replica shirt most years. He is now 6 years old and an Ipswich fan. His younger brother will also be an Ipswich fan, because I will brainwash him too. If I’m honest, none of this is for their benefit. In fact by making them Ipswich fans I will be opening them up to many years of hurt, psychologically scarring them to always expect the worst, to feel constantly disappointed and unfulfilled, but I did it anyway.

Then comes the brainwashing handed down by each generation. In the case of our family it is music. When I was a kid, my Dad played music from the Rolling Stones, The Who and a lot of Atlantic soul music. I don’t have many memories of singing nursery rhymes as a kid, but I do remember singing Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding. The favourite song of my two boys is Song 2 by Blur. This is by design. They also like LCD Soundsystem, The Flaming Lips and Madness, plus love the Beastie Boys (played with strategic coughing whenever they drop the F-bomb). I know this brainwashing is working because as we were out in the car one day, a clip of Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns ‘n’ Roses was played on the radio. As soon as it was over, my two-year old shouted “that, more!” at the top of his voice, pointing to the radio. “Yes,” I thought, “my job here is done.”

But before you all pick up the phone to call social services, there is hope. My children won’t grow up as mini versions of me. I am so confident of this fact that I’m willing to lay money on it (but only in the state of Nevada for my American friends). Shall I tell you why? Because when I was 15 years old I discovered The Smiths. They were totally different from any music I’d ever heard before. Each song’s lyrics were filled with a witty cocktail of longing and despair which transported me away from my dark, dank bedroom and onto the dark, dank streets of late eighties Manchester. My Dad hated them, an act which cemented my love of the Smiths. Soon I discovered other music that also wound up my Dad, both changing my musical outlook forever and starting my transformation into an independent person. You see, no matter how hard most of us try, our children will eventually decide for themselves what they love and what they don’t. I just hope to god that my kids don’t end up loving Celine Dion.

Oh, and I have a confession to make. All through this blog are links to some great music. Whatever you do, don’t click on them as there is a danger that I’ll end up brainwashing you too…..

*As an aside, for those of you who have never blogged, us bloggers ‘tag’ each post with words that explain what the blog is about – it helps people find us via search engines. WordPress kindly offer suggested tags based on what you have written and at this point in the blog, they suggest Christianity, the Democratic Party and Shopping. I take it that Scientology isn’t on the list due to the Church of Scientology’s litigious nature (and their innocence, of course)***.

** This is my longest sentence to date. I’m very proud of it. Thank you for reading it all, you can take a breath now

*** Yes, I’m a coward

A typical car journey (thanks for this Ben!)

My top ten tips for stay at home Dads

The life of a Stay at Home Dad

The life of a Stay at Home Dad (source: what-I-really-do.com)

 

Having spent a year at home looking after my children*, I’d like to pass on the top ten lessons I’ve learnt to date:

 

1 Sleep like a soldier

 

Any good combat troop knows  you should sleep whenever you can, as you never know when you’ll get the chance again. The same goes for SAHDs of young children. The rule is quite simple: sleep when they sleep. One of life’s pleasures is to fall asleep on a couch with your baby asleep on your chest. This also looks very cute, which is needed if your partner comes home and finds out the house is a mess and there is no food on the table.

 

2 Teach your kids to like what you like

 

In our house it’s cricket, but it could be football, baseball, rugby or basketball. My two-year old knows the names of the best English cricket players as well as the signals for a four, six and when a batsman is out. This is the sign of good parenting, learning skills that will prove useful for years to come.

 

3 Playing games is part of the job

 

You remember that toy you really wanted as a kid but never had. Maybe money was tight, or you didn’t hint clearly enough. Well never fear, now is your chance. You can not only buy the toy you’ve always wanted (a tip most Dads learn very quickly) but as a stay at home Dad, you are obliged to play with them too. Whoever thought that a toddler could learn to shot a Nerf Gun so accurately?

 

4 Never read books / blogs on perfect parenting

 

You will only get upset. Really upset, so stop it. Now.

 

5 Always read blogs of fellow SAHDs failing to cope

 

Come on, admit it. You may have started to read the blog with the intention of offering words of advice or support, but it does feel good to know you’re not the only one having a day where the house is falling apart, the dinner isn’t getting cooked, and the kids are running around trying to reenact the last few chapters of Lord of the Flies.

 

6 Teach your children how to count and read as early as possible

 

Why? Because this is a competition and we can’t have those Mums beating us, or even worse, confirming their prejudices at how useless men are at raising children.

 

English: An illustration of Blue Tits by Henri...

Blue Tits by Henrik Grönvold (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

7 Never say a word in front of your kids that you wouldn’t be happy for them to repeat to your partner

 

All good parents know not to swear in front of the children. These aren’t the things you should worry about. It’s the non-sweary phrases that will bite you. In the past our oldest son came out with the phrases: “Oh my God!”; “For Christ’s sake” and “This pen is knackered.” My favourite, though, came when my wife was explaining the name of the birds feeding on the bird feeders she’d just filled. There were Sparrows, Blue Tits, Robins and Goldfinches, which she carefully pointed out to our youngest. He listened intently, then ran around the house shouting “tits” at the top of his voice for the next few hours. It made me giggle.

 

8 Children like to help

 

It’s true, and the earlier you teach them, the better it is. Sorting out the washing or pairing socks are good places to start, and tidying the toys away can be great fun if the box you tip them in makes a lot of noise, but the real pinnacle is when your child hands you a cold beer from the fridge and the bottle opener; prompted to do so from a nod of the head in the direction of the refrigerator. That’s when you know you’ve cracked it.

 

9 Enrol in as many toddler groups as you can

 

Yes, you’ll maybe need some earplugs for the screaming and be ready to smile as you sing nursery rhymes whilst sitting in a circle with twenty mothers, plus there can be the odd misunderstanding, but it’s the chance to have a break, even for a few minutes and chat to some adults for a change. Whatever you do, always choose a group that supplies tea / coffee plus biscuits.

 

10 Bite the bullet and change the nappy right away

You may be in the middle of level 236 of Candy Crush, but if that waft of evil hits your nose, stop everything and change the nappy. There are a number of reasons for this: it will stop the house from smelling worse than Jabba the Hut’s armpit; it will prevent the child from getting nappy rash and screaming the whole night; but the number one reason is that poo travels. You might think that because your child is smiling, it’s OK to leave the nappy for a few minutes. Don’t be fooled. Your child is smiling because it the one thing it likes more than any other is to have a bath, and a guaranteed way of having a bath is to keep moving, ensuring the poo spreads from the nappy, up to the neck and down the ankles. You have been warned.

* This is an exaggeration

 

I’m not hitting on you

180

A stay at home Dad’s nightmare (Photo credit: anneke1998)

This blog is dedicated to the mothers or carers of young children who attend the same toddler groups as my son. Most of you are fully aware that this is the case, but for those of you who don’t:

I’m not hitting on you.

  • If I look in your direction and smile, it’s because I am a nervous, outnumbered twenty to one by mothers and I don’t know anyone in the group. I’m not hitting on you.
  • If I talk to you, it’s because I have been alone with my son for hours, sometimes days, and I need human conversation. I’m not hitting on you.
  • If I stumble over my words or appear hesitant when talking, it’s because I don’t know you and I’m very conscious of what I am saying, because I recognise the look of fear in your eyes and know what you are thinking. I’m not hitting on you.
  • If our eyes meet across the crowded room, it’s because a child has fallen over and I’m wondering if it is yours and whether you would like me deal with with the situation. I’m not hitting on you.
  • If you see me laughing and joking with another mother, it’s because I know them and I am relieved to finally be able to talk to someone who doesn’t think I’m a love hungry single dad who uses toddler groups as a dating agency. I’m not hitting on her.

And finally, the one that really annoys me:

  • If you see me talking to your child, it’s because your child has talked to me first, either to ask me something, or to show me something, or that they have done something and are looking for praise; and I am responding to them because I am a parent and that’s what parents do. I am not hitting on them.