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.

Warning – editor at work

I would show you a real page from my manuscript, but there would be way too much red ink (source: writerwin.com)

I would show you a real page from my manuscript, but there would be way too much red ink (source: writerwin.com)

I’ve not blogged recently as I’ve been on holiday for the past couple of weeks. This will amuse a number of my friends who are convinced that I’m always on holiday; that my days are spent with my feet up, watching two perfectly behaved boys entertain each other, or effortlessly churning out reams of text whilst sunning myself on a hammock. What a charmed life us stay at home Dads / struggling writers lead.

Anyway, before we left for the wonderful coast of North Wales , I had finished the latest edits of my manuscript based on alpha reader feedback. I was really pleased with the changes I’d made (I’d had excellent, no holds barred feedback), and was convinced that the book wasn’t too far away from being publishable. In a last-minute moment of inspiration, I saved the book onto my iPad to read while I was away.

This was a mistake.

The first evening, tired after our seven hour drive, I went to bed early looking forward to reading my book. After 15 minutes I felt like throwing my iPad out of the window. It was terrible. The story was good but the prose was clunky. There were also many grammatical errors (for example,  I’d started the second chapter in present tense, only to move back to past tense half way through). Rather than being an enjoyable read, my manuscript was an instrument of torture. I couldn’t understand it. How had I been so pleased with this disaster?

The answer was simple. I’d not given my manuscript the respect it deserved. I’d not read it as a whole for months. I’d been too busy concentrating on individual plot points, accentuating themes and drawing out character traits that I’d lost focus on the prose and the flow. With each edit, I’d increased errors and introduced jarring inconsistencies of style. What was worse, I couldn’t do anything about it. I stopped reading for my sanity’s sake.

Keep the meat and remove the dross - how to edit in the kitchen (source: blogs.kqed.org)

Keep the meat and remove the dross – how to edit in the kitchen (source: blogs.kqed.org)

As soon as I got home, I printed my manuscript out and – pen in hand – started reading it through. I’ve been reading each sentence out loud, to hear any inconsistencies before honing and tightening like a dervish. Then, at the end of each chapter, I’ll read it out again as a whole. Finally, as I type the changes into Scrivener, I’ll have a third chance to improve on the original. My trusty pen has been paring and filleting like a Michelin starred Chef. This time I’ve not settled for good enough, and the process is taking some time, but 100 pages in I’m very happy with how it’s going (only another 350 to go).

What this does mean, is that I’ll be cutting back on the blogging until I finish. I’ll try to commit to one blog a week, but no promises. I hope you all understand, but if you don’t, well, so be it. However, if you do decide not to return, you’ll never get to hear the tale of how I was outsmarted by a fly….

Disclaimer: Any grammar or spelling mistakes in this blog are deliberate. It’s called irony.*

* I may be lying

Little Challenges

I recognise this (source:www.shopmasc.com)

I recognise this (source:www.shopmasc.com)

This morning, something miraculous happened: I had a shave without cutting myself.  Well, when I say not cutting myself I mean not cutting myself badly enough to need a little square of tissue paper to staunch the blood flow (I think I may be over-dramatising things with that phrasing, but you get what i mean.) You might think that after over twenty years of shaving, I should be more accomplished by now, but as any man who wet shaves will tell you, it’s not as simple as all that. Most days after shaving, I look as if I’ve just been thrown through a car windscreen.

As you may be able to tell, having a shave without cutting myself has made me very happy, not just because I have more iron rich blood travelling my veins than most mornings, but because it is one of my little challenges; the things I do to help make the day more interesting. Occasionally, like today, they come from every day tasks (although shaving for me  stopped being an every day task when I gave up work) but most of the time I make them up. Let me give you an example.

They haven't stopped, they are just moving forward very slowly.

They haven’t stopped, they are just moving forward very slowly. (source: sustainableexchange.wordpress.com)

Sometimes, when I drive, I try to do so without bringing the car to a complete stop until I get to my destination. I’ve driven over 300 miles in one go before without ever stopping. Even in towns. Traffic lights are a particular challenge. If the lights are red I slow down to a crawl and try to judge how much space I need between me and the car in front that will enable me to keep moving at the slowest possible speed before the lights turn green and the queue starts moving. Sad, isn’t it. Yet I get inordinately happy whenever I get it right. If you ever travel to Istanbul you will find the taxi drivers do the same thing, because if their wheels aren’t turning the meter doesn’t turn either.

Another little win when I was at work was to start my computer up, go downstairs, boil the kettle, make a cup of tea, then return, all before the computer had finished booting up. Another involves pasta. If I weigh out pasta I have to get to the target weight without stopping the flow prematurely, but I lose if I over-pour. This is particular challenging with electronic scales. I think you get the gist.

At this point I would just like to say that a part of me is dying inside telling you this.

So my question to you, my dear reader, is do you set yourself any little challenges, and if so, what are they? I’d really love to know, just so I don’t feel so alone.

Plus, I’m always looking for new ways to challenge myself…..

Petty domestic disputes No.7: Toys in the lounge

I can feel the blood pressure rising (source: nieniedialogues.blogspot.com)

Welcome home Daddy! (source: nieniedialogues.blogspot.com)

Picture the scene. You’ve been away from home for a few days, possibly longer. You are tired. The journey back has been longer than expected and you are a bit jet-lagged as you have been abroad – and it’s not as if you can sleep well in a hotel bed at the best of times. You open the front door and your children rush up, shouting your name as they throw themselves into your arms. It’s a great feeling, up there with the best moments of being a parent. You walk into the lounge, ready to sit down for five minutes and hear about what the kids have to say. Instead you just stand there open-mouthed.

The lounge looks like an explosion at Toys R Us. It takes all your dexterity to get to a seat without twisting your ankle and when you arrive, you find even more toys taking up the sofa space. Your blood pressure rises and before you know it you’re telling your kids to have a clear up. They stare at you, disappointment in their eyes as they remember how grumpy Daddy can be.

Now you might say I’m being unreasonable; children like to play with toys and what sort of monster would stop them from doing so? And you would be right, if the lounge was the only place they could play. But one of the reasons for buying our house was that on the ground floor it had a kitchen, lounge, dining room and conservatory, enabling us to eat in the conservatory and convert the dining room into a kids play room.

This never happens in our house

This never happens in our house

Can you imagine that, a whole room full of toys and books, with the space to play and make as much noise as you want? I would have loved to have had a play room when I was a kid. As we decorated the room I could see the scene in my head; our two boys playing nicely together in the play room while my wife and I relaxed in the lounge, the adult room. I’m so naïve.

For the majority of the day, the children’s play room is like a big storage unit. It’s where the children go to collect whichever of their (many, many) toys they want to play with and bring them into our lounge to play. When this first started happening I would shoo the kids back into the playroom, which would bring on the inevitable bout of tears; “how dare you force me to go into a room full of my toys to play, it’s so unfair. ” But my wife said I was being mean so we compromised ,and we now have the basket.

The basket is small – around 2 feet by 2 feet wide and 6 inches high – made of wicker and sits at one end of our lounge. When we started with the basket, the rule was that the only toys allowed in the lounge were those in the basket. For every new toy in, one went out. This seemed like a fair compromise. The kids could play in the lounge with those toys, but if they wanted to play with any other toys they had to either play in the play room or tidy away toys already in the lounge, ensuring the lounge wouldn’t get overrun. As I said, I’m so naïve.

Now that's what I call value for money (source: huffingtonpost.co.uk)

Now that’s what I call value for money (source: huffingtonpost.co.uk)

Over time, the basket started to resemble a salad bowl you see at a serve your self salad buffet. You know the ones I mean, where the bowl is very small and the people with a “bit more storage capacity than others” build up salad walls using carrots and cucumbers, increasing the bowls capacity so they can fill the middle with potato salad, coleslaw and croutons; all to be smothered by honey and mustard dressing. You know, the healthy option.

Now our lounge is just an annex of the play room. Despite my heroics in trying to get the kids to tidy their toys away each evening, they always miss something, usually something small and hard, which gets trodden on as you come downstairs to get a bottle of milk for the little one at 4:00am.

And, of course, in order to allow our children this privilege, we end up eating our meals in a furnace during the summer and a freezer during the winter.

That was until everything changed. The basket still remains in the lounge and it is still overflowing with toys. There are always toys scattered across the lounge and sofas. The difference, though, is that I am the one at home with the children and my wife is the one that travels. Yes, there are times when I would love for the boys to play in the play room for a while to give me a break, but most of the time I enjoy playing with them in the lounge. I’ve also developed partial blindness to the fact that toys remain scattered around the place. I’ve even developed a sixth sense to identify which areas to avoid on the early hours milk collections.

My wife, on the other hand, had a sort out of both the toy room and the toy basket the other day. I didn’t say a word.

Previous petty domestic dispute blogs in this series:

  1. Bed space
  2. The 6 a.m. watershed
  3. Food
  4. Houseplants
  5. Who changes the nappy
  6. Bed Linen

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!)

Why men are confused: 5 rules of manliness

source: lolsnaps.com

source: lolsnaps.com

A friend recently wrote in her blog how her partner had ended up with a bad case of sunburn. We’ve all done it, you might say, but it got me thinking. You see, I knew exactly why her partner ended up sunburnt and it has nothing to do with the strength of the sun (we live in the UK which is on the same northerly latitude as Newfoundland in Canada) and everything to do with falling foul to the way men must judge their own behaviour. These rules, these unwritten rules, are known to every man in the country and if we don’t meet them, we start to question our masculinity. Of course, they are, frankly, rubbish, as you are about to find out, but every man (like my sunburnt friend) has fallen foul of them at one point or other.

1. A man must use the lowest factor sunscreen available

Using suncream is not manly. Luckily, the years of health education have finally sunk in and men are now aware of the dangers of skin cancer. We now protect ourselves from the sun like the other 51% of the population. However, anything with an SPF over 9 is seen as for wimps, because real men have skin thicker than a Rhino’s backside. Factor 50 is for kids, anything else is for women or weaklings. That is why my friend spent the night whimpering in the foetal position as each bead of sweat scored his sensitive skin like a branding iron. He fell foul of rule no.1.

2. A man must order the hottest dish on the menu

A Chicken Korma is a food for wimps. So is a mild chilli or wood-smoked chicken wings. You are not a man unless you eat food so spicy that it causes your brain to pour from your ears. I once went to a restaurant in the US where their speciality was called “Atomic Wings.” These innocent looking chicken wings had been coated in a substance similar to napalm. One taste numbed my tongue and the skin started to peel from the roof of my mouth. Within seconds I needed water but I couldn’t see where my cup through the tears in my eyes. If this food had been found in Baghdad by Hans Blix, nobody would have argued against the Iraq war. Yet that one taste brought me a newfound respect from my colleague. Crazy.

3. A man must be able to drink at the same rate as their friends

I’ve never been a big drinker. Being skinny with a high metabolic rate doesn’t give you a high tolerance to alcohol. When I was younger I always struggled to keep up in a round. The first beer would be OK, but even then I would start to get bloated. The second would arrive just as I was two-thirds through my first, so I would have to quickly finish that before I lagged too far behind, but as I would start the second, the third would arrive. This was not going out for a nice drink, this was drinking the foie gras way. Yet if I fell behind, I would be ridiculed for the rest of the evening.

4. A man must be able to cook with fire

The barbecue is a man’s terrain. This is because cooking with fire is manly, taking us back to our prehistoric roots. Men who wouldn’t be seen dead in a kitchen are more than happy to don their Hawaiian Tropic SPF 1 oil and stand in the baking sun cooking meat. On Charcoal, because gas barbecues are not manly. And by cooking, I mean converting protean to carbon in the quickest way possible, because cooking meat on a low heat, regardless of whether it makes the food taste better, is not manly, because if you’ve been waiting two hours for the barbecue to get hot, you’re buggered that you are going to let it cool down a little before cooking.

You won't find one in our house (source: easy.com)

You won’t find one in our house (source: easy.com)

5. A man must be able to fix things

How many of us remember our father or grandfather building or fixing a broken toy. Now how many of us can remember a favourite toy being broken apart because it was “making a noise” only for it never to materialise again. If you do, this is because your father / grandfather (but let’s admit it, your father) had fallen into the trap of rule number 5. You see, a man must be able to fix things. It doesn’t have to be the big things. Many men reluctantly are happy to call in a professional if the boiler breaks or the roof has blown off, but if it looks achievable, we naturally think we can do it. This is because we are men. I’m as bad as anyone with this. If you ever come to visit my house, please don’t bring a spirit level and place it on any shelves, and if you want to play with a fisher price cash register, I’m sorry but you’re out of luck.

Things were so much easier for men in the Victorian era. Of course, when I mean easy I don’t mean standard of living, age expectancy, mortality rates or anything like that. What I’m talking about was their understanding of what it meant to be a man. I don’t for a minute believe we should return to the sexist, misogynistic behaviour of that era, just that we take a leaf out of Rudyard Kipling, who famously explained what it was to be a man in his poem, If. Think of the money we would save on aftersun.

My entry in the Daily Post Challenge

Petty domestic disputes no.5: Who changes the nappy (diaper)

Now if you hold still, I can wipe this crap off your elbow and we can continue (source: be.convdocs.org)

Now if you hold still, I can wipe this crap off your elbow and we can continue (source: be.convdocs.org)

We play a game in our household. It’s not an acknowledged game – I’ve never spoken to my wife about it – but if this game was an olympic sport, I’d like to think we would both be medal contenders (or at the very least, representing our country.) The players need to have the mental agility of Professor Stephen Hawking on red bull and the reflexes of a monkey in a banana storm, because the cost of losing can literally leave you in the brown stuff. The game I’m talking about is “who changes the nappy (or diaper to our American cousins.)

During the week our roles are fairly clear. As a stay at home Dad, I change our son’s nappy regularly and without complaint. In the evening my wife does the same. The real fun starts on the weekends.

I remember the first time I had to change a nappy. I was visiting my wife in hospital, taking every chance to hold my perfect son in my arms when a rumbling from below told me that something was amiss. I tried to hand him back to my wife but she just smiled and imposed the first rule of who changes the nappy.

Rule no.1: If you are in physical contact with the child at the time, you change the nappy

So very carefully, I laid my boy down and opened the nappy, only to quickly throw my head back to avoid the jet of pee heading towards my face. With a soaked shoulder, I looked back to the nappy to find that somebody had laid tarmac around his backside.

“Is it meant to be that colour?” I asked.

“It’s called meconium,” my wife replied. “They have that for the first few days. The nurse says we should just use cotton wool and water to clean him.”

The smile on her face should have given me a warning. I dipped a piece of cotton wool into some water and started to wipe my sons backside, only to find that the cotton wool stuck to the tar like substance. It was during the next couple of hours as I struggled manfully to clean my boy without leaving his backside looking like a one-eyed Santa, that I swore to get out of this whenever possible. I get the feeling my wife was already there.

Over the years a number of other rules have developed. For example, if you walk into a room to find your child standing stock still, brow furrowed, face bright red with strain as their eyes bulge out on stalks; the following rule applies:

Rule no.2: If you witness the event, you must change the nappy

This can lead to all sorts of examples of temporary blindness or amnesia. I find it’s good to have a smartphone in your pocket as you can quickly whip it out and wander past the child feigning ignorance. I might get into trouble for always playing with my phone, but I’ll probably avoid having to change the nappy.

Some families have the this rule:

That's the idea (source: onedad3girls.com)

That’s the idea (source: onedad3girls.com)

Rule no.3: The person who smelt it first must change the nappy

This rule doesn’t work in our household because during the summer my wife suffers from hay fever and often has a cold during winter. At least she says she does. I have a suspicion that she might be exaggerating things to get out of changing nappies, but as I don’t have any proof there is a danger that I could be accused of having a severe lack of empathy. Instead, the rule gets ignored.

Rule no.4: Outsource

I’ve tried this many times over the years but it never seems to work. You would think that part of the joy of spending time with your Grandchild / nephew / niece would include dealing with a dirty nappy. Apparently not. Wet nappies, yes; dirty nappies, and the child is handed straight back to it’s parent, usually supported by a massive grin. My father is very proud of the fact that he’s never changed a nappy. I don’t believe you’ve really experienced life until you’ve been up to your elbows in somebody else’s shit, desperately not gagging on a smell that can only come from the pit of hell whilst wrestling a baby that suddenly seems to have more arms and legs than an octopus. He’s not convinced.

Rule no.:5 Taking it in turns

This rule is used quite often at home. It is both fair and easy to police. I have found from experience, though, that it can be overruled by the following clauses: I’ve had a bad day at work; I’m cooking / cleaning / busy; it’s my birthday; and my least favourite – just change the bloody nappy.

There is one rule, however, that must not be ignored.

Rule no.5: The nappy must be dealt with quickly

There are a number of reasons for this, not least the happiness and well being of the child, but as I’ve touched on previously here, baby poo is sentient and it hates being kept in enclosed spaces. Left unattended, the poo will break free within minutes, leaving your child covered from the back of the neck down to the ankles (I’m surprised scientists haven’t made the most of these strange, anti-gravitational propertied to produce the next range of space craft.) If there is one thing worse than changing a nappy, it’s holding a screaming child as it’s showered down, then rinsing it’s poo covered clothes.

So how do you decide who changes the nappy in your home? Who wins and who loses? Feel free to leave a reply with your experiences.

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