Archive for category Parenting
Perhaps the weirdest weaning method I have ever come across is that used by American actor, vegan and (IMO) nut-job Alicia Silverstone. Admittedly being a nut-job seems to be a prerequisite for Hollywood actors who, if they’re not members of cults seem instead to be intent on frying their brains on alcohol and drugs or joining food groups like the raw food movement (no Woody Harrelson, just because you were in a couple of movies does not give you the right to instruct us all to forage for nuts and berries for the rest of our life).
In March 2012 Silverstone was reported to have posted a You Tube video and blog in which she is seen chewing her food and then spitting it in to the waiting mouth of her baby Bear Blu, a la mama bird. This I’m against, mainly because it sounds disgusting. Food spitting is a parenting prejudice I am happy to admit to.
But how did it come about? In fact she got the idea from her lesser known but just as rich and mad sister Mavis and her son Rodney Bear Blu though their video was never posted. Luckily I had an exclusive peek and have transcribed it for you below………..
Mavis Silverstone: Ok then Bear, er I mean Rodney, Mommy’s going to make you a yummy feast!
Rodney Bear Blu: (sotto voce) You sure? That looks like you’re making more of that collards drizzled with flax oil.
Mavis Silverstone: YEAH BABY!! Here we are. Miso soup, collards and radish with flax oil and grated daikon
Rodney Bear Blu: (sotto voce) Oh for fucks sake. No cheeseburger then.
Mavis Silverstone: Open wiiiide! *chews furiously* Here we go! *spits in to baby’s mouth*
Rodney Bear Blu: *gags* *pukes*
Mavis Silverstone: Oh my poor wickle baby!! Are you sick honey? You want me to chew you up more daikon? It’s very healing.
Rodney Bear Blu: No it isn’t! It’s fucking minging! You know the only thing worse than pre-chewed grated daikon? Fucking pre-sucked miso soup! You know that by the time it gets to me it just tastes of saliva right? YOUR saliva? You want that I should just cut out the middle man next time and just suck your tongue?
Mavis Silverstone: Oh…baby you can talk….and you sound a bit like a British football hooligan. How did that happen?
Rodney Bear Blu: Never mind that you sappy hippy bitch. Listen up. Stop with the pre-chewed food nonsense. I’m a baby human not a baby bird. Just get me some regular food, cut it up and give it to me on a plate so that I can tip it all over the floor like any normal baby. And also some meat would be nice. In fact anything that wasn’t drizzled in flax oil would be nice. But meat please, once a week. And since I know how much that daikon costs you, you can make it wagyu beef – cooked sous vide.
Mavis Silverstone: But honey, just like my better known sister I’m a vegan!
Rodney Bear Blu: Oh yeah! Of course you are. So you definitely wouldn’t want anyone going to the newspapers about your secret sausage collection would you.
Mavis Silverstone: Actually they’d probably be more interested in how you can talk like that at 10 months old but I take your point. Wagyu beef it is. Unchewed.
*stalks off to make herself some dandelion tea*
So some time last year I posted my second most popular post ever. The gist was that the style of parenting you use was less important that the fact that you believed in it and chose it with love for the child in mind. Also that people should become more accepting of these choices and, y’know, mind their own business a bit more. It was called The Only Right Parenting Style Is Yours
But, just so you know, I’m far from perfect. Each of us as human beings have limits as to how judgmental we can be (or how forgiving). There are certain parental extremes that, while they may have been chosen purely on the basis of love for the child, I’m just not having. In a new Category I am going to list my prejudices. Here is the first.
1. Gender Neutral Parenting
Sasha Laxton was brought up “gender neutral”. His parents knew he was a boy but they didn’t tell anyone else. His room was yellow. He was dressed in ‘neutral’ colours and, at times, in fairy wings and dresses and others in trousers. One of the reasons was, his mother said, because
“Stereotypes seem fundamentally stupid. Why would you want to slot people into boxes? Gender affects what children wear and what they can play with and that shapes the kind of person they become.” (1)
Am I the only one who reads that as ‘gender is a sterotype’? That simply by being aware of a child’s gender you are somehow ‘slotting them in to a box’. Gender is a fact of life, a biological fact that, for one, helps us reproduce as a species. I almost hate to point this out in a modern, politically correct, world but there ARE some things that girls and boys do differently (or one can do and the other cannot). Here’s a short list:
- Pee standing up – males can, females can’t
- Give birth to children – females can, males can’t
- Run the 100 meters in under 10 seconds – males can, females can’t
- Breast feed a baby – females can, males can’t
- Lose hair through pattern baldness – men do, females don’t (and I do mean hereditary pattern baldness and not alopecia)
- Have a natural cycle that regulates when conception can take place – females do, males don’t.
Note I haven’t resorted to actual stereotyping and mentioned ‘doing three things at once’ or ‘spending less than £100 in a shoe sale’ or ‘crying at soap operas’. The above simply indicates that nature has designed women more to be child rearers (and here I mean give birth to and breastfeed – there is no reason at all why the woman cannot go back to work asap if she wants nor any reason why a Dad can’t be a Stay At Home) and men more to do dumb things like run fast and wee up a wall after a night out. There is a natural biological difference between the genders and that is not a stereotype, it is a fact of life.
So here’s the next bit. “Gender affects what children wear”. I’m not one for decking Whirlwind out in pink and purple and having her ride round in a pink buggy with a princess sticker on the back of it. Her clothes are in all sorts of colours including blue (let’s not forget the blue snowsuit she was in on the bus when the mad woman mistook her for a boy) but she has a few that are pink and she has a few that are dresses. Not only does this announce to the world that, yes, she’s a girl but here’s the thing. She looks good in them. Contrast that with the photo of Sasha in his fairy wings who looks not unlike a prop forward squeezed in to a dress for a bet. Boy meanwhile, has been dressed as a boy by us but, again, not purely in blue. He had a beautiful burned orange hoodie that Whirlwind has now inherited. One of his favourite t-shirts when he was 3 was pink (I knew I’d done well because it incensed a conservative Afrikaaans friend of ours from cricket). Whirlwind wears his old blue pyjamas because they are nice and warm and we were buggered if we were going to throw them away. Gender may constrain in a big picture kind of way (no dresses for boys) but within that fairly normal constraint then what your kid can wear is limited only by the parent’s imagination.
And as for ‘gender affects what they can play with’ my answer would be why? We have a large number of toys that Boy had when he was small that Whirlwind is now growing in to. These include Duplo, cars, a toy farm and a pretend screwdriver and, at times, she is just as happy playing with those as she is her dolls or her mouse-in-a-matchbox. When Boy was growing up he went on a lot of play dates with my wife’s friends from the NCT branch and two of her best friends had two girls. He would be quite happy playing with their toy kitchens and they didn’t mind too much when, after a while, he got bored and found a ball instead. At three we got him a tea set that included pink tea cups and he happily made tea parties for his soft toys. Again it is NOT gender that is defining what children can and can’t play with but rather the imagination and prejudices of their parents.
My main problem with Sasha Laxton’s parents though is that I do not believe they did it for him. Their decision was, at least partly, and I suspect mostly, based upon a desire to shock, to push society’s boundaries and to become (in)famous. Time will only tell the actual affect it has on Sasha but if that were me in that fairy wing picture I’d be saving up for therapy right now.
There is no need to bring your child up gender neutral. What would be good is if parents could show a little more imagination and flexibility when purchasing clothes and toys and not run off in horror if their boy grabs a Barbie or their girl a rugby ball.
(1) Quoted in The Observer 22 Jan 2012
Last year I started a writing project that has now totally changed direction. However, part of the original was the below. I had been musing on the difficulty of finding good, local school places and had wondered about alternatives. One of these was home schooling. I knew nothing about it other than I had some prejudices that I felt needed challenging. Luckily, one of my favourite tweeps, Edd from @eddsnotdead home schools and also writes intelligently and humanely. I sent him some questions, wanting my ignorance challenged and he certainly came through.
I thought the least I could do was reproduce it here which Edd was happy for me to do. My questions are in bold and his answers in regular font.
You can read more of Edd at http://eddsnotdead.blogspot.co.uk/
Why did you first decide to home school? Was it something you always intended on or did something happen to make your mind up?
It was a joint decision (as all our decisions are) but my wife was the driving force behind it. I had reservations as to how effective we could be at meeting the education level I felt the kids needed to be at and I voiced them. She showed me websites, gave me print outs and in time convinced me that it was an option. Once I considered it a possibility it came down to the question of should we?
Well, my wife is a smart lady, qualified to degree level in research and Library studies and has vocational teaching experience to back that up. I looked at that and I knew she could get the job done, but should we remove them from school and the ‘normal’ environment for one that’s certainly sitting in the ‘alternative’ section of society?
She had always wanted to have a go at teaching our own kids, wasn’t overly happy with the official provision being offered and didn’t like where some of the current teaching trends were heading. She wanted to make it work and so we agreed to review it in a year’s time and see what happened.
We’re still going five years later and though it’s not getting significantly easier it is something that is beneficial to our family and the development of our children.
Is there a typical day? Or is that the point?
There is a certain amount of work that needs to be done a day. Diaries, handwriting practice, mathematics, English, reading and work recognition. It depends on the child as to how much they have to do and at what level.
Once the small amount of basic ‘table time’ is completed we have a more fluid approach. Obviously we need to get out and about to the park or Library, sports clubs and various tutors we sometimes use for the older children but that’s all the standard stuff really. The exciting things we find ourselves doing like getting involved in filming projects, visiting places that are quite when everyone else is at school and following personal projects and interests make the day’s fun, unpredictable and exciting.
How are you monitored?
The local education authority has a representative that is sent out once a year to check on us and make sure we haven’t eaten any of the kids. I think it’s fair to say that some people are very wary of these visits and see them as an intrusion by the very authority they have escaped from; we see them as an ally.
A month before the visit we try to send the L.E.A a document that details everything that we’ve been up to, what the kids are reaching for, how they are developing and whether we have any concerns or questions. Each child has a dedicated section and our aspirations for the child and the coming year’s education is detailed there-in. The document is over sixty pages long normally and we try to make sure it gives a fair, honest and clear picture as to where we stand since last we saw the L.E.A and where we hope to be by the time the next visit is due.
The document helps to cut away any time the L.E.A representative would waste asking us about what we do so giving them more time to talk to the kids, the people they are really there to see! In the five years we have been going we’ve always gotten on with the rep, found them to be open and helpful and welcomed them in with open arms. We tell the kids they don’t have to show the person their work if they don’t want to but to be honest we find they do want to share and interact with the strange adult that we have sitting at the table.
I gather that some L.E.A representatives are not as open and as relaxed as the ones in our area and I have read some stories of nice people being made to feel like criminals for taking an extra interest in their kids by pushy, judgmental officials. In our corner of the country I have been struck by how genuine, open and supportive the reps have been.
Do you need any qualifications to home school?
Anyone can home-school if they want to. You don’t need to be a mad scientist or rich ex civil servant to do what we do; you just have to want and need to put the work in. It’s not easy, sometimes it’s not fun and almost certainly there are days when it’s not rewarding, but hopefully those days are fewer than the fun ones.
If you have a thirst for knowledge, are enthusiastic about learning and are willing to read up on not just the subjects but on various techniques (both main stream and alternative) of teaching then I think you have a good chance of seeing results.
I’m guessing that with such a large family your children are not missing out on social interaction but would you recommend home schooling for parents with one or two children? How do you make sure they meet other kids?
This is one I hadn’t really anticipated at all; the question of ‘Socialisation’. How often in your life have you been in a work environment which is only populated by people your age? I’m betting it’s probably never. School is an odd place because even in just one class you have kids at very different stages of development because people develop psychologically at different times. Of course you have the common sorts of things like the chemical soups which are going to be roughly swimming around their systems at the same time but surely that is one of the reasons why some people find their time at school to be so negative? You’re all trapped in the same areas, have the same heightened chemical processes going on but varying abilities to control how those reactions affect your behaviour.
In the area we live in we have a large homeschooling community (is it because of the supportive L.E.A office in the area or the general affluence? I don’t know), clubs and support groups and a sports infer-structure that’s of the highest quality. Our kids have friends their own age or comparable ages to play and study with, several sporting groups that they are involved in, their old school mates and a large extended family.
All that is fantastic but it’s also the chances the kids have to connect with the local community that are so beneficial. The staff at the Library, shop workers, museum experts, work men going about their business, all of these people are there to see us and for the kids to interact with. We stop and watch them put the telephone wiring hubs back together in the streets, ask the guy checking the pipes in the hole what he’s doing, reserve books and get recommendations from the Library staff when its quiet, ask release dates for products we are looking forward to and generally encourage the kids to engage people in polite conversation with-in a controlled structure of rules (obviously we are still careful about strangers, talking to people on our own, going near cars, all the simple safety stuff).
This means the kids see the world a bit more, know people are working and get to interact with life perhaps slightly more than the school goers. Yes, they miss out on some large team games on a daily basis but due to our insistence that they all do at least one sport (normally two) they still get their team and individual interactions with their peers as well as other people.
What is the most positive thing about home schooling – the one thing that would sell it to parents?
It’s a lifestyle choice. You have to be totally committed to the idea and actuality of your goal or it’s not going to go well, that’s what I think.
We decided when we got married that we would try whenever possible to have one of us working and one of us at home for the children. I was a ‘house husband’ for five years and it was an amazing time that I wish I could repeat, but currently I work in construction. My wife stays home and educates the children and obviously there is a lot to do with our six excellent kids, so you have to be prepared to put in a shift at home as well as at work. The tidying, the cooking, the bath run, the cleaning and evening lessons all have to be pitched into. If I’m honest it is a very busy, tiring way to live, but it’s also great to know your kids are safe, well and flourishing in a loving, supportive atmosphere.
The days are not always wonderful and it’s not easy but the reward when you hear your child reading clearly and fluently, when they crack the maths problems that has been stumping them, when they make those big developmental jumps and you are there to share in their achievement, support them through the tough times and know that you did it together? Well that is one huge grin you find yourself wearing.
What’s your opinion of the school application and selection process?
I remember getting into the local Catholic school and it was for the most part lovely there. My wife was a practicing Catholic at that time but when she stepped away from the church we still sent the kids to the religious school.
I suppose it’s one of those things that people get very uptight about, getting into the ‘right’ school? Personally I think there are good and bad schools and good and bad ways to get into them. In the end if you are in a supportive atmosphere then you are much more likely to be happy and so do better at whatever it is that you decide to do.
Should people be moving to get into catchment areas or falsifying information to get there? No. Be honest. As it is the system has to process so many kids each year that it’s bound to have some frayed edges, dog-eared corners and exploitable loopholes, but I never had any problems with the system.
*GUEST POST KLAXON*
The brilliant Fran who blogs sadly less regularly at http://motherventing.wordpress.com/ has done me a guest post. A GUEST POST! FOR ME!
On the one hand I’m buggered as it’s funnier than anything I’ve ever written. On the other hand it may attract more of you lovely people here *points at blog* for just a few mins. All comments are for Fran. I won’t* be reading them
*will, every day.
Aka The Day We Had No TV
It started out like any other day. Cold, dark and damp. And that was just the contents of Moo’s overnight nappy. But I dealt with that. I can do that. That was OK considering the SHEER HELL that was to follow.
See, we came downstairs and instantly I knew something was wrong. There was no tiny electric hum. There were no red lights. The TV screen, and indeed, the Sky+ box, were eerily silent and blank. Doom. DOOM. ‘Don’t worry, Moo,’ I muttered, though it was more to reassure my racing heart, ‘I’ll fix it. It can be fixed. IT CAN BE FIXED.’
I couldn’t fix it. I didn’t even know what the fark was wrong with the farking thing, the buttons were all unresponsive, and my usual method of switching off the plug and then switching it on again, while offering up silent pleas to the technology gods, didn’t bloody work. DOOOOOM.
THERE WAS NO TV.
We were LITERALLY going to have to get through the day without Cbeebies.
WHY ME? WHY? WHY DO BAD THINGS ALWAYS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE? WHY??
So it was a bit like going cold turkey. Here’s how the day panned out:
Moo says ‘Cbeebies?’ and then says ‘Cbeebies’ and then says ‘CBEEBIES’. A shiver runs down my spine.
I am frantically singing Numtums tunes at her. It is the NOT the same, and she knows it. She throws a maraca at my head in protest.
The whole getting washed/dressed thing distracts Moo for a while, but once we come downstairs and it becomes obvious once more that the TV will not be going on, I get THE LOOK. ‘Cbeebies,’ Moo demands.
‘It’s not working. The TV is broken,’ I reply, sweat pouring down my brow.
‘Mummy do it,’ Moo says obstinately.
‘I’m TRYING, I’m TRYING, I don’t know HOW to fix it!’ I wail, flicking the switch on the plug again and gazing in terror at the blank screen.
We eat some biscuits in silence. A weird silence.
I keep thinking I hear Sid and Alex’s voices. It’s like being haunted by impossibly chirpy ghosts.
I’m in absolute dread of lunchtime. I can’t remember all the words to the Lunchtime Song. What if Moo doesn’t eat anything unless I can sing the entire song? I make a cup of tea while Moo does some colouring. I’m trying to recall the lyrics: ‘You’ve been playing so hard… and it’s something something… So… what’s on your plate? Der der dum de der der…’ Suddenly I look round. Moo is standing in the doorway. ‘Lunch,’ she says solemnly.
‘Not yet, baby,’ I mutter nervously.
She stares at me. And frowns. ‘Cbeebies,’ she intones.
‘Maybe later!’ I squeak. She walks away.
I sip my scalding hot tea in the kitchen, where I can’t see the TV.
Lunchtime is OK in the end. I give Moo cake for lunch so she is intent on eating that. She doesn’t notice the gaping blackness of the dead TV screen. Whereas it follows me around the room. I hate it. I hate the TV. Why is it doing this to me? I take out all the wires and fiddly bits at the back of the TV and Sky+ box and then put them all back in again carefully. I briefly get excited when I think I hear a mechanical whirr but it’s just one of Moo’s toy cars revving mockingly under my feet. I start to cry.
Moo is in bed for a nap. I come back downstairs even though I hate being in the same deadly quiet space as the TV. I stare at it. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I whisper. ‘Just tell me how to fix you. I want this to work. I want us to have happiness together. Will you please help us achieve that?’
The TV is silent.
‘Oh for god’s sake!’ I scream. ‘So I don’t dust you that often! Is that such a crime? Huh? Other TVs put up with a lot more, and THEY work just fine! You bastard! I hate you!’
I wake up in a heap on the floor in front of the TV. It is still quiet and still. My cheeks are sticky with dried tears.
I had to take Moo out, even though it was cold and raining. Admittedly, we had a good time in the café and the soft play centre, but all the while I was anticipating our arrival home, where there was no TV.
‘Cbeebies,’ Moo says as she takes her coat off.
‘No Cbeebies,’ I say sadly. ‘Remember? Cbeebies has died.’
Moo looks at me distrustfully.
Moo’s daddy rings to talk to her. ‘How’s it going?’ he asks me when I speak to him.
‘Oh god, the TV’s broken,’ I sob into the phone.
‘What? How?’ he says.
‘I don’t know, it’s just NOT WORKING, nothing works,’ my voice trembles with suppressed emotion.
‘Is it the plug socket? Has the fuse gone?’
‘Erm. I… yes, probably. How do I fix that?’
He talks me through it. It sounds kind of simple. We hang up and I face the TV. It stares at me blankly. ‘Fuck you,’ I say quietly. ‘This is over.’
The TV is working. I may have got a mild electric shock while changing the fuse, but the TV is working. ‘Cbeebies,’ Moo says contentedly, and settles down on the sofa to watch Abney and Teal.
‘Yes,’ I say, ‘Cbeebies.’
I feel so tired.
I’ll admit, I don’t think I coped with the situation well. But Moo and I need Cbeebies like we need ACTUAL OXYGEN.
What would YOU do without TV for a day?
I have often wondered since Boy was born if there is such a thing as a typical Dad.
I once wrote that I sometimes consider myself a cross between Daddy Pig and Homer Simpson. These two cartoon characters certainly depict fathers in early middle age but, of course rather differently. Daddy Pig is very laid back but, he should be, Peppa Pig land not being particularly stressful. Homer Simpson though would not be everyone’s first choice as a fatherly role model. On the face of it he drinks far too much beer and chokes his son regularly. He’s boorish and impulsive and has only a tenuous grip on how to hold down a job and parent. And yet he has done things for his children that demonstrate pure love, such as selling his ride on the Duff Blimp so that he could enter Lisa in to a beauty competition to feel better about herself or spearheading the effort to dig Bart out of a well. Sometimes, such as when he becomes a temporary truck driver, Bart joins him on his crazy, impulsive adventures and it has to be said they seem to have more fun than a conventional family ever could on these sorts of road trips. Sometimes just a look from one of his kids can have him debating with his own brain. He worked two jobs, all day and all night to get Lisa a pony.
And yet the mere sight of a donut or beer can divert him from tasks that are vital to the family’s survival. Having discovered that his lack of intelligence was down to a crayon lodged in his brain he gets it removed and instantly dislikes his new higher IQ, getting Moe to reinsert the crayon and bring his IQ back down to 55. And he once shot Marge with a poison dart.
I like Homer because I can relate to the bits of him that are devoted to his wife and children and yet, I realised that he has been characterised in such a way that he is just one step away from a moron. Still, even the moronic traits ring bells with me at times. If I was passing a bar full of my friends on the way home from work could I really resist popping in for a quick beer just because I had promised to be home in time to bath the kids? If I lived next to an annoying, self righteous and holier than thou neighbour how long would I pretend to like them for the sake of keeping up appearances? I know that burning your bridges when you leave a job is a stupid thing to do but which of us blokes haven’t wanted to tell an overbearing or useless boss where to stick it?
If I had my choice then pork chops for dinner every night would be just fine and a beer hat would make an excellent piece of apparel during a football match (so long as it was in private). I might know that ‘gym’ is not pronounced to rhyme with ‘dime’ but I’ve never lasted more than three months of any gym routine ever.
Obviously the child strangling and the forgetting you have a baby and the failure to relate to a clever middle child are not ideal. The first and second of these traits are ruthlessly exaggerated for comic effect but the last is truly tragic. Here I wonder how many men, having suppressed their intelligence for one reason or another, regret doing so instantly they have children.
Suppressed their intelligence? Yes, that’s what I said. Intelligence is not always manly. A stupid bloke can still be one of the lads. Boorish they may be but they will simply attract boorish friends. Think of Trigger in Only Fools and Horses. There are odd jibes about him of course but the one thing he is not is ostracised. Instead people buy him drinks in the Nags Head and involve him in their plans. It may be a comedy plot device – much like Homer’s stupidity – but that doesn’t mean it’s not based on real life examples.
Intelligence at school is not celebrated among boys. If you were a clever boy at my school then you were a ‘Boff’ or a ‘swot’ or you were ‘gay’. I don’t know what perceived insults are used today but I bet the targets are the same. The boys that were admired were the ones who were good at football and fighting and smoking and going further with a girl than just a quick peck. Arrest, lung cancer and teenage pregnancy were not considered. It would be easy for a boy who wanted to fit in or even lead, never mind get laid, to suppress his intelligence, to not try, to eventually become thick because you no longer read or thought or challenged. And so, potentially bright boys are consigned to a life of scamming on estates.
We can even do it on a temporary basis. When I get a paper I will tend to get a broadsheet. The Guardian or, if I’m fed up with its political correctness for a bit The Times or The Independent. When I went away to football games we’d go on the train and I would get The Mirror because everyone got a tabloid and I didn’t want to get laughed at (but at the same time refused to buy The Sun). Sometimes it’s just easier with the crayon in.
But getting it re-inserted on a permanent basis when you have kids? Spending so long pretending to be thick that you actually become ignorant? What happens, then, when you get a child who is born with the natural intelligence that you eschewed (a bit like Lisa Simpson)? When they start to ask questions they expect you to be able to answer?
Don’t get me wrong, I am dreading either child doing A level physics because they will be officially cleverer than me if they do and I won’t be able to help them at all but I should be able to teach them to read, add up and tell the time. To explain why it is dark at night and cold in the winter. To answer why it is we land back on the ground when we jump. Later on to advise on creative writing or algebra or practice their French pronunciation. The second you ask Moe to permanently reinsert that crayon in to your brain is the second you let your children down. Homer Simpson can be a role model for basic love of family, (less for consumption of booze and fat and acting on impulsive whims) but it’s his relationship with Lisa that, for me, lets him down as a parent. He is, already, lost.
Daddy Pig’s relationship with his kids is not lost and he does not have a crayon in his brain. Daddy Pig’s boorish side comes out in his insistence that he is ‘a bit of an expert’ at things he is not (particularly map reading and French) – in other words he over estimates his cleverness – but he is often portrayed as intelligent in the series too (a job in architecture doing complicated sums is sometimes alluded to). He can explain how fog forms (though not find his way through it) and why it is about to snow or why you need to go to the opticians. SOMETIMES Daddy Pig will be portrayed lazily watching the TV and admiring his rather large belly but most times he is shown playing with his children, intelligently and collaboratively. Just when you think he’s over exaggerated a talent it turns out he really is Renaissance Pig as he plays the accordion or executes a perfect dive from the high board, or pulls off a ballet move or makes up a story on the spot.
He does, however, share some traits with Homer and it is here that I mean you only have to look at the media for a short while to get an impression of a typical blokey Dad. He shuns exercise (‘I’m naturally fit’) and calls the local fire station emergency number when he can’t find the tomato ketchup during a BBQ. One morning he sits in the garden with his paper under the false assumption that it’s a Saturday (it’s not, it’s Thursday). He sleeps in the car on a camping trip and falls asleep snoring a puppet show put on by the younger members of the family.
I shun exercise. My dad has been known to fall asleep after lunch. I have been known to take over the map reading and get us lost. When I say I see myself as a mixture of Daddy Pig and Homer Simpson I’m not kidding. Sometimes I play collaboratively with them and sometimes I teach them useful things. Sometimes, though, I sit in front of the TV drinking beer or do things completely on impulse.
Why is there a typical theme when Dads of a certain age are portrayed in the media? Because many men of my age share those characteristics. It is around the edges that we are different, that our ideas of what constitutes a good father differ. Where, however tempting it is, we must resist inserting the metaphorical crayon in to our brains.
Yesterday, Boy had a friend round for tea after school.
As a working parent I normally miss these sorts of events. I’m normally busy fiddling with a spreadsheet or on a conference call about toothbrushes or trying to find out where Darren the Office Junior* has hidden my collection of highlighter pens. Or else I am sitting on a stationary train outside a Surrey Council Estate next to the world’s fattest commuter watching them play Solitaire on their fucking i-Pad (why is it whenever we invent some new and brilliant technology the only thing anyone ever does with it is play Solitaire which they could do with an actual pack of cards for fucks sake). So I never quite see how these things pan out. However yesterday I was working from home which meant I came downstairs right in the middle of the tea date.
They had been playing remarkably nicely together. His friend is a lovely child and we get on really well with the parents. They played the Wii together, didn’t argue and even let Whirlwind join in. I packed away my laptop and started to cook for everyone. Naturally I made Sausages Chips and Beans. At one point I didn’t think the sausages were browning quickly enough and turned up the heat a bit. When I turned them next the little black line showed me that I might have turned it up TOO high and I turned it down again, giving the rest of the sausages a nice even browning.
I called them in to eat. What I didn’t mention about his friend is that, though he is indeed lovely and they get on very well he is also cheeky. Very cheeky. He looked at his sausages. “What are these black bits?” he asked. “We don’t have black bits on the sausages at my house.”
I know he was just asking because they were different but in my mind’s eye I saw Gordon Ramsay losing it. “WHAT THE FUCK ARE THESE? OVERCOOKED SHIT! HOW THE FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO SERVE THESE TO THE DINERS? YOU SEE MARY OVER THERE ON TABLE 12? IF SHE EATS EVEN A MICROGRAM OF BURNED STUFF SHE DIES! DO YOU WANT TO BRING ACTUAL FUCKING DEATH TO MY DINING ROOM? MAKE THEM AGAIN. MAKE THEM AGAIN RIGHT NOW AND DON’T MAKE THEM SHIT! HOW LONG?”
“About 10 minutes chef” I’d reply. Then I’d hang up my apron and cry.
The sausages, by the way, are probably the fattiest thing I have cooked for the whole of January. I am a few pounds over my ideal fighting weight. I’m over forty now! I thought this was allowed, that it was a sign of contented middle-age, but according to my wife it’s not. We are officially on a health kick. Lots of veg and poached things. Less booze. Almost no sausages at all. Also I am about to start cycling regularly for the first time since I was about 17. So steps are in hand to reduce the spare tyreage. Just as well.
After tea the boys were playing the Wii again when Boy’s friend suddenly came over to me. “You’ve got a big fat tummy” he said. Then he poked it to make sure it really was a tummy and I wasn’t smuggling a beach ball or giving birth to a small elephant. I know it was just a 5 year old boy being cheeky but in my minds eye I saw Daniel Callahan addressing someone who is one donut away from a gastric band.
“YOU DISGUSTING WASTE OF SPACE. HOW DARE YOU BREATHE THE SAME AIR AS NORMAL PEOPLE FATTY? I BET YOU HAVEN’T SEEN YOUR DICK IN MONTHS! DROP DOWN AND GIVE ME 5 PUSH UPS. NO? CAN YOU EVEN MANAGE ONE? YOU’RE FILTH! NOW WALK ROUND WEARING THIS SIZE 86 T-SHIRT THAT SAYS ‘I AM A DISGUSTING MESS’ ON IT BEFORE I ROLL YOU ON THE FLOOR LIKE A SMALL CHILD’S WEEBLE.”
The boys went back to playing the Wii revealing a wife who was nearly crying with laughter.
I realise now that she’s right about the weight losing.
I realise that despite being as hands on as possible there are many things about small children that I still have to learn and that she shields me from.
Most of all I realise how much fun it is sitting on a train stuck outside a Surrey Council Estate next to the world’s fattest commuter watching them play Solitaire on their fucking i-Pad.
*I don’t really sell toothbrushes or have an office junior called Darren but my real job isn’t even as exciting as that.
My parents hated football. Somehow I grew up to love it. I think it was because we only got 3 channels on TV in those days so the only time you saw football it was a big occasion. Either the FA Cup final (which quite literally lasted all day) or a big England game. Both came with a sense of a very big deal which appealed to me enormously. Also we lived very close to Brighton’s old ground, The Goldstone. On Saturdays in winter the street would fill with cars and men in blue and white scarves would get out of them and walk to the ground. You could hear the crowd from my road. Particularly you could hear the orgasmic roar when Brighton scored. All this and the fact my parents specifically loathed it is what got me interested in football.
Eventually one of my dad’s pupils (he’s a music teacher) called Joan and her boyfriend Fraser agreed to take me to games. This was when Brighton had a very good team indeed and had pushed their way for the first time in to the top division. I remember games against Liverpool, Man United, Everton. Spicy derbies against Palace. Joan and Fraser always kept me safe but actually being there just magnified my interest in what was a completely different world. Cigar smoke, chanting, obvious swearing and the odd fight in the crowd. On the field incredibly skilful players like Peter Ward, Mark Lawrenson and later Michael Robinson and Steve Foster. Most players were British, quite a few were internationals, many didn’t bother with shinpads and tackling from behind was routine.
When Joan and Fraser couldn’t take me Samir did. Samir was a family friend, an avuncular Lebanese professor who, away from sport was constantly engaging. At football he barely said a word. It was like his studious nature made him observe every nuance of the game and, having escaped civil war in Beirut, he was hardly likely to be put off by the odd skinhead scrapping in the North Stand.
Soon though I felt old enough to go unaccompanied. Again when I asked my parents they initially demurred but eventually I was allowed to go ‘as long as I went in the Family Stand’. My first solo game was against Wimbledon and we won 2-1 with a long range screamer from the marvellously alcoholic and be-mulleted Frank Worthington. I went in the Family Stand and it was boring as anything. Next game I went straight in the North Stand, right behind the goal in the singing section. From here I started to meet people who to this day I count as some of my very best friends. A community. As soon as I was able I went to away games and as soon as I was old enough I went to the pub before matches. We froze our knackers off in Oldham and colonized the pool tables of back street locals in Brighton.
All this is a very long way of saying that football for me is much more than 90 minutes of men running around. My wife still doesn’t understand when I want to leave a bit earlier than she thinks it would take me to get to the ground for kick off and that’s because I want to see my friends and have at least one pint beforehand. Ideally two or three. Don’t get me wrong, for the 90 minutes the game’s on nothing else matters and I am completely absorbed in the match but it wouldn’t be anything like the experience it is without the chance to have some Real Ale and bit of banter first.
On our next home game I am dropping this routine.
A good family friend has wanted to take her son to the new ground for ages. I got her tickets for the game against Watford on 29 December and, since Boy and her son get on very well I said we’d come too. I’m swapping my normal seat in the comfortable rowdiness of the West Stand Upper for a family seat in the quieter East Stand. There will be no pub, the focus instead on ensuring the kids have an enjoyable day out at the football. Hot dogs and programmes will be bought, I suspect, and colours worn with pride.
I worried I was forcing it down his throat but he now attends football club after school and works with Will, a coach from Albion In The Community. He’s been to a couple of their mini-kickers sessions and has a training top, replica kit, a hand clapper and flag. He is very excited about going already. Meanwhile I’ve abandoned my normal football bravado and turned in to Worried Parent. I shall have to ensure he has a wee before we leave. I will have to pick a train time that won’t be too crowded yet won’t get us there stupidly early or, instead, have us queuing for ever. I have no idea how to do this. I will need to check his hot dog is properly cooked, protect him from swearing and confrontation. Most of all, since he is scared shitless by people dressed in giant animal costumes, I shall have to protect him from the mascots, mascots who are there specifically to come up and say hello to 6 year old boys. Bugger.
But there are so many elements of it that I AM looking forward to. Getting off the train and seeing the stadium rise like a giant spaceship from the ground. Explaining the game and who the players to look out for are. Maybe taking him to the club shop and letting him add to his collection of Brighton stuff. Hoping we score. Hoping we win.
Selfishly a part of me worries he will enjoy it too much. When I do go in the comfortably rowdy West Stand Upper it is with Best Friend Of All. He has 3 boys but both of us leave the kids behind. Recently I have been unable to make a couple of games and he has taken his sons, in rotation, in my stead. They have enjoyed themselves immensely and are bugging him to go again. If Boy enjoys himself (and as a parent I will have failed if he doesn’t) he will want to go again too. If he does we are already talking about getting tickets for the kids. This could be the end of one era and the start of another. Much less pub. Much less banter. Much more parenting.
Then again it could be a specific bond, father to son. I am very close to my Dad despite his dislike of football. Our special bond was swimming. My mum cannot swim so he taught me and my brother and it was always our special time together. Both my wife and I swim and so swimming for us is family activity on family days. Football may be our Father to Son male bonding. And I know my mates understand. We’ll see how it turns out.
*I say first. I took him to Withdean, our old ground, because we were playing a Cup game no one was interested in and we could get tickets together for me and Best Friend of All and all the kids. It was one of the dullest games on record and he was too young and we left at half time. I don’t count it. Saturday will be his first proper football experience.
So, nearly a year in to the blog and my first proper craft post. Mainly because I am to craft what Giant Haystacks was to riding Derby winners. However even I managed this. What is it? Well, first some background.
At Christmas we don’t have a real tree. This is entirely down to laziness but before you judge us too harshly know that my own memories of real trees are not exactly golden. Maybe it was because we got a cheap tree when I was a kid or maybe the non-drop species hadn’t been invented yet (if one can invent a tree) or maybe it was because it was the 1970s and EVERYTHING in the 70s was shit with the exception of punk music. I don’t know. I just know that my dad would come back with a real tree some time in December which we would then decorate. This would cause half the pine needles to fall on the floor. These would then be hoovered up by a parent wielding an upright vacuum cleaner the size and weight of the sort of small car manufactured in cheap South Korean car plants. That would then be followed by whichever parent had done the hoovering having a stiff drink. Then the other half of the pine needles would fall off.
By Christmas Day it would resemble not so much a Christmas Tree as a Christmas Stick. You still had to stare at it till January 5th but at that point the problem of how to get rid of it would arise. I vaguely remember having a very bare Christmas Tree in the front garden till about May.
But I understand that fake plastic trees are a bit environmentally shit and look particularly unappealing. I also understand that part of the magic of Christmas for kids is preparing the tree. What to do? Last year my wife hit on a brilliant solution that has become a family tradition.
We got a 3D cardboard tree (so recyclable) from Red Jelly. It comes with cardboard decorations and a cardboard star. Then you get in to your messy clothes (or supposedly, of which more later) and paint the tree. Here there are no rules. Any colour or style goes. You leave the tree to dry and then you paint the decorations and hang them in the holes, put on your painted star, add some tinsel and bingo.
This year we had some help from Best Friend of All and his 3 boys who had not been briefed and therefore were not in old clothes. We kept ours in their day clothes too and I’m pleased to report the only casualty was Whirlwind’s tights. She did also attempt to paint our fridge blue but thanks to a combination of vigilance and water based paints it still retains it’s original hue.
Tree painting is tremendous fun, environmentally sound and, at the end you have a tree that is completely unique. It’s beginning to look like a day glo, multi-coloured, cardboard Christmas. And I love it!
Boy has just turned 6 and has a (very small) speaking part in the school Christmas Play. So proud of his rehearsals have I been and so eager has he been for me to go that I have booked that afternoon off work to attend. However, as it stands, only one of us will be able to see it.
The school has banned under 3’s from attending. Whirlwind is under 3 (and appropriately named believe me). They have also stopped running a crèche. This leaves our options thus:
1) I go and my wife stays home with Whirlwind
2) Wife goes and I stay home with Whirlwind
3) We find a babysitter
4) We participate in a baby sitter swap scheme being unofficially organised by the parents group
Option 3 is harder than you would think. None of our parents live in the same town as us and our friends all have school age children who they would either be watching in their own plays or collecting at that time. Option 4 may yet work only you a) need to be CRB checked (I am but my wife isn’t and she’d be doing the reciprocal baby sitting) and b) the times of the other class’s play clashes with Whirlwind’s regular play group.
To be honest it’s all become a bit of a pain in the arse.
One part of me is really annoyed. Banning under 3’s would be fine if you still ran the crèche. Getting rid of both at the same time puts many parents who’s older child is performing in a difficult dilemma and directly discriminates against parents with toddlers. Whirlwind certainly wouldn’t be banned from similar events elsewhere. Certainly not at, say, the local church’s carol concert (I am atheist, my wife is Christian, neither of us bang on about it).
The school have done this to give each child the best possible chance to perform without interruption. Now I know that Boy would much rather do his play to ALL of us than have perfect silence when he did. On the other hand he only has 2 lines. If both of them were obscured (or he was put off) by someone else’s toddler I would spend the entire remainder of the play staring at said toddler and their parents hoping my eyes would turn in to giant lasers and temporarily burn out their tongues. So I can see where they’re coming from.
Ultimately, though, I feel the decision has not been fully thought through by the school. It is not in the most salubrious of areas. There will be parents who cannot afford a private baby sitter. There will be single parents. The choices for them will be much harder than our dilemma. Hopefully they can get a partner in the baby sitter swap.
Am I only annoyed because I feel that it’s us who are being singled out? Is the school right to provide a perfectly silent environment for what is, after all, a play? Or is it better to have the whole family present and make it the family’s responsibility to look after their under 3 and to take them out of the performance is they become upset or badly behaved?
I’d love it if you could tell me what you think in the comments thing down there because I have absolutely no idea if my slightly miffed feeling is justified or selfishness.
Recently I wrote a post about Boy’s first swimming strokes. Sadly, after that he went a bit backwards. He was still with the same swimming school that had got him to take off the armbands but they had to change pool and he hated the new pool. I thought this a bit odd but apparently it happens quite a lot. He went back in to his shell, became the old, scared Boy that didn’t want to go to swimming lessons. This was a shame I thought. I love swimming. I bang on about it a bit. Time in the water, for me is about fun AND fitness, giving your whole body a workout. And man alive, does my flabby butt need a workout. Whirlwind has found water immense fun since she was 5 days old. We suspect her of being a mermaid. I wanted him to get a fraction of that joy in his life.
We despaired a bit and then my wife found out about MXT swimming. On Saturday morning we took him for a half hour assessment, one on one.
I can’t tell you what happened because my wife took him while I stayed home to stop Whirlwind putting her toys in the oven. When he came home he was beaming. He told me he and Mario ‘had been a dolphin’. Then he said ‘Daddy, tomorrow when we go swimming do you want to see me swim underwater?’. I nearly fell over backwards. He was raving and happy and I agreed we’d go to the pool the next day, all of us. Then I remembered I was out that night with the Dads Club at his school and we had planned a very large one. Ooops.
The next day I had the sort of hangover that makes you feel like you’ve been dug up. It’s a good job my wife always does the driving because she was definitely doing the driving that morning. We drive because we go to Burgess Hill because it has a leisure pool that’s suitable for both of them (of which more in a bit). I managed to get changed without throwing up, got my gear in a locker at the 57th attempt and joined my family in the pool. Boy insisted on no arm bands, walked straight to the side of the pool and swam to me in a perfect, flat as a pancake, crawl with his head in the water. Then he did the same breaststroke. Then he tried diving in.
Neither of us could believe what Mario achieved in just half an hour! We are booking him in for four weeks of intense one on one at we think he’ll be swimming further and further after every session. I haven’t even met the guy and yet he is my ultimate swim hero already. Move over Michael Phelps.
Sadly there’s a villain too. The Burgess Hill pool is run by Freedom Leisure and they have just closed it for essential maintenance. For a month. It will be closed from today until the 29 December. We are prepaid members but on a swim only basis and guess what is the one thing we can’t do now? We naturally assumed they would suspend our membership for a month but no, they are taking our money even though we can’t use the facilities we are paying for. This would be bad at any other time of year but in the run up to Christmas it is outrageous.
They did say we could swim at 2 other pools but these are at Hayward’s Heath and Crawley, much further away, and pools the children don’t know (remember it was the POOL that freaked Boy out rather than his other school). Freedom have 2 pools in Brighton and Hove but they won’t transfer us to be able to use these so we have to pay again (to the same company) if we want to use them! And then there’s the fact that all their other Burgess Hill customers will be using the other pools as well as their own regulars.
I understand that a pool has to be deep cleaned from time to time and that there is a general clause that you may be unable to use it when it is in the membership. But a whole month? Including holiday times. REALLY? Shocking.
So while Mario is my hero Freedom are my villains. In fact for services to child unfriendliness they win my second ever soiled nappy award.
Disclaimer 1 – I have not been sponsored to write this and I have no connection with MXT.
Disclaimer 2 – Swimming after a night on Jaeger Bombs is neither big not clever.