Category Archives: Another Dad

Pram Etiquette

When parenthood looms, there are a number of skills that any self-respecting mum or dad will want to acquire. Breast-feeding, nappy-changing and bottle-expressing are talents that, while not exactly rocket science, must nevertheless be learnt by neophyte parents. Another talent that can be added to that list is pram-pushing. It may sound simple, but it’s harder than you’d think.

When I was little and my mum would take me to the supermarket, I always clamoured to get to push the trolley. After knocking over towers of tinned fruit and nipping a few old ladies’ ankles, I was soon relieved of my duties however. Imagine my excitement, years later, when I became a father, and the opportunity arose to relive the four-wheeled perambulations of my youth. Best of all, there’d be no one with the authority to curtail my fun, should things go awry.

As I manipulated the pram through crowded streets for the first time, I found myself confronted by a series of incommodious wheeled obstacles to negotiate – opposing prams. I had never realised how many babies there are in the world until acquiring one myself. As I fleetingly made eye contact with the mothers struggling to manoeuvre their cumbersome contraptions past mine, I wondered what the correct protocol was for such situations. White van men tend to give each other a nod and let their fellow drivers out at junctions. Do the same rules apply to pram etiquette? Unsure of the correct protocol to follow, I decided against acknowledging my fellow pram-pushers.

During my sojourn through town, I clung on tightly to the pram at all times, scared that I might become separated from it. The firm grip was not for fear of someone trying to steal my baby, but lest i absentmindedly wander off, forgetting that I had company. My dad once forgot my sister and arrived home without her, much to the horror of my mum. 25 years later, he’s still not been forgiven. Returning home with all my shopping but no daughter would make for an inauspicious start to fatherhood. After expertly pushing the pram up and down kerbs, through swing doors and up escalators, it occurred to me that all my trolley-pushing practice of yore had stood me in good stead.

The ability to nappy-change one-handed while spoon-feeding your baby is an invaluable skill to acquire, especially during those formative early months. Likewise, if you can express milk in the middle of the night without so much as raising your weary head off the pillow, your talent is to be admired. When it comes to venturing out into the real world however, the only skill you truly need is to have complete mastery over your buggy. By all means baby your baby, but don’t let that pram run you ragged – teach it who’s boss. It’s the only language it understands.

De Facto Dad

I saw my girls today for the first time in three weeks.  In the world of business, 21 days is nothing – invoices frequently take four times that long to clear – but when your daughters are two and five, three weeks is an aeon.  How long three weeks is in toddler years, I don’t know.  All I do know is that three weeks is too long.  When you live 100 miles away from your children, it’s not far enough as to make the distance an excuse for a lack of contact.  It is far enough however so as to render popping in to see them on the spur of the moment impracticable.  It takes me four hours and two buses to reach the girls, slightly less when I can afford the train.  Lil E has already changed so much since I last saw her.  Two years old and she’s bigger, more loquacious and more like me than ever.

 

‘Daddy!’ says Big K, holding out her arms to greet me as the front door swings open.  ‘I thought you weren’t coming.  I was just asking mummy where you were.’  I hug her before crouching to lift up Lil E, who’s waddled through clutching her dolly.  It’s good to be back.

 

Within a minute of my arrival, K has excitedly broken the big news to me: they’re going to be moving into a new house.  Big K, Lil E, mummy and her boyfriend.  I ask their mother if it’s true that they’ll be moving.  She nods.  XP and her boyfriend of 18 months are indeed going to buy a house and move in together.  I’m informed that they’re currently looking for a place.  Soon my daughters will live even further away.  Not too much further, admittedly, but still a few miles the wrong way of the 100 that it currently stands at.  Soon they’ll have a man living in the house with them again 24/7.  Another dad – a de facto dad.  Does it bother me, that XP and the girls are moving on?  Do I feel marginalised or usurped in some way by this unexpected development?  No, not really.  Perhaps if I had cause to dislike XP’s boyfriend, I might feel slighted, but I’m not particularly bothered.  He’s fine; she’s fine; I’m fine.  We’re all pretty damn fine.

 

XP heads out for the night, to enjoy an unbroken sleep at her mum’s house, leaving me with the girls.  ‘I’m hungry,’ says Big K opening the freezer and pulling out a tub of ice cream.  I tell her she’s not having ice cream before bed but offer to make her a sandwich instead.  K throws a tantrum and bursts into tears, informing me in no uncertain terms how mummy wouldn’t let this happen on her watch.  I stand my ground.  She demands the phone so she can inform her mother about this travesty of justice.  ‘You’re not the boss of me!’ stomps K.  ‘Only mummy is.  You can’t tell me what to do – you’re just my friend!’  I wearily swipe a finger across my smartphone and pass it to K.  Three weeks is too long.

i-Nfant

In case you weren’t aware, kids grow up fast these days. Technically, they grow up no faster than us adults, but if the old adage is to be believed, kids grow up damn quick. No matter how swiftly they advance in leaps and bounds, however, they can never hope to keep pace with technology, which mutates faster than bacteria. This year’s iPhone4 is soon to become obsolete, while last year’s iPhone3 is a veritable antique. It’s hard enough for adults to keep pace of the fast-moving changes in the world of technology – what chance do kids have? A pretty good one actually. It’s not just foreign languages that infants can learn faster than their parents; they’re equally adept at mastering technology.

Grandparents have long known that the best source for advice on programming the video recorder is the grandkids. VCRs have now bitten the dust, although hopefully the grandparents are still kicking about, manfully trying to program Sky+ before giving up and deferring to the wisdom of the grandchildren as usual. Like most adults, I work with computers on a daily basis; indeed, my laptop is almost glued to me, as my sidelined girlfriend will attest. While I’m unlikely to be turning to my daughters anytime soon for technical advice, I am nonetheless amazed at how quickly they are capable of grasping concepts that I only recently mastered myself.

My youngest daughter, E, is two. She’s already accomplished at using my smartphone to take photos and then view them by swiping her way through the image gallery. K, who is five, naturally fares better. She can write me letters using a word processor. She can search Google for Dora the Explorer flash games. She can work iTunes and iPods, send text messages and retrieve programmes from Sky+. For the first two decades of my life, none of these technologies even existed. Had they been extant, I’d like to think I’d have gotten the hang of them just as quick. Nevertheless, I’m still amazed at how effortlessly infants can integrate themselves into the digital environment they are born into.

Later this month, K will turn six. For her birthday, I’m going to buy her a laptop. It’s what she wants, and it’s also what I want for her. I’m intending to create an email account for her, so we can keep in touch when she’s living with her mum, as is the case during the week. Even though I’m not planning to purchase her an extravagant model, there will be 1,000 times more computing power in the laptop she acquires than there was in the Amiga 500 I got as my first computer when I was 15. While the concept of purchasing a laptop for a six-year-old sounds ridiculous, the reasoning behind it is sound enough, and I don’t doubt that she’s ready for it. My mate, whose oldest daughter is the same age as K, has also separated from his partner. He recently decided to give his daughter a mobile phone so she could keep in touch with him. Thus, this five-year-old found herself in possession of his old mobile phone – which just so happened to be an iPhone3. It might be last year’s model, but try telling that to the girl who’s just landed herself the coolest phone in the playground. Kids grow up fast these days.

Playing Grown-Ups

Isn’t it strange that when you’re little, you spend most of your time wanting to be grown up? Then, when you finally reach adulthood, you yearn for the innocence of youth once again. If youth is wasted on the young, adulthood is surely wasted on the adults. Such dissatisfaction is symptomatic of humankind in general: we’re always wanting what we can’t have, be it our neighbour’s wife or the opportunity to experience our formative years once again, a time when the summer holidays seemed to last forever and mum would treat you to chocolate spread sandwiches made with Mighty White.

Playing at being grown-ups is a natural thing for kids to do: it’s fun, it’s harmless and it’s one of the many ways in which children can learn to see the world from a different perspective. Donning dad’s oversized hard hat does not a construction worker make, any more than playing doctors and nurses qualifies a child to perform open heart surgery. Nevertheless, it is through these formative games that ideas are formed, ideas that may one day germinate into a potential career. Needless to say, kids are far more inclined to dress up as vacuous celebrities than they are as chartered accountants. Lady Gaga may be not be an ideal role model for children to emulate, but there’s no denying that she’s got some great outfits.

Children pretending to be adults is one thing; children copying adult behaviour is quite another. There has been much debate in the media lately about the sexualisation of children, typified by accessories such as padded bikinis and girls’ t-shirts with suggestive slogans on them. At what point does dressing up become a step too far? When I was little, I used to love raking through the dressing up box and pulling on flamboyant velvet jackets and garish old ladies’ hats. On more than one occasion, I recall tottering about in my mum’s high heels, with her perfume liberally daubed all over me. In spite of these cross-dressing tendencies, I grew up to become a relatively normal adult.

My five-year-old daughter, K, loves nothing more than trying on her mum’s make-up, usually all at once. The look is reminiscent of those ghastly beauty pageants that some American mothers put their children through. Needless to say my requests for K to go easy on the eye-liner fall on deaf ears. So long as it’s all scrubbed off by bedtime however, I can’t say I’m bothered. Pretending to be a grown-up every now and then is fine, but why would any parent want to encourage their child to act older than their years? The best thing about being a kid is being a kid – even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time.

Designer Baby

As a parent, you want what’s best for your baby.  The best food; the best care; the best buggy and, of course, the best clothes.  The definition of ‘best clothes’ is something of an amorphous one, with many parents happy so long as they can acquire baby clothes that are new, cheap and suitably cute.  Beyond that, the minutiae doesn’t matter; who cares whether it’s from Asda or Primark?  Once that modest price tag’s been torn off, no one will be any the wiser, not least your baby, who is too busy slurping milk and soiling nappies to pay any attention to the sartorial style you have assigned it.

It’s impossible to write about raising children without reflecting on how you are no longer one of those kids, and are thus out of touch with toddler trends.  I’m loathe to wheel out the phrase ‘when I was a lad’, for it elicits superannuated adults struggling to recall their youth and relate it in some meaningful way to the kids of today.  It doesn’t matter how often I play with my Scalextric set when the girls are in bed, or how many of my daughters’ birthday parties I attend at soft play centres: the fact is, I’m no longer down with the kids.  In fact come to think of it, I probably never was.  When I was a youth – sorry, ‘during my formative years’ – my family were quite poor and I was often dressed in other kids’ hand-me-downs and clothing rescued from jumble sales.  Somehow, I survived this traumatic experience and made it through to adulthood unscathed.  Most kids nowadays (here we go again with the anachronistic language) would rather miss Christmas than have to wear second-hand gear.

Of course, if you’ve got the money to kit your kids out in head-to-toe Hollister, that’s your prerogative.  Some people would say that dressing your children in designer threads is a fatuous waste of money, but don’t worry, they’re just jealous.  XP and I rarely bother to purchase designer clothing for our girls.  We’re not against such garments per se; it just seems a little pointless when, to wheel out another chestnut, ‘kids grow up so fast these days’.  ‘I’ll buy you a set of football boots when your feet stop growing,’ my mum used to always say to me.  I’m still waiting.