Thursday, 14 September 2017

Birthday party politics

Few things are more awkward than standing on the sidelines of a child's birthday party with other parents, watching your offspring gallivant around a sports hall and attempting half-hearted conversations with fellow party chaperones who don't want to be there just as much as you.

What's more, there's no escape. All the children have them and therefore the scene on recurring weekends is the same, with the same group of parental hangers-on willing the time away at soft play centres, football pitches, lazer quest, trampoline parks and, worst of all, at community centres with happy-pill-filled children's entertainers.

Never is the emotional experience of child and parent more different than at a birthday party. For the child, this is the pinnacle of weekend entertainment, a heady cocktail of prescribed fun, sugary food, loud music and party bags. For the parents, it's two hours of pretending you're answering work emails on your phone and forcibly smiling as a 20-something youth in an ill-fitting Spiderman costume tells the children to shout louder.

Then there's the politics of the party food. Just as the children are at their sweatiest they're summonsed to the table and presented with an insane amount of food. There's usually enough sandwiches to feed the lunch crowd at M&S Covent Garden, as well as assorted dishes of sausages, crisps, biscuits, cakes and the well intentioned mum's bowls of carrot sticks and cucumber.

Ignoring everything that isn't covered in either icing or sugar, the children pile their plates high while the parents help with opening bags of crisps or sticking straws in cartons of drink. What happens next is unspoken, but universal. Every parent in that room is thinking the same thing; there's no way on God's earth that these children are going to eat all that food. I want it, but can I be the one to dive in? No one else is, everyone is holding back. Surely someone will take one of the 4,000 ham sandwiches remaining on that plate? It's lunch time, I'm starving and I haven't even been offered a chocolate finger! I'm going to do it. That sausage roll has my name on it. There's half a bowl of Frazzles over there begging to be eaten. Sod it, stuff you lot and your 'I'm too good for this children's food' conservatism, I'm doing this for the hungry fathers out there. Oh, no, hang on, it's too late, Mum and Gran are tidying it away. Damn you unspoken children's party etiquette!

As for party bags. with the obligatory slice of cake and kilo of Haribo, great idea. That's just the battle I need in the back of the car on the way home. Not for me a serene journey with exhausted child napping in the rear seat, I'd much prefer a 20 minute shouting match in which I'm repeatedly told I'm the worst Dad in the world.

Same time next week everyone?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Time for a relaunch of CluedUpDads...

When I first began this blog I envisaged myself writing posts on a daily basis, sharing witty insights into every moment of my life as I journeyed through the adventures of fatherhood. It was a noble and exciting vision, but as the sparsity of posts over the past couple of years proves, reality got in the way. 

Finding the time to write while working long hours, commuting for tedious hours and wrestling with the children for fun/infuriating hours, became an impossible challenge and my blog updates were sacrificed for precious time with my wife, the occasional beer and half an hour of TV before bed.

Now, however, I find myself restructured out of my previous employment and in possession of an overwhelming and unexpected amount of time. No more 6.40am alarm clock, no more delayed trains, no more getting home 15 minutes before the children go to bed. I have time on my hands for the first time in years and, just as I plan to enjoy lunch with my children, pre-school pick-ups, afternoon walks, morning playgroups and all the other parental duties I've missed out on, I'm going to relaunch CluedUpDads.

I have no idea what the future will bring, but I'd like this blog to become more than a vehicle for my own ramblings. I'd like to call upon all you dads to share your thoughts, feelings and frustrations on fatherhood by letting me know what grinds your gears or gets you through the day. Comment on posts, make suggestions for future posts, share your own blogs...whatever you wish. I'm sure CluedUpDads will evolve over time, but let's just see where it goes from here.

As for me, it's half past two in the afternoon, what  better time of the working day for a lengthy bath?

Tuesday, 14 October 2014


Back in my day the only thing children could swipe was the half penny sweets from under the nose of the dirty-fingered newsagent. Today, however, children have become masters of swiping as they assume every brightly lit screen they come in to contact with is a touchscreen. 

 Take our house as an example, not too long ago my three-year-old managed to wipe my work ipad, restoring it to its default factory-fit settings and erasing all email, contacts and everything else I call upon daily. Our TV, meanwhile, now displays a permanently blurry picture along its bottom half as grubby two-year-old fingers attempt to swipe the screen to control the actions of Mr Tumble or to end any attempt by the adults in the room to watch anything of interest to them. 

 Touchscreen technology and the ability to swipe photos, pinch and zoom images, pause, stop and play videos is a part of every day life and I guarantee that 99% of today's children become adept at using and controlling this technology much, much quicker than they do at using a pencil and writing their name. Is there anything wrong with this? No. It's natural evolution and as they'll grow up to live in a world where the pen and the pencil are increasingly redundant, our ipad-destroying infants will go on to become the Bill Gates' of tomorrow, albeit Bill Gates with terrible handwriting.

 Does this mean we ditch writing lessons altogether? Don't be daft. It just means that handwriting will become less important as our children grow up. In my case, possessing handwriting that my secondary school English teacher once described as the worst she had ever seen, probably means that my children will be genetically predisposed to write with similar cack-handiness (or at least there's a 50/50 chance, their mother's handwriting may just spare them). 

So, personally, I'd have no issues with my offspring preferring the keyboard to the pen, just as long as they don't add LOL to the end of any sentences!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Happy holidays...

I've just returned to work after a week's holiday with the family; a week's holiday that was intended to be a break from work, an escape to the countryside, even a time to relax.

In reality, of course, it was none of those. It was a week at Center Parcs (an unashamedly middle class wooded Butlins for those who haven't been), a week where we rushed around after the children more than we do at home. A week after which I feel exhausted.

Don't get me wrong though, I love Center Parcs, with all its faux alpine cottages and road trains. It does feel like you're on another planet. Indeed, you'd almost expect to bump into an Ewok clan as you chase your offspring through the trees.

However, there's one element of Center Parcs life that all parents loathe, a daily ritual that sends blood pressure soaring; the pre and post swim multi-child cubicle change.

Like trying to nail jelly to the wall, drying and dressing an infant and a toddler, while yourself slowly catching pneumonia as you remain in wet trunks until the bitter end, is a seemingly impossible task.

And so it was last week, sometimes twice a day, that my wife and I squeezed into a tiny cubicle with children, bags, towels and locker coins (that instantly rolled under the door or down the drain), attempting to undress or dress two human jellies who, pre swim, were too excited to stay still and, post swim, too tired to stay still.

Believe you me, you have no idea how good a glass of wine in the evening tastes until you've done the Center Parcs pool!

Roll on next year.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Attack of the spambots...

Turn your back on your blog for a few months and the world's spambots go comment crazy. Many thanks to you all for wasting the past half hour of my life as I deleted all the faux congratulations and appreciations, together with the assorted advice on everything from earthworm anatomy to Malaysian hotels.

Toothpaste boy strikes again...

Whenever my phone rings as I'm walking to work, with 'HOME' flashing up as the caller ID, my heart inevitably skips a beat.

What on earth has happened? My mind spins at a thousand miles an hour as I imagine a whole host of accident and incident scenarios playing out at home; child(ren) trapped in tumble drier, roof collapsing, electrics blowing, burglar at the front door...it's got to be bad!

Anxiously, I pick up the call.

"He's done it again," proclaims my exasperated wife. "I turn my back for two seconds and he's got a mouth full of toothpaste."

I breath a sigh of relief. But, wait a minute, this is bad news after all. Our son clearly has an addiction to flouride. Indeed, this is the fourth time this week that he has grabbed a window of opportunity to squeeze as much Colgate into his mouth as possible.

"He's complaining that his tongue hurts," continues my wife. "But he's smirking at the same time."

What is this? A terrible twos game of 'let's see how far I can push Mummy and Daddy before they break' or has our little lad got a genuine taste for toothpaste?

And what tactic do we take from here? Experience has shown me that dealing with a two year old requires intensive levels of diplomacy, and that different scenarios can require radically different approaches. Do you, for instance:

1. Take the calm approach: Sit him down and explain to him why ingesting toothpaste in large quantities is not a good idea
2. Take the naughty step approach: Raise your voice, go a bit bananas and leave him in no doubt that his actions have resulted in banishment to said step of naughtiness or...
3. Ignore him completely: Pretend that you haven't noticed, that you're not bothered by the toothpaste eating at all and that it's completely normal behaviour, in the hope that the lack of any kind of reaction means that he drops it altogether (hopefully not to be replaced with shampoo drinking)

"I've had it," says the wife, "all toothpaste is now kept on top of the medicine cabinet."

Fair enough, I just hope this isn't setting a precedent for the future; one in which all our bathroom products are stored out of sight and above adult head height.

As for the boy, he certainly smells minty fresh at the moment, so no complaints there!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

A lot can happen in a year...

When I began this blog I envisaged myself casually writing a post a day, with ample time to reflect on life's intricacies, tweeting and retweeting to the lovely people who follow me on Twitter and generally finding enough time in the day to live a fulfilled digital life.

Well, I think I may have been a tad optimistic. A year after my last post - and half an hour after my five failed login attempts - I have just about found the time to pen these words.

Oh how life has changed.

I'm no longer a first time dad for starters. Number two was born last July and the six months since have proved to be the toughest of my life.

 "It'll be easier with the second," I remember some smug, but deluded, people telling me back in June. Indeed, double the offspring has actually quadrupled the amount of stress, tiredness, emotional exhaustion, household mess and general child-induced madness under our roof.

 So, as I return to irregular blogging, again, I hereby want to set the record straight. Two children, 18 months apart, is BLOODY HARD WORK!!!! 

Let me, for instance, talk you through a standard breakfast routine:

Mummy, shattered from feeding throughout the night is asleep, No.2 is awake and crying, No.1 hears No.2 and wakes up, shouting; "Dadddddddddddyyyyyyyyy" at top voice.

Carrying No.1 (with nappy at saturation point)I pick No.2 up with the other arm and proceed precariously down the stairs, looking like an Olympic weightlifter in a dressing gown.

Still with No.1 in arms I set No.2 down and, with one hand, attempt to make tea for myself while also peeling a banana for No.1 (who is now attempting to turn on the TV and demanding immediate 'Bob Builder' entertainment).

Preparing a one-handed breakfast for myself and No.1 I carry a tray into the dining room, spilling tea on to the increasingly stained carpet in the process, and ignoring it.

Change No.2. Strap No.1 into his seat. Help No.1 with his breakfast. Soothe the now crying No.2 who refuses to be left lying in the middle of the floor. Finally have my tepid cup of tea.

It's 7.30am, bedtime is a lifetime away.