Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Can a winning mentality be taught?

I am well aware of the fact that I have already taken up too much space on this blog venting my spleen on the subject of the shambolic England 'football' team. However, a similarly disillusioned television pundit made a great point last night that has got me thinking about the responsibility parents have when it comes to the mental upbringing of their children.

Now, I am also aware that, as my son or daughter has yet to be born, I am utterly unqualified to tell anyone how to bring up their children, so please feel free to disregard this blog the minute you've read it. However, the aforementioned television pundit made his point when discussing the difference between England's failures and Germany's victors.

"The Germans," he said. "Approach every game and handle every opportunity with the mentality that 'this is my moment to become a hero, to write my name in football history.' The English, on the other hand, approach every game and handle every opportunity with the mentality that 'ooh blimey, this is an awful lot of pressure, what will people say if I mess up?'"

So the question we have to ask ourselves is why do we all think like this? And is there anything we can do to become a bit more Germanic in our approach to winning?

Personally, I feel that competition is healthy and good for children and that the "it's not the winning, it's the taking part" brigade could inadvertently be doing more harm than good to our impressionable little ones. Surely I'm not the only one who thinks that we should be encouraging our children to enjoy competition, to be confident in their abilities and confident in their actions.

Yes, kids will make mistakes and no, they shouldn't be berated for them. Instead, we should be encouraging our children to try new things, to take risks, to try those things that are just as likely to go spectacularly wrong as they are to go spectacularly right. Sometimes the safe option is just that, safe, while the risky option could be the one that makes the difference, leads to the winning goal and makes history.

There's no doubt that sport, as with so much in life, is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one, but I honestly believe that competition, coupled with positive reassurance with regards to risk taking and adventure, is exactly what's needed from a young age in order to create footballers, and people,  who want to grab their history defining moments with both hands, rather than shy away and disappear without trace.

Lecture over.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Pre-baby pressure

"Ooh, make the most of this time;" "It'll all change once the rugrats come along;" "Go to bed now and sleep" - all words of supposed wisdom that have come our way in the course of telling people that we are soon to become parents.

However, without knowing it our beloved friends and family have heaped a whole world of unexpected pressure on us. We know things will change come October, but what should we actually be doing now to make the most of our baby-free days, and are we doing enough?

If we are to believe the nightmare stories of sleep deprivation and stress that seem all too common with newborns, then we need to take firm action now. Indeed, we should get ourselves up off the sofa this instant and plan a social calendar to envy that of Linsay Lohan.

Monday cinema, Tuesday theatre, Wednesday dinner out, Thursday dinner party with friends, Friday cinema again, Saturday/Sunday - city break to Paris/Prague/Brussels/New York (delete as appropriate).

Between films, meanwhile, we should be bedding down for a 12-hour kip, spending 'quality time' together and pampering ourselves.

The problem we have with all this, however, is that we never really did any of it before anyway. If we started now then I am pretty confident that we'd become far more stressed than we are at the moment. So is it really all that wrong to slum around the house, becoming engrossed in Big Brother and doing not very much at all? Well, probably yes, but I don't think we'll be joining Miss Lohan on the party circuit anytime soon.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Journo calls breastfeeding "creepy"

The Deputy Editor of Mother & Baby magazine has found herself under fire from all angles today for saying that breastfeeding is "creepy," a staggeringly ill-judged statement that would be akin to the editor of Horse and Hound admitting to liking the taste of horse, or the top scribe at Good Housekeeping calling for us all to live in tents.

Slammed by mums and pro-breastfeeding quarters across the land, Kathryn Blundell further endeared herself to the nation's parents by saying that she did not want to put her "fun bags" in a "bawling baby's mouth."

Although clearly writing from a personal standpoint and not referring to the editorial policy of one of the UK's most widely read parenting magazines, Blundell should perhaps have thought a little more carefully about her choice of words, especially considering the fact that her magazine is read by thousands of new, and sometimes vulnerable, mums who are crying out for advice and guidance.

Is it really necessary for us to read about Miss Blundell's reluctance to breastfeed, based largely on the fact that she is apparently worried about the impact her baby will have on her sex life? Not only is it irrelevant to us as readers - I have no interest in her 'fun bags' - but hasn't she simply served to demonstrate her own selfishness?

What next? I just hope that the good hacks at the Radio Times don't start telling me that watching TV or listening to the radio is wrong!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

World Cup woe and newborn hopes

It is but a matter of hours since England crashed out of the World Cup in spectacularly humiliating fashion and already the flags have been ripped from the cars that file past our suburban house, the disappointment etched in the emotionless faces of the drivers who have just thrown their symbols of patriotic loyalty in to the nearest bin.

Once again the all too familiar feeling of being let down by a group of overpaid 'professionals' has swept over our household too and the post-match analysis has been thorough:

"Useless...absolutely useless!" is the rough, printable translation of our mostly unprintable post-match postmortem.

But, as the dust settles and as the reality of the fact that the England team simply weren't good enough (Algeria 0 - England 0, need we say more), I don't think we can really have anything to complain about. The thing that's really worrying me now, however, is the burden of disappointment that is likely to be passed on to my yet-to-be-born son or daughter.

Yes, in four years' time, I will be joined on the England-supporting sofa for the 2014 World Cup by a three-and-a-half year old, no doubt sporting the England shirt I will have bought him or her, face painted with the St George's cross and Vuvuzela (or Brazilian equivalent) in hand.

The excitement will have been building for months, we will have our wallcharts up on the wall, we will have been learning all the songs (or at least those without profanities) and we will have taught our little one to cheer on the names of his/her footballing heroes (yet to be decided of course after none of 2010's squad showed that they were good enough to even attend the next competition as spectators).

So what on earth is it going to be like in 2014 when Mrs B will have to console an inconsolable husband and toddler following a premature England exit?

Think on that Mr Capello as you're deciding your future! The nation's fetuses deserve more!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Nearly new sales...

"Apparently there's a nearly new NCT sale round the corner this weekend, are they worth going?" was Mrs B's straightforward question to a mother-of-three earlier this week.

"Ooh, blimey," was her response, coupled with a sharp intake of breath through clenched teeth. "You'd better get there early, they're a real scrum."

The experienced mum then continued to scare Mrs B with tales of physical fights over breast pumps and slanging matches over pushchairs. The result, unfortunately, is that we are now expecting an experience more akin to the first day of the January Sales than the nice, gentle, thoroughly middle-class, tea-drinking event we were anticipating.

Should we bother going?!

24-week abortion limit debate

I was shocked to hear this morning that a study has found no new evidence that foetuses of 24-weeks and younger can feel pain, and hence it has suggested that there is no reason to challenge the existing abortion limit.

The story struck a real chord with Mrs B and I as we are now 24-weeks along in our own pregnancy and, to us, the wonderful, growing, kicking, moving person that we can now see and feel isn't a foetus at all, he or she is our baby.

Responding to sounds, movement and even the flavours of food and drink that Mrs B consumes, our baby is developing its own personality. We can tell when he or she is awake, we can detect movements and can watch as a tiny foot or hand kicks or punches.

We have also read with interest numerous websites that have suggested such things as consuming very cold drinks to encourage your baby to move. While we haven't tried this ourselves - we find a glass of OJ does the trick - it's clear that it must work for lots of mums out there. So, if a 24-week old foetus can detect cold to such an extent that it will move around, how can anyone be 100% sure that it cannot feel pain.

While I don't wish to stroll across the moral abortion minefield in this blog post, I do feel that this debate is one that needs to be explored more thoroughly. On a purely personal level, meanwhile, I cannot imagine how anyone can consider a termination after experiencing wonders like that which we are currently witnessing and feeling with our own ever-growing bump.

Sometimes science does not provide all the answers.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Sporting idols worth worshipping

That's it, call a halt to the World Cup and to Wimbledon now, before things begin to go downhill.

It's the morning after the day before and the nation is reflecting on England's progression in to the last 16 of the World Cup and on the longest, most dramatic tennis match in the history of Wimbledon. Both events helped to lift the country's spirits, to bring a smile to football fans' faces after a week of negativity and to ignite interest in the world's greatest tennis tournament - in a year when events in South Africa will inevitable overshadow it.

More important than that, however, June 23rd provided our children with sporting idols actually worth worshipping. Beamed in to living rooms in glorious high definition technicolor, young people - so often criticised for being of a computer generation - were able to watch in awe as England's footballers returned to form and as John Isner and Nicolas Mahut battled to 59-59 in the fifth set of their first round Men's Singles match in SW19.

It may be with the aid of rose tinted spectacles, but I'd like to think that such monumental, high profile sporting events will help to inspire youngsters to pick up a tennis racket or head to the park with their friends to recreate Defoe's Port Elizabeth triumph - just as Linkeer and Gascoigne once did for me.

Mahut and Isner, inparticular, looked like they were competing in the Rumble in The Jungle rather than on Wimbledon's plush court 18 last night, so drained were they after their 10-hour marathon match. It was a shining example of man's bravery, determination, resilience and sheer dogged determination in the face of adversity, and in the face of a first round exit.

Mahut and Isner are not the most famous names in tennis and the fact that they will probably exit in the second or third round against the Federers and Nadals of this world - a fact that they themselves must surely recognise - just makes this mammoth fight even greater.

The true heroes we saw on the tennis court and football pitch yesterday just go to show how important and inspirational sport can be.

Let's just hope Mahut and Isner keep going for another 10 hours and England make it past Germany on Sunday.

Fingers crossed everyone.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Plasters, grazed knees and black eyes!

Reflecting on the moments in my own childhood that resulted in considerable stress and anxiety for my poor mother, most of them concerned myself or one of my brothers falling over or running in to something in a sudden and unexpected fashion.

It's not that we were accident prone children, it was more that we were boys who enjoyed messing around and who always massively underestimated the consequences of our actions. Thankfully today we're all fit and healthy but, back then, my mum must have torn her hair out at times at the sheer stupidness of our actions.

For instance, growing up in the countryside in a remote house, miles from the nearest doctor, we often suffered power cuts and it was on one such occasion that I decided to use a Swiss Army Knife to prise open a torch that wasn't working. The result was that Mum, having to scurry arond finding candles while dealing with three children in a pitch black house, was suddenly presented with the site of her first born bleeding profusely from the finger he had almost severed.
Other occasions that spring to mind included my youngest brother breaking his leg as a result of middle brother encouraging him to leap from a climbing frame and then whipping away the cushions as he was about to land. Then there was middle brother being knocked over and knocked out by a dog, my running in to the corner of a table and requiring stitches, my breaking my arm playing football, youngest brother smacking his head on a pavement, middle brother ending up with a black eye after running in to a car door and my taking a layer of skin off my leg on a so called 'death slide'!

None of the above, it must be said, resulted from any lack of parental care whatsover, they were just accidents that happened and we now all proudly sport the scars of a loving, boisterous and typically boyish childhood.

Nevertheless, the fact that it is national Child Safety Week this week has made me realise that, with my own child on its way in October, it's absolutely essential to ensure that we do as much as we can to keep our little one as safe as possible Check out the campaign's excellent website for more details.

In the meantime, if there's one piece of advice I can pass on, it's don't let your son near a Swiss Army Knife in a power cut!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Mother-in-law's intuition

Walking through the front door last week, having just spent an evening with her mum, Mrs B announced very matter of factly that; "we're having a girl."

Having been present at the scan myself and now recalling a distinct lack of gender-related information, this took me somewhat by surprise. Clearly picking up on my confused expression, Mrs B clarified matters:

"Mum thinks that the bump is round and that the way I'm carrying it means it's a girl. She's 100% sure."

Well, that's that then, best pop down B&Q and stock up on pink paint, or should we? Clearly my mother-in-law knows what she's talking about, she did procuce two daughters of her own afterall. Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder what her insightful observation is based on? Is there any scientific truth behind the many old (or not so old) wives tales that surround pregnancy? Or do all mothers just know, and should we simply bow down to their superior senses in this department?

Pregnancy Myth No.1: Carrying high or low indicates gender
The myth: If you're carrying high it's a girl, low and it's a boy
The science: Absolute rubbish! the way you carry is down to muscle and uterine tone and is no indicator whatsoever of sex
The reality: 50/50 chance of being right!

Watch this space for more myths, I feel a series coming on!

Friday, 18 June 2010

Football - a story of dads and sons

As I sit here this afternoon having witnessed Germany lose to Serbia - just one day after France lost to Mexico and a mere hours before England take on Algeria - it got me thinking about how unpredictable and emotional the beautiful game can be. Which, in turn, reminded me of a cracking book I read recently; You'll win Nothing With Kids by Jim White. An hysterical insight in to one dad's adventures as coach of his son's football team!

If you thought passions ran high in the World Cup, prepared to be shocked at the emotions on display on local parks every weekend !

Clued Up Dads rating: *****

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Wife loses husband in B&Q!

Being pregnant undoubtedly has many wonderful side effects for women as their bodies grow and change with the joy of carrying a new life. However, unfortunately there are also a few down sides for the fairer sex at this special time, one of which came to the fore last night as Mrs B and I made an impromptu trip to B&Q.

Working our way around the giant store, Mrs B got sidetracked looking at gardening tools and, safe in the knowledge that the only reason we had come in to the DIY mecca was for some fencing, I made my way to the vast and unmissable array of fencing products a few metres further on.

As I perused the overly complicated range of products, looking for the one thing I had in mind, I eventually realised that Mrs B was not by my side. No reason to worry, I was confident she was busy choosing gardening tools. However, as the minutes passed and after I had made my fencing choice, my very pregnant wife was still nowhere in sight.

Now peering up and down the aisles to see if I could see her, and carrying a weighty piece of wood under each arm, I realised very quickly that she had wondered off and was nowhere to be seen.

Little did I need to worry, however, as a couple of minutes later the relative peace and quiet of B&Q was shattered with a PA announcement:


I stopped dead in my tracks. Never, in my entire life, had it been necessary to locate me in a public space via the assistance of a man with a microphone. I could almost feel the eyes of B&Qs other customers boring in to me and the sound of strangers' chuckles ringing in my ears.

There, by the customer service desk, looking like a six-year-old who had lost her father, was my wife. I couldn't help but feel a pang of guilt. Had the words "I'm going to the fencing section," really been that cryptic?

Having eventually sheepishly left the store, we laughed at the ridiculousness of what had just happened, Mrs B putting her failure to remember details and over zealous PA usage down to 'pregnancy brain.'

Researching a little further in to this it seems that there is some debate over whether pregnancy or baby brain exists. SEE FOR YOURSELF HERE.

However, we have little doubt in our household and won't be returning to B&Q any time in the near future.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Ebeneezer good

Mrs B and I lay in bed last night reading random names aloud from a weighty babies' names book. We were looking for any kind of a reaction or sign from our unborn child as to a preference when it came to his/her name.

Having trouble narrowing down our choices - thanks mainly to our award winning indecisiveness (it takes us an hour to decide on tea or coffee) - we had agreed to put the ball in Mini B's court.

Working our way through the alphabet we passed A, B, C and D with very little reaction other than the odd tiny kick or tickle, more I feel in irritation than anything else. However, when we got to E and one name in particular all hell broke loose.

Upon hearing "Ebeneezer" the little one unleashed such an almighty kick that, for the first time, we could very clearly see what was, we assumed, a tiny foot attempting a Jackie Chan impression in the womb.

It was an incredible sight and one that triggered fits of laughter as repetitions of Mini B's new name produced the same result.

So, it seems that we are a few months away from giving birth to an Ebeneezer, no doubt on the same labour ward as a Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit and Jacob Marley!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Tuesday's Twits and Pieces

Here's the first of a regular series of posts showcasing a few of the things that have caught my eye during the day, courtesy of Twitter (incidentally, you can follow this blog @cluedupdads).

Exciting new website coming our way from @everyday_dad for newbie dads, yet to be launched but bookmark www.everydaydad.co.uk now.

@DadsMM, meanwhile, spotted this scoop on Tiger Woods' love child, not strictly dad related, but fascinating nevertheless http://nit.ly/culgeg

@TheBabyBook is promoting the first ever Fathers' Story Week, a great campaign to get dads reading to their kid http://bit.ly/90vxvk
@childrenstrust is looking for raffle prizes

@foreveryourdad is 21 weeks + 1 day pregnant, well his other half is, five days behing Mrs B!

Join us on Twitter @cluedupdads and we'll post your posts here!

Flip flop flop

Everyday in the UK a well intentioned new report tells us what we should or shouldn't be eating or drinking, what previously harmless element of our life is now potentially life threatening, or how our money is being frittered away on a bad investment. And today is no exception.

According to the good fellows at the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, pregnant women should now be thinking very carefully about what they wear on their feet. However, it's not just high heels and stilettos (or are they the same thing?), apparently it's also now not safe to wear ballet pumps, flip flops and Ugg boots. The latter obviously sending shockwaves through Sloane Square and down the King's Road.

A study of 1,000 pregnant women has found that the offending footwear doesn't provide the right amount of support and can lead to all kinds of foot-related problems, even increasing the likelihood of falls. As a rule, says the study's chief foot professional, women should be wearing shoes with short heels of no more than 3cm.

So what do we make of this? Should we be binning all the wife's heels, flip flops and boots? I fear there may be recriminations if we did so, but would it be for the greater good? Why not try it, and then let's see how many of us survive to tell the tale.

Pay attention Sam Cam, time to ditch those heels!

Monday, 14 June 2010

The relief of the 20-week scan

Well, here's Mini B, waving hello at this afternoon's 20-week scan...

...thankfully he/she (see earlier post for the finding-out-the-sex debate) was given the all clear by the sonographer, but not before she had checked every inch, from head to toe in a truly fascinating 15-minute examination.

While Mrs B and I stared nervously at the screen, the sonographer went efficiently about her work, giving us a guided tour of our baby and pointing out the head, hands, bones, lips, nostrils and feet. She also gave us an incredible close up view of our baby's heart, as the valves could be seen opening and closing. The baby's spine and kidneys were similarly seen in great detail. In short, it was the most fascinating biology lesson either of us had ever had!

Check out this website for a more detailed breakdown of what they're looking for at the mid-pregnancy scan.

We are so grateful that B has been given the all-clear. Mind you, the stress and anxiety we felt today has given us our first real insight into what life is going to be like as parents, namely round-the-clock worrying!

A former colleague of mine once told me that he couldn't go to his wife's ultrasound scan because he had a meeting on the same morning. Today, I realised just how much of a prat he was!

Scan you believe it!

Today is a big day for Mini B as we will shortly be heading off for our 20-week scan - albeit actually in week 22.

Are we excited? Yes. Are we nervous? Terribly.

Whenever we've mentioned the 22-week scan to anyone we've inevitably been asked whether we're going to find out the sex of the baby or not? It's as if a light bulb goes off inside people's heads, they're absolutely fascinated to know whether we want to know, and you can almost feel their disappointment when we say no.

However, neither Mrs B or I have ever, for one minute, debated whether or not we'd find out. This is such a magical experience for us all, one that's so full of surprises and new experiences that finding out today would be like discoverig the receipt for your Christmas presents before the big day.

There are so few genuine surprises in life today, almost nothing where there's a 50/50 chance of the result. No X-Factor phone-in or football game is as finely balanced as this, although we've both spent hours on the pundits' bench debating which way it could go.

"Well, there's a long line of men on your father's side."

"Yes, but you're forgetting your grandmother's six sisters!"

However, finding out the sex of Mini B is not the purpose of today's scan anyway. It is the official 'anomally scan' and, as such, is utterly terrifying. We will shortly be sat in our hospital as a stranger examines our unborn child to tell us whether or not he/she is healthy. What could be more worrying? No one asks you about that when you tell them!

All we ask for is a healthy, happy baby, boy or girl!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Pregnancy and exercise: To run or not to run?!

It's Saturday morning and Mrs B has taken herself off for a swim, a relaxing, minimal effort form of exercise that is meant to be the best form of activity for mums-to-be.

However, the past few months have been tough in our household as exercise always came very high on Mrs B's list of priorities, with a brisk, sweat-inducing, heart pounding run being her preferred way of burning off office-induced frustrations. Either that, or a mind-bogglingly intense 'spin' class  - mind you, I think the annoyingly attractive instructor also had something to do with that one - were always part of the weekly routine.

Falling pregnant and having to stop all forms of intensive exercise on the instructions of the Doc - "don't raise your heartbeat over 140bpm" - has proved really tough.

Over the past few months Mrs B has tried her hand at pregnancy yoga and a selection of pregnancy fitness DVDs, but none of them have really raised a smile, let alone a sweat. So the fitness scratch has never been adequately scratched and, as I occasionally read about the likes of Paula Radcliffe running throughout her pregnancy, I've begun to wonder whether we're all being a bit overly cautious.

There's no doubt that swimming is the best form of exercise, as the NHS tells us, but the same website seems to suggest that running is ok if you're an experienced runner, which Mrs B is. So why did the doctor tells us differently?

It all seems a bit contradictory to me.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Bump lurve the cake!

As the World Cup is about to kick off there's no doubt that Mini B is developing a solid right foot of his/her own as we've been feeling more and more movement as the days go by.

All the books and websites do, of course, say that this is completley normal. However, what they don't say is that the bump is fussy! Indeed, the bump can remain very quiet and almost motionless until the right combination of food and/or drink triggers a mini-boxercise class in Mrs B's tummy. Which has led us to experiment.

Clearly inheriting his/her parents' sweet teeth (I am capable of demolishing a packet of Haribo in 10 minutes), it appears that Mini B reacts best to anything with at least one or more teaspoons of sugar in it.

Porridge (no sugar) - zero reaction
Porridge (with honey) - massive kicks
Savoury dinner - zero reaction
Sweet desert - tummy party!

But it appears that there is some science behind this. Have a read of this article to find out a bit more, but basically it transpires that babies develop their tastebuds from around week 15 and react very quickly to whatever you eat as it actually flavours the amniotic fluid!

Anyway, our top three baby moving foods:
1 - Chocolate, cake or sweets
2 - Yogurts
3 - Orange juice (he/she goes crazy for it)

Pregnancy: Week 22 - From cranberry to banana!

It hardly seems possible, but Mrs B is already into her 22nd week of pregnancy, which means we've officially passed the half way mark and are now on the downhill stretch to the big day!

A quick trawl of the internet reveals that Mini B is now 30-32cm long and, as has been the case with every stage of the pregnancy so far, all the websites seem to relate our unborn child to a piece of fruit. This week, we're apparently carrying a large banana!

Indeed, it seems that, whereas the evolution of man is commonly charted with traditional images of the progressive road we have taken from the apes through hairy and hunched primitive man to today's upstanding, mostly hair-free humans; the fetal evolution sees us progress from cranberries, through the awkward strawberry and kiwi fruit weeks and via apples to, today, bananas!

However, we clearly have several fruit stages through which we still need to progress and I have decided not to explore these until we reach them for fear that my soon-to-be-son or daughter will resemble some strange, increasingly large tropical fruit. Mrs B, meanwhile, is just hoping we don't reach the marrow stage!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Commuter dilemma of the day: Fat or pregnant?!

Great article on the BBC news website today on that age old dilemma facing commuters; is she pregnant or just fat?!

This is something that Mrs B and I have noticed more and more as the weeks have gone by. In fact, although we're now in to month six, the bulge is still someway off being obviously 'oh my goodness, here have my seat' pregnant. At the moment it's proabably 'oh my goodness, do I give up my lovely cosy seat and risk insulting a slightly tubby non-pregnant lady first thing in the morning, or bury myself in my newspaper and pretend I haven't noticed' pregnant.

However, massive or not, Mrs B still gets knackered standing up for too long, so we're faced with a daily dilemma at the moment as to whether we say anything or not. And even if we do, will anyone actually listen to us and surrender their seats?

The article mentions a few ways to get around this dilemma but we've found that some serious belly rubbing can do the trick, especially if I dive in for a rub as well.

To be fair to Mayor Boris, London commuters can also apply for a 'Baby on Board' badge - which Mrs B used to sport before losing it - that they can wear to alert others as to their predicament. You can get one HERE.

So as time ticks on, we're just hoping that Mrs B's increasing size will make it more obvious for our fellow commuters. As for a seat for me...no chance!