Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Grab, pull, snap, break...

Nothing is safe. At six months old Baby B has finally mastered the art of grabbing, a new found skill he is using to systematically destroy anything within his reach.

Coating himself and everything around him in a layer of slobber, our little man is now expertly picking up and chewing on toys, clothes, books and television remote controls. Exhibiting deceptive strength, the little chap's little hands have become tools for pulling apart anything valuable - such as his granny's favourite necklace - and inflicting pain upon his parents with his signature 'pretend to stroke face and then grab really hard at skin or lips to see shock in said face' party trick.

At this rate I might put myself forward for the lead role in Scarface 2, while my wife contemplates a Sinead O'Connor haircut!

However, it seems we are not alone. Some clever fellow has come up with a wearable toy to distract busy hands and keep them away from jewellery and hair. What's more, it works.

The 'Playwrap' by BondieBird - http://www.bondiebird.com/ - does for giant adult bibs what Joseph did for dreamcoats. In short, it enables parents to look ridiculous, while their offspring busy themselves with an impressive array of stuck-on, and interchangeable, toys.

Stick the Playwrap over your head, position Junior on your lap, and rest assured he'll be amused for at least the duration of Homes Under The Hammer.

It's a great idea, simple and effective. However, at £28 it is an expensive way to buy a bit of peace and quiet and - probably because it is someone's Dragon's Den-style passion -  it does feel a bit home made.

Nevertheless, Baby B loves it - especially the crinkly butterfly and the bells - and the concept is worthy of praise. Just don't forget to take it off when you answer the door to the postman!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Mini person, mega mess

Casting my mind back to those anxious weeks prior to the birth of Baby B last year, I can recall much of the plentiful advice that came our way from the likes of parents, friends, midwives and random strangers.

Buy this, buy that, avoid that, avoid this, push here, don't push there etc etc.

At no stage, however, did anyone give us any tips on coping with the mind boggling, never ending piles of assorted mess that are inadvertently created by a five month old baby.

Indeed, it was all very well for our antenatal classes to run through the intricacies of childbirth and to let us play with assorted birthing instruments, but where was the lesson on tackling the ever present smell of soiled nappies in the home?

Or how about the worksheet on finding time in the day to hang out, get in, fold up and put away the piles of washing?

Talking of washing, we never used to do that much - two loads a week at a push - but now, with our dribbler in tow, we seem to be matching the Park Lane Hilton for the amount of laundry we're facilitating on a weekly basis. And is there a worse household chore than putting away the washing? I think not, with perhaps the exception of unpacking the dishwasher (a task as annoying as it is fiddly). Oh, and duvet covers...the devil's bed linen!

It's not that we're being messy or lazy either, the mess just seems to appear. Like painting the Golden Gate bridge, it's an endless venture. So, I take my hat off to all those mums and stay-at-home dads out there who juggle the hoovering, washing, cooking, tidying, dusting (don't bother), folding, hanging, ironing, cleaning, packing, unpacking and putting away.

I sympathise with you all, my brothers and sisters, let's keep the nation's family homes spotless. Or, at the very least, let's remember to empty the nappy bin before it overflows and resembles a small landfill site!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Fear of the floater!

Yesterday my wife and I took Baby B for his first swim. A landmark day, the little man was introduced to the delights of our local, council-run swimming pool, complete with hordes of screaming children and, no doubt, a water-to-urine ratio that was concentrated worryingly in favour of the latter.

Nevertheless, it's safe to say, he loved it. In fact, my initial fears that this may have been the shortest swim in history (arrive, change, in, scream, out, change, home), or that a nappy/swimming trunk malfunction would lead to a mass pool evacuation and a hefty cleaning bill, proved totally unfounded.

Baby B took to the toddlers' pool like a proverbial duck to water. Indeed, his reaction was somewhat of an anticlimax for my wife and I, who had been looking forward to this moment for days. I have no idea what we had been expecting - perhaps for B to take to the diving board and perform a triple pike with tuck in to the 'deep' end of the teaching pool - but we certainly didn't expect what we got!
Upon his introduction to the pool, the little man's reaction was.....static. There was no reaction. In fact, he looked bored. While Mrs B and I were swishing him about, acting like idiots, he sat there in our arms, staring at the over-excited infants creating chaos around him, with a look of complete indifference on his little face. It was a tad disconcerting.

After a short while, however, and once he realised that he could splash a bit , the little man did relax and looked a little more animated with the experience. It was a relief for us, our first dip had not been a stressful experience, we had stayed in the pool for more than thirty seconds and, crucially, there was no poo.

As for the future, I'd like to think that Baby B was at home in the water. So, Tom Daley and Michael Phelps, watch out!

Friday, 18 March 2011

What a Comic Relief!

You can't have failed to have noticed that today is Comic Relief day. In fact, it's everywhere you turn; newspapers, radio, TV, everyone is talking about the impending TV marathon.

There's no doubt that Comic Relief is a fantastic charity that has raised millions and done so much for the people of Africa. It's just such a shame that the eight hours of TV that we are in for this evening will be eight of the unfunniest hours of telly this year.

Don't get me wrong. I will donate. I believe passionately in Comic Relief's mission and, now that I am a father myself, it breaks my heart even more to see children suffering unnecessarily, wherever they are in the world. Furthermore, I have immense admiration for all the amazing things people do to raise cash for CR.

I just can't watch the dire TV 'specials' that make up Comic Relief night on the Beeb.

Is it just me or does Comic Relief night make anyone else feel uncomfortable at the desperation of the hurriedly scripted 'comedy'?

Take That meets Fake That, for instance, will see a bunch of comics lining up with and imitating the Mancunian man band this evening. Hmmm, hysterical!

It seems that a standard Comic Relief comedy special is made up of one or more of the following:
  1. Flavour-of-the-month celebrity, comedian or Dr Who actor dressing in costume/drag
  2. Flavour-of-the-month celebrity, comedian or Dr Who actor appearing in EastEnders of Coronation Street
  3. Coronation Street or EastEnders characters appearing in 'wrong' soap
  4. News readers dancing to popular song of the moment
  5. Politician or public figure appearing in familiar sketch show sketch
  6. Politician or public figure covered in gunge
I feel it may be time to nip to Blockbuster for a DVD.

However, before I am chastised for not donning my comedy red nose or slapping a giant one on the front of my car, I must say that I did enjoy the Big Red Nose Desert Trek on BBC One last night. An inspiring show that pitted celebrities against the African heat in aid of sight clinics, it did more to convince me of the importance of donating, than Comic Relief night itself has done in 20 years!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

My son, the Jedi?!

Mrs B, being blessed with much more legible handwriting and infinitely more patience than myself, spent most of last night filling out the mammoth Census form that dropped through our letterbox earlier in the week.

Charitably penning the answers for herself, and for me, it soon became evident that she would also have to fill in the same set of questions for Baby B, our four-month old, non-working, non-English speaking co-habitee. Indeed, as the questions progressed, it was clear that BB was seriously letting the side down for us, contributing nothing to the household income and even less to wider society.

'How well do you speak English?' asked the Census.

'Bluhhhhhh, screeeeech, dribble,' retorted Baby B, showing very little interest in this important legal document, before expelling a particularly vocal burp.
As for our infant's previous addresses, it seemed a bit flipant to put 'ovary' in the answer field, so Mrs B left it subtly blank.

It was at this point, as the Census approached the question of religion, that I was glad my wife was in the driving seat. I seem to recall a student-led campaign at the time of the last Census to ensure that Jedi became a recognised religion in the UK. I did, I must admit, list myself as a master of 'the force' in support of this particular religious movement.

Surely, therefore, Baby B is destined to follow in his father's footsteps,  in the same way as Luke inherited his Jedi skills from, um, Darth Vader...which would make me fundamentally evil and destined for a lifetime dressed in black and speaking like I smoke 50 a day! Hmmm.

Perhaps, in hindsight, the C of E will serve Baby B better.

Afterall, I haven't even got a lightsabre!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Who's the dummy?

From the moment Tom Cruise leapt dementedly around on Oprah's sofa, and ever since we discovered that scientology forbade Katie Holmes from making any noise during childbirth, it was clear that poor little Suri was in for an odd upbringing.

And so it was with little surprise that I stumbled across a link via Twitter to images of Miss Cruise sucking on a pacifier, aged 5! Yes, not only do Mr & Mrs Top Gun let their daughter toddle in high heels and strut around LA in the latest designer chic (what's wrong with Mothercare Tom?), it seems the A-listers also let the rapidly growing Suri suck on her dummy.
I am assuming that Suri has gone beyond the breastfeeding stage and that Katie isn't aiming to continue nursing until she leaves for university! I'm also guessing that her teething days are behind her too, or do Hollywood celebrities simply get more sets (at least Simon Cowell certainly seems to!)?

For me, five years old just seems ludicrously old to be relying on a pacifier - or binky as I believe they are called across the pond (!).

Mrs B and I are refusing to give a dummy to our little man, aged four months, as we don't want him to get used to, or dependent upon an artificial way of calming himself. Furthermore, Mrs B worries that it may affect his willingness to clamp on to the real thing, if he is essentially spending hours chomping on a fake nipple.

Or are we just being over sensitive? Is it actually fine to be using a pacifier aged five? Should we all be seeking comfort from our daily troubles by reaching for a dummy?

What's more, if dummies are ok, why don't we all forget the hassle of using toilets and opt for nappies instead?

Come on Pampers, time to launch a size 33!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Space, time and baby sick

As I stood on the station platform this morning, my train - once again delayed as a result of a signalling problem in the Epsom area - seemed to take an age to arrive. It was cold, I was tired and time was ticking...slowly.

What's more, having watched Wonders of The Universe on BBC2 last night, I felt even more like I was wasting valubale minutes of my life. As Professor Brian Cox eloquently explained, we only have "10,000 trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion years" left before the end of the universe! So, how can South Western trains be allowed to get away with another 16 minute holdup for the 0841 to London Victoria?! I'm demanding compensation.

In all seriousness, however, I have always had an interest in space and the universe. I can remember lying in the garden with my brother as a boy, staring up at the stars, wondering which ones are home to aliens and searching for the only constellation I have ever been able to identify; the trusty plough. I can remember watching the televsion in shock when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on take off, and I can recall advanced lectures from my grandfather on the intricacies of interstellar physics, aged seven.
So hats off to Aunty Beeb, and Prof Cox, for a fantastic exploration and explanation of time in the context of the universe. I will not pretend I understood it all - Brian lost me a little when discussing entropy and the second law of somethingorother - but it did give me an appreciation of the inevitability of time and how, slowly, we are edging towards oblivion. Brian's almost boyish enthusiasm for the subject matter, meanwhile, couldn't help but make me think how good a job my science teachers made of making such a fascinating topic so turgidly dull.

The task that faces me now, however, is how I will one day explain all this to Baby B who was, as I sat transfixed to the telly, sucking the life out of his toy monkey. Indeed, as Brian once again explained our fate while staring into space atop a lofty mountain perch, Baby B exhibited his own understanding of the cosmos and the journey from order to chaos, by puking over my Levis.

Thank God the universe's D-Day is still a fair way away,  I might just have enough time to wash my jeans and help the little man to spot The Plough!

Friday, 25 February 2011

The wonder of Waybuloo

The righteous, by-the-book parent in me regularly tells me that it is wrong to subject babies to too much television at a young age. Remember, he stresses, The Lancet has no doubt published countless studies in to the detremental effect of allowing little ones to sit infront of the box. So, Mr B, make sure you don't do it, reach for a good book instead, or take the screaming bundle in your arms outside for a breath of fresh air. These are good things...TV, remember, is bad.

Yes, well, the based-in-reality parent within me thinks that's a load of cack for starters!

I am the first person to champion the importance of reading to children and giving them plenty of outdoor time. However, when certain situations arise, and even at four months old, I must admit that television can prove to be the ultimate pacifier for a crabby infant. And one programme in particular does the trick for our tiny telly addict. Ladies and gents, I give you....Waybuloo!

What's more, I am addicted too. Indeed, I have often caught my wife smirking uncontrollably at the sight of her husband and firstborn transfixed to the CBeebies show.

The programme is, essentially, total nonsense. Four computer animated creatures ("Piplings"), float around a staged landscape pretending to be various animals, playing hide and seek ("Peeka") with real children ("Cheebies") and performing  a kind of animated yoga ("YoGo"). Plot lines stretch as far as the amazing discovery of a stone, or perhaps the joy of being a caterpillar for an afternoon. This is not Poirot for children. But it's utterly enchanting, and my son and I love it.

So set your Sky+ Box today. In the meantime, let the debate begin, what is/was the best children's TV programme of all time?

Got to go...it's time for YoGo!

Friday, 18 February 2011

The triple needle nightmare

What must it be like when, at four months old, you're wheeled in to a strange, bright room, confronted with an unfamiliar face, suddenly trouserless and staring down the barrel of three very sharp syringes?

So it was yesterday for Baby B as I took him for the last of his newborn jabs. Delivered in three doses over a 12 week period, I had not been to either of the little chap's first two imunisation appointments. Keen to do my paternal duty I therefore persuaded Mrs B to let me take him on my own this time around.
"It's not nice," she warned beforehand.

"Don't worry sweetheart, we'll be fine," I confidently replied, before heading off to the surgery.

As it transpired, 'it's not nice' was somewhat of an understatement. Whereas the little man had no idea what was coming, I was expecting a short sharp shock for him, and perhaps a few tears. What I wasn't expecting was to have to fight back tears myself!

Holding your baby son in your arms as a stranger inflicts pain on him, even it is for his own benefit, is incredibly hard to watch. I was amazed at how emotional I found the whole experience. Baby B screamed until he went red in the face and I had to gulp back the lump in my throat as I reassured him that everything was all right. The nice, friendly nurse who had greeted us had, in the space of three injections, turned in to an evil bringer of pain.

Thankfully Baby B regained his composure long before I did, calming quickly after being wheeled out of the nasty nurses's office. I, on the other hand, required a strong cup of tea and a sit down.

Thank God we don't have to do that again now until he's one!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Brits: Has the youth of today gone mad?

There was a day - not too long ago, I like to think - when I knew who the cutting edge artists and bands of the modern day were. A day when a quick scan down the track listing of my 'Now 8' double cassette was enough to confirm that I was plugged in to the youth of my day.

Indeed, back then, my telephone directory-sized Walkman would effortlessly blast everything from Huey Lewis and the News, to REM, Oasis and Blur, direct in to my skull. There was no need to watch Top of The Pops or browse Smash Hits for me, I knew what was cool and I made sure I listened to it.

Today, however, things are slightly different.

[Bieber - who?]

As my wife and I sat at home last night, with a bowl of pasta and a cup of tea, watching the Brits on the telly, it became all too clear how hopelessly out of touch we have become. What's more, it was clear that, perhaps as a direct result of having Baby B four months ago, we had morphed in to our own parents, capable of mispronouncing the names of most bands and artists.

"Who on earth is Tinie Tempah?" I said to Mrs B, before respectfully critiquing the double Brit award winning singer's performance as "utter rubbish!"

It was the same for Ceelo Green. Never heard of him. And as for Justin Bieber, since when have toddlers been allowed to become pop stars?

Ask us to name the country's favourite bottom wipes, or the mst popular CBeebies TV show for four-month-olds, and we could tell you in a nanosecond. Ask us to name a single Bieber hit and you've got more chance of seeing James Corden fit in to a regular-size T-shirt.

Anyway, that's enough of a rant for today. I'm off to find my Five Star tape!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Commuter trains and babies - the perfect combination!

Having spent an enjoyable afternoon in central London yesterday - largely failing to get Baby B's buggy through the doors of various galleries and shops - Mrs B and I eventually found ourselves on the platform at Clapham Junction, awaiting the train home.

All was well, Baby B was fast asleep, we had succesfully man-handled our useless buggy (three wheels are not better than four) up and down the platform stairs, we'd aligned ourselves at the front of the waiting hordes and the train was even on time. What could posisbly go wrong?

Two minutes in to the journey, we knew exactly what could go wrong, he was staring up at us and screaming at full volume.

Until that moment I had only ever been on the receiving end of train passenger annoyances; the passenger silently cursing the teenager listening to Dizzee Rascall at full volume on cheap earphones, or the commuter silently wishing that a particularly heavy piece of overhead luggage would fall on the mobile talking businessman.
Yesterday, however, I, or rather we, were the focus of a carriageful of silent hatred. Glancing up from my crying offspring, I could see people turning up stereos, burying themselves in their newspapers and wishing that we would flick the 'mute' switch on our little one to offer them the silence they craved after a hard day at work.

I had sympathy of course, but there was nothing we could do. We were getting off at the next stop and we had no time or space to feed and comfort him.

It was too much for one woman - who for arguement's sake we will call Mrs Insanely-Grumpy - who glanced at me and made sure that I could see her slamming her book shut before getting up from her seat, barging past us and making her way in to the next carriage, to stand for the rest of her journey instead of listening to Baby B.

Mrs I-G was not happy, that was clear.

Nevertheless, as the train pulled in to our station roughly two minutes later, and as we got off (to the collective relief of our fellow passengers) I must admit that it was immensely satisfying to glance in to the adjoining carriage and see Mrs I-G looking thoroughly uncomfortable and seatless.

Baby B, meanwhile, seemingly found his mute switch within seconds of disembarking and, I'd like to think, gave us a mischievious wink as we headed home.

Next up, the tube!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The big baby clothes scam!

I read with interest - and mouth ajar in disbelief - recently of a woman who had spent close to £100,000 on clothes and nursery equipment for her as yet unborn baby daughter. Oh, so proud was she of the £1000 babygrows and designer outfits she'd neatly hung in her newly acquired wardrobe (no doubt hand carved from a Giant Redwood that had been cut down by loin-clothed tribesmen to serve the infant storage needs of Mrs Spendalot), that she felt it necessary to share her extravagance with the world.

'Nothing but the best' was clearly her motto as the lady in question set about preparing for her new arrival.

Now, I don't wish to criticise a mother's love for her baby - and this lady clearly loved her bump enough to keep Louis Vuitton afloat by herself - but something does niggle with me when parents spend ridiculous sums on things for their children, for three simple reasons:

1. The children don't know what they're wearing and couldn't care less anyway
2. You can buy, borrow and/or recycle great clothes for next to nothing, and...
3. Even a Christian Dior babygrow can get covered in poo 30 seconds after it's put on!

In my opinion baby snobbery is alive and well in this country, so much so that shopping at Mothercare and Baby Gap would be, to people like our extravagant new mum, akin to sourcing your cooking ingredients from the bins at the back of Netto, instead of Waitrose!

Not the done thing, darling, not the done thing.

However, there is clearly a market for haute couture babywear, and who can blaim the designers? Fifty pence on a tiny bit of material, 10 minutes on a sewing machine and...voila...a £500 outfit! But, remove the label, stick the same item in a Tesco wrapper and you can sell eight of them for a fiver. What a con.

As for Mrs Spendalot, I just hope that fate will one day bring Spendalot Jr and my own son together - ideally at a messy playgroup - where I will take great satisfaction from watching Baby B practise hand printing on the latest Vivienne Westwood infant masterpiece.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Sleep deprivation sussed!

It's dark and I have been woken by the familiar sounds of Baby B snuffling and gearing up for his first scream of the day. I have absolutely no idea what the time is, half of me is hoping that it's 8am and he has slept through the night, the other half - the half with the fuggy head and bloodshot eyes - has a feeling it's a tad earlier.

It's 4.09am, according to the insanely bright clock on our bedside table.

Mrs B and I stir with the kind of enthusiasm we usually reserve for trips to the dentist. Words are not necessary at this time of day and we communciate with a series of grunts, she readies herself for the impending feed and I crawl out from under the addictive warmth of the duvet.

We've had precisely four hours and 12 minutes sleep and now, as Baby B tucks in to an early breakfast, we're awake. Trying desperately to keep quiet, with the lights low to ensure that he can drift straight off to sleep again once full, we're sat up in bed like two zombies.

Forty five minutes, one burp and a nappy change later we turn the lights off for a brief power sleep before the alarm goes off to mark the official start of another working day.

It's a routine that will be familiar to all new parents but, although it still comes as a shock to me, I do believe I have finally got my head around sleep deprivation and the impact it can have on my working day. The simple answer comes in one word, or rather one cup...


Yes, where would we be without the humble cuppa, the life giving leaves, the sweet tasting adrenalin that keeps us going?

Personally, I'd still be in bed!

So today's post is dedicated to the one thing that is keeping me awake. Thank you tea for keeping me in employment.

Now, who's turn is it to put the kettle on? And who ate the last ginger nut?!

Friday, 28 January 2011

Gurgles and muffled farts...

Under different circumstances the sight of a 33-year-old man talking utter nonsense and making an array of bizarre gurgling noises would suggest a large amount of alcohol, or that the afflicted individual has been subjected to more than half an hour of Channel Five. In our household, however, it is merely a side effect of early parenthood.

Three months into life as a new dad, I now find myself whiling away hours with my increasingly interactive baby son, mimicing his bizarre sounds (think dolphins with flatulence) and sporting a permanently exagerated Joker-style smile to encourage him to do the same. I am, in fact, reverting to an infant myself, thankfully without the need for my wife to clean my posterior and wind me after dinner!

Yes, it's still hard work - and Mrs B is doing awe inspringly well - but now it's less paniced and more enjoyable.
For the first few weeks of Baby B's existence we lived in constant fear. Is he breathing? Is he tired? Is he hungry? Is he in need of a change? Is he too cold? Is he too hot? Each question dealt with through a combination of fear and ignorance, all exaggerated by often crippling round-the-clock tiredness.

Indeed, even now, whenever I wake in the night and all is quiet, I strain to hear a breath from the cot, unable to drop off again myself before hearing a life affirming rustle or muffled fart. Come the morning, meanwhile, I still see my son's ability to survive the hours of darkness as a miracle worthy of the utmost thanks.

But today, as I sat with Baby B on my lap, and as he broke wind with admirable ferocity, I felt for the first time that our little man is beginning to grow up. He may not be taking his driving test or buying us dinner just yet, but it's a start.

Just don't grow up too fast little man, we're enjoying this too much.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The rise of the stay at home dad?!

The Government has announced today that, from April, fathers will be able to share maternity leave with their partners. So, is this it, the dawn of a new era, the rise of the stay-at-home-dad?

I'd like to think so.

It's ridiculous that, at a time when paranoid HR departments across the land quiver at the mere thought of being sued by employees for biro-related trauma, let alone inequality tribunals, we new dads are given a paltry two weeks' paid paternity leave.

I can only imagine that the childless Whitehall pen pushers who originally set down the two week decree naively imagined that, by the end of their14 days, fathers would have settled their newborns into an unbroken routine of 12-hour sleeps, while also enabling their wives to have recovered enough from birth to fly around Tesco and juggle washing, hoovering and cleaning. I mean, you can do almost anything in two weeks!

The reality, of course, is somewhat different. Two weeks is hardly enough time to nail nappy changing, let alone the infinite intricacies of parenthood. Going back to work at the end of it, meanwhile, and in my case leaving a wife at home who is still recovering from major surgery, can be traumatic for mum, dad and baby.

Dads should be allowed to stay at home to help ease families in to parenthood and to settle newborns in to their new lives. The choice of who stays at home and who goes to work - even solely over the maternity leave period - should be open and equal to men and women.

It's also a decision that shouldn't be taken likely and, in the B household, it's still one that has to be decided. There is lots to weigh up, of course, but in my opinion the decision rests with Mrs B. If she wants to stay at home and bring up our little man - being there for him at every step of the way - then that is her right to do so and I will do everything I possibly can to support her and him.

Should Mrs B really wish to return to work, however, I would have no qualms whatsoever about becoming a stay-at -home dad. Much better that than sticking him in an expensive nursery, where we'll effectively miss much of his early development and be unable to oversee those who are caring for him.

I have a feeling, however, that stay-at-home dads are a rare breed in our neck of the woods, one undoubtedly viewed with scepticism by the female-dominated buggy-pushing hoardes. Indeed, the prospect of turning up at a playgroup like a rookie cowboy in a Wild West saloon (cue silence, turning heads, whispered comments and tumbleweed) actually makes me more nervous than the thought of round-the-clock nappy changes and tantrums.

It's a brave new world.