Monday 9 December 2013

King of the Railway

In training
It’s been quite some time since I wrote anything on this blog, not because Marty has suddenly become dull – far from it - but because I did my back in earlier this year and have been unable to sit down and type ever since.

It eventually dawned on me that my back was not going to miraculously improve so I moved the computer into the bedroom. It’s not ideal but at least I can now lie down on the bed in relative comfort and once more relate the trials and wonders of parenthood.

So what’s been the biggest change this year, aside from my inability to sit down and pick things up? Well I guess the ditching of Tigger and the embracing of all things “Thomas” has been one of the more obvious changes.

Tigger had been Marty’s most beloved toy since he was about 6 months old. I suspect most of the attraction was based on the fact that Tigger could bounce around the room with wild abandon whilst Marty could barely drag himself across the floor. Certainly the love seemed to grow, right up until the moment Marty rose unsteadily to his feet and, mere moments later, bounced high into the air.

The fact that bouncing was now easily accomplished and relatively commonplace seemed to lower Tigger in Marty’s eyes. ‘So what else can you do?’ appeared to be his attitude and, sadly, the reply was ‘not a lot.’ Leanne and I both found this a bit of a worry, partly because we actually quite enjoyed watching and singing along to the Tigger movies every night before bedtime, but mainly because we’d spent weeks painting an 8ft high mural across Marty’s bedroom wall, a mural dedicated solely to Tigger, Pooh and the rest of the gang. However, Marty could not be brought around and, as Tigger sat more neglected with each passing day, Marty’s eye went a roving.

Quite how he settled on Thomas is still up for debate, was it a toy Leanne purchased at a car boot sale? Was it me encouraging him to watch an episode of “Thomas and Friends” on the TV? These were out and out accusations at the time as we both took great exception to this fascination with a train that did nothing but let off steam and roll his eyes whilst an aged Scouser droned on about tracks, buffers and the fat controller. Where were the songs? Where was the adult humour within the kiddies program? What had happened to all the bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun?

Fortunately, over time, we've both come to appreciate Thomas and his enormous retinue, which is just as well as Marty barely talks about anything else.

In fairness we didn't have the greatest of introductions! The early episodes of Thomas & friends do take a bit of getting used to; the controller is unashamedly fat, nothing moves other than the trains themselves and Ringo Starr narrates the unfolding drama in a dull, monotone, drone. In truth, considering just how basic it is, I suppose it’s actually quite well done but it was a bit of a let-down after the Technicolor wonders of Walt Disney.

To compound our unease Leanne bought the film “Thomas and The Magic Railroad”, a star studded extravaganza featuring - amongst others - Thomas, Alec Baldwin and Peter Fonda. Alas, it turned out to be the worst film I have seen since I attended a late night showing of “The Wild Women of Wongo” - the only difference being that ‘Wonga’ was billed as being the worst film ever made, whereas ‘The Magic Railroad’ just quietly sidled in and grabbed this accolade whilst my brains dripped slowly out of my ears.

If you ever meet Alex or Pete out-and-about one day and they are being a tad annoying, a little ‘lovey’ and possibly more than a bit full of themselves, just whisper “Thomas And The Magic Railroad” into their collective ears and watch as they shrivel before your eyes and quickly shuffle off into the darkness, heads bowed low, eyes filled with shame.

It so incredibly bloody awful that’s its only redeeming feature is that Madonna and Eddie Murphy weren't in it. I was so upset by this film that I spent the next week desperately trying to rekindle a love for Tigger in Marty’s heart... all to no avail.

Fortunately, things have since improved. Thomas has modernised! He now talks, he’s CGI, he has lots more friends, the films are actually entertaining and Ringo has been cast aside in favour of a narrator that can be understood by people from as far afield as the Wirral - I must admit that I was a little miffed by this last change as Ringo is actually a distant relative of Marty’s. I'm not sure that Ringo is aware of this claim to fame but I’d like to think that, if he is, it offers him some comfort in his dotage.

The latest Thomas film is “Thomas & Friends: King of the Railway” and I'm glad to report that it is light years ahead of the ‘Magic Railroad’ – mind you so is ‘Battlefield Earth’. I won’t go into details but suffice to say that it’s that age old story of multi-millionaire rebuilds castle with the help of umpteen steam trains – we've all been there!

Films aside, it’s as an educational tool that Thomas and the gang have most impressed me. I was lying on the sofa a few weeks ago, quietly moaning in pain as my heat mat tried valiantly to ease the suffering in my lower back, when Marty came up and started playing with the controls.

“Ooh! That’s a little like Edward!” He muttered pushing the buttons. ”Ooh! That’s a little like Henry!”

“Ooh! What the bloody hell are you going on about?” Was my silent reply and it was quite some time before I realised that Marty was looking at the numbers that lit up as he played with the dial. A ‘little like Edward’ was the number 2 painted on the side of the train Edward, a ‘little like Henry’ was the number 3 writ large upon on that train! I was well impressed!

Sadly, my amazement has been slightly tarnished by the fact that, if you write down any of the numbers from 1 to 6, all you get as an answer is the corresponding train, so despite holding out for, say, “It’s six, Daddy!”, all I actually get is a triumphant “It’s Percy, Daddy!” I have a sneaky suspicion that he’s more than aware of what the number is called but just prefers the train name.

The other more obvious, but none the less impressive, knowledge that he’s picked up from Thomas are colours. I did try teaching him colours when he was very young by telling him that the balloon he was holding was in fact a blue balloon. This somewhat back fired on me when he started calling every balloon he came across a ‘blue balloon’ and it took almost six months to get him back to the idea that it was actually just a ‘balloon’.

Leanne told me off for this so I stayed well away from colour until one day Marty waved a blue car in my face and announced, “Daddy! It’s a little like Gordon” I might have been a bit slow on the uptake with his move into numbers but even I could see what he was driving at here – although it might aid the narrative somewhat if I tell you that Gordon is a large and popular train within the Thomas sagas who’s hue is distinctly blue.

So what else have we learnt from Thomas? Well I've learnt that Facebook can actually be useful - Yup, I never thought I’d write that either. My wife discovered one of those local ‘to buy and sell’ Facebook groups and has since been buying Thomas related merchandise like there’s no tomorrow – for the grand sum of £15 we bought enough Trackmaster rail to go around the entire house, complete with umpteen trains and carriages. From this Marty has amassed an amazing degree of dexterity and learnt that battery powered toys do not mix with either sand or water.

I've also discovered a use for YouTube – how many unexpected phrases can I come out with today? Marty and I now spend the last 10 minutes before bedtime watching various steam train video clips on YouTube. From this Marty has discovered ‘real’ Thomas trains and I've discovered just how many sad bastards there are out there wasting their brief time upon this earth freezing their arses off on God forsaken platforms around the country just to take poor quality videos of steam trains.

We've also discovered an enormous amount about trains – far too much if the truth be known – which has infected Marty’s entire vocabulary. He no longer has a bath or a shower; he “goes to the wash-down”. He doesn't push things; he “shunts” them. We no longer park the car; we “pull into a siding”. Everyone else walks around the village, we "puff". Why hold hands, when you can “couple-up”? It’s all very entertaining.

So as Christmas looms Thomas emblazoned clothing is being purchased, Thomas DVD’s are being amassed and relatives across the country are buying various engines to run on the 7 miles of track we seem to have quietly acquired. And what is Marty doing as the big day approaches? He’s only starting to show an ominous penchant for Bob the Bloody Builder!


Wednesday 22 May 2013

The Age of Do

Marty is now deeply ensconced in one of the most memorable eras of childhood development, the age of “Do!” This is where he insists on ‘Doing’ anything and everything; from taking off his shoes and putting on his socks, through to rewiring the DVD player, driving the car and pretty much anything and everything in between.

This would be a wonderful, carefree, period of household harmony if it wasn’t for one little issue; his desire to do in no way matches his ability to do. He’s like the homeowner who insists on undertaking DIY despite not knowing one end of a nail from the other. Fortunately the consequences are not quite as dire; rather than finding himself standing amidst the rubble of a once fine home Marty finds himself caught up in a life that seamlessly flits between cries of joy when he succeeds and floods of frustrated tears when he fails.

In fairness to the little lad it’s actually quite an enjoyable mindset most of the time, providing you give yourself plenty of time. Marty’s favourite “do” is to climb up into the car by himself and then arrange himself majestically in his seat. If you give him three or four minutes he can do this perfectly well and we can then all join together in a round of applause, whilst Marty cries “Did it! Did it!” However, if you don’t have 4 minutes just to get a small child into a car then you’d best buy a bumper pack of industrial strength ear plugs because it’s going to be loud and tearful and I doubt very much if it will be worth the gain of 90 seconds.

One of the most surprising aspects of all this to me is that, despite suddenly being compelled to try his hand at absolutely everything, he can still be reasoned with. A classic example is getting him upstairs to bed.

At the moment he is into ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ and is rarely more than a few inches away from his favourite toys; Thomas and Percy. He is also into cars of any shape or form. This is all well and good but it creates a logistical problem for him at bed time. He’s happy to sleep but isn’t going to do so unless all of his toys are sat at the foot of his bed so he can lie back on his pillow and stare boggle-eyed at them until slumber over takes him. But how to get these toys upstairs? Well, in the age of ‘do’ this means spending the next half hour trying to pick up all of his toys at the same time, which turns out to be impossible.

If you offer to help at the beginning he’ll just cry “No, No. Marty Do!” and start to bawl. However, if you ask again after 20 minutes he’ll actually pause to consider the offer and then hand you one or more of his toys and say “Daggy ‘elp now.”

Of course reason doesn’t work all the time, in fact it fails dismally most of the time, but as luck would have it there are a few other tricks. 

The simplest just works by doing the task in hand for him and then crying "Marty did it!" and giving him a round of applause. If he was in some way involved with the task he'll usually just give you a bit of a hard stare, verify that the task has now been completed and then graciously accept the paudits.

If this fails - and it isn't always possible - I then go for the 'distraction'. This works on the fact that small children are astonishingly gullible. Marty can be clinging onto the side of a shopping trolley, screaming like a banshee, turning odd shades of scarlet and puce and crying out “Marty do! Marty do!” as if the devil himself resided within. The west wing of ASDA turns to stare. Now what do you do? Do you fight it? Do you hide until it’s all over? No! You just calmly point over his shoulder and say “Look! Train!” 

It’s as if someone has just flicked a switch; the tears stop, the cries echo down the aisle and are no more and within seconds he’s back to a more acceptable colour.

This works brilliantly if there actually is a train in sight but to be honest it’s not a necessity, “Look! Plane!”, or “Look! Lion!” all work just as well. To be honest I think “Look! Nigel Farage!” would work... and if said it in a pronounced Scottish accent you might get to enjoy an even more comical reaction from Farage himself.

Tuesday 30 April 2013

More Baby Led Weaning

Cute AND Clever? Must take after his mum!

One of the best things we ever did with Marty was “baby led weaning”, whereby you feed your little one proper food and let them manage the process themselves. 

There were a number of reasons why we thought this approach would be a good idea. Firstly it was cheaper and easier than buying or making your own mush. Secondly, who in their right minds would voluntarily eat said mush? Surely, if you want your child to have a sound and sensible approach to food, it makes sense to feed them something that you’d at least consider eating yourself? Thirdly, letting them feed themselves rather than subjecting them to a ‘force feeding’ regime seemed eminently sensible, not only would it increase manual dexterity at an early age but it would also let them decide how much they wanted to eat by listening to their own bodies rather than demolishing a jar of pureed ‘God-knows-what’ because ‘mummy bought it, so you’d better eat it’. Finally, letting Marty sit at the table and join us for dinner was just a hell of a lot easier and more pleasant for all concerned.

We got a surprising amount of negativity when we decided on this route. The health visitor felt that Marty might not get enough to eat if he just fed himself and stopped when he liked. We suggested she take a look at the herds of obese people waddling through town and ask herself if the current approach to food seemed to be working.

Other people took exactly the opposite stance and warned us that they’d seen this approach in action and that our child would get fat and eat rubbish. Bearing in mind that we weren’t giving Marty a debit card and freedom to roam around the local supermarket it seemed unlikely that he’d eat rubbish unless we actually gave it to him, but yes maybe you do need to state the obvious caveats to a life of ‘baby led weaning’, namely that you eat a healthy and balanced diet yourself – and no that does not mean a burger in one hand and a coke in the other – and that it is only ‘baby led’, you’re still the adult, so you don’t have to follow; I dare say that – if left to his own devices - Marty would love to gorge himself on chocolate coated poppadoms, smothered in strawberry jelly and topped with treacle sponge cake... but that doesn’t mean he’s going to.

The final warning came from my mum and I suspect it’s impossible to embark on a life of baby led weaning without these words of ancient wisdom ringing in your ears, “He can’t eat proper food! He’ll choke on something and die!” I’ve no idea where this wisdom arose from. Yes, babies might look a bit awkward when feeding themselves and they may well occasionally choke but this is natural, so much so that the gag reflex in a six month old baby is highly developed and very close to the front of the mouth. You still need to make sure they’re sat upright and never left on their own when they’re eating, but that aside it seems perfectly safe – we didn’t have a single problem.

Marty has now turned two and we seem to be seeing a number of huge advantages from BLW that we’d never been told about, all revolving around his dexterity.

He can now eat yoghurt and jelly from a pot, with a spoon, then turn and have a drink from an ordinary cup.. and barely spill a drop! Ok, you wouldn’t want to hug him afterwards whilst wearing your best Armani suit but there was a time when he just looked like a small, animated, mound of yoghurt by the time he’d finished eating. Those days are definitely behind us and the advanced dexterity seems to have affected things you wouldn’t generally associate with eating; he learnt to jump off the ground – clear off the ground – within a few weeks of his 1st birthday. He already skips down the road. He’s a demon on a scooter. He can put bottle lids back on and take them off. He’s just starting to brush his teeth in a fashion that might actually prevent tooth decay – he was just sucking off the toothpaste.

Ok, it might all just be a coincidence that he’s quite advanced in all these areas but they all share a link in that they require, brain, eye and body coordination and that’s exactly what Baby Led Weaning promotes. All in all I'd very much recommend it.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

The Changing Face of Childrens Toys

It’s very easy to overlook those slow changes that occur throughout your life. Then suddenly something happens to throw them into stark relief.

A classic example of this was the TV drama “Life on Mars”, which brought back to life those decades that you had somehow managed to muddle through without constant access to a mobile phone. The days when you left your home and, once out of ear shot, became ‘uncontactable’. And yet we still managed to function. We even managed to meet people! How did we do it? I seriously can't remember and I certainly don't know how I'd manage today.

Another example of this phenomenon was this Christmas and birthday with Marty. 

He’s now two and even though he’d be just as happy with an empty cardboard box we felt obliged to fill said boxes with gifts. When I was two this would have meant a cowboy hat, a little holster, possibly a loud checked top with leather tassels and definitely a very shiny handgun. The kid down the street would then acquire an American Indian outfit and we would happily spend the summer months acting out those genocidal events of yesteryear.

Now I must admit that the idea of giving Marty a fake gun doesn’t sit very well with me these days but I had absolutely no problems with it whatsoever when I was a kid. All the TV shows seemed to be Westerns and it made perfect sense to a kid of my age that you should spend the day pretending to ride around on a horse shooting the indigenous folk - who would then wholly overreact by shooting back.

So I was not expecting Leanne to arrive back from the shops with a six-shooter. However, what I also wasn’t expecting was the tiny shopping trolley, the baby ‘Henry’ vacuum cleaner and the little plastic cooker, complete with pans, and polyethylene fried egg and bacon set!

Seriously! This is what we bought him... Actually, no, this is what my wife bought him! AND no one else blinked an eye! I was standing there a gasp, as everyone else crooned over how cute he looked dragging his little vacuum cleaner around the house, shouting “Oover! Oover! Did it”

I attempted to explain to my wife that these all seemed to be slightly effeminate toys and that maybe a Scaletrics would be a good idea, or failing that a train set , which I could no doubt look after for him until he had ‘come-of-age’. From the look she gave me I might as well have been talking to her in Swahili.

Apparently he loved playing with the house Hoover so – ergo - a toy Hoover was the perfect present. I pointed out to her that he also loved playing with his willy, so how come she hadn’t bought him a plastic one of them? But it was all to no avail.

That said, yes he does seem to enjoy dragging a plastic Hoover around the house and, yes, he loves playing with his plastic ‘Eggy’, he even enjoys pushing his little trolly around the house. I’m just hoping he’ll grow out of it, but apparently that’s a sign of my age.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Amazing things toddlers can't do.

The ancient and venerable art of walking

The amount a child picks up in their first few years is frankly astonishing, but what they completely fail to get the hang of is also pretty amazing.

Bear in mind that when I say ‘amazing’ I’m talking as a fairly uninformed parent. I dare say the experts are wholly unmoved by many of the talents displayed by the under two’s but I, at least, find them astonishing. 

Most of this astonishment probably derives from the fact that until I actually became a parent I didn’t really give kids much thought, to me a baby was just a smaller version of Justin Beiber; I’d heard of them, from what I could gather they were fairly popular, but I had no real interest in them and, to be perfectly honest, I actually found them a little bit irritating. I can’t say my opinion of Justin has changed over the last few years but when it comes to kids I can now see what all the fuss was about.

As a result of this relative indifference, when Marty was born I didn’t have much of a clue what to expect. A quick once over revealed that his initial talents were limited to farting, burping and opening and closing his eyes. So he was already over qualified for a career in politics but was going to have to start climbing a pretty steep learning curve if he ever wished to venture away from Westminster.

Learning to walk and run is probably his most notable achievement to date. As someone who generally took bipedalism for granted I had expected Marty to pick this up pretty quickly but, when you think about it, spending your life balanced on just two feet is really quite an achievement. At the grand old age of two Marty can now race around the house like a demon, yet he will still collide with a door, a wall or the floor at least three times a day. So, whilst you could call it ‘running’ you could also call it ‘a prolonged and inevitable fall’ and still be spot on for accuracy - I fear that it’s no coincidence that he can say the word ‘bruise’.

More startling still, at least to me, is his imagination. I don’t know why but I assumed that abstract thought and rampant imagination would be a long time coming, yet, at the age of about 15 months, he suddenly started racing potato wedges around the plate, whilst murmuring ‘Brum, Brum.’

When he realised how gobsmacked I was by this he then started waving runner beans above his head and screaming ‘Bane!’ – which, in toddler speak, is a plane. I have no idea if this makes him a genius, a normal child, or a potential train spotter but I for one am impressed.

So now we’ve ‘bigged’ him up let’s have a look at what he can’t do and the most amazing one of these is his complete and utter inability to blow his own nose! I mean, come on! How difficult can it be?

It actually took him the best part of 18 months to learn to blow! He was trying from the age of about 8 months but not a lot was happening. Even by 18 months he couldn’t have blown the skin off a rice pudding if his very life had depended upon it. By his second birthday he had finally summoned enough wind to blow out his birthday candles but he hasn’t even begun to speculate upon the merest possibility of nose-blowing and all it entails.

I still can’t understand what on earth he finds so difficult about something so mundane but apparently he’s not alone, in fact all children take an age to learn to blow and even longer to learn to apply the art to their nose. I had always assumed that walking the streets with green slime running down your face was just something kids did for effect but it turns out that they have little choice in the matter as wiping their nose also seems to take an age to fathom.

I came across another surprise recently; apparently babies can’t jump! They start going through all the motions of jumping at a very early age but they generally remain stubbornly affixed to terra firma until they approach their second birthday. The reason this was such a surprise to me is that Marty has been leaping into the air for as long as he’s been able to walk, in fact it’s hard to keep him on the ground. 

There, I knew he was a genius!

Sunday 17 February 2013


The way we were

One of the more disconcerting aspects of parenthood is a sudden sense of mortality. Being 48 when my first child was born hasn’t helped this feeling but I think I’d have suffered from it regardless because the main causes seem to be a sudden interest in the future and the general paranoia of being a parent.

I have lived the vast majority of my life from day to day; I have rarely planned for the weekend, barely ever planned for a holiday and always assumed that those people who said the best bit about a holiday was the planning and the getting there were spending a fortnight in Skegness.

All of a sudden this changes. Two years ago we had this largely immobile little bundle of joy and before you know it he’s racing around the house and has become a slightly larger bundle of joy and snot – he has a cold at the moment. Every day he changes and every day his future looms into my head; what will it be like taking him to school? When can we go on our first fossil collecting hunt? What will they be calling ‘O’ levels by the time he gets around to them? When will he enter his first Olympics and what will he win? What position will he play for Liverpool FC?

And at the end of all these future plans is the sudden internal exclamation “I’ll be how old??? Bloody Hell!”

On the bright side, at least I don’t have to fear for my son. I do of course but that’s just normal parental paranoia. No, the reality is that in this day and age - and living here in the West - the chances of my son not making it to his 21st birthday is reassuringly remote.

Of course this is a recent event. You often hear people say “No one should have to suffer the death of a child” completely forgetting that that used to be the norm, and still is in many areas of the world. Victorians didn’t have huge families for the hell of it, they had huge families because only a few of those children would make it into adult hood. In the Middle Ages the average life expectancy was 35, this wasn’t because adults died early. No, the average adult lived till about 70, not much different from today, but the chances of a child making it to 10 was remote and the chances of them then getting through to 20 wasn’t a whole lot better.

Bizarrely enough, the fact that our children are now astonishingly safe from death and disease doesn’t seem to have filtered through to most parents, who still seem to regard their children as fatal accidents just waiting to happen. Sadly, I am a member of this paranoid fraternity. Given a chance I would happily wrap the house in bubble wrap - although, on further reflection, it might be easier to leave the house and apply the bubble wrap to Marty. I still can’t watch him walk down the stairs, although this has much to do with Marty playing to the audience and stopping half way down for an impromptu bounce if he thinks anyone is watching him.

I just hope I don’t turn into one of those parents who can’t let their children out of their sight for a moment. The sort who believes the world is full of child molesting perverts who can only be thwarted by denying their child the right to play.

I guess it’s a tough call though, not made any easier by a self righteous media who take great delight in scaring the pants out of the general population, and parents in particular. 

Sunday 3 February 2013

The Terrible Two's

Light blue touch paper and step well back.

“The terrible two’s” is a bit of a misnomer but, to be fair, the more accurate “The Terrible 18 months until God knows when” is nowhere near as catchy.

Sadly, whilst Marty might have been a little slow learning to crawl and walk, he was right there on the button when it came to the terrible two’s. I don’t know how he learnt it but as he turned 18 months he suddenly realised a wonderful truth: “If I cry, they will come!”, followed by “If I cry really hard I may even get my own way.. well maybe not but it’s worth trying anyway.” By all accounts they can keep this up for quite a number of years in fact, if the House of Commons is anything to go by, some can keep it up well into their dotage.

Apparently this has nothing to do with your child suddenly deciding to become a truculent little bugger because he or she thinks it will wind you up - although it’s hard not to come to that conclusion sometimes - but everything to do with their brain developing to a stage where an idea of ‘self’ emerges. Until that stage a baby couldn’t readily discern between themselves and their surroundings; they ask their arm to move and it moves, they ask their parents to move and they move, they ask the sky to move and the clouds pass by. As a result they assume they are all the same; they are at one with the world and the world is at one with them. Alas, this illusion only persists if you resort to class A drugs, for the rest of us you have to give up on this conclusion and come to an idea of ‘self’.

Of course there is a lot to be said for a sense of self but it does first insist on you giving up control of a lot of things. Marty is slowly learning this with planes; it doesn’t matter how much he screams and cries, planes only show up in the skies above Lincolnshire as and when they want to. Things are proving less straightforward with his parents.

The problem is that he’s being forced to give up on the idea of being able to control everything in life and as a result he’s really fighting to control something. The latest incarnation of this frustration is his refusal to walk anywhere if you are holding on to his reins.

If I’m in the right mood, i.e. it’s not 4am, I find these little temper tantrums quite amusing, although Marty is still only dallying with tantrums in that he is yet to throw himself to the floor of the local supermarket and scream and shout whilst pounding the floor with his arms and legs. I dare say this will happen in the next week or so and I’ll have to smile that dangerous smile at the passing shoppers as they give that look that says “Can’t you control your kid?” To which the answer is of course is “Yes. So one more word and I’ll let him loose on you!”

Of course there are many upsides to this stage in your child’s life in that both of you are going to improve your negotiating skills enormously, which is really what it’s all about; Marty wants total control, I’m happy to give him some - This article at covers it all quite nicely.

On a slightly different point I read a while back that at the age of two a child finally becomes more intelligent than a dog. I have a few issues with this statement but the biggest one is that the author cannot ever have met my dog – we have moss growing in the garden that could run intellectual rings around our dog, and trust me, it’s not even smart moss!

Tuesday 15 January 2013

The three ages of childhood


I have come to the conclusion that there are three ages of childhood and that Marty is firmly in the first epoch, the age of “What?”

For the last 6 months our breakfast routine has gone pretty much like this:

Comfortably sat in his highchair, Marty surveys the morning’s breakfast arrangements. He now picks up his spoon, waves it under my nose and asks, “what?”

“It’s a spoon.” 

He digests this for a few seconds then dips it into his porridge. “What?”


He looks at me as if he’s not sure I can be entirely trusted and then, as if to test me, points at his milk. “What?”

“It’s milk!”

Patently unconvinced that I know what I’m talking about – and who can blame him for that -  he now turns to his mother and repeats the entire exercise. This completed, he takes a few moments to ponder all this new and fascinating information. Then he sits back, pokes his porridge, sips his milk, examines his spoon... and it all starts again.

I’ve got to admit that in terms of wild excitement it’s right up there with drying paint but for some reason Marty himself finds it all totally fascinating.

It’s as if he’s thinking “But I’ve asked 15 times now and they STILL say it’s a spoon! A Spoon! Who would have thought? Wow!”

This routine continues for pretty much the entire day with breaks only for pooing and sleeping and the occasional wild stabbing at the sky and the cry of “Bane! Bane!” – which, in case you were wondering, is an aluminium cylinder with wings that is frequently found traversing the skies of the East Midlands.

I mentioned to a mate that I found all this “What, what, what?” a tad tedious and he pointed out that this stage will soon develop into the second golden age of childhood, the infamous age of “Why?”

By all accounts the age of “Why?” can last for years and years and leave a parent yearning for the halcyon days of “What?” or even for those far distant days of yore when it was just mummy, daddy and a bottle of wine.

I must admit that I'm actually looking forward to Marty asking “why?” all the time and I’m determined to at least attempt accurate and reasoned replies. Ok, in reality these good intentions will probably not even make it through the first weekend and I’ll no doubt be buying earplugs en masse before the month is out, but for at least a short time Marty will gain some erratic, and no doubt erroneous, wisdom.

I have been told that after four or five years the age of “why” gives way to a period of relative peace, until the teens arrive and the final age of childhood begins; the age of ‘Whatever!”

Strictly speaking this epoch is not just about ‘whatever’. The word ‘Urr!’ ,for example, is a popular means of expression, as is the age old cry of “I hate youuuuu!”

I can see why it all happens like this though. The age of ‘what?’ helps the child develop his language skills, the age of ‘why?’ helps develop their mind and the age of ‘whatever’ helps fray the bonds of parental love to such an extent that your child packing his bags and leaving the family home for good is now less of a nightmare and more a cause for wild celebration.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Parenthood: The things they never told you!

As a new parent there are many things you may run out of from time to time - sleep, nappies and patience, to name but a few - but the one thing I can guarantee that you’ll never run short of is advice.

From the moment you declare to the world that a baby is on the way – and when to tell people that is often the first bit of advice you’ll get – everyone and his mate will be queuing up to offer words of wisdom.

Of course this isn’t a bad thing. Yes, 90% of the advice can be filed away under the heading “Statements of the bleeding obvious”, much can be politely ignored and some is just downright batty but in the mix are some true gems that make you feel grateful for having a close family and fine friends.

One thing I’ve noticed though is just how much of this advice seems to be geared towards making parenthood convenient. A classic example is:

“Oh don’t sleep with your baby! They’ll want you to always sleep with them!”

Of course they will, after all it’s very comforting to all concerned and is what we’d all be doing if we were living a more natural life. After all, this idea of everyone sleeping in separate rooms is astonishingly recent and, whilst having your own space is all very nice, the first thing most of us do when we leave home is to hunt down someone willing to share a bed with us.

Attachment Parenting is the ‘new thing’ to help address this slightly perverse view of baby rearing and, like most new ideas, is just taking us back to how we used to behave before work, 60’s pseudo science and Victorian morality arrived to fuck things up.

I can’t say we’ve fully embraced attachment parenting. Not because I don’t agree with it but because I’m not sure my back would be up to the job... although the fact that it seems to have more than a hint of the bobble hat brigade about it is also a bit off putting – why is it that so many people with good ideas feel the need to spoil it all by wearing daft head gear and drinking Yak’s milk?

Anyway, this blog wasn’t supposed to be about the advice you get, it was supposed to cover the advice that doesn’t rear its head above the carry cot.
So far I have come across two very important points that I wish I’d known about before Marty arrived.

The first is floorboards! Do yours creak? If so, sort them out before baby arrives, especially those in the proposed nursery. I singularly failed to do this and I very much regret that fact. Ours creak like crazy things and as a result getting Marty to sleep and then getting out of the bedroom afterwards is like a scene out of an Indiana Jones film. If the floor creaks he’s going to wake up again so I have to mark my start position, take 4 paces to the left, 3 steps forward, two to the right.... I have yet to be chased out of the room by an enormous boulder but I have also yet to get out of the room first time without Marty waking up.

Another thing that no one mentioned was glasses. Do you wear them? Did you invest in gloriously expensive ones? Oh dear!

Here is a simple test to see if your glasses are suitable for parenthood. Pick them up in both hands by the bits that go over your ears. Now, whilst holding on tight, stretch your arms out wide. Now throw the glasses on the floor and giggle in delight. Now pick them up in your fist and hurl them across the room whilst shouting ‘Daggies!’. Repeat until the guy in the opticians notices what you’re doing.

I only need glasses for reading so I have taken to buying a box of them every few months from Poundland. In our house they have the life expectancy of an asthmatic Mayfly but they are wondrously cheap and provide Marty with some exercise.