My Son Keeps Saying He’s Tired And It’s Tiring

 

In case I didn’t know that children are illogical, the Minor has recently developed a habit of waking up in the middle of the night to complain that he is tired. Sometimes he does this in a soft sad wail and sometimes he does it in loud angry rant. The rant would probably be expletive-ridden if he knew what expletives are. Last night at around 3.45am he pointedly said: “excuse me I’m tired” as if I’d gone into his room and woken him up on purpose. Then he added “actually actually actually I’m tired” to stress his point, each ‘actually’ slightly more tired than the first. It’s demented.

The sensitive reaction to this absurd protest is to advise him gently that he is best to go back to sleep. But set it against a backdrop of night after night of interruptions, it comes out more like a livid hiss: “we are all tired, pal”. This would definitely be expletive-ridden except I don’t want him to know what expletives are. We’ve found that it’s best not to engage with him at all. Because every snippet of conversation exchanged with him makes him a little more alert and a little less likely to fall back to sleep.

Traditionally the best way to get him down is stuffing a bottle into his mouth and putting him into milk-induced stasis. But now he has discovered this new streak of contrariness, his reaction on finishing the drink is “I’m thirsty”. My head at this point is full of expletives.

It seems he regards his night-time milk as an aperitif for some other beverage. I have once given him water (the milk was a kind of chaser) and predictably woke up a few hours later with a confused piss-soaked little boy next to me. The Pampers didn’t know what had hit it. The other effect of his midnight feast is that he is less hungry during the day. The fatigue makes him less hungry. He is also tired because he slept badly. He tells us he is tired a lot. The person who coined the phrase ‘vicious circle’ definitely had children.

He repeats that he is tired when we are trying to put him down for the night, it comes out like a chant. He fights off sleep by telling us he’s tired. He bolsters his resistance with increasingly surreal requests like ‘a giraffe’ or ‘a horse to carry him home.’ It’s ironic, avant-garde performance art. It’s at this time that becoming overtired is a live threat. I’ve never really understood the concept of ‘overtired’ given that there is a very obvious solution to the issue (going to sleep) that is always eschewed in favour of a high-octane paddy. I don’t understand the concept of ‘overtired’ but I’ve definitely witnessed ‘overtired’.

There is a lot I don’t understand about the Minor’s various states of ‘tired’.

And I’m tired. Actually actually actually tired.

Why I Really Really Like Going To The Dump

 

Of all the sickening sights that I’ve witnessed as a parent there is nothing more putrid than the nappy bin in a public baby changing room. The stench from my own son’s nappy is unholy enough, but when the nappy is atop of a mound assembled from a hundred other children’s nappies then it becomes overwhelmingly evil. To glimpse down the open shaft of a communal nappy bin is look into the actual depths of hell, the very basement of hell where even Satan is a bit scared to go.

A lot of parenting is waste disposal. It’s not just nappies, there other revolting unwanted substances to get rid of: half-digested breakfasts, dripping snotrags, sodden bread crusts. Bin administration dominates conversation. The quality, or lack of quality of bin bags has a serious material effect on my wellbeing. We have three large bins outside our house which we fill almost the second they are emptied. Some homeowners want to improve their house by converting the loft or installing a new kitchen. We need to create a landfill site in the garden.

One of the few benefits of producing so much rubbish is the necessity to visit the local dump on a regular basis. I’ve been so often recently I deserve a loyalty card. In truth I’ve been keen on dumps even before I became a dad. I have many cherished memories of the dump in Wembley near where we used to live. It even had a traffic-light system in place to ensure that waste was disposed of in an orderly manner.

The dumps local to me are not as organised. It’s sensible to go early in the morning when the ginormous bins are just starting to glister under the milky sun. Even at this time there are several other dump-goers. And there is a communality, a sense of shared satisfaction in clearing the decks, getting things in order and flinging large objects energetically into skips. I find peculiar pleasure in lobbing bottles into the bottle banks. If I hit the right trajectory a tremendous smashing happens. But I’ve also got it wrong on occasions and shattered a bottle on the side of the bank like a mental Queen christening a liner.

What I really like about all the dumps I’ve visited is that the staff always seem to genuinely care. The customer service is excellent. The moment they spot you grappling with a large slab of MDF they’ll dart over and say things like: “ooh, I know a lovely bin where that could live”. I once turned up with a knackered old microwave and the operative waved me over to a small stack of microwaves he’d built. I felt like I was releasing the microwave back into the wild.

This piece is an excerpt from The Good Dump Guide 2017.

A Good Way To Entertain Your Child In The Supermarket

 

I once saw a man limping down a supermarket aisle, a demanding toddler in each arm and a basket crashing rhythmically into his thigh. Both his children had obviously required an urgent cuddle, but he also needed to buy his groceries. He looked exhausted. And faintly hunted. I would not do well in this scenario. I do not have the muscle. The three of us would end up cowering in a huddle by the bakery counter. Continue reading “A Good Way To Entertain Your Child In The Supermarket”

It’s One Small Step In Gazing Up At The Stars

 

Like most children probably, my sons are inquisitive by nature. They ask a lot of questions. Normally I can field these satisfactorily but sometimes they happen upon a gap in my knowledge. This is always a concern to me because I’d rather the boys regard me as wise and all-knowing so later in life when important decisions need to be made they’ll seek my advice and in this way I’ll exert some sinister form of mind-control. Continue reading “It’s One Small Step In Gazing Up At The Stars”

Teething Problems Really Are Teething Problems

 

Children don’t remember anything before the age of two. Their brains are too tiny to retain all the memories. It does make me wonder why we bother doing anything nice with them while they’re small, they’re not going to remember anyway.

It also occurs to me that this memory deletion also works as a coping mechanism for the trauma of teething. I’ve now witnessed both my sons go through this ordeal and I’m glad I’ve forgotten my own experiences. It’s saved me thousands of pounds’ worth of therapy bills.

I can’t really imagine what it must be like to live your entire life in benign gummy innocence only to find yourself attacked from within by rude stabby rectangles bursting through into your mouth. Added to this is uncontrollable drooling, ruddiness, insomnia and a fierce desire to chew off your own hand.

For some curious reason my sons also suffered sore bottoms during the process, possibly because the hands they’d just eaten hadn’t agreed with them. It’s chaos theory in one miniature body. There’s no sugar-coating it: teething turned each of my children into a tiny sad shambles.

I’ve tried to picture as an adult what this pain and confusion must feel like. Perhaps discovering that your spine has started poking through the skin on your back and you’ve got a cold and the same digestive issues as the last time you ate a lamb vindaloo.

We’ve only found one thing that has come close to resolving these teething problems: mounds of pure uncut powder delivered straight to the tongue. We went straight for the good stuff. The teething powder my wife chose is made by a company called Ashton & Parsons, a name I found comforting because it sounded solid and old-fashioned.

I felt like they weren’t manufacturers, but purveyors of teething powder. Perhaps they were official suppliers of teething powder to the Queen, in case the Queen suffered from random new teeth and a poorly bum.

I later discovered that they have been operating for 150 years. Of course back in Victorian times, teething powder was even more important than it is now as it got the child workforce healthy and back down the mine or up mill.

At the beginning I imagine that they sold teething powder in shops down Burlington Arcade, where men in tall hats browsed while Dickensian waifs pressed their noses against the window, coveting lovingly-merchandised pyramids of powder.

Having seen what I’ve seen, if the plot of A Christmas Carol had Tiny Tim suffering from teething issues, then he’d have been probably been saying instead: “God help us, everyone!”

This tangent was not sponsored by Ashton & Parsons.

My Kids Can Sniff Out My Fun And Ruin It

 

It had just turned midnight. 2017 was minutes old. The crowd was full of expectation. Both for what the New Year would bring but also because I had just moved towards the decks, ready to take them to a higher level with my triumphant selection of tunes. A writhing mass of bodies on the dancefloor hanging on every knob-twiddle, awaiting the first monumental track…

…and then my kids woke up and I had to go and deal with them.

In truth the writhing mass was a couple of slightly pissed neighbours and the dancefloor was a small space created when we pushed the table against the kitchen wall. The atmosphere was mainly being provided by a peculiarly funky cheeseboard. The decks were in fact the Spotify app on wife’s phone connected to a puny Bluetooth speaker, my DJ skills limited to operating the keyboard function.

The record I had lined up was ‘Kiss Me’ by seminal artist Olly Murs. Perhaps a man approaching his forties shouldn’t be dabbling with popular music of the teeny-bop persuasion but I’m always seduced by a guitar bit that sounds like the incidental music from an erotic thriller in 1987.

Olly Murs’ guitar had to be put on ice because both my sons were awake and calling for their mother. But their mother had already been up there for an hour before midnight and because of an unspoken rota system between mum and dad the boys had to settle for me.

Earlier in the evening various party-goers had brought their children and put them into temporary storage in vacant bedrooms, turning the first floor of our house into a toddler doss-house. We knew that if the boys became aware that like-minded small people were close then they would be electrified to the point of insomnia and we’d end up mainly spending the New Year cajoling and lulling and shushing. We deployed an energetic aunt and uncle to exhaust them with a robust itinerary of activities in the day, and both boys sparked out long before the hoard arrived.

But I was uneasy. I knew a prompt turn-in was probably part of a long game that they had concocted to ruin our fun. I’ve seen it before. They can sniff out when we’re planning some festivity that doesn’t involve them and they’ll sabotage it. It’s not just house parties.

I’ve had to live off scraps of football-watching since fatherhood, a bit like sleep. But there are some games which are sacrosanct. The boys know this and when mum is out and there’s an important evening kick-off, they will stage a bed-boycott. And I will miss out on most of watching England lose.

So I was up there for an hour until mum was obliged to return. I could hear the party escalating downstairs, perhaps a third person had hit the dancefloor. All three of us were in my bed, and for different reasons all of us were fighting off sleep. The boys because they wanted me to stay with them, and me because I wanted to leave them.

Eventually my wife came to tag me out so I could return to the fray, determined to carry on as before. But as I minced quietly along the landing children began to wake all over the house, cries spreading like a forest fire. In effect it was a call for last orders, as deflated parents accepted their fate and scooped them off into the night.

I was left to wait for dishwasher to finish while mainlining Nutella cheesecake straight from the dish it had been served on. And in the morning I woke suffering a fraction of the hangover that I might have done had the boys not intervened. And down the street, tales of similar relief came through. Perhaps all our children weren’t out to ruin our night. Perhaps they were looking after us.

Or perhaps they don’t think I should be listening to Olly Murs.

I Think I’ve Passed Down My Jiffle To My Son

 

Recently when I’ve watched my sons go about their business, I’ve wondered what aspects of their personality and behaviour I have foisted on them. Both through my genes but also the traits they’ve picked up from me hanging together over the last few years. I’m not interested enough to conduct any scholarly research, but what started me ruminating is a physical quirk that the Major exhibits that is an exact replica of something I regularly performed in my younger days.

This extravagant tic happens as a result of a sudden exhilaration, an onrush of adrenaline. It includes some relatively standard jumping on the spot, perhaps a slight bow forward and a furious waggle of both hands effected by a rapid breaking of the wrists. That doesn’t adequately describe the absurd scale of the manoeuvre, so here is some grainy CCTV footage of a little me at the start line of my school sports day.

My mum called it a ‘jiffle’. For a long time I thought that my mum had invented this term. It’s actually an old Norfolk dialect word that refers to rushes swaying in the breeze, but has evolved to a more general meaning of moving restlessly or fidgeting. I was disappointed when I found out that my mum couldn’t lay claim to its creation. A bit like when I discovered she made her sloe gin just by putting sloe berries in some gin. I’d previously thought she’d somehow distilled the gin herself using fermented sloes, perhaps in some secret gin-laboratory under the gazebo.

The sports day footage was from my golden age of jiffling. I was a keen jiffler in this period. I continued to jiffle even through to adulthood. I’ve managed to restrain the loopiest elements of the jiffle now, the excessive hand-waving and the frantic jumping. I can now direct my excited energy into a less conspicuous action: walking. I’ve had friends report their bewilderment as I’ve randomly sped off down the pavement during a stroll together.

So I don’t believe that the Major has inherited the jiffle from observing me. I can only think that I have bequeathed the jiffle biologically. I am aware that there are scores of children who jiggle and twiddle dementedly, but there is something so hauntingly reminiscent about the Major’s execution it sets me speculating.

Is the jiffle embedded in my genetic code? Are the actual strands of my DNA jiffling themselves? Or is the replica jiffle a product of the anatomical similarities between the Major and me? As with all my parenting quandaries, I don’t know the answer. But it’s making me want to jiffle just thinking about it.

I Am In Real Need Of An Education Into Education

 

The time has come to select our preferred primary school for the Major. I have dreaded this decision for some time and there are three reasons why. Firstly and fundamentally because I have a heavy sense that for the first time we are allowing him out of our grasp a little.

The Spartans of ancient Greece sent their children to military school aged six, where their teachers prepared them for the basic shitness of life by not feeding or clothing them. The children were encouraged instead to steal their essentials, but were also beaten if they were caught.

The Spartan education authority was clearly run by fucking wallies and bears no comparison to today, but I am weighed down by the feeling that we are now lashing the Major to life’s mast to be bashed by the winds and rains of human existence. Left to face real issues like being misunderstood or underestimated by your seniors or being ostracised by your peers.

Secondly because I am nervous that a misstep in our decision-making here has a serious material effect on the Major’s happiness. I have been told that we should listen to our gut when evaluating schools. But my gut has only really contacted me when I’ve put too much rich food in it. We’ve never discussed education. And so I don’t trust it as an advisor.

I have therefore composed my thoughts on our choices based on two factors: proximity and Ofsted findings. We are very fortunate that our closest school has been given the thumbs-up from the Ofsted bods. So in truth I had already made my mind up before we visited, although my wife still wanted her gut to have a look around.

I was impressed immediately, largely by the vivid gallery of art on the walls and the ginormous flat-screen television fixed to the wall of the school-hall. It’s this kind of stupid detail that influences me. My own primary education does not form a satisfactory basis for comparison. The first school I went to consisted of 23 pupils in one room, overseen by a headmaster who later turned out to be a paedophile. The school closed down with a year of me being there.

The third and most feared reason is that our choice may not be a choice at all, given that we are beholden to the swelling and shrinking of the school catchment area. Sometimes it feels like we’re tying the Major’s name to a balloon, releasing it and educating him wherever it drifts off to. We don’t know what will happen. There is no red dotted line on the pavement to denote the catchment area.

We’ve heard the stories. The families that have tried to game the system by renting near the school only to find that the catchment area has ebbed away from them like the tide. The sad people who moved to the road adjoining the back of their preferred school only to find that the centre of the catchment area was measured from the school gates at the front, and they were cast out. Or the bizarre influx of twins in one year that froze anyone else outside of spitting distance of the school.

Oh I don’t know. All we can really do is to be a robust mast and make sure we’ve lashed the Major tightly to us.

The Greatest Gift Of All: A Metal Detector

 

I can’t give advice on Christmas gifts. I once gave my sister a rape alarm. In mitigation the alarm was attached to a stopwatch, she was well into jogging at the time. The alarm was a secondary feature, but for some reason that was the bit she dwelt on.

I also once got a rubbish present, a metal detector. In fairness to my parents I had asked for a metal detector. I grew up close to a Roman road and it was near here that one of my neighbours excavated a coin that year. Knowing what I know about myself now I was entirely motivated by greed and the tantalising thought of uncovering some treasure. But at the time I persuaded myself it was an interest in local history that had fired me.

As soon as I unwrapped the metal detector I was suspicious. It was smaller than any that I had seen on the television. There were no giant headphones included with it. I assumed that these were essential. It was also assembled with bright orange fittings and big bulbous handles that made it look like a Fisher Price toy, a sort of My First Metal Detector.

Once I whirred it into action a fundamental flaw was revealed. The metal detector could detect metal, but only metal that you could see. I placed a two pence piece under the rug in the sitting room as a test. But the carpet was obviously impenetrable to the detector’s feeble glare. This may have proved an impediment when looking for antique hoards buried under centuries of earth.

In its defence the detector was brilliant at finding doorknobs. If you were ever approaching a door and weren’t exactly sure where the doorknob was, then you’d simply move the detector slowly around the frame of the door until a buzzing sound could be heard – and there, you’ve found the knob and could pass through the door safely.

In desperation I headed to an antiquarian shop in Cambridge which specialized in peddling spurious historical items to the many tourists in the city. I bought some fake Roman coins. I went back to the Roman road and scattered the coins by the pathway. And then “detected” them.

Perversely of all the brilliant presents that my mum and dad bought me over the years, the BMXs and the table football tables, the metal detector is the one that has given me the most sustained pleasure, simply through the amusing memory of how crap it was. It’s the best and worst Christmas present I ever got – put that in your Christmas gift guide.

The metal detector itself was shoved into a cobwebbed crack next to the tumble-dryer, left to fester in an open grave. Maybe one day in the far-off future it will be discovered by inquisitive archaeologists. Perhaps they will ponder what its use was. Definitely not metal-detecting.

I Think About Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Way Too Much

 

There is little more dispiriting feeling as a parent to turn on a television programme for your child and realise that you’ve watched it before. My sons know what they like when it comes to the television we view, the stories we read and the songs we sing. So naturally there is a level of repetition. Which means I have begun to connect with them on a completely different level; reading subtexts into plots that aren’t there or rounding out characters with non-existent philosophical dilemmas.

For instance I have dwelt for a long time now on the issues surrounding the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine. Is he okay with being called fat? Does he just regard as it friendly joshing, banter originating from the lads working down Tidmouth Sheds. Perhaps he deserves more respect, he is a captain of industry and a knight of the realm after all. I worry that this harsh nickname hurts him more than it appears. It may compel him to eat even more. Maybe the Fat Controller, with tremendous dark irony, has lost control of his calorie-counting.

What was the thinking behind the littlest Billy Goat Gruff crossing the bridge first? How would the biggest Billy Goat Gruff have felt if he had watched on as his tiny brother is gored to death by a starving troll, knowing that he could have saved all the silly bother by fronting up and dealing with the troll beforehand?

What happened earlier in their lives which lead to Soo the Panda being able to speak fluently but Sweep only being able squeak and Sooty as a complete mute? Do Jake and the Neverland Pirates’ parents know they’re out? Who is Norman Price from Fireman Sam’s dad? Is his absence why he’s so naughty? Why do the Highway Rat and all his little animal victims possess human faculties, but his horse is still just a horse? If the majority of the emotions living inside the girl’s head in Inside Out are negative ones how come she isn’t completely embittered and paranoid? What the fuck are Bubble Guppies?

My latest pointless fixation is with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the song in which his bizarrely luminescent nose saves Christmas by being employed as a set of fog lights. I find one line of lyrics particularly troubling:

All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names

It seems that before the night in question that there was systemic bullying in the stables at the North Pole. It slightly sours the magical image of Father Christmas flying across the wintry skies in his sleigh, knowing that he is being propelled by a squad of bigots. While the object of their bigotry sits at home, discriminated against on account of his disability, pondering a formal complaint to the Reindeer Resources department. Even old Santa himself may have been culpable.

But what were these names that the other reindeer were calling him? Given the Rudolph has gone down in history as the Red-Nosed Reindeer, he’s obviously happy with his schnozz being highlighted as unusually red. So what were these names then?

So far I’ve come up with ‘red-nosed prick’.

Happy Christmas everyone x.