How We Ruined Christmas, Saved It and Then Ruined It Again

Major’s Christmas list last year had five items on it, which had been whittled down from a long-list of nominations comprising every single toy advertised on television over the previous three months. We approached Major’s presents like we would a roulette table, preferring to spread out our outlay over a number of different options, hedging our bets as opposed to spending hundreds of pounds on for instance a massive cuddly white elephant which might remain unloved and unused like, er, a massive white elephant.

And so it was that Major’s fickleness came to pass. The singing Olaf, the camp snowman from Frozen spent his early career wedged under the driver’s seat of the car, the piteous drawl of ‘In Summer’ becoming less and less audible. The Shaun the Sheep snakes and ladders is yet to be played, but its dice and counters have migrated to all parts of the house.

I felt very strongly that at least one gift was going to hit its target. I’d spotted a promotional video for a gigantic clownfish balloon online and it looked absolutely amazing. In effect it was a miniature airship, a small motor attached to the underside powered its tail which in turn propelled the fish forward. And in this way the movement of the balloon eerily replicated an actual clownfish. As I say, absolutely amazing.

The balloon arrived necessarily deflated and it wasn’t until the first weekend of the New Year that I drove to the nearest florist to purchase £6 worth of their finest helium to fill it. It was a very blustery day. A ribbon was tied through a loop on the belly. I wrapped this tightly around my fist to secure and then basically embraced the balloon out of the shop and onto the road outside. The fish seemed quite capricious in nature and it did enter my mind that it might take me off into the skies over South London like a crap Mary Poppins.

Before that happened the ribbon snapped. The balloon immediately absconded over a hedge. By the time I’d run around the hedge I was in a park and the clownfish was nowhere to be seen, already up in the atmosphere, up where the air is clear. Perhaps it had gone to find Nemo. That didn’t stop me careering all over that park, slipping across the wet grass, becoming increasingly frantic. Any passer-by who might have seen me might have thought I’d lost a child and not a balloon.

Major was delightful. He understood. I hugged him tightly, putting my head on his shoulder which must have been quite uncomfortable because I have a really big head. So we replaced the fish at once. I went back to the florist two weekends ago but this time I took Major with me, mainly for an extra pair of hands but also to give him the opportunity to see the balloon in all its turgid glory in case it decided to fly off in search of his brother or Nemo. I parked illegally in front of the shop and very briefly left Major in there while the florist brought the fish to the entrance. I gave a balloon priority over my son. I straddled the rear of the fish, essentially riding it to the car and successfully bundling it inside and home.

Then it got difficult. To achieve the optimum cruising height the balloon needed to be extraordinarily finely calibrated. Any extraneous weight and the fish would remain permanently grounded. As such each sticky pad that was provided to attach the working parts was suitably small, which rendered the whole operation of assembling this mini-dirigible exasperatingly difficult. Of course the balloon was hugely uncooperative being that it just wanted to hang out on the ceiling. It was a bit like a dressing a child, albeit a strangely rotund child in outer space.

With the help of his mum and her friend who helped out physically suppressing the balloon, finally the clownfish was done. Except that it needed further calibrating because at that stage it was pointing upwards, again obsessing over the ceiling. The fish was balanced out by loading putty into a niche at the front of the motor. It took a while to find the putty as Major had borrowed it to make Morph. I have no idea where he got Morph from; I thought Morph had died with Tony Hart.

And finally it was done. We loaded up the batteries into the motor and the joypad. The next ten minutes were some of the most exhilarating of my life, piloting that fish on its journey up and down the landing while the Major skipped with glee after it. In truth I wasn’t ready to hand over controls to him, but I did figure it was technically his toy after all.

It was then that the botched job I made of putting the clownfish together became obvious. Dorsal and pectoral fins began floating, falling to the floor. The tape had not been applied properly. Soon the motor itself came loose and inevitably the fish looked to the ceiling again, flouncing up to sulk for a week by the door to the spare room.

I just need a bit of time to myself.
I just need a bit of time to myself.

And then the following weekend I went to the local garden centre and bought some silver duct tape, which at least had the advantage of looking vaguely like clownfish scales. We began to re-assemble the balloon but it was soon clear that the tape was too bulky. Regrettably we had to take the decision to partially dismember the fish but eventually, five weeks after Christmas, it was operational again. It was now that Major chose to reveal to us that he found the fish weird and didn’t want to play with it.

And then on the Monday, I received a WhatsApp from my wife:

ScreenshotIt seemed she had opened the French doors to the garden to let the Major out to jump on his trampoline and the clownfish had spotted his chance to nurture its migratory instincts. By the time I got home from work he had extricated himself from the tree and disappeared, perhaps to re-unite with his long-lost brother. Or Nemo. I’d like to say it was fun while it lasted but that is only true for ten stolen minutes. All I am left with is a roll of silver duct tape to do some dad shit with and two useless joypads. No idea what’s joyous about them.

Any good?

My Son Wasn’t That Into Me And It Was Completely Fair Enough

I’m hardly the kind of dad to be handing out advice, but if a prospective father did approach me for some I’d probably give them this nugget: never let your child see your weakness.

My own failing was a childish need for acceptance from my children, borne of an actual concern that my progeny wouldn’t like me that much. I mean they’d love me obviously, they’d just think I was, well just a bit of a dick really.

It seemed to me when the Major arrived that my fears had been realised as a large discrepancy opened up in his affections between his mother and me. He very obviously preferred his mum to me, which I took very personally. Of course I’ve realised since that this is entirely natural.

After all his Mum gave him lodgings in her own stomach for nine months, hooking him up to a nutrient-rich drip connected to her own flesh. In that time, all I did was offer his home the odd ineffectual neck rub. And after the Major popped out above ground, she provided all his sustenance for nearly a year, letting him chow down on her bosom. I mainly just gurned at him and made awful twee clucking noises that even a kitten would find off-putting.

Alright dad, that's enough now.
Alright dad, that’s enough now.

And after only two weeks of his life I left him. I went back to work, abandoning him most days and returning to cut short his day of fun with mum by dunking him under duress in a tub of hot water and putting him in his cot so he could go to sleep and wake up and be abandoned by me all over again.

It seems obvious to me now that the Major should have developed a distaste for me in his first three years, but back when he was looking at me with cold disdain and telling me ‘to go back to work’ I found it difficult. I was lovelorn and reacted in the most pathetic way by getting on my metaphorical knees and beseeching him for cuddles, clinging onto his ankles as he tried to toddle away.

The more horrid wheedling pleas I threw at him ‘to come to Dadu’ the more he withdrew. At one point I genuinely ranked at about sixth or seventh in his affections behind various grannies, uncles and the man who came to read the electricity meter. If I ever retrieved Major from his grandparents’ house he would react like I’d come to kidnap him and sell him into child slavery.

Since those dark times Major and I have come to an acceptable working relationship. I’m not exactly aloof, but definitely less smothering and we can go about our business in an agreeable fashion. I’ve probably been promoted to about joint third and not just because the electricity man hasn’t come back. He now regularly tells me he loves me and recently described me as ‘a very good man’. I’m thinking about having this printed on a business card.

And I have been more prepared the second time with the Minor, which is a good thing because I am beginning to recognise the familiar patterns in his behaviour, leaning out of my embrace as he enters the gravitational pull of his mother. And stabbing me in the face with a fork.

Any good?

Parenting Is A Doddle Until Your Second One Gets Off Their Bum

I wish that I could go back three or so years to when I was a new dad. I would sit me down and tell me to chill the f out. For the first few months a baby’s requirements from its carers are simple: the provision of a place to sleep, catering and bum-maintenance. The Major slept like a baby, obviously. My wife was breastfeeding and Major immediately realised that the teats on offer chez Dadu were dry. They didn’t smell of milk, I stress that he didn’t actually have to try. So I was left with merely the periodic requirement to change a nappy.

The Major was stagnant. He didn’t move. I could have left him there, perhaps in a carry cot, just gurgling and farting and staring at the ceiling. I could have gone about my business, attended to the urgent matters of the day. Instead I loomed over him in constant vigil just in case he forgot how to blink or he started to eat his own hand. Because I thought that what a parent should do.

The above epiphany happened very shortly after Minor was born. By this stage the Major was travelling around the house in quick darts, magnetised towards the nearest source of mischief. Which obviously required a parental security detail at all times and necessarily the Minor was left to entertain himself with the ceiling. Quite often he was simply placed on the centre of the coffee table in a basket (Moses, not shopping) like an ornament or a pile of lifestyle magazines. Occasionally I’d forget he existed at all. I once lobbed a changing bag into what I thought was an empty pram before remembering there was a tiny human being settled within and hastily snatching the bag back up again.

These days the Minor is on the move and he is audacious: clambering, contorting and commando-rolling. It’s like baby parkour. In footballing parlance he’s got a great engine. He’s also got superb acceleration and a decent turning circle. He is also fond of chomping down on the corners of occasional tables like a lunatic beaver. All of which shenanigans requires round-the-clock surveillance, unless he’s in his cage, sorry pen.

My youngest at play
My youngest at play

The obvious effect of this is a deterioration in the Major’s service. His mother and I have been unable to keep up the levels of care that he has become accustomed to. And he has followed the normal complaint procedure: escalating strops, hunger strikes and DVD cases thrown to the head. The coup de grace of this protest was delivered last week with an excretal carpet-bombing of our hallway, the scale and majesty of which I hugely underestimated and trod in.

There’s comfort in labelling such extreme behaviour, attributing it to some change in circumstance. For a start it automatically provides a light at the end of the tunnel. A cry for attention in the form of an omni-shit is much more palatable than the prospect of the Major degenerating into an actual problem child with a mean line in poo-based iconoclasm.

While the Major adjusts I will be focussing on giving him the best customer service possible. Like a call centre picking up within three rings, I will endeavour to respond to any of his queries without him having to ask twice, even if the question is: “can I throw my brother down the toilet?”

Any good?

My Son Has An Imaginary Friend And I Don’t Like Him One Bit

My three-year-old son (referred to here as Major) has an imaginary friend. His name is Bob. There’s nothing unusual in this – we’ve researched it and apparently around a third of all children have an imaginary friend at some point. It’s a sign of their creativity obviously. I didn’t have an imaginary friend (none of them liked me) but my vision of one is someone or thing who might need a place setting for dinner or an extra pot of Play-doh provided or a pillow on the bedroom floor for a sleepover. Bob however is an imaginary friend in absentia. We’ve never been made aware of his presence in the house, he is always only mentioned in dispatches. We’ve invited him over several times but he always has tummy-ache.

Bob is also 23. He lets Major sit on his lap and they watch cartoons on his computer together.

Again I’ve looked on the internet and dreaming up a grown-up imaginary friend is entirely normal. However I felt the need to delve a little further into Bob, just in case he turned out to be real and a creepy caretaker at his nursery or something.

The Major has described Bob as a work friend. Bob’s dad is also called Bob and his mum is called Sheila. He has a brother, Bob, and a sister, Bobbie. Bob is also married. His wife is called Sheila. He has twin babies, Gom and LaLa. Bob’s specialty in the kitchen is chicken dishes: strawberry chicken, blueberry chicken and most exotically pencil chicken. Bob also does a mean jelly stew. Bob looks like a brown dog and he feeds eggs to chickens. The more I learnt about Bob the less I liked him. I mean, he feeds eggs to chickens. Although I am at least now satisfied he only resides in the Major’s increasingly eccentric head.

Bob gets snuggles where I don’t. He seems to be a better version of me, more fun, more liberal, more snuggly. Now I just feel resentment towards Bob although of course I can see the funny side to all this, as funny as your child having an imaginary paedophile can be.

This is Bob. I think.
This is Bob. I think.

Last night wasn’t especially funny however. Just before bedtime Major announced that Bob was coming over for a party, in fact he was four minutes away in his car. Major and Bob were planning to go up to the spare room on the top floor of our house and play games, dance and eat steaks together. Understandably Major was reluctant to get into bed with such an exciting night of festivities in prospect. I’ve often found on occasions such as this that parental strategy is devised on the hoof and that tactics can change several times in the course of a few minutes.

Firstly I let him that know Bob unfortunately was unable to get a babysitter for Gom and LaLa (perhaps Sheila was at Zumba or something). This news was met with tears. Not over-tired tears, but big wet tears of genuine sadness. I then tried to explain gently that of course Bob wasn’t real, we made him up like we do with some of our stories. Sad, dramatic tears the size of orange pips rolled down his face.

Finally I suggested that perhaps he should have a power-nap (a snoozle-woozle in his terms) to prepare for the party and that his mother would come and wake him up when Bob arrived. This seemed to pacify him for a while but the continuing exhilaration at the thought of the impending Bob prevented him from settling down for another two hours.

Eventually his mum came up to find out what was happening, which allowed me to go and eat my tea (pencil chicken with HB sauce – hmm delish). As I walked downstairs, violent bawling ensued as Major evidently discovered that his mother hadn’t arrived to tell him Bob was here. Eventually fatigue gripped his little frame and he went to sleep.

Last night’s incident is archetypal of the bittersweet parental experience – that tears of sadness or laughter or both are never far away. As ever my wife and I are planning just to ignore the problem, to play Bob down until he goes away. We’ll probably just refer to him in Major’s presence like we do with all taboo subjects: by spelling his name. Although when I think about it, that tactic might have the side-effect of the Major sparking up an imaginary relationship with demented hip-hop artist and flat-earther B.o.B.

At least I’d be less jealous of him than Bob.


Any good?

NCT Classes: Come For The Biscuits, Stay For The Friendship

Overall I found my experience of NCT classes much like donating blood: painful and draining but with free biscuits. My bleakest memory of that time was the requirement to wipe a dollop of French mustard from a doll’s bum. It’s not even my favourite type of mustard. Presumably French mustard was selected as it most closely colour-matched the real thing, although with the experience of my own sons’ output I can tell you that an entire Pantone chart of colours is possible, covering all the mustards: English, American and most dispiritingly, wholegrain. Lurid yellows, greens, blacks and obviously browns, browns beyond the comprehension of the human eye.

The doll experience provided scant preparation for cleaning up my sons’ bottoms. The mustard didn’t expand and loom like a B-movie monster appearing from a lagoon. And the doll didn’t gyrate its way through a variety of yoga movements with the seeming intention of smearing the mustard down into the crevices of podge up the back and on the thighs, knees and arms.

I found that NCT was scant preparation for anything. I was mainly enticed by the prospect of free lemon squash and of course custard creams. And to support my wife obviously. It’s expensive. Our course cost £320, which worked out at £40 for a two-hour lesson. £40 which could have been spent on a cheap dinner out or a cinema date with popcorn and pick-n-mix or preferably just a really really big bag of pick-n-mix.

It May Not Be These Actual Biscuits
It May Not Be These Actual Biscuits

Our course leader was a Dutchwoman who railed against national stereotype by being stridently anti-drugs. Anti-anything to do with hospitals actually. I think if she had her way all babies would be delivered not only entirely naturally, but in a lovely forest by squirrel-doctors and badger-nurses administering only dock leaves for pain relief. Like a suggestible cult member I actually got slightly caught up in all this ‘midwives-are-evil’ nonsense, writing up a laughable birth plan which planned to preclude my wife from taking anything stronger than an aspirin for her pain. With the benefit of hindsight it is bizarre that I should have any opinion on this other than wishing for the safe delivery of my baby and whatever my wife wanted.

The NCT course has an unhealthy preoccupation with labour, given that it represents on average about 0.0002% of the time it takes to raise a child. Six of our eight lessons were given over to the birth, meaning that for a lot of students learning about the event takes longer than the event itself.

One of the other lessons focused on breastfeeding which happened on the evening I was due at Excel to watch the Olympic boxing tournament, the only Olympic tickets I had managed to secure. On another occasion the discussion became so involved, so heavy, so vaginal that all the menfolk were corralled off to the pub to talk about cars and the footy and birds. This suited one man in particular, who earlier in the course had hit upon the winning strategy of turning up half-cut after an afternoon session on the lemonades. He spent the most of the lesson in a grinning stupor, the sinister teachings of our leader just bouncing off him.

At the beginning of the course I took stock of my male colleagues, who between them gave off a heady combo of fear and diffidence. One guy appeared to have started blushing before the word ‘breast’ had even been mentioned. It later transpired that his wife was employing a doula to support her during her labour which made total sense given his apparent total discomfort at anything to do with fannies.

As a kind of icebreaker the Dutch lady asked each couple to conceive a way in which the dad could offer physical support to the mother during the birth. To my surprise a variety of vaguely tantric positions were rolled out with gusto using walls, floors, a chair and a fire extinguisher. My wife and I unfurled your everyday common-or-garden hug. Both through a lack of imagination and because fundamentally that was what I really needed at the time.

A few weeks after my son was born, perhaps as some sick practical joke, my wife revealed to me that she had agreed for us for speak to the students of the next course to talk them through our experience of childbirth and to show them what a baby looked like. I informed an increasingly aghast semi-circle of men that most of what they had learnt up to this point would probably fly immediately out of the window the minute their partners went into labour and then within a couple of days become completely obsolete.

And after all this we found our NCT classes indispensable. A lot of friends have said to us that their classmates the course went on to form a slightly synthetic, yet nourishing community of comrades alongside whom to go into parenting battle.

By a geographical quirk our course was held in salubrious Notting Hill so our course was mainly constituted of French and American financiers, who were all transient workers with light affluent tans and talk of private maternity suites. Most of them have left this country now.

Happily there was one couple who looked normal and relatively poor. We naturally gravitated towards them and have remained friends ever since. They are our community. And yes, obviously it was the drunk man.


Any good?