I Think My Sons Only Love Me When They’re Asleep

I’ve wanged on at length in the past about my eldest son’s very obvious preference for his mother over me. I have made my peace with this. It makes sense after all. His mum rented out her insides to him as a bedsit for nine months. Then she provided free milk from a pop-up dairy in her breasts. And even now after these bodily offerings have long since been phased out, his inclination is strongly towards her.

What is curious is that when his younger brother popped out, he decided to plump for me. Perhaps he thought that his mum had already been allocated, that his brother had already planted his flag on her. I was what was left, a Hobson’s choice of a parent, the last miniature Bounty in the Celebrations tin. So when he was at his neediest age it was normally me that was summoned for.

But now he is older, his affections have also swung over to his mum. It’s no surprise really, she offers a more premium service than me in all areas: catering, entertainment, making robots out of leftover bog roll. It’s created logistical difficulties at bedtime, when her presence is insisted on in two bedrooms at the same time.

To make his message clear my youngest has begun a campaign of brutality directed almost exclusively at me. Most of it is the sort of sporty argy-bargy you might get on a football field and some of it is probably worthy of a red card. From time to time he also bites me, maybe he actually thinks I’m the last miniature Bounty.

My wife has advised that I seek comfort in a book called Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph. Normally I avoid parenting guides because they assume to know what is happening in my children’s heads. I don’t know what’s happening inside my children’s heads. Probably a million tigers, jacked up on Fruit Shoots jumping on a bouncy castle.

The reason she ushered me in the book’s direction was that it contains a section that explains that a father does not come to fore in the eyes of his son until the child is six years old. So next year when my oldest wakes up on his sixth birthday, I am expecting to be bathed in a heavenly light and the truth of how amazing I am will be revealed to him. And we’ll go do a jigsaw or have a beer or something.

The other source of encouragement for me is that whenever my sons wake in the night and hop into our bed they both like to cuddle into me. This may be because they can’t actually see who I am, but I like to think that it’s also because somewhere deep down in their dormant subconscious is some affection for me. My youngest will manoeuvre himself up onto my frame and nestle his head down on the pointiest part of my collar bone. Perhaps he does love me. Or just thinks I’m a really shit pillow.

Any good?

I Cannot Get My Children To Do What I Want Them To Do

It’s interesting how my children differ in the ways in which they misbehave. My older son prefers a medley of operatic tantrums and sulks as if he’s suffering early onset adolescence. My youngest is more of a traditionalist, an old school mischief-maker. He’s one jauntily-angled cap away from Just William.

The one thing that unites them in their naughtiness is their disobedience. I’d say that they act like wild animals but I imagine that even the most feral creature can be brought to heel eventually. Except sharks. Or ants maybe. Or seagulls. And I know it makes me sound like a bristling major-general but I find their habitual insubordination a continuing challenge.

I have been presented with two rebellious seagulls who flap about the house, repeatedly squawking ‘NO’. ‘NO’ is a mantra in our home, a way of life. ‘YES’ is so last year. I cannot get my children to do what I want them to do and it has unlocked an anger within me that people who know me wouldn’t recognise.

With each ‘NO’ my rage is brought closer to the boil until it finally escapes in the form of a sharp yap. It’s like my sons have woken a small aggressive dog. But it soon withers away into something more sad and desperate: a grovel. Just repeating their names over and over, each time more pathetic than the last.

The only power I have over them is physical. Physically putting their socks on. Physically getting them out of the bath. I regret that I have not yet found a way to physically make them tidy their toys. At my most frustrated I’ve scooped them up brusquely, scrumming them into submission. And immediately felt guilty afterwards.

This is one of the many reasons I would never smack my children. It doesn’t feel instinctive at all, in spite of being whacked a few times myself as a boy – with the desired effect notably. The law states that it’s alright to hit your children as long as you don’t leave a mark; basically you can’t assault them. But I’d rather not even dabble with that.

Putting them on a naughty step or telling them to go their room seems ineffectual. Try telling an ant to stay on a naughty step. A few friends have tried locking their scamps in their bedroom but this seems a touch medieval. Besides we don’t have locks on the bedroom doors so we’d have to install some form of barricade and siege warfare would break out in the house.

Reward charts bring about a short-term spike in good behaviour but their power soon fades with the novelty. My sons are incorruptible; bribery and blackmail just bounces off them. I’ve delivered long rambling sermons to them which have no impact except to send them to sleep. Which at least stops them misbehaving.

I don’t have any answers. Maybe my children have singled me out as a drip that can be taken advantage of. I’ll ponder that as I spend the night tidying up all their Duplo bricks, grovelling gently to myself.

Any good?

Where Do You Draw The Line When It Comes To Bums?

My sons’ interest in their lower regions and the substances that emanate from there has reached a bewildering pitch recently. Earlier this week my older son got out of the bath and started acting out a skit which might have been titled: ‘In Conversation with my Bum’. It was basically a two-hander, with his bottom performing like a ventriloquist’s dummy with its voice booming out in a preposterous baritone. Mainly the bum discussed with its owner how much they loved their mum.

Obviously I couldn’t help admire the ingenuity of the show, a sort of alternative to alternative comedy. But at the same time didn’t want to be seen to encourage it. So I offered the mildest, most tender rebuke I could and moved on, sniggering silently to myself.

On Saturday I took the boys to a model village in Berkshire. It’s quite an amazing place, a handful of 1930s towns and villages recreated in loving miniature. It’s very wholesome and at the end of the trip my older son wholesomely declared that he was going to build his own model village. Innocently I asked him where. “Up my bum” was the reply.

It appears that my younger son is being drawn in to these shenanigans, watching on in joy as his brother launched into what could only be described as a naked revue, busting some hand-on-hips glam-rock dance moves. At this point it was impossible to resist their delight and we melted into rich fortifying laughter.

I know that the lavatorial humour is normal at this age. In fact it sustains children up through whoopee cushions and stink bombs, continuing to scrawled penises on school textbooks, and culminating in some unfortunate cases in a love for Mrs Brown’s Boys. Even now I can appreciate a well-seasoned knob gag. And in the signing book at my own wedding, someone scribbled the word ‘minge’.

But I also worry that my boys will go to school and be the one that takes it too far. Maybe the bum-ventriloquism will cross a line with some schoolmates and they’ll end up being the child with an empty peg either side of their kit bag. So I did some research online on the kind of boundaries that we should be setting at this stage.

There didn’t seem to be much consensus but I did come across one incident in which a couple were invited to school to be informed that their son was bothering other pupils by sniffing their bums. In fairness to him he had probably had his own bum sniffed frequently in his early years so was simply repeating the trick.

Either way, the fact that the teachers stepped in to intervene makes me think that perhaps I’ll leave the boundary-establishing to them and keep on sniggering.

Any good?

How My Child Is Being Potty-Trained Without a Potty

I’ve had a revolutionary thought about potty-training. That it is possible to potty-train your child without a potty.

When I say potty-training I mean in the general sense of easing the transition from nappy to toilet. I don’t mean instructing your child to crouch over an imaginary potty and letting it crap on the floor. To be honest I don’t think it’s radical enough to stop the potty production lines whirring, but anyway. My technique requires a few bits of kit, preferably a toilet on every floor of your home and perhaps most elusively, a willing and capable child.

It is no coincidence that I have only had this revelation with my second son. He has observed the behaviour of his older brother, noting his methods with the keen eye of a UN weapons inspector. This is with a view to learning them and ultimately replicating them. It includes traipsing in after him to the toilet and making mental memoranda of his processes. From time to time I’ve also spotted him looking up at me when I’m about my business in there, which tends to focus the mind on keeping my aim true.

The potty is designed to counter at least three major shortcomings of the toilet in catering for those of smallish stature. First the toilet seat is too wide for a small bum, a child would simply find themselves wedged halfway down the bowl. This issue is resolved with the introduction of a specific child seat installed on the existing fittings. Our one is padded and printed with images of Thomas the Tank Engine and his pals. I feel certain this is exactly the use the Reverend W. Awdry had in mind when he penned his literary legacy.

The second problem is that the toilet is inaccessible; to ascend to its height requires a deal of clambering, which again can lead to a plunge down the bowl. We’ve found a seat that comes with a miniature step-ladder. The Minor loves this, I think because it gives a ceremonial quality to his toilet visits. It may also seed a very early ambition to be a tennis umpire. Or a lifeguard. In fact, perhaps he can oversee his brother in the adjacent bath: no diving, no bombing and no heavy petting.

Finally the potty is light and mobile. I’ll admit this is where the toilet falls down in comparison. Which is why a toilet within perhaps the range of a five seconds’ dash is desirable. But the key advantage of the toilet is the flush, and its capacity to remove waste immediately. The potty demands that its contents are dealt with and then its insides cleansed and disinfected.

Fortunately for us, the Minor has largely snubbed the potty in favour of the toilet. His technique is already pretty polished thanks to the insight gained from watching his brother at work. It has to be said that he does like to wash his hands first as opposed to afterwards for some reason. But it’s a start.

Any good?

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.

Any good?

Some Bits of Baby Kit Are More Useful Than Others

I recently said goodbye to my sons’ highchair with a tinge of genuine sadness. Its passing marks the end of an enjoyable era during which it has been a constant dependable presence in our house. It has no decorative features, no cute furnishing and it has offered our family quiet, uncomplaining service like a reserved Edwardian butler. I probably shouldn’t be so maudlin over a plastic item bought for £12 from IKEA, but it has provided a safe haven for my children for the past four years.

In truth by the end it wasn’t a chair at all, more a high-diving platform for the Minor, scrambling out of his seat. And so it was forced into retirement. I wiped off the last of felt-tip graffiti from its back, dismembered it and stored in the loft for use by some unborn niece or nephew. I know that there’ll be other comrades that fall along the way, but not many that I cherish as much as the chair. In fact there are some bits of parenting paraphernalia that I’ll be very glad to be rid of.

Very obviously I long for the day that nappies are not required. We flirted for a while with a specially-designed nappy bin. When I say ‘flirted’ I mean we used one for a bit, we didn’t ask it if it had done something different with its hair and buy it a Crunchie. But the bin became a source of great horror to me, knowing the evil that was building up within. When it came to opening it there was always a fear that the wafting fumes would melt my face like the Nazi shits at the end of Indiana Jones. The internal mechanism creates a chain of soiled nappies, the inspiration for which may have been a sausage. A sausage is also full of crap coincidentally.

I’ve also had some run-ins with bottles over the years. There’s a make of bottle with a teat apparently formed like a lady’s nipple, to simulate the mother’s breast and put the baby at ease. Now I’ve seen a lot of nipples in my time (mainly on the internet) and I’ve never seen one shaped like this. I am irritated by this teat because it only works one way up, so when my son and I are flailing about in the pitch black of night then he can waste hours of valuable sleep-time slurping away fruitlessly.

There’s another manufactured by a company called Avent that includes an inner ring sat between the bottle and the teat. I Avent a clue what purpose this ring serves (sorry that should have come with a warning), but without it the bottle is rendered useless, except for creating a vicious milk-tsunami into my son’s face. You wouldn’t get that with an IKEA highchair.

Any good?

The Imaginary Friend Who Came Back From The Dead

I need to talk about Bob again. Bob is the Major’s imaginary friend who breezed into our lives a few months ago. He proceeded to outdo me at every opportunity, turning the Major’s head with his carefree attitude and generosity. Bob was clearly a man of means, there were offers of steak and laptops and pretty much anything that I wouldn’t provide for my son. The Major asked me if we could build a den in the back of our car. I told him that the car wasn’t big enough. Bob’s car was big enough.

We never met Bob even though we invited him to the house on several occasions. Bob moved into a home up the road (and down the road and up a mountain). He opened up a shop selling ‘daddy magazines’. At one point the Major demanded that we go out and find Bob. We headed to the local park where I identified an elderly man with a trolley as Bob. The Major explained that the man wasn’t Bob and threw a strop when I refused to continue our search for Bob in the car. I quickly grew to despise Bob.

So when the Major announced that Bob had in fact died I had to try very hard to suppress an air-punch. The details of Bob’s death are gruesome. It happened at the Sea Life Centre in Brighton where it seems a shark somehow escaped from his tank and bit Bob’s head off. The Major and Bob’s wife Sheila tried in vain to rescue Bob by yanking him from the shark’s jaws.

But Bob is back. Back from the dead. It should have struck me at the time that something didn’t ring true about the shark story, especially when holes began to appear in it. The Major later revealed that Bob’s head had not been removed by a shark after all. It was Kung Fu Panda.

The prodigal Bob has returned and has moved into a new home. This home is built from cakes and sweets and phones – all partially contraband items in our household. I’ve pictured a sort of modernist Hansel-and-Gretel house, an Apple store made of Wham Bars and banana bread.

It is probably senseless to search for reason in the chaotic workings of the Major’s mind, and attempt to rationalise Bob’s various states of dead and undead. I’ve speculated that Bob is less an imaginary friend and more an imaginary government inspector working for a regulatory service – Ofdad perhaps. So if the Major thinks that my standards as a father are not being maintained then Bob is drafted in as an improved dad-figure. Bob provides competition, motivating me to raise my game if I’m not supplying enough sweets or cakes or I’m not allowing the Major to play with my phone enough.

As always I may be overthinking this, but if this is the case then we may need to plan another trip to Brighton. And quickly.



Any good?

Monsters under the Bed, Keith in the Closet

I am slightly fascinated by how parents dealt with their children in historical times. How did they react when their little ones threw a tantrum at Ye Olde Goose Fair? Did they even have tantrums back then? My suspicion is that tantrums were in fact invented at some time in the 1950s when televisions became common. They are probably only just pre-dated by children themselves; before then babies just turned straight into tiny adults and were sent immediately down the nearest mine.

One parental tactic that I know was popular in the olden days was scaring the shit out of your children to ensure good behaviour. This was usually done with tales of monsters and bogeyman. I’ve researched some of these in what has turned out to be Wikipedia’s most frightening webpage and the roster mostly includes angry men with sacks, a few cannibals and in some cultures Nigel Farage. My own favourite is a goblin from Belizean folklore whose outstanding features include backwards feet and a lack of thumbs.

It seems that weaponising your children’s darkest fears against them to keep them in line has fallen a little out of fashion, probably because it’s counterproductive and sadistic. Having said that, we do appear to have created our own bogeyman which currently has the measure of the Major. His name is Keith.

Before the emergence of Keith, the closest we came to employing this strategy was the introduction of an imaginary and sinister elf sent by Father Christmas to monitor the Major’s performance with a view to potentially withholding his Christmas presents. This works fantastically well until the elf’s posting finishes on Boxing Day and anarchy descends again. We’ve also experimented successfully with the Birthday Parrot, who hovers about on a drone surveillance mission in the lead-up to the big day.

But Keith is different. Keith lives in the adjacent apartment to the holiday home we rented in Spain. We met as he pottered about on his front terrace as we arrived. He was very affable, just as it said it would be in our information pack. There was nothing untoward about Keith. His feet were on the right way and he boasted two thumbs. The only remotely suspicious thing about Keith was that he habitually watered his plants in only a pair of black pants.

But when we threatened the Major with Keith after he refused to accompany us to the swimming pool, he turned ashen and duly complied. I must stress that we didn’t tell him that Keith was going to take him away in a sack or cook him and eat him and wash him down with a nice Rioja.

We explained that Keith would pop by and read him a story. The prospect was so cringeworthy to the Major that his obedience was guaranteed. And so Keith loomed for the remainder of the holiday armed and ready with his children’s books and so the Major behaved. And there was Keith sitting menacingly at the back of the plane home armed with a copy of The Hungry Caterpillar. And by a startling coincidence Keith has a second home in the next road to our home, furnished with the entire Roald Dahl back catalogue.

There’s no need for a flesh-eating Latino pixie while you’ve got a kindly man with some children’s literature waiting in the wings.

Any good?

There Were Six In The Bed And One Of Them Wet It

One of my biggest fears as a dad is that my sons are going to turn out like me. I was a shit kid: sickly, lazy, introverted and frankly a little bit boring. I’m a slightly less shit adult. One of the legacies I fret about the most is that somehow they are going to inherit the bed-wetting habits of my childhood.

So far the Major has made the transition from nappy to potty to pant with only the vaguest drip. He has adapted magnificently. By contrast I spent most of the 1980s waging a war of piss-soaked terror against my own bed linen, at least in keeping with that era of excess.

My companions throughout this sodden period were five soft toys known collectively as ‘the Chaps’. In retrospect that fact that I chose to take to my bed with the Chaps seems more like a public school romp but of course it was very innocent. We were a squad, a bit like a boy band. Albeit a boy band in which one member habitually urinated over the other five.

My bed-wetting became so serious that my mum took me to the doctor’s surgery to find a suitable cure or at least tie a knot in it. The doctor provided us with a contraption that consisted of an electronic mat wired up to an alarm which sounded when the mat got wet.

For some reason my primary concern on being presented with this machine was who it actually belonged to. My mum tried to explain the basic philosophy of the NHS but as I was unable to grasp this she ended up simply saying that we borrowed it off Margaret Thatcher. I can’t recall the dark places that my tiny mind visited at this point, speculating as to why Margaret Thatcher owned such a device. After all she had had two children and was probably quite stressed with the miner’s strike.

At first I regarded the machine more like a toy. While my contemporaries were playing with Transformers, I busied myself with a piss-alarm. The first night we installed the sheet in place but I was so excited I couldn’t get to sleep. Which would have immediately solved the problem except that eventually curiosity overwhelmed me out of bed to wee on it in the traditional awake and standing-up position.

At this point my mum decided to introduce an incentive scheme: every dry week was rewarded with a Toblerone, every month with a trip to the local toy shop. And in this way eventually my rebellious bladder was brought to heel like an unruly Labrador. As a side-effect I also developed a lifelong love for Swiss confectionery.

I look back and feel strangely nostalgic about it now, but I also remember the sopping shame that came with it all and don’t wish that on my boys. Perhaps I should focus on actual problems instead of hypothetical ones. Parenting is difficult enough. Just think about Margaret Thatcher. She needed a machine.


Any good?

I Guilt-Tripped My Son By Hiding In A Bin

Things came to a minor head with the Major earlier this week. He was sat on the bathroom toilet as I got home from work and poked my head through the door. He told me to leave and get in the bin. I asked him which bin and he replied the kitchen bin. This was clearly absurd. The kitchen bin is far too small for me to get into. I offered him the choice of one of the three outside bins: garden, recycling or normal. Clearly he plumped for the normal bin, the one with the fetid pool of bin juice at its base and the recent bluebottle infestation.

So I tramped downstairs and opened and shut the front door so that he could hear it. Then I went and hid under the staircase. I listened out as he padded along the landing into our bedroom to look out of the front window at the bin which he now imagined to be containing his father. And as I cowered under the stairs while he frantically pleaded with his mum to retrieve me from the bin I couldn’t help but think that something had gone wrong with my parenting strategy.

There are mitigating circumstances. From the moment that he found his voice the Major has subjected me to a verbal battery of taunts which he has fired at me on a regular basis. If our house had an HR department then I would have lodged a formal complaint in the hope that disciplinary proceedings would be initiated.

Most of abuse happens in the few hours after I’ve returned from the office and before he has fallen asleep, when the air is simmering with a toxic blend of resentment and fatigue. It began with a simple “no, Dadu” repeated like a mantra, but has evolved with the improvements in his vocabulary. In the last week alone the tirades have ranged from the knockabout (“you silly old sod”) to the metaphysical (“Daddy, you’re like a bad dream”). Once I heard him beg his mother not to leave the room so as not to be left alone with me.

We’ve always been able to rationalise the manner in which he singles me out by pointing to the fact that he recognises the paternal neediness in me and mischievously plays on it. But the other day I eavesdropped on a conversation that the Major had with his mum during which he calmly explained that he did not want to play with me, the reasons for which appeared to be that I smelt. I actually smell really nice.

My reaction to the constant bombardment is always powerful amusement. But the lack of cooperation that it is aligned to is dispiriting. The bin charade was a result of weariness and resignation, a culmination. It was not part of a coherent plan, it was my normal ‘seat-of-the-pants’ parenting.

But the ‘bincident’ was also a watershed. Since that evening the Major has adopted a more affable approach. It seems that in effect I have guilt-tripped him into liking me, and I achieved this by filling his little head with dark images of me hunkering down among the soiled nappies and maggots at the bottom of a bin. It’s obviously not how I planned it but for the last few days the Major has embraced me, literally and figuratively. Children. You just never know.

Any good?