Nappy Talking: The Great Pampers Swindle

It was monsoon season in our house recently. Each night for a few weeks the Minor would produce such a robust gush that his nappy would be unable to contain it. And he would wake up in a little wet mess. To his credit he would not be downcast by this accident. In fact it was on these mornings that he was at his most energetic and wriggly. If I was not careful he would squirm from my grasp and roll across various bits of soft furnishings, spreading his wee scent like a musky fox. There are probably parts of my house that are still covered in historical piss. There may even be bits on me I’ve missed with the shower loofah.

It seemed that his nappy could not cope with the volume created by his blockbusting bladder. Which left us with a problem. For a few nights we changed him in a middle of the night – a pit stop to keep him dry – but it was not sustainable because the inevitable kerfuffle stirred him awake. My wife then took the decision to change our nappy provider.

From the first day of parenthood we used Pampers. Pampers was there to catch the very first poo. When I went to buy nappies all I saw was Pampers. Nappies, Pampers. Pampers, nappies. It never really occurred to me that there was any other brand. We walked dreamily into Pampers and Pampers welcomed us presumptuously with open flaps.

I did not challenge Pampers until the time that its nappies began to fail us. At that point we began to flutter our eyelids at alternative nappy manufacturers. We eventually plumped for one from Lidl called Toujours, supplied as part of Lidl’s unswerving commitment to weird-sounding continental brands. On the backside of the nappy are printed the words “made with love”, which presumably refers to the nappy itself as opposed to any future contents. Perhaps in the nappy factories of Europe there are operatives lovingly placing individual piss-crystals in each gusset, a bit like Rowan Atkinson preparing Alan Rickman’s gift-bag in Love Actually.

The reality is that the Toujours nappy feels a little less luxurious than the Pampers nappy. A little less pampering I guess. It has a slightly crinkly feel like the bog roll from a 1980s school. But the ultimate test for a nappy is whether it can handle the storm of pee rained down on it on a nightly basis. In this aspect the Toujours nappy pisses all over the Pampers one, to use a deliberately unfortunate metaphor.

So it’s taken us four years of parenting to work out that Pampers wasn’t the best choice of nappies for our children. The Minor has begun to request that we hold him over the toilet for his evacuations so it may be that our need for nappies is coming to an end. Just when we’d finally worked it all out.

I was not paid by Lidl for this post. I just think that their nappies are better than Pampers.

Any good?

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.

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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.

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A Gallery of Sleep Positions with My Children

My sleep is regularly disturbed by my sons. In spite of this I am continually impressed by their ingenuity and imagination when it comes to their nightly manoeuvres. I’ve paid tribute to the inspiring variety of their positions with a series of sketches. It’s not quite a retrospective because we continue to co-sleep.

I’ve ended with the position that hasn’t actually happened yet, but it’s the position I fear the most:

The Reverse Spoon
The Reverse Spoon

The Rugby Post
The Rugby Post

The Cravat
The Cravat

The Trampoline
The Trampoline

The Landgrabber
The Landgrabber

The Cat
The Cat

The Koala
The Koala

The Conjoined Twins
The Conjoined Twins

The Superhero Cape
The Superhero Cape
And this one…

The 'Where Is He?'
The ‘Where Is He?’
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The Seven Stages of Putting a Reluctant Child to Bed

There is a thought among psychotherapists that people process grief in seven distinct stages. From my experience the same could be said of putting an unwilling child to bed; there are seven steps to achieving closure. Coincidentally putting children down to sleep is also like grief in that you can’t put a time frame on it and it normally involves a lot of tears.

  1. Joy

It sounds counterintuitive but problems are looming if a happy child is smiling back at the parent as it drinks its bedtime milk. Any ambitions of sitting down with a lemon squash in front of The One Show can be put aside if your toddler is gurgling away without a care. A single giggle can spell doom, that the game is going the distance, into extra-time and penalties. For a quick ‘putdown-and-run’ ideally the child should ideally be slightly peeved.

  1. Energy

If the child is not ready for sleep then the milk inside it acts like an espresso martini: it fills it with a new vigour for life and an irresistible compulsion to dance. I’ve watched on baby monitors as friends’ children have boinged across their beds before obediently settling themselves down to sleep but if I left my own sons they’d probably boing until sunrise.

  1. Confusion

The whole bedtime process is like reeling in a large and uncooperative fish. Sometimes the hooked fish should be allowed to swim out to the end of the line, tiring itself out before being coaxed back into the net. So after a protracted session of bouncing I gather my child into my cradling arms to enter the next phase. At this point the child will look up in bafflement as if to say: “What’s happening here? Is this a game? If so, please can you let me know the rules?”

  1. Denial

Before long the child begins to understand what is expected of them and protests against it in violent terms. The toddler may start jostling and scrummaging like a rugger. Often this part of the process can come to resemble an ill-conceived interpretative dance between parent and child.

  1. Acceptance

Eventually the child will start to feel fatigue but will attempt to keep spirits high with a song, a sort of anthem of resistance. This can be conceived as a single drawn-out note or a protest yodel. The parent should feel comforted at this point that progress is being made.

  1. Rage

This is the last thrash of the fish. The child sees the dying of the light and makes one last futile act against it. Normally this involves sustained physical abuse: fist-punches to the throat and gripping of the bottom lip to get traction for their escape. At this time the child’s eyeballs may also be rolling back in its head like it’s been possessed by an Old Testament demon so this bit is simultaneously terrifying and pleasing. The anger needs to be managed carefully as it can lead to puking, which adds clean-up time to the process although at least the parent learns what the child had for tea.

  1. Sleep

A child may finally go out like there’s been a power cut inside it. Literally it can be screaming and snoring within a second of each other. The first time I witnessed this I wondered if I’d broken the toddler. Once established that this is not the case then the child can be installed in the cot and the parent can go watch the News at Ten with a very strong lemon squash.

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This Sick Rabbit Will 100% Get Your Child To Sleep

People like to talk with certainty. Like when somebody tells you to go to a particular restaurant because it serves “the best steak in London”. As if they’ve visited every single place in London that serves steak, analysed the strengths and weaknesses of each steak they’ve ordered and then recorded their findings in a massive steak spreadsheet.

This kind of chat is particularly prevalent in parenting circles. I’ve listened on as someone has advised me to buy a life-changing nappy bin or a cup that they absolutely fucking swear by. A special evangelism is inspired by the techniques and routines found in child-rearing guides, the books that tell you to sit your child on a mat and teach it to fetch sticks just so it will sleep better. I have no doubt that these manuals are essential to some families but they fail to recognise that children are different. And perhaps more pertinently so are parents. Children are not DVD players, they can’t be programmed. And I for one can’t program them.

This is why I was suspicious when I found out about The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep, a book written by a Swedish psychologist as a means of persuading frisky children off to sleep. It quickly became a bestseller as mummies and daddies the world over used it to put their kids down at night. Its gargantuan success is largely down to it being a set of instructions on to how to hypnotise your child. Hypnosis seems to me like gross cheating, you may as well slip your child some Valium. But I was prepared to give the book a chance given that at the time he should be settling down for the night, the Major prefers to frolic naked up and down the landing, periodically flinging himself on our bed and wiping his genitals on my pillow.

The Rabbit Who is essentially a dramatization of the hypnotist’s mantra “you are feeling very sleepy”. Dramatization is the wrong word. The plot is numbingly tedious, although admittedly a twisty edge-of-the-seat thriller would be self-defeating in these circumstances. The first thing that struck me about The Rabbit Who was the illustrations. They are crude and unnerving, no more than overgrown doodles. The rabbits themselves have sad and swollen eyes, like they’ve got early-onset myxomatosis.

When I read the book to the Major I diligently followed the instructions which require certain words and phrases to be spoken either forcefully or softly. He asked me to stop before I got to the end of the first page. I think he thought that Dadu may have been suffering some kind of breakdown, given the random shouting and whispering.

Fortunately The Rabbit Who is also available as an audiobook, so we set up a CD player on his bedside table. The narrator of the audiobook has a familiar voice that I can’t quite place. It’s suave and sinister at the same time and I’m pretty sure it belongs to a showbiz predator from the 1970s.

The CD was remarkably effective. Unfortunately in a sort of sleep induction ‘friendly fire’ incident it missed its target. I very quickly began to experience the odd sensation of having my eyeballs fondled vigorously from behind and having my head enveloped by the Major’s pillow. My face began to glow with intense heat. The next thing I knew the Major was tapping at my sternum trying to wake his hot-faced dad. I was snoring loudly. It seemed to set a precedent because the Major hasn’t allowed me to play it to him since.

What is informing about this whole experience is that my wife has used The Rabbit Who CD to great effect on most nights. She absolutely fucking swears by it. It just goes to demonstrate that some of the tools of the parenting trade depend entirely on their workmen.

Agent Spitback
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Am I Reading Too Much Into Stories At Bedtime?

I was bang up for reading to my children at bedtime. I felt it was massively in my wheelhouse. God knows I wouldn’t be constructing any treehouses but I could sit on a chair and read a book. I’d watched a lot of Jackanory. I knew the right pace and the right comforting low pitch. I could do voices. I knew to say the last few lines very slowly while simultaneously closing the book. And to lean over to kiss them on the forehead and bid a fond ‘good night’ as they slip off to the Land of Nod, heads full of fantastical images.

Now that I’ve written it down, it does sound a bit creepy. Perhaps that’s why the reality is very different. First of all the Major normally takes some persuading that he wants me to read to him at all. He evaluates my skills differently, mostly requesting his mother to read to him. When I explain to him that mummy is downstairs making me my tea, he counters that mummy is the ‘reader’ and I am the ‘cooker’. I guess I should encourage his unchauvinistic view on household management, or take it as a stirring endorsement of my scrambledy-bambledy eggs on toast. What it is really though is just another slightly disheartening reminder of the recurring theme of my parental experience so far: that Major wholeheartedly prefers his mum.

So bedtime stories has become a battle of wills. I once recited Incey Wincey Spider to the Major only for him to ask me to read it again ‘like a man’. Obviously my ego was bruised so I repeated the rhyme in a sort of Clint Eastwood snarl. The Major then asked me to read it like a lady, then a girl and then a little boy. After that challenges became more surreal: Incey Wincey Spider came out like a giraffe, a leaf and most obviously a spider.

This seemed to entertain both reader and audience so I started doing funny voices for other stories. I try to read Thomas the Tank Engine in a Scouse accent like Ringo Starr, the original narrator of the television series. Like all my accents, it comes out Indian. Except my Indian one, which comes out Welsh. You’re probably sympathizing with Major now but when you have to read Harry and the Dinosaurs United on a perpetual loop, then certain tactics are required.

I shouldn’t single out Harry and the Dinosaurs United. There’s Harry and the Dinosaurs Say Raaah and Harry and the Robots, which doesn’t feature any dinosaurs. The Major is wise to my aversion to the Harry series because invariably he’ll select one off the shelf. I confess to throwing a few minor tantrums on these occasions.

Sometime Major likes me to make up stories. The most coherent of which was about a lonely crocodile that gained acceptance from the other jungle animals by dribbling a football with his nose. There was one about electric pylons turning into robots and stomping all over the countryside. The plot dribbled off into nothing quite early which was a good thing because it would have probably have been absolutely terrifying. And then there was another one about a dinosaur that was also a princess called Dianasaurus Rex which hasn’t got past the concept stage.

Mainly it just ends up with me listing stuff very slowly, which is probably the genesis of most of the children’s books. A typical example would be Peppa Pig walking into a forest and bumping into every single Peppa Pig character I can think of and some that I’ve made up like Clive Cow and Simon Salmon.

The Major is now three and I’ve began to read longer text-heavy books, intended to be read episodically over a few nights. Unfortunately it seems that he cannot be left with a cliffhanger without flying into a rage so these occasions have turned into something of a marathon. I spent a full hour reading him Roald Dahl’s The Twits which is a basically a novella. At the end I at least thought I’d filled his head with fantastical images and that I could lean over and kiss his forehead as he slipped off to the Land of Nod. But the Major was wide awake and the fun had just begun.

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So This Is What They Meant By Three-In-A-Bed Action

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If sleep was a commodity on the stock exchange of my life then its value has plummeted through the floor since I became a dad. I used to fixate upon getting eight hours of sleep a night. This allocation has necessarily been reduced to around five or six, which these days is completely adequate.

The current status quo as per sleeping arrangements is that my older son the Major leaves his bed at around midnight and traipses along the landing to our room. Sometimes when I’ve been up late I’ve caught him on his journey. He’s in a kind of trance, basically sleep-walking, so he never notices me. Added to the fact that he’s very pale means he comes across like the ghost of an Elizabethan waif.

Once he’s finished with his haunting, the Major troops around to his mother’s side of the bed where she’ll haul him up and plonk him down between us. When he was smaller he would shuffle down and rotate himself around to lie at right angles to us so that we together created a kind of human rugby post. Presumably his plan was to put himself in a position where he could most effectively use his head and feet to simultaneously pummel both of us throughout the night.

Now that he is bigger his physique lends itself more for a more standard spooning technique, which feels to me like going to bed wearing a really hot rucksack. He’s been visiting us every single night since September. On the odd occasion we’ve tried to repatriate him but the ensuing skirmish becomes so violent it’s woken up his little brother. So we caved in.

Which isn’t really a problem. We like having him snuggled in with us and if it makes him feel happy and safe then so be it. He is considerate enough to delay his arrival to allow us a window in which to get into bed and do whatever it is that parents of young children do at that time: mostly check their phones and go immediately to sleep. When we’ve attempted any conjugal intimacy there is an unpleasant frisson that we might be interrupted by the waif-ghost. He’s probably too young to be mentally scarred but I still haven’t thought of an excuse for what he might see and why his mum looks so disappointed.

His younger brother is ten months old and sleeps very well. He generally wakes up once during the night invariably with hunger pangs. To which the obvious solution is a bottle of milk. Unfortunately putting him back in the cot presents a problem as it seems the mattress in there is rigged with some kind of siren only audible to dogs and babies. It’s triggered the second we put him down and causes him to start wailing, which of course might wake his brother up.

Like his older brother, the Minor feels comforted by a cuddle so we usually saunter back along the landing and get into the bed recently vacated by the waif-ghost where he settles agreeably in the groove between my arm and body. He might wake again a few times but once he’s got his groove back he’ll settle back down. We tried the dream-feed, the technique whereby you rouse the baby and to give them a bottle just before you go to bed in order to give him enough fuel to see him through the night. It worked a treat with Major, but Minor is not so keen, perhaps still stuffed from his late-afternoon mush. I once tried to feed him for a full counterproductive hour which ended up more like a Guantanamo waterboarding, but with powdered milk.

I know that this is inevitably headed for some kind of Armabeddon; once the Minor is able to traipse for himself all four of us will be attempting to colonize the same smallish double bed. As with most of our parental stratagem the underlying philosophy is ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’. The most sensible solution we’ve come up with so far is knock through all our bedroom walls and sleep in one massive bed.

To be honest here’s no point in approaching this with logic. They’re children. There is no logic. And little hot rucksacks feel quite nice.

We're Going To Need A Bigger Bad.
We’re Going To Need A Bigger Bed.
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