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?

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.

Any good?

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.

Any good?