Top 10!

A friend who happens to be a father to be suggested a blog about the top 10 things I’ve learnt about parenting. Mmmmm, interesting idea…

However, this list will not be written from the point of view of someone who knows very much at all  about this ‘biz’ we call parenting. No, this will be told by someone who, after a year or so of doing it, knows ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about  parenting. By someone who has only read one book about it. (For one book please see 6 chapters of 10. For reading please note ‘looked at pictures’). This list will be compiled by someone with so little knowledge and does so little prep, yet still deems to call himself a father. A full time, stay at home, primary carer one at that. Poor, poor Moo.

So what I will do is centre the list around the top 10 things I’ve noticed about being a stay at home Dad. Or as our American brethren like to call us, ‘SAHD’. Genius. I will try not to make presumptions on how I feel you should be doing ANYTHING! I wasn’t there when you embarked on this adventure initially. Unfortunately. Unless I am under your bed… Or in the case of one couple – in your car (you know who you are!) so I will not presume to know how you should do things now. Except you are doing that wrong. And that…

The List

1. Large groups of Mothers in coffee shops are one of the top 5 scariest things in the world. Closely followed by nuclear war, spiders, running out of wine and Boris Johnson playing any sort of sport at all. They are an awesome hurricane of noise, confidence and chatter, eating cake in tracksuits, with three wheeler buggies that they run with around the park, murdering small dogs and squirrels. Be afraid. Be very afraid

2. “Ah, out with your little one today are you? Daddy’s day is it?”, will become one of the the most incendiary statements, the most irritating, the most downright fucking ignorant things you will ever hear as a stay at home Dad. “Screw you and your ignorant presumptions Doris, Sales Assistant. It’s Daddy’s day EVERYDAY!” Actually, reading that back I may well have been pretty tired when that happened. Whoops. My bad. That poor old lady in Boots. I’m so, so sorry dear…

3. People talking about being tired was and is the most pointless, yet the most constant thing you will encounter. You have been up late before. You know what tired is. It isn’t complicated. Get on with it and focus on something else like, how sleepy you are

4. It is pretty lonely out there as a stay at home Dad and things like the ‘Cussons, Mum & Me’ range will test your resolve, (who thought of that product name by the way? What a cockwomble). Equality and any discussion around it is a very one sided affair and the notion of ‘equilibrium’ between the sexes is far off. There’s a constant stream of Mum-centric sites, discussions, clubs, products, events etc and you will often feel like a giant spotlight is shining on you and highlighting how alone you are. But there are many, many wonderful people out there who really want to help you and give you support. Take all the friendly smiles you can. Ignore any negativity and take delight in the everyday ordinary. Your child is noticing everything for the first time and that is the most exciting thing in the world. You’re about to achieve complete and utter delight from watching blossom fall, screaming at helicopters, pointing at runners, laughing at dogs, getting soaked in muddy puddles, going on a swing or seesaw or roundabout, and collecting sticks to put in the buggy. Screw everything else. This is pure and utter beauty and you are blessed beyond belief to share so many of these life enhancing moments with your child

5. Coffee is good. Not just like you thought it was before. No. It is now your best friend. Your wing man. Your co pilot. The Goose to your Maverick. I am now made up of 70% coffee, 18% carbon, 10% hydrogen and 2% flaccid disappointment in my own masculinity

6. Single mums and single dads should wear capes. They’re breathtakingly incredible super hero people who cope with more in one day than a hedge fund manager copes with in a lifetime. I am in constant awe of them

7. Wine always, always seems like a good idea once they’re down to bed. Then eventually it seems like a good idea when they get up in the morning too… However, if you thought hangovers were bad before, you are now entering a twilight zone of unfairness that starts from the huge disappointment that 1 glass will now push you into a full-day-headache-stomach-hanging-out-your-arse hangover and ends with you looking at the bottle and pleading, “WHY OH WHY my sweet Lord Bacchus! Why do you tempt me with your treasured fruit only to smite me down with a single blow. You used to lift me up and make me the most interesting person in the bar! Together we sang songs of joy. We entertained. (At least, that is what you always told me in the morning). Why do you forsake me when I need you the most?”. That my friend is, so far, the most upsetting thing about parenthood

8. The “Oh, you wait” brigade are a constant annoyance, much like wasps. Your child sits up – “Oh, you wait until they are crawling. Then your life is over”. Your child crawls? “Oh, you wait until they are walking. Kiss your life goodbye then!”. What about when they go to Uni? Or pass their driving test? Or get married? “Oh, you wait. You’ll miss them then…” Ignore the inside knowledge of what happens next and how it is filled with difficulty. Every stage is amazing. I swear. Moo not only walks now, but she is falling down stairs, climbing boulders in the park, running down slopes, slipping over constantly. It is exhausting. But there is something magical about watching her accomplish so many human things. I mean, standing on two legs! What the fuck!! The first moment she did it was incredible; like there was a force field surrounding her. I could almost hear an angelic chorus of “Hallelujah” as this seemingly impossible feat was accomplished; it really was very moving. Yes it’s tiring chasing them the whole day. But if you didn’t want to be tired, and to have your life and status quo interrupted, then you’re in for quite a shock. To quote my wife, “Shit’s about to get real mofo, better buckle up and enjoy the ride”. (NB she would never actually say it like that to be fair. She’s the graceful, intelligent one who for some unknown reason, perhaps a social experiment, has decided to stay with me)

9. You will get frustrated. You will get angry. You will find yourself wanting to scream at your child. The moment when they take your homemade, beautiful food and throw it on the floor, with what seems like a sarcastic smirk on their face, after a day of rain when they have missed their naps and they grizzle constantly to be picked up only to arch their back to be put down immediately, will push you like you have never been pushed before. It’s soul destroying and I have found myself a gibbering mess more than once. The problem is, I hate any notion that I may not be able to cope, even for a minute. I guess I’m still very much a man and I have that trait that means I believe I can do it all on my own. That I have the answers. That I don’t want to admit to anyone that sometimes I really do need help. To do that would mean I have failed. That I am useless… Deep breath my friend. Lock them in their high chair out of harms way and walk off for a bit. Know that, no matter what, everything is a phase and it will all pass. Remember the fun times and look upon them with those memories. Also, bed time is only around the corner and there’s a nice bottle of red on the counter waiting for you. You’re welcome

10. People talk about areas of London as being a ‘Village’ – well… Foxtons do – and now my little corner here really does feel like that. I know my local park better than any dog walker has known any park in the history of the world. I greet the Park Keeper and the Parks Police by name. I know everyone in the local coffee shops and they have my order ready for me before I have squeezed through the now seemingly tiny door with my buggy, crashing into everything, knocking the sugar and spoons and little wooden stirry things over whilst shouting at my dogs who have managed to tie their leads around my legs in a knot that would bewilder Houdini. Being forced to be out so much with Moo has meant I really do see so many regular faces. For just a moment I can allow myself to steal a smile, wave a “Good Morning” or talk about something both arbitrary and lovely at the same time. These connections are so important to me. I recently quit Facebook because I found myself out with Moo and looking at my phone, therefore missing real, proper updates with real, 3 dimensional human types. These people can describe their lunch; not just photograph it! Moo is the ultimate ice breaker. She’s my little no-sharp-edges-slightly-pink-ever-so-round bridge between my normal, cynical, tired eyed view of the world and a place where anything is possible. She somehow allows me to meet new people and share beautiful little moments with them. That is priceless as far as I am concerned. I really do owe her so much

 

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A never stay at home Dad

So I started on my ‘stay ay home Dad’ quest; with my noble dachshund steeds and my trusty companion Sancho Moo-za, back in September of 2015. I wasn’t nervous about having so many full time care responsibilities. Not at all. I wasn’t worried about how I would cope, or how I would keep us both fed and watered. I was only initially worried about the noise from our upstairs neighbours who were doing extensive building works at the time and so the banging and crashing was unbelievable! This meant it was impossible for any nap times to happen in the flat. Routine? HA! I laugh at the idea. Stay at home? I wish! I was very much a NEVER stay at home Dad. Oh for day time TV. Oh for time to prepare supper. OH FOR A MOMENT TO NOT WALK! Moo, the dogs and I embarked on more rainy walks than Bear Grylls. Except we didn’t have the luxury of sneaking off to some swanky hotel when it all got an ickle bit too much little Bear Bear*

One place we decided we could head to and that was dry, was one of the local Playgroups. The one we chose (because it happened to fall on a Tuesday and the day I thought about going was a Tuesday. Judicious use of planning as always Gavin), was connected to the local church – the Church that appears in the Omen no less. The bit when the spike falls off the roof and spears the Priest. Not foreboding at all. Not. At. All…

With hope in our hearts and a merry skip we made our way to the Playgroup; ever watchful up at the roof for any loose spikes that might impale us. With the mere crossing of palms with gold (£3 actually) with the door lady, and the filling out of forms, I de-clothed Moo of her winter garb and took a deep breath…

I was terrified of this whole adventure if I’m honest. Scared like a boy in shorts at his first day at school. I have danced in front of thousands. Sang and played guitar in front of audiences from London to Canada to Japan and back again. I’ve appeared on live TV, done stand up comedy and I’ve even taken my driving test three times (the first two were failures totally to do with the instructor. They had it in for me I tell you. IN FOR ME!), but entering into that room full of Mums and Nannies was the single most excruciating experience of my life.

Why so frightening you might ask. Well dear reader, because of 2 reasons I guess –

1. I truly believed there was some ‘club’ that only Mums are allowed into and they were going to treat me with hostility and contempt

2. I quickly realised my flies were partially undone and I daren’t put my hand down there but leaving them open was even worse and what if everyone thinks I’m a weirdo and… Oh God

I sat down on the rug and shrugged my shoulders at Moo who just looked at me with, I swear, pity, and I sneakily did up my fly. Moo crawled off to point and shout at inanimate objects and I was left alone. All alone. Alone as the deep blue sea. I’ve seen comedians die on stage. Actors corpse. Dancers fall (that last one was mainly me by the way). But I swear the intense spotlight that I felt on me right then made all those other terrifying instances look like fun. With a dozen pairs of eyes on me I felt I had to do something. So without a care for the environment I decided to change Moo even though she didn’t need it. Anything to give myself some distraction. Poor girl. How confusing. Sorry little one.

Back in the play room area I sat her down and found myself back to square one. Then. Out of nowhere, a lady Mum type person came up to me.

“Would you like a cup of coffee? We have fresh stuff over by the sink area” she said with a smile

“Oh, ye ye yess please. I’ll I’ll just go and make it” I stuttered

“No don’t worry” she continued, “How do you take it?”

After a cup of coffee and a biscuit I began chatting to this lady. She was so welcoming. She gave me a list of family activities to try out. Some handy advice about trying all the ‘free trial’ ones as there were many. Introduced me to some other people at the playgroup. Asked me lots of questions. Generally made me feel much more at ease.

“A stay at home Dad hey? Wow. What a lucky girl your daughter is!” she stated. I hadn’t considered that before.

“Listen. I have to go over and sort out something with my child who appears to be eating crayons. Just help yourself to anything you need.” she said. “Oh, and by the way; your flies are undone”

10 minutes later and my prejudices had evaporated. These ladies that I was speaking to were courageous, strong, funny people trying their very best to be parents and give their children the absolute best care and attention that they could. I was so moved by so many of them. Yes there were the more painful ones. The ones that like to compare kids. The ones that like to quote parenting books and tell you how wonderful everything is. But when you consider that, more than likely they are just as scared as the rest of us and just desperately trying to get it right; a concept so ever changing, a notion so frequently far beyond reach; when you understand that, then you realise they just need you to listen to them as much as you need someone to listen to you.

It can be so all consuming this parenting lark. So lonely. No matter how you find your sanctuary, your place to feel calm and breathe, you must let yourself be there. You don’t need dozens of friends and voices of advice. You just need a few good people around you, there to show you a friendly smile and to share part of your journey

Oh. One more thing. I found making sausage rolls and cakes and taking them along to playgroup really helps with making everything run a little.. err… easier. Especially if you lace the cake with calvados

* http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1558242/Bear-Grylls-faked-Channel-4s-Born-Survivor.html

 

An Instagram moment

Today has been an Instagram day. A Facebook montage. A Twitter status update of a perfect moment. If you could feel how I am feeling right now it would be encapsulated in a neat oh-my-isn’t-his-life-just-oh-so-perfect-and-look-there’s-a-picture-of-his-food-and-yes-there’s-a-selfie-at-the-gym-and-his-wife-is-amazing-and-his-child-glowing-and-perfect-and-I-wanna-be-him picture with a short, maple syrup sweet, smugalicious comment. Let me tell you about my enviable, perfect West London existence.

Moo woke up extra early. Brilliant. Most of her morning milk went on the sofa. The black sofa. The one with the wool throw on. Mmmm that smells nice. Albert (dachshund Number 1) decided to be sick. A lot. He’s eaten something bad. For a while I thought he’d eaten Hector (dachshund Number 2) but HE had just been hiding under our bed for longer as he is in a sulk about yesterdays visit to the Vets. Blame Mum! She took you.

Skip forward to my visit to the gym and Moo’s visit to the creche. It started idyllic enough as she was actually asleep when we arrived. By the time I had come down from my session where I had basically spent most of my time feeling old. And stiff. And weak. And tired. Fuck I’m tired. There she was, in the creche lady’s arms; screaming like I have not heard her scream since she first flew out of her Mum’s Bajingo. There was also a small 7 month old there who was screaming too, so I just assumed that he must have set her off…

I took Moo from the creche lady who has 3 missing teeth and as many piercings that would ensure that, if all else fails, we can use her as a curtain, and calmed her down. In between sobs and blowing kisses (just a bizarre combination. Like a ludicrously over dramatic 1920’s film heroine), I eventually got her quiet (despite Captain Jacquie Sparrow scaring the shit out of her…) Enter stage right: father of the 7 month old, wife in tow, all sweaty from mid post-babyweight squat session (that’s him by the way; she looked as fresh as a daisy) –

“What happened?” daisy fresh said.

“Oh some other child was crying and it just set him off” said BMW driving sweaty man.

Now. You can hear that sentence two ways. A statement of events delivered in a matter of fact way by a nice man. Or, an attack on my family as if he is some Albanian terrorist and I am Liam Neeson hunting down my daughter’s kidnappers. Guess which version I took to heart? “But what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you…”

I got her home. Fed her sardines on toast. Which the floor ate. Let her sleep for a couple of hours and then took her to the Garage where our car was being serviced. £1300 later, (which if you’re reading this in Europe is 43,000 Euros and equates to no 40th birthday present for me. Or even Moo in 39 years time) and then took her to the park. She was then pushed over by one of ‘those’ children and she landed on the black flooring stuff with the hexagonal holes in it with a thud. She now has a red hexagon mark on her forehead. She looks like she’s been branded like a cow. Good job I call her Moo I guess.

After a brief sojourn to Sainsbury’s to buy her a bucket and spade – I know right! We live in hope for good weather. We live in hope. We got home and fed the floor the delicious supper of lamb tagine that had spent the whole day bubbling in a slow cooker, to then have a tearful bath and a war over teeth brushing that makes the Syrian conflict look like a gentle game of Bridge.

She’s asleep now… All quiet and peaceful. It’s hard sometimes to look at her like that and remember all the frenetic energy of discovery that is her every waking moment. My God though, she can really surprise me sometimes. For instance, just  before I put her into her cot, she walked back into the kitchen because she had decided that the dogs needed one more gentle, loving hug. Walking away from them and getting to the doorway she turned once more, and blew one more flamboyant kiss back in their direction. Giggling, she then reached up to me to be picked up and put in her cot. It was time for sleep.

There are no real Facebook moments. How can you encapsulate your true life in a status update? A photo? A blog? You can’t. We all know that. I will never truly moan about my daughter. (God we really are lucky and it would be completely wrong of me to forget that, ever). No, I will only despair at the world around her and my inability to manage sometimes. The true wonder of my day was when, just before I put her down, Moo reached up, squeezed my cheeks and planted the sweetest kiss on my lips. She then turned over, put her bum in the air and leaned forward in her child pose sleep position. Just before I turned out her light I wistfully looked at her, with love oozing out of every inch of my very soul. I genuinely breathed a sigh of thanks to whoever I should thank for those moments.

Then she farted. Legend.

“Stay at home, Dad!”

The comma and the exclamation mark are intentional as I am sure that statement will be said, nay barked, at me in the future as my beloved Moo demands I DON’T accompany her out on her first date. I foresee that she may well be nervous of the shotgun I will be wielding. And possibly the t-shirt emblazoned with the statement – “Anything you do to my daughter, I do to you.” Alas, I will just have to wait on the sidelines away from her and her chosen paramour. Say, 6ft away perhaps?

The title should actually read, ‘Stay at home Dad’ as that is what I am and that is what this blog post is about… So as I sit here writing this, with my daughter finally having her afternoon nap, I’m allowing my mind to drift onto thoughts of how wonderfully lucky I am to be doing this day in, day out. Yes it’s true that I have ambitions for myself. As it is also true that I am only too aware of the brevity of life and that time is perpetually “running out”. But that kind of mindset is missing the point. I will never have the chance to share these days with Moo again. These wondrous, innocent, hilarious, frustrating, beautiful days of discovery, play, tears, laughter and mess. Lots of mess.

God I don’t want to sound wanky but I am truly finding out so much about myself during my time with her. So much that I had actually forgotten about as well. Not just thoughts of when I first saw something, or tasted something, or felt something; but of how I used to be more carefree. More loving. More ambitious and much, much less cynical. When did I become such a shit? When did I become someone who forgets to just keep moving forward, not shaken by negativity but inspired by the normal. The kind. The gentle and the angry. The pointless and the delicate?

So, allow me to be wanky for just a moment then. I will inhale every single second of this special time. I will learn from you Moo. I will guide you as best I can. I will sing and play to you often. I will listen to your ideas and opinions. I will tell you that you are beautiful and I will cherish your mind every single second. I will love your Mum forever and protect you both. I will try not to let you down. I will NOT treat parenting as a job. And I will not forget myself again.

Thanks Moo