The parenting paradox

The parenting paradoxPARENTS ARE confused characters. We will our kids to grow and develop. We spend the rest of the time lamenting how quickly they’re growing up.

In the last few weeks, Little Buddha turned three and promptly got to grips with potty training after a few false starts (sorry to the Sainsbury’s person who mopped up that puddle near the pharmacy counter).

Shortly after her third birthday, she said goodbye to her lovely little private nursery and entered the big world of school, just like her brother a few years ago.

The Duchess’ text after dropping her off on the Wednesday lunch time summed it up nicely – the pride and the lament:

She was greeted like a Hollywood star. I—– has taken charge of her care. [Boy Wonder] greeted her arrival like a town crier and announced ‘Everybody, [Little Buddha] has arrived!’. H—– [head of unit] said that’s all everyone had talked about this morning. And she was off without a backwards glance with the promise of hot chocolate from G—–. I was a bit teary.

‘I was a bit teary.’ Our kids are still so young but for us it feels like we’re transferring from one distinct parenting era to quite a different one.

Dependency to independence seemingly in a blink of an eye:

  • Boy Wonder has dressed himself for a good year and Little Buddha is starting to reject our sartorial proposals. Pink or bust.
  • Recently both kids have slammed their bedroom door in our face. Like teenagers in training.
  • Little Buddha’s potty training success is good for our finances (and nasal passages) but we’ve just lost a whole routine of tummy kisses, sing-songs and chit-chat.
  • Last week, Boy Wonder corrected my knowledge about a historic figure. We checked the all-knowing oracle. Wikipedia confirmed he was right.
  • We rarely use the buggy. We’ve owned that vehicle for five years. It’s our Best Ever Purchase. By summer, it’ll be in a charity shop.

Given this minor revolution, it’s probably no surprise that the Duchess is once again Officially Definitely No-Seriously Broody. This is the trick of nature. The tantalising prospect of squidgyness.

I think about things like the steriliser, sleep and, sadly, the cost.

If we won the lottery…

I’m no glittering star

Glittering star 1PARENTING IS no fun for the anally-retentive.

I should know. This afternoon, in act of extreme cruelty, the Duchess invited the Kids to build their own robot. Within minutes, our dining room was an explosion of cereal packets, glitter sticks and cotton balls.

Of course, it’s essential that parents motivate their children to be creative, stretch their imagination, get messy in pursuit of artistic freedom. I just insist it’s done in our house between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday.

Not only did the Duchess ignore my weekday rule: she got the Kids all fired up a mere half hour before she set off to work for one of her weekend shifts. I’m pretty certain I heard her cackle on her way out of the house. Cruel, like I said.

Glittering star 2I don’t think I’ve got a medical strain of OCD but I’m definitely not a lover of disorder. When I get home from working away, I have three priorities (which I feel are best expressed in tidy bullet list!):

  1. Spend time with the Kids, put them to bed and so on
  2. Hang out with the Duchess, watch three episodes of Masterchef
  3. Check the cupboards and urgently rearrange the precarious leaning towers of pots and pans before they topple over and ignite chaos across the cosmos

Our house is full of incredible Papier-Mâché sculptures that I’ll always treasure. But, to paraphrase Otto von Bismarck, it’s like sausages and laws: I don’t want to see them getting made.

But sometimes you’ve just got to take one for the team. So, this afternoon we built a robot. We kind of had fun.

I learned that I’m not just good for racing, chasing and wrestling.

The Kids learned never to reply in the affirmative to the frequent question ‘Have you finished with this now, honey?’.

Causing a stink

Causing a stink

‘Oh, brother!’

I’VE GOT no sense of smell and it’s playing havoc with everyday parenting.

I had one as a child because I can remember walking past the back of Spark’s Bakery on the way to school every day and lifting my nose in salutation like a Bisto kid.

At some point in my young adult life, my olfactory talents began to fade. I was tested for allergies, tried various nasal sprays, but to no avail. When I first met the Duchess more than a decade ago, I would still occasionally detect certain foods or her perfume but even such intermittent aromas are now gone.

The loss can be devastating for the sweet harmony of our household – and the rear skin of Little Buddha. The other night, the Duchess returned home in the early hours from a night shift to find our daughter snuggled up to me in our bed. It should have been a lovely scene but the Duchess could smell her from the hallway. I was oblivious and even when I woke up I couldn’t smell anything remotely noxious. The Duchess, meanwhile, was gagging.

A few weeks ago, I took the kids to a Saturday morning film show at the Everyman, the swanky new cinema in Leeds. It’s all sofa seats, cushions, gourmet food and coffees for the parents. It was a middle class bubble for two hours.

Shamefully, it was only when we were walking back to the car that I could see Little Buddha’s undercarriage looked bulky and I soon realised that she must have spent a good half hour stinking the place out. I can cope with the idea of tutting mums and dads but not the need to apply cream to her sore bottom for several days.

I do try to compensate by checking her regularly. Thankfully, she’s on the slow path to potty training.

Once she can sort herself out, it’s all profit for me. I certainly won’t be going to the Norfolk clinic that tries to cure ‘anosmia’. Not when Boy Wonder is increasingly boffing our house out now he’s on school dinners and I can float through the house unscathed, like an untouchable angel. Indeed, in years to come, when the pair of them might be digesting exotic foods and ales on a regular basis, my current deficiency will feel like a superpower.

In the meantime, I just pray we never have a gas leak.

This was the summer

THIS WAS the summer that our children became proper friends. Last summer, Little Buddha was uncertain on her feet and struggled to communicate, which meant her brother often did his own thing. This time round, he had a devoted sidekick and they’ve been pretty much inseparable.

Once school was out – and the other extra curricular activities paused for the summer – they became the Knight and the Princess, the Park Ranger and the Friendly Tiger, Luke Skywalker and Princess Thingybob. They could usually be found in some secret warren of the house or rampaging in the back garden, in their exclusive and highly descriptive own world.

Sure, they also squabbled more than usual, told tales on one another and competed for attention. But they also acted as a team, using pincer tactics to secure treats or unscheduled film showings. Please Daddy! Pweaaaaaaaase Daddy!

On days out and our recent holiday in Northumberland, they eked out every last ounce of pleasure and excitement from playgrounds, castles, nature walks, beaches and camp sites. Sometimes, whether at home or out and about, the Duchess and I could even relax with a coffee and a paper, as the two amigos looked after one another.

Such daily harmony might not survive the winter, especially once Boy Wonder goes to school full time. But I’ve got a feeling that the magical powers of the sun will mean we get to enjoy this summer loving for quite a few years yet.

A star is born!


The Duchess: “Time for sleepy now, honey.”

Little Buddha: “I’m going to ballet soon, Mummy.”

The Duchess: “Yes you are, honey.”

Little Buddha: “I’m going to wear a pink tutu… and pink ballet shoes.”

The Duchess: “Yes, you’ll look very cute.”

Little Buddha: “Mummy stay and watch me?”

The Duchess: “Of course!”

Little Buddha: “All the other Mummies and Daddies will stay and watch me too.”

Nature vs nurture

Nature vs nurtureOUR SON is a ‘typical boy’. We say it all the time. It started when he was very young with his infatuation with big trucks, diggers and emergency vehicles. He then moved on to knights, dinosaurs and police officers. When he started his current nursery, aged three, he grew obsessed with superheroes, particularly Batman. So much so that last year we held a Superhero Party for his fourth birthday.

In the last month, his love of heroes has migrated to the quintessential sheriff. Our breakfast chats now revolve around the Wild West, bandits, the noble gunman prepared to defend a town. I showed him Lego versions of the classic shootout; and we’ve had a few goes ourselves, with the young sheriff somehow always beating my geriatric skills at the ‘draw’. (My slowness of movement immediately comes in handy for the crucial melodrama of my death scenes.)

Right side of the law

The underlying theme is good vs evil, the goodie vs the baddie – and happily Boy Wonder will always wear the white hat. He wants to be a police officer when he grows up (I intend to wait 10 years before informing him that such public service spirit is hugely misplaced and I expect him to run a hedge fund).

What still confuses me, however, is what influences these very ‘typical’ boyish obsessions?

I might be able to answer questions about his latest fad – and, indeed, enjoy a bit of role play – but it’s been a while since I dressed as Robin at the sixth form Christmas party. Or wore cowskin chaps. He watches TV, with its nasty adverts – and the ubiquitous promotion of the Lone Ranger film, like the Dark Knight before it, might have shaped his latest interest. There’s also his school mates and other friends, with their big brothers. But often it feels like it’s genetic, a biological code passed down through the male species.

Pretty in pink

The nature vs nurture conundrum is skewed further towards the former by Little Buddha. Her obsessions are twofold: Peppa Pig, which is to be expected, and the colour pink. Which is not, because the Duchess hates it. She was a tomboy when she was young and she just doesn’t do ‘girly’. Little Buddha, however, is not to be deterred. She commands the pink bowl and cup at breakfast – and even suggests I give the blue versions to her brother – her bedroom is gradually becoming a poodle parlour and tonight when I settled her in for bed with a promise tomorrow of a late night of Ice Age 4 and Smarties, she smiled and replied: ‘Pink chocolates for me, Daddy!’.

I can’t work it out. The Duchess, meanwhile, is in denial.