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‘Dad, is Santa real?’

SantaBoy Wonder: ‘Dad, is Santa really real?’

Me: ‘Why do you ask?’

BW: ‘That man walking into the shop said he wasn’t real.’

Me: ‘Did he now. He probably meant a man on the tele pretending in a film. That’s allowed, it’s not the real Santa, it’s just pretend.’

BW: ‘You said the Santa I saw the other day was the real one, the one who gave me the yo-yo.’

Me: ‘That’s right, he talked to you about what you wanted, didn’t he? And then you got a letter from Santa a few days later saying he knew you were doing well at school and he’d seen some presents wrapped up by the elves with your name on them.’

BW: ‘But we had a Santa man at school yesterday, who asked me what I wanted. But he wasn’t real. He didn’t wear glasses and I could see his dark beard underneath his pretend white one.’

Me: ‘Right… well that was probably one of the teachers pretending as it was your Christmas party. That’s allowed as well. We had a pretend one at my work party the other day, someone dressed up to get us in the Christmas mood.’

BW: ‘So, the Santa who gave me a yo-yo was real but not the others?’

Me: ‘Lots of people dress up as Santa, on the tele and for parties. They’re allowed to do that. But the Santa we took you to see, he wore glasses didn’t he, his beard was white and he knew you wanted a light sabre and some dinosaurs, so he must have got your letter.’

BW: ‘At school, the teachers said that Christmas isn’t actually about Santa. It’s about Baby Jesus.’

Me: ‘Did they now. Well, that’s a whole other story, son. A whole other story.’

 

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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?’.

Learning phonics: ‘I’ is for Impatient

Learning phonics BOY WONDER is learning phonics. Hopefully, one day he’ll be able to teach me how it works. In the meantime, I’m doing what I can but sadly I’m showing far too many flashes of impatience.

A few weeks ago, he brought home his first reading book and the Duchess and I went into ‘this is where it starts’ overdrive. Previously, we’d held off, purporting to follow the Scandinavian laissez faire, ‘just let them play until they’re seven’ philosophy. Secretly, we didn’t want to be pushy parents, accused of ‘hothousing’ our poor son and pushing him towards therapy and heroin before his ninth birthday.

However, the moment his teacher handed us the book bag – a bloody book bag! – containing letter tiles and a book – can you believe it! – we went into full-on surrogate teacher mode.

Of course, the Duchess proved far better at it all. She put appropriate words on the stairs, filled in notes in his little school-book to let his proper teachers know how he was getting on. Remembered to ask him to read to her each evening.

Volcanic eruptions

Meanwhile, when it was left to me while she was working her evening shifts, I did my best but perhaps got a little carried away. The first time I drilled him for 20 minutes until he knew the word ‘volcano’. The next evening, I opened his notes expecting to learn the teachers thought he’d probably be off to university aged 12. Instead, they asked me to help him learn the word ‘is’.

The accompanying book, about a woolly mammoth in a pit, playfully repeated and varied the words ‘is’, ‘it’, did’, ‘in’ and ‘into’. There were about 10 pages. By page three or four, I realised I was nurturing a goldfish. Come on, Son, we’ve just done that word on the previous page. You shouldn’t even need to spell it out, you should just remember that one.

Phonics 2But spell it out, he did. Most of the words, on all of the pages. Finally, we limped to the last page, which finished with a simple ‘it’.

‘I-t, i-t, i-t, i-t…’ he gainfully chanted. I nodded, pinched my fingers, like Lionel Blair on Give Us A Clue, to denote he was practically saying the word. Just shorten the pause there son, you’ll have it and we can pretend this is all going well.

‘I-t, i-t, i-t, i-t…’ Yes, go on Son, close the deal, land the big fish. ‘I-t, i-t, i-t, i-t, i-t, i-t… DID!’

DID! Did you say DID? That’s DID, over there on that page? Does this word look like that one?

Thankfully, a few weeks later, thanks to Boy Wonder’s eagerness to learn and the patient support of his Mum and teachers, he’s racing through the books, correcting his mistakes almost overnight and demanding new words on the stairs.

Meanwhile, I’ve scratched ‘teacher’ from my fantasy career change list. I’ve got a lot to learn.

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.

Five memories from five years ago

Five memories 1OUR LITTLE boy turns five at the end of this week. By then, he will also have completed his first full week at school. Big milestones in his little life.

This blog is a casual diary of our adventures with our children. But I only had the gumption to start it in advance of Little Buddha arriving a couple of years ago. So, as I’m in a nostalgic mood, here are five notable memories from the birth of our Boy Wonder…

Waiting… We’d been trying for about 18 months. We’d been to see a consultant. We were finding each successive month of disappointment crushing and demoralising. Then, on a wet and horrible Friday in January 2008, I got off the train at Leeds to spot a missed call from the Duchess. ‘Can you buy some pregnancy kits, please?’ she asked breathlessly when I called back. I bought three from the station chemist and got a taxi. Blue lines all the way. Fucking blue lines. I was on the wagon. We had a bottle of champagne left over from New Year. We toasted our huge fortune and I then drank the rest of the bottle. The next morning, unable to sleep, I rubbed my sore head and stared again at those joyous blue lines. By the time the Duchess woke up, I was beaming again. A heady mixture of ecstasy and terror.

Waiting… Did I say terror? At the three-month scan, I was convinced it was all a joke. Apparently, I didn’t say a word during the procedure. I just stared at the screen, unblinking. ‘You could look a bit happier,’ the Duchess quietly scolded me . I couldn’t make out much from the grainy image and then I saw his little heart beat. He was a tiny human being. I could relax (a little). He’d be with us in six months. What’s his due date, we asked? September 11th, she said. So, that would make it 9/11. Oh.

Still waiting… Back in 2008, I was 36 years old. I’d lived more than 430 months on this planet. Which meant I’d completed around 72 blocks of six months. We were expecting our first child through the summer period, which as everyone knows lapses twice as fast as every other season. They were the longest days of my life. I bought one of those magazines that contained a weekly progress diary. Our wondrous progeny was only as big as a grain of rice in the early days. I checked a few weeks later and he’d graduated to the size of a grape. Once the Duchess did start to show, we were the only Brits thankful that the weather was miserable. (While I sat at home to make a few more lists, the Duchess spent a week at Chelsea working on an award-winning garden.) You’d have thought I’d be transfixed on that big date in September. However, at our first ante-natal class, I was the first Dad to be invited to tell everyone who we were and our ‘birth date’. Perhaps I’d misheard: ‘Hi, this is Karen, I’m Shaun, we live in Leeds and I was born 16th March…’ Oh how we laughed.

Five memories 2Still waiting… As if enduring all of those days and weeks and months was bad enough, Boy Wonder decided his daily diet of shortbread biscuits and Battenberg cake was too good to miss. Or perhaps he was just subdued by his Mum’s addiction to sniffing bleach and smothering herself in vapour rub! He stayed put for another nine days. Every time I left the office, people would give me that look: hope we don’t see you again for a few weeks. The next morning, they’d see me sitting at my desk and give me another look: Fuck. When it finally happened, it was the strangest thing. On the Thursday night, I went to sleep absolutely convinced that I’d be woken soon. Around 1am, the Duchess came back from the bathroom, we made a phone call and I completed the car journey I’d fantasised throughout the last six months.

Just a little while longer… The little beggar was still tardy. It could have been far worse, though. When we first arrived at the hospital, they couldn’t find his heartbeat and the palpably worried nurse called for senior help. I will never forget what those two or three minutes felt like. I started to crumble. The Duchess, meanwhile, calmly prepared for the unimaginable. Just as an army of doctors invaded the room, Boy Wonder must have awoken from the sofa at the rear side of the lovely womb and reared his head. Not far enough, though, and after 35 hours of labour the Duchess was in stirrups and we were surrounded by another army of medics. The Duchess said she couldn’t feel her legs, the medics told her to imagine she was having a very large poo. Forceps latched on, the consultants looked like they were preparing for tug-of-war. The rest of the team cheered on the Duchess. Go on, Karen. Go on, Karen, he’s coming. Here he is, keep pushing. Nearly there. And then the biggest, best, most beautiful cheer I’ve ever heard. I cut the cord, followed them over to the heat lamp and held the hand of my little boy.

Not so little actually. An ounce shy of 10 pounds. Bruised, battered, crying with relief. Him, her, me.

It really is a miracle. The last five years have been the best of my life. But where did the time go?

 

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.