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.

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?



Growing up quickly: 3 quotes

Boy in bankTHEY SAY kids grow up fast nowadays. Our 4-year-old son, Boy Wonder, is certainly acting beyond his tender years. In the last 24 hours, he’s made some startling comments.

Firstly, he was acting the Big Man around the house. His sister dared to play with his Batcave, earning a What-you-talking-about-Willis pout (one for the older reader) and a solemn promise:

You touch that again, little girl, and I’ll slice you up!

Charming. Then he discussed his romantic potential with his Mum, the Duchess:

BW: Mummy, what happens if no one wants to be my wife, no one loves me?
D: Of course someone will want to be your wife. You’re a lovely, handsome man, with lots of friends. You’ll be fighting them off.
BW: Oh well, if no one wants me, I’ll be married to my job.

Where did he get that idea from? Finally, our little life planner was today thinking about our national obsession, brutally declaring:

Mummy, when you and Daddy die I’m going to live in your house.

Our little boy. All set to be a gun-slinging, property-owning workaholic.

Photographing toddlers: What a balls up!

PHOTOGRAPHING TODDLERS is a thankless task. At the moment, coaxing Little Buddha into smiling for the camera is completely futile. She has an unerring ability to look my way only at the moment when the shutter is down.

I feel sorry for previous generations of parents who must have wasted reams of expensive film on shots of young toddlers looking away at the last moment, closing their eyes, pulling a face. At least with a digital camera, I can keep snapping away at no cost except to my patience and my dreamy ideas of posterity.

So, imagine my glee on our recent holiday in Northumberland when I found both kids sat playing on the bottom of the stairs. I grabbed the camera and with only a little cajoling – ‘this way kids’, ‘look at Daddy’, ‘look what Daddy has got (er, a camera)’ – I enticed them both into posing for my precious photo collection.

Boy Wonder was fairly compliant and, after a few near misses, I could see Little Buddha looking straight at me and smiling. Click, click, click – and in one fantastic moment, I knew I had The Shot. One that would probably fly around the world to friends and family. One that might dominate the home screen of my phone and my computer desktop. One that could garner plenty of ‘likes’ on Facebook.

Like a hunter carrying a sedate lion cub over my shoulder, I showed The Shot to the Duchess in the cottage kitchen and she agreed that it was worthy of joining our Wall of Fame of family photographs back home.

Sure, it was an anodyne setting but what mattered was that Little Buddha’s smile was brilliant and she was looking up directly at the camera. All of that wasted effort suddenly felt vindicated.

The satisfactory glow remained until we got home and shortly after posting it online a friend commented: ‘Really funny picture… boys will be boys, hey!’.

We looked again. We looked at Boy Wonder, probably for the first time. We said: ‘Ah’.

So here it is. A lovely shot of my daughter. But not one that ended up adorning our Wall of Fame…










Potty training remains below par

A few days ago, I understood what Rory McIlroy’s dad must feel like when he watches his special boy approach a potentially winning putt at a major tournament.

To the casual viewer, his son jabs the putter and the ball flies across the green to its destination, the cue for raucous cheers, pumped fists and congratulatory hugs all round. However, to McIlroy Snr, the ball probably inches across the turf at pedestrian pace, threatens to deviate with every bobble and only ever drops into the hole after a pause of epic delay.

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Story of our pregnancy part 2

2nd February, 8.00am
The delivery suite is so busy we were lucky to get a room. It’s basic, with an old bed and no en suite bathroom – at least we’ve got one and the Second Coming will have no illusions about our austere times. There have been a few traumas in addition to the human traffic jam, which has drawn in several of the embattled midwives. It means Debbie has had to abandon the maternity assessment centre and will now stay with us for the duration to deliver our baby. Understandably, she seems impatient to get on with it and return to her duties. The Duchess, however, wants time to freeze and is no longer keen to have a baby.

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