Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

This is going to be my last post of 2015. We'll soon be heading off to the welcoming snugness of Grandpa John and Granny Viv's house in the depths of the Cornish countryside, all log-burning stoves, good food, good company, and lots of E&W fussing. One of the best things about it is that it's so remote, there's no mobile phone signal, and if I don't ask for the wi-fi password I can't get distracted from the people around me by the lure of Facebook or Twitter. A week 'off the grid' sounds pretty good to me right now, and I can't wait to spend some some quality time with Kate, Eliza, William and some of the rest of the family.

You see, last Christmas, our first as a quartet, is pretty much a write-off for me. I have almost no memory of it - what we did, what we ate, the gifts we exchanged are at best hazy, at worst complete blanks. And that's not because of overindulgence. At the time we were in the midst of trying to get E&W's sleep routine right (and often getting it wrong), still getting up several times a night to feed them, so I can only assume that I was far more tired than I realised at the time and running on autopilot. Kate tells me we spent Christmas night cuddled on the sofa, doing the puzzles in my Where's Wally Annual 2015 (the same book that E&W delight in destroyi...I mean playing with now), by the soft glow of fairy lights, in near silence lest we wake the little people who were snoring in their bouncy chairs on the floor in front of us. It sounds like a lovely moment, but I only have the faintest tinkle of a memory of it. Which is a real shame. 

We have photos though, to prove that Christmas did happen here, and looking back at them the first thing that strikes me is how small - and hairless - E&W were:
And yes, family Christmas jumpers and socks is our first Christmas tradition. We're going to take a photo every Christmas morning, so we can see how E&W grow (and how Kate and I age) over the years. Wait till you see this year's sartorial selections!

I'm really looking forward to this Christmas. If nothing else, E&W will have great larks exploring all the nooks and crannies and interesting things in Grandpa and Granny's house. And while they don't fully appreciate what this Christmas thing is all about yet, they love fairy lights (they were scared of them last year!) and they can open presents, and realise they're for them, and that what's inside the wrapping paper is new and shiny and exciting. Our friends Ollie and Holly came to visit last weekend, and had very generously brought a box of Duplo with them as an early Christmas present - E&W had great fun exploring all the bits, and I (very selflessly...cough) showed them how it's all supposed to go together. And I was very grown up and didn't get (too) upset when Eliza decided I was wrong and gleefully pulled apart my marvellous creations. 

[As an aside, the thought of Ollie - who is possibly the most physically intimidating person I know, and also one of the most kind-hearted (I'd go as far as to say he's one of my favourite people, full stop) - stomping into a toy shop, perusing the Duplo shelves, then stomping over to the counter to pay for his brightly-coloured selection, makes me chuckle.]

I think we're still a year away from having a full-on family Christmas (E&W will be a few months past two this time next year). I'm so looking forward to them getting excited to the point they can't sleep on Christmas Eve, and of bustling into our room early on Christmas morning (feel free to remind me of these bold statements in the future). I'm looking forward to all the family traditions we can start - we already have the spotting-the-Christmas-lights-on-our-walks game, and the Christmas jumpers and socks photos. Then there are things like singing along to carols, reading certain books in the run-up to the big day (we're doing John Masefield's Box of Delights this year), and helping to decorate the house, and all cuddling on the sofa to watch It's A Wonderful Life (the Sam Wainwright telegram bit gets me every. single. time.) and...

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm going to hold off thinking about next Christmas until at least January 1st. First, I'm going to throw myself fully into enjoying this one. 

I'd like to take this opportunity to (again!) thank everyone who reads this blog for your support and encouragement. I've said before that I love writing this blog, and it's really heartening to know that there are people out there enjoying my witterings. I hope you all have a lovely Christmas, and a great start to 2016. See you in the New Year!

PS I'm really chuffed to have this blog included in the December 2015 Dad's Round Up at BritMums, particularly as I'm in some very good company - the other blogs mentioned are really good reads, so go and give them a try! :)

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The Hurray! Oh No! Moment

One of the (many, many) things I love about this parenting lark is how a seemingly difficult moment can be transformed into a magical one by something your child does. An itchy-eyed, witching hour comforting session seems less painful when your child snuggles into you and sighs deeply. Hefting a flat-tyred double pushchair up the steep hill to home seems far less effort when one of the passengers looks up at you adoringly and cracks a big grin. Cleaning up the mess from a 'demonstrative' meal time is less of a chore when you start getting patted affectionately on top of the head as you're cleaning under a high chair.

There are also moments I've taken to calling 'Hurray! Oh No! Moments'. These are those times when your child shows off a new skill for the first time that makes you go 'Hurray!' (often out loud...or perhaps that's just me) and swell up with pride at them being so clever and perfect and strong and agile and amazing, only for you to realise, mere milliseconds later, that this is perhaps not actually something to celebrate too loudly (hence the Oh No! part)

Some examples (the first part of each being the ‘Hurray!’, the second part - in italics - being the ‘Oh No!’):

They master the art of crawling. They can now lead us a merry dance all around the open-plan sitting/dining room/kitchen.

They get tall enough and stable enough to reach the top of the sideboard/table. Everything breakable has to now be moved up a level.
William works out how to unscrew a jar of hand cream. William can now spread hand cream all over himself/his sister/the cat/my pillow [He went for the pillow, which I suppose was the preferable option, given a pillow can't throw a tantrum or seek revenge].

They work out how to stalk the cat using a pincer movement (like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park). They can now harass the poor cat even more than just pointing at him and shrieking “CA!”.
Eliza manages to climb up onto the sofa without help. Eliza can now try and do Macho Man diving elbow drops onto Fudge the Bunny/her brother/the cat.

Eliza and William work out how to turn my bedside lamp on, and find it delightfully cackle-worthy. Heaven help our electricity bills.
Eliza is strong- and coordinated-enough to push her brother around in their little stroller cart. Eliza can now drive her brother into the wall/the cat at quite a high speed.
They master climbing the stairs without assistance. They can now climb the stairs without assistance.

William works out how to open a door. IS NOWHERE SAFE FROM THEM NOW!?

But all in all, I'll happily put up with the 'Oh No!' parts, because the 'Hurray!' parts are just so shout-it-from-the-rooftops wonderful.

PS I saw on old friend on the sidelines of an American football game (go Reading Knights!) the other weekend and he told me that he enjoyed reading this blog. It made my day. I mainly write for the sheer pleasure of writing, but I doubt there's a blogger out there who doesn't like the idea of people reading their work and getting some enjoyment from it. So thank you, Rob - I really appreciate your kind words.

PPS This isn't a subtle 'please tell me you like the blog' prompt. Honest.

PPPS But feel free to if you want to :-)

PPPPS And then go and tell the authors of every blog you like that you enjoy their work. Go on. Spread the love. It's nearly Christmas!

Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Telling Tales

High on the list of things I hope E&W pick up from me is a love of reading. I’ve always got a book on the go, or a magazine to hand, or pieces from the web stored on my phone, ready to be whipped out and got lost in when I have a spare moment or two. While I’ll pretty much give any book or author a try, my fiction-of-choice leans towards the fantasy/sci-fi genre, with a generous dollop of ghost stories for good measure. I’ve spent huge chunks of my life lost in fantastic worlds, on daring quests, battling nefarious foes, or creeping around dark graveyards, all through the wonder that is the written word.

We read to E&W for about 15 minutes every evening, taking turns. I’ve just finished Treasure Island, and Kate is now on Five Children and It, after recently finishing Through the Looking Glass. At the moment, we read to them as part of the bedtime routine, rather than thinking they might understand any of what we’re saying to them. In the past we’ve done The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (I do a world-class Ford Prefect, if I do say so myself), The Jungle Book, some of The Arabian Nights, The Wind in the Willows and Park Honan’s Shakespeare: A Life (okay, that last one was really for my benefit).
E&W have a large selection of books of their own. The That’s Not My...series has been particularly popular, and they love Each Peach Pear Plum and Oh No, George. William in particular loves books. Often when he wakes from a nap, he'll be a little bit grizzly, in a "I was having nice dreams! I don't want to be awake!" way - give him a book and he'll smile and sit paging back and forth through it contentedly (we call it 'the morning papers'). They both seem to really enjoy sitting down with a book, flicking through it, paying particularly close attention to their favourite pictures (William shrieks “CA!” at the witch’s black cat in Each Peach Pear Plum, and Eliza always giggles when she looks at the photo of a tiger cub in a book of photos of baby animals). When they get a little older, they have the delights of classics like The Gruffalo and Dr Seuss and Diary of a Wombat (which we first saw on holiday in Australia in 2007 and made a pact that if we ever had children, it would be one of the first books we bought for them). I'm looking forward to - one day - sitting and reading with them, not just to them.

Why do I want them to grow up to love reading? I could waffle on for a bit, or I could just share a beautiful cartoon by the always-fabulous LunarBaboon, which sums it up perfectly:
(Huge thanks to LunarBaboon for letting me use his cartoon in my blog - check out his website at www.lunarbaboon.com).

If I was a pithy, bon mot-ish philosopher, I’d now say something like “Read to a child, and he’ll be entertained for 10 minutes; teach him to love to read for himself, and he’ll be entertained for life.” But I’m not, so I won’t. Except I just have. Hmmm.

So when it comes to reading to E&W, I think I'm on the right track.

And then my friend Richard, dad to Toby, raised the stakes when he posted a message on Facebook one evening not so long ago, which he’s kindly let me share:
"Rambling stories to entertain my child have tonight included the tale of Jerimimah the Pirate Parrot, who has a wooden leg called Terrance, which is named after his original pre-wooden leg also called Terrance. It was a tale about an altercation in a pub filled with ordinary hardworking teddy bears."
(How many of you are wondering what the other leg is called? Perhaps all will be revealed in a sequel!)

I was immediately envious. Making up stories for your children is awesome. I need to up my parenting game. Not that I think parenting should be at all competitive (remind me of that when it’s time to line up for the Dads Race at school sports day). But if I see a great idea, I’ll gladly pinch it. And this is a great idea.

I used to love making up stories as a boy, rip-offs of the fantasy romps I was reading, full of derring-do and bright magic. And then I got a bit older, and it seemed like there were more important things to do than noodle away with tales of Bragalath the Bad-Breathed and his Boisterous Band of Boglin Brigands. On the odd occasion I have sat down to write a story in recent years, I quickly decide that what I’m writing is nonsense, not going anywhere, no point to it, and give up.

But, as Richard's story shows, you can really let loose when telling tales to little folks. Who cares if it doesn’t make sense? Who cares if it jumps the storyline tracks (and the odd shark here and there)? Who cares if the elves turn out to be aliens? I don’t think the story is the point - the sitting with your children and telling it to them is. Don’t just read someone else’s creation - create something for them. Be in the moment, interact with them, let them ask you questions and make suggestions. Spark off them, make them laugh, make them happy.

So I’m going to give telling tales a go. Tales of Duck Princesses and their mirror-glass ponds; of Bear Lords roaming the wild woods at dawn; of fat, kind-hearted kings and beautiful, gentle queens; of trolls who garden and goblins who play the bagpipes and pixies who bake the best cakes ever; tales that start with lines like "The night was as dark as the belly of a witch's black cat..." (hold on, let me write all these down).

Maybe I'll write down some of these tales. Maybe I'll work on them, rewrite bits, add bits on, take bits out. Maybe I'll collect them together in a book, and give a copy to E&W to read when they want. Maybe this will start a tradition of telling stories through following generations (hey, dream big!)

And on reflection, I’ve decided I don’t want to know what the other leg is called. I like that maybe only Richard and Toby know that. Or that Richard doesn’t know, but Toby does, and will share that secret with his children one day.

Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!

Friday, 13 November 2015

Perspective

These past few weeks have felt...relentless.

We've all been at various stages of suffering and recovering from a cold (Kate got it very badly, and was off-colour for about a month, all told; the rest of us escaped quite lightly by comparison). That in turn has meant unhappy little people and upset daily routines. They've not been keen on our daily walks, grizzling (and sometimes outright howling) leading to truncated tramping. The darker days and wet weather have felt oppressive. There have been some nights of disturbed sleep. Kate and I have been unusually - and unnecessarily - snappy with each other (I seem to have an uncanny knack of taking an innocuous question like "Is there washing out on the line?" as covert criticism of my parenting abilities/organisational skills/manhood). Then there's been our bi-monthly Multiples Club afternoon at Elms Road Children's Centre, and Grandpa John and Granny Viv have spent a weekend with us. And of course there's the painting-the-Forth-Road-Bridge challenge of trying to stay on top of housework, cooking, washing. Downtime seems to be in very short supply. And I'm feeling old, with a general lack of oomph and an aching back (but my baby-hefting-biceps are still coming along nicely, thank you). All in all it's felt a bit 'all go, no slow'.

I don't like it when people tell you how busy they are, or how hard they work - as if they are the only people who feel like that. I often feel like saying "Oh well done you" in a very sarcastic tone of voice (except I'm too polite). And calling stay-at-home-dadding 'hard work' sounds, to me, like it's a chore, a hardship. But please excuse me for a moment while I break my own rules and get something off my chest:

It is hard work. Bloody hard work. (If you're a parent, feel free to nod along sagely).

There, that's done. And, oddly, I feel better for getting that said.

But please, whatever you do, don't feel sorry for me.

You see, I know that there are lots of dads out there who would give anything to be able to do what I'm doing. More than that: there are lots of people out there who would give anything to be parents who would give anything to be able to do what I'm doing.

So when I'm tired, and grumpy, and hungry, and aching, I think about...
 ...and...
...and of course...
...and let's not forget...
...and I know that I'd not swap my life with anyone.

Perspective is a wonderful thing.

Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!

Friday, 30 October 2015

Look At What We Can Do!, part 2

Eliza and William are obviously on a mission to show off at every available opportunity. Not long after I published my last post, they climbed the stairs. Again, they made it look like it was something they knew how to do all along, and were just waiting for the right moment to spring it on us. William does a very cute little double-tap on each step with his leading hand as he goes up, like he's testing that the step is sound enough to take his henchness.
They're also honing their 'eating with spoons' technique, sometimes more successfully than others. Nice sticky homemade rice pudding is easy. Runny yoghurt less so.
 
We think William has mastered his first word - "cat". Well, that's what we've decided he's saying, given he'll point at Miles and pictures of cats and shout "CA!". But then he'll also do it to Kate, the logos on my t-shirts, blueberries, raindrops on window-panes, thin air and dogs. So perhaps it's his version of "Look!". Interesting fact for you: apparently twins often take longer to say real words as they are so happy to burble away to each other in their own little 'twinspeak'. 

They can also now clap their hands. I particularly like this as it's something I think I've taught them to do. Okay, not earth-shattering, but very adorable nonetheless, especially when they put each other in fits of giggles doing it.

Granny Viv spent the day with us last Friday, arriving laden with presents for all of us. E&W got slippers, trousers and a book. Kate got some jewellery. And I got a couple of Michael Rosen books: his Book of Very Silly Poems and Good Ideas: How To Be Your Child's (And Your Own) Best Teacher. I'm looking forward to working my way through that one and getting some ideas and inspiration.

Off we all headed to Oxford Brookes University where E&W were filmed for a promotional clip for the new Baby Lab. It's a very nice set up they have there, bright and airy and with lots of things to play with (and a cool one-way-mirror wall, which made me feel like I was in a New York detective show). We had lots of fun playing with the toys and being 'experimented' on. I'll post a link to the clip when it's been released.

On the way home, with Granny Viv gamely squeezing into the middle back seat,  Eliza discovered she can (almost) eat an apple. Well, she nibbled on it, got some of the flesh off, and seemed very pleased with herself. It's great that they're now in forward-facing car seats - we can see them more easily, and they can see about them much more too. William has an air of Captain James T Kirk as he sits, very relaxed, hands on the arms of his seat, looking like he's about to tell us to engage warp drive seven (given our car is a far-from-boy-racer Skoda Roomster - aka SS Roomster - such an order would be met with "THE ENGINE CANNAE TAKE IT, CAPTAIN!"). Eliza likes to wave her legs about and bang on the window with her feet, all the while keeping an eye out for interesting things outside.
With the clocks going back, the evenings drawing in, and the temperatures dropping, we've opened the winter wardrobe. E&W look very snuggly in their new coats. Eliza looks very Little Red Riding Hood, while William looks like he's ready for a trip into the rugged wilds.
Last but not least, yesterday E&W were officially discharged from the care of the Newborn Care Unit at the John Radcliffe. Their fantastic doctor, Dr Kevin Ives (and I can't say enough about how good a doctor he is - polite, caring, enthusiastic, a man who clearly loves children - an absolute credit to the NHS) is really pleased with how well they've come along since he saw them back on their first day in the world - I'll always remember him looking at them (frail, helpless, seemingly wrapped in cables and feeding tubes in their incubators), looking at us (worried, exhausted wrecks) and quietly saying "They will be fine", without a hint of doubt. Funny how four words can mean so much to you - it felt like he'd given me an enormous hug. In an odd way it's a shame that they'll never see him again.

And that's about it for this week!

Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!

Friday, 16 October 2015

Look At What We Can Do!

Eliza and William have had a pretty busy week, showing off a batch of new skills, which have appeared - as they seem to do - almost without warning.

Eliza has started pointing at things - me, Kate, Miles the Cat, the 'graffiti giraffe' picture at the top of our stairs, toys - and letting out excited little yelps as she does so (especially at Miles the Cat). She's also learned the art handing things to other people, which she finds hilarious, especially when she teases you by changing her mind at the last second and shaking her head vigorously, as if say "No, no, you can't have this, nah nah!".

William has mastered the important skill of making wibbly noises by flapping his fingers against his lips - he seems particularly pleased when I copy him, and Eliza tries to copy him too. He's also working on his wrestling moves, having dropped a very passable People's Elbow on me the other day, and is getting good at taking bumps, almost throwing himself from standing onto his belly, with a guffaw and enormous grin. I think he's going to be a little rough-and-tumble chap.

Perhaps most excitingly of all - Eliza can stand without support! Admittedly she doesn't look particularly graceful when she does so, her feet quite wide apart, her bottom stuck out a little (for those of you that know football, picture an offensive lineman set up for a pass block) but a stand is a stand is a stand. 
Eliza almost - but not quite - standing on her own, grinning at Kate when she comes home from work
The most delightful thing about all this is that they seem so pleased with themselves when they do these things, grinning at us with a "Look at me! Look at what I'm doing!" joy. It's guaranteed to cheer Kate and me up, no matter how tired/glum we might be feeling.
William's fascination with the bookcase continues. He seems to have lost interest in pulling books out (much to my relief, especially given how battered the sacrificial Where's Wally? annual now looks) - he now just likes looking at the spines of the books, running his hands along them like a connoisseur in a dusty old library (note to self: must dust more). He particularly likes the photo of the little black and white cat on Bruce Fogle's Cat Owners' Bible and of Alan Titchmarsh on the spine of his How to be a Gardener - Book One. He's also started gazing up at the higher shelves with a sort of wistful gleam in his eye, much like I imagine a mountaineer peers up at the snowy peak of Everest. How long before he tries to make an ascent, I wonder.
Can you spot the little cat?
We went out for a lovely walk in the countryside close to our home the other afternoon, making the most of a pleasant autumn afternoon. We put E&W in their backpack carriers and strode off into the wilderness. I felt very macho. We came across a couple of what can only be Fairy Thrones, and E&W had great fun scoping out the lie of the land from a new vantage point.
I really want E&W to grow up with a love and appreciation for the outdoors and nature. It's not something I had as a boy (mainly due to me being a lazy stay-at-home child), and getting out as a family is a really nice way to spend an afternoon. Plus it's a good workout, carrying a 10kg+ child on your back! If only they would work out a way of signalling they want to go faster that didn't involve pulling on hair/ears...

We've also recently discovered how much fun bubbles are...
...William managed to get up close and personal with Miles the Cat yesterday afternoon...
...and, in an impressive demonstration of forward planning, they've already posed for the band photo for the sleeve of their second 'difficult' album...
And that's about it for this week!

Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Day In The Life

One of my readers, Si├ón, suggested I post up a mini-blog of a typical day - a great idea. So here is Friday, 2nd October for you...

5.30 Wake up (naturally). Check clock. Not yet time to get up. Hurray! Doze.
5.45 First alarm. I'm trying to train myself to wake up earlier than I need to, to give me half an hour or so to do some exercise/write/meditate. It's not working very well at the moment - I just turn the alarm off and wait for...
6.00 Second alarm. Shower, shave, dress. Yes, I could do all this later in the morning, perhaps when E&W have gone down for their post-breakfast nap, but I like doing it first thing. It's a little bit of 'me' time, it wakes me up, it freshens me up, it gets me mentally ready to go for the day. On days when I've not done it, I feel like I'm on the back foot all day, playing catch up.
6.30 Make breakfast. Kate and I are a little like Morecambe & Wise, ballet-ing around each other as we gather the things we need. Squeaks from William through the baby monitor, but not proper 'I'm awake!' noises, more his snuffling and wriggling noises. Eliza tends to wake up in a split second, William likes to take his time.
6.45 Back to bed for a read and a little quiet time before the day begins properly. Currently reading Robert Goddard's The Wide World trilogy - post-WW1 espionage and derring-do, very entertaining. If possible, we let E&W wake up naturally, rather than holding them to a strict timetable. It just doesn't feel right to wake up a slumbering tot.
7.00 They're awake! And they're always so excited to see Kate and me when we go in, wriggling and trying to jump about. I get down to the first nappy change of the day, while Kate goes downstairs to put the finishing touches on breakfast. Eliza and I play round one of The Sock Game - I win (by getting both her socks on), but it's a close-run thing.
7.10 Downstairs for breakfast, with Kate in charge of delivery this morning. This week, we've been encouraging E&W to feed themselves, which they're doing quite well with. They can get the spoon to their mouth - it just doesn't always still have porridge on it when it gets there.
7.30 I give E&W their milk bottle, which is also an excuse for a sneaky cuddle with both of them. Like I need an excuse.
7.50 Upstairs for another nappy change, and to get E&W dressed.
8.00 Kate leaves for work. I'm still wrestling with small people and their clothes.
8.10 Clothes are on! Pop E&W back into their cots so I can nip downstairs and put on a load of washing. 
8.15 Back upstairs to brush E&W's teeth. William loves looking at himself in a mirror while it's happening - I think he likes looking at his Big Ole Grin. Eliza is a bit more sensitive about having her teeth done, but this morning very graciously opens her mouth nice and wide and doesn't fuss too much.
8.20 Playtime!!

9.00 Naptime. Yesterday, they didn't sleep in the morning, which put the whole day out of whack both in terms of schedule and temperament. So I'm a little bit nervous that we might have a repeat today - but they settle down quite quickly. Cross fingers. I take a little time to catch my breath and brush my teeth.
9.10 Head downstairs for the regular wash-up, dry-up, tidy-up morning routine. 
9.50 Time for some cooking - today's recipe is lentil and vegetable mash. Impress myself somewhat at how well it turns out, and how little mess I make in the process! All is quiet upstairs - they're sleeping soundly! Hang out washing.
10.55 Pottering time. Catch up on some emails to friends, sort out my wardrobe a little, do a little bit of reading, daydream for a bit. It's all good for the soul.
11.30 E&W wake up. Change nappy. Round 2 of The Sock Game. I win again, only just. William is a bit damp around the edge of his nappy, which has made his Gro-Bag a bit wet too, so time for another load of washing.
11.45 Downstairs for playtime. E&W are pretty good at entertaining themselves, which gives me time to put lunch together. They're having finger food - bagel, avocado, cheese, tomatoes.
12.00 Lunch. They don't seem in the mood to eat much, so a lot of the food gets dropped on the floor, or thrown at me. It comes with the territory.
12.40 Clean up (both them, the floor and me). Moisture their faces - William loves it!
12.45 Playtime. Lots of exploration today - Eliza has found a whole new world under the dining room table.

13.35 There's a whiff in the air! Closer inspection reveals the feared Double Whiff! Everyone upstairs for another nappy change.
13.50 Naptime - a little early, but they're both ready for it.
13.55 Hang out washing. Tidy up. Wash up. 
14.20 Defrost freezer - my first ever attempt at it, and all that chipping and scraping is surprisingly invigorating. When done, the drawers open almost too easily. 
14.40 Pottering, and a bit more down time. E&W are not sleeping - lots of happy noises through the monitor, giggling, hooting, chattering.
14.55 Give up on them ever going to sleep, so get them up for milk, followed by nappy change, and then pop them in their cot while I get things ready for our daily afternoon walk.
15.35 Out for a nice loop walk, along a country path, round a park and back again. It's good to get some fresh air, and E&W seem to enjoy the change of scenery and a chance to watch the world go by.
17.00 Home. Playtime. Whiff from William - nappy change (he's having a productive day today!).
17.30 Kate arrives home. Eliza welcomes her by removing her trousers and waving them about. I get their dinner ready while Kate has a well-deserved play with her little bumpkins.
17.45 Kate gives them their dinner. 
18.20 Bathtime. We bath them together now, and they absolutely love it. Eliza can be screaming her head off, but as soon as her bottom touches the water she's laughing and splashing about. It's almost a shame to have to take them out. As tonight feels a little chilly, we've dug out their all-in-one sleepsuits - they look so cosy. I'm jealous. Consider getting a onesie (yikes!)
18.35 I give them their bedtime milk (more sneaky cuddles!)
19.00 Upstairs, teeth brush, into Gro-Bags, into cots, curtains closed, light off, music box on.
19.15 Storytime - I'm reading them Treasure Island. I do voices. All my pirates sound the same ("Arrrrr!"). They settle quite quickly.
19.30 Downstairs. Kate puts dinner together, while I have another quick tidy-up.
20.00 Dinner. We collapse onto the sofa and watch Castle on DVD. We don't watch much TV these days - Great British Bake Off, University Challenge - but tonight it's the return of one of our favourites - Have I Got News For You.  
21.20 Sounds of upset through the baby monitor. By the time we get upstairs they're both awake and sobbing. No clear reason. Attempts to quieten them down prove unsuccessful, so we give them some milk and cuddles. This works. They're dozing off again by 21.55. We sneak downstairs and sit quietly, waiting for it to go quiet again. 
22.05 Upstairs to read, with a cup of tea.
22.45 Get up to brush teeth.
11.00 Settle down to sleep. It doesn't take long to drift off.

So there you go. Hope you enjoyed this insight into a typical day in our lives.

Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!

Friday, 25 September 2015

Like Trying To Herd Kittens

E&W are now very mobile on all fours. William has a very deliberate, solid, bulldog crawl, a little like Spike from Tom & Jerry. Eliza is more graceful, nimble, and much faster, and has just started bear-crawling, which is both impressive (I remember how tough bear-crawl drills were from my American football days) and quite amusing, especially when seen from the back. Keeping up with them is helping to keep me active. Detailed statistical analysis, using the Reeves Model, shows that 79.6% of the time E&W head off in opposite directions, and a whopping 91.3% of the time they head towards somewhere/something they shouldn't. I seem to have developed the knack of swooping in at the last second to spoil their fun rescue them - I like to think I'm valiantly chasing them down, like Don Beebe catching Leon Lett just as he's about to score (two American football references in one post! Woop!), but I fear I'm more like a winged monkey from The Wizard of Oz; I imagine them saying "Rats! Foiled again!" as they get swept up into the air.

Their favourite targets are the cat flap (still!)...
...the photo-pockets on the back of the utility room door (they particularly like the photo of Grandpa John on the day he set off on his Land's End to John O'Groats charity walk), the freezer, the sideboard...
...and the bookcase in the corner of the dining room. Being a bibliophile, and more than a little precious about some of my books, the sight of E&W pulling books off the shelves is more than a little alarming. We've offered them last year's Where's Wally? annual as a sacrifice, and it has quickly been battered and torn (to much excited hilarity...from E&W) but this doesn't always distract them. Still, more opportunities to work on my reaction time and short-distance sprinting.
I wonder how hard it will be to keep up with them once they've mastered the art of toddling (which won't be far off - both are working on their free-standing).

We ventured out into the garden on Sunday afternoon, making the most of some late summer sun. E&W loved crawling about on the grass, and exploring the pots and plants dotted around our somewhat bare garden. I think it would be really nice if the garden became a place where they were comfortable, where they could have fun, where they'd find things to interest and excite them. I think we'll work on that for next spring/summer.
And they had their first tries on the little bikes their friends Ellie and Freddie passed on to them (thank you!). Eliza looked a little more comfortable than William, and actually managed to move herself along a little way (before being bike-jacked by William). Practice makes perfect!
And last but not least, Eliza has a new favourite place to sit and contemplate life...
As always, please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!











Tuesday, 15 September 2015

It's Not Always Sunshine And Giggles

This post is a bit of a departure from the usual "This is what we've been up to lately" posts. Those of you that know me know that I like the sight of my own words (as opposed to the sound of my own voice), so this is a little bit more of a 'muse-y' post (translation: I waffle on a bit). Fear not, there are new photos of E&W in here - feel free to skip the words if you like). 

"You know what I don't like about your blog?" said one of our friends, a mother of twins, at the weekend. A whole list of potential dislikes flitted through my brain - I decided to take solace in the fact it seemed to be just one thing she didn't like. "You make the whole looking-after-twins-thing seem so easy!"

She'd read my mind. Just a few days before, I'd looked back at my posts to date, and realised that I've painted a rather rosy picture: days full of amusing little incidents and cute photo opportunities, thanks to two gorgeous little people who are model children, never causing any fuss or bother.

This is all part of a propaganda campaign to convince you that I'm some sort of Super-Dad, like one of those contestants on Loyd Grossman-era Masterchef (showing my age!) who somehow managed to be a father of seven who runs his own stained-glass window company and in his spare time enjoys reading classic philosophy in the original Greek, skydiving, judo, and working on his epic fantasy saga (fifth volume nearing completion). (I couldn't find a clip of Masterchef to illustrate this point, so instead here is one of my all-time favourite comedy sketches...the fact it is so, so sinister is half the fun).
I am of course a long way from being a Super-Dad. I think Kate and I are very lucky with E&W - they are, for the most part, very cheerful, well-tempered little people. It's difficult to feel down when W grins at you, or E turns to you for a quick "Just checking you're still there" hug. The good times are glorious...but the bad times can be very rough. I've yet to experience a day of E&W screaming non-stop, like Kate had to go through when they were younger - I can't imagine how hard that must have been, and how strong she is to have been able to cope with it. But some days are just messes, and a rough hour can often make an otherwise good day feel bad. 

There are days when the 6am alarm seems to beep just moments after I've shut my eyes. 

Days when my things-to-do list looks formidable first thing, and seems to have grown rather than shrunk by the time bedtime rolls around. 

Afternoons when E&W get angry because they're not asleep, and in getting angry make it impossible to nod off, so they resort to inconsolable wailing and sobbing. 

Trudging, heavy-legged walks in the pouring rain. 

Evenings when, just as we've settled on the sofa with mugs of hot chocolate, a little sob squeaks through the baby monitor, and before we can get upset the little sob has turned into a full-on paddy that takes long enough to calm that the hot chocolate isn't hot any more.

Some things I find particularly difficult:
  • Days seem to blur into each other - I don't really feel a contrast between weekdays and weekends. My birthday this summer crept up on me almost unnoticed.
  • Days when I feel like I've been on the go non-stop, yet there doesn't seem to be anything to show for it.
  • Days when I feel that I've had no Me Time at all, no time to do something I would like to do, rather than things I need to do.
  • Days when the only time Kate and I spend together seems to be catching up on housework or flaked out in front of the TV. 
  • Feeling out of touch with the world, with friends, with life outside the front door.
I sound like I'm complaining, but I'm not, because I wouldn't give up the life I'm living at the moment. I love being a Stay-At-Home-Dad. And that's why, until now, I've not written about the downs of it - the ups more than make up for them. 
Perhaps I should be more honest, share some of the not-so-great-things - just in case a fellow SAHD (or, of course SAHM) stumbles across this blog. I'd like them to think they're not alone in finding some things difficult with their vocation. Just looking at that bullet-point list above, several ideas quickly spring to mind about how I can change things around to hopefully make me feel better about them. So I'll explore those ideas and report back - someone might find that useful.
So, being an SAHD isn't always sunshine and giggles. Some days it is hard - maybe not the hardest job in the world, but nowhere near the easiest.
All in all, though, I can't imagine many that would be more rewarding.

So, what do you think of this attempt at a different style of post? "More please"? Or "Just stick with the cute photos in future"? Let me know by posting a comment below or Tweeting me at @andymarsh58. And of course feel free to share this post with people you think might be interested. Thank you.

Friday, 4 September 2015

A Weekend Away

First of all, a big thank you to everyone who has sent me encouraging messages about this blog - I'm glad that there are people out there who find it a good read. For those of you that ask how I manage to find time to write, given everything else that goes on in an average day, then the simple answer is I don't always find the time, hence the sometimes lengthy gaps between posts - some days are simply more packed with real-life stuff than others. But I do love writing these posts, so fear not, I will keep doing so - just don't expect regular posts. I'll post up links to all new posts on Facebook and Twitter (@andymarsh58) so you shouldn't miss out, and of course if you subscribe by email you'll get them sent straight to you. And I have some ideas for some other types of post...keep an eye out for a test-run in the not so distant future.

Anyway, enough about me, onto what you're really here for - E&W news and photos!

For the first time since E&W were about seven months old, and we took the (at the time) daunting step of moving them out of our bedroom and into their own room, we've spent a few nights sleeping in the same room as them. We spent the bank holiday weekend with my mum (aka Nana Ruth), and we had to squeeze two single beds and two travel cots into one bedroom, my old room. Top tip (courtesy of Kate): to work out if you have enough space to fit the travel cot(s), lay out the mattress(es) first, before putting the cot(s) up. There wasn't much room to spare! Our (Kate and me) bedroom routine became one of getting changed in the bathroom, gathering in the living room, then sneaking into the bedroom under cover of darkness (well, nightlightness) and getting into bed as quickly and quietly as possible. Thankfully we managed it each night without waking any little people.

What was really surprising is how much noise William makes in the night. He wriggles around, fighting with his grobag and mattress sheet; snuffles and snorts; chunters away; lets out occasional hoots and growls; all apparently while fast asleep! I can only assume Eliza has got used to it, as it doesn't seem to disturb her angelically peaceful slumbers. I like to think she's aware of it, and finds it a comfort - "Ah, William is just there, all is right with the world." Eliza is one of those who gets settled for the night, and doesn't move until morning, snoring quietly all the while. Just one of the many glorious little ways that they're completely different people.

Eliza loves cats. Whenever she sees Miles, our preposterous apricot-and-white fluffball, she squeaks with delight, points, grins like a loon and, if she's on the floor, makes a beeline for him. Miles typically minces his way out of the room as quickly as possible. 
E and Miles (old photo - note the lack of E hair!)
At Nana Ruth's, she set her sights on Muffin, who is a little older than Miles, a little less experienced with small people, a little more dignified. So she didn't run as quickly...for the first day or so. She soon learned. Getting a feline cold-shoulder didn't seem to dampen Eliza's affections much though. We'll make sure we teach both E&W the proper way to behave around cats - be gentle, no tail or whisker pulling, and be ready for an unexpected flap of a paw. Hopefully they'll grow up to love cats as much as Kate and I do.
Spot the little cat
E&W are getting more and more mobile at a quite frightening pace. It seems such a short time ago that they took their first tentative attempts at standing. Now, they pop up from the floor (with a little assistance from the wall, chair, stairgate, Daddy's head) ridiculously quickly, and William has started working on his cruising (moving around the room while holding onto things, like an ungainly ice skater at the edge of a rink). What were once safe places to leave things no longer are, as William quite merrily reaches up onto sideboards and tables to explore what's there. Keeps us on our toes.
Time for some pull-ups
Other than that, life toddles (well, not quite, yet) along quite nicely. I'm now a month in to the stay-at-home-dad life, and I think I'm really getting into the swing of things now, thanks to very carefully maintained to-do lists and lots of alarms on my phone. What's most important is that E&W seem to be blooming, so I think I'm doing at least a half-decent job.


Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Birthday Fun

Apologies for the little break from publishing a new post. To (hopefully) make up for it, this is another bumper edition, with birthday photos galore!

Eliza and William woke up to a fabulous pile of presents...


Unfortunately this distracted them quite a bit from their breakfast - lesson learned for future: keep presents out of sight until it's opening time! In addition to the walker carts you can see in the photo (we decided to not try to wrap them) they got some books, some wooden slot games, and a couple of cuddly toys. We were really touched with how generous our friends have been - we didn't expect so many presents (with more to come, apparently!) Thank you to everyone who gave them something.

William and Bill Bear (thank you Granny Viv & Grandpa John!)
Wooden slot puzzles (thank you Anna & Nick!)
New books (thank you Emily & Steve!)
Our carefully crafted plan for the day was thrown a little bit out of whack - E&W slept longer than we expected, then fussed, fought and dawdled over their food, while the rain relentlessly fell outside. Just before three, we decided to risk it and headed off to Millets Farm Centre, as planned. First stop was the cafe to give E&W their afternoon milk (and for Kate and I to have what felt like a very well deserved hot chocolate and shortbread biscuit...or two) - we found ourselves in the middle of a coach-load of senior citizens. William immediately went into full-on Charm Mode, grinning and giggling and hooting at anyone who looked at him. When it came to milk time, he latched on to the bottle and chugged it down very smoothly, with no playing up at all. We think he was trying to show what a lovely little boy he is. I'm thinking we should always have a Nice Little Old Lady on hand to encourage him to be on his best behaviour. Perhaps we could set up a network of them, dotted around the country, on call when needed (like the assets in the Bourne movies). We could set up a company. We could go on Dragons' Den. We could make millions...ahem...

Millets Farm Centre is a really nice place to spend an afternoon (thankfully the rain had stopped by the time we got there, and it stayed dry for the rest of the day): comfortable cafe, well-stocked farm shop, lots of green open spaces, lots of cute animals to look at, and swings!






Then it was home for cake - Kate made a fab ladybird cake (I helped with the stirring and the licking of the icing spoon) which was a big hit with everyone.




We rounded off the day with a bath (them, not Kate and me) and a story - they were asleep in minutes!

Kate pointed out that we can now say "This time last year..." and be able to talk about Eliza and William, which is quite something.

Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, leave feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!