Friday, 26 February 2016

Why I Changed My Mind About Cars Parked on Pavements

This post was inspired by a piece about badly parked cars by Dave the Dadventurer (excellent blog!) on episode 2 of the (again, excellent) Meet the Parents podcast. It's a little bit of a change from the regular, photo-packed E&W updates - I hope you like it nonetheless. 

Cars parked on pavements used to really annoy me.

We live in a pretty, quiet Oxford suburb. The roads aren’t particularly narrow. Most houses have drives or off-road parking spaces. Yet we still come across cars partially - sometimes fully - on the pavement. Most of the time we can squeeze our way through, even with a side-by-side double buggy, but every now and again we have to nip into the road to get around. Thankfully we've never been in any real danger from doing this, but it always made my teeth grind.

And it would make me angry! How dare they park on the pavement!? I’m a pedestrian! I have a right to walk along here without having to breathe in and carefully pick my way past! Park on your driveway! I’d do that terribly English thing of huffing and puffing, chuntering and grumbling under my breath as I strode off down the road.

More than that, I found it caused an odd physical affliction: my elbows would start to stick out further than usual. I’d quite often clatter a wing mirror - not to the point of ever breaking one, I feel I should add, but enough to sharply fold it back in out of the way and give me a flashback to my days lead-blocking for running backs. I’d often say “BOOM!” to myself. I kid you not.

And then I'd get home from a walk and regale K with tales of the righteous vengeance I’d wreaked on these badly parked cars, like I was a Z-List superhero - Pavement Chap, the Pushchair Pushing Paladin, Protector of Pedestrian Privileges.

I even once sliced “NICE PARKING” with a fierce finger into the virgin snow on a car windscreen. Given my handwriting is appalling when I’m at a desk with a nice pen and a sheet of clean paper, I can’t imagine what the owner of the car thought I’d actually written by the time they saw it. Assuming the snow hadn’t melted by then.

Then I got to thinking about what I was really doing. I was getting angry about something that - in the grand scheme of things - is pretty small beer. A badly parked car never actually spoiled a walk, but my reaction to one would often spoil five minutes of that walk. This wasn't so much of an issue when E&W were smaller, when they were quite happy to just watch the world go by, wrapped up in their coats and blankets, not really aware of what was going on with the pusher behind them. But now they're far more aware, can pick up on moods, see when others are upset. I don't like them to see me in a mood, if I can avoid it. And I don't want them thinking it's clever to (frankly) be a bit of a petty thug. Nor having to see me pick up my teeth from the pavement when I clatter the 'wrong' car (I may be 6'5" and very good at a Paddington Bear Hard Stare - also very good for stopping people sitting next to you on a train or bus - but I'm actually a complete wimp).

Then my good (soft?) nature kicked in, the bit of me that likes to think that most people are - at heart - decent. Let’s assume for a moment that no-one goes out of their way to park on a pavement just to make life difficult for pedestrians. (Unless they’re a sociopath. Hmmm. Yikes. No, let’s go with my initial assumption.) So that means they’re being inconsiderate, yes, but not malicious. On the couple of minor run-ins I’ve had with people - me picking my way carefully past whilst giving the driver that Paddington Bare Hard Stare - I’ve been met with apparently sincere apologies - “Sorry, I didn’t think!” And I really think that’s the root cause of most of the bad parking - not maliciousness, not even particularly selfishness, but rather thoughtlessness. "I need to park here, so I'll park." So being intentionally nasty in return seems unnecessary.

And then I imagined being a driver who comes out to find his wing mirror whacked out of kilter. Would I think “Ah, I’ve blocked the pavement and as a result of my thoughtlessness my wing mirror has been clattered. That will teach me! I'll be sure not to do so again!”? No, I’d probably think “Some little [expletive deleted] has hit my [expletive deleted] car. [Expletive deleted].” Everyone gets angry, and that's no good to anyone.

So from now on if I come across a car that’s blocking the pavement, I’m going to very calmly tuck the wing mirror in to reduce the amount of pavement being blocked, and go on my merry way. That way the next person to come along will hopefully find it a little bit easier to get past. That makes me feel strangely good.

I have considered leaving notes under windscreen wipers explaining what I’ve done. I’ve even thought about getting some business cards printed up through one of those “100 cards for peanuts” offers I’m always seeing on the internet (again, I kid you not). And I’ve mulled over the wording - it would read something like:
Dear Driver,
I’ve tucked in your wing-mirror to make it easier for pedestrians to get past your car without damaging either (a) your car or (b) themselves. There is no need to thank me, but if this simple act of kindness has touched you, please pass on the goodwill by sparing a thought for pedestrians the next time you think about parking on the pavement.
Thank you!
But leaving notes seems a step too far, a little too close to Victor Meldrew and his Post-It Note War with his neighbour. Perhaps I’ll just stick to tucking in the mirror with that message in mind, and surfing the wave of virtuous bliss that follows it.

Right, now go and check out the Dadventurer and the Meet the Parents podcast

And, as usual, 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, 16 February 2016

Out and About

Routines are great. Many's the time since becoming an SAHD that having a routine has helped me hold on to my sanity, especially on those days following sleep-scarce nights when my brain is working even more slowly than usual.

Wake up. Breakfast. Play. Get dressed. Play. Pushchair walk. Play. Lunch. Play. Nap. Snack. Play. Toddle outside (weather permitting). Dinner. Bath. Bottle. Into PJs. Story. Kiss. Sleep (cross fingers).

Organised bliss. And it seems to work. For the most part, E&W are very happy little campers - we're really lucky that we seem to have two very nice-natured little people. And of course I enjoy spending time with them at home, playing around, watching them pick up new skills. Getting out for a walk is a particular highlight of the day, a chance for me to get some fresh air, some much-needed exercise and to see a bit of green countryside (which is good for my soul), and E&W like watching the world go by, playing spot the !!CAT!! and getting fussed over by passersby.
And of course now they've entered toddlerhood, they really enjoy getting out of the house under their own steam and having an explore of the front path.
Except...

K and I having been talking recently about how we think that life has perhaps got a little...well, boring...for E&W. We've noticed they get irritable more easily when cooped up in the house. It's harder to distract them with the things they used to love - cuddly toys, being chased, wrestling, books, Duplo. They're growing up and they're wanting to explore the world more. Who can blame them?

It's not as if there aren't lots of exciting places to go and things to see in and around Oxford. And I don't just mean museums and galleries (E&W are maybe a little young for them, but when they get older whole other worlds will open up for them). There are playgroups, soft play, parks, petting farms, all sorts within easy reaching distance. But we don't tend to do much outside the routine above.

I readily take a lot of the blame for this. I’m a little bit nervous of taking E&W somewhere new during the week, when it’s just me with them - the logistics of getting them somewhere, getting them out when we get there, keeping them entertained and safe when they’re having an explore, it all feels a bit daunting.

But the main problem is me. I'm a homebody. Not very sociable. Not very adventurous (it's somewhat ironic that my third-favourite type of book - behind sword-and-sorcery fantasy and ghost stories - is real-life adventure, all mountain climbing and canoeing the Nile and walking round the world. Vicarious adventure from the comfort of my armchair). I know what I like, and I like what I know. I'm not particularly comfortable in new places or with new people, although I like to think I warm up quite quickly once the ice has been broken. So given the choice, I'd always naturally pick something we've done dozens of times before, something we know works, rather than trying something new. But I know that's not really a good way to live your life, and I certainly don’t want E&W to grow up to be like that like that, so I know it’s important they get out and about, properly explore and experience the world, try all sorts of things, meet other people. What I want, what I'm comfortable with, has to get shoved aside for their good.

So we’ve decided to make much more of an effort trying new things.

First on our list is swimming. We bought little swimming trunks (nice looking swim-nappy wraps) for E&W, K and I dug out our swimming costumes, and early on Friday morning we all headed off to Leys Leisure Centre. I was really impressed at how swish it is - a far cry from the municipal leisure centre in the town where I grew up, which was always a bit shabby round the edges and smelt of chlorine, weak hot chocolate and beef crisps. Ahh, memories. The swimming pool area (at the Leys) was really nice - a 'fun pool' with fountains and water jets, a teaching pool, and a grown-up pool. As it was our first time, we stuck to the fun pool. E didn't really enjoy it that much. We think she was a bit scared by the noise of the water and the general hubbub, and had a minor meltdown; she did calm down a bit after a while and enjoyed lying on K in the shallow water - hopefully she'll be happier once she's got used to things. W seemed quite at home pretty quickly though, and was soon strutting around like Daniel Craig in those little blue trunks in Casino Royale. All in all, a successful, enjoyable trip, and one we're going to try again this week (fingers crossed E feels a bit more at home this time!). It's given us some real motivation for getting out and doing more varied things as a family, which is no bad thing at all. Perhaps we won't be scootering across the Sahara any time soon, but I think we'll definitely be broadening our day-out horizons a little.

And if you're wondering why there are no photos of our first family excursion to the pool, well...it's a swimming pool. My phone would have got wet. And there was the risk of getting a shot of me with my mild Dad Bod - and bright pink swimming shorts - and no-one really needs to see that! To make up for it, here are some more photos of E&W:

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. And you can find me on Twitter and Instagram: @andymarsh58. Thank you!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Six Months In, Am I Still Enjoying Being A Stay-At-Home-Dad?

E&W have been with us now for (yikes!) nearly 18 months, and I've been SAHDing for six months. That neither feel that long suggests life has either been like being swept along in a raging river, or it's been a lot of fun.

“Are you still enjoying being at home with the children?” is the question I get asked most often. And it's almost always worded like that, not “How's it going?” It's like people are offering me a safety net, almost inviting me to wail “No, no I'm not, it's awful and I'm rubbish at it and whathaveIdonewithmylife?”. Which is kind of them, but unnecessary.

And I'm sure my standard answer, a typically-reserved-English-gent "Yes, it's good!", might not be entirely convincing, especially to those friends and family who had concerns about how I'd cope with becoming an SAHD/house husband (I know you're out there, and I don't mind at all that you were worried). "What's he hiding, what's he not saying?" they might wonder.

Here's what I'm not saying:

I love being a stay-at-home-dad.
It's given me a sense of purpose, a sense of my place in the world, that I've never had before. I get up every morning knowing I'm going to get to spend most of the day with our gorgeous little people, helping them explore the world. I'm extremely lucky to have been given the chance to take such a big part in E&W's early lives, and I will be forever grateful to K for giving me that chance. I know she finds it very hard to be back at work and not with them more - who wouldn't? I like to think that leaving them with me, rather than a childminder or at a nursery, makes it a little bit easier to say goodbye to them in the mornings.

Do I love every moment of it? Of course not. When food is being thrown about with apparent malevolent glee (especially when it's onto a freshly steam-mopped floor), or W is wrestling with me trying to put his trousers back on after a nappy change (and cackling at my plaintive cries of "You need to have trousers on - what if the vicar comes to tea?"), or E is incessantly squeaking with frustration at my inability to work out which toy she wants delivering to her from the far side of the room (okay, it's actually quite cute, like an angry Jawa trying - and failing - to use The Force to impel something into her splayed fingers. And of course the thing she wants is always the last thing I pick up), there is a little voice in the back of my head sneering "You didn't get this from spreadsheets and databases, did you?".

No, I didn't. From some colleagues, yes - but never from spreadsheets and databases (I'm joking. Honest).

But no matter how much I enjoyed work, how much satisfaction I got from doing a job well, it doesn't come close to how I feel at the end of a day now. Tired out, yes, but with a little warm glow deep down inside me, because I know that I've done something really special today.
I can completely understand why SAHDing isn't for everyone though. I think my brain is wired just about right for me to be a good fit for SAHDing. Thanks to all the self-help motivational books I've read over the years - a guilty pleasure - I'm quite good at seeing the bigger picture: for example, chores aren't chores, but a means to creating a pleasant, comfortable, happy home (and...relax!). I get an almost irrational sense of satisfaction from mundane little tasks like sweeping the floor or folding laundry. And I didn't feel I was giving up on - or putting on hold - a career (a good job, one in which I took immense pride, but not something that defined me). I feel that right now, this is what I'm meant to be doing.
And I've also learned a lot about myself in the last year-and-a-half. It's true that having children changes you - it unlocks things in you that you might not have known were there. I've got a little series of posts in mind for exploring this further - there's a dangling carrot for you!

I guess the take-home message from this post is this: don't worry about me; don't worry about us. Life is good - no, better than good. Life is really rather fabulous.
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!