Saturday 28 September 2013

Something Changed

To the untrained eye you would be forgiven for thinking that this Adventure started when I wrote the first post back in July.  You might think that it started when R was born.  You could say that it started when we realised that Z was pregnant.  I, on the other hand, like to think that this adventure has been going for a lot longer than that.  For me this all started on Thursday the 28th September 1995, 18 years ago today. 

I was settling into my first flat at university in Leicester having been dropped off by my parents on Sunday afternoon.  It was my first time away from home and I was definitely still learning the ropes of real life.  My new flatmates and I had already managed to find the local pub but on that fateful night one of them, Rich, decided that he wanted to go to the Student's Union and check it out.

I honestly couldn't be bothered.  Even at the tender age of 18 I was a pub kinda guy.  The only night club that I had ever been to and enjoyed was Happy Wednesdays, an indie club in Milton Keynes at the birth of Brit Pop.  The Union promised to be all the music I hated with worse beer than I could get in our new local, but Rich was adamant.  I relented but refused to get changed, instead keeping on my battered jeans, Adidas Gazelles and baggy black Joe Bloggs pullover.  If I was going out, I was going out on my terms.

It turned out that Rich had plans that night.  He was "on the pull" and I was to be his wing man.  This was a concept that was as foreign to me as doing my own laundry.  He spent the evening sharking around the dance floor talking to any girl that would give him the time of day and I spent the evening drinking watered down Flower's at £1 a pint.  As the night wore on and the alcohol took hold, I joined Rich on the dance floor.  I didn't join his quest to get off with a member of the opposite sex, but then something changed.

Rich bumped into a girl that he had been chatting to earlier.  He had thought that they were on the same course, but I think that was just a line he was using.  Like us, she was out with her new house mates and they were all happily dancing away to the cheesy tunes.  We joined their dancing circle and that is when I saw her.  Dancing opposite me was Z.  I'm not going to claim that it was love at first sight but it was something like that.  All I knew was that Rich was still on the pull and I didn't want him to get to her first.

In a move as cheesy as the music that the DJ was playing, I sidled around the circle so that I was at her side and, for reasons I cannot explain to this day, I held her hand.  This is not a move that I had honed over time, nor is it one that I would recommend to any budding Casanovas, but for some reason, possibly pity, Z didn't withdraw her hand and we danced.

As I said, that was 18 years ago.  9 years ago we got married and our first dance was Something Changed by Pulp.  It's been our song since we first heard it a month after we first met.  Its lyrics sum up how we met to a tee.  It turns out that Z didn't want to go to the Union that night either.  I owe Rich a debt of gratitude that I will never be able to repay.  If he hadn't insisted I wouldn't have spent half of my life with the woman I love, my best friend and the mother of my child.

When we woke up that morning we had no way of knowing,
that in a matter of hours we'd change the way we were going.
Where would I be now, where would I be now if we'd never met?
Would I be singing this song to someone else instead?
I dunno but like you said
something changed.
Lyrics by Jarvis Cocker

Tuesday 17 September 2013

The Sound of Silence.

This morning, whilst draining a mug of strong coffee in an attempt to wake up, I read an interesting blog entitled 'Dear parents, you need to control your kids. Sincerely, non-parents.' by American DJ, blogger and father of twins, Matt Walsh.  Matt's is not a blog that I have read before, but the striking title of the post peaked my interest and raised my hackles.  However, I shouldn't have been so fast to judge.  The post was an open letter directed at a "fan", who had sneered at a woman whose toddler was having a melt-down in the local supermarket, telling him to mind his own business. 

I won't spoil the well written piece for you, you can read that for yourself.  However, it did make me think about my own experiences in public both with and without R in tow.  To start with, I'll lay my cards on the table.  I have worked in Children's Centres, so I was used to the cacophony that children can make before we had R.  That's not to say that I'm immune to the soul splitting shrieks that some of our bundles of joy can emit. 

Generally R is a very well behaved child, but that doesn't mean that he isn't prone to the odd tantrum.  I'm told that the terrible 2s last until stroppy teenage tendencies kick in and I can well believe it.  The thing is, even when he is screaming blue murder in a public situation; supermarket, restaurant, train, swimming pool, more often or not I end up laughing at him.  After the initial feeling of wishing the ground would swallow me up, reminding myself to stay calm, assessing the situation and trying to stick to my guns, we can normally get through the situation relatively quickly.

I have been on the receiving end of countless disgusted glares from members of the public.  But for every one of those there are a good handful of knowing glances from parents who have already walked a mile in my shoes.  Unsolicited advice is hard to take at the best of times, but when you're trying to coax a whirling dervish down from the ceiling it's seldom appreciated, especially when it's being proffered by a stranger.

And this is the thing. We don't actually want to torment passers by with the tears of our children.  Everybody brings their child up differently, we have to, they don't come with an instruction manual, we have to make it up as we go along*, hopefully learning from each situation.  There is one thing that has happened to me since the arrival of R though, it's almost as if a switch was flicked the moment he was born.  From the moment he arrived, 2 months early, the cries, screams and groans, the giggles, burps and constant babble, remind me that he is alive, in spite of the troubled early days.

The switch has also made the cries of other people's children a joy to hear.  They too are as precious to their parents as R is to me.  Also, rather selfishly, I'm not the one who has to calm them down and deal with the tuts and moans of complete strangers.  Don't get me wrong, I love the sound of silence at the end of the day once he's snuggled up in bed, but I'd hate to live in a world without his voice in it.

*with the help of those whose help we seek, our parents, friends and health professionals.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Two wheels, or not two wheels

R's 3rd birthday is fast approaching and my thoughts are full of birthday present ideas for him.  I keep coming back to a new mode of transport for his main present.  We got him a wooden trike for his 1st birthday and, although he still plays with it, it is now a little small for him.  He sees children on bikes and scooters every time we go to the park and I can sense a tinge of jealousy from him.  I think it's the speed and freedom that he longs for.  Who doesn't love the wind whistling through their hair as you free wheel downhill at break-neck speed?

I remember my first real bike.  It was red and had solid rubber tyres that were always picking up gravel.  It also had badly positioned stabilisers which meant that I was always listing to port or starboard whilst furiously peddling up and down the road outside our house.  I was 3 at the time, I can't remember if the bike was a birthday or Christmas present, but if I had a bike at 3 why shouldn't he?

Well it's not that simple.  Back when I was 3 there wasn't really much choice.  It was bike or no bike once I had graduated from the push-along police car, which constantly took chunks out of my shins.  Now though there are bikes, balance bikes and the ubiquitous scooter.  So what is it to be?  No matter what I choose one thing is guaranteed, I will end up, like most parents, lugging the thing around once R is bored of it.  That thought may well be the deal clincher.

*** UP DATE ***

R's birthday has come and gone and of course I made my mind up and got him a present.  One which had his eyes on stalks as he wandered still half asleep into the living room, where it stood on display covered in ribbon.  In the end it was R who made my mind up for me.  I chose a scooter for his new mode of transport.

I pick R up from nursery every day.  More often than not the children are all outside playing when I get there.  The nursery has a nice outdoor play area with slides, climbing frame, sandpit, everything you could hope for.  There is also a road painted onto the playground.  Regardless of what R has been doing in the moments before I arrive, there are two things that inevitably happen.  First I get a hug.  This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the highlight of every day.  Second, R runs off, grabs a scooter and races around the street circuit.

The joy on his face as he shows off how fast he can go is contagious.  I couldn't get him anything else for his birthday.  The clincher was when I found a non gender specific black and green scooter which can convert from 4 to 2 wheels as his confidence grows.  We have done the sensible thing and bought him a helmet as well, although why they are kept in the narrowest and busiest isle in Toys R Us* is beyond me.

Next up is Christmas and I guess a bike will be on the list, I hope Santa has plenty of room on his sleigh this year!

*Other helmet shops are available.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

A couple of days in the sun.

It dawned on us recently that we hadn't had a holiday, just the three of us, without it involving visiting other family members, since R was born.  We were never big on foreign holidays anyway.  A week abroad every couple of years was plenty for us.  City breaks were the norm.  Other than that, our only holidays away from visiting relatives, were usually tagged onto family visits.

One thing that we had really enjoyed was camping.  It started with our childhood family holidays to the New Forest or North Wales, moved onto festivals and back full circle to the Yorkshire Dales.  We had finally got our perfect tent (three man with an awning for our gear), two stoves, thermal sleeping mats, decent sleeping bags.  We hadn't gone mad, but we could cope from Spring into Autumn.  Then, of course, pregnancy occurred, R turned up, and camping was shelved. 

As well as the pressures of dealing with a premature baby we had the added self-inflicted pressure of living far from our families.  Granny lives in Edinburgh while Nanna lives in Windsor.  A 4 hour drive in either direction means that we can't just pop over for Sunday lunch.  Even a weekend trip seams a little daft so most of our annual leave entitlement involves either the M1 or A1 for hours at a time.

This weekend however we decided to make some time for ourselves and try to rekindle our love affair with camping.  Gone is the 3 man tent in favour of a family friendly 6 man tent, giving us space for more family members in the future.  The stoves have been augmented with a portable barbecue and our thermal sleeping mats have been replaced by a queen sized airbed as Z is demanding her creature comforts.  What could go wrong.

If you hadn't noticed, this weekend was the August Bank Holiday weekend and, in England, that means one thing and one thing only, rain.  I had checked the weather forecast in advance so this came to no real surprise.  We had taken an emergency "pop up" tent with us for R to shelter in while we shouted, swore and got soaked to the bone.  The combination of the torrential summer rain, coupled with a brand new tent that we hadn't erected before, made for an entertaining half an hour.  Of course, with the tent up, the rain eased off.  R quickly made himself comfortable, spread some toys into every corner of the tent and set about exploring the five meters of canvas that was to be our home for the next two nights.

The rain didn't stop until the middle of the night.  That didn't stop me from lighting the barbecue, nor did it stop us from finding the steep path down from the cliff to camp site to the beach.  We explored the ruins of the second world war pillboxes that had fallen from their elevated positions to become high tide homes for stranded sea creatures.  Z even found a fossil although I'm not sure what it's a fossil of.

The next morning we woke to discover a flaw in our bargain tent.  With the wind in the right direction rain was being blown under one of the ventilation windows and into R's bedroom.  Luckily he was sleeping at one side of the room so didn't wake up in a puddle.  The rain had at least stopped, but the clouds hung to the site like the barnacles which covered the pillboxes.  We made the decision to leave our tend and explore Filey, somewhere that I had been to a couple of times but neither Z or R had had the pleasure of.

We had made the right decision.  A ten minute drive later and we were in brilliant sunshine, paddling in the sea, building sandcastles and eating fish and chips.  The only down side to our day trip was that R had his first encounter with a wasp.  We were worried because his grandfather, Poppa John, is allergic to wasps but happily it looks like that particular gene hasn't been passed down the line.

Back at the site the weather had finally lifted.  Now that we could see past the end of our guy ropes R started to get brave.  Just how far away from the tent and from us could he get?  We were all happy as long as we could see each other, it was only when he rounded the side of a tent a couple of hundred meters away that I put my running practise in to use and shepherded him back where we could see him again.

Our second night passed without a hitch.  Putting R to bed and having to stay around the tent meant that we could spend plenty of quality time together.  We played cards, chatted and managed that rarest of things, an early night and eight hours of sleep.  The next morning we were woken by what passes for the dawn chorus on camp sites, families screaming at each other as one child complained that their sibling was in their part of the tent.  The mothers attempt to calm things down was even louder and more shrill than the original complaint.  I'm glad it wasn't us but it made for a reminder of things hopefully to come.

We packed up our tent and made our way home happy in the knowledge that we had survived our first family holiday.  We had also rekindled our love affair with pitching a tent and sleeping under canvas.  Best of all R had a great time.  In his words "I love camping." and with those words spinning around my head I'm already planning our next camping adventure.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Children's Menu - Sukhothai

Anybody who knows me probably knows that this is not my first attempt at blogging.  What you are reading is actually my fourth blog, but I have not started writing this one at the cost of the others.  My other blogs are all food related, so I guess it was only a matter of time before food reared its head here.  The thing with children is that they constantly want feeding!

At home R usually tucks into most things that we put in front of him, mood permitting, but we are not always at home.  We do venture over the doorstep and brave the big wide world and that is when trouble can start.  This summer we have been taking picnics with us when we have been venturing out, but every now and then a more substantial meal is called for and that is when we run into the Children's Menu.

As I mentioned, R likes his food, however there are a lot of Children's Menus out there that consist of burgers, bangers and mash, fish fingers, spag boll, chicken nuggets and not a lot else.  We're not food snobs* by a long shot and, apart from the chicken nuggets, we feed these types of meals to him at home.  The difference being, at home I can vouch for the quality of the produce, in a pub, cafe or restaurant I cannot.

Recently however, I was made aware that Leeds based Thai restaurant chain Sukhothai had a children's menu.  I was determined to give it a go as; a) I had never eaten in Sukhothai and had heard good things, and b) We had never given R Thai food.  He loves pasta and noodles so we thought we would be onto a winner and this week we got our chance to try it out.

As it was a midweek lunch time the restaurant, on South Parade, was quiet apart from a few suits.  The business people didn't look too happy about a buggy being pushed into their midst but the staff were happy to see us and got us seated very fast.  Speed is key when dealing with hungry toddlers so while R counted the butterflies on his menu we chose dishes from the Express Menu.

Complimentary prawn crackers kept us occupied until the main courses arrived, but when they did I started to wish I hadn't allowed him to eat so many of them.  His children's portion of Pad Broccoli with noodles was as big, if not bigger, than my Pad Kee Mao.  He was never going to finish all of it but he did give it a good go.  He even insisted on using chopsticks which completely blew me away as he'd never used them before.

Yes, that is a children's portion!

Even though he ate a lot there was still plenty on his plate by the time he'd finished.  Of course he still had room for ice cream and he wisely swapped the chopsticks for a spoon.  His two course meal was £4.95 which, given the portions, was superb value for money.  It was really healthy too, packed with fresh vegetables, even the ice cream came with fresh fruit.  Our meals were good too, so good in fact that I think we'll be going back for more.

If you are in town, or close to any of Sukhothai's 3 other restaurants with children in tow, you should give it a try.  For the record this is not a sponsored blog, I was not invited to eat at Sukhothai and I received no freebies.  I just had a really good lunch with my family.

*well we might be a bit snobby.

Thursday 25 July 2013

What's in a Name?

Baby names are always in the news and no more so than this week, with the naming of George Alexander Louis, His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge.  There was a lot of media speculation about what the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would call their bundle of joy.  There continues to be analysis of the name and people pontificating over their choice.

Celebrities like the Beckhams have followed a trend of famous people giving their children unusual names.  Recently, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian named their daughter North.  Quite nice until you realise that she will take her fathers Surname.  There were sections of my family who were not happy with the middle name that was given to my little brother.

It seems that all of us, from princes to paupers, are scrutinised by what we call our offspring.  It is the first thing, other than DNA, that we bestow on them.  We hadn't given much thought to what we were going to call our baby until the day he arrived.  In our defence, we thought that we still had two months to go before making the decision.  We had a girl's name in the bag but as we didn't know what gender our baby was we needed a boy's name too.

We spent the early part of labour going through the alphabet trying to find a name starting with each letter, that we both liked.  We skipped Q, X, Y and Z.  By the time he was born we had chosen a first and second name for our little man.  The following day, in my first act of fatherhood, I registered the birth and named our son.  I know that I could have waited but we didn't know at that point if he would survive the trauma of being born prematurely and we wanted him to have a name.

He did survive and, looking back at our short list of names, we definitely made the right choice.  He fits his name well.  But does it make that much difference?  Shakespeare's thoughts on the matter in Romeo and Juliet would suggest not.
Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
Does it really matter what we call our children?  As parents we love them unconditionally, no matter what they are called, even when they are royally winding us up.  There is their future well being to think about, but other than that, What's in a name?

Sunday 21 July 2013

The Long Weekend. Chapter3

Back in the days when I looked after R every Friday, we started to go swimming.  Due to the unique way the Council makes decisions, our local pool, South Leeds Sports Centre, closed down so I had to drive to Morley for our weekly splashing session.  This week the decision was taken to demolish South Leeds Sports Centre but you can read about that at South Leeds Life.

I'd arranged a play date for our swim and we decided to go to Armley Sports Centre.  R was giddy with excitement as we looked out his swimming trunks, swim nappy and water wings.  We chose an octopus to take with us and got in the car.  R was still bouncing as we picked up our dates and ran into the sports centre.

All was fine until we got into the changing room, that was when the spell was broken.  Suddenly R wanted to be anywhere but where we were and he certainly didn't want to go swimming.  In the two and a half years since he was born I have never seen him have such a tantrum.  Crying so hard he was almost fitting.  Backing away from me like I was about to eat him.  I managed to calm him down, soft gentle talking, making sure he was ok.  But when I suggested that he might like to have a swim it all kicked off again.  In the end we got dressed and our dates had a nice swim without us.

I was stunned to see R in this state.  I was upset too.  Firstly and selfishly, I wanted to go swimming and he had ruined my plan for the morning.  Secondly, I can still clearly remember the fun I had learning to swim with my dad, although I was a little older than R is now.  Thirdly, I don't want him to be traumatized by the idea of swimming.  I'll leave it a while before we try swimming again, perhaps it will be easier with mum in tow as well. 

Other than today's epic disaster this weekend has been great.  I do love spending so much time with my little boy and I think he like hanging around with me too.  Going back to work tomorrow morning will be a struggle but it wont be long until next weekend and more fun.