Week 27 – Mind wandering

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It’s week 27 of the pregnancy and minds are beginning to wander – for the both of us.

The phone call last night at 7 pm was unexpected.  I’d known she was working late in the office trying to get something done, and had the usual text to say she was leaving (about 15 minutes earlier).  However, phone calls on the way home aren’t regular and usually means there’s an expected shortage of food and she’s covering her bases.

Tonight’s phone call was different.  I could instantly identify the stress in her voice.  “Hi honey, it’s been a bad day,” were the words I heard.  The quivering voice told me it really was a bad day and it wasn’t just because of normal work stress.  “I just put a half tank of petrol (gas) in the car.”  Now this would normally not be a bad thing, except for the fact that said car is a diesel.  OUCH!  Today really is a bad day for poor preggers.

The mind has started to wander lately for my beautiful, mother-to-be.  I noticed little things at first.  Lunches left in the fridge, gravy seconds away from being poured on an iPad rather than her roast dinner, and the work pass hanging at its overnight  resting place (to be fair that one happened before, just now with a bit more frequency).  It’s a funny thing how the baby brain works, or rather more accurately,  fails to work.  It’s stranger still for me, as this lady is the most ace planner/organiser/project manager that I’ve ever met.  How can a baby cause so much havoc?

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Well, to be fair, my mind wanders too.  Yes, I don’t think that dads-to-be are immune to the baby brain either.  It’s not that I continually forget to do simple tasks that I’d normally be right on top of.  That isn’t the problem.  The problem with this man’s wandering mind is that I’m slowly starting to imagine a life with baby.  Week 27 has brought on the realisation that things are going to change massively in the next three months.

Now, I’m not sure if all men go through this stage.  I’m sure to some extent that every dad realises that their life is about to be flip turned upside down.  My realisation is stronger, I’d suggest, for the reason that I’ve been here all before (albeit 8 years ago now) and I fully understand exactly how vast the change is going to be.

So my mind has been wandering through the first few months of restless nights, diaper changes, sick on the clothes, and all around baby-being-dependent-on-our-every-moves that’s coming our way.  At times it’s a pleasant meander through all the expected joys.  At other times, it feels like a treacherous trek through the valley of the shadow of death!  OK, not that bad, but a bit daunting none the less.

If you see me walking down the street and I don’t say hello it’s because my mind is elsewhere.  It’s somewhere between my current life and the madness that is the first year of child rearing.  The joys of parenthood – we do it to ourselves!

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I Know it all

Knowing everything is easy when you’re a man, because you believe that to be the truth.  Thinking anything is half the battle…isn’t it?

I’m going to be a father again – for the third time.  This, of course, means that I’ve experience (first hand) exactly two other pregnancies.  Even with one alone, I’m sure I would have learned all there is to know, but two means I’ve sealed the deal.  There is not a thing I haven’t learned about pregnancy – so I’m prepared and ready to go, and there’s nothing else I need to learn.  About 48 hours ago, I had a slight change of heart.

As hard as it is to admit it, I’ve been wrong.  My living room is home to three books written for expectant mothers (with the odd page dedicated to us fathers-to-be).  It should be no surprise that these books are written with first-time parents in mind – you’ve all read them at one time or another.   When these books first showed up in the living room, I took some notice.  I discussed a few bits about them with my partner, who herself is going through this for the first time (and thus the library of baby books).   Being a supportive man, I took the obligatory glance at the books and showed my interest.  My status as expert was supported by this first glimpse at the contents.

Book #1 was written by a doctor who seems to disagree with my take on men being know-it-alls.  In fact, her presentation of topics at a pre-schooler’s level leads me to believe that she feels men are quite stupid creatures.  It was a  horribly written guide for first-time-fathers-to-be.  Although written in the 2010s, she pitched ideas as if we were still in the 1950s.   As an example, she suggested that “men should show interest in helping mothers by doing things like changing nappies.”  STOP RIGHT THERE.  It couldn’t believe my eyes.  I’ve seen more shitty nappies and cleaned a lot of shitty bums in the past ten years, but it certainly wasn’t because I was helping out mother.  It was because it was MY child’s bum, and it was shitty, and it needed changing – those things don’t discriminate between moms and dads.  The tone of this book remained the same (at least the pages I could bear to stomach) – treating men like the person designed soley for assisting.  I was half waiting for her to suggest that “Dad should babysit every once in a while so that mom can have a night off”…but I didn’t get that far in to the book.  I decided to retreat in to my man-shell and confirmed to my partner that the writer was an idiot, and I still did know all there was to know about being an expectant dad, especially if this book was anything to go by.

Well (and this is the I’m wrong part) I decided to pick up book number two the other night.  Book number two took a different approach.  This book was parent focused and contained contributions by parents.  Compiled by Mumsnet, it includes a mix of both personal accounts by parents and factual information about planning, pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.

I opened the book expecting the usual low-brow tone in sections for the fathers, but I was pleasantly surprised.  There were the cleverly edited humorous bits catering towards us men who might need a bit of it to ease us in to the touchy-feely subjects.  However, the majority of the pieces were heart-felt, first hand accounts of what men expected, how they felt about their experiences, and things they learned along the way.  I appreciated the honesty as it helped me realise that, even though I knew a lot of the technical bits, I had forgot about some of the feelings that were about to take place!

I had forgotten that as humans, we experience things in such different ways.  We can understand the developmental stages of the baby, we can plan cots and cribs and wallpaper and baby savings bonds.  Those things are the easy bits (that’s why I know all about them).  The hard things are the emotions that we’re about to go through – ones that we may have never experienced (especially you first-time moms).  We’re going to question ourselves whether or not we’re ready for it (or ready again).  Most importantly, we’re going to be parents to these little things that (despite our best efforts otherwise) really don’t come with a manual and can be bloody well difficult to look after.

I don’t know it all.  I realised that again the other day.  Luckily I decided to pick up that book the other day and was reminded, by the experiences of others, that there are still many things for me to learn.

Is Travelling to work hurting your kids?

Train commuters

It’s an unfortunate necessity that we have to make money in order to survive in life.  But how, where, and under what circumstances we make that money is something within our control.

As my kids are away on holiday with their mom, I’ve had a chance to do a few things that are a bit out of the ordinary for me. The other day took me in to London for a days work with a client.  This happens very infrequently, and as that day proved to me, that suits me just fine.

I live in a small town on the outskirts of London, and I’m lucky enough to work and live in the same town.  My daily commute consists of a brisk 5 minutes from home to work.  On the days I take my kids to school, this is a not so brisk (but still refreshing) 20 minute round trip from home-to-school-to-work.  I count myself lucky that my commute is so condensed – and I’m well aware this isn’t the average.

According to several sources on this subject, the average daily commute to work in the UK is 50 minutes.   That’s almost 2 hours a day where we have no choice but to be bottled up in a moving thing with little ability to do anything productive.  Of course, there are things that we can do like read a book, get some work done on a laptop, or (as I saw the mid-40s man do on my commute that day) play video games!  All in all, it’s a pretty dismal way to spend 2 hours a day.

It’s a really difficult reality that many of us face.  According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) the average salary in London is £34,473 as opposed to £22,044 for the UK as a whole.  Those in close proximity (but not actually in) London may see wages above the national average, but it’s still well below the salaries earned by those going in to the capital.

This puts big pressure on the choices that parents need to make.  As a really crude example, I’m aware that a train season ticket in to London from my local station is about £3,000.  All things being equal, this means that, even after paying for the train, I’d be about £8,000 better off to go in to London – actually this equates to about £5,440 in your pocket.

We’re speaking averages and generalisations here, but £5,440 in your pocket a year is a big chunk of change.  This is some serious money and serious considerations have to be made around choices to either take or abandon that type of money.

Here’s what an extra £5,440 can buy you in the UK:

  • 2.5 Holidays to Europe for a family of four.
  • 136 meals out at a local restaurant (I’d say £40 for a family of four is fair).
  • A Deposit on a decent 5 Door BMW Sporty looking thing (I’m not a car man).
  • 54 trips to Thorpe Park.
  • 4.5 months rent on a 3 bedroom house (at least in my part of the world).

OK, you get the point.  The money could be very useful to the average family.  I could go for that, and in fact, I’ve had some serious discussions with my partner about commuting in to London for work (in actuality, for me, a commute would take about 2.5 hours out of my day – and that sucks)!

However, the biggest discussion point for us as a family has been how much that commute costs?  I’m not talking about the price the train ticket, the petrol to the station, and the parking.  What interests me is how much of a toll the 2 hours of commuting costs the average parent emotionally, physically and psychologically?

During my most recent commuting experience I saw a group of tired, depressed, angry looking people.  There were no smiles, there was no human interaction, it looked like a train full of zombies.  Now, I have no idea if these people, once through their front door, were able to re-awaken in to the land of the living and be upbeat and excited about life, but I imagine this isn’t the case.  I imagine that the drain of the commute, and the resulting slumber extends in to the family home.  How does this translate to that commuter’s ability to parent?

From my experience, having the ability to be home with my children, sat at the dinner table by 5:30, with energy enough for a kick about at the park afterwards, is worth more than those extra few pounds the commute would bring.  No fancy holidays this year, but at least when I see my kids, I’m fresh and able to give them my best.

The decision is an easy for the moment – stay put, earn a bit less, live a bit more!

WEEK 22.5 – Buying stuff

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We’re somewhere in the middle of week 22 and 23.  How accurate can this really be?  My mind is boggled by the “really great” estimates that the ultra sounders (I forgot what they’re called) and the midwife comes up with.  We’re at 22.5 by my estimates, so that’s what I’m going with.

Babywise, there isn’t a lot going on.  It seems like a bit of a boring week when it comes to baby and mom websites as well.  Those talk about gaining weight, swelling fingers, one even suggests your feet will grow (moms not dads).  If all they can talk about during week 22 is that you’ll put on weight and get stretch marks, then you know they’re struggling for content.   It seems like there isn’t much to talk about all around – except there is some development stuff like the development of the pancreas.  The pancreas is important, but it’s not making headlines.

Here’s what I know is happening.  We’re looking for stuff for the baby.  True to my tag, we’re doing this on a budget.  The budget is self imposed (leave buying new stuff to the first time parents), but also imposed by severe lack of funds.  Call us crazy, but we’ve decided to buy a house during this process.  We move in to the house somewhere around week 33 – that shouldn’t be stressful!

I have to admit, I am not a shopper.  It absolutely kills me.  When it comes to buying things for me, it’s in, try on, fits right, to the till, out the door.  Luckily, buying on a budget means I don’t have to go in to a shop, because it’s simply too expensive.  Of course, we aren’t shopping traditionally, but we still have to shop.  Our shopping is done on the internet.  This consists of cruising local “for sale” and “pre-loved”(whoever came up with that idea is an idiot) sites and waiting for parents to decide to get rid of stuff as their kids get bigger and things no longer fit.  This natural growing process of kids is good for guys like me – second-hand cots go for cheap!

Week 22.5 isn’t all that exciting.  If my partner read this, I’d probably get a slap around the head.  I’m sure her experience of week 22.5 is a bit different!  But as a guy, there’s no baby in my tummy, so my contribution is helping pick out cots.  Wild times!

Do you set goals?

Goals

I’ve always set goals.  This has happened, generally, in two ways.  First it’s happened naturally, as I’ve decided what I want, or where I want to be, and then thought out the process to get there.  The process was in my head and I set out and got to where I wanted to be.   The second way is a bit more mechanical.  This form of goal setting consists of thinking about my goals, writing them down, breaking them down to the small achievable elements, and then being very disciplined about going through those steps to achieve the goal.

When I was younger, the natural goal selection and attainment came, well, a lot more naturally.  I guess it was because there was so much less clutter in my life.  Perhaps it was because, at that age, I didn’t have to convince myself so much that the goal was a good one, or achievable, or worth the work.  When you’re younger, you haven’t met with defeats and failures at those things you’ve set out to achieve, so that initial resistance to hold back just isn’t there.

When I was young, I was a go getter, and no one had to convince me to go out and get things that I wanted.  Wanting to achieve came naturally.

These days, some of my goals still happen naturally, but increasingly I find myself taking the more mechanical route.  It doesn’t bother me though, because when I know what I want, I just have to work a bit more consciously to get there.

I’m battling with this at the moment when it comes to my children.  As an adult, I can see the value of setting goals.  I can see the worth of setting out and achieving the things that you want.  I can see that the mechanical way works for me (now).  As an adult, I want to help my kids be better, and live a happy life.  My adult brain wants to introduce them to setting goals.

I’m a dad and sometimes I make the mistake of trying interfere too much!

(As a side note, I am not saying that I want to tell my kids what their goals should be.  Their dreams and what they want to achieve are their own domain.  I’m not pushing anyone to become a pro football player – unless that is their dream.  The actual goal doesn’t concern me, it’s how they go about achieving the goals that I’m talking about.)

At the moment here’s what I am doing.  When my kids start to talk about things they want to do, I get excited about it for them – I get interested, I ask questions, and I let them tell me all about it.  Kids like to talk and be listened to (don’t we all)!  There’s value in talking things out loud and telling others what you want to do.  Responding to your children in a positive way when they talk about their dreams must help them believe they are achievable.

Does anyone out there have experiences around goal setting with children?  Are there resources you’ve seen, or research that shows the importance of helping your children set goals?  More importantly, does the research or resources show the best way to approach goal-setting with children?

I’m really interested in how other parents feel about this topic.

Let your kids climb – don’t worry so much!

The science now confirms it.  Kids should Climb Trees.

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This is something that I thought was universally understood, but as a father, I’ve seen those around me terrified by the thought of letting their kids climb.  When I started to meet other parents in playgrounds, fields, nature reserves, I was always surprised how protective they were.

Of course, I’m also worried that my kids might fall and hurt themselves.  That’s always in the back of my mind, but protecting them too much is hurting them as well.  At least this study proves that there’s even more value to letting them climb.

Get out there, find some trees, they’re pretty much everywhere!

Sometimes wetting the bed is funny!

Fire pit

We were sat in front of this the other night.  We didn’t camp on our holiday because the weather wasn’t cooperating and I spared my pregnant partner from the pain of sleeping in a cold tent.

On our return home, the weather improved, so we lit a fire in our back yard and roasted marshmallows.  At one point my son kept prodding the fire with a stick.  As all good fathers know, playing with fire leads to bed wetting (or so the legend goes).

I looked him in the eye and said, “Stop playing with the fire or you’ll wet the bed tonight.”

A good two minutes passed, no further fire prodding took place.   I could see there was a lot of thinking going on in his head.  He eventually broke his silence and asked in the most serious voice I’ve ever heard from him.

” So dad, do you definitely pee the bed if you’ve been playing with the fire?”

I almost fell off my chair.

Kids are great, and sometimes the subject of wetting the bed can make you laugh.

Week 21 – Stuck in the middle

I wasn’t sure how to bring this in to the blog, but it’s going to come out sooner or later.  Not only am I a dad to two great kids, I’m going to be a dad again.  We’re in week 21 now and things seem to be going along quite well.

It’s kind of like being stuck in the middle at the moment.  That initial rush of excitement has come, the scary moments of those first few weeks has passed, the scans show a healthy baby, and now we sit and wait.  Of course, some cool things are happening as well.  Last night I had my hand kicked and punched for a good ten minutes (by baby, not by mom – hormones are stable).  The baby is becoming really active, and that’s exciting.

I expect no one’s sympathy, but it’s hard for dads to really get in to this baby thing at the start.  Thankfully we don’t get all of the not so great side effects of morning sickness, sleepless nights, and hormone changes.  But likewise, we don’t have little babies growing inside us.  We don’t have the most extreme bond that two human beings could ever have – that’s reserved solely for the mothers out there.  I’m not sure how other men feel about this, but it’s something it makes me a bit jealous.

Now that baby is really moving around in there, for me at least, the connection has really started to fire up.  Those kicks are the first touch I’ve felt from my baby.  That’s exciting!

Week 21 is a bit stuck in the middle, but it’s pretty good for us dads because we get the first feel of our babies (albeit through a beautiful bump)!

Hey dads out there, do you feel the same way?

A free event saved the day!

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I’ve lived in good climate and it bores the hell out of me.  I like weather rather than climate.

John Steinbeck

It wasn’t the most idyllic seaside day, but when you live in England you have to take them as they come.  A cool, cloudy, sometimes rainy day found us on the beach in Bournemouth.  This is our summer holiday, and come rain or shine, we were going to make it to the beach and have some time in the ocean (sea for Brits).

On the run up to our holiday I’d been constantly checking the weather.  I was becoming borderline obsessed with it.  At the start, I was checking the BBC weather site two or three times a day.  Weather forecast – DREADFUL.  I moved to stage two of my madness and began to check OTHER weather providers.  I would hit the BBC site, move on to the Met office site, and sometimes see what my phone’s widget would tell me.  I held out hope, like a complete idiot, that something was going to change.  Those black clouds with two big blue rain drops would part and glorious sun would shine through.  If anything, the more I looked at the weather, the more I realised that nothing would change (and I was acting like a fool checking it) – we were in for a week of standard-summer-Englishlike weather.  I moved on.

Determined not to let the weather master us, but for us to be it’s master (or at least put up with it or something like that), we searched for things to do.  I found this decent site on things to do in Bournemouth (I’ve used it a few times before) and had a search around.  I scoured the site for anything that kids could do, that didn’t cost the earth.  To be honest, it’s a bit difficult to find much to do in Dorset that doesn’t cater to, let’s say, the older generations (I mean no offence by the way – simply an observation).

But low and behold, with some searching, I found this –Swim Safe.  This is an event put on by the RNLI, where local lifeguards teach children how to swim safely in the ocean – and it’s completely free.  It happens to be running most of the summer holidays, so with a need to get down to the beach, I signed the kids up and locked in a day to be there – come rain or shine.

We got down to the beach on the blustery Tuesday morning and found the registration zone.  From the off we were greeted by extremely friendly lifeguards who shepherded the kids in to the suit up area, helped them get west suits on, then whisked them away for a 45 minute chat and swim.  The kids looked a bit timid at first, but it didn’t take long for them to get caught up in the action and start enjoying themselves.  We sat and watched (huddling for warmth) as the kids swam in the ocean and let the waves crash over them.

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It made me remember back to younger days when the weather didn’t affect me either.  It mattered not what was going on around you, all you wanted to do was flap around in the water and have some fun.  Kids have that magical quality of allowing you to remember back to when you were their age and life was carefree!

Alas, the event was over and we thanked the lifeguards profusely for doing such a great job.  They took it in their stride as they sincerely enjoyed what they were doing.  My hats off to them for being so good with the kids.  If you are a parent spending any time around the seaside where they are holding one of these events, I highly recommend you sign up and take your kids along.

Well, the weather improved throughout the day, and after fearing the kids would make a break for the hot showers and want to leave, I was pleasantly surprised when they insisted they go back in the water.  We spent the entire afternoon relaxing on the beach while the kids made new friends and swam to their heart’s content.  By the way, the sun eventually made an appearance, so the parents were happy too!

My lessons learned:

  1. There are good things out there if we have a look around.
  2. Summer weather in England is unpredictable at best.
  3. Don’t let the weather get in your way, kids are resilient and they don’t have a weather app on their phone (they actually don’t have a phone!).
  4. There are good people out there that are great role models for kids!  The RNLI Lifeguards are among them.

As I write this I notice that the sun is peeking through the clouds on this beautiful Dorset summer’s morning.  The kids are stirring out of their beds and the next adventure awaits.

The holiday budget’s a whopper!

The first step to teaching your kids how to handle money is being a good example.

Dave Ramsey

I showed my son the budget for our holiday last night.  He was impressed that we had so much money to spend.  Here it is – we have £287 (that’s about $450).  That is not a huge amount of money in England (and you’ll know it’s peanuts in North America)!  The adults know that we are on a tight budget, the kids think we’re rich.

I had a bit of a giggle about this, and I sat and wondered how best to let my son understand what this all means.  I’m sure you can sympathise with me here.  How often do we do anything with our kids and have the constant questions like “Can I get one of those?” or “Can we go to that place?” and my favourite “Can we buy just that one small toy?”.  I get it all the time, and my go to answer has been, “Well not at the moment but we can sit down and think about it?”

THINK ABOUT IT!  Well that’s easy for me because I know my budget, and I know how much money that I have set aside at any given time.  For my kids, thinking about buying things and spending money means almost zero to them because it’s such a foreign and abstract concept.

For the majority of children out there, understanding money is really difficult.  Why is that?  I think it’s because we just don’t talk to our kids about money often enough.  Especially in this world when we use direct debits and bank cards to make payments, they just don’t get a good idea of how money works.  When I don’t have money to buy something, my daughter often points out to me that “Dad, just use your bank card.”

Is it wrong to show your kids the budget?  I think it’s the completely correct thing to do.  Now I’m not saying that I’m going to sit my kids down and go through a line-by-line statement of every single thing coming in a going out in a month.  I’m not proposing to show them how we’re going to make sure we’re still in the black at the end of the month.  That’s my job.  However, every once in a while, showing them how much money we have for, say, our pending trip, and then showing them how much things are going to cost on that trip is a good thing.  I could already see my son (9 years old) mulling over some of the choices we are making for the trip.

Do any of you out there have any great ways of teaching your kids about money?

Do you think that teaching them money skills now will help them become better adults?

I think it will.  I’m really interested to see if demands for everything on the shelf decreases because they know that we aren’t drawing money from a bottomless pit!  It’s always good to have hope…