Big Up the Mums

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It’s Mothers’ Day (I’m never sure where the apostrophe should go – is it a day for all mothers or for my mother specifically? Given the context of the post I’m going with the plural) so I thought I’d give a shout out to the two mums in my life, the mum of me and the mum of my darling children. I’d like to have posted it earlier, but I’ve been too busy cooking them lunch, making tea, clearing up and changing shitty nappies.

So, first up, here are some things I want to tell my mum about how awesome she is (obviously not exhaustive, just some top of mind thoughts):

  1. My mum is fiercely independent, always worked and at times was the chief income earner. Even these days that’s fairly unusual, and it was more so then. Mum and dad were always a relationship of equals, a partnership, to the extent it’s a bit weird singling one or the other out in this way (but it is Mothers’ Day). Both worked,  shared housework and cooking and so on. Because of this, I have never questioned women’s ability to do anything men can do and much of it better (patriarchy has made a pig’s ear of the world really.)
  2. Mum is strong-willed and has a point of view on most things. I have inherited this. At times this is to both our detriment (more so for me as I have also inherited dad’s famous lack of tact) – but in general it has stood me in good stead, particularly being in a career where arguing a point of view convincingly is pretty central. Drunken debates over the dinner table are a family staple and there was never any question that any voice, regardless of age or gender, carried any more weight than another. From a young age I was taught to think for myself but also to hear others because there was no choice in our house but to do so. There’s a lot of talk about the need for strong female role models for girls, but it’s often forgotten that strong female role models matter to boys too. Good luck getting the last word in though.
  3. Mum tried to ban me from having toy guns (sensible), but when I kept just making them out of LEGO anyway she bought me one because me expressing myself and being happy was more important. But also, when I wanted a My Little Pony so I could play with my big sis, she bought me that too. I subsequently threw it in the bin when someone made fun of me and that made mum sad – but the point is, fuck society and be more like my mum – more My Little Ponies, fewer guns.
  4. Mum used to (sometimes) come and watch me play football in all sorts of weather even though (a) I was terrible and (b) I quite often only got on for 1o minutes at the end (as a result of (a)). Generally, she’d be the only mum amongst all the dads. She also didn’t force me into the family Manchester City tradition, which for most of my life I was very grateful, although, as it turns out, I’d probably have been better off in the long run if she had.
  5. Music. This is an area where mum and dad are definitely not equals, dad only likes Medieval Babes and military brass bands. But mum ensured a childhood soundtracked by the Beatles and the Joshua Tree (there was some Cliff too, but nobody’s perfect.) When I came of musical age, mum also learned to love Blur, the Stone Roses and even very shouty Nirvana to share them with me.
  6. Mum read something in the Guardian once that said if you don’t hug your boy often enough he might turn into a football hooligan. So she hugged me a lot. I didn’t always like it, but I’m not a football hooligan, so it obviously worked. And I like it now.
  7. In general, home was a caring place, a supportive place where I was encouraged to try stuff out, a place where I felt I could talk about problems and didn’t have to hide them. That is all too rare and isn’t easy achieve whilst still ensuring your kids grow up as reasonable citizens. Thanks mum (and dad, obvs, but it’s not your day.)

And now the mum of my children. Wow. There are so many things I admire about how you love and care for our little monkeys.

  1. You take The Boy out to do an activity every day sometimes twice in a day. Drama class, music shakers, willow tots, woodland play, stay and play etc. Some days, I know you are completely exhausted, but if he’s up for it, you go anyway. You only don’t go if he’s tired, fuck how tired you might be. This was impressive enough when it was just you and him, but now you have to carry The Girl around with you too. If I were in charge, I genuinely don’t think I could be arsed with this. There’d be a lot more CBeebies.
  2. All of the nighttime stuff  and all of the feeding with The Girl, as discussed here.
  3. You are so patient with the little man. He’s a pretty good one, but even a good one during the terrible twos is a bit of a nightmare. He drives me fucking insane sometimes at the weekends when he runs off, climbs on stuff, ignores everything you say and then just grins disarmingly at you when you try and tell him off. You have to deal with that shit all day every day, but you almost never shout and the dreaded time outs are still reserved for major offences. It’s remarkable. You’re remarkable.
  4. You have indulged all of The Boy’s creative urges. When that was endlessly writing out numbers and letters, you did it. When it’s making up stories about Flanimals or his breakfast cereal or the silver bars on the buggy and having to tell them when you’re walking past strangers on the street, you do it. When it’s acting out Room on the Broom and Stick Man in their entirety and being shouted at if there’s one word out of place, then you do it. These things are relentless and repetitive but they make him happy, so you do it.
  5. When I get home from work tired and grumpy (often) and your biggest desire is almost certainly to just throw the kids at me and sit and drink wine in a chair, you don’t. You ask me about my day (despite the answer pretty universally being “all right”) and then we divide and conquer/divide and struggle manfully against the tide until they’re both in bed. Then you drink wine – but usually with constant interruptions as per (2) and (6).
  6. The Girl loves you completely to the extent that a lot of the time, only you will do. This is obviously lovely, but must also be maddening. As mentioned above, there’s the sleepless nights, but also trying to do anything in the day when all she wants is her mum. When I try and help, all she wants is her mum. But you always put her first, ahead of your sleep, ahead of a tidy house, ahead of a hot dinner, ahead of all of it. Legend.
  7. Just like my mum and dad, I always feel like we’re a partnership, like we’re on the same side and that we have each other’s back.
  8. Our kids are awesome  – given they spend a lot more time with you than me, you deserve most of the credit for that.

So big up the mums, all the mums, but especially you two. I hope you had a good day, you deserve it.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dad and That Review Series #1: 64 Zoo Lane

02ZL_GENERIC2-Withlogo1In this new series, I intend to review some of my children’s favourite programmes. Mostly the boy’s favourites, because he’s bigger. The girl doesn’t really watch anything yet. What I am interested in is the oft ignored subtext which children, little idiots that they are, are not able discern. They think it’s all fun and games. It isn’t, there’s some weird and dark shit going on.

Up first is 64 Zoo Lane. On the surface this is the heartwarming tale of a young girl, Lucy, who lives next door to the zoo. Each evening, before she falls asleep she is helped down from the dormer window of her bedroom on the third storey of her terraced family home by Georgina, the “incredibly tall” giraffe. Every episode, Lucy has some bullshit whiny problem like what children always seem to have. The animals gang together to tell Lucy an allegorical tale that sorts it all out. Then, Georgina lifts Lucy back up, and puts her back to bed.

Lovely, right? WRONG. What’s going on here? At best, if we take it literally, there is a severe case of parental neglect taking place every evening. I mean, Lucy is in there with crocodiles and all sorts of shit. The theme song even points out that some of the animals are “scary” and yet she’s lifted out of her window into the pen every night and nobody fucking notices? Why isn’t somebody at 58 Zoo Lane noticing this shit and calling in the social?

Then, what the fuck is this zoo? The animals aren’t kept in separate enclosures. You’ve got lions in with monkeys and zebras. The houses either side aren’t fenced off at all. And, more to the point, what sort of fucking zoo is sandwiched in the space two terraced houses would normally be in on a residential street? Who is licensing this place? I mean look at the picture at the top there, the elephant has to sleep with its trunk and one ear over the side of the external wall it’s so fucking tiny. SHUT IT DOWN.

That’s the literal reading, which is bad enough. But consider this, every story the animals tell Lucy is set in the wild, in their natural habitat (I say natural, there’s a crocodile that’s friends with a duck and doesn’t eat the squeaky bastard, but still). They are reliving, or, if born in captivity, desperately imagining their freedom. A freedom now so cruelly denied them in their tiny hell hole of a zoo where they are removed entirely from the comfort of the climate for which they are evolved.

Does Lucy even exist or is she a powerful group delusion, conjured up by the animals of the zoo as a means of escape? A Mr Robot/Tyler Durden-esque character that has evolved still further in that she lives in the psychosis of all the animals, a convenient delusion that helps project their fragile psyches as they pace up and down their tiny communal cage. Happier times, wild and free. Times that perhaps never were and certainly never will be.

More likely, it’s Lucy’s delusion. How likely is it that this zoo would exist? In what world other than the freakish imagination of a child would there be scouse puffins? Lucy is deeply sad, trapped in her upstairs bedroom, lonely and isolated. Unloved. She can tackle smaller problems, like an untidy room, with the help of this unlikely band of imaginary animals and their cheerful tales. But the wider arc, the common thread in all their allegories, is the freedom, the escape, the reach for happier, more comfortable times. Almost certainly, this represents a time before a divorce or other traumatic event in Lucy’s young life, now out of reach.

It’s a multi-layered Lynchian tragedy. It’s all there, you just have to look.

Are some behaviours and mannerisms in our genes?

In this post, I intend to to finally lay to rest the nature versus nurture debate that has raged in the sciences for centuries. I have a degree in cultural studies and have spent my career observing people’s behaviours in order to help large corporations better manipulate them for profit, so I’m well qualified on the nurture side of the debate. I never went beyond GCSE Science (Double Award) because I don’t like things with real answers that you can’t blag, so I’m perhaps less well qualified on the whole nature and genetics thing, but I did get 2 A’s so there’s no doubting my aptitude.

For too long, science has overlooked anecdotal evidence as a basis for its findings, and in this post-truth world, it’s time to stop fucking about and just decide about these things based on nothing but our immediate experience. So here is my anecdote.

My grandfather was a shopkeeper, then later a butcher. The spoils of his shopkeeping and butchering included a large garden. After a hard day’s butchery or,  he would enjoy little more than a lengthy evening stroll around said garden. When he did so, he would invariably stroll with his hands loosely clasped behind his back. Not a unique thing to do by any means, but not typical of how most people walk.

Neither my father nor I have such a large garden in which to stroll, but when we are visiting historical sights or perhaps perusing the exhibits or installations of a good museum, we both do exactly the same thing. As we wander and take it all in, we clasp our hands loosely behind our backs. Not when we are just walking, it isn’t compatible with a walk at pace, only when ambling, reading, looking.

My son, sadly, never met his great-grandfather. When he has joined us on trips to museums, historical sights or other places where one might stroll and peruse, he has typically been in his buggy. I would be pushing said buggy, so he would have no opportunity to observe this particular mannerism on anything but the rarest occasions. He can’t have learned it he hasn’t seen it often enough. And yet, like all men of the lineage and unlike most others, he does it. Most particularly, when he is strolling and perusing.

Here he is in some gardens when he was visiting a second cousin recently, having a lovely stroll over to have a peruse of a fountain. Textbook hand clasping.

So, there we have it. Unequivocal evidence that mannerisms and behaviours are inherited not learnt. I will hear no more about it.

 

Breastfeeding, a dad’s perspective

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Breastfeeding is good, isn’t it? The WHO certainly think so. They say you should breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and continue doing so alongside other food until the child is two. Most people seem to see breastfeeding a two year old as basically being this. Which is a reflection of the fact that in Britain we’re pretty rubbish at it; at just 3 months, only 17% of women in Britain are breastfeeding exclusively. Lots of other countries do better, indeed, a recent study in the Lancet said the UK were the world’s worst breast feeders. The worst.

This creates a lot of pressure on women and breastfeeding, from what I can gather, is pretty bloody hard going and, for some women, basically impossible to maintain. This dynamic means that mum blogs are full of breastfeeding stories, challenges, advice and thoughts. But obviously dads are part of this breastfeeding dynamic too but less is said about that.

We are fortunate that both of ours have been pretty good feeders. Both have been exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months with some feeding after that. The first one, after a bit of a battle, also took a bottle, so I could help out more with some expressed milk. The second one got off to a bit more of a slow start finding her latch and that was hard because you assume you’ll know the craic with the second one. Just goes to show it’s the baby that has to get it right too and they’re all different. She won’t take a bottle at all, so I’m sort of helpless. She’s just started weaning and she’s getting there, so that will help, but she’s fairly slow out the block there compared to the Boy too.

So here are some random thoughts, good and bad, on breastfeeding from a male perspective. I emphasise a male perspective. I do not pretend that all men will agree.

Free!

People say kids are expensive, and over their lifetimes they certainly are (a quarter of a million fucking pounds!), but when they’re little babies, they don’t have to be. We got baby grows in the charity shop for 50p a go, they will literally sleep in a cardboard box and breastfeeding is completely, 100% free. Well, maybe not 100%, you might have to feed the other half an extra pie now and then to keep them going, but it’s still a bloody good deal. Formula is not free, it is expensive.

It is genuinely surprising how cheap they are when they’re small and breastfeeding. It doesn’t last long, but it’s good whilst it lasts.

Being unable to help

Men don’t have boobs. This creates a problem when you’re a proud feminist who believes in the equal division of parenting labour because stupid biology prevents you from helping.

Early on, even in best case scenarios there are sore nipples and latching difficulties. They’re knackered, they’ve just done the whole childbirth thing and the baby is hungry. You can’t help. We did NCT classes so I’d been to the strange lady’s house in Moseley and played with knitted boobs and that, so I sort of knew the theory and tried to remind of some of that, but there’s a very real danger of coming across as an interfering prick and just making things worse. It’s a minefield.

I’ve heard other dads say they feel a bit jealous about missing out on the bonding aspect of breastfeeding. I can sort of understand it, but that doesn’t really bother me, I’ll bond with them in my own way, but it can certainly be frustrating when they’re upset and you know a boob in the face is the only thing that will calm them. I DO NOT HAVE A BOOB FOR YOUR FACE SCREAMING BABY. Men like to fix things (or hamfistedly try to at least) screaming hungry baby we cannot fix.

It’s especially frustrating when you’re really trying to help and you’ve been all like, “yeah, don’t worry, I’ve got this, you go and have a rest/do something for yourself/get on with some jobs” and then half an hour later you’ve got to be like “Baaaaaaaabe, I think she’s hungry!”

The best you can do is stuff like get drinks and snacks when they’re feeding. Look, we know you wait until you’ve started feeding to say you need a drink because then we’ve got to get it for you. We know that you know we know. But, of course, we do it anyway because we can’t do anything else. The merry dance goes on.

But being able to sleep

As noted above, our darling little girl will not under any circumstances accept a bottle. This means I have an absolutely cast-iron excuse to just pat the missus on the back encouragingly and send her off to do the nighttime feeds whilst I roll over and go back to sleep. This leaves me conflicted. On the one hand, the missus is tired, exhausted even and at times genuinely exasperated. On the other hand, delicious delicious sleep and it’s not my fault I don’t have boobs.

The De-sexualisation of boobs

This is a difficult one to talk about without sounding like a raging misogynist which is probably why nobody ever really mentions it, but I think it does bear talking about. And it’s probably about more than boobs really, it’s about women’s bodies and post-natal sex lives in general. I shall tread as carefully as possible, but I can’t believe I’m the first guy to have thought about this.

Matter-of-factly, breasts are sexual objects. I’m not saying they should be, but they are. We are heavily conditioned (both men and women) to see them that way. This is largely a patriarchy thing (what isn’t?) but, of course, they’re also erogenous so it isn’t just that, there’s fun in boobs all round. For your entire adult life until babies arrive, fun sexy times is what we’re made to think breasts are for and what we use them for. They are adorned in expensive undergarments and pushed up and embellished to serve the voracious male gaze.

Then babies arrive and they’re not for that any more. They get bigger and fuller which we’re conditioned to see as of particular sexual attractiveness. BUT THEY’RE NOT FOR THAT ANY MORE. That is just fucking with our minds. I’m certain it’s even more weird when they’re actually your boobs, but, again, I don’t have any.

“Boo hoo, poor men. Women’s bodies are transformed in radical ways by childbirth and child rearing and all you can think about is that you don’t get to play with the big boobies” I hear you say. And you are right. But it should not be ignored that these changes also require partners to make an adjustment. It is by a million miles the easier adjustment of the two, but it is a very real one nonetheless.

To be clear, I’m not for a second saying this de-sexualisation is a bad thing, boobs are meant to be used for feeding babies, that’s why the exist. The real issue here is that they’re so heavily sexualised in the first place. If that weren’t the case and the male gaze were not such a dominant social force, then people would be less bothered about how sexy their post-baby boobs might be deemed and breastfeeding rates would probably be higher. But they are bothered and they’re not higher.

It gets everywhere

Breast milk is leaky as fuck. I find spots of it on the bathroom floor, on the bedroom floor, all over the show really. Typically, it will probably have been there for some time before either of us notice. When expressing and bottle feeding, it’s in the fridge, on the kitchen work surfaces etc. It doesn’t really matter, it’s natural, it’s sterile, it has all kinds of magic healing properties, so it’s probably good to have it about the place a bit.

But despite all of that rational stuff about how normal it is, if I get it on me at all I freak the fuck out. It’s so stupid, I drink cow’s milk all the time. This is human milk evolved specifically for human consumption, but that doesn’t matter, it just seems really gross. I know it shouldn’t and I know I’m probably not helping the encouraging breastfeeding cause, but ewwwww. Sorry.

But if it’s any consolation, formula is gross too, it smells really weird and the powder sticks to everything and gets all on your clothes. Hate that fucking stuff.

 

Dads, tell me about your breastfeeding feels. Am I some sort of freakshow for thinking about the stuff above or is it normal?

 

Parenting in an age of planetary crisis

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As a parent of young children, reading anything about the planet’s current direction of travel is at best depressing and at worst completely terrifying. We are far from the first generation of parents to have very real reasons to fear for the future of their children – imagine being the parent of a conscription aged boy in WW1, or facing the Cuban missile crisis and knowing one false step by either side would lead to mutually assured destruction. But these threats were all things that might happen. Climate change is definitely, unequivocally already happening, the only questions now are matters of degree. Particularly, are we going to do anything serious to prevent ecological collapse.

As this article suggests (and I warn you, it’s one of the more depressing and terrifying ones) a sort of perfect storm of interrelated and largely irreversible events are accelerating warming such that many of the targets set in worthy international agreements like the Paris accord are almost certain to be missed. Limiting global temperature increases to 2 degrees on current projections is a pipe dream.

Even 10 or 20 years ago climate change might be something you considered a minor threat to the lifestyles of your grandchildren, now it’s something that could change the world in our own lifetimes and will certainly be creating new challenges by the time our young children reach middle-age.

Here are some things that are already happening (I recommend ANOHNI’s 4Degrees as the perfect soundtrack to this section):

  • We are in the middle of a mass extinction event the likes of which has not been seen for many thousands of years. We have lost 50% of the world’s wildlife since just the 1970s. This is rarely talked about. Indeed, better qualified critics than I have noted that beautiful, celebratory nature documentaries like Planet Earth make us think everything’s fine and breed complacency. Nature is, indeed, still quite wonderful, but we’re killing it. Not we might kill it, we are at a rate of 2% of wildlife a year.
  • The Boy’s best friend is a cuddly monkey he has slept with pretty much since the day he was born. The Girl’s nursery is decorated with wall stickers of monkeys swinging from trees. Before they were born when we were carefree travellers of the world, we spent an amazing few days in Borneo with Orangutans and Proboscis monkeys. The fact that over half of primates are threatened with “impending extinction” feels, then, quite close to home and to the hearts of my children. Whatever your kids’ favourite exotic animals are, you can probably find equally upsetting trends. They may not get to see them up close in the wild as we did.
  • A huge antarctic ice shelf is on the brink of collapse. Ice shelves themselves don’t raise sea levels, but they do act as a buffer, insulating the glaciers that do and slowing their decline.
  • Permafrost, which covers 20% of the earth’s surface and stores huge amounts of carbon and methane, is melting. If warming continues at its current rates, large swathes across Siberia and Canada will thaw as soon as 2050. So a bit of warming creates much more warning in a fun cycle of impending doom. YAY!
  • There is debate about this, but some researchers suggest that if current rates of soil degradation from intensive farming go unchecked, there may be as few as 60 harvests left. So by the time our darling daughter reaches 60, it may be impossible to grow food. At all. At least in the way we do currently. That’s likely to cause the odd problem here and there.

I am far from an expert climate scientist, these are just a few of the low-lights I’ve come across that make fear for humanity and, by extension, my children. Without much work, I’m sure you could find many similarly terrifying nuggets that I’ve missed.

All this was already happening and already frightening the bejesus out of me and then, of course, the Americans went and elected a corrupt, insane raging egotist to the office of President. As well as being a racist misogynist who self-identifies as a sexual abuser, he is also a climate change denier. He claims it is a hoax made up by the Chinese. He has appointed the CEO of Exxon to be America’s most senior diplomat and therefore likely a protagonist in any future international climate negotiations. He has appointed a climate change denier who believes the Environmental Protection Agency should abolished to head up the Environmental Protection Agency. We’ll need the next generation to be bright and well informed, so the great news is that he’s appointed an education secretary who is demonstrably and idiot and has no experience either of attending, sending children to or administering public education. She makes Michael Gove look like a leading expert in pedagogic theory and practice.

His actions so far have included removing all references to climate change from the White House website, banning the National Parks service from tweeting actual scientific facts about climate change (with only limited success), reviving the Keystone oil pipeline and telling the EPA to remove climate data from its website putting the fear of God into scientists who are frantically trying to save it. We’re like a couple of weeks into this shit.

I’m not even getting into his nonsense Muslim ban and the fact he’s got the nuclear codes here. I’m sticking to climate stuff, frankly I’m not sure I can deal with all of it at once.

But don’t forget, it’s not just the clusterfuck that is the current status quo in the United States of America that’s at issue. It’s likely that Brexit, our very own homegrown clusterfuck, is at best a small net negative where climate change is concerned as it makes negotiations more complicated. Many fear that, post-Brexit, when the Tories talk about deregulation and removal of red tape, one of the things they mean is stripping away environmental safeguards. Here’s Lord Snooty/Walter the Softy mashup tribute act Jacob Rees-Mogg declaring exactly this intent.

Sorry for bringing you down, but this stuff is sort of important. It isn’t ALL bad though. Some pretty awesome shit is also happening which may at least stay our execution:

This last point is an important one the context of a parenting blog. The relationship between population growth and climate change is unequivocal. If you’re worried about this stuff, how then can you possibly justify having children? Not just because of what you might expose them too, but because of the contribution they will make to the problem over their lifetime. That is certainly a legitimate argument but a defeatist one. I kind of feel like if you want the human race to overcome this challenge and prosper, you sort of need to keep providing the world with humans who are equipped to help deliver the possibility of a prosperous future.

All of which sort of brings me to the point of this post (quite a lot of preamble, wasn’t it?) When there is so much to despair about, where the best case scenario is a much more challenging and hostile world than we have grown up in and the worst case is widespread ecological collapse, what the actual fuck can you do as a parent to help?

Well, I’m not saying you need to go all Sarah Connor and take you kids into the desert to train them as paramilitaries so they can defend their water supply when the ecosystem collapses. This might be what our grandchildren have to do, but probably not us. What I am saying is there’s a need to ensure the generation that follows us is well placed to recognise the challenges they face and come up with solutions to deal with them. A good deal of that is that they’re sensible enough to elect leaders (or be leaders) who are in it for everyone and not themselves. What it boils down to, is ensuring they make the world better for everyone in some way, however small.

That all sounds quite hard. Actually, I don’t think it is. I think it just means doing the things any decent parent would probably do anyway. It’s just these things take on greater importance when living on a planet spiralling towards a genuine human crisis, one which most people are wilfully ignoring.

They will need to be curious about and interested in the world around them. Children are curious anyway, all we must do is encourage it. Do this by identifying and sharing their enthusiasms (even you don’t really, e.g. writing lists of numbers for hours). A wiser man than I once said “do not teach, enthuse” – give a child enthusiasm for a thing and they will learn all about it for themselves and that will be far more powerful than any directed or rote learning. Curiosity will lead to an interest in otherness and, by extension, empathy – with other people, with wildlife, with the world.

Encourage them to consume fun, interesting and challenging things. Reading is a big part of that, but it’s not the only part of that. Dancing shapes, Max the Glow Train and surprise eggs on YouTube have taught the Boy as much as the stories he loves to be read – just as television and film inform and challenge me as much as books or articles. The point is to encourage them to both find stuff out and stimulate their imagination – but also to challenge them and their thinking in a variety of ways. If this habit of consuming interesting stuff remains with them and remains fun as they grow older, they’re likely to be open minded and thoughtful.

The diversity of what they consume is important too, as discussed further below. We’ve managed to invent for ourselves some cosy echo-chambers, just being a voracious consumer of interesting stuff may no longer be enough, you may end up in a rabbit hole of bias and social confirmation.

To defend against this, they will need to be skeptical and critical of what they consume. Encouraging this is a bit of a pain in the arse as it will almost certainly mean they’re skeptical and critical of your perspectives and beliefs about things – but having those challenged is probably good for us too, even if it’s annoying. The toddler’s incessant and repeated “why” is an established trope with good reason. But it’s necessary and, I’m afraid, to be encouraged (unless they’re just doing it to be dicks which, let’s face it, is sometimes the case.)

It is a lack of skepticism and critical thought that allows plainly false claims like “we’ll give £350m a week to the NHS” and “we may be a group of corrupt billionaires but we’re definitely anti-establishment champions of the working class” to be effective. Encourage them to compare different sides of the same story, to empathise with different characters. Encourage them to ask how they know if something is true, to think about who is saying it and why. Encourage (and this is the hardest bit) them not to accept something just because a figure of authority has said it to be true. The absolute antithesis of “because I said so.”

An extension of this allowing and encouraging them to have their own point of view and to think about why they have it. Discuss things and get them to explain why they think or feel a certain way, how they came to it. Obviously, tell them if you disagree, but explain why. Teach them how thoughts are constructed, argued and counter-argued. Teach them to accept if they have been shown to be wrong (I am not good role model on this front) and to value other perspectives even if they are different from their own. Again, this sounds very grand, but really it just means talking to them, asking them what and why and how and trying your best to answer when they ask you the same (which they will do, constantly.)

Above all, encourage their creativity. Do not confuse this with encouraging them to be artistic (although there’s nothing wrong with doing that too.) Creativity isn’t being able to draw or act or sing. It’s about having ideas, regardless of medium of expression of those ideas. A new algorithm or chemical compound is just as creative as a new song or painting, we will need them all the way the planet is headed. Ideas (and by extension creativity) are able to flourish in environments where trying new things is encouraged and failure is not punished. Again, many assume this to be a denigration of competition or the will to succeed – not at all, it does not mean celebrating failure, but rather recognising it is an essential part of any creative process of discovery – not a good thing, but a necessary thing. Build an environment where trying new things is celebrated regardless of how that turns out.

The other mistake people make about ideas is that creative people pluck them from nowhere – that ever misleading light-bulb metaphor. They don’t. Ideas are rarely genuinely new, they are combinations of things that already exist – those that appear most radical or transformational tend to be combinations of more disparate disciplines (cf. Faris Yakob for more on this sort of thing.) This is something else you can help to nurture and encourage. Partly by doing all of the stuff I’ve already covered off further up (consuming diverse and interesting stuff, being skeptical, having a point of view etc.) but also by resisting Western education’s unerring focus on specialism. We need discipline specialists and experts, of course we do, but many of the great leaps forward come from those who span, subvert or cross established disciplines – expressly because they are able to bring together diverse existing ideas to create something new.

It’s clear that a gradual reduction in carbon output brokered in political deals isn’t going to be anywhere near drastic enough. Salvation will come from a generation of creative disrupters producing thousands of tiny revolutions in a wide range of disciplines all over the world. Our generation isn’t going to save the world, if anything, we’re making things worse. But if we get the parenting thing right, our kids between them just might.

 

PS. I know this is long and serious and that’s not going to be the normal vibe on here, but some things are just important, yeah? I’ll be back to swearing about the soft play and shit like that in due course.

 

 

Brown Cheese


When I were a lad I very much used to enjoy reeling off how my diverse heritage was shared out (I mean not that diverse, it’s all Northern European, but quite diverse within that.) “I am a quarter German, a quarter Scottish, a quarter Slovenian [or probably Yugoslavian at the time] an eighth English and an eighth Irish” I would annoyingly tell everyone. Well, my partner had a Norwegian grandparent, so for our babbies, that’s another one for them to add to add to the mix. Also, nationality-wise, she’s Welsh, but her heritage isn’t really Welsh, so I think it’s best for all concerned if we simply ignore that. 

Aside from an Edvard Munch print in our dining room, the only impact of this Norwegian culture on our lives is the occasional appearance of brown cheese in our fridge. If you are not familiar with brown cheese, my congratulations to you for it is truly, truly awful. Imagine getting some cheese and mixing it with caramel so that it both tastes really, weirdly sweet and also takes on a strange gluey texture that means it firmly bonds to your teeth and gums when you try and eat it (just don’t try is my advice.)

But the girlfriend loves it and now the Boy loves it too. I can only deduce that this is a genetic thing, a bit like that thing where lots of Chinese people haven’t got the right genes to properly digest dairy. I just can’t see how anyone who isn’t a bit Norwegian could possibly like it. 

Apparently, it’s absolutely imperative that you use the special cheese slicer thing pictured above to ensure very thin slices. I see two possible explanations for this, either: (a) if you slice it any thicker it will actually glue your teeth tightly shut and you will die a horrible death through starvation or (b) nobody really likes it so they only want really thin slices so they can tolerate it and continue to convince themselves and others that they do. 

The upshot of the Boy liking it is that I sometimes have to make him brown cheese on toast for tea. The true and deep love of father for son makes this  just manageable, but even where you are only preparing it, brown cheese’s odd texture and the strange way it melts on contact with even moderately warm toast does bring to mind all its very worst qualities making preparation a struggle. 

But this evening I got a special bonus treat on top of the uncomfortable prep. Whilst I was getting the darling boy ready for bed he did two fucking massive brown cheese burps right in my face. You know when they’re little babbies and you celebrate their burps? “Ooh, well done, lovely big burp”. Yeah, that’s long gone. It was rank. Worse than some shitty nappies. Brown cheese is weird and unpleasant enough at the best of times, but when it’s revisiting you having already journeyed halfway through a toddler’s digestive tract it is incomparably revolting. 

So, yeah, Norway, well done on your lovely fjords, helping to make my girlfriend and children what they are and all that, but I could really do without your mental, horrible cheese. 

Shit can get weird at the soft play

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People talk about soft play like it’s the seventh circle of hell. Probably, if you go at peak times at the weekend, it can be. I guess, particularly if you have multiple kids with you, you’re on your own and you actually like those kids and want to keep a bit of an eye on them because it’s hard to keep up with them on apparatus designed for small people. Further, and perhaps most importantly, other people’s children can be horrible. There are a lot of other people’s children there.

I went with the Boy today, off-peak, in term-time and left the Girl at home with a still ill but slowly recovering partner. So one child, quiet soft play, limited number of bigger children to cause him grief. And it was a delight. He can still only mainly do the under 5s corner, but last time we went a few months ago he couldn’t even really do much of that. So he had a lovely time going down the “big yellow spiral”, climbing “up really really high” and going really fast on a roundabout thing until he fell off and hit his face on a plastic Wendy house. Fair play to him though, he got straight back on.

That was all fine and wonderful, but some other things happened that I want to talk about because they were weird. They’ve got one of those ride on car things that you put a quid in and it goes back and forth a bit, you know, like at a supermarket. It’s a Peppa Pig one. Peppa and George are in the back and the kid sits in the front. A boy was in it. A boy apparently set free by his parents. He was probably about 4 and still had a dummy, which I was internally judgmental about to begin with. He was sitting in there pretending to drive, as they like to do. We waited for him to finish his turn. I used my best grown-up passive aggressive skills – “you’ll have to wait for this boy to finish his turn”. He didn’t finish his turn.

Instead, our Boy satisfied himself by going on this fucking strange buy awesome light-up disco horse for a bit. Even after that, it apparently still wasn’t his turn.

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So we gave up and headed off to do something else, then the boy followed me, tugged at my sleeve and asked me for some money to put in the Peppa Pig car. What the actual fuck. He’s still only little, of course, he doesn’t really know what’s what – but asking a random stranger for money seems pretty out there to me. Obviously I didn’t actually tell him to fuck off, but I gave him my best WTF face and told him that I didn’t have any money.

Later, back in the under 5s zone, I’d climbed up by the “big yellow spiral” (which, by the way, was not easy for a man of 6 feet 3 inches) to keep an eye on the Boy and Peppa Pig boy comes up to me and just gently strokes my head. HE STROKED MY FUCKING HEAD. Now I know from our own Boy that my relatively new closely-cropped hair is fuzzy and that this is both interesting and fun for small children, he probably just wanted to check that out. But I’m a big, strange man who he’s never met (I’m not counting the previous request for car finance as us being formally introduced.) I was nice, you sort of have to be, I asked him if it was fuzzy, he mumbled something through his dummy, I backed swiftly away.  Because WEIRD. And also, because being touched, let alone stroked, by a child stranger feels 100% wrong even when you know you’ve done nothing wrong.

None of this is the boy’s fault of course he obviously doesn’t know what’s inappropriate, awkward as fuck or even potentially dangerous. But no parent intervened on either occasion. I did not once see a parent with him who might point this shit out. It seemed he’d been left to roam entirely freely – and if you’re 4, why wouldn’t you ask a random grown-up to pay for your Peppa Pig ride if nobody’s there to tell you that shit isn’t appropriate?

And this is the thing with soft-play. Kids are knackering and they are relentless. Part of the appeal is that it’s a relatively safe space where parents can set them loose to have their own fun and do broadly as they please – which is an important thing for their development. I’m a big advocate of giving your kids freedom to make their own mistakes and learn from them. But, Jesus, some don’t even seem to cast a cursory glance in their children’s direction the whole time they’re there. The dicks. If you don’t see them making their own mistakes you can’t explain to them that what they’re doing doesn’t fly.

There’s a dance you have to do when your children are doing something wrong like snatching a toy or pushing another child. You tell them off in ear-shot of the other child’s parents (who already know it’s not really the child’s fault because they’re too small to understand), they tell you it’s fine (but you still feel like it’s really not fine and OH MY GOD THIS IS SO EMBARRASSING) and you go your separate ways. Nobody likes this dance, but it’s just part of the deal. But there are motherfuckers not doing the dance and that leads to children begging for money and stroking the heads of strange men and that is so much worse than the dance. Let’s dance.

In the end, we did get our turn on the Peppa Pig car, I even put £1 in. The Boy told me it was his favourite thing of the whole day so, that was worth 2 hours in the soft play and all that awkward shit then.