Learning To Be Dad

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fort Nelson - Halloween Horror!

I just want to give a shout out to the excellent Royal Armouries site at Fort Nelson in Portsmouth. We went there yesterday with Seb for their brilliant "Halloween Horror - Curse of the Dragon's Tooth" adventure. It was only £2 each to get in (normal entrance is free).

From their own site:

Enjoy a children's Halloween adventure in the tunnels of Fort Nelson, where you will meet witches, black knights and even a huge dragon! The tunnels will be filled with sticky cobwebs, strange lights and spooky noises as you make your way underground on an adventure you'll never forget! A £2 charge per person applies.

It really was a great day out. The weather as usual was rubbish, but I have to say it did add to the "effect". If you visit Portsmouth, and want a great day out, I always recommend Fort Nelson. Now I'm looking forward to the "Gunpowder, Treason & Plot" event going in November!

Fort Nelson History
Fort Nelson - What's On

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

The gogglemonster with the size 8 shoes

Since Seb was tiny, we let him watch TV. Not a lot, but it was a good break to put him in his bouncer and let him CBeebies (a UK BBC Channel aimed at pre-schoolers). He enjoyed it, and we enjoyed the break.

As Seb got older, he actually tended to watch less and less TV. He was so busy with his other activities (most of them outside of the house), that he just didn’t have time to spend hours in front of the TV. In fact, such was his relatively limited access to TV, that he’s inherited my wife’s habit of having it on the background whilst he does other things (draws, play etc).

There were certain shows that he loved to watch. Early on there was Teletubbies, and Brumm (a car with a mind of it’s own). Later came Rubadubbers, Bob The Builder, Dora the Explorer and Harry and his Bucketful of Dinosaurs.

What none of this programmes provided was a schedule which fitted with Seb’s schedule. You were either in when they were on, or you missed them.

An example of this was bedtime. For nearly two years, Seb’s bedtime wind-down began at 7pm, aiming for a 7:30pm “in-bed-asleep”. At 7pm, we would sit down with his nightly milk, and watch Little Bear. This was a calming show, about a bear and his friends. It was the ideal show to help Seb calm down before bedtime. After it finished at 7:15pm we’d go upstairs, to read the nightly story and then song and sleep.

However, if for any reason (out visiting friends, finished play), we started later, Little Bear was gone. Which meant our calm down show went to.

Now, this wasn’t the nightmare I portray. Seb’s very easy to calm down and get ready for bed. It’s not like we needed the show. But it was nice to have continuity there for Seb’s routine.

Then I bought the only piece of technology that my wife’s accepted into our house with open arms. We’ve subscripted for over 6 years to Sky TV (a UK Satellite provider). New on the block was a Sky+ box. For all you with Tivo/home-brew PVR, you’ll recognise this. It’s the same Sky box, but with a hard disk for recording, and two tuners, so you can watch and record different channels at the same time.

All of a sudden the TV fitted around Sebs schedule. My wife went through and put all Sebs favourite shows onto record, together with a series link, meaning the box would automatically record all episodes of the show it detected. Before long we had a fantastic library of all Sebs favourite shows, ready to play the drop of a hat.

Right from the start, if Seb needed to go at bed after 7:30pm, we still had a Little Bear show to watch. If he had a spare 15 minutes after play Alex could pull up an episode of Bob the Builder.

We now have control over what Seb watches. We still let him watch live TV when appropriate, but it’s a much more structured activity. We’re no longer at the mercy of TV schedulers.
I realise that not everyone has the ability to get or afford Sky+. This is a special piece of kit that costs a lot to run (currently, with our subscriptions it costs us £39+ per month). However, there are other steps you can take.

Firstly don’t think about VHS. The kids just don’t have the patience for it. Fast-forward, rewind etc. And recording can be a nightmare.

Instead, if you can’t afford Sky+ there are two other options in the UK.

1. Freeview box PVR. There are now Freeview (a free over-the-air digital service due to replace analogue TV in the UK) boxes available that contain a hard disk. These can be had for approximately £150-£200, but with the added bonus of no monthly subscription. In the UK, this would get the BBC CBeebies channel, giving you enough programming to keep the little ones happy.
2. DVD Recorder. These have just crashed in price in the last year. Originally these cost over £500, but we just picked on up for archiving purposes from Tesco’s for £79! Less than £80 to record any show to DVD. It’s brilliant, and includes on-screen scheduling. It wouldn’t take you long to create a DVD with all the favourite shows.

I really recommend investing in one of these options. It’s better than having to feed the goggle monster with size 8 shoes, affixed to the couch any old rubbish.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Crayons in the photocopier – Going to work with Dad

Seb talks about it all the time. He always asks when we’re going back. He’s really worried that he might be “doing” something else that day, and miss it.

He’s talking about going to work with Dad. Now, to be fair I do work for a very cool entertainment company (at least from a 4 year olds point of view), so my workplace is fairly kid friendly. He gets to play with toys, go the cinema (yes, we have our own cinema) and they throw a wonderful party for the kids at Christmas (all 3000 of them).

But most of all, Seb loves my desk. It has my computer, pens, books and black chair. That’s it. And as far as Seb’s concerned, it’s the best place in the whole building, because he can pretend to work with Dad.

I don’t think I can overstate the enjoyment he gets from just sitting in my chair with a pen and a block of post-it notes, scribbling instructions, or taking food orders (another favourite game). Maybe we’ll call mum to check in. He checks my email, and we pull-up the BBC website for him to play a few games. It’s all part of his “job”.

For me, going to work with Seb is wonderful. Because I work in London, we get to take a train ride and two tube rides to get there. This in it’s self is an adventure. Getting to work tends to be half the fun. As it’s so far away, he tends to come in when I’ve taken the day off, and we’ll go on somewhere afterwards (the London Science Museum is recommended).

Sharing something you do every day with your child is the strongest way to strengthen the bond between you. As a working father it’s quite possible that you’ll only see your child at the weekend. By bringing them into your environment, you help them understand you. You have a common ground you can talk about. Seb is always mentioning things about going work that I hadn’t even realised he’d noticed (lifts, café, work colleges).

Now, I know I’ve written this from a white-collar office point of view, but if you’re a manual worker, is there anything you can do to bring your kid into your environment. Work in a warehouse? Simply bring them and let them look around. I’m sure the scale of the place will amaze them. Remember, to them, anything about 5 foot doesn’t normally exist. Work on a building site? Try and show them the site regularly, even if it’s only for five minutes. Let them see and understand the building process.

Equally you may work in an environment that frowns upon kids. They see them as disruptive. Ignoring how short-sighted this is, there are ways around it. Buy them a suit. I know, it sounds stupid. But you can buy a child’s three-piece suit for less than £40. Put them in the suit, explain that this is a special day, and that best behaviour is needed. They’ll feel like a million dollars, and everyone in the office will think they’re the best thing since the client’s last payment, and make a fuss.

It only takes less than an hour in work for Seb to have had enough. That’s his limit. But by then, he’ll feel that he’s really worked with Dad.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Never underestimate the ability of an 18 month year old trying to make a quick getaway

What can a 18-monther do?

  • Sleep
  • Eat solids
  • Walk
  • Start to talk – “no”, “mum”, “dad”, “yummy”, “laptop” (don’t ask)
  • Point
  • Change the channel on the satellite
  • Control and direct an electric quad bike with the skill and acumen of a 30 year veteran

Now, I’m quite happy to assume that the last one wouldn’t have normally made it onto your list. I’m quite sure that the thought of your 18-month old hurtling off across a playing field on a quad bike is not your idea of safe afternoon fun.

Of course, you reckon without the influence of grandparents. I can see them in the shop now.

Granddad: “Seb needs a bike.”
Grandma: “But he can’t ride yet.”
Granddad: “So we can him on with 4 wheel”
Grandma: “He’s not strong enough to cycle a go-kart.”
Granddad: “It’s OK, we’ll get one with an engine”
Grandma: “Oh alright. I’ll pay”

So, an electric quad arrives. Red, with Spiderman logo’s all over it. Plainly to Seb, this was the single most amazing (not to say largest) machine he’d ever been near, let alone on. Grandad had of course charged it up before bringing it round, so it was ready to go.

So, I’m looking at this thing. A 12v electric motor on something that weight less than what I had for lunch. A binary accelerator (on/off) at foot level, and no breaks. Seb’s going to die.

Some common sense had arrived, in the form of a helmet and pads for knees and elbows. When kitted out, Seb did look like a very small Michelin man. So of to the park. I was under the assumption that we would carry the quad there and then let him get on it. Nope, Grandad wanted him to try now.

So Seb jumped on, with help, and held onto the handle bars. Grandad was explaining the foot accelerator. I think he got as far as “This is where you put your foot…” before Seb shot off. I mean he was gone. As he comes to a bend we’re all shouting “Lift your foot up!”.

He simply turned the handle bars and sailed around the corner. And then stopped. Looking over his shoulder, and grinning at us, it would appear that he’d finally found something he could really do.

It was truly amazing to watch. He understood turning, stopping, when to accelerate. He’d still get into trouble if he didn’t concentrate. A glance over the shoulder would result in a meeting with the hedge. But overwhelmingly, he knew what to do.

And the reason for me writing this story, is so that I never underestimate him again.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Golf? Never to early

You never know, I mean never, what your kids are going to be into. Not to embarrass Seb but he has tap lessons, and goes to my wife’s rhythmic gymnastic lessons (she coaches). He’s surrounded by women all the time, and he loves it. He joins in enthusiastically and really enjoys it all. Plus he’s really good at it too!

Equally he likes nothing better than chasing his Grandfather around the house (he stay’s with them one a week), shouting “Aarrggg!” and trying gouge out eyes with Pirate swords. His rendition of “Eye Eye Captain” when visiting HMS Warrior in Portsmouth’s Dockyard is perfect.
So, when I see something that I think he may like, I usually try it just to see. It’s kind of like the scatter gun approach to child development. Do everything, see what sticks.

The best example came around 18 months ago, just before Seb was turning 3. We’d gone shopping, and my father-in-law and myself were wandering around JJB Sports. They were having a sale and we were just killing time until we met up with the girls and Seb.

Walking amongst the sporting equipment, I came across the golf section. Taking out a driver, I gave it some test swings. I’ve never played much golf, but when I did, I enjoyed it, and I am blessed with some natural talent (you’d need a theodalite and GPS equipment to detect it but it’s there).

As I was trying out a 3 Wood, my eyes fell on the discounted section on the end. Amongst all the normal clubs was a single, tiny 3 Iron. It was tiny. It barely came up to my knee. Which meant it would be perfect for Seb.

I believe I paid about £9 for the club, a club for myself and a set of six luminous yellow golf balls. A small outlay to be set up for game of golf!

Hiding the club well, we met up with girls. The sight on Seb’s face when he saw his own club was a picture. He couldn’t believe that he had a club, just like Dad’s.

We went down the park that afternoon when it was quite. I showed him a couple of shots, and then left him to hack away at the grass with the club. His strike rate of ball against grass was about 6%, but when he did hit it, he was so excited. I just wandered around knocking my own golf ball around.

Near the end, just before we went home, Seb caught the ball just right. It sailed through the air, and hit the football wall, dropping to the ground. I made such a fuss of him.
After that, we played golf pretty regularly until the weather worsened. Even know, he still asks if we can go golfing. He says “We haven’t been in ages”. It’s obviously struck something in him.

Which is why I feel so strongly that you should always try and expose your child to as many positive experiences as possible.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fatherhood: A Definition


Let’s see, what do the text books say about the experience? “Life-changing”, “Exhilarating” “Frustrating”, “Joyful". All very true, but they could equally apply to join a cult, or maybe learning to fly a microlight. They don’t really define what being a parent, and specifically a father in my case, is.

Just having reached my 30th birthday (just be to be clear, this was an obstacle, not an event), it occurred to me that I’d never thought about what it was like to be a dad. I’d been nagging the wife (oh, the irony) to start a blog about parenting, covering areas like games, crafts etc. She does the most important job that any parent can do, which is bringing up our son full time. Over the last 4 years she’s gained an enormous amount of experience, and I really wanted her to share it.

Then one night on the train back from work, I sat down at the keyboard, and start to list all the titles of stories that she could write. Within about five minutes I’d got a list of about 20 stories, all of which I could write. These were experiences I’d had as father. So I thought that maybe I should start the blog instead.

My son, Sebastian (Seb) is, as I write this, 4.3 years old. We made it through the first 6 months (nightmare, no sleep, colic), through the frustration of not being able to communicate, through the solid food migration and through the separation of school. Now my wife and I have a precocious, funny, crafty, sneaky but ultimately fantastic little boy, whom I love more than anything in the world (this deserve an article all to itself).

He has his days. He has mood swings to rival Naomi Campbell, and the craftiness of a fox who, to plagiarise, has just been made Professor of Cunning at Oxford University. Regardless of that, he has the bright eyed optimism of someone who truly believes that the world is the best there is, and that’s its pretty damn good. If you’ve never been woken up by a 3 year old at 1pm asking if it’s time to go play golf down the park yet, you honestly don’t know what you’re missing.

So, about the blog. I think it will be aimed mainly at fathers. I think it will cover all aspects of parenting. It will probably cover things that are universal in nature, although with a UK focus. It will probably be updated as often as possible. It wouldn’t cover movies like Dodgeball or anything by Adam Sandler. In about 6 months, it’s quite possible that it wouldn't look anything like the above list. The joys of unscripted blogs are wonderful.

So, fatherhood. To me it means being more than earning the money, more than being there to help the child learn his ABC’s. It’s about understanding them, acknowledging them as a valid, strong human being, and most of all, learning to be their friend.

I hope you come along for the ride. I’ll make it as interesting as I can.