Sunday, 12 March 2017

Fame, Old Nan, Music and Peppa Pig

Oscar and Isabel, being cute in Gruffalo outfits.
I’m back, after a long time away. However, I’m not going to get all apologetic for the lack of activity, as frankly I already did that in the last post.

The reason for the absence? Work. The shortest possible summary is that my little bit of freelancing on the side has become a fully blown ‘thing’, which means we have a little bit of extra money which we otherwise wouldn’t have had.

However, this means I’m often slouched in front of our ancient laptop doing work at occasionally ungodly hours after a day with the kids. Once I’m done, the time and inclination to write for the blog has pretty much disappeared. Hell, I’m only able to start this now as Ana has taken the kids out for the afternoon.

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So what’s been happening? Well, I’ve managed to get an article published in a magazine, which is remarkable as it suggests I have actual wisdom and insight to pass on (I’m literally making this – and my entire life – up as I go along). But, on that note, thanks to everyone who has been in touch regarding the piece in Multiple Matters magazine published by the lovely folks at TAMBA.


I’ve had a lot of kind words on getting published, the actual content of the piece and even the quality of the photos I provided to them for it. Yes, they are good photos of me and, yes, I don’t know how it happened either. But anyway, thank you for either reading it or at least pretending to.

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Back on work, doing freelancing has meant handing over childcare to my Mum for a day a week. We’re around eight weeks in now and all seems to be going well as far as I can tell. She even sticks a wash on and cooks dinner too which is amazing, particularly considering the top class ‘banter’ she has to endure from me.

You see, Mum is a staunch ‘I’m Nanna, nothing else’ type, so any variations on that are not met positively. Unfortunately, one of my huge number of irritating habits is to encourage the children to refer to her as ‘Nan’ or in some cases ‘Old Nan’, which has gone down like a ton of bricks. However, she has only been driven to offer up one resignation letter thus far, so we’re doing OK. Her help is massively appreciated by all of us.

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Handily, Mum being down coincides with a weekly trip to the local Mini Maestros session. You know the drill – hitting drums, pretending to be a rocket, shaking a maraca. And that’s just the parents.

It has been a mixed experience thus far. While Isabel seems to love it and can often be found muttering the songs to herself as she plays at home afterwards, Oscar’s interest is varied. He knows who the lady is who runs it, he also shows evidence of knowing the songs, but when he walks into the actual room where it is held he seems to become someone else. Just. Not. Interested.

I’m tapping a triangle. Oscar is climbing on a bench. I’m dancing with a shaker. Oscar is hiding behind a pillar. It is time for the calming song which always marks the end of the session. He doesn’t sit still and howls in unhappiness. For a while I wasn’t majorly concerned by this as other kids played up too. But then the other kids calmed down and it became quickly apparent that Oscar is the irritating kid in the class. Hmm.

This all reached breaking point a couple of weeks ago when BOTH Oscar and Isabel played up and the whole thing was a complete write-off. Remarkably, two year olds don’t understand the concept of ‘Mummy and Daddy paid for this SO YOU WILL ENJOY IT’, but it didn’t stop me from trying.

Of course I can sit and laugh about it now (hahahaha…ha…ha…*sigh* *cries uncontrollably*), as I am writing this after both of them behaved impeccably at the most recent session. Fingers crossed that a corner has been turned.

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The other major development in recent weeks is that we’ve finally taken the plunge. Peppa Pig is being watched in our house. While the kids have known for a while who she is due to some books and a little felt play scene we have, I’ve let them in on the secret that it is a TV show.

To say it has been a hit is an understatement. Peppa is now requested every five minutes. It has replaced In The Night Garden as our before-bed viewing. Ana and I are being called Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig. Oscar and Isabel have even taken to referring to themselves as George and Peppa.

While I’d always thought I’d be concerned when they became obsessed with a TV show, I actually don’t really mind it. Isabel actually properly belly-laughed at an episode yesterday while sat on the sofa and it is genuinely lovely to see.

The only issue I do have is that Daddy Pig is basically a doddering buffoon. I found myself taking particular issue with an episode in which his efforts to put a picture up led him to crack the plaster, then pull an entire wall down. However, I realised in hindsight that my reason for disliking it was purely because it was a little close to the bone after my own efforts to put up coat hooks in the hallway created some rather sizeable holes. Maybe…I…am…Daddy Pig.

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So my hope is that this post will prove to be the first of a few – and I will try my hardest to keep that promise. There is plenty to say as much has changed in recent months, so hopefully I’ll be able to relay some choice nuggets over the next few weeks.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Happy anniversary

I’m back. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry as I know there has been a bit of gap between this and the last post. I apologise as I know that remarkably there are a handful of people who actively – and genuinely – enjoy reading this blog and even look forward to reading the next instalment. Weirdos.

No, no, wait! To those people, I say thank you. I started writing this blog without any expectations and purely as a way to tell the story of this 30-something buffoon’s ridiculous belief that he might be capable of looking after twins. It still surprises me that anyone beyond my mum reads it (hi Mum!).

The reason for the delay? Well, in the past couple of months I’ve actively taken steps back into the world of work by doing a little bit of freelance writing and this has taken up some of my free time. It’s not been much, but it has been nice to contribute in my own small way to the family finances and at least have change for coffee, soft play (YES!) and other stuff. Hell, I even talked myself into buying Star Trek Beyond on DVD last week (it’s great).

Although I always had freelancing in mind as an option before I left my job – and also had a brief stint in January doing some stuff - it has taken a long time to get to the point where I felt it was something I could regularly fit in around looking after the beloved cherubs.

For many months, naptimes and evenings were for rest and relaxation after long days running around, carrying the kids out and about, cleaning up, doing the washing etc etc etc. Well, apart from the naptimes and evenings when I had to run upstairs, sooth disturbed sleepers, walk up and down hallways with a baby in my arms, lie on the bed with one of them etc etc etc. Basically, the only way to relax was to grab any moment of peace and hold on incredibly tightly.

As a result, it could be quite difficult to rationalise why the hell I would want to give up that precious time to work. Or take the gamble that the kids will stay asleep so I could at least get the laptop on to consider it.

However, my outlook had to change for the greater good. I did have some savings when I left work which acted as my original pocket money, but sadly these things don’t last forever. As such, after the unbridled joy of our six weeks of summer holiday as a family, it became clear that I’d have to start thinking about chipping in.

So, in September, I started to dip my toe into the cooling, crystal clear Caribbean waters of freelance writing and – as these things tend to without you quite realising how – a few more bits and pieces have come my way since. It’s positive stuff but sadly means that sitting down to write a blog post – or, perhaps more shockingly, to play FIFA – has had to take a backseat. Bad (but also, in a boring grown-up way, good) times.

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While I’ve been struggling for time to sit and type up this bad boy, this week is a pretty pertinent time to do so. Why, I hear you ask? Well, following my little handover week, November 30th 2015 was when I formally began my foray into the world of stay-at-home fatherhood. It is the first anniversary. I’ve been doing this for a year. Where the hell did that go?

I realise I write a lot about my general disbelief of most things I’ve been through in the past two years, but it is undoubtedly crazy to think it has now been 12 months. What a year. A year of challenges and triumphs. Any regular reader may have now grasped that I’m not one for talking (too much) in clich├ęs, but it has genuinely been a moment of immense personal growth. I feel like a happier and more satisfied – although slightly more coffee-dependent and forgetful – human being for doing it.

Oscar and Isabel hug to celebrate the 1st anniversary of them looking after Dad.
To mark the occasion, I thought I’d share some of the nuggets I’ve seen, done and heard over the past 12 months. Just a few achievements, anecdotes and other stuff which hopefully give an insight into the year.

After getting through the great majority of my life generally unscathed, I’ve also been to A&E twice in the past 12 months. The first time was after I slipped down the stairs. You might laugh, but Oscar happened to be in my arms at the time. While the trip to hospital was primarily to ensure he was OK (he was), I also needed my right arm and thumb checking out after it all ended up in an awkward position. God bless the receptionist who said that in order to be seen, I’d actually have to go to a different area to Oscar. As I was alone with him, I pointed out the clear logistical issue that was raised. As a result, she admitted me as a 31-year-old child so I could go to paediatrics.

A&E visit number two was all about me. Oscar was up at 4 or 5am on a weekend crying so I took him downstairs and thought he might fancy a snooze on the sofa. While I laid down, he was tossing and turning to get comfortable. In the midst of this, he unintentionally brought his right hand crashing down into my right eye. It hurt like hell and wouldn’t stop weeping, but I was convinced it would be fine given time. After going out for the morning to a park, it was clear things weren’t getting better so I went to A&E where I was informed that he’d scratched a layer off my eyeball. SCRATCHED MY EYEBALL. My vision was screwed for a good few days afterwards, but thankfully all is fine now which iz wy I wrete zo wel.

I discovered that nothing tests a relationship quite like watching a new episode of Game Of Thrones without your wife. I took the newest episodes being available first thing on a Monday – and the fact the kids were still having morning naps – as a clear perk of my job. Ana did not look upon it in the same way.


I’m not a man who has ever embraced DIY. A look of horror crossed my face when I got a toolbox for Christmas a few years ago. Isn’t this stuff what my Dad is for? However, this year has seen me erect (no laughing back there) stairgates and shelves, fix blind cords, saw blinds, paint a hallway and build shoe storage. I even figured out how to re-erect (is that a word?) stairgates when our plasterboard walls proved to be a little too crumbly. Tell me any of this two years ago and I would have laughed my head off, right directly in front of your face. Ha ha ha.

I’ve found that shouting “Isabel! Your ricecakes!” across a play area in order to get your child’s attention calls your gritty, working class, northern roots into question. 

You would think being a twin family who live not particularly on the doorstep of relatives would be a hard enough gig, but the gods of fate thought they’d throw a spanner in the works big style earlier this year. Our hallway was flooded and the flooring ruined as a result of a water leak which was – after a huge amount of investigation – discovered to be coming into the property from a pipe underneath our garden. Not only did this mean we needed new flooring (and took the opportunity to give the hallway a facelift in general), but the garden was also dug up so the troublesome trickle could be rectified.

However, just when we thought everything was sorted, the garden sank slightly and it emerged that a drain had been collapsed during the course of the work. This affected more than us, as several properties close to us basically weren’t able to flush their loos. Nightmare.

Being at home meant that a lot of the sorting out around this – whether it was writing emails of complaint, sitting on the phone to workmen or a host of other jobs – fell to me. And now it dawns on me why I didn’t have time earlier in the year to do some work!

One of the less pleasing things to happen to me this year has been my distinct inability to un-hear Justin Fletcher’s Eurodance version of Bowie’s Starman. Of all of the shitshows that 2016 has thrown up, it’s got to be up there.


I’ve also found that there’s no half measures when it comes to providing advice to friends on local attractions. This became apparent when I was told off by a very sweaty friend for not properly advising on just how tropical the local Leeds attraction called Tropical World would be. Despite wearing shorts and T-shirt, he was soaking.

Figuring out how to spend the aforementioned precious downtime has always been an issue. However, one of the clear successes has been finally watching Parks and Recreation. An astute choice as the 20-25 minute episodes make it ideal for fitting in around sorting unsettled crying children – and it has meant the sheer joy of watching Ron Swanson regularly. If you don’t know who he is, I’ll just leave you with this.



Sunday, 6 November 2016

Upwardly mobile

I’m writing this fresh from taking Oscar and Isabel to a soft play area, which is increasingly becoming one of the many highlights of looking after them full-time.

Not only are they absolutely zonked after flinging themselves down slides and running around like lunatics for an hour or so, I also get in an important bit of cardio while I’m waiting for my Wednesday five-a-side session to come back around. Being frank, any parent who says they hate having to crawl around tunnels, mazes and ball pools to keep an eye on their kids is an enormous liar.

This most recent visit to soft play was different though. As it was the Eddie Catz centre in our local Mothercare and the kids have been there before, I knew they would be more than comfortable navigating themselves around it. They don’t need me to be lurking behind them at every other step.

This meant I could do the unthinkable and enjoy a coffee – a mocha since you ask – while watching them dive around like nutters.

As I was keeping an eye on them – and enduring the awkward embarrassment of a random child repeatedly shouting ‘daddy’ at me with her arms outstretched – it dawned on me just how quickly the twins have developed.

Once they were tiny babies who needed all of their toys passing to them, now they are terrifyingly grown-up and rather independent little people who can’t help but give you a piece of their mind (“Isabel, shall we sing Twinkle twink….” “Noooooo, BAAAA BAAA!!!”). And they’re not even two until January.

So, here’s a few of my own thoughts on their journey – it is X Factor/Strictly season after all – to walking.

A shot from Oscar and Isabel's upcoming Winter 2016 catalogue.

Still Life

There’s nothing quite like excitedly bringing your children home, sticking them in a bouncer each and excitedly showing them a sparkly new toy only for them to….do nothing. I know it is probably placing too much pressure on tiny little shoulders, but I remember doing this expecting some instant glimmer of reaction and happiness.

However, this is the gig initially – they’ll sit or lie there, and outrageously expect you to do everything for them. The cheek. While this is draining in itself, it does actually offer some benefits which you won’t be able to enjoy for long. For example, it means you’re able to leave them in a specific position like in a chair in the kitchen while you make a cup of tea or in a bouncer in the bathroom as you shower.

You also get to experience the pure joy of sticking your child in a jumperoo and seeing their unadulterated happiness. Finally, you can take them to groups and have proper conversations with adults as the kids’ll stay in one place and not wander off to stick fingers or other appendages in sockets or something.

During these early days you’re shattered and broken and half a human, but at least you can have a chat. Enjoy this while you can…

Not Still Life

…as walking makes this completely impossible. While I try not to be a helicopter parent (which sounds like a shit transformer), you need to keep a constant eye on them and what they’re up to, who they’re taking toys off and what they are sticking in their mouths.

This isn’t always easy when they’re heading off in opposite directions and it is one of the few areas where I must admit I’m a little jealous of parents with just one child.

Take a recent gathering at a neighbour’s house for instance. I felt like I could barely listen to a conversation or participate as I had to leap into action pulling the kids off the stairs or out of the kitchen cupboards. After all, why would they want to play with toys or other children when there’s stairs to climb?

In Their Own Time

It is interesting how as the initial months pass you hear more and more stories about when various relatives or other people’s kids started crawling or walking. These often include whether they just jumped straight to the latter like super-babies.

As neither of our kids were walking when they hit their first birthday we did hear a few of these tales (“well, little INSERT NAME joined the running club at nine months”). I’m pleased to report though that they’re now fully functional so – shock horror – it is worth remembering that every child gets to this and many other stages in their own time.

This area is one of many where you can end up almost feeling a little bit of pressure if your children have not met a certain deadline. But don’t panic, forget about it and where necessary participate in that highly enjoyable pastime of ignoring people. Trust the kids as, just like with loads of things, they’ll do it when they want to.

It is also worth bearing in mind that while Oscar may have been our first crawler, Isabel actually beat him to the punch when it came to walking. If that doesn’t show you how children will do things in their own time, then nothing will.

Changing Landscape

Probably the key conclusion that I’ve drawn from parenting so far is that nothing ever stays the same.

As a parent you’ll think you’ve found the formula to a contented and quiet life, until something happens which moves the goalposts. This could be anything, from teething to sleep issues or the moment when rolling turns into crawling.

What I didn’t think too much about was how, as their movement develops, their living environment often has to change with them. There are obvious necessary adjustments such as stairgates, but we’ve also had to make other subtle little ones too.

Crawling gives them the chance to discover their environment, as well as the power button on the front of your Xbox One. I initially took to pushing mine to the back of our TV table out of the way and now in some cases still unplug it to bring an end to the minor light display.

One of the key casualties of the need to adjust has been our coffee table. This was a mainstay of the living room and absolutely fine when they were only just rolling over or crawling, but then they stood up.

Suddenly drinks were no longer safe – not just from little hands but the toys they were throwing across the surface of the table. And then the cruising began and ‘out of reach’ became null and void as a concept. Everything is in reach. Finally, when they’re walking and running around, the need for more space emerges and suddenly the big black monolith in the middle of the room is simply deemed to be in the way.

Despite Ana’s best efforts, I held onto my belief that the coffee table was not going anywhere like my very existence depended on it, but eventually (and not for the first time) I conceded to my wife that…she was right. That was perhaps the most galling aspect of the whole affair and it still pains me deeply to admit it. Just thinking about it brings up so many emotions.

On the move with Mummy on a recent trip to Roundhay Park.
Actual Proper Parenting

Now that they’re walking I have to actually properly attempt to be a responsible parent and, you know, set an example and all of that. Part of this has seen me follow Ana’s lead in terms of essentially training the kids when it comes to walking in the outside world. We started from-the-off by telling them they should always be holding our hands when they’re out and about. Touch wood, they’re pretty good at it and also tend to listen to our instructions.

They were wearing their leashes – sorry, reins – when we started this, but that was more of an insurance policy. Our aim has always been to get them off on the right foot (THAT’S A PUN!).

Wheels

Our pushchair has been a trusted friend since the early days and has of course been an amazing help in getting out and about. There’s barely been a day since being a stay-at-home dad when I’ve not been powering along the highways and byways of Leeds with sweat dripping down my back (easy ladies, I’m married).

However, the twins and their walking means that even now going out is no longer simply a case of sticking them in the Silver Cross and getting out there. A few weeks back I went out for lunch and did some shopping. In the three hours we were out, the kids were either in the pushchair or in a high chair and that’s simply not good enough anymore.


They need to be moving and using up all of their ever-increasing energy, so more thought is going to have to go into how I tackle this – whether it simply means heading somewhere with a play area now and then so they can stretch their legs a little. Once again, as per usual, the times they are a-changing.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

CBeebies and I – A journey through kids TV

I would love to be one of those people who turns around and says my kids never watch TV but, let’s face it, I’m not. If anything, I’ve found the TV to be incredibly useful during my time at home with Oscar and Isabel.

When they were small, it was ideal for me to pop them safely and securely in their little chairs in front of the idiot box while they had their milk, so I could crack on with doing as many little jobs as I could manage during that window of time.

Furthermore, it is a distraction and, when looking after children, distraction is king. Trying to stop them from running down the hall and opening the kitchen door? Tell them to come and see what animal is on My Pet and Me. Jumping up and down on the stairgate again? “Quick! There’s bubbles on Something Special!”

A TV-related picture, the only one I have - so it will have to do!
In terms of children’s TV, I’m only acquainted with CBeebies and – generally – we only ever tend to have it on during the morning after breakfast and before we (all) go upstairs to get dressed. However, subtle tweaks to the schedule mean I’m now well-versed in a range of shows and, due to repeats, most of the episodes to boot.

Here’s a few thoughts I’ve noted down while ‘enjoying’ some of the programmes recently…

Raa Raa The Noisy Little Lion

Lorraine Kelly narrates this and as she’s a national treasure (like Forsyth or Rylan) that should make it exempt from criticism. However, one particular episode had me seething. Little Raa Raa spent the episode waking up each of his napping friends individually by shouting: “FOUND YOU, we’re playing hide and seek”.

They obviously weren’t happy (I’d be livid) and weren’t too impressed when he told them they now had to find him. So off he went and then they followed. But guess what? They couldn’t find him. Why? He only had the nerve to FALL ASLEEP in a bush while his knackered friends searched for him. What a little f…

Teletubbies

I don’t have a bad word to say about Teletubbies. It was the first show that Oscar and Isabel really took to and were mesmerised by. They’ve always loved it. Throw in the fact that now Isabel sings “La La, Poooooooo” in a broad northern accent and you can’t go wrong. Superb.

Mr Maker

The recent Great British Bake Off furore has, for me, really put a spotlight on how the BBC is working to ensure that licence fee payers’ money is being used economically. But hang on, what’s this? Mr Maker’s off to Hong Kong? Australia? Brazil?!? And he’s having Arty Parties every week too?

Someone needs to have a look into this. I mean, he’s doing all of this while the Beeb can’t even afford a tent and some ovens.

Go Jetters

Nagging catchy theme tune? Check. Disco-tastic. Yep. A band of jolly adventurers led by a sparkly disco unicorn? Affirmative. An obligatory selfie taken at the end of every episode? Damn straight.  This show has all of the aspects which would usually make me want to jump out of a window.

However, following my initial uneasy relationship with it, I’ve grown to love it. It has that whole sneaky educational stuff which means kids learn about stuff (see also Octonauts) and is decent entertainment.

Saying that, the fact that the evil Grandmaster Glitch turns up everywhere the Go Jetters visit is a little too convenient plot-wise.

Furchester Hotel

Pretty harmless and I do relate to the Mr Dull character who is just seeking a bit of peace and quiet in his life.

My main qualm is that they always sing one of two songs – Furchester Catastrophe or A Furchester Never Gives Up – and that final closing song on each episode which pleads to the viewer ‘not to check out’ is a bit Bates Motel.



Tree Fu Tom

This has been watched on a couple of weekends. I don’t really understand the concept of Tree Fu and what my children are supposed to be getting from this show, but it gets an easy ride as David Tennant voices a little acorn fella in it.

Balamory

I’ve only seen a couple of lunchtime repeats of this, back when the kids were having post-lunch milk.

All I can remember is one episode revolved solely around the fixing of a toilet and I’m sorry to say that while that may have stood for entertainment a decade ago, it’s simply not up to scratch these days. I’m out.

Justin’s House

I don’t like my house when it has two screaming children in it, so why on God’s green earth would I want to watch a programme with a live studio audience of hundreds of the little blighters?! Nightmarish.

Plus, I should add we remain fairly unconvinced – and slightly perturbed – by Justin Fletcher in this household too. Just don’t know what to make of him.

Hey Duggee

Like with Go Jetters, at first I wasn’t sure about Duggee. A canine scoutmaster who hugs the kids after every meeting? Bit weird, like.

But again, I gave it time and I think it’s a personal favourite. I love the theme tune, the style of animation and some of the humour (which includes a few nods and winks for the grown-ups). It’s a good watch.


Bing

I’ve gone public in the past about my feelings towards Bing and while I hate to go over old ground…forget it, I genuinely can’t stand him. Every episode he does something inexplicable which ruins the fun and means he ends up whining to poor Flop (his dad/carer/both).

For a while I thought the low point was when he turned his blankie into a cape and inadvertently got it wet while sitting on the toilet. I mean c’mon. However, that all changed quickly when I saw him not only STEAL a lollipop from a shop but then also kill a butterfly for no reason.

He’s a monster and I don’t like him. He whines about the smallest little things when he should just man up and forget about it. I mean, what kind of idiot would waste his precious time moaning about shit that simply doesn’t matter?!

Countdown

Erm, not strictly a show for kids and not on CBeebies...but, well, it has snuck into our occasional daytime viewing when we’re in on an afternoon.

I’m not sure if my love of the show is to do with being the wrong side of 30 and wanting to seem intellectual, supporting a Leeds-based institution or simply enjoying the opportunity to see Rachel Riley on a daily basis. Draw your own conclusions.

Do You Know?

While I don’t have many recollections from being very little, I’m pretty sure that when I was a toddler I couldn’t give a shit how bricks were made. As an aside though, Oscar was caught kissing the TV when the presenter Maddie was on there, so fair play to the kid.

In The Night Garden

I’d love to tell you what this is all about, but I honestly have no idea. Night Garden is generally the first moment in the day when Ana and I sit down together while the kids have their evening milk on their aforementioned chairs.

However, we barely converse as we’re either on mobile phones (quintessential modern family) or one of us has watched Night Garden for too long and started dozing off. I don’t know if it is the soothing music, the characters or just the general ambience of the show, but it can send me to sleep in minutes.

If I do manage to stay awake, I still don’t actually know what’s happened or what the point of the episode was though. This is because it simply does not hold your attention. If I’m on my phone, I’ll look up and see a bouncing ball (OK) or maybe all of the characters dancing (fine) or the Tombliboos running around without trousers on (huh?!?).

The kids do love it though and it is a part of their bedtime routine, but I have no fucking clue what on earth is going on.



Obligatory epilogue

So there you have it, that’s my take on a few of the things these withered northern eyes have seen in the past 12 months. Do you relate to any of this? Or am I completely on my own? Is Bing a great masterpiece? As ever, all views and comments on here or the social medias appreciated!

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Stay-at-home dad life: The ups and downs

It is now around 10 months since I took over the reins and started looking after Oscar and Isabel full-time. While sleep deprivation and general exhaustion mean my recollections across this period are often sketchy to say the least, I do remember the first and second days very well. For very different reasons.

Prologue

Hang on! I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: ‘But surely you didn’t just jump straight out of a job and into looking after twins without any prep Rob?!?’

That’s a great question, reader (fan).

I didn’t. Ana and I were wise enough to make plans so that we would actually have a week at home together with the twins before she went back to work. As well as being quality family time, it meant we had a bit of a handover period.

It worked really well too, as it not only gave me an insight into how to she was running the show but also meant I had a chance to sample the things which were to become my daily life.

From the outset I’d always said that if I was doing this job, I’d do it right. This meant putting aside my general social ineptitude and throwing myself into going to groups, coffee mornings and all of the rest of it. They were key as it would give the kids interaction with others and Daddy some form of adult conversation (not that kind of adult, you weirdo).

So, I sampled the life and readied myself for what was to come. What could possible go wrong?

Day 1     
                                                                                                                 
Well, nothing actually. My first day as a proper stay-at-home dad was a breeze. Easy. No problems whatsoever. Smooth sailing.

They woke up, had breakfast, their morning bottles and then a play before a quick nap. Then I got them up, dressed and over to a neighbour’s place for a regular weekly playdate.

To explain, we’re very lucky to live on an estate with many other new parents. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, all of us keep in touch on a Facebook group and we take turns to host a little get-together on a Monday morning. It is still going relatively strong – which is brilliant.

Enjoying some sensory play on the afternoon.
Following that, it was time for the babies’ lunch and another bottle before a further nap. After that, I got creative by turning the living room into a little sensory play area. Nothing too fancy, just curtains closed, a few multi-coloured LED lights, some noisy toys and a bit of music. Then it was dinnertime and Ana walked through the door.

The twins with the returning hero.
I can only assume that I had prepared myself for the worst, which is why I was so delighted when everything went perfectly. I was genuinely proud and it felt like a real ‘I can do this’ moment. I had proven myself and was ready for anything.

Day 2

Ready for anything except Day 2.

One of the clearest indicators of how Day 2 went is to look at the pictures I took on my phone around this period. There are a good few from Day 1 and a couple from Day 3, but none from Day 2. Day 2 was terrible.

The overriding memory was Oscar being inconsolable the whole day. It was probably teething troubles, but deep down inside I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was actually him realising that I had taken over from Mummy at home. In my head I decided that Day 1 went so well because I was novelty (‘Daddy’s home!’), but on Day 2 I became significantly less exciting (‘...why is he still here?’).

With Oscar being grouchy and therefore neither of them napping well, I resorted to the tried and tested approach of taking them out for walks in order to get some respite. As you’d expect from the flow of this narrative, it was of course a very grey, rainy day to compound the misery.

And just to wrap things up, I also managed to hit my head on Isabel’s cot while trying to retrieve a dropped dummy which had left her crying and miserable too. You couldn’t make it up. When we went out for a walk in the afternoon I did what any self-respecting man would do, sat outside the Royal Armouries and called my Mum to tell her my woes.

All in all, if Day 1 had been an incredibly pleasant surprise, Day 2 was an absolute shock to the senses which snapped me out of any false sense of security that I had flirted with. It was the poor sequel – like Grease 2 or, God forbid, even Speed 2: Cruise Control.

Epilogue

The first two days were such polar opposites that they are unforgettable, but if truth be told they were a perfect introduction to what this life would be like.

Some days can be very easy and others are pretty hard – and I write this a day after the kids were climbing on the TV table, jumping up and down on the sofa, pouring soup on their heads and dropping wooden bricks on me.

But, honestly, most days never hit those extremes. Sure, there’ll be things that go wrong and rearrangements to be made, but the key has been to just to stay calm and go with it. There’s no hiding in this – if it’s 15 minutes until playgroup and Oscar decides that’s the time for a poo-nami which leaks out of the nappy onto his clothes you have to sort it. Then, if Isabel then decides to follow suit five minutes later, you again just have to sort it.


This is life now.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Becoming a stay-at-home dad

I’ve never been one to remember key dates like birthdays or whatever, but I realised when I first started writing this blog (a few weeks ago, shamefully) that a little anniversary had just passed.

It is now just over 12 months since I handed in my notice to leave my full-time job and become a stay-at-home dad – the moment that shit well and truly got real.

Of course, discussions about what we would do in terms of caring for the twins when Ana’s maternity leave ended had gone on for a few months prior to that. However, starting the process of leaving my job made everything official – this is it now, no turning back.

I can say fairly definitively that becoming a stay-at-home dad wasn’t something I’d ever considered in my life prior to us having children. It was never a specific ambition of mine or on any bucket list – the opportunity just came up and after a lot of thought we decided to go for it. And, as with any life-changing, hugely important decisions, the seed of the idea emerged in a half-jokey, half-serious comment.

Me and the kids enjoying a park bench just a couple of weeks ago.


The conundrum

It quickly became apparent – amidst the caring for bouncing babies and general exhaustion – that we faced a puzzle in terms of childcare when Ana returned to work.

As mentioned in previous posts, we don’t live particularly close to family and those who are closest are in jobs too. So the option of family looking after the twins for a couple of days a week was an absolute non-starter.

The next option was of course nurseries, but a little research highlighted what we already knew – the cost of paying for care for two little blighters would be ginormous (admittedly not a word). So large in fact that it would essentially absorb my entire monthly take-home pay. Christ almighty.

One of the other approaches we considered was whether we could both go down the part-time route. However, with Ana committed to going back to her teaching job full-time for a few months at least and such changes not really being open to me in my role, it also felt like something that wasn’t going to fit the bill.

We talked and talked and talked through the options. When we were younger, lengthy car journeys tended to involve a CD-R featuring a carefully selected playlist to cater for both or our musical tastes. In Ana’s case it would be Girls Aloud, Usher (‘8701 baby…’) and Katy B, while it would probably be Manic Street Preachers, Jeff Buckley and My Chemical Romance (RIP, don’t judge) for me. However, post-babies, such journeys became our opportunity to sit for a length of time and have a conversation, with the twins snoozing in the back.

It was during such a journey – heading back home after seeing family in Darlington I think, since you ask – that we weighed up this conundrum.

Reaching a mental block in proceedings, an exasperated Ana said: “…maybe you should look after them.”

I sniggered. “Ha, yeah, right.”

After a pause, she said: “Seriously, you should think about it. It would be amazing time to have with the babies and you might not get it again. Genuinely, have a think.”

The backdrop

This is probably the juncture where it is worth pausing and explaining the environment in which we made this decision.

As an avid reader of this blog (seriously, we can just say ‘fan’ if you like), you’ll know from the last one that I’d had a couple of enforced days at home looking after Oscar and Isabel while Ana was ill. You’ll also remember that I absolutely smashed it out of the park, so this experience was obviously on my mind when it came to considering if me staying at home would even work.

In addition, my role at work had just changed slightly and – if I’m honest – it had moved away from what I truly enjoyed getting my teeth into. So this was on my mind too, although I stress that it was far from a primary driving force behind the eventual decision.

My excitement at the potential opportunity of being at home with the kids far outweighed any desire I might have had to jump ship from my job. However, it would obviously be wrong not to recognise that, yes, things had changed at work and, yes, I obviously had to think about that when considering my plans.

The decision

So, when everything got considered I came up with a conclusion. Two in fact.

The first was ‘yes, I think I can do it’. The second was ‘have I gone completely barmy?’

Ana and I did everything we possibly could to look at all aspects and confirm this was the best plan. We constantly asked each other questions in an effort to pick holes in everything – does everything add up? Would I be OK not earning a wage and having my own money? Would I take them to groups and stuff? All in all, I committed myself to doing what needed to be done. After all, the kids and their needs would of course be the absolute priority.

Our next step on the issue was to speak to our parents to tell them the plan and ask them to also think about alternatives or pick holes in it. They came back with questions and thankfully everything they raised we had already considered. At this point it was clearly a goer; I was going to be a stay-at-home dad.

So that was it and when the time was right my notice went in. Done. Amazingly, after I’d done it and started telling people about my plan no one actually laughed at me. At least not to my face.

Wistful epilogue

Oddly, while writing this my mind is drawn to a couple of lines from a Frank Turner song: “It doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you go/And no one gets remembered for the things they didn’t do.”



Ever since I first heard the song – Peggy Sang The Blues – those words tend to wander through my head when I face a major decision. It is almost a certainty that they wandered through my head during this time and while I’m not usually down with anything vaguely motivational, these lines always ring true for me.

Even if you’re an overly cautious type like me (mentioned before – good spot fans) sometimes you’ve just got to take the leap and see what happens, no matter how utterly mental it might seem. No one gets remembered for the things they didn’t do.

Ultimately I reasoned that, if I had the choice, I would rather be able to say to the kids when they’re older that I at least tried to look after them when they were younger than that I backed out of it.

So I did it and – now at 10 months in – I still love it.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Four observations on life with newborn twins

Becoming a stay-at-home dad wasn’t something I’d ever considered as a possibility before Oscar and Isabel were born. In fact, it’s safe to say it didn’t particularly enter my head during the initial few months of their lives either.

But what a few months they were. While we’d had plenty of antenatal support, it turns out that chatting about looking after twins is actually a lot different to doing it. What a surprise.

Here’s a few things I learned in those early weeks…

1.       The fear

It only took about an hour or so for me to prove how utterly unprepared I was for life with twins.

The job of dressing them for the first time fell to me and, being the proud, get-up-and-go sort of fella I am, I quickly attempted to pass it on to Nanna – my mum. The reason was nothing more than fear, as I hadn’t yet understood that tiny babies are fairly sturdy little creatures despite looking so fragile. The more I handled them in the next couple of days, the more I understood this.

Despite the practice, changing nappies also initially induced some mild panic. Not only did I have to get used to the routine of changing them, I was also not entirely happy with their contents.

For the uninitiated, the first few poos by a newborn are a sticky, dark tar-like substance called meconium, which proved to be a significant adversary in the early days. There was also a time in hospital when I was changing Isabel and she spluttered out some poo during the act – I actually jumped back in terror, like I was on the Nostromo watching John Hurt’s chest burst open.

For a few different reasons which I won’t get into here, it was actually around a week after the birth that Ana and the babies were given the green light to head home. By this point we were happy with how things worked in the hospital, but obviously heading home created a new set of challenges.

The first for me was actually getting them there. Obviously as Ana had been through major abdominal surgery – not quite Noomi Rapace in Prometheus, but you know – I was tasked with driving them back. I’m a competent if not confident motorist, so it did seem like someone was taking the piss when the weather on the big day was icy and snowy. However, I’m pleased to report all four of us got back in one piece.

2.       The fog

Now, I’d love to talk at length about what it was like to have our lovely little children back at the homestead with us, but I can’t remember much. Well, almost anything. Those initial weeks which I had as paternity leave were full of chaos and everything that happened back then is just covered in a fog created by a lack of sleep.

As far as I can recall, the key focus was making sure the twins were feeding and putting on weight. I remember a trip to the pharmacy to get some nappy rash cream. I remember our first proper family outing was to the GP after one of the kids had developed oral thrush. I remember buying a hoover, taking it back and getting another one. I also recall somehow remarkably finding time to watch the Tom-Hardy-with-a-beard-and-a-Welsh-accent-in-a-car-having-a-drive thriller Locke.

But apart from that, and the rolling cast of helpers coming through the door (who Ana and I are eternally grateful to), that’s about all that comes back to me about that time.

This was the point where sleep genuinely became something that other people had. I remember them both howling on their first night at home, with me, Ana and her mum at a loss to figuring out what it could be. Are they hungry? Are they too warm? Are they too cold? Is it a full nappy? Did they want to catch up with Better Call Saul on Netflix? 

I actually made Ana a checklist while she was in hospital as a reminder to her to consider every possibility when trying to sort them out, but once they were home I soon realised that clarity of thought is something that goes out of the window when you’re trying to sort out babies.

Snoozing with Isabel at the time of 'The Fog' - I have no recollection of this.

Around 18 months on, I still feel like I’m desperately trying to catch up and claw back the sleep lost at this time – it was an incredible and exhausting time. My eyes feel heavy now just thinking about it.

3.       The work/life balance

Going back to work after having the twins was a strange experience. I’d taken two weeks of paternity leave and stuck a week of annual leave on the end of that, yet it really did feel like I’d been away much longer. So much had happened at home, with our lives completely turned upside down.

Bar a tendency to get my phone out and show people pictures of the twins, I personally don’t think my approach to work changed though. One of the only things that did play on my mind however was the need – as long it was absolutely possible – to get home at a reasonable time.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it previously, but Ana and I are not native to Leeds so we don’t have any family nearby. The closest are my parents and sister who live around 60 to 80 minutes away (depending on your willingness to abide by basic traffic laws).

As such, when the dust settled and it came to us looking after the twins day-to-day, we were on our own. So leaving work on time wasn’t just some kind of quick dash for the exit, but a necessity in order to be back and to help out with making dinner, washing bottles, sterilising bottles, making up bottles, giving bottles, actually saying hello to the babies, settling them, washing clothes….and so on.

My delicate, silky smooth vocal cords also had a role to play on one memorable evening. Post-dinner, I was sat in the living room with a screaming child in each arm while Ana was sorting out their next bottles (I think). Faced with the noise, I figured if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em and at the top of my voice attempted to drown them out with Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen. Lo and behold, the twins were so in awe of what they heard that the crying stopped in an instant. Absolutely true story.



Nights tended to work with Ana going to bed not long after the twins, so she could get much-needed rest in before night feeds. I would then stay on shift and tend to their needs until around 11pm, when I’d retire to bed to try and sleep before the next day at work.

Another little job I had in the morning was to ensure that Ana got a porridge pot – we became obsessed with these during the time at hospital – and a cup of tea before I left for work. It wasn’t much, but it at least meant she got some breakfast before the madness of a day with little twins kicked in.

It was all incredibly relentless, but we managed to develop a pretty slick operation.

4.       The unexpected

HOWEVER, things got a lot more complicated when the unthinkable happened and one of us fell ill.

Previously, if one of us had a sickness bug it wasn’t a big deal – all that was needed was a small dose of sympathy and a glass of water left within reach. Matters require a little more thought however when illness strikes and there are two little people sleeping in moses baskets next to you.

When Ana was suffering in the early hours one day, I knew very quickly that we’d need a plan as she was in no fit state to look after the twins and neither of us wanted her to pass anything on to them. The obvious call went in to my mum, a nurse, but she had a shift that day. There was no one else we could turn to. No other choice. It would have to be me. I would look after them.

I didn’t know this at the time, but I soon discovered that employers actually have a term to cover off this type of thing – time off for dependents. This is not the first or the last lesson I’ve learned on this journey of fatherhood.

But Rob, I hear you say, while we understand you covering off these basic principles of HR, how did looking after the twins on your own go?

Well...it went OK. More than OK, in fact.

The twins were fed and clothed, we went for walks, they napped, they had the pleasure of watching live performances on DVD by the likes of Springsteen and Led Zeppelin. Basically, I can only imagine they were wondering where I’d been all this time. Their mum had looked after them delightfully, but this was next level. Unbelievable stuff.

With Ana getting no better – I sent the odd food parcel upstairs to keep her going – I had to take a second day off to look after them too. Yes, it was hard work but ultimately this was brilliant, unexpected, extra time to get to know the twins, who were still only months old. And I loved it.

It was a special moment and one which felt like something of a graduation. I’d gone from being completely and utterly useless to being capable of taking care of two children on my own. Not only that, I’d actually enjoyed it. 

At that point in time, Ana and I hadn’t really talked about the future and how we were planning to play things when her maternity leave came to an end. However, those events undoubtedly planted a seed in my mind about doing something that honestly seemed unthinkable just months before.