Monthly Archives: March 2015

The zombies

“No, you eat what’s on your plate first and then we can talk about a packet of marshmallows.”

Unless I’m the exception, every parent has uttered that exact phrase or something very similar to it at least a thousand times and no matter what their age, I expect we will all say it a thousand times more in some form or another. Along the same lines is this one, “No you can’t have syrup for a snack, that’s sugar and we don’t give children sugar at bedtime.”

That is, not unless you’re planning on checking into some sort of convalescent facility the next day. Sugar and bedtime are words that don’t even belong in the same language.

It’s all for naught though because ultimately, your child is in charge. You either feed the children what they demand at bedtime or you run the risk of having to feed them what they demand at three in the morning when they wonder through to your room like zombies in search of brain.

Then the next morning when your alarm goes off, you’ll feel like your child snacked on your left frontal lobe all night long and at that point, tying shoe-laces will seem like a task only a NASA engineer would be able to accomplish. So you’ll wear Crocs, bunny slippers or shoes that employ some sort of Velcro mechanism to work. Not a good look unless you work at Google.

Parenting is not easy. That is not to say that people with meeker dispositions cannot or should not have children, it’s just that they’ll probably have a tougher time of things. For one thing, they will have much more homework to do whilst raising their children. Literally. They’ll probably find themselves rendering their child’s idea of a clown, using wax crayons and cotton wool, just before bedtime, on a school night, all the while taking editorial input from their child.

Moving right along.

It does get easier as they get older, that much is certain. But all that serves to remind you of is that you were super-human when they were born and have somehow steadily lost your powers since then. Our boys are able to grab a snack to sate a hunger or pour a cup of water to quench a thirst on their own (without too much spillage) and yet we still seem to be doing so much else for them.

Bum wiping being paramount amongst these tasks. It was almost easier when they were in nappies. Back then one would wait until there was an almost palpable odor in the room and then you’d simply wipe it, change it and ziplock the entire thing into a bag bound for the land fill. Now, one has to watch them like a nuclear reactor operator checking gauges on a night-shift in Chernobyl circa 1986. When they begin to show signs of a potential meltdown, you quickly steer and accompany the source of the smell into the bathroom and then sit a vigil for the number two to arrive. This could take anything from a few seconds to an hour. Get comfortable. Preferably near an open door or window. Our eldest often won’t get off the throne until he’s produced a certain number of number two’s. Yes, he counts them. Plop. Plop. Plop. There’s no point in arguing.

Then there’s wiping, which again was easier then the child was on their back with feet in the air but is much more complicated with the child standing up, moving about the bathroom like a bee looking for a flower and asking endless questions about mundane things.

Finally, you wash your hands and then force them to wash theirs. The future lawyer in the family sometimes asks me why he needs to wash his hands if he didn’t wipe his bum. I am at a loss to explain it to him except to say, “You must.”

Still, it’s not all as grim as it seems. More often than not after your feed it in the dead of night, your child will curl up in your bed between you, the now zombie by default parents, and will in so doing create the perfect ‘H’ when viewed from above. This is a particularly comfortable way to spend the remainder of your nights sleep. Yes, comfortable compared to say the Rack or indeed the Thumbscrew.

Then there’s the snoring and faint aroma of food and farts that, at odd intervals, twerks your sense of smell. A sense which is really quite acute in the dead of night for some odd reason.

It is then, at that very moment, that you are reminded of the fact that you are a parent. That this creature snuggling next to you, hogging all the available real estate in your bed, is yours for life and you embrace the fact that the journey is a beautiful, exciting, mysterious, fulfilling, terrifying and perfect thing.

The sleep should arrive moments later. At worst a week or so later. Ok, a month at the very outside. Fine, no more than 18 to 21 years.





The popeye proposition

Without trying to sound like an old fart recalling days gone by, back when I was a kid I remember watching Popeye conjure up a super-human version of himself simply by eating a can of spinach, albeit a little improbably by squashing a tin can of the stuff (conveniently and clearly labelled ‘Spinach’) out of the can and into his mouth in a perfect airborne arc without so much as removing the ever present pipe from the corner of his mouth.

The resulting burst of super-human strength and agility it afforded him bordered on the PCP-ish. But I’m not judging. Suffice to say, once he popped the spinach cap, his nemesis, Brutus was in for an ass-kicking. To his credit though, Brutus quickly forgot these horrendous beatings, recovered unbelievably quickly and was back the next day pushing Popeye around as if nothing had happened the day before. In addition to being somehow related to Wolverine, who has the superhuman ability to regenerate completely from any injury, I Suspect Brutus might have also been a bit of a slow learner.

At the time I remember thinking that if Popeye, who had disproportionately large forearms, was strong enough to squeeze a can of spinach open with one hand before he even ate the spinach then why did he have to eat the spinach at all? Sure Brutus was an ogre of a man and towered over Popeye but, like I said, I don’t think he was very bright and I figured Popeye should have been able to best him without defaulting to his drug of choice.

Also, Olive seemed a rather fickle woman and to me she looked like a lollipop but Popeye and Brutus couldn’t get enough of her. Each episode, Brutus would woo her, she’d fall for him of course and then he’d smack her over the head or something and she’d have to be rescued by Popeye. This was a task Popeye would only successfully complete after first getting solidly thumped around by the big guy for at least a third of the episode. Eventually, a can of the good stuff would be opened and consumed and this would visibly palpate all of the oddly shaped muscles in our hero’s body as it took effect. At this point, for Brutus, the game was over. The music would speed up and our hero would  twist Brutus into a thoroughly pitiful black and blue version of himself and kick him into orbit to become a pretzel shaped satellite. Popeye and Olive would walk off into the credits arm in arm. Until the next episode, that is, when she’d forget who he was entirely.

Talk about disfunctional relationships.

Back to the point of this blog post though; this morning we were listening to our son explain the benefits of eating spinach to his friend who was riding along with us to school. First there had to be a discussion about what spinach was exactly. Green and leafy were words used several times. You eat it was also mentioned. Then there was the reference to Popeye to explain the direct and clearly desirable benefits of eating said spinach.

Muscles. Big, big muscles and the ability to move mountains with them. The muscles were a selling point his mom used to great effect in order to get him to initially try and then actually eat and enjoy spinach and the like. I must say that my boy did quite a good marketing job selling this product to his friend, but I’m not sure the little guy was convinced. Clearly he’s going to remain a skeptic until he actually witnesses the transformation from meek to majestic first hand. My boy might actually have to pop open a can of the green stuff using his bare hands to win him over to the leafy green vegetable.

In closing, while it’s quite clear that spinach provided Popeye the sailor man with all the physical prowess of a modern-day super hero, the mental  acuity it afforded him left a lot to be desired. I for one hope my boy and his friend make smarter choices in girls than Popeye did. Otherwise they’ll forever be fending off a Brutus of some sort.

<insert a trademark cackle by Popeye here>


The clean and the dirty

Along the same lines of the buttered toast and cat thought experiment is something I think many parents will have pondered; the tipping point between clean and dirty, or at least the point at which your child decides that they are no longer able to take on any additional grubby. The point at which cleaning is now required, post haste.

It is different for every child. In point of fact, it is different for every child every day. Something that would on any given day pass for completely acceptable (a smudge of peanut butter on the side of a cheek for instance) would on another day result in complete bedlam if you left it for a moment too long. How long is a moment too long I hear you ask? Well that is the million dollar question isn’t it?

For our boys, mornings in particular seem to be a time where their tolerance for grubbiness is especially low. The odd spoonful of pro-nutro will oft make its way onto a lap and result in immediate calls for some action to be taken to bring order back to the world in the form of a damp cloth and a wipe. Sometimes this will result in the complete abandonment of breakfast. Sometimes there are tears and snot too.

And yet, at other times, they can have mud, food and boogers covering every visible patch of skin and it won’t bother them at all. In point of fact, they will spread this gritty exoskeleton all around the house (and car) and it won’t give them the slightest pause. They will eat an ice cream using hands covered in a concoction they’ve brewed in the garden using a bucket of mud as a base and will eat a bag of crisps or popcorn with hands covered in beach sand and cheese – all without the hint of complaint.

Then a drop of milk or a grain of rice or indeed a leaf or smudge of sun screen will happen to land on an already completely grubby tract of skin and they’ll become lunatics, demanding a bath or a wet cloth or your clean sleeve to sanitize the area.

As an aside, let me just say that wellingtons are the most duplicitous of creations. They really only seem useful for collecting water, grass, sand and stone – keeping them from returning to nature and then later allowing for the entire mess to be released in unison somewhere inside your home – except now everything smells like feet. Far better the Croc with plenty of holes in it to allow all that stuff an opportunity to seep out before crossing the threshold into the house or car.

But I digress…

I think it’s all very much like the early days of science and technology where laboratory experiments were conducted with much less of an understanding of the potential outcomes than we have today and where, as a result, there were far more opportunities for things to go ‘boom’. Children are like that. You have to keep your eye firmly fixed on the experiment to make sure it doesn’t suddenly erupt and cover the walls in tantrum and mud.

Note to self, always have wet-wipes handy.


The parrots in the house

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that is so, then our children love and revere us very deeply indeed. Our little guy is especially gifted at mimicking his parents when he schools us in behavior do’s and don’ts.

Often I hear my words being recited between the siblings too and it’s at its most honest when there are no adults in the room. Things like, “Play nicely with this dinosaur ok?”, was overheard one day when the big guy shared his toy with his little brother. It’s at times like these that I think it’s such a magical time for the boys that they can grow up playing and day dreaming with the same toys – such wonderful shared experiences that I hope they can both remember far into the future.

At other times though one can hear “Put that down immediately,” followed by a cacophony of tears and wails and clanging toys. It’s at times like these I wish there were isolation booths in the house. Even one would do. For me. Not the kids.

The little guy has also recently taken to telling us exactly how he should be treated and it’s a little odd because he’s asking to be reprimanded. By way of example, one night at the dinner table he stood up his chair (which he fully knows is a big no-no) and demanded of his mother that she tell him to sit down…immediately. He literally gave her a script of what she was required to say to him – which she duly followed – a moment later he obeyed his own instruction and sat down again.

It is, in a word, baffling.

We can’t quite understand what the reasoning behind it is even though it all seems to make perfect sense to his three year old psyche. Perhaps it’s some sort of desensitization program he’s putting himself through, you know, to help him cope better in real world situations where he is reprimanded by us. Or perhaps he’s honing his management skills for some time in the future and the phase he’s going through now is some sort of ‘taste of your own medicine thing’ and if so, I like the fact that he’s planning so far ahead. I expect though that apologies in advance are in order for anyone that eventually May have to work for him. 

His older brother is becoming a master at reading the little guy and I expect is also learning life lessons as the days flit by here in Neverland. He seems to be able to sense what tack to take in most situations involving his little brother and pick the most appropriate response. He alternates seamlessly between conciliatory and combative stances like a tennis ball crossing over the net in a Wimbledon final. In one example, he asked his brother to go to the room and find his Knight sword, which the little guy duly did but then promptly refused to hand it over. As if he anticipated this is response, the big guy quickly followed up with a request for his little brother to go find the scabbard for the sword and again the little guy complied fully. Upon his return, a quick division of the assets was done where the sword was returned to the noble and the serf kept the scabbard. Both seemed quite happy with the arrangement.

I find it heart-warming that they are able to work together like this, even if it is one tugging on the marionette strings of the other.

In the same breath, I also find it a little worrisome that one day, in the not too distant future, they’re going to be working together or, more specifically, collaborating. I expect at least half of the time, the little guy is going to be in charge.

I’m probably going to need to issue warnings to the neighbours on those days.


The heaven question

Last night was a night I’ll remember for a very long time to come. I was tucking my eldest boy into bed and just as he settled down to say his prayers, he opened his eyes, unclasped his hands and asked me a pointed question:

Dad, where is heaven?

Now, he says his prayers every night and most nights it’s the same prayer; Dear God, Bless Nan in heaven, thank you for all my blessings, Amen.

Nan is his great grandmother who passed away after a short illness in hospital. While she was in hospital we started including her in our prayers each night, but back then the prayer went ‘Bless Nan in hospital’. When she passed away we changed her location to heaven and there really wasn’t too much discussion at the time as to why this happened. We figured we’d explain it all when he asked.

Last night, all of the questions bubbled out of him like a fresh water spring. To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure what to say. I do not believe in organized religion. As such, the Christian bible in my opinion doesn’t have anything to offer other than some good principles for how one should live their life (and that’s if you exclude all the dark ages thinking around ideas like who’s subordinate to whom in the marriage and whether to remove an eye from your foe or to offer him another cheek to slap).

That said, I do believe in God, but I think my understanding of God and the church’s understanding of God are so vastly different that in times gone by I probably would have (at the very least) been branded a heretic and drawn and quartered.

While I do want my son to grow up with a spiritual relationship with God, I do not necessarily want him indoctrinated into any religion that prescribes what that relationship should look like. I would rather he follow his own path to the higher power and not seek out a guide that will in all probability only offer him dogma (baggage) that he will have to carry with him on his journey through life.

But to keep to that idea is to forever be at odds with what my boy learns in school, from friends, from the media and society at large. Choosing the road less travelled by (to quote Frost) is hard and last night I had my first lesson in that.

To answer his question though, I said heaven was somewhere else and that we didn’t know where exactly because you only find that out when you go there. What followed was a plethora  of other questions around how much space there is in heaven – would there be enough for all the people he knows, where does everyone sleep, can you take your pets with you and what about your favourite toys?

Again I tried to be non specific in all my responses because I don’t want to fill his baggage with any more stuff than he absolutely has to have. I tried to avoid the idea that only creatures with souls (that is to say humans by the definition of the church) go to heaven. The commonly held answer kind of puts a depressing spin on the afterlife if you ask me.

However, one question that stuck out head and shoulders above the rest for me was this: How old will Nan be when I get to heaven? My boy is five years old and to me, this is a really great question. It speaks to a truly fundamental idea of what heaven may be like and it’s a really tough question to answer completely honestly (especially for me). Modern Christianity would have us believe that those who have gone to heaven – go in a spiritual form that looks exactly like their physical selves. My son simply assumed we’d continue to get older in heaven and asked the question because he was concerned about recognizing his Nan when he eventually got there. I didn’t really have an answer here. I settled for the ubiquitous ‘I don’t know’.

Finally though, I had to put a cap on the questions because we started to get into areas that could easily have forced me to reveal unpleasant truths about where bacon and chicken fingers come from and indeed what in fact happens to pigs and chickens when they die. I thought that ‘they pass through the digestive tract’ was too harsh and ‘they also go to heaven’ was too controversial.

I must say I’m a little torn at the moment, it’s times like these when, as much as I want my boy to grow and learn new things, there’s a part of me that wants him to stay young and innocent enough not to have to worry about eventualities like having to die before you can go to heaven.

Bring on the questions about where babies come from…