Tag Archives: Blog

The three little things

As a father of two boys that are growing up at an alarming rate, I find myself torn between two states.

First and foremost, I want to marvel at the wonder of my children experiencing all the magic that life has to offer. I look forward to them reveling in their youth and reaching their respective milestones; things like little teeth falling out or riding bicycles or learning to dive into the pool or being old enough to watch Star Wars.

It really is all kinds of awesome.

That said, a part of me also wants to keep them just as they are now, beautiful, loving, happy little boys that can still plant kisses on their Dad’s forehead without getting embarrassed and that count the number of sleeps until Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Mouse (that gives them cash for well-maintained little teeth) visit our home.

Living in those two opposite states is difficult. It seems strange too, I’ll concede that. I mean, I do understand that I can only live in the present, its not like I have the option to stay here indefinitely or visit the past and live there, but the truth is simply that I want both.

I want three little things, the yesterday, the today and the tomorrow.

I want to be able to hold my little guy’s hands again while he teeters around the house, taking his first steps on brand new feet. I want to watch him don his gown and set his cap on his curly mop of hair when he graduates from preschool.

I want to feed my eldest boy his first spoonful of peanut butter again and watch him spread it around his delighted little face using all ten fingers and both palms. I want to watch him walk his little brother into Grade 1 next year with his steady hand guiding and reassuring the little guy all the way to his new classroom.

I want to walk behind my little guy again as he scoots around on his plastic three wheeler push bike and listen to pure joy escape from his mouth in the form of loud, animated squeals of delight. I want to see him ride a big bicycle, complete with gears and shocks, over a ramp at a bike park and get ‘big air’.

I want to sit at that cafe in the mall again while my eldest, no more than a year old at the time, props himself up against the table and shouts at every single person walking by. First drawing them in, then dazzling them with a magnificent two-tooth smile and an unaffected belly laugh. I want to watch him delve into his first Hardy Boys book, reading by torchlight at bedtime and then flipping quickly past the scary bits with trembling hands.

I want to hear the little guy chug his bottle of warm tea at bedtime like a piggy and then listen for the empty vessel being tossed unceremoniously across the room when he’s done. I want to see him drive his first car around a parking lot on a warm sunny afternoon in November when he gets his learner’s permit.

I cannot have all of that though. I can have the two little princes they are right now and all the moments that lie ahead. It is the very definition of bittersweet.

I’ll simply have to resolve to take more pictures and videos of them so that from time to time, when I miss the earlier versions of these amazing little humans, I can turn back the clocks and see them again.

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The mental age

I’ve been thinking lately about age. It occurred to me rather suddenly that I am now officially of ‘middle age’ – probably a little past the middle if I’m honest with myself. However that’s just the physical me, my chronological age. The ‘I’ in my head is somewhere around twenty five years old and he is just as real as the somewhat scuffed body he occupies.

That line of thinking brought with it a question; have my chronological and consciousness ages always been different or did they only start to drift in my mid-twenties?

Thinking back, I can’t remember a time in my early childhood where I felt older or younger than my age, I was a kid and every now and again a Birthday would roll around and I would count myself one year older. It was really pretty simple. I had no concept of age really other than to think that everyone taller than myself, was ‘old’.

My teens were spent wishing I was older. I remember that very clearly. I just wanted to be finished with school and the awkwardness of puberty and I desperately wanted to be able to drive a car. No one on this planet could possibly have wanted it more. Driving represented freedom and control of my own destiny and being able to play my own music on the car radio.

Oh, and I wanted to grow my hair. It was the eighties after all where every rockstar at the time had long hair and I wanted that more than anything too – except of course for being able to drive. But there, I always still felt my age, albeit in excruciating detail – by that I mean I was seventeen for what felt like an entire decade. True story.

I guess the argument could be made that the ‘I’ inside was actually younger than my physical age during those teenage years. Plenty of poor choices were made, which I won’t scare my mother with by committing them to this post. My early twenties were also filled with many poor choices but here I made a few good choices too and I think my ages aligned more closely for a short while.

Then, rather curiously, my mind stopped aging in my mid twenties while my body followed the clock. It’s difficult to put a finger on what happened though.

What was the catalyst for this split? Who is this person living inside my head that does not align properly with the body he’s in? He can still do a five kilometer run at the drop of a hat and then eat a Cleveland Burger from Clans without skipping a beat. Whereas the guy in the mirror needs to take a nap after eating protein – much like a toddler.

My eldest is beginning to wish himself older, not because he’s unhappy with his lot in life in any way, but rather because Star Wars: The Last Jedi is coming to a cinema near us in a couple of months and he desperately wants to watch it on the big screen. He must have asked me if the new episode is PG rated about a thousand times since I told him it was coming out. He simply cannot contain his enthusiasm and I think secretly, after he’s said his prayers each night with me, he adds an extra shout out to the big guy about Star Wars being PG rated. He really is an open book, he draws people in with his sunny disposition and is very difficult to say no to. I imagine great things ahead for him because he has such a big, open, generous personality.

The little guy on the other hand is barely even aware of what day of the week it is. It’s not that he doesn’t know because he can’t comprehend the days of the week and the progression of time, rather it’s that he simply does not care. He’s also a huge Star Wars fan, but only to the point that he often asks if we can just go watch it today. No? Oh well. On to the next thing then. I am in a constant state of surprise, confusion and amazement with him. Sometimes I check his pockets just to make sure he’s not carrying around the one ring to rule them all. I imagine great things ahead for him because he is already in charge of his own universe, it’s just a matter of time really before he’s in charge of ours.

As my boys get older, I wonder if I will recognize the points at which their ages start to differ inwardly and outwardly. Perhaps I will. Perhaps not.

I do think though that asking them how old they are and how old they feel (on a regular basis) would be a good exercise. You never know, I might find myself living in a house with a twenty five year old pre-schooler plotting how he’s going to reach the pedals of the car when he takes it for a joyride.


The camping thing

At some point in our lives, many of us will find ourselves on a slowly deflating blow-up mattress, resting our sleepy heads on musty smelling pillows, swaddled in a questionably clean sleeping bag, wondering if a spider is going to crawl into our ear after we nod off.

I am of course talking about camping which, if I’m honest, is not my most favourite thing. There are several downsides, which I’ll illustrate here to help those of you that are toying with the idea of taking up this recreational activity, to understand what you’re in for.

Ablutions. The communal ablution is the first item on the list. This is a place where everyone gathers to wash off the grit from the day in camp. It’s usually one of two things; a block of bricks or a timber framed hut. If you’re smart, you’ve chosen a camp site far enough away from this structure so as not to get a whiff of the goings in inside, but close enough so that you can make the journey there on foot without having to stop along the way to answer the call of nature in a more natural setting – say next to someone else’s tent.

The showers in these ablution facilities, however clean they may be, are excellent locations for picking up a case of athletes foot if you’re ignorant enough to venture into them without the universally accepted and required apparel – the flip-flop. They also always seem to have been plumbed together by a self-taught handy-man who, upon completion of the job, found that at least two buckets needed to be placed somewhere along the mysterious and usually superfluous piping that seems to have come straight out of a Mario Brothers game.

There also always seems to be some confusion about which tap (or side of the mixer in the more posh camp sites) will produce hot water. It seems that adopting standards and following commonly held conventions are always the first things to go when doing your own plumbing. Hot side, cold side, meh.

Shade. The very thing that we as a species have pursued on hot days since before we evolved opposable thumbs, is another camping issue. There simply is never enough of it. There will almost always be trees on your site, but they will usually be too small to camp under which means that you will either be slow roasted to the point that you abandon your tent in the mornings before breakfast, or you will risk suffocation in the afternoon sun as all the air is sucked from the surface of the planet. You won’t be able to avoid both. At midday you will be sitting in your car with the air conditioner running, watching dead grass and insects melt outside your window.

Smoke. Camping by definition is open fires. These are the touchstone of camping and if we’re honest, the main reason we partake in this strange activity is the oppertunity it affords us to sit around a campfire and watch things burn. Whether it be wood, food or stray flying insects that burst into flame as if by magic having mistakenly flown a little too close to the flames. But the problem is that it’s not just you. There are all those other pyromaniacs camping out there with you, each of whom is intent on keeping their fires going throughout the night, like the stokers of the fires of hades. What this means is the campsite is awash with the smoke of a hundred fires. Not. So. Awesome.

Abhorrent things. The rule of thumb here is that if it has more that four legs, it’s probably a crawling nightmare of some kind that you will more than likely find glued to the inside of the roof or your tent the moment you switch off the light. If it has less than two legs it’s probably a snake or a worm and let’s be clear, neither of these things is something we would willing spend a night in a sleeping bag with if we had a vote of influence in the matter.

It is also fair to say that all of these things are far more at home in the boondocks than people are and are drawn to our warm bodies like rats to the pied piper. Our bodies play the song of warmth, of civilization, of soap, of fear, of come slither into my shoe – that is completely irresistible to these creatures of the underworld.

Sleep. Yes, we go camping to sleep under the stars but we don’t really sleep under the stars do we? We sleep under flame retardant, waterproof, breathable tent fabric that smells like old fires and feet. We sleep surrounded by people that snore and fart like bears hibernating with full stomachs. The silence of the great outdoors is not so silent really. It’s punctuated by the sounds of inflatable mattresses being re-inflated at thirty minute intervals throughout the night. That, alternating with the sound of mosquitoes feasting on your extremities and your children and flapping around your head incessantly for hours on end after they’ve had their fill, out of pure spite alone.

Those are just the highlights though, there’s also hours of packing and unpacking and then more packing and unpacking and you will inevitably leave something important at home, like the long spear that you would have used to kill the ghoul in your shoe with more eyes and legs than any creature should be allowed to have.

On the plus side though, children seem to love it. It seems to make them feel like extras in a Huckleberry Finn adventure and the goal of any parent worth their salt is to make their children happy, so there is that.

And, there’s the marshmallow factor. That passtime of roasting puffs of sugar on sticks over an open flame. That makes up for quite a bit, I must confess. Quite a bit.


The wizard

At some point or another, every parent will convict one or more of their children for an offense that they are completely innocent of. It’s a given since we are, after all, only human. But there are multiple lessons to learn here, not the least of which is admitting to your children, that you are wrong when you are, in fact, wrong.

That’s a hard pill to swallow and it’s not just because I’m not fond of admitting I’m wrong – a growth point of mine. No, it’s mainly because it goes against a carefully constructed narrative I’ve been weaving for them since they were born. The crux being that parents are all seeing, all knowing, infallible wizards. I realize that this seems like a rather unrealistic outfit to attempt to cloak oneself in, but it serves a purpose. For me, it set firmly in the minds of my children that we, their parents, know better. Our logic is sound, our judgement is fair and we are always right.

My children needed that security. Just as they needed to know monsters aren’t real and even if by some chance they are real, they’re simply no match for a Mom or a Dad. Just as they needed to know that spinach can do for little humans what it does for Popeye and that the tooth mouse will only pay for sparkling, white teeth that are brushed twice daily and not tarnished by too many sweets.

Now obviously I am aware that this story can’t go on indefinitely. At some point, the little guys will figure out that I’m not the all knowing, all powerful Oz with the good witch Glinda at my side. But my hope is that by the time they get there, they’ll be well adjusted little humans, happy to conform to the rules of society. Much less inclined to want to drop kick each other into an abyss while having milkshakes in a restaurant or set fire to each other’s toys when they’re feeling piqued.

Back to the point of this blog though.

Last night I painted myself into a yellow brick road corner. I gave the minions an ultimatum; one of them had to own up to trying to feed the Basset Hound semiprecious stones, or I would take away their iPads for the balance of the week. Neither of them confessed though and so I followed through and impounded the tablets, which are at the moment the source of all happiness and it seems they are quite unable to function normally without them. They immediately descended into a pit of gloom and indignation.

As it turns out though, it is plausible that the Basset somehow helped herself to the stones from the dining room table since she is almost human height when she stands up on her hind legs. So it is possible that I may actually have been mistaken in this instance…something quite unheard of until now.

And this is what my seven year old son pointed out to me in a heartfelt, well articulated appeal several hours later. He delivered it flawlessly, complete with a few lonely tears rolling down his cheeks. It seems he’d had a discussion with his brother and between themselves they’d agreed that neither of them were responsible for the unfortunate incident and as such they needed me to rescind my ruling on the iPads and apologize unreservedly to both of them for the false accusation. It was all said very respectfully mind you.

I must say that I was very proud of both of my sons in that moment. So, I said I’d think about it overnight and let him know this morning what I had decided. But underneath my pointy hat, I knew I had to concede. I had to open the curtains slightly and let him see some of the smoke and mirrors I’d been using all this time and admit I was wrong.

I hope though that my boys are still able to suspend disbelief for a little while longer when the wizard speaks.


The Memory Lane

How is it that some events make their way into our permanent memories, where we are able to immediately access them and play them back in full HD, while others just seem to vanish from our consciousness like mist in the midday sun? And it’s not an indictment of the memory either. It could actually be an important memory, of a special occasion or a life milestone. It could be an entire chapter or a page or even a single line from the book of our lives and without even knowing it, part of our story is gone.

It is true to say that some memories would be better off  left in the recycling bin; for instance I could easily ditch the memory of the smug face of the delinquent bully, several years older (and heads taller) than I who bashed my face against a pole, snapping one of my front teeth in half when I was in primary school. Or indeed the horrific afternoon spent dry-heaving against an empty stomach due to a poor decision, taken a couple of hours before, to try and consume a full bottle of whiskey in a Guinness record time with two equally misguided friends. We even crushed the bottle cap to show our commitment to the foolishness. Yes, I could easily forget those two wretched memories.

But forgetting something is not quite as permanent as say, dropping your iPad into a swimming pool without an iCloud backup. There is a way to bring those memories back to life, to rescue them from the abyss.

The secret is family.

Recently I’ve been reminded of parts of my childhood that I’d all but forgotten. It’s not that I was just sitting around self indulgently fretting about my lost memories, actually I was none the wiser. I had no idea there were pieces missing. But then circumstance brought my nuclear family, previously spread out across the globe, together again in a single room and then as if by magic, somewhat dusty boxes full of memories from my youth were opened and lovingly unpacked. Even things I thought I had a clear memory of were given a new spin just by having them narrated back to me from another perspective.

As I watch my two little minions learning, making memories and experiencing the wonder of the world they live in, I can’t help but think that in any given situation, they are both seeing the same thing, but are taking away from it different memories. Even this blog, which I originally started so that I could record the day to day antics of of the little guys, is merely a perspective from a single vantage point, my own.

I resolve, from now on make an effort to see their days through both sets of eyes. To ask them each to tell me about their day at the beach, or in the park or on their bikes or simply sitting in the living room surrounded by a mirriad of lego creations and pieces. They will, in each instance, come away with different memories of those days. I would like to try preserve as many of those days for them as I can.

I also resolve to encourage both my boys to keep a journal. That is what this blog amounts to really. It’s a journal of my sons from my perspective, until they’re ready to write their own stories.

Speaking of journals, they’ve come a long way since the black leather bound book with the year embossed on the front where a small padlock guarded the pages. Now you can use an iPad (and spellchecker) to upload your thoughts to the cloud. You can blog (or vlog) them into the ether for everyone to see or you can encrypt them in a 128-bit vault where only the most determined NSA cryptographers can get a peek at them.

I must say that, as I type this, I’m eager to see what my boys will say in their very first journal entries. I’ll ask if I can read them of course. What will I find out about them? Will one of them confess to eating all of the Nutella? Will they reveal the location of the spare AppleTV remote?

Perhaps. But it’s far more likely though that all I’ll find out is that they wipe freshly picked boogers under the kitchen counter when we’re not looking.


The lever

I once traded a boerewors roll for a box of smarties at lunchtime. By way of explanation; I managed to convince my four year old to eat the roll in exchange for the promise of a chocolate reward.

Now, you may be shaking your head a little at this point with echoes of ‘bad parent’ beginning to bounce around inside your head, but let me tell you, for me it was a small victory in an ongoing battle of wills with my son. We continually find ourselves having to come up with, shall we say, more unorthodox methods to convince him to eat.

As it turned out, he was really only willing to eat the bread, rejecting the reality of the beef sausage entirely. So ultimately I was trading carbs for carbs, which is obviously not ideal given what we know these days about carbs from people like Tim.

Believe it or not we, the parents, are trying to foster good eating habits in our children, but with the little guy it is a challenge of sorts since he could just as easily not eat. He genuinely seems to not get the fascination the rest of the world has with food. If anything, he seems to view the entire ‘you must eat to live’ thing as somewhat of a burden that he could just as easily do without. When he finishes a meal he gives one the feeling that he has now eaten the meal you prepared but going forward he would very much not like to be bothered with the minutiae of nutrition, you know, ever again.

Fortunately, the universe has left us a little wriggle room. You see, he has somewhat of a sweet tooth and that presents us with opportunities for leverage. The sweet tooth gives us a place to stand and Nutella (or equivalent) is the lever that we use to displace his appreciable obstinacy.

I’m quite certain that Archimedes, who said something along the lines of  ‘Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world’ would approve.


The headless lego men

For some time now I’ve noticed that the little Lego characters inside the big box of Lego have fallen victim to a serious illness. They seem to be turning up headless. It’s happening more frequently these days and I simply I can’t figure out why it’s happening. I mean, I know who’s doing it, I just don’t know why.

The little guy will easily spend an hour all by himself sitting in front of the big box of Lego building crazy little creations. Everything he builds must have wheels or wings, that’s a given. Once he built a hydrofoil. I’ll wait a moment while you follow that link. I had to look it up too. He’s four.

Along with almost every creation he’ll have a hero and some sort of villain. The curious thing is it seems that in order for there to be a winner, someone has to loose their head. It’s almost as if he’s a parody of a French Revolutionary with a virtual guillotine. It should be noted that he doesn’t seem to have any clear preference for who wins or loses in these little matinees of his, just that in the end someone must loose their little yellow or pink Lego heads.

As an aside, I’d like to point out that in Lego, for the longest time, all the little characters had yellow heads with black details for mouth, nose, eyes and the like. When the Star Wars Lego started arriving on the scene, the characters all seemed to be created with little pink faces. Evolution I guess. But I digress…

The little guy, makes no distinction along these lines either. Yellow or pink, good or bad, Star Wars or Racing Car driver, the heads are all equally at risk. I often question him about it to try understand why, in his mind, they need to be beheaded and to date I still have not received a satisfactory response. He kind of skirts around the issue. I did make a rule that he can take the heads off while he’s playing but that when he’s done, everyone needs to be reconstituted and he agreed.

Then, a few days ago I went through the Lego and tried to rebuild all of the box set pieces that were missing wings or doors or wheels, matching them up with their Lego men. I find it quite relaxing, therapeutic even, creating order out of chaos like that. I uncovered a plethora of little Lego characters missing their heads. But it must be said, that my little Doctor Frankenstein gave it a best effort to try cover up the fact that he’d misplaced heads. He’d found a Lego piece in the box on which the Lego heads are based, one of their box sets had about ten of these pieces in it so there’s no shortage of them and they’re yellow to boot. But tellingly, there are no faces painted on these pieces. So he used these pieces as heads and covered up all the blank faces with Star Wars storm trooper helmets. On the surface everything looks fine, but dig a little deeper, lift a helmet or a visor and you find a mutant underneath.

In the end, I fixed all but one of them, a poor business man in a suit (can’t imagine where we got him from) for whom there was no real head to be found anywhere. So he remained the faceless business man. Not a word was exchanged between the little guy and I about this restoration on my part. Later that afternoon when the boys saw all the Lego men arranged neatly (and a little obsessive compulsively if I’m honest) on a Lego board for them, the little guy immediately pulled a storm trooper helmet off one of the men and a knowing smile spread across his sweet little face…

All fixed.