Category Archives: Children

Learning to be a grown-up

I’m proud to say that The Special One treats me like an adult. It comes as a shock sometimes, given that internally I still feel like the 10 year old putting penny sweets in a paper bag in the local sweetshopcandy store. But for some reason she still insists on talking to me like a 36 year old.

Of course, the problem with that is that she expects me to act like an adult. And so, when she asked me to read some passages of a book on birth to prepare me for the arrival of The Little One, she didn’t bother chasing me up like a kid with their homework to make sure that it had been done. She trusted me.

Of course, that was her big mistake. Well, my big mistake, but you know what I mean. Like all big mistakes, it eventually gets found out. Now, it would be embarrassing enough for any father to be caught out like this. It’s particularly embarrassing for me, given that The Special One actually wrote the book in question.

I guess the problem for me (apart from surviving the slings and arrows of an outraged wife) is that the best lessons I’ve ever learned have not come from books or classrooms, but through experience. You learn not to put your hand on the side of a hot oven by putting the aforementioned hand on the side of the aforementioned oven. You learn not to go all-in on a pair of threes by going all-in on a pair of threes. Life is a great teacher.

Now, learning through mistake and misadventure is all fine when it’s your own life you’re messing up. It’s a whole different matter when it’s a defenceless child you’re dealing with. And the problem is that there are some childraising issues that no book is ever going to be able to help you with.

Take fecal matter, for instance. No, please, take it. I have no idea why The Little One’s nappydiaper will one day contain half a litre of deep yellow Coleman’s mustard, and the next day resemble the aftermath left behind by a small group of partying rabbits. And unless a book contains a comprehensive colour chart vaguely reminiscent of a paint catalogue to help me identify the likely cause of today’s particular hue, it’s going to be of no use whatsoever.

Similarly, for years I’ve watched friends expertly turn a bottle upside down and dab a little bit of milk on the inside of the wrist before feeding their baby. So when The Special One left me with a bottle of breast milk to feed our daughter, I instinctively put a droplet on my wrist, as if I was a young ingenue applying Chanel No 5 ahead of a secret assignation. And then I realised that I had no frame of reference to tell me what I was looking for. I was guessing that it was for heat, but was it too little or too much, or was I actually testing for some skin-based poison, or to make sure that I hadn’t inadvertently filled the bottle with Sprite?

The fact is that mums either have innate knowledge that dads are not born with, or they read a hell of lot more about this childraising lark, or they make full use of their network of fellow mums to get their questions answered. My money’s on the latter (unless The Special One is reading this, in which case it’s clearly innate knowledge, darling).

If I’m right, then why is it that there aren’t some more ‘dads groups’ so that I can ask the unaskable among a group of my peers? A gathering of fathers would allow me determine whether purple trousers go with yellow tops, without being given the look usually reserved for the moments when I’ve accidentally stepped in cat vomit and trailed it through the house. Or to ascertain whether a particular type of crying is caused by actual pain, or an intense disappointment at my recent haircut.

Of course, the problem is that if you put a group of men in a room together, the closest you’re likely to get to baby talk is whether it’s possible to put day old pizza into a food grinder and serve it to your child. In the absence of any other foodstuffs, obviously – we’re men, not animals. And while I have every interest in a full and frank exchange on the weekend’s sports, it’s not going to help me work out where to insert that thermometer…

Frankly, I think it’s time for The Special One to write a book on childraising. I will definitely read it this time, I promise. I’m an adult, after all.

Life’s too short to hate (or is it?)

One of the joys of fatherhood – whether as a stepfather or as a natural parent – is the opportunity to see the world with a fresh pair of eyes. I may well be world-weary even at my age, but even something that has become the norm for you can become truly exciting again when you’re introducing a child to a whole new experience.

As a result, my elder daughter – The Artist Formerly Known As The Youngest – and I found ourselves in a Thai restaurant yesterday evening, getting some much needed food ahead of a trip to Madison Square Gardens to see Alicia Keys perform live in concert.

The interesting thing about spending any amount of time alone with a 12 year old is that the conversation has a weird ebb and flow to it. For a few minutes you might sit in absolute silence as you desperately cast around for topics that might be of interest to you both. Then once you hit paydirt, you suddenly find that you can’t get a word in edgeways for half an hour, as a stream of consciousness is unleashed upon you and anyone within a 60 yard radius. And then silence again.

During one of these conversational ‘tirades’ last night, my daughter brought up the topic of hate, saying that she doesn’t understand why some people say that hate is too strong an emotion. She then proceeded to string together a list that may have included everything from her third grade teacher through to the socio-economic policies of the autocratic regimes of Central Africa. I wasn’t on the hate list, I’m happy to say, although that may simply have been a pragmatic approach on her part, prompted by my decision not to give her the concert ticket ahead of time.

Anyway, if I’d have managed to jam a metaphorical foot into her conversational door in order to squeeze a sentence in, I’d have said that I agree with those people who don’t have any time for hate. But then I realized that there is just one thing that drives me mad to the point of loathing – something that makes me angry whenever I see it, almost to the point where I feel like taking decisive physical action to remedy the situation.

Because, dear reader, violence against books just isn’t acceptable.

I grew up worshipping books – eagerly devouring every last page and twist of everything from the Secret Seven and the Roald Dahl books, to Agatha Christie and even Jeffrey Archer. And so sacred did all books become to me that I couldn’t even bear to break the spine, let alone deface them in any other way. I used to read books with the pages only as far apart as would be allowed by my thumb being wedged in at the bottom. Oh hell, what am I talking about – I still read books that way. No folded corners, no creases in the cover, and I always make sure to pick up the book that’s about six from the front in the bookshop, just so that it’s as flat as possible.

Obsessive-compulsive? Moi?

The Special One, incidentally, has a completely different view. She naively believes that books are there to be enjoyed. If she’s even in the same room as a book, its spine will crack spontaneously, in fear of the numerous pains that she is about to inflict on its pages. I wince in agony as she flattens the book completely with the palm of her hand, or leaves it splayed open while she goes off in search of a late-night snack. Hurt a book, and you are hurting me.

Recently though, I’ve noticed that more and more New Yorkers seem to be writing in their books. Maybe I’m just coming across more students, but it seems that the primary use for a biroballpoint pen these days is to scrawl copious notes (generally in green, I like to think) in otherwise beautiful and pristine books. Underlinings, rambling notes, and even doodles I’ve seen recently – is nothing truly sacrosanct these days? I’m thinking of starting a campaign for a legislative change which would allow any book being used in such a way to be snatched from the holder’s hand by any passing stranger. Watch out New York, the Book Police are in town.

Suffice to say that I managed to put aside my hatred for the course of last night’s concert, and a good time was had by all. The Artist Formerly Known As The Youngest burst into tears when Alicia Keys introduced Beyonce, and shrieked at the top of her voice when Jay-Z came on stage at the end.

She must have learned how to scream from seeing me shortly after her mother has picked up a book, that’s for sure.

Top secret dossier: how kids are saving the world

Irrational irritation is something I do well. You may have noticed. After all, there is no reason why the two people managing to take up an entire hallway and preventing anyone from passing should really annoy me. Getting past them might save me three seconds on my journey to wherever I’m going. And to be honest, I’m probably only heading to buy a packet of crispschips in the first place.

I try to pretend to family and friends that I’m as laid back as Hong Kong Phooey’s mild mannered janitor alter-ego. But just beneath the surface is a raging firebrand capable of getting annoyed at the drop of a hat. And, being a parent to two high school kids, let me tell you that there’s plenty of material to keep me in furrowed brows for many a long year to come.

Now obviously, I was a pure angel when I was a kid growing up back in the UK. I said all my please’s and thank you’s, brushed my teeth, helped out around the house, and never once complained when we had to walk fourteen miles to school in the wind and the snow. With no shoes. Or clothes.

My saintliness clearly makes me ideally positioned to comment on the weaknesses of American youth, I’m sure you’ll agree. The fact is that I never wanted to be the kind of person who would be easily irritated with the actions of kids. And indeed, most of the time I try to keep a lid on it. But to my great shame, there used to be certain things that would be guaranteed to drive me to distraction.

Until, that is, I learned that American youngsters are aware of certain laws of the universe that only affect those under 16; where previously I thought that their actions were designed to annoy, I now understand that they are just trying to save themselves, their family and – indeed – the universe, from eternal harm. These include:

1. The nuclear toilet
When the Cold War was at its height, a crack team of maverick US scientists gathered together a few miles outside Pike View, Kentucky, to discuss ways of creating a ‘self destruct’ button for the United States, should it ever be taken over by the Russians. The method they conceived would astonish the world.

Having infiltrated the factories of American Standard, the boffins managed to ensure that each and every toilet installed in US homes was capable of bringing about a nuclear winter of its own under certain conditions. The task force quickly decided that adults couldn’t be trusted with the instructions for detonation, so they instead recruited fifteen year old boys as their agents of destruction.

At its most basic, the plan works something like this. If a fifteen year old boy ever flushes a toilet, then the nuclear toilet device is automatically armed. If the child then fails to pee all over the seat, the weapon will destruct within five minutes. Some of the more modern devices are a little less sensitive, and will allow the agent to pee all over the floor as an alternative safety mechanism.

2. Job creation lighting
One of the less publicized elements of the economic stimulus act that was brought into force over a year ago was the formulation of PABS, or – to give it its full title – Powering America By Squirrels. The bottom simply fell out of squirrel training when the credit crunch hit, and the creation of job opportunities for squirrels and their mentors became a central issue on the campaign trail in some key swing states such as West Virginia and Ohio.

As a result when he came to power, President Obama decreed that large battalions of squirrels should be formed, and that they be trained to operate miniature canoes hooked up to dynamos, which in turn provide power to the national grid.

So successful has the campaign been that some trainers have become fat cats off the earnings, and the United States has an unlikely glut of electricity supply.

All teenagers have been informed of this, in a series of top secret communiques delivered through the public school system. As a result, each of them is intensely aware that every time they turn off a light, a squirrel is shot dead somewhere in Findlay, Ohio. And frankly, none of them want squirrel blood on their delicate workshy hands.

3. Impending hot lava destruction
For years the newspapers have been filled with stories that in thousands of years time, the Earth will crash into the Sun/be hit by a meteor the size of Australia/run out of oxygen and lead us all to breathe through specially adapted face-mounted raccoons. Frankly though, there’s a far greater problem that threatens the human race.

For years, the molten core of the Earth has been consuming the ground above it, sucking millions of years of rock into its shadowy vortex. Where once there were thousands of miles of protective strata, now the sod is like a fragile epidermis on the surface of a molten mass.

Indeed, so perilously thin is the outer layer of our planet now that in some areas of civilization, lava has broken through the ground. Governments around the world are working in unison to resolve the issue, but in the meantime there is understandable concern that if mankind discovers this problem, there will be panic, looting and rioting across the world.

As most of the holes appear confined to domestic bedrooms, children have been recruited by specially created federal agencies to hide the problem from over anxious adults. Under-16s have all been fitted with lava detectors, enabling them to sniff out holes as soon as they occur. These gaps can then be hidden by carefully placing as many of their possessions as possible on the floor over the hole. Most bedrooms appear to have multiple holes, often resulting in all shelves being cleared of items in order that they be hastily put to use on carpets and wooden floors.

Do note that some parents have attempted to insist on the clearance of the covering devices. Owners of such parents have been mandated to implement a ‘tantrum to kill’ policy in order to avert imminent disaster.

Rest assured that the future health of the United States is safe in the hands of this house’s very own agents. To any parents reading this, please try not to get irrationally irritated as I used to. Let’s support all our children in the sterling work they do in support of this fading planet of ours.

I’m a lover, not a fighter

When the desire to get into a fight was given out, it’s fair to say that I was probably sitting underneath a table somewhere playing with an Etch-A-Sketch. Given that I never had the punching power of a Ricky Hatton, or the ability to flee from trouble with the pace of Usain Bolt, I used to simply put my head down and hope that nobody would bother battering an awkward looking kid whose biggest interest was collecting football stickers.

That said, though, it’s almost impossible to go 36 years without getting into some sort of fight. Incredibly, I’ve only managed two – and let’s just say that I’ve not shown the kind of talent to worry Manny Pacquiao just yet.

The first one probably came in 1987, in the entrance way to my school. Before school started, kids would throw their bags in a big pile at the side of the hallway, and then head outside to play footballsoccer with a tennis ball, or have a crafty cigarette behind the woodwork studio.

On the day in question, I noticed a kid from the year above me picking up my bag and flinging it across the room. After – erm – politely enquiring as to his purpose (using a succession of choice words from the 1971 edition of The Filthy Sailor’s Dictionary), the two of us squared up to each other.

Now, there are a number of important things to note here. Anti-confrontation though I may be, you have to draw the line somewhere. And for me ‘somewhere’ is just around the point you see your bag (covered in music and football scrawlings) sailing through the air in a perfect high speed arc. That said, I would not have taken matters further with someone a year older than me if it hadn’t been for the fact that he was at least a foot smaller and boasted a body shape that almost certainly made him the original inspiration for the Weebles.

What followed can only be described as ‘handbags at dawn’. Defying the notion that weebles wobble but they don’t fall down, the two of us ended up scrabbling around in the mélange of bags, pulling at each others hair and grappling for holds with all the effectiveness of a partially paralyzed wrestler. Who lost his sight three years ago. Along with a leg.

Finally I managed to hold the kid down with one hand, and pulled my fist back into the air to deliver the coup de grace fist to his irritatingly smarmy face. I took one glance back to admire my fist before it plunged headlong into the sinews and cartilage of my foe’s nose, and shuddered in horror as the face of my Latin teacher filled my vision. Mr Johnson – or “Dickchin” as his student charges so eloquently tagged him – shook his head, separated the two of us, and sent us on our way. I can only assume that he was so piteous of the manner of the fight that he couldn’t quite bring himself to punish us.

My second fight came almost nine years later, after a frankly regrettable evening with one of my longest-standing friends, who now makes his living by offering insightful analysis of the Asian money markets in one of the world’s leading financial newspapers. Back then, he was as easily influenced as me, as became apparent after the two of us headed to the cinema to see the B-movie schlockfest that was “From Dusk Till Dawn.”

For those of you who haven’t seen it (and I’m hoping that there are plenty of you), there’s a scene in the movie where the likes of Juliette Lewis and George Clooney sit around a table at the delightfully named Titty Twister strip club, drinking from a bottle of spiritsliquor. It was probably the one memorable scene from an otherwise forgettable movie, and when my friend and I emerged, we walked straight into the pub next door and ordered double shots of whisky.

Eight double shots and an hour or two later, the two of us found ourselves singing “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” on a snowy Cambridge street, in the general direction of the flatapartment occupied by my friend’s then-girlfriend. To be fair, she’s now his wife and mother of his two children, but from the expletives she issued forth when opening her third floor window, it was touch and go for a moment.

Barely able to focus, let alone walk, I zigzagged my way back towards home. For some reason, despite the fact that it was by now about 1am, I decided that it would be good to take a shortcut through a local shopping precinctmall. Strangely the doors failed to give as I pushed them (the fact that there were no lights on inside should have been a clue to me), and as I turned to walk away, a man sitting on the steps of an adjacent restaurant with his girlfriend laughed and swore at me.

Now, admittedly I shouldn’t have flipped him the v’sbird. But as I walked away I thought no more of him. Until he ran after me, that is. To be honest, I didn’t see his fist until it connected with my jaw. The second time he swung, I remember seeing his clenched hand by his side, but the effects of the whisky meant I didn’t see it again before it connected with my eye. At that point, my French side kicked in, and I legged it. My assailant didn’t bother pursuing me, possibly out of pity, which is fortunate given that I had as much ability to run as the aforementioned one legged wrestler.

Anyway, my point is that – one black eye aside – I’ve never had to bear the scars of battle like some fight-hardened individuals.

Until I became a new father, that is.

One thing that nobody ever tells you when you’re about to become a dad is that your newborn’s nails will grow faster than America’s national debt. Or that cutting them without causing injury is the 18th most difficult thing in the world (easier than getting a camel to peel a pomegranate, but more difficult than getting a New Yorker to say thank you).

Cutting a baby’s nails is like being a trainee bomb disposal specialist. You’ve read the books and seen the videos, but when it comes down to doing it for real, you’re so nervous that you sweat more than Tiger Woods when he’s lost his mobile phone. With each press of the clipper, you’re looking at the baby’s face for any sign that you’ve metaphorically snipped the wrong wire. Because, trust me, when you’ve nicked the skin around a baby’s nail, the resultant nuclear meltdown makes Chernobyl seem like an unfortunate domestic accident with a deep fat fryer.

The upshot of this is that clipping The Little One’s nails is a rarity. As a result, she’s starting to bear a startling resemblance to Edward Scissorhands. And now that she’s discovered reaching and grabbing, she’s single-handedly making me look like someone who’s been twelve rounds with Mike Tyson.

So far I’ve got an inch long scar down my right cheek, a mark on my chin vaguely resembling a knuckle duster, and multiple scratches on my nose. Thankfully her favourite move – inserting one finger into each of my nostrils and pulling as hard as she can – leaves no visible marks.

It’s the emotional scars that last forever though.

How I never became a spy

I was always fascinated by the idea of being a spy when I was a kid. I think someone bought me a thick red hardback ‘spy handbook for kids’ for Christmas one year, and I never looked back from there. Each day I’d race home from school and pore over it, testing myself to make sure that I knew everything there was to know about dead letter boxes, codebreaking, and leaving notes for my handler in the classified section of the Daily Telegraph. Put simply, if my country ever called on me to be a real life James Bond, I wanted to be ready.

Of course, I knew that becoming a spy wouldn’t be easy, so I launched a campaign to get myself under the collective proboscii of the British counter-intelligence authorities. Having been accepted at a university well-known as a hunting ground for some of the finest spies (and traitors) that my country ever produced, I figured it was just a matter of time before I was behind enemy lines, sleeping with a Russian temptress desperate to get her duplicitous hands on my rather impressive cyphercipher.

I even took a university course on espionage in the 20th century, taught by one of the topic’s finest minds. And as I listened to Oleg Gordievsky describe how he managed to escape the Soviet Union to defect to the west, I smiled knowingly, as if to give respect to a man like myself who knew what it took to be a spy.

Strangely, the call never came. The closest I got was being interviewed by the ‘Foreign Office’ as a final reference for a friend who had irritatingly been spotted as a potential recruit to the secret services. The day after a grey suited figure came to talk to me, my friend was called to be told that he wasn’t suitable.

Having failed to become a spy, anonymity hasn’t always been my main concern. And that extends to this blog. Sure, I may hide behind this shadowy ‘Brit Out Of Water’ figure, but most regulars know my name, and I’m even Facebook friends with a few of them. I try to keep my work out of the blog, on the basis that – well – I like being one of the few people left in America who still has a job. But other than that, I’m a pretty open book.

Such openness is not without its problems though.

This weekend, it finally struck home with The Artist Formerly Known As The Youngest that I write a blog, and that it was possible that it might occasionally mention her. And like the proverbial dog with a bone, she wasn’t going to let go until she got to the bottom of it.

“So what do you call me on your blog?”

“I don’t really have a name for you since your sister was born. You used to be called The Youngest, but you’re not the youngest any more.”

“So what do you write about me?”

“I don’t really write about you as that wouldn’t be fair to you. But you do come up as part of a story every now and then.”

“So what do you write about me?”

“Like I say, I just refer to you in passing.”

“So what do you write about me?”

“It’s not a blog about you. It’s about my life in America. You are just occasionally mentioned as you’re part of my life in America.”

“So what do you write about me?”

“I mention your mum much more. She’s The Special One. You’re a side character, to keep your life private.”

“SO. WHAT. DO. YOU. WRITE. ABOUT. ME?”

“Well you can read it for yourself – I’ll give you the address.”

“Why would I want to read your blog?”

Ah, American youth – reassuringly narcissistic, unless it involves doing some work. Let’s hope the US spies of the future are spoonfed the secrets of their targets, and that all hidden messages are contained within Mythbusters.

The longest day – part 3

1501 Decide that a change of scenery might be a good thing for both of us. The Artist Formerly Known As The Youngest has returned from a sleepover, and insists on being taken out so that I can buy her all the things she needs to make me a Christmas present. Try to point out the irony of the situation, but then quickly remember that I am in America.
1515 Baby smiling in stroller, step-daughter animatedly chatting and laughing by my side. Feel certain that I will be the subject of an hour long network TV documentary on parenting perfection.
1517 You always get a meltdown when you least expect it. Attempt to soothe The Little One’s tears by slaloming the stroller with a deftness of touch that would have had Franz Klammer weeping. Send The Artist Formerly Known As The Youngest into the pharmacy to get the liquid glycerin she needs.
1518 TAFKATY comes out of the pharmacy to ask if she should buy the one in the tub or bottle. Distracted by the frenzied crying, I say it doesn’t matter.
1521 Gently try to let my twelve year old stepdaughter know that it’s my fault that she bought the wrong thing, and that it’s probably going to be quite difficult to make soap from glycerin suppositories.
1522 Inwardly pray that she doesn’t ask me what a suppository is for.
1525 Try to pretend that I’ve not heard her, and attempt to distract her with the offer of a slice of pizza for lunch.
1530 It’s amazing how insistent a twelve year old can be. Who said that the youth of today have the concentration spans of a gnat?
1550 Give in.
1551 Being seen in charge of one crying daughter can elicit looks of sympathy from passers by. Having two on your hands makes you look like Herod.
1610 New York City grocery store aisles are not designed to accommodate strollers. Knock around seven cans of canned asparagus on the floor, and ensure that at least two old ladies will be hoping for hip replacement surgery this Christmas. Notice a glint in The Little One’s eyes as I skittle one granny over. Make mental note to watch my back when she gets a little bit older.
1629 Mentally berate myself for not remembering mittens for my daughter. Feel sure that The Special One will notice if she returns home and finds her with fingers turned black through frostbite.
1647 Make it back to the house with all ten digits seemingly intact. Decide to maintain an all-night finger vigil, just in case.
1702 Remember that Americans don’t use the twenty four hour clock. Vow silently to ensure that I translate my timings into the twelve hour system, just in case my ramblings are ever published.
1711 Start to panic that there won’t be enough milk left to last The Little One until her mother gets home. One of us may survive the resultant domestic armageddon, but nobody’s putting any money on it being me.
1722 The tears begin. Grab tissue and hope that I can stop crying by the time The Special One walks in, in just 38 minutes time.
1731 Daughter senses my weakness, and turns on the waterworks. Half expect that she will issue a list of demands to be fulfilled in return for pretending to be asleep when her mother arrives.
1739 Throw my last turn of the dice, by offering her the remaining few millilitreers of milk. Pray that sleep arrives before she can remember that she was supposed to be crying.
1745 Overcome by my subterfuge, The Little One closes her eyes and falls asleep. I look around the living room, and realize that it makes Calcutta look like a bijou area of Kensington by comparison.
1746 Begin running around like a crazed maniac, wiping down surfaces and throwing debris into any available cupboard. Consider sticking a broom up my arseass to speed the process, but don’t have time to find one.
1755 As I pick up the last toys, The Little One suddenly begins to shuffle and squawk, causing me to freeze motionless in panic. Time passes with all the speed of an unstarred McDonalds server.
1759 Out of the corner of my eye, I see The Special One walking up the path. The Little One drops her head. I jump into my chair with the grace of a leaping salmon, grabbing and opening a magazine as I fall. I am relaxation personified.
1800 “Tough day, honey?” asks The Special One. “Not at all – we’ve just been hanging out,” I reply. “So why are you reading Country Living upside down?”
1801 I swear that I see my sleeping daughter smile knowingly at me. We all know who’s boss, and it isn’t me.

The longest day – part 2

1201 Set a new world record for the Sofa To Kitchen 30 Yard Dash, grabbing coffee and returning to daughter in 5.7 seconds. Daughter looks at me as if to say “what took you so long?”
1203 Realise that the Manchester United game will be on TV in less than half an hour. Talk to The Little One about buying her a car when she’s old enough if she sleeps through the whole thing. Talk to myself about developing better negotiating skills.
1205 Decide that some milk might aid the sleep process, easily resisting the devil in my head suggesting Ambien.
1207 My daughter is clearly destined to be a mathematician. Every time I lower her from my chest, The Little One is utterly fine until she’s moved through 90 degrees. 89 degrees is fine, 90 degrees unleashes the flaming bowels of hell. Attempt to force nipple of bottle into mouth anyway. Am quietly impressed by The Little One’s ability to emit 57+ decibels while having her mouth clamped as tightly shut as Susan Boyle’s ladybits.
1210 Silently curse myself for not having attempted to give my daughter a bottle before. Wonder if I can quickly rustle up some kind of contraption using bits of rubber tubing to trick The Little One into believing she’s drinking from an actual nipple. Quickly shelve the idea when I realise that the neighbours can see through the window. Seeing a ten week old seemingly suckling from a 36 year old man’s nipple might be a little too much for them.
1215 Try pleading with daughter. Am given a look which makes it clear that she accepts my unconditional surrender, and that I should report to my domestic prisoner-of-war camp for my eighteen year sentence.
1218 Give up trying to feed The Little One. Wonder whether I can put the breast milk into the hastily-grabbed coffee I forgot to put some semi-skimmed in. Waste not, want not.
1220 Ten minutes to the game. Am sure I see The Little One’s left eye start to droop. Decide it’s a combination of wishful thinking and early-onset cabin fever.
1223 No, that really was an eye that I saw closing.
1225 As the United team walk out, The Little One finally succumbs to tiredness. Although to be fair, it may have been the promise of the car finally working its magic.
1229 If ten weeks of fatherhood have taught me anything, it’s that nothing can be assumed to be forever. As a result, I sit and wait in doomed expectation for the young lady to stir at the very moment I turn my attention to the problems in United’s defence.
1240 Aston Villa score, but I am too caught up in the fact that my daughter is still asleep to notice. Begin to look around for hidden cameras, convinced that I am now part of some sick Japanese gameshow, and this is the attempt to lull me into a false sense of security.
1258 She’s been asleep for almost half an hour, and still I can’t quite accept that it’s real. My brow is now furrowed in the manner of a man who has just turned down a threesome with Linda Evangelista and Claudia Schiffer because he assumes that the supermodels are playing a joke on him.
1317 Right, it’s half time, and she still hasn’t as much as moved. Begin to worry, and try to gently poke her to make sure that she’s still alive.
1322 Go off to the kitchen in search of cling film to put near her mouth or nose so that I can make sure that she’s still breathing. I’m sure that’s what they do on Midsomer Murders, right?
1325 Have a moment of clarity as I’m about to put cling film over my sleeping daughter’s mouth and nose. Decide to let her sleep, but surreptitiously have a look on Google for ‘paralysis brought on by leaving your daughter alone for 5.7 seconds’.
1330 Convince myself that United will only equalize if The Little One wakes. Start wafting milk bottle under her nose in order to tempt her out of slumber. Am quietly impressed that she has inherited her father’s stubbornness.
1409 Can’t quite believe that my daughter has happily enabled me to watch the entire football game, and I’ve spent all but three minutes worrying that she’s dead/paralysed/critically ill/all of the above.
1417 Full time whistle goes, and The Little One wakes within seconds. I break it to her that she’s going to have to wait well over 16 years for the car. Her cold stare suggests that only by making me pay for four years of law school will she gain her revenge.
1433 Decide to have another go at at the bottle. Realise that I have no idea how I’m supposed to defrost milk, given that the tiny sachets expressed by The Special One don’t appear to come with microwave instructions. Briefly consider introducing The Little One to icepops, before melting the milk in a bowl of boiling water.
1435 Put a little bit of milk on the back of my hand because I’ve seen people do that on the TV. Realise that I have no idea what I’m supposed to be checking for.
1440 Fear that my daughter may eat my hand if I don’t put it out of her reach, such is the voraciousness of her appetite suddenly. Become terrified of ‘reprisals’ should she reach the end of the bottle and still be hungry. After all, to misquote Michael Caine, “she’s a big girl, and I’m out of shape.”

To be continued (I told you it was the longest day)…

The longest day – part 1

I was left alone with a ten week old child this Saturday. I can only assume that The Special One had exhausted all other options and – left with no other choice – decided to leave The Little One in my care. As a public service to new fathers everywhere, I’d like to share my diary from that day with you.

0915 Stare at the clock in abject horror. Mentally calculate that I’ve got somewhere in the region of ten hours to survive without accidentally physically or emotionally scarring my beloved daughter for life. Idly ponder whether I’ve got more chance of winning the Nobel Peace Prize by the time I’m 39, before realizing that I’ve just walked out of the bedroom leaving my impossibly young daughter all alone with my prize winning collection of antique razor blades.
0916 Look up the numbers for local doctors and hospitals just in case. Plan quickest route to hospital, before remembering that I don’t drive. Phone all taxi companies in the area to put them on standby.
0930 Daughter wakes from milk-induced coma, thoughtfully administered by The Special One prior to leaving. Change diaper, and beam with pleasure as The Little One smiles and laughs her way through the entire process. Transfer her to the bed, and lie next to her to play and chat.
0940 Wonder what all the fuss is about this whole childcare malarkey. Casually consider whether my ‘Dad of the Year’ mug will arrive in time for a Christmas morning brew.
0941 Daughter begins crying. Starts with a casual ‘I’ve just watched ET, and I can’t quite believe that he’s gone back home’ affair, before progressing to ‘I just stubbed my toe on a cast iron sewing machine thoughtfully left on the floor’. She then pauses briefly at ‘I’m sure I didn’t put “must get a demand for thousands of dollars of back tax on the same day that I get fired” on my Christmas wishlist’ before slamming headlong into ‘my fiance just dumped me at the altar to run off with my mother, but not before making me watch as he pureed three lovable puppies in a blender bought for us as a wedding present’.
0945 The high-pitched screams remind me that I must replace our smoke detectors. That is, if The Special One spares me my life when she gets home and finds The Little One still crying.
0951 Holy crap, has anyone ever got quite this red, hot and bothered before? The Little One is looking a bit peeky too.
0955 Check clock. Realise that I’ve only got through 40 minutes so far. Decide to put the wine rack in the downstairs bathroom, to put it out of temptation’s path.
0956 With daughter crying on shoulder, I hunt desperately through my music on iTunes trying to find something that resembles a lullaby.
0957 Hope that the neighbours don’t report me to social services for accidentally playing Slipknot at high volume whilst in charge of a minor.
0958 I don’t care what I might have said in the past, I’ve always loved ABBA! The first bars of Dancing Queen provoke instant calm in The Little One, and I lower her down onto my chest for a celebratory dance. Am given a look that suggests I will be tolerated at best. She must have learnt it from her mother.
1001 Crying starts again immediately as the song finishes, and I frantically try to line up another track. Inwardly pray that Dancing Queen is not the only song that keeps her happy, for fear that I may turn into a babbling mess after ten hours. “Having the time of your life”, my arse.
1002 Take A Chance On Me seems to work too. Am now in full-on whoop-and-holler, and begin to create devious Baby Whisperer playlist.
1034 Michael Jackson is a hit with the kids. Not the first time that sentence has been used, clearly.
1042 Am now on a roll. Have discovered that Queen has a similarly soothing effect, and croon along happily with Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
1045 Decide that I need to vet future lyrics for appropriateness, after serenading my daughter with Bohemian Rhapsody’s “I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.”
1101 Blimey, she does NOT like Radiohead. To be fair, even Radiohead’s kids don’t like Radiohead, but I thought I’d try out a little bit of commercial credibility before heading back to the cheese.
1109 Is it wrong to play Amy Winehouse to your ten week old daughter?
1115 Mind wanders to the fact that I’ve not had coffee yet. Daughter still calm from all the dancing and singing, so decide to take my chances. I put her down with her favourite glow worm toy, and walk into the kitchen as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star plays.
1115 and 12 seconds Manage to turn tap on before screaming begins. Walk back into living room, pick daughter up, and press button to soothe her with the help of REM’s Shiny Happy People. Hand slips at last moment, and we end up dancing to Can’t Fight This Feeling by REO Speedwagon.
1130 Finally make it back to kitchen, with Freres Jacques being emitted by the glow worm.
1130 and 27 seconds Oh for crying out loud.
1140 Back to the kitchen. Four tablespoons of coffee go into the percolator. Am midway through administering tablespoons five to ten when I hear a bone shuddering thud back in the living room.
1141 Soothe cat, who has fallen backwards off the arm of the sofa onto the wooden floor. Presumably in shock at The Little One remaining quiet for thirty seconds. Cat refuses to dance to Barry Manilow with me, but seems offended when I walk back to kitchen. I think she was hoping for some N’Sync.
1148 Finally turn coffee machine on. Adopt the appearance of a man who has five minutes to defuse a bomb, with beads of sweat dripping down my brow as I wait to see whether the coffee will be completed before The Little One inevitably explodes.
1153 Does she have x-ray vision, enabling her to sense when the coffee is going to be ready?!
1159 Look at the clock. Struggle to understand why time is moving more slowly today. Surely it must be 7pm already. On Wednesday. Wonder how I’m going to make it through the afternoon. Decide to hide the Brit Out Of Water collection of fine malts.

To be continued…

Comes with instructions

As every long suffering wife or female partner will readily testify, it is absolutely verboten for men to read an instruction manual before plugging in a piece of technological gadgetry. Any male choosing to even remove the ‘How To…’ guide from its plastic will have his membership of the Men’s Union terminated with immediate effect, a punishment which also applies to any man choosing to ask for travel directions or for assistance finding a product in a shop. 

Clearly, this can cause problems. I spent more than half an hour attempting to hook up my laptop to the TV on Friday night, despite the fact that a quick trip to the basement and the abandoned pile of various manuals would have probably saved me all the effort. And I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve walked out of a store without the item I needed, only to find three months later that the thing I had expensively imported from Guadeloupe or Ulam Bator was on a shelf there after all. 

Call it stubborn male pride, call it fierce independence or call it bloody-minded stupidity (a title that The Special One is not without merit in using), but whatever it is, I just can’t help myself. Whether it’s a $5 piece of tat or an expensive hi-tech bit of kit, instructions may as well be written in Chinese, such is their value to me. 

Of course, children – our highest of the hi-tech gadgets, after all – are perfect for somebody with this kind of attitude, as they come without any kind of manual whatsoever, and you just have to figure it all out for yourself. Unless you live in New York City, clearly, where babies really do come with their very own instruction book. 

Don’t worry, the manual isn’t pushed out alongside your newborn; they tried that for a while, but they had problems getting the sharp corners through the birth canal. Instead the city simply sends you the instruction pamphlet when they postmail the birth certificate to you. It’s conveniently entitled “Your New Baby”, just in case you get it confused with the manual for your answering machine, and it purports to be from Thomas Farley (MD, MPH), the commissioner of the New York City Health Department. 

Not daring to risk my membership of the Men’s Union, but also not wanting to miss any valuable parenting lessons, I took the booklet to the smallest room in the house and settled down to bask in its glorious authority. I feel that there are some essential tips that I need to share with you all: 

1. Coming at the start, as page 1 has an alarming tendency to do, you have to imagine that page 1 contains the essential stuff that new NYC parents need to know – the vital facts, just in case you only read one page. The three points that the aforementioned page 1 mentions are “enjoy your baby” (a critical reminder when you’re changing a vivid orange nappydiaper at 3am), “talk to your baby”, and – of course – “limit TV”. That’s right, New York parents have to be reminded not to let their kids watch TV before they need to be told about trivial stuff like, you know, feeding and medical care. It’s no surprise that the “how to comfort your crying baby” section over the page suggests “turn down the lights and turn off the TV.”   

2. Apparently, you should “never shake your baby”. It’s helpful suggestions like this which explain why I never pick up instruction books.   

3. “Keep Your Baby Safe” is the helpful advice of one section. I think that Thomas Farley has heard that I can never remember in the morning where I put my wallet and keys the night before, panicked, and put this section in. Although if that is the case, I don’t think that putting the baby “on the hook by the door” is the solution to anybody’s problems.   

4. Does anybody really need to be told “Don’t Let Anyone Smoke Around Your Baby” these days? And don’t even get me started on “Keep Your Baby Away From Poisons”. Although to be fair, I’d accidentally left Brit Out Of Water Jr playing with a pile of arsenic when I went off to the bathroom to read this pamphlet, so I was mighty relieved that New York City was tipping me off to this inadvertent danger.   

5. In the 2009 list of The World’s Most Ridiculously Obvious Statements, “Be The Best Parent You Can Be” ranks only one notch lower than “Don’t Introduce Your Daughter To Tiger Woods”.   

Incidentally, the final section of the manual is entitled “Planning Pregnancy” giving details of emergency contraception usage among other things. I can only imagine that this is New York City’s little joke at the expense of new parents, gently telling them that if they’d only read this booklet then they wouldn’t be in this sorry mess in the first place.

The one thing I’m still puzzling about is where the remote control for the baby is. She makes an awful amount of noise when she’s hungry, and it’d be useful to be able to use the mute function. Of course, if we’d splashed out on the Sky+Tivo baby, I’d be able to fast forward through the diaper changes too, but you can’t have everything.

A long overdue Halloween missive

It’s pretty astonishing how being a father to a month old baby can change your perspective on the things that matter in life. Although, for the avoidance of doubt, I will never like peanut butter, no matter how much my daughter comes to believe it to be the lifeblood that keeps her in existence.

Nut spread issues aside, all other opinions and theories are now officially open to change. And that was never more evident than in my reaction to Halloween this year.

Now, bear in mind that I am the man that wrote this. I think it’s fair to say that I have never been the biggest fan of Halloween. Most Americans tend to take it more seriously than, say, breathing. In the same way that the likes of Hallmark have managed to persuade us that Administrative Professionals Day is a worthy use of our hard-earned cash, so costume manufacturers have managed to convince Americans that a pagan ritual is a good reason to provide extensive job creation for 7 year olds in Indonesia.

But then introduce a small child to the mix (one too young to even see a pumpkin two feet away from her, let alone participate herself) and everything changes. Suddenly when Halloween arrives, you’re focusing on whether you’ve got enough sweetscandy for everyone, and pondering whether you should probably go out and buy another three tons of mini Snickers bars just in case.

Of course, the presence this year of She Who Was Born To Worry probably helped foster the festive spirit. Particularly as after a couple of visits from local kids, she designated herself The Candy Witch, refusing to dole out more than one sweet per child, and giving venemous looks to anyone who failed to say thank you.

So while I resisted costume this year, and instead dressed merely as ‘confused new father operating on two hours sleep’ (a look that I pulled off with comparative ease, if I’m honest), I nonetheless entered into the spirit of the occasion. Fortunately enough questionable events occurred to ensure that I could maintain the healthy dose of overarching cynicism that you all have come to expect of me.

1. The little princess with dietary restrictions
The very first knock at the door came from a tiny princess, who could have been no older than six. She immediately endeared herself to us by pushing her nose up against the screen door to peer inside. Indeed, she was so sweet, I even managed to fight off the overwhelming need to get some spray cleaner and wipe off her smudgy little paw prints from the glass.

And the first thing she said as The Special One opened the door and proffered the bowl of many delights? “My mommy says that I’m not allowed any chocolate.” This came as a blow, given that the “many delights” in the bowl were solely chocolate-based. Thankfully The Special One managed to convince her that the Reese’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup (the root of all candy evil, by the way) actually contained no chocolate, and sent her on her way with a smile on her face. But what parents send their kids out with specific dietary restrictions? “Now, little Elsie, remember that high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavourings are fine, but chocolate and gelatin are out. And don’t ring number 87’s doorbell this year – you know your brother’s never been the same since the electric shock.”

2. The little brothers and sisters
The age range of the trick-or-treaters varied wildly, from the three year old who practically had to be dragged up the steps to the door, to the dubiously aged teens whose skirts were short enough that their parents felt the need to accompany them. As a side note, I’m all for the principle that Halloween is an opportunity for women to show some skin, but I live by the motto that says if your parents need to come with you, you’re not old enough to show some skin. And as a further side note, if my daughter is reading this in – say – 2025, the age at which you are old enough to show some skin at Halloween is approximately 35.

Anyway, I digress. Kids of all ages came round, and they all received candy for their efforts. Even the ones who had dressed as “a kid wanting candy”. But on at least six separate occasions, once they had received their bounty, a kid would proffer another bag and say “Candy for the little one – she’s too young to come.”

Now, I’m still new to this parenting lark, but I tend to believe that if you’re too young to trick or treat with your whole family in tow, you’re too young to be eating sugar snacks. Leading me to the inevitable conclusion that “the little one” is a Halloween scam, with kids taking advantage of doting parents who sigh wistfully at the thought of poor little Johnny in his Merlin outfit, crying at home on his own while the older children go out to forage for him.

Next year, “the little ones” will be getting a bag of raisins and somw dried apricots, mark my words.

3. The double dippers
I appreciate that I’m getting on a bit now, but I’ve still got all my own teeth, and most of my mental faculties are intact. Sure, I forget the occasional thing or two, but The Special One’s electro-shock punishments are having a positive impact on my will to remember, I can tell you.

Anyway, the point is, if you come and get candy from The Candy Witch while dressed as a purple fairy, and then you come back twenty minutes later to try to get some more, we will remember and we will send you away with a flea in your ear. If you come back as something completely different (say, a pink fairy), we will almost certainly not rhave any recollection of you whatsoever and will lavish you with as many Twizzlers as a girl can eat.

4. Commuting to Trickortreatsville
Despite my cynicism, I have to say that Halloween promotes a healthy sense of community, with all the residents of a neighbourhood interacting with each other on a level that’s more harmonious than “for the 837th time, can you sodding well turn that music down?”

But when you’ve got carloads of kids being shipped into an area by their parents because it looks like a place where you might get Toblerone rather then Tootsie Rolls, it’s suddenly less about community, and more about a 12 month campaign of reconnaisance and intensive evaluation of candy sales across the five boroughs. The kids probably sell their swag in their schools for the next year. Or save it for the next Halloween, to provide the gift of gastroenteritis to unsuspecting locals.

Still, I’m starting work on my Halloween costume for 2010. Like a born-again convert, I’m going to put some serious effort into getting it just right. I’m thinking ‘new-ish father operating on three hours sleep rather than two, but still as confused as ever’. Better start working on those bags under my eyes right away…