Category Archives: Children

Keeping mum

When you tell people that you’re going to become a father for the first time (or in my case, a father to a baby for the first time, given the presence of The Young Ones), you suddenly find yourself playing a game of Baby Bingo. As the well-meaning person you’re talking to rattles off platitudes with the staccato regularity of a machine gun, you can chuckle (or over dramatically fake abject terror) like it’s the first time you heard them, and surreptitiously tick each one off your list. Once you reach ten, you scream “Baby Bingo!” and run out of the room with your arms flailing above your head, before returning exhausted two minutes later to breathlessly wheeze “I’m a Baby Bingo winner and I hereby claim my five poundsdollars!”

Some of the bingo boxes are more easy to get than others, of course. “When is she due?” is practically checked before your conversational cohort has opened his or her mouth. I’ve become accustomed to answering “Are you having a boy or a girl? ” with “I certainly hope so!” such is the frequency of its use. And if I had a dollar for every time somebody said “Better catch up on your sleep now!” I’d be a rich man (although not rich enough to pay for even half the paraphernalia you seem to need to deal with the consequences of a steamy night nine months previously).

Other phrases come with perhaps less regularity, although still maintaining a frequency that would be the envy of the New York subway system if translated to trains. “Everything changes as soon as you take the first look at the baby” is a current favourite, while “Have you ever changed a nappydiaper before?” also seems to be a popular one right now. And don’t get me started on the number of differnt variations that people find in order to say “your life is about to come to an end”.

Having had so many questions and comments (solicited or otherwise) I thought I was ready for everything. Until I realiszed that my child is going to be born an American, and is therefore going to say ‘mom’ rather than ‘mum’. And frankly that put a bit of a dampener on my day.

Most Americaniszations I can deal with, to be honest, and I’ve learned to translate in my head before opening my mouth. But the moment I say ‘mom’ or ‘mommy’ will be a cold day in hell.

‘Mom’ just seems as uniquely American as peanut butter and ‘jelly’ sandwiches, or waterboarding suspected terrorists. I’ve already had to accept that the child might grow up to think that Hershey’s is an acceptable form of chocolate, or that there really is any point in (American) football. But there are some boundaries that really can’t be crossed. And that starts with ‘mom’. I’m British and proud of it, and I simply won’t give in to this slow and insidious creeping Yankification.

Now, enough of this chat – I’m off to have a bagel. Have a nice day y’all.

The game of the name

As I may have mentioned before, my mother is a worrier. Whether she’s panicking that I’ve got some kind of tropical sleeping sickness simply because I momentarily yawned on the phone to her, or reading a story about a car crash in – say – Idaho and phoning to check that I’m OK, she truly deserves her monicker She Who Was Born To Worry.

Of course, when you tell her that her daughter-in-law is going to have her grandchild, her worrying swoops into overdrive. Every pause, phrase or look is microscopically examined for medical problems, and news of morning sickness is greeted with bitten nails and nervous enquiries. I tried to tell her that it was probably just the dodgy kebab that I’d eaten the night before, but she’s not listening by that point.

But if She Who Was Born To Worry was being truly honest, there’s one thing that she’s more worried about than anything when it comes to the impending arrival. One thing that keeps her awake at night, and sends her off into paralysing emotional agony whenever she thinks about it. And that’s her fear that she could have a grandchild that has got an American name.

Don’t get me wrong, She Who Was Born To Worry has nothing against Americans, although you wouldn’t necessarily know it when she’s barging them and their oversized cameras out of the way on the streets of Chester. But whatever she thinks of Americans themselves, I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to the name game, she’s of the opinion that the United States should be represented on the outside of her latest grandchild’s passport but not the inside.

Of course most names these days are universal; there’s now probably more Dylan’s in America than there are people in Wales, after all. Whether it’s Joshua or Thomas, Grace or Olivia, people on both sides of the Atlantic tend to work from the same book when attempting to pick a name for their child that will provide bullies with one less reason to pick on their precious one.

That said, classic American shortenings such as Chuck, Herb and Hank are probably out. As indeed is any name which would seem to make the child more suitable for a career in the US Army than for life as a professional morris dancer. Similarly, while I have an oft-professed admiration for country music, and The Special One hails originally from Tennessee, I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be ruling out names such as Millie-Jo, Billy-Ray and Tammy-Lou.

She Who Was Born To Worry’s greatest fear though is that we’ll be seized by the American desire to make up strange names, such as Shawnika, Raynard or Johnetta. I think she could almost live with Messiah, Huckleberry or Melky, as long as we don’t go for Paige Darcie.

Still, nobody need get hot under the collar just yet. With the hastily-established naming committee having decreed that both The Special One and I have the chance to use a full and final veto on any name that the other one comes up with, we’re yet to find any name that we mutually agree on. And while we’ve got some options for girls, the cupboard is pretty much bare for boys. Feel free to send your thoughts our way – just don’t bother with Cody or Madison though, OK?

Funny how things change

It’s strange how your concept of what is acceptable in life changes as you grow older. When I was an eighteen year old, there would have been more chance of me running through the streets of my home town sporting nothing more than one fluorescent sock and a smile, than – say – wearing a cardigan in public. Fast forward twelve years, and I found myself in a store pondering whether I should buy the aforementioned woollen item in black or in grey. Needless to say, I bought both and wore them with pride. 

Similarly, I spent the first thirty two years of my life steadfastly avoiding any piece of music that could in any sense be termed as ‘worthy’. While rock, pop, alternative and metal could all find a home in my extensive collection, there was no space for classical, opera or – shudder at the thought – modern jazz. Then with no warning I suddenly found that listening opera was a perfectly pleasant accompaniment to coffee and croissants on a Sunday morning, and suddenly the flood gates were opened. I still draw the line at modern jazz, you’ll be pleased to know.

Things change. Perceptions change, and so do our priorities. So when The Special One burst into our bedroom in floods of joyful tears, and then dragged me into the bathroom to show me a pregnancy test, I was almost shocked to realise quite how happy I actually was.

After all, for thirty years I’d lived in abject fear of being ushered into a bathroom and having a positive pregnancy test thrust into my sweaty shaking palm. Let’s be honest here. When you’re a bachelor, being shown a pregnancy test could potentially feel like the visual equivalent of having a cell door slam shut behind you. When you’re a man who has found their partner, the news opens the door of life, from behind which the high-kicking Rockettes emerge to perform an octane-fuelled number entitled ‘The Start of a Whole New Dynasty’.

Of course, having successfully managed to avoid the dreaded positive test for so long, my success suddenly counted against me. After all, I had no frame of reference to tell me what the piece of strange looking plastic I was looking at actually meant. All I had to go on was that there was a line in the clear window, and that my wife was crying. With evidence like that, even Hercule Poirot himself would throw his hands up in the air and claim that there was nothing he could do.

So many questions run through your head at this point. Was The Special One crying because she had thought she was pregnant but wasn’t? Were her tears a reflection of the fact that she had changed her mind about having a child after all, and the thought of continuing my gene line filled her with a sense of unutterable dread and foreboding? And why on earth has technology not developed to a point where a pregnancy test can have a little thumbs up sign to indicate that your little general has successfully delivered its payload to the required destination? Even a written sign that says ‘you’d better start saving, mate’ would be better than a non-descriptive line.

Thankfully she doesn’t seem to mind too much when I ask what the hell is going on, and happily tells me that I should probably not make any plans for September. I hug her and tell her that it’s all going to be OK. For some reason it feels like it should be her who’s reassuring me though.

After all, it seems like I’m going to be a dad.