Saturday, December 24, 2011

And so this is Christmas ...

... another year over, and a new one just begun (well, almost), to misquote John Lennon.

But it hasn't just been any year - it's been the year of our family adventure...

No, we didn't Buy a Zoo, or a War Horse. We didn't even put our Puss in Boots.

We didn't develop Happy Feet Two and set off on a Mission Impossible. Nor did we require a Ghost Protocol (although it was a year of more nightmares for both boys).

There was many a Twilight Saga at bedtime, and as usual we saw plenty of Breaking Dawns.

But there was an Iron Lady (Sherrie, who returned to work full-time in February).

Which I guess makes me Tin Tin, as I set off on the adventure of being at home with our boys.

I can't say that I found the secret of the unicorn, but I think I approached some sort of happiness in immersing myself in the world of The Complicated One and The Big Fella.

I lived this year like I had 12 months to live. I wanted to spend every moment I could with our boys, because you never know when it might end.

I think Sherrie found some satisfaction too, in being back in the workplace and making a difference to the people around her. She earns the right to be called the Iron Lady, for having the courage to allow me this year with both the boys, and probably next year as well.

So, a final word from John Lennon, musical genius and brains of the band that changed so many lives...

"And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun, the near and the dear ones, the old and the young.

"A very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.

"Let's hope it's a good one, without any fear."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I’m reading…. American on Purpose

American on Purpose traces Craig Ferguson's journey from punk drummer in Glasgow to late night TV host in LA, via alcohol and drug abuse, and chased by killer ducks.

I’ve become such a fan of The Late Late Show that Ferguson hosts on CBS (screened here by Eleven) that I just had to know more about him.

His TV show is plain crazy. But crazy clever.

Make sure you catch a night when he rings a doorbell and a fake horse called Secretariat bounds out on stage to some wicked beats, while Craig and the studio audience dance like crazy.

American on Purpose is full of life lessons that are never rammed down your throat. Worth reading just for his story about killer ducks - but you won't want to put it down.

Kids are reading ... We're Going on a Bear Hunt

Most kids will know the song from Play School. So the book, by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, is a nice follow-up activity.

Apart from being a good excuse to do lots of silly voices, We’re Going On Bear Hunt is a great for helping kids deal with their fears, in a gentle kind of way.

Speaking of Play School, it's always a joy to turn on the tele and see it still going strong. It started screening in 1966 when I was 2, making it the world's second longest running children's TV show (and making me feel old!).

I fondly recall Noni Hazelhurst's glory days as a presenter. Doug Anderson, the SMH's long-time reviewer for The Guide, would memorably end his occasional review of Play School with the words "...and Noni. Sigh."

I'm sure he only reviewed Play School so he could use that line. Well worth it.

Kids are eating ... Fool-proof chicken vegetable soup

Homemade, of course!

Finely chop some onions and celery, sweat in a hot pan with a little oil, then add a splash of white wine (remember to allow the alcohol to burn off!).

Toss in chopped carrots, potato and zucchini, and pour in some decent chicken stock.

Boil (OK, simmer for the purists) the sweet bejesus out of it for a couple of hours until the vegetables almost disappear.

Cut up some chicken breasts and add them towards the end. Throw in some curly pasta for the kids.

If you can cut up vegetables without cutting yourself, then any fool can make this soup.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Backpack’s my friend

The Big Fella has animated his Bob the Builder backpack.

“Backpack’s my friend,” he frequently informs us.

He usually clarifies: “He’s not your friend, he’s my friend. Backpack is only little. You’re a giant. Backpack’s my friend.”

Glad we got that straight.

He loves to wheel backpack, Cow and the Diego etch-a-sketch around the house and backyard in a small stroller. He straps them in, then marches off on important business.

He’s taken to hanging a plastic bucket off one stroller handle. He calls this his work bag.

He fills his bucket (sorry, work bag) with his favourite things, before declaring that he’s off to work. (Wish I could take my favourite things to work.)

He’s normally home from work a few seconds later.  (Wish my work days were that brief.)

Hang on a sec ... now that I work from home, I do take my favourite things to work - and I work as much or as little as I wish (to my valued clients, may I say I work very long and hard for you!)

The Big Fella is clearly onto something. I too need to make friends with my backpack.

"Make friends with your backpack" sounds like a great corporate self-help book title. Like "Who stole my pizza?" or "The 347 attributes of successful people".

I can feel a publishing deal coming on!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sleeping with Bubba (not Bubba from Tennessee)

One of our boys sleeps with Bubba (no, not Bubba from Tennessee with the moonshine still hidden way up in the Smoky Mountains).

Our other boy sleeps with a Cow (not a lowercase cow that moos).

Clearly I'm talking about their favourite soft toys they take to bed each night. Nothing unusual about that.

The Complicated One has a very ugly and featureless grey bear called Bubba. He’s slept with Bubba every night since he was 1. Their relationship is approaching 5 years - longer than some marriages.

The Big Fella has a cow called Cow (I told you he was less complicated).

He is less faithful, because he also sleeps with his Bob the Builder backpack and Diego themed mini etch-a-sketch.

The backpack contains his favourite cars and trucks. Every new car or truck goes into the backpack. It’s only about 12 centimetres tall but weighs more than a kilogram.

At night he likes to surround himself with Cow, backpack and the Diego etch-a-sketch, then add several other hard plastic toy cars. Favourites are an ambulance and police car, each about 15 centimetres long (ie not small).

Once he’s fully surrounded by toys he’s generally happy to go to sleep. He pulls up the sheet and tucks the toys in, then rolls onto his side.

How he doesn’t wake himself several times a night as he rolls onto the hard plastic edges is anyone’s guess.

Oh wait, he does wake several times a night. I wonder why?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's not easy being a pack rat

The Complicated One is a pack rat. Like the small North American rodent that lines its nest with a great variety of small objects, our small Complicated One lines his bedroom with all manner of shiny things.

Objects from the craft drawers (six drawers full, no less!) gravitate towards his bedroom, where he sorts them into little piles and then stores them in boxes of all shapes and sizes.

Some boxes are themed – boxes of seashells, plastic shapes or cars. Others are mad conglomerations of favourite things at a moment in time: a shiny purple bead necklace, Roary badge, Woody doll, Little Miss Sunshine window sticker, hair elastics, plastic blocks, a wooden star, and bits of craft he’s made. Listing the rest of the contents of this one box would fill the rest of this page.

The more containers we give him, the more containers he fills.

He got quite stressed this week when I gave him a new bag. After some tears it emerged he was struggling to decide which of his favourite things in his current 'favourite things bag' to sort into his new 'even more favourite things bag'. I helped him sort through them, and he calmed down.

Some collections aren’t so little, like his collection of paper snowflakes. It’s a great little craft activity: fold a sheet of white paper several times then cut shapes around the edges, unfold and hey presto, a lovely white snowflake.

The Complicated One makes snowflakes as therapy in industrial volumes. I recently suggested to Sherrie that we throw out two shoeboxes full of snowflakes I found tucked under his bed. She said she’d already thrown out three boxes that she’d hidden in his cupboard a few weeks earlier, so we had better hang onto this last batch in case he remembers. TIP: Complicated Ones always remember.

To our relief he’s moved on from making paper snowflakes. Now he’s making paper aeroplanes. So far he’s filled four shoeboxes.

He didn’t want to come home from childcare this week until he’d finished making paper planes for a line of kids. Quite the mini industrialist.

Our hope is that he invents the 21st century’s equivalent of the Model T Ford production line, and uses the royalties to support his parents in our dotage.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sibling rivalry

There’s a 22-month age difference between The Complicated One and The Big Fella. That’s not much in the great scheme of things.

The grand idea was that they’d be great mates and spend endless hours playing together. The grim reality is that they are arch enemies. 

Perhaps that’s overstating it. Not the Holmes-Moriarty kind of arch enemies. But they certainly get on each other’s nerves. 

Of course it’s mainly the younger one who annoys the older one, wanting to join in every activity regardless of his interest in it, or ability to undertake it.

Plus he’s a bull-at-a-gate, so it’s a bad combination of stubbornly wanting to join in, which combined with poor coordination ensures just about everything gets mucked up.

The Complicated One is as fastidious and neat as The Big Fella is rambunctious and messy. 

And yet there are lovely moments when they play together peacefully. Moments that make it all worthwhile.

Encouragingly, they are playing together better, and more often - probably twice as much as six months ago (admittedly from a low base!). 

The Big Fella is better coordinated and can join in more games. And he's old enough now to understand imaginary games but still young enough to be directed by The Complicated One.

I hope the upward curve continues!

I’m loving…

How my eldest son has a special friend. Seeing the two of them playing so intimately together is a joy.

Not so loving…

Remembering how I had a special friend at about the same age and how sad I was when we moved 887.2 kilometres away (but who’s counting). I think of this every time my partner and I talk about needing a bigger home. Is a childhood friend a good enough reason to renovate rather than move house?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Kids are eating ... leftover sausages

No, not last week’s sausages – I’m not that silly. Leftovers from this week.

I suppose you remember that I recently mentioned we only eat sausages in moderation? Yeah, I was lying. 

The kids made a strong business case, followed by lots of whining.

TIP: Wrap a bit of tinfoil around the bottom of the sausage and it becomes a portable treat, ideal for toddlers.

Foil-wrapped sausages are also ideal for eating in front of the TV. Which we never do, of course.

I discovered that you can also buy sausages that contain carrot and zucchini, to assuage your guilt. 

Kids are reading ... Sometimes Love is Under Your Foot

This is a sad but heart-warming tale of a dog’s unrequited love for his master. It deals with what happens when his master gets sick.

In Sometimes Love is Under Your Foot, Colin Thompson sensitively introduces the idea that dads and mums sometimes get very sick.

It’s a bit over The Big Fella's head though, so he goes and grabs his current favourite, Where’s the Green Sheep? (written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Judy Horacek.) This is a modern Australian children’s classic that should be on every shelf.

I'm reading ... The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

Well, I'm currently reading nothing, as I’m still traumatised after finishing Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. A terrific but harrowing tale of a post-apocalyptic world.

It's the seventh of his novels I've read over the past couple of years. At the risk of being sacrilegious to perhaps the greatest living American novelist, here are my reviews – in five words or less – of some of his other great novels....

Blood Meridian – hell in the wild west (scalpings aplenty as a 14-year-old boy travels into the heart of darkness on America’s frontier).

Suttree – hell on a houseboat (squalor engulfs a young man living on a disintegrating houseboat in Tennessee).

All The Pretty Horses – ill-fated romance plus horses (first and most accessible part of his Border Trilogy).

The Crossing – remarkably sad, lonely and haunting (16-year-old boy follows a wolf from Texas into Mexico).

Cities of the Plain – male friendship and loss (final and perhaps weakest part of his Border Trilogy, which is nonetheless marvellous).

No Country for Old Men - movie was remarkably faithful and terrific (most satisfying in a conventional novel kind of way).

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Playing mums and dads

I'm loving listening to constant chatter between The Complicated One and his best friend, K.

“Every time you say Mrs Maker, it makes my tummy go ‘ooh’,” he says.
It's a comment that needs some explaining....
The Complicated One and K met at childcare and hit it off right away. Then she changed days and he was sad. Then her parents bought a house a few doors up from ours, and he was happy again. (K’s business case to her parents to move closer must have been compelling!)

K is a few months younger but just as talkative and, according to her mum, just as complicated. Both were poor sleepers when younger and spent time in kiddie rehab, otherwise known as the excellent Tresillian residential sleep program. 

(TIP: Visit for great parenting advice from those in the know. And don’t be ashamed about booking yourself into kiddie sleep rehab. We should have done it months earlier than we did, and saved ourselves one hundred extra sleepless nights. Sigh.)

We’ve started a new weekly tradition of alternating play dates at each other’s house most Fridays. There is hell to pay for all parents involved if the kids miss a week.

Their favourite game is playing mums and dads. Of course it involves lots of talking, plus role play. They go to work, on holidays, to the shops – all the things they see their parents doing.

There’s bound to be some hidden secret children’s business that us grown-ups don’t know about. There are probably many academic theses on the subject of children’s secret codes of behaviour.

Perhaps it’s better if we parents don’t know everything. It will be bad enough when they’re teenagers, so I figure the least I can do is let them have a (relatively) free rein now.

But that doesn't stop me from occasionally overhearing a few of their conversations..... 

Playing mums and dads:

“We share a bedroom but we’re in separate beds.”

“No we’re not.”

“But that way we can share secrets.”


While on the swing set in the backyard:

“We’re on the aeroplane,” says K.

“Where are you going?” I ask.

“England,” says K.

“Actually to Asia,” says The Complicated One.

“Actually we’re going to North America,” he adds after a pause.

You can tell who recently got a world map jigsaw puzzle.

Mid-conversation and seemingly out of context:

“You don’t even have a craft section at your house,” declares The Complicated One.

K seems not to care, but he would be devastated without his six drawers stuffed with craft supplies and bulging boxes of end product.

Chanelling the Mr Maker TV show about children’s craft on ABC2:

“Pretend I’m Mrs Maker and you’re Mr Maker”.


“Mr Maker is a boy,” says K helpfully.

“Yes. And Mrs Maker is a girl,” replies The Complicated One.

“What are you doing now?”

“I’m making a present for you, Mrs Maker.”

“No, you don’t make something for me and I don’t make something for you – we make something for kids,” clarifies K.

“Every time you say Mrs Maker, it makes my tummy go ‘ooh’,” says Mr Maker.

Sounds like a good time to give them some privacy!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

On the outside looking in ...

... or, the things I didn't say on Sunrise this morning....

“Oh, so you’re looking after the boys three days a week” was a comment I heard a fair bit 9 months ago when Sherrie and I first swapped roles.

No, I’m looking after the boys just as much as my partner did – a bit more in fact. Two days a week they’re at pre-school/childcare, which is when Sherrie used to grocery shop, clean the house and work part-time to earn some extra income. Now I do all those things. Plus a bit more, as Sherrie works longer hours in her full-time job than I did.

No-one ever suggested my partner was 'only' looking after the boys three days a week, but initially some were quite prepared to say that to me. 

I have to say that when a man takes on the role of primary carer for pre-school aged children, it’s almost like a kind of reverse sexism greets him just about everywhere he goes.

Actually, I think it’s more about being an outsider than any kind of sexism. Like a person from another culture feeling as though they don’t quite fit, because of language or religious differences with the people they are surrounded by. Or an older person feeling they quite don’t fit in an office full of twentysomethings who are out for drinks after work most nights when you just want to go home to your partner and kids, or to sleep!

Every outsider feels that way for a reason – be it age, language, culture, appearance, education. In the case of parenting, it’s sex.

Caring for children before they go to school is still a role overwhelmingly dominated by women. So when a man shows up in all the usual places that mums usually interact with other mums, it’s not the norm. Naturally, people react in different ways. 

Most professionals are delighted to see a man spending more time with their kids. I’ve had wonderful welcomes from teachers of childcare students, playgroup coordinators, even swimming instructors and doctors. 

But other mums are another matter. Most will smile, often sympathetically, and a few will say hi. But a conversation is a breakthrough, and a regular conversation each week seems out of the question.

There is one playgroup where I feel most welcome and part of the group. I guess that’s because we have come together with a mutual interest, and part of the purpose is to share experiences with each other as well as the coordinators. I feel much more welcome there, not like Exhibit A from Mars. 

But generally speaking in most other social situations, being male in the female dominated world of caring for young children is often a lonely and isolated existence where more often than not you will be tolerated rather than included. I often get the feeling that it really would be a lot simpler for everyone if I were a woman like everyone else.

Sometimes I sense that certain assumptions are being made which question either my commitment (are you just here for the morning?), my ability as a parent (can’t you control your toddler when he’s being aggressive?), or whether I'm undertaking the full range of responsibilities (are you cooking and cleaning and washing and generally running the household, or just showing up here?).

If there’s some kind of disagreement or incident involving my boys and others (fighting over a toy, pushing and shoving), mums I don't know well will generally remove their child from the scene, as if I’m not doing my part to resolve the situation. Worse still is the look which sends the thinly disguised message: ‘See, this is what happens when a bloke is left in charge of the kids’.

These things happened more 9 months ago at the start, than now. As people get to know you, they usually find answers to these questions that they like, and they become more welcoming. But not if conversations are never had, and men remain isolated. 

Women are generally more chatty than men, but usually they’re chatty with other women. I’m not a naturally chatty person but I have been making an effort to talk to more people than I usually would, as I know that as the outsider I’m the one who needs to make the extra effort. Same as if I’m the only Presbyterian in Utah. Or the only old bloke in a young office. That’s how I know a conversation one week doesn’t mean a chat the following week. I strike up a conversation, then only get a smile the next week and not even eye contact the week after.

“I’m glad you’re enjoying the job and hope that hubby is appreciating all that you have had to do over the last few years” is another interesting comment that my partner receives about our role switch. I didn’t need to quit my full-time job and take on the role of primary carer to know and appreciate all that my partner has done over the past four and a half years, but that’s how some interpret my role change. That it’s the only way I’ll understand what my partner has been through. That my partner is kind of ‘owed’ her break from being primary carer and that any particular challenges I face will be just ‘quid pro quo’ for all those presumably tougher challenges my partner has already endured. 

This “Hope hubby appreciates…” type of comment makes me feel that my performance in being judged in a way that I certainly never judged my partner. I knew it was tough, and always expressed my appreciation and tried to help as much as I could. Now with our roles reversed, these types of comments make me feel that no matter how well or badly I do looking after the kids, it will always be a lesser performance than my partner’s, as she’s already done the hard yards.

And it’s not the kind of job where you get marks for performance. Just being there day in day out is challenge enough. I knew before it was a tough job, and we were in it together. I know now in a different kind of way that it is a tough job, and I still hope that we’re in it together. 

That’s because I was already a very involved dad who did at least my share of household duties, and changed jobs several times to ensure I didn’t have to frequently travel overnight or overseas for work and could be home early from work to help Sherrie care for our boys. I know blokes who've missed more than six months of their kids’ pre-school years through frequent interstate and overseas travel. I read about others who’ve missed even more. I know it must be tough for them. But “hope hubby appreciates…” type of comments cut pretty deep if you’re someone who has already adjusted your work and social priorities and your outlook on life to maximise time with your partner and kids.

So if you’re a bloke planning to be the primary carer of your pre-school aged children, be prepared for the occasional insensitive comment and a generally cool response to your presence from many mums. 

Like every outsider, you’ve got to work really hard to be accepted. And even then you still feel you’ll never really be part of the in-crowd. That role is reserved for mums, and perhaps rightly so. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s not quite what I imagined.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Of mud and goop


We manage to negotiate Play Session this week without The Big Fella cutting off this toe with a shovel in the mud pit. He's the only child who refuses to wear the safety boots provided for mud play.

“I don’t want boots,” he declares, stepping out of the boots I have just struggled to put on him. To reinforce his point, he slams the shovel into the ground, narrowly missing his toes and making a strong pro-boot case.

Luckily the student who is running the mud pit is prepared to turn a blind eye to this OH&S breach.

I decide to distract him by suggesting we instead play at the nearby water table, where his bare feet will be a bonus. It works, and off we march to get his clothes wet and keep his toes intact.


Next stop is the goop table. Goop is terrific stuff, especially if someone else makes it for you and cleans up afterwards. 

Goop is slime made from cornflour, water and food colouring (green of course!). As you sink your hands in, it almost feels firm enough to pick up - until you try and it turns to liquid and runs through your fingers. A bit like life, really.

Goop is a big hit with both boys. The Big Fella wins the in-house competition for the person who can get the most goop on his clothes. 

His clothes are so crusty he can barely move. Goop is crusting on top of mud from the mud pit. The mud is coated with sand from the sandpit.

Speaking as the person who washes our clothes and who only yesterday cleaned our car inside and out, this is not terrific news.

But the boys had fun, which is the main thing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Kids are eating ... barbequed sausages

The kids like sausages. I like cooking sausages on the barbeque while drinking a beer. It's a win-win situation.

It also makes a weekday feel like a weekend, until I turn around to chat to Sherrie and she's not there. Sigh.

Eating sausages is also a handy way of getting more nitrites into the kids diet. Oh, I’m supposed to be limiting nitrites? 

Of course! That’s why we consume sausages in moderation and in tandem with vegetables high in antioxidants. Mainly carrots and peas, which are the only vegetables the boys will eat a present. 

At least, I hope carrots and peas are high in antioxidants. I'm not going to look it up, as I'm sure someone will.

I never really understood why little kids didn’t like steak, until I saw them trying to chew on a t-bone. 

That’s why we invented sausages – a meat-based product that kids can chew and their dads can barbeque while drinking beer.

Kids are reading ... Wake Up Bear

A hibernating bear has trouble waking up, so a whole bunch of other wild animals try to help. Wake Up Bear is by Lynley Dodd.

She's better known for her Hairy Maclary series about a small dog’s adventures in a small New Zealand town. 

If you haven’t read Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, do so immediately. It’s good for reading to littlies, with clear pictures and rhymes they love.

Hairy Maclary and Hercules Morse (dogs) and Scarface Claw and Slinki Malinki (cats) are now household names in our household.

I'm reading ... Last Night in Twisted River

First I had to finish Freedom. Thankfully the last 100 pages are more compelling than the previous 400 or so. There are definitely echoes of John Irving in Freedom's complex web of relationships and intersecting lives, only the characters and their situations are not as moving and Jonathan Franzen is nowhere near as funny (although he tries to be).

For a sprawling family epic that is truly moving and laugh out loud funny and outrageous in places, you’re better off reading John Irving’s latest, Last Night in Twisted River.

It's a truly remarkable and poignant novel about fathers and sons, and male friendships. It deals with tough topics, like a father’s fear of losing his son. It's laced with compassion and humour, and tragedy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gaily spinning the trolley in circles to Kenny Rogers

I find I shop better when angry. There's no messing around. 

So after dropping off my screaming not-quite-three-year-old at child care this morning, I storm off to do the grocery shopping.

The beauty of shopping mad is that you make no unnecessary product comparisons, weighing up the unit price versus brand reputation. 

There's no aimless wandering down needless aisles. No gaily spinning the trolley in circles to 'The Gambler' by Kenny Rogers. 
Just hardcore shopping. 

Pensioners look alarmed as I approach. Shelf stackers eye me suspiciously. 

Mums with toddlers on leashes pull them nearer, lest I run over them. (TIP: Never put your child on a leash. Just think about it.)

Baby carriers

Just as I was calming down a little, my trolley rattling with this week’s bargain of 10 little tins of tuna in olive oil for $10, who should I almost bump into at the end of an aisle? A dad bounding around the supermarket with a newborn happily bobbing about on his chest in one of those baby carriers. 

This annoys me on a number of levels. Most superficially, those baby carriers smack of showing off. ‘Look at my new baby. And look at me. I’m a modern dad bonding with my child.’ Plus he wasn’t pushing a trolley. 'I’m just popping out for a couple of items, honey!' And to put on a show.

On a practical level, chest mounted baby carriers are not suited for the long haul. I’d be surprised if this dad was still bouncing on the balls of his feet in half an hour's time. More likely holding his aching back as he hobbles towards the doctor's surgery. 

Nor are these carriers any good if you have a big baby. Anything over 10 pounds on the old scale and after two trips to the shops, he’ll have that baby carrier posted for sale online quicker than he can say 'skinny decaf soy latte please'.

I’m probably being a bit harsh on the poor sod. In a few months’ time he’ll be shattered from no sleep. 

And in a few years’ time, he’ll be shattered from three years of no sleep on top of dealing with toddler tantrums, toilet training and the latest medical advice that anything more than two standard drinks a day is dangerous to your health. 

Being woken up at 4.30am every day by your screaming not-quite-three-year-old is dangerous to your health, but I don’t see any public health campaigns about that.

As you can see, I was already pissed off at The Big Fella for waking at 4.30am for the 7th consecutive day. This morning I tried patting him for a while, lying slumped at the foot of his bed, in the forlorn hope he might fall back asleep.

After much twisting and turning, several monologues about what scared him (“spiders, bats, tomatoes”) and questions about “what are we doing tomorrow?” (he means today), by 5am I decided we may as well get up and face the day. 

At least standing up I can make coffee and leave a message on my chiropractor's answering machine for an emergency appointment.

As we attempt to leave the house for child care, he cries about putting on sunscreen (yeah, old news). He cries about getting in the car. He cries about putting on his seatbelt. He cries about being in the car. He cries about getting out of the car. And he cries about going inside the childcare centre. 

By the time he was crying about me leaving, well I just had to leave and not look back. Hence the angry shopping trip. 

And hence me taking the piss out of the bloke with the newborn baby carrier. It really is a wonderful time, buddy. Enjoy it while you can.

TIP: Don’t buy a new baby carrier. Just borrow a friend’s, as it will be barely used. In fact, avoid buying new pretty much everything your toddler needs, except maybe food. They really don’t know the difference. Invest the savings in their university fund, or buy a new widescreen TV.

I’m loving…

The Complicated One marching around the house singing the national anthem. He and The Big Fella learnt the words at childcare. He usually asks Sherrie and I to join in, so the four of us march around the house singing “Australians all let us rejoice…” Heaven knows what the neighbours think.

Not so loving….

Thinking less-than-flattering thoughts about the new dad with the baby carrier. I must be more tolerant. Poor sod.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A mystical world of soy mochas and clean balls

Adjourning to the nearest pub for a cold beverage after a hard day’s work - it used to be there was nothing better. Now I know the truth: there’s nothing quite like a big air conditioned indoor play centre that serves decent coffee and plays decent music and has clean balls. We adjourned to this mystical place on Tuesday afternoon, as an antidote to this week’s swimming dramas.

Swimming dramas

We arrive at our local aquatic leisure centre, formerly known as a pool, about five minutes early. Quite an achievement for a 9am lesson, as it involves leaving home at the tail end of peak hour traffic, and timing our run to arrive neither late nor too early. 

The Complicated One can’t wait and wants to jump in the water. I remember the warning that came with our lessons: do not let your child swim before his or her class, as they will be too tired. 

I figure a five minute dip in the same pool as the lessons is not going to overly tire him out, and will lead to a quicker start to the lesson as the boys will already be in the water. How wrong can you be?

The Complicated One is fine, of course, as per our new form guide where black is white. 

The Big Fella is a different matter. He's in the water, but do you think that’s going to make him any more inclined to take part in a swimming lesson?

I strip off and wade in after him. Employing all my best positive parenting and distraction techniques, I’m still left with a crying not-quite-three-year-old. 

As we glide in beside the instructor, I ask “Any ideas?” “Well you could start by not letting him swim before the lesson” is the tart response. 

I bite my tongue and mutter “We’ve only been in the water for less than five minutes”. Then I fire up a bit, adding “We don’t normally do it anyway, so let’s not think for a minute that not swimming before the lesson is the solution to the problem we’ve been having for the past few weeks”. 

An experienced instructor knows an agitated parent when she sees one, so she smiles and moves on. I sit down, dripping, to watch. Remarkably, The Big Fella comes good and pretty much does the whole lesson with no tears.

Clean balls

Much relieved after swimming, I make a semi-impromptu decision to visit a new indoor play centre. The Big Fella will hopefully sleep in the car on the way, so we’ll both get a much-needed rest. Shame I have to keep my eyes open while driving. 

When we arrive it’s a great relief to discover that this new play centre is perfect. Good coffee. Good music. Great variety of climbing frames and slippery dips. A jumping castle and ball pit (with a sign boasting about how clean their balls are).

There’s a separate area for trikes and cars, two little cubbyhouses and couches and magazines for parents. There’s even a free carousel teapot ride.

My only mistake is forgetting my book. But we’re outside our residential area, so the free weekly newspapers have not one but two homebuyer guides full of houses I can fantasise over.

I sip a soy mocha, admire the new homes and dream of a perfect life with a lap pool, media room with projector TV, snooker table and table tennis table.

And clean balls.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Reading aloud to kids

It's great to be reminded just how important reading aloud is to your child's development.

Listen to Mem Fox talk about how to make the most of the time you invest in reading books with your kids.

Read her top 10 tips for reading aloud to children.

Mem Fox is probably Australia's best-known and most successful author of children's book. Her first book, Possum Magic, is Australia's best-selling children's book. And Where's the Green Sheep? was a nightly favourite for The Complicated One and The Big Fella at around 3 years old. So she must be a pretty good writer!

Ten minutes each night is all it takes. It's also an important part of the pre-bed routine.

As Giggle and Hoot say in 5 Steps to Bedtime ... "Step 3- time for a story or a sleepy-time song".

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

‘It’s like a little bath, see?’

The Big Fella is peering between his legs at this little fella as he says this.

Last week he was fascinated by the power of his wee to make bubbles in the toilet bowl. Quite sensibly, he likened it to a bubble bath.

This week he sounds like he wants to jump in. “It’s like a little bath, see?” he says as he points his willie further down, so the stream of wee goes straight into the bowl and creates even more bubbles.

He is now very methodical in the bathroom...
Wee or wee/poo
Wipe bottom and/or willie
Climb down using little stool
Shut toilet lid
Climb up on lid and flush toilet
Open lid to check that everything is OK
Nod appreciatively that it is
Lift up right foot so I can slip on undies. Lift up left foot
Ditto for shorts
Stand on slightly higher stool to wash hands at basin
I turn tap on. He rubs hands together for one millisecond
Step backwards without looking. Give dad heart palpitations
Hold up hands to be dried for two milliseconds
Run out of bathroom on urgent mission.

He hasn’t had an accident in his pants for a fortnight. His daily logbook at childcare has stated ‘toilet trained’ for the past month. 

This is cause for celebration. I feel a dinner of sausages and beer coming on!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Brendan Gleeson is terrific in The Guard

The Guard is a terrific movie – echoes of Ken Bruen crime on Ireland’s west coast with a Quentin Tarantino-like soundtrack and homage direction.

Brendan Gleeson is perfectly cast as an irascible, maverick small town cop who operates at the edge of the law but at the heart of humanity.

Violent but involving, it's terribly sad and laugh out loud funny. If you miss it at the cinema, don’t miss it on dvd (or even one of those fancy blue whale thingies).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Kids are reading ... Boo to a Goose

“I’d dance with a pig in a shiny green wig but I wouldn’t say BOO! to a goose.”

The boys love this line, especially if you scare them with a particularly loud “boo!”. 

The cadences of the language are lovely to read for adults too.

Boo to a Goose is written by Mem Fox, illustrated by David Miller and available from your local quality bookseller (or grandma, if you have one who likes buying kids books!).

Kids are eating ... spaghetti

The homemade tomato meat sauce is yet again (yes, you guessed it) cunningly laced with grated carrot and zucchini, which melts away when cooked so they're eating vegetables without really knowing it.

I've finally worked out that providing limited choices is good with kids this age. So have a few different types of pasta on hand, not just the flat stuff.

Twisty shapes are popular, as are little curved tubes (liscio piccolo, if you're Jamie Oliver). 

You can even buy teddy bear-shaped pasta that's Australian made, if you seriously think that's going to make difference to our terms of trade.

I'm reading ... Blood Count

I’ve now read Robert Goddard’s entire back catalogue of 21 novels over the couple of years. Blood Count is his latest.

They're intricately-plotted, often slow-paced mysteries with unexpected twists in quaint British settings, some set in past centuries. His more recent novels are shorter and feature more contemporary settings. I prefer his earlier stuff.

A hapless middle age male is usually the main character (hence, I suspect, their appeal). Still, a nice antidote to a breathless Dan Brown or David Baldacci-type page turner.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mr 30 to 40%

Highlight of the past week was seeing my surgeon for my broken wrist’s first post-op check-up. Although we’ve met before I don’t recognise him. It’s a bit like a blind date. The last time we met I was wearing a fetching white gown (perhaps a little too revealing at the back), and I was lying unconscious on a slab. Anaesthetic will do that. Come to think of it, it’s more like a blind date than I care to admit.

I was lucky to see him at all as his receptionist doesn’t believe I’m in the right place. This seems to be a pattern. When my wife rang six weeks earlier to make the appointment, the receptionist didn’t believe her.

My wife said she was holding my referral from the hospital. That wasn’t good enough. "I’ll have to speak to Dr B and call you back".

So I’m not altogether surprised that when I arrive for my appointment, the receptionist still doesn’t believe I’m in the right place. "Is it for your elbow or shoulder?" she asks. 

"Wrist,’ I reply. She gives me a look like she doesn’t believe me. I silently show her the 10 centimetre long scar on the inside of my right arm. This just seems to annoy her more. Eventually, I am given a form to complete and told to wait.

Luckily I had earlier ditched my two trusty sidekicks, The Complicated One and The Big Fella, as waiting is not their strong suit. Luckier still, the surgeon turns out to be a lovely guy, as well as a dab hand with a scalpel. Dr B knows just how hard to shake my hand when we meet – and as we peer together at my x-ray, seems impressed with how my wrist is healing. 

He says it’s one of the worst breaks he’s done for a while: “People don’t normally fracture their wrist in this many places, you know.” I feel like saying it’s some of my best healing work. 

He says that after six weeks it’s probably only back to 30-40% strength. I tell him I wasn’t very strong to start with. 

Dr B reckons that in another eight weeks I should be back to 60-70% strength. I feel like replying that I’d be happy with that figure at the best of times.

Finally, he declares that full strength will return but is 9-12 months away. I ask whether at that point I’ll be able to play tennis and golf again. “And push-ups,” he adds. I say tennis and golf will be just fine.

Bottle opener in my wrist

Intriguingly, the x-ray reveals that the metal plate resembles a bottle opener. I can’t help thinking of the movie Havana and Robert Redford’s character – a world-class gambler with a large diamond sewn into his arm. It’s insurance that no matter how bad life gets, he has a fallback – one final roll of the dice.

I ponder whether I’m drawing too long a bow in thinking that I too now have one final throw of the dice? If ever I’m dying of thirst and can’t open the last bottle (of soft drink), I can always tear open my wrist and save myself.

I say some of this out loud, then wish I hadn’t. Dr B replies that it’s made of titanium, adroitly ignoring my embarrassing bottle opener remark while keeping the conversation on topic (I told you he was a nice guy).

I also find myself asking the obvious question: will I set off airport security scanners? He says probably not, and adds that no we don’t do letters any more as any terrorist can write their own letter in an attempt to smuggle a gun through customs. Anyway, I just need to ask the security guard to run the scanner over my wrist, where they’ll see the scar and get the general idea that I’m unlikely to be hiding a gun inside my wrist. Just a bottle opener.

I’m loving …

The idea of a bottle opener in my arm. Instead of a suburban dad, every now and then I can imagine I’m a high stakes gambler in roaring 1950s Havana.

Not so loving ... 

The thought of cutting open my skin to extract the emergency bottle opener, let alone undoing the nine rusty screws. Think I’d rather die of thirst.

‘I don’t want swimming lessons!’

Remember how as recently as two weeks ago The Big Fella was improving at swimming lessons? Well, not this week. He spends the entire lesson looking at me, instead of the instructor, and repeating “Can we go to Top Ryde now?” He means the shopping centre, to get donuts.

After 20 minutes of only barely cooperating, The Big Fella loses it completely and starts crying. The instructor takes the group up the other end of the pool, but there is no consoling him. “I don’t want swimming lessons,” he cries.

I join him at the other end of the pool. I feel the eyes of every parent on me. I imagine they're thinking I’m a clueless dad who doesn’t know how to control his kids. But I guess on reflection most of them are probably thinking ‘poor bastard’ or ‘I’m glad it’s not me’.

The Big Fella is now on his hands and knees beside the pool. “I don’t want swimming lessons,” he cries over and over. 

I look hopefully at the instructor for ideas. “This is why we have a separate class for two-year-olds,” she says.

I feel like asking ‘yes, but why is my two-year-old the only one going bonkers?’ 

Actually, he’s not going bonkers and I don’t think this is a standard two-year-old tantrum. He actually sounds quite sad, like he really means it. 

I put on a brave face as we walk away from the pool, but I am feeling sad too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kids are reading ... The Cow that Laid an Egg

The Cow that Laid an Egg, written by Andy Cutbill and illustrated by Russell Ayto. The plot is self-explanatory. The illustrations are great.

I should declare my mum’s pecuniary interest in our children’s reading habits. She doesn’t just provide a recommended reading program for me, she puts her money where her mouth is with children’s books, bankrolling our vast collection of age-appropriate and beautifully written and illustrated children’s books.

Grandma’s Early Reading Program for Pre-Schoolers runs in parallel to Mum’s Recommended Reading Program for Middle Aged Men.

I'm reading ... Blood's A Rover

I’ve put Freedom to one side, as I need something more heavy duty. Heavy duty crime pain-killers don’t come much better than James Ellroy, so I lock and load his latest, Blood’s a Rover.

Starting in 1968, it charts the dying days of J Edgar Hoover’s reign as FBI chief, the beginning of Nixon’s presidency and all the bad things that go on behind the scenes.

It’s a sprawling exhausting read of mad genius. Thankfully, it's also the final part of his US underworld trilogy (American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand).

It can’t hold a flame though to his earlier masterpiece the LA quartet – The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential and White Jazz – where his trademark staccato style and narrative power vividly evoke a violent period in modern American history.

But it's still damn good.

Kids are eating ... Nachos

Nachos is great because the homemade meat sauce is full of cleverly disguised grated vegetables. Just grate carrot and zucchini and cook with the mince until they virtually melt away and blend with the tomato.

Kids love nachos because the corn chips are finger food, and they think they’re eating mainly meat topped with grated cheese and avocado.

This week The Complicated One discovers he likes the extra flavour of sour cream. He feels very grown up.

Week 6 - Wee and bubbles

“Look daddy! It’s a bubble bath!” The Big Fella is peering between his legs as he pees forcefully into the toilet bowl. His wee is coming out so fast the water is full of bubbles. He’s very excited. It does indeed resemble a small yellow bubble bath.

There are some simple joys in life that women can never experience – and The Big Fella has just discovered one of them at the tender age of two years and nine months. 

Blokes can have lots of fun in the toilet. Soon he’ll progress to making patterns in the dirt with his wee, and later learn to write his own name with wee. On his first school excursion to Perisher he’ll no doubt wee in the snow.

There is no end to the fun blokes can have with their willie, as demonstrated by the stage show Puppetry of the Penis.

TIP: Coloured baths are a good way of enticing reluctant bathers into the tub. A few drops of food colouring from your pantry will save hours of pre-bath moaning and groaning. You can even turn it into a learning opportunity by mixing dyes to make new colours.

Science experiment re-discovered

A few weeks ago The Complicated One conducted a science experiment involving a plastic bag filled with coloured paddle pop sticks, pipe cleaners, glittery balls, googly eyes and coloured feathers, all floating in a pool of green water and salt. “Then we just need to leave it to rise,” he declared.

This week we rediscovered his experiment, mouldering inside a plastic tub inside the cubby house. Turns out he’d added grass clipping, weeds and dirt to create a dirty green toxic mess.

He opens the lid proudly and shows me inside. “Success!” he declares. But I'm not so sure.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I'm reading ... Freedom

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. And quite frankly I’m over it. I don’t care what happens to these characters any more than the character Vin Haven cares about the Cerulean Warbler. Freedom is on loan from my mum. She runs a recommended reading program for me, where she loans me books of hers that she thinks I should read. She is trying to wean me off my restricted diet of crime novels. I think my reading is actually quite balanced as it covers both sides of the Atlantic – hard-boiled American crime fiction by James Ellroy, and hard-boiled Irish crime fiction by Ken Bruen.

It’s almost as hard to get off my mum’s recommended reading list as it is to get on to Oprah’s. The one thing I’m liking is the story of how Freedom was initially selected then rejected by Oprah, after Franzen said some ‘equivocal’ things about being chosen as book of the month. They've since kissed and made up.

I guess Freedom is not that bad really. After all, it's a number one bestseller and my blog has 7 followers (but you're all lovely!), so I'm hardly in a position to criticise. But be prepared for the book to go on a bit.

Kids are eating ... Halloween rice

Don't tell the kids, but Halloween rice is orange-coloured risotto garnished with a plastic spider. The trick is to roast the pumpkin first, making it sweet and helping it to melt away to nothing when combined with the rice.

Not as crazy as it sounds, as the boys both love it. Little do they know they are eating lots of roasted pumpkin, which provides the sweetness as well as the colour. 

Shhh, it’s a secret!

Kids are reading .... The Wonky Donkey

The Wonky Donkey, written by Craig Smith and illustrated by Katz Cowley. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Must be part of Sherrie’s strategy to explain my wonky wrist to the boys. 

We all particularly like the line “He was a spunky hanky-panky cranky stinky-dinky lanky honky-tonky winky wonky donkey”. (Well, perhaps I like it a little too much.)

The book's a hoot - rent it from you local library, or better still, support your local bookseller.

Week 5 - Donuts aren't bad for you, surely?

Swimming hazards

Even swimming lessons go better this week. I’ve organised to swap classes, hoping that a different instructor will encourage The Big Fella to enter the water this week. Sure enough, we have success. She takes a firm but warm approach and soon has him eating oats out of the palm of her hand like an old Clydesdale. Sorry, soon has The Big Fella popping his face in the water and blowing bubbles, and falling face-first into the water from the pool deck. 

He’s not yet back to where he was last year, when he was jumping into the pool with no fear while on holiday in Queensland. The water temperature was about the same balmy 26 degrees in both locations, so we can’t blame the cold. I fear I’m warming as the favourite in the race to find a cause of his backward swimming trajectory.

The Big Fella may be missing Sherrie’s positive influence in the pool. Let’s face it – I’ve never been compared with Ian Thorpe or Dawn Fraser (unless it’s Dawn’s later pub-loving years). Being born in inland NSW, I’m a firm believer in the ocean being full of things that will bite you or sting you if you are lucky, or drag you out to sea for a slow and agonising death if you are not.

Exhibit 1: Holiday in Krabi, Thailand. I am the only white fella on beach stung by mysterious strings of stingers, for which there is seemingly no cure.

Exhibit 2: All those people who are eaten by sharks.

I don’t need any more evidence than that to only enter the water under the most benign conditions...

  • north-facing beach free of waves larger than 30cms
  • warm water, mild air temperature, little wind
  • shaded grassy area near the beach, as I don’t much like the sand or the sun
  • café nearby, preferably several with a wide choice of gelato and gourmet burgers
  • air-conditioned apartment across the road, for a warm shower and brief lie down afterwards
  • cosy pub down the street, for emergency use.
Such a place doesn’t just exist in my dreams. It's our favourite holiday spot - Moffat Beach at the less trendy end of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. 

Stingers are everywhere

The Complicated One seems to have inherited my knack of being stung or bitten when nobody else is. We must be very tasty. He has also inherited my tendency to complain when injured – loudly and a lot. The Big Fella is stoic, like his mother. If they can staunch the bleeding with a dirty rag and hobble back into the dangerous surf, then they will, with no fear of becoming shark bait. Son No.1 or I would be swallowed by the nearest white pointer in ankle-deep water. Son No.2 and Sherrie would punch that old shark on the nose, and just keep swimming.

Luckily our local aquatic leisure centre, formerly known as a pool, features none of these hazards. (Although that giant fibreglass crab with water cascading out of his claws is a little unnerving. Perhaps that's upsetting The Big Fella. Nah, it’s out to eat The Complicated One – just don’t tell him.)

I’m loving …

Watching The Complicated One's confidence grow in the water. He’s no longer scared and really wants to swim. Before we arrive he talks about diving into the pool this week. While the instructor is with someone else, he practices putting his head under the water. It’s so sudden and unexpected that I get a bit teary.

Not so loving …

The precedent I’ve now set that after swimming lessons we get coffee and donuts. Sherrie is not happy, which means I am not happy. But the donuts taste so good! They can’t be bad for you, can they?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Week 4 - Ode to organised activities

Organised activities provide structure and meaning to life

Playgroup resumed last week and play session this week. Now the jigsaw puzzle of my week is complete. Do not underestimate the importance of organised activities. They provide form and structure to weeks that might otherwise stretch from here to eternity.

I’m approaching this wonky daddy day care journey much as I would a Contiki tour – with less drinking but as much weeing in the bushes and throwing up beside the road. Anyone can do Monday/London - Tuesday/Paris - Wednesday/Madrid. Much harder to survive Monday/play session - Tuesday/swimming lessons - Friday/playgroup.

There are no days at leisure on a Contiki tour – just long periods dozing in a coach sleeping off last night’s hangover. At least I have Wednesdays and Thursdays at leisure while the boys are at pre-school/childcare. But only until the wrist heals and I am passed medically fit to work. Until then, I have this wonky day care log to compile, and a dinner to prepare with one hand.

One wee and three tears

Play session is a two-hour extravaganza of age-appropriate activities organised by early childhood students at our local TAFE. The Complicated One loves the painting, colouring and craft, and chatting with the student teachers. The Big Fella loves the sand pit, digging in mud, and toy cars. Both enjoy role play in the cubby house – cooking pretend meals and setting the table.

Play session is not run at every TAFE, but it’s worth searching out for the variety of activities your kids will love at a nominal charge that parents will love, plus the warm inner glow of helping to train tomorrow’s early childhood professionals.

The Big Fella only wees in his pants once and bursts into tears three times – so not a bad morning. At least his wee is conveniently and accessibly located outdoors, so dad is happy. A bucket of water splashed across the path, a quick change of clothes and we’re back in business. Much easier than tunnelling inside a plastic playground pipe.

As for the tears, those come when he loses sight of me. Must be first week back anxiety, as he is usually quite independent. His tears prompt students to come scurrying down the pub in search of me.

Actually, I am only at toilet, not the pub. I don’t take the kids to the pub until after lunch. In fact, I can’t recall the last time I was in a pub. Sigh.

Science experiment

The Complicated One is heavily into craft and science. His favourite TV shows are Mr Maker on ABC2 and Backyard Science on ABC3. He latest experiment involved filling a plastic bag (those flimsy ones from the supermarket fruit and veges section) with all kinds of craft items. After a period of ominous silence, he walks up to me in the kitchen with a bag filled with three coloured paddle pop sticks, two pipe cleaners, plastic glittery balls, googly eyes and coloured feathers, all floating in a pool of water.

“Now all I need is some blue and yellow food dye to make green, and some salt.” I nod as if I understand exactly what’s he’s doing. “Then we just need to leave it to rise.” I haven’t the heart to tell him that ‘rising’ usually requires yeast, or self raising flour at the very least.

“OK, now we can hang it from the clothes line in the cubby house.” I look at him doubtfully. “It’s OK dad, I can do it.” And off he trots down the back stairs. I await developments.

I’m loving…

The Big Fella running over my foot as he pushes a toy stroller around the house. He says “Sorry daddy” in his sweetest voice, bends down and kisses my toes better, then proceeds on his way.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I’m loving …

How kind The Complicated One can be. A slightly younger boy is sad that he can’t climb the large spiderweb-like elastic climbing frame in the park.

While their two friends climb up, The Complicated One sits down on the step next to his friend and says “That’s OK, we can do something else. What would you like to play? How about tip?” And off they run together.

I am so proud! He was perceptive enough to notice that his friend was sad, sensitive enough not to make fun of him, and kind enough to suggest they do something together. My heart is full to bursting.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Week 3 - A pool of wee, and weeping by the pool

A pool of wee

Mopping up a pool of The Big Fella’s wee inside a plastic tunnel at a kid’s playground (like those at McDonalds, only not) was undoubtedly this week’s highlight. Of course the wee pooled in the most remote location. With only one good arm to support my less than agile 180cm 85kg body, I crawled through a 3-metre pipe, up a ladder, back across another 2-metre pipe, then finally exited into a yellow pod where his yellow wee lay pooled. In the hazy plastic-filtered light, it was hard to distinguish where the yellow plastic ended and the yellow wee began. Putting my one good hand in it clarified that nicely.

The Big Fella appeared quite apologetic. Knew he’d stuff up, and came along quietly. Back outdoors, I expertly stripped off his shorts and undies, popped them and the wee soaked cloth nappy into an odour-free nappy sack, pulled on his spare pair of clothes, and was feeling like a well-prepared parent.

The Complicated One then goes out in sympathy and decides he needs to do a wee as well. Being four and a half he requests the cold comfort of a toilet seat, rather than the warm fetid air inside a plastic pipe. Luckily the Christian bookshop and café has very clean toilets. Even as a non-believer I am eternally grateful for the fact that cleanliness is next to Godliness.

On the way back out of the shop, The Big Fella decides he’d like to browse the Christian books. I am against this for both practical and philosophical reasons. Even a newbie stay at home dad knows rows of neatly stacked books do not mix with little boys. Plus he needs to be a little older before deciding which religion to select. So I tuck him under my good arm and hurriedly leave the bookshop to howls of protest from my born again Son No.2.

I’d foolishly relented after swearing to Sherrie to come straight home – the first two post-swimming excursions to the park and the shops having ended in tears (The Big Fella’s, not mine – although I was a little weepy). Driving home I thought what harm could come to us in this quiet little bookshop playground? Even God would be close at hand. Turns out God is a busy fellow.

Weeping by the pool

Tuesday had begun well enough. I arrived at swimming lessons armed with my new small lightweight plastic half cast with nifty Velcro strips, which mean I could enter the pool. This will fix The Big Fella, I thought. Having his loving dad holding him in the pool will conquer all his fears of the swimming teacher, or the structured lessons, or whatever was giving him grief last week.

And for the first 10 minutes all was good. We blew bubbles in the water, sang songs with the instructor and other two-year-olds, and generally gave our best impression of a water confident toddler. Then back came the squirming and the tears and the shouts of “I don’t want to do swimming lessons!” Which must be music to an instructor’s ears.

We adjourned to the other side of the pool, hopefully out of earshot of the other two-year-olds who seemed remarkably happy. The Big Fella is usually calm and well-adjusted in most situations. The Complicated One, like me, is normally the wobbly one – but he’s taken to the lessons and his instructor like a champ. This turn of events is unsettling.

Son No.2 goes lame

The Big Fella feels no pain, like his mother. The Complicated One and I feel every pain, and most of the world’s pain too. So when we arrive home from swimming and our brush with religion, I am more than a little alarmed when The Big Fella collapses to the ground as he tries to climb the back stairs. His right ankle won’t take his (considerable) weight. So to howls of protest I tuck him under my one good arm and hurriedly carry him up the back stairs. (Did I mention that I only have one good arm at the moment?)

The ankle is clearly continuing to bother him, so I figure we’d better call the doctor. I ring ahead and they can fit us in at 3.30pm. Remarkably, we arrive 5 minutes early. (Remarkably, as getting an 15kg lame toddler down the back stairs with one arm is no easier than carrying him up – nor is buckling his squirming bulk into a child’s car seat with one hand.)

Alas, the doc is running late – very late. We spend 45 minutes in a steamy waiting room. Not what the doctor ordered, but the price you pay for an appointment at short notice. The boys are incredibly patient. Ominously, The Big Fella stays seated the whole time. His ankle must really be sore.

Dr D is lovely, as always. She’s very apologetic about our wait. Can’t find anything wrong with his foot of course, but I guess that was always likely to be the case. Probably just a slight twist that will fix itself. See how he is in the morning.

To those without kids, this might seem like a wasted trip (never mind the burden on the nation’s stretched medical resources). Surely I could have predicted a slight twist as the most likely outcome, and just stayed home?

But every parent knows that our family doctor has just performed a vital social function – not just a medical one. Reassuring a worried father that everything is OK is just as valuable to the child’s wellbeing as if the doctor exclaims: “Eek – looks like meningitis. Quick, call an ambulance!”

Otherwise I would have spent all night worried that his sore ankle was a lesser-known symptom of something hideous, like meningitis.

TIP: Try to worry less about your child’s health. This is usually not possible.

Son No.1 goes even lamer louder

As the first-born son, The Complicated One cannot let his brother have an illness that he doesn’t have as well, or even better. That evening Son No.1 complains of a sore right thigh – “a very sore leg daddy”. He complains quite loudly and quite longly.

Of course my experience with Son No.2 earlier in the day would indicate to any sane person that Son No.1 has strained a thigh muscle at swimming lessons. After all, it’s only his third week and he’s not the world’s greatest athlete.

Remarkably, I am able to pretend to be a sane person for a further 12 hours. That night I administer children’s paracetamol before bed (The Complicated One’s favourite night-time tipple). But the next morning before pre-school he is still complaining, so I take the twin actions of administering children’s ibuprofin (for his muscular benefit) and phoning the doctor for an early evening appointment after pre-school (for my mental health benefit). After all, a sore thigh is much more likely to be a sign of meningitis than a sore ankle.

Evening comes, and off goes Son No.1 to Doctor No. 2. Dr J is old school - a bit gruff, but I like him too. At this point, the discerning reader may not be altogether surprised to learn that Doctor No.2 pronounced Son No.1 equally healthy as Doctor No.1 pronounced Son No.2. But we all went home happier than when we got there, and that’s what counts (plus the boys got jelly beans).

TIP: It pays to have several doctors on standby, especially if any of your kids aren’t good with pain, or you aren’t good with them being in pain, or potentially in pain. The ability to rotate GPs so the local medical fraternity doesn’t tire of you should not be underestimated.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Poo = Chocolate

Plop, plop, plop!

One of the keys to encouraging employees to learn new skills and become more productive members of your workforce is a reward structure tailored to individual preferences. As it is in corporate life, so to in toilet-training. The Big Fella likes to eat – hence a reward structure based on food. Not just any food, but the king of foods – chocolate!

“Plop, plop, plop!” he exclaims as he wriggles off the toilet. The Big Fella looks down into the bowl to examine his handiwork, and then looks up at me and declares “Three chocolates!” I can’t fault his logic, as sure enough, there are three more than satisfactory stools floating about in the water.

Apart from weeing his pants when tired or excited or distracted, The Big Fella has certainly got the hang of poo. It seems to be a matter of some satisfaction to him that he can now wee and poo like the rest of us, and not in a nappy.

It’s only been about six weeks from his first trial and error attempts to now being almost completely toilet trained. He began with long sits on the toilet with nothing much happening. It was a week until the first wee arrived, much to everyone's excitement. Chocolate was initially for wees, but once he got the knack of that we swapped to poos. There followed several weeks where for every one poo in the toilet we’d be cleaning up two poos in his underpants. But once he knew that satisfying ‘plop, plop, plop’ echoing in the toilet bowl equalled chocolate, there was no stopping him.

I now think he poos nearly as much as I do, even though he’s only one-third my height and one-sixth of my body weight. An intriguing phenomenon – and I’m not sure that science has an answer. Sure, he eats quite a lot – but looking at the size of his stomach compared to mine, be buggered if I can work out how he squeezes it all in. It must be under incredible pressure. Let’s hope he never explodes.

There’s no-one on TV like Craig Ferguson

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (CBS, broadcast in Australia on Eleven at 10.30pm weeknights) is a madcap pisstake on the late night talkshow format.

The usual sidekick in the band is a robot at a podium...

... the band hasn't turned up
... the lighting is dim
... the backdrop of LA’s skyline by night looks fake. 

Ferguson jokes that he can’t afford better lights or a band...

... that there are other things he’d rather be doing
... that CBS doesn’t know he’s still broadcasting.

The reality is that he’s a kind of anti-talk show host, doing something quite subversive on network television partly because he’s on so late, and partly because he can.

His opening monologue is unscripted. He uses prompt boards to remind him of topics. Then every now and then he’ll do a gag typical of late night talkshow host, draw attention to it, invite ridicule, smile sheepishly, shrug like he could care less, then resume ranting about whatever was getting his goat.

Craig Ferguson’s personal story is as compelling as his TV show. American on Purpose, his memoir of coming of age on the mean streets of Glasgow and later emigrating to the land of hope and dreams, is as good as they come. Funny. Sad. Scary. The killer ducks story is hilarious.

Starting out as a heavy drinker in his late teens, he plumbs the depths of depravity as a drummer in fringe bands before hitting the fledging comedy circuit in Glasgow then discovering cocaine in America so he can drink even harder. Then he sobers up, gets a break on The Drew Carey Show, then gets another hosting The Late Late Show.

Oh, and there’s a pantomime horse called Secretariat. The fake horse bounds in from stage right most nights after Ferguson rings a doorbell under his desk. Secretariat is accompanied by a disco beat and crazed dancing by Ferguson and the studio audience. Then the horse disappears as quickly as it came.

No-one knows why Secretariat appears. No-one knows when he’ll be back. No explanation is needed. That’s the joke. You’ll either get it and love it, or find the whole thing mildly odd. I can’t recommend it highly enough.