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.