We’ll make great pets.

Pets. Urgh!

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Credit: diannehope

As a non-dog owner –  yes I know, I don’t understand. As a non-cat owner –  yes I know I don’t understand. As a non-gerbil, -parakeet, -gecko owner, I know I ‘ain’t never gonna understand.

I’ve never understood the necessity to receive such non-judgemental love, in exchange for the odd treat, regular meals and an occasional rub of the belly. I don’t believe they truly understand you. I know you think they do. But I don’t. For me, pets are a nuisance. They need looking after, cleaning, exercising and they’re just an extra mouth to feed. I made the mistake of helping bring two creatures just like that into this world – I’m not going to voluntarily hand over cash to make the same mistake again.

My kids bug me for pets but I shrug it off. They bug me to get a cool Audi. They bug me to go to Disneyland. They bug me for a lot of things that won’t be happening anytime soon. When househunting, I searched for apartments that weren’t pet-friendly just so I could say, “ah gee, boys. I’d really love to get a dog too but we’re just not allowed here. Not even a chihuahua!”.

It’s not that we’ve never had a pet. At my eldest’s nursery school’s summer festival, they would have a game known as KINGYO SUKUI which means “goldfish scooping”. Dextrously deficient children attempt to scoop out goldfish from a paddling pool into their own cup and then take their bounty home with them. Every year I watched this horror show: poor fish flapping about all over the place and then put in a plastic bag with sometimes six, seven other goldfish, taken home to who knows what fate. The Japanese are – how shall I put this – not overly concerned with animal rights at the best of times, but this was too much to bear.

As a self-styled piscine Oskar Schindler, I rescued four of these fish from a group of tormenting boys and took them home, on the way stopping at the supermarket and buying a fish tank, a filter and some food. Two of them didn’t last the week. The other two got on rather well and we often had a tank full of fish eggs. Trust me, goldfish stink: their eggs stink, their shit stinks and their food stinks. Before I took a shower, I would change the fish water in our bathtub, trying not to retch. The last of the goldfish left us about a year after their emancipation. I took it out into the garden to bury and my son and I built a mound of stones over its grave. I remember feeling quite touched (and somewhat puzzled) by my son sobbing from his first encounter with death and mourning. My wife shouted out the window, “make sure you bury it deep. I don’t want the neighbour’s cat digging it up again!”.

Back to the present. My son has taken the pet ban on the chin and made his own. In an empty jam jar, he scattered some golden stones from Bray beach, added a little plant and filled it with water. Then, on a piece of clear plastic, he drew his own little goldfish and dropped them into the water. I must say it’s quite sweet. And doesn’t smell at all!

Neat idea, huh? Thank you for reading and I’m going to leave you with this. For no other reason than it’s a cracker.

Bubbles

My wife is amazing. For a number of reasons.

First, she doesn’t communicate with me on our Facebook news feeds. I like that about her. For those couples who do: please, get a room! Like a living room or drawing room or parlour or something.

Secondly, she doesn’t wish our infant children, “Happy birthday!” on Facebook either. I like that about her too. Neither of them has a Facebook account and, if they did, I suspect they wouldn’t even ‘Friend’ me. To whom are these well-wishes aimed at? And didn’t you, like, see them that morning, like, at breakfast, or something?

She is also amazing because she has had to spend the summer entertaining two kids alone. This has seriously cut into her Facebook time but she has not complained. For kids whose parents are busy with work, there are not that many options out there. Coupled with Dublin’s unpredictable weather, it can make looking after kids in a summer holiday … difficult!

In Ireland, it seems like a lot of busy parents take advantage of the wide range of summer ‘camps’. However, these are nothing like camps because a) there are no tents, b) the kids come back at 5pm (!!!), and c) ‘camping’ is supposed to be a cheap alternative for cash-strapped, frazzled workers in need of a holiday. There is nothing cheap about them. Our local gym offers a swimming camp which is over €100 for a week’s course. Multiply by the number of weeks in a summer holiday and you may start to consider moving to a landlocked country just to be on the safe side.

There’s an almost infinite range of camps: Starcamps (which builds your little angel’s confidence and prepares them for the cutthroat world of show business), photography camps, computer programming camps, even camps which advertise, seriously, that your child will spend 70% of the time on an iPad. Are these camps are only popular in Ireland? We never had this kind of thing when I was a child but that was a long time ago. Answers on a holiday postcard, please.

My wife has been scouring the Internet looking for ideas to keep them occupied and found this gem: a giant bubble maker. These things can be bought on Amazon for about £20 but it cost us next to nothing to put one together.Of course, we had to buy the bubble mixture from the nearest Euro shop – washing up liquid and water is always a poor substitute.

First, you need to get hold of a few pieces of junk mail: takeaway leaflets are particularly good. They have a waxy texture to them which make them quite resilient and waterproof. You need enough so you can make a pair of strong sticks (for more information on the forgotten art of stick making, look here). You then get two pieces of string: one short one and one longer piece. Tie the two ends of the strings to the two ends of the stick. Make sure the long piece overlaps the short piece, in order for a complete bubble circle to be made. You should have something that looks like this (or, most likely, better).

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And … er … well … that’s it!

I’m sure the manufacturers of more expensive versions will assure you that theirs have been expertly crafted and optimised through hours, days, weeks, months of laboratory testing and that their product produces the biggest, boldest bubbles on the block. Good for them!

Chronicling

A great philosopher once said:

Wise beyond his years. He hadn’t even had any kids. I don’t feel like my kids are growing up but rather exploding, quickly and secretly when my eyes are turned. One of my colleagues who has grown up children told me once, “I don’t know, it’s funny. You put them in bed one night, kiss them goodnight and when you wake up, they’ve flown the nest”.

My kids really like drawing now. My eldest is particularly consumed by it. At the end of the day, even the promise of reading a Roald Dahl book can’t get him to come to bed because he’s drawing. I’m not complaining – it’s a nice pastime and we encourage it. Before leaving work, I raid the recycling bin for unwanted and unloved one-sided photocopies that I can staple together into a sketch pad and bring home to my boys – what a guy!

The walls of our house are plastered with their drawings. Literally plastered.

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Not featured on “Changing Rooms”.

We’ll never win any interior design awards and my Pinterest account is rarely looked at but I couldn’t care less. It’s comforting to come back to a home filled with pictures of suspended blue skies, portraits of family members with no hair and twelve fingers, and frantic scribbles in primary colours. It’s also satisfying to use the word, ‘scribbles’. Sitting at the table with a cup of tea with your child, watching their knitted brow, pursed lips and chubby fingers grab that deceptively large pencil, listening to their deep breaths of concentration is a nice way to forget the troubles of the day.

These pictures are as precious as photos but are not treated as so: they’re often thrown away, put in a drawer or forgotten about. That’s why we have taken to photographing everything.

When we moved house, I found myself having to deal with a tonne of papers: work stuff, bank info, documents, my unfinished Hollywood script. These papers were heavy and bulky, and when moving country, sacrifices had to be made. Everything relatively important (too important to throw away, not important enough to be saved) was photographed and stored on a USB, and then I started photographing their artwork.

Flickr provides 1TB of free photos. Google Photos offers unlimited storage if you’re okay with some compression. My wife has a second Facebook account with only a handful of friends (grandparents, brothers, me) which she uses to upload anything and everything child-related without causing eye-rolling and long sighs from casual friends.

One more thing, when pictures have been scribbled and drawn, my wife always writes the date in the corner in pencil. This allows us to see real progress.

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What a difference a year makes.

Also, with more ‘creative’ endeavours, she also pencils in what these blobs and squiggles actually are. Thus ensuring that when they’ve flown the nest, we can look back on these efforts with warm smiles and not knitted brows of our own.

Plank Parenting

 

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Current mood

 

I’m writing this on Sunday – the day after the night before. I enjoyed one of my now tri(!)-annual social evenings – social meaning going out and getting as drunk as financially, physically and spiritually possible. But that was a long time ago. Now I want to die.

Hangovers get worse as one gets older, that’s a given. But hangovers with kids are stupendously awful. From being woken up about 5 hours too early, to having to suffer a child’s new gun sound (“pew, pew, pew”) running on an octave higher than my sonic pain threshold. It’s a living nightmare! I can do nothing except lie on the sofa or floor, fingers in ears, eyes closed, praying of being alone. But I have to entertain these little horrors.

Necessity is the mother of invention. My kids want to play with me and I just want to lie down all day. Solution: play games that require you to lie down.

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Bum Surfing

Actually, my brother and I ‘invented’ this game as kids. I guess it’s similar to a bucking bronco but a rather gentler version. One person (today, that’s me of course) lies down on his/her front. The other – the surfer – stands on the bum of the ‘surfboard’. The surfboard then rocks side to side, trying to upend the surfer. Lots of fun but best played in a soft area and at your own risk. The author accepts no responsibility for injuries to either party.

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Cover Daddy

Here, I lie in a strange position on the floor and the game participants grab whatever they can find to completely cover me. Of course, I can wiggle a hand or a foot loose to make the game more interesting (longer). The idea is to incapacitate the ‘monster’. After they’ve almost piled half the house on me, it’s fun to just lie under the mess, building tension, a quiet before the storm, and then roaring up and chasing them around the house.

Roll Over

An easy one, and fun for young kids who really like to test their strength. Just lie on your front (or back) and adamantly refuse to roll over, despite how hard they push and pull you. Based on the age of your kids, this can take ten minutes or ten hours.

Grab

A variation on Roll Over. I hide something small and squishy – like a cushion or a cuddly toy – under my belly and they have to try and grab it. Requires a little more tactical nous, and that means can take a little longer.

Daddy’s sick! Get him a …

No, not another beer. But this game is a variation on a scavenger hunt. Daddy is sick in his bed and he needs five (ten? Twenty?!) completely random items in the house to get better – a peppermill, a harmonica, a tennis ball, you get the idea. This gives you the perfect opportunity to moan and groan your hangover away, while your kids run havoc in the house. Can your little hunters get them all before the clock reaches, oh let’s see if this can go on until bathtime!

Brexit

I am an English national, married to a Japanese national, with two sons holding dual nationalities. We are living in Ireland. We are immigrants. Not emigrants, nor ex-pats but immigrants. I work here. I pay taxes here. I’m entitled to all this country has to offer. I’m welcomed but I don’t ‘belong’ here as such. I’ll be honest with you, it feels liberating.

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We live in an apartment building and there are a lot of kids here. When I come home from work, my sons are often outside playing with them. Kids with backgrounds from Iran, Poland, Romania, Venezuela, Italy and Ireland. I’m under no delusions – this ‘ain’t Sesame Street – but to regard this as anything but beneficial would be foolish and to try to prevent or suppress any of this would be pure madness, right? Oh, but wait!

In some sort of perverse “Deal or no Deal”, Britain has decided to give up a ‘very nice, thank you’ situation for what lies inside a mystery box. A vote which, for me, is a vote against logic, against respecting the opinions of experts. A vote which comes – and I’m being as nice as I can – from the gut (or more likely bile duct) rather than the head. It’s a vote which, in our modern times, feels like something King Canute would advocate.

Besides love and spiritual comfort, to succeed as parents we should also provide opportunities. Opportunities that allow our children to grow beyond what we were capable of. The freedom of movement within the EU should be seen as that: an opportunity, not a restriction. When I was coming of age, Eastern Europe was opening up. Memories of this are mixed with memories of warm summer mornings full of potential. At an impressionable age, I saw “Before Sunrise”, and all I wanted to do was travel around these new countries beyond the Iron Curtain and fall in love with a French girl. Unfortunately, I never did. The stags and hens beat me to it.

What frustrates most is now my opportunities and my children’s opportunities have been limited. To be able to live anywhere in Europe, to eke out a living and to raise my children in another country was something I thought I’d be able to enjoy indefinitely. A lot of child educators would argue children need roots and stability, and travelling around the world doesn’t give them that. I disagree – I think it makes them resourceful, open, confident and communicative. Multiculturalism eventually leads to pluriculturalism, and pluriculturalism is what our unique little country has enjoyed ever since that bloody French foreigner and his army came over in 1066, taking our houses, our jobs and our women. Are we removing all ‘foreignness’ from our island? If so, who is going to trigger Article 50 on our language, philosophy, moral code, political system, national religion, royal family, rock music, Christmas trees and fish and chips? The list is endless and pointless. The only countries I can think of with strong monocultures are North Korea, and maybe Cuba – I don’t want to live in either, thank you very much. I hope my sons become pluricultural: that they don’t feel torn between identities but can pick and choose, when and where it suits them. Plurilingualism opens up career opportunities, pluriculturalism opens up personal ones.

I will move back to the UK in the near future (after an experimental stint in Cuba, perhaps) and hope that that thing that binds us ever together as a country – complaining about our lot in life – remains because I’ll have plenty to rally against. Little Britainers might say, “if you don’t like this country, then get out!”. Well, they’ve made that increasingly difficult.

The geeks shall inherit the earth

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I picked up this book recently – Geek Dad. Of course, I didn’t buy it but picked it up from the library (support your local library before they’re taken away!) and I was very impressed.

I’m not a geek. Or a nerd. One reason is that I don’t know the difference between a geek and a nerd, and to be a geek (or is it a nerd?), you have to be able to tell the difference between a geek and a nerd. Like a geek is a nerd who knows they’re a nerd, or something.

Anyway, the main reason that I’m not a geek is that I don’t know anything about the following: binary, circuits, Java, GoPro, Raspberry Pi, HTML, soldering, Minecraft, memory boards and LEDs. I know these are words. And these words relate to something you can talk about with the staff in Maplin. But other than that, I’m at a loss. Although, new development: I do wear glasses now.

I don’t want to be at a loss, I’d like to be into the things above just because I think it’d be fun to mess about with electronics with my kids. And also, if my kids were into these kinds of things, then the education would prove invaluable. So I borrowed this book. And checked out their website.

A lot of these activities are simple and low-tech. I liked the ideas of making a pirate treasure map, designing your own comic strips and making simple circuits with something called a CircuitWriter pen – which I’d never heard of and which blew my mind.

But I wanted to share a simple but effective way to make unique and personalised colouring in books.

My sons went to a birthday party last weekend and as a thank you, they got a bag with crayons, felts and a colouring book. A lovely gesture and greatly appreciated, thank you! But the colouring book (like many) have a lot of uninspiring  (and, honestly, bizarre) pictures like these:

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Using photo editing software like Photoshop, the writer of Geek Dad, Ken Denmead teaches how you can make your own colouring in images and it only takes a few minutes.

First, you can take pictures from Google Images. I took one of Captain America and Iron Man (popular with my boys at the moment), and the castle of the beautiful city in Japan in which I used to live (the city, not the castle).

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I have a Mac so I downloaded free photo editing software called GIMP, which was advised in the book*. It was then a process of applying three filters to the image: ‘COLOURS – DESATURATE’, then ‘FILTERS-EDGE DETECT-NEON’, and finally ‘COLOURS-INVERT’. This left me with more than adequate images that my kids could colour in. The book recommended playing with the settings to get the best image but that was above me! I then printed them off and the boys coloured them in.

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They enjoyed colouring in something that was close to their experiences and I enjoyed the 15-20mins of silence.

 

* For Photoshop Elements, Denmead recommends a similar process under different names: ‘FILTER-STYLIZE-FIND EDGES’, then, ‘ENHANCE-CONVERT TO BLACK AND WHITE’.

 

 

Scooting along

Spring is, well, kind of, almost here .. I guess!

And that means we may well be seeing him sometime soon.

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Ah, lovely Dublin Beach!

It’s time to get out there and shake off the winter blues and dehibernate! No more sitting at home, watch The Walking Dead with my infant kids.

My little one has reached the age where he’s a little more coordinated and active, so we’re always thinking of ways for him to use up some of his excess energy. I’ve written before about the joys of cycling and we have a little push bike which he likes whizzing along on. But I wholeheartedly recommend getting a scooter.

We were pretty lucky. We live in an apartment building and we managed to salvage one from the communal rubbish area. Standards? They’re for the rich! On bin day, we often cruise around Dublin 4: Ballsbridge, Donnybrook, Rathmines, Ranelaigh – anywhere with lots of overprivileged and under-exercised children, trying to pick up hardly-used goodies from the discarded treasures. In a similar vein, I’m planning on renting a car and visiting the nearest tip in Killiney just before Christmas.

I digress – anyway, the scooter works a treat and he looks adorable whizzing along on it.

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It’s good exercise and getting the kids to accompany you to the supermarket, Post Office, whatever is always easier if they can ride along. The best thing about a scooter is that if they get tired of it, it’s easier to carry than a kids bike – or, even better, you can ride along instead. It’s bloody good exercise!

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This is one of the best things about being a parent. You get to do goofy things: singing, skipping and scootering in public without caring about being looked at funny.

Enjoy the t-shirt weather, folks!

 

The Passion of the Egg

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Of course, Easter Eggs should be considered purchase mistakes. It’s not original of me to point out the incongruity between our Lord’s ascendency home and gorging on shiny, hollow, chocolate ostrich eggs. I wouldn’t be the first to grumble about the monstrous overpricing of said shiny, hollow, chocolate ostrich eggs which, when melted down, weigh the same as a finger of Fudge. Surely, if Jesus Christ returned, this rampant commercialism and, let’s face it, gross overpricing would no doubt lead to him upending display tables in the local Tesco in a holy rage. After all, he was a renowned scrimper.

Our children don’t get any from us. I’m not sure how disappointed they are – nor care much either. Our anti-Easter egg campaign starts on the 10th of January, when Easter eggs start appearing in shops. It’s important to stay ahead of the game. It begins with derisory comments said under the breath, when passing the egg aisle: “Twenty Euros for a chocolate? Who in their right mind would pay for that?!”, “Y’know, there’s more chocolate in a Dairy Milk than in one of those eggs!”, “I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t be happy if he came back and saw all these chocolate eggs!”. The secret is not to overdo it. You don’t want to glamourise them by drawing attention to them too much, but enough that they shouldn’t get their hopes up. Also, try to avoid having to answer questions concerning the historical accuracy of the Easter story!

If this technique doesn’t work, I recommend getting some good grandparents. Good grandparents are like good financial wingmen. They can take this expense on the chin while you desperately save your money to cover the cost for a term or two in a 2030 post-Cameron university – well hopefully post-Cameron.

Another idea: as the clocks went forward last weekend, why don’t you try your own time-travel by putting the clocks three days back? “Easter Sunday? Why, that’s next Wednesday!” This will give you ample time to take advantage of the post-Easter egg clearances!

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Best three words in the English language!

Did you know the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on January 7th? The savings alone are reason enough to convert! I see no drawbacks to this. The famous “Marshmallow Test” conducted in Stanford University argued that children’s ability to delay gratification was a good indicator of future academic and career success. I’m just helping my angels be all they can be! If you don’t know this study, check out this fun video.

 

In the end, I compromised. After dashing their dreams of ever getting an egg, I set up an Easter egg hunt around the house (with play dough eggs), and after we indulged with one Cadbury’s Creme Egg each (including mum and dad). They were as ecstatic as Charlie Bucket on his birthday!

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A little aside – Cadbury! What the hell?! Granted, CCEs are not hollow, but I told my sons these eggs were a rich, sticky, runny, messy taste sensation! Have my memories faded or have you changed the recipe? They weren’t rich nor at all runny – just a bit, kind of, frosty!

In my day ….

World’s Best Dad

The day my first son was born was the happiest day of my life.

Honestly.

That’s the standard response. If I were honestly honest, I’d say it was a drunken night involving singing, dancing and getting a frenchie sometime in my twenties. Now THAT was happiness!

But, speaking in all honesty, the day – the morning my son was born was the serenest and most content I’ve ever been. The preceding nine months were nine months of worry. Worry about what kind of father I could be. Worry about how I could provide for “it”. Worry about whether my wife would die in childbirth, and I’d be alone with a baby, unable to cope. Sobbing. While listening to Simply Red.

But it all disappeared that morning. I felt calm and confident. Like the perfect parent. And for the first six months I was. But I never needed to boast about it!

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Stuff like this makes me livid. I have never felt as confident as I did when I became a father. Are dads that insecure. Do parents need this kind of validation? Who buys this for their kids? I can’t imagine what kind of new parent might think that their child isn’t cooing or gurgling at them enough, that they need it to wear this to reinforce their parental pride. It’s clearly not true either. Any father who lets their child wear this is immediately put in the lower percentile of “Best Daddies”. Mediocre at best. When their children turn 14 and disown these parents, are they going to say, “I can’t believe this! You used to wear a t-shirt which said you loved me!”?

Similarly, I’ve never liked parents who use their baby’s chest as a billboard advertising their own loves, beliefs or foibles. Like “Daddy’s new golfing partner”,”Born to play for Liverpool”, or even worse, “Born to play for Chelsea”. A better motto would be, “Man passes on misery to man”- a line from a poem I once knew … I don’t recall the lines after that. I once thought it would be, oh, all kinds of edgy to get my kid a Sex Pistols baby grow. Ha! My baby likes listening to dystopian anarchical punk! Take that, society! Until I realised that if John Lydon ever saw me, he would no doubt call me an utter c….

Continuing on this theme, there’s also a LOT of Wonderful Dad books – no doubt written by insecure, lonely fathers. I read this one with my son recently. In it, we were subjected to a self-gratifying lecture about how the protagonist’s bespectacled dad is so big and strong, and when he is lifted in the air and swung around, he feels like he’s flying. It’s exhilarating but he feels safe in his father’s arms. We read it with moments of embarrassed silence falling between us. There’s a scene in Jerry Maguire, when Jerry and his wife have lobsters with Cuba Gooding Jr and his wife. Cuba and his wife are all over each other, kissing like newlyweds. Jerry and his wife sit watching, embarrassingly aware of the inadequacies in their relationship. Reading that book with my son, it felt a lot like that. I curse the author and his sad literary cry for attention – I hope he’s just as unhappy and insecure as me.