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!

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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 may 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.

 

Give ’em Enough Rope …

(A lame justification for playing a Clash song. But lame justifications are all that are needed)

I have to admit. I kinda like yelling at my kids. I know it’s counter productive. I know it creates a toxic atmosphere at home. I know that my children never respond well to it. But I can’t help it. It’s like some kind of quick-fix parenting. Sometimes I’m tired. Sometimes I’m just lazy. But sometimes it just feels good to explode and give them a good rollicking. I’ve even found myself yelling at my kids to stop yelling. And I always regret it after. I’m an idiot.

Discipline has become the cause célèbre of arguments in our house. It’s hard – really hard. Between a stubborn six and a terrible two year old, maintaining discipline (and how to maintain it) is something I struggle with.  As a teacher, I hear a lot about student autonomy as a way to improve motivation. By allowing students to be more involved with decision making in the classroom, teachers can enjoy higher levels of motivation … in theory.

On the way home from a gruelling day with unmotivated and undisciplined students, I thought about whether I could better involve my kids in decision making and establishing rules at home.

I sat down with my son and discussed what he thought were important house rules, and why such rules were important. I then asked him if he wanted to make some signs which explain the rules to everyone. He agreed, drew some pictures and wrote the rules underneath.

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Now, if any rules are broken, I can just point to the relevant sign and give him a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson-esque raised eyebrow, and he has to relent. What can he do? He wrote the rules! Tee hee!

Give ’em enough rope.

 

28 To Make

I’m a big, big fan of MOOCS, or massive open online courses. Websites that offer online courses for a lot lower fee than attending a physical course or going to university. I pray that they become as valid as concrete university courses, thus saving me a bucketload when my children turn 18. Some really good ones are Future Learn, Khan Academy, Coursera and CreativeLive. Although my kids are still young, Khan Academy is a fantastic free website that allows you to restudy those old Maths and Science classes from school and if still available when they’re older, it’s a website I will push them to use, saving on private tutoring bills. It’s an American website designed for the American syllabus, so there are problems deciphering what Calculus and Algebra actually mean (isn’t it just Maths?), but as far as I can gather, 2 plus 2 equals 4 over there too. Plus they did put a person on the Moon – a couple of times – so they can’t be too shabby in the brains department!

Creative Live is a website that mainly focuses on courses related to art and design, with some business / entrepreneurship courses thrown in for good measure. I’m no artist, but in the month of February, they’ve been running a free art course called 28 To Make. Simple, fun, artistic things you can do every day to get your creative juices flowing. My juices have flown but I saw the potential they have to keep my children entertained for an hour.

In particular, I liked the Day 8: Circles activity. They produced a photocopiable template of thirty small circles. The idea being to illustrate each circle to produce something different. I drew the usual fare – footballs, planets, eyeballs. But my son was a little more esoteric (weird) as usual.

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Take a look at the site and you’ll find some things you can do with your kids. I recommend having a look at Day 11: Photo Doodles, Day 12: Exquisite Corpse, Day 17: Tangrams, and Day 24: Postcards, but, please, check them all out.

UPDATE – The 28 to Make Ebook is available here.

 

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site

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Despite my grumblings, a children’s book review.

Nothing is more satisfying than getting ready for bed, after a hard day’s work, and knowing that you’ve made the day a success. Whether it’s doing a whole poo in the toilet, getting 60% of your dinner into your mouth, or only having two meltdowns that afternoon.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site is a book that allows my kids and me to snuggle in bed before lights out and reflect back on the day’s achievements together – mine being considerably more important and stressful despite what they argue. Its rhythm and rhyme are a joy to read, and, more importantly, often put my kids to sleep. I read it as slow and deep as possible to encourage my loved ones to, please, let me have some time off. I have turned this 20 page novella into War and Peace. Think the death of HAL as inspiration to how to read a children’s book properly.

It’s a simple story of a group of vehicles, all working hard together for the greater good – making the big city even bigger. It’s a capitalist urban planner’s dream, and judging by the bricks and blocks laid out in my (what once was a) living room, it’s my kids’ dream too. The book follows the vehicles’ night-time routines, which echo their own, and it’s a perfect way to wind down the day, and try to commit to memory all the little successes your loved ones have achieved: the new word, the new skill, a greater emotional maturity.

The illustrations are beautifully drawn, a richness reminiscent of ’50s New York, and are bound to make yourself and your children feel sleepy.  Also, the book has a quality feel to it and is one of those rare stories I not only recommend buying but also present to friends. Get it for your little town planners!