The Interrogation

I mean I was literally just sitting down to start working on this article…they are like cute spies.

It begins like all interrogations do: with a question.

I’ve seen enough movies to know how these things usually take place. There is a chair, usually an uncomfortable one, in the room. Our hero sits in the chair and tries to look nonchalant . But they are very chalant, very! The interrogator sits across from them, sometimes on the other side of a table, maybe behind a glaring light. Light, apparently, makes people confess to all sorts of things.

Other situations involve the questioning taking place in a more relaxed situation, like sitting in the kitchen on a comfy chair. The interrogated doesn’t know they are being interrogated until it is too late.

But it is the question, the first one, that always gives it away.

See in any story, be it a film or book, a person asking another person a question usually is just a way to start a conversation. The questioning usually stops after that. They move on, they have a chat, the story proceeds and everyone wins. But in an interrogation you can tell that the first question has a bunch of baby questions all waiting behind it. Questions that will be asked as well.

The skilled interrogator asks the questions slowly, one after the other. They meander around the conversational topics like a river and then flood the plain of the interrogated with the last, earth shattering, question. It is something some people are just born with an ability to do.

Unskilled ones prefer the machine-gun approach. They ask a question and then rapid fire every question after it, leaving no time for answers to be given.

I’ve seen it all before…I’ve read it all before.

These days I am experiencing it all first-hand.

“Whose that?”

“What are you doing?”

“Do you want to play outside?”

“Can I have a glass of milk?”

“Are those your friends?”

“Can I have a glass of water?”

“Are you working?”

“Are you talking with your friends?”

“Is mummy working?”

“Is it a work day?”

“Can I have a glass of milk?”

“Can you wipe my bum?”

“Can you play with me?”

“Can I have a glass of milk?”

“ALRIGHT! ALRIGHT! I GIVE UP…here’s your damn milk….” – I say, finally cracking.

Interrogations often can feel like they go on forever, I hear. If only secret service types enlisted children to ask questions for them. It felt like forever, like the questions would never stop…it was a total of twenty-two seconds.

See with both of us working from home during the lockdown, in jobs that require a lot of video calls to be attended, the kids have decided now is the best time to learn how mummy and daddy work. More importantly how close to the edge of madness can they push us with the questioning before one of us runs out the front door, pants on our head, screaming that we need to buy a pack of smokes.

Neither of us has ever smoked.

There is that old adage about how you should ‘never work with animals or children’. I always thought it mainly meant in film or photography. Turns out it means AT ALL. You should never work with children…because you will get flock all work actually done.

The Playroom Lie

I should have took the before picture

Let me tell you the great lie of our parenting generation: playrooms.

See playrooms make so much sense. You have a house that has cost you a small fortune to buy and put crippling debt on your shoulders. That’s life, we won’t go into it here. But then you add kids into the equation. More debt…but of course they are a joy to behold and a miracle we all love. Kids need so much stuff, not least of which is toys.

Toys are basically the glitter of the household world: in that they are like herpes. Once in they are near impossible to get rid of and you can be sure that they will spread if you can’t get them looked after quickly.

Kids love toys, they entertain them for seconds at a time. Parents love toys, they can buy seconds of silence from their kids. Everyone loves toys, really. The problem is they take over the house. Enter playrooms.

A whole room that kids can call their own. Where the rules in the rest of the house are relaxed. Toys live there and can be played with in wanton abandon. Walls can be drawn on without fear of being chastised.

For parents it is brilliant. You have one room that is the kids’ domain and, in theory, the rest of the house is toy free. Safe from destruction.

It’s all bullshit.

First off I’m one hundred percent convinced that toys have sex when the household goes to bed. There are more toys in the morning than there were the night before. Woody and Bo are definitely bumping uglies, it is the only explanation.

Secondly toys do not stay in the playroom. It is the common misconception. But toys are migratory objects. They will come down from the playroom and find themselves in places they have no right being. If you don’t nip that shit in the bud they start to multiple and suddenly you have a corner in the kitchen that is full of toys.

More toys than were originally in the playroom.

Thirdly, you have to clean the playroom.

I swear to Dagda I am sorry I didn’t take a picture of the playroom before the photo at the top of the article. Before the pair of them both went into it the room was clean. Toys put away, arts and crafts material stowed correctly. Organised fun. They were in it for one hour and it looked like somebody had robbed a toy store. Using dynamite. Crates of the stuff. I was not able to see the floor with the way they had destroyed the place.

It took me nearly two hours to put the place back together. I found fifteen sea shells. I have no idea where they even found sea shells in the room, there were none there.

Playrooms are the great lie of parenthood. They don’t do anything to make your life easier. All they do is create a massive reminder that you need to clean up a room more regularly than others. Plus, while it is effectively a health and safety issue, the kids have to play in other areas of the house. Meaning the mess just moves to places you really don’t want it in.

Like the toilet. I found a Woody in the bin, no a euphemism.

Deal ‘Em

Twas intense

I can feel it, the beads of sweat running down my forehead. I look at the other two seated at the table through squinted eyes. They are both staring at me, intensely. Trying to see if they can spot my tell. Do I even have a tell? I’m not sure. Nobody ever tells you that you have one, because once they do they know you will do everything in your power to stop it happening. They give up their one advantage over you.

Because, at the end of the day, all games involving cards have very little to do with cards. Sure there are rules, the format of the game and the win conditions. That’s all fine and dandy, but everyone who is serious about playing cards knows that you don’t play the deck…you play the person.

Vegas wasn’t built on the foundation of people playing card games so that all they needed to do was know the rules. It was built on chance, luck and playing the person in the seat across from you. It is all about playing The House

This House is familiar to me. I’ve sat in this seat before, seen these players before. I know the rules of the game, I’ve hit the win condition a few times. Yet still the sweat is there, making my forehead a slip-and-slide for head-lice. Not that I have head-lice, you understand. But if I did, they’d be sliding right off my head.

What’s worse about this whole situation…I can’t look at my cards. I don’t know how strong they are, what I’m holding. I look at the pile in the middle of the table and frown.

Luck be a lady today, because I haven’t won a hand since this whole thing started. An hour playing the game and I am nearly down and out. If I don’t win this pot, that’s game over for me.

I like my lips and turn my stare from the player on the right to the player on the left.

They are trying to psych me out, it is the only logical explanation. The look on their face, like they haven’t had a complicated thought since waking up that morning. To be honest, I’m not even sure if they understand the game. There have been a few moments during it, this round in particular, when they have made schoolyard mistakes. Playing out of turn, showing their cards, trying to up the ante by playing two cards at the same time.

I’m not a sore loser, or bad winner on the rare occasions it happens. I try to help them. I remind them gently of the rules. I tape their hand when it their turn, indicating they need to play a card. The other player though, God damn. They take no prisoners. This is a serious business, this isn’t just a game of cards for her. Hell no. She is playing both of us…the cards are just a nice bit of decoration on the table.

“It’s your go,” she says, tapping me on the shoulder. “You need to go now.”

She’s right, I’ve been lost in my own thoughts for at least five seconds. An eternity for some people, particularly those playing this game of cards with me. I reach down, take the top card off my small pile, and quickly place it down in the centre with the face showing up.

It’s a dog, with a blue spiral background.

Like lightning it happens, faster even. Two tiny, cherub-like, hands dart forward. One is racing for the cards, the other racing for the hand. Just as the first hand is about to land, the second slaps it away and then slams down on top of the pile of cards in the middle of the table.

“SNAP!” the other player shouts, joyously.

Then he looks over at me, quizzically. He isn’t even sure if he has won the round or not.

“That’s my boy,” I say, smiling at him. “Good man, Thomas. You won.”

He scoops up the pile of cards, grins at his sister, then gets up and walks away to play out in the garden. It’s scorching outside. So much so that the house is like an oven, making me sweat more than I like.

Olivia lifts up one of the cards and frowns.

“Daddy,” she says, her tone full of wonder. “That isn’t snap, he didn’t match two animals.”

I smile.

“I know, honey,” I say back. “But let him think he won. When he is a bit older he will get the rules.”

She nods her head sagely, all the wisdom of her four and a bit years bouncing around. Then pulls out her last card and slaps it down on the pile, screaming:

“SNAP!”

I look down and see she is dead on the money, it is snap. She collects the cards, gives me a wink (that involves using both eyes) then hops down from the table and runs after her brother.

I’ve been hustled.

Everybody’s Free (to buy shares in cardboard)

Like…it’s right fucking there behind them. They can hardly miss it.

A short history lesson (because I’m sadly at that point in my life now were when I say things some people actually look at me like I am talking dinosaur) before we begin. Back in 1999 there was a song (which was actually a valedictorian speech originally) called ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’. I loved it, because of how the speech went. It was actually very clever.

That’s were the title of this post comes from, a slight nod of the head to that song/speech.

See, we’re doing a lot of work from home lately with the kids underfoot. I say underfoot, I do mean having to put up with their roommates setting up an office for eight hours of the day in the kitchen. Like that is going to be just annoying for anyone, particularly those that don’t work or pay rent or bills and just want everything yesterday for Dagda’s sake.

We try and do a bit of ‘off/on’ work time with them so they can play without being told every five seconds to be quiet as a parental unit is on a call. They should be allowed to play, after all. They are kids. The problem is they are at that age that means they need a parent around to ensure they don’t go harming themselves. Karen has been getting bits and bobs off the internet to help us out. Craft kids, a mud kitchen and a trampoline.

Yes, a bloody trampoline.

It arrived this week and was physically painful to put together (fucking elastic straps) but we did it under the cover of darkness. The idea being to surprise the kids in the morning with the whole trampoline ready for jumping fun. Along came the next morning, out they go to the garden as the working day starts, and immediately the war begins.

We are used to the war at this stage. One of them has picked up a pebble that the other one wants because it looks different to ALL THE OTHER PEBBLES IN THE GARDEN. I stepped out to start peace talks, expecting them to be fighting about who was on the trampoline or who had jumped into whom. I was literally disgusted to see that the war was not about anything normal like that – it was about the box the trampoline had come in.

See, as I said, we put the thing together under the cover of darkness. Cleaning up the box wasn’t high on the list of things to do. So we had put it to the side of the house. The kids had taken it, dragged it right up to the trampoline, and were fighting over which got the top part and which the bottom. Thomas wanted the bottom and was trying to climb into it to sleep, Olivia figured the top would make an excellent throne. But both parts were attached, so they couldn’t do one without messing the other.

I imagine this is how all the great wars start.

This is following on from the mud kitchen box battle of Tuesday the week before. One want it to be a race car, the other a boat. Both sat in it and the thing became a flat-Earth model.

Honestly, in this time of viruses and unknowns and what not I think we can all agree that the smart money would be to invest in cardboard. And then forget ordering the actual toys the kids might want, just get different types of boxes and let them beat the living snot out of each other.

My money is on Olivia – she fights dirty (I’ve caught her getting digs in when nobody was watching).

Why Zuma Is Pointless

Totally Pointless Character

A lot of the parenting blogs are going to be full of COVID-19 related posts on tips, tricks and insanity preventing bits given the current state of the world. Which is more than fine, we have a few ourselves here at Parenting Pobal. But I’ve decided to go with a different approach for this week’s article. Instead of writing about COVID-19 tips, I’m going to go with an observation that occurred to me recently because of COVID-19.

See, in order to get some work done during the working hours when both of us have to be on a call we’ve relaxed some of the normal rules around the house. Typically screen time (which in our house is only Netflix on the tellybox and never tablets or phones) is kept until after dinner, just before bed, as chillout time from the day. But lately we’ve had to give a bit of Netflix time earlier than usual to ensure silence while we take the calls.

Which means I’ve seen a sizable amount of Paw Patrol in the last few weeks. A good deal more than I’ve ever seen in my life, if I am being honest. The show itself could have a series of articles written about it. There are numerous plot-holes, questions around how genetic engineering has gone crazy in Adventure Bay and a question on whether or not Ryder is actually the bastard love child of Tony Stark.

But one thing that is obvious is Zuma is a completely pointless, utterly redundant, character.

For those that don’t know the show, a summary of it is this smart ass kid has a bunch of talking dogs with some high tech gadgets and kennels. The kennels transform into vehicles, each one matching a certain requirement for the situations that arise. The dogs then have backpacks that fit the situations as well (there is a lot of similarities between the plots and a Jeffery Archer novel). As the adventures happen Ryder will select two or three of the six dogs to save the day.

Zuma is the dog whose main area of expertise is water based. His kennel turns into a hovercraft with a life-ring. I’m not really sure what his backpack is meant to do, but from time to time he does get scuba gear from it. See the reason I’m not sure is because Zuma is rarely selected for any adventures. They have a dog who does digging, a fire specialty dog, a speed freak (who is a ‘cop’ so that’s why he can go fast – safety first kids), a dog who is big on recycling (because even shows for the kids need to spread the climate change message) and one who has a helicopter. Generally the adventures don’t involve too much stuff happening on the water, so Zuma just gets left behind most of the time.

Then along comes an episode that is water based. I know what you’re think. This is Zuma’s time to shine. Oh boy howdy that’s what everyone above the suggested viewing age thought, since those watching it probably don’t pay as much attention to it as an adult with time to kill. But nope, for some reason Zuma wasn’t selected for the mission at all. Which was very confusing to dear old Dad, I have to admit. They needed a boat to get out and save a whale on a rock or something, this is right up Zuma’s street.

Instead they pick recycling dog and the cop dog. Why? I am confused even more. They have cars, cars don’t go on water. I know that there is an element of suspending belief in a show about talking dogs but cars driving on water would just be pushing things a little.

Except, no no. It isn’t about breaking further laws of physics . Turns out that the other two dogs kennels can turn into boats as well. So Zuma’s kennel, the one ideally suited to be used in this situation, isn’t selected and the other dogs kennels can turn into a second vehicle. A water based vehicle.

Off they go, leaving Zuma behind once again.

Then, a few episodes later, the producers of the show obviously just had a great idea for a new line of toys to sell to the kiddies. They went and made a big boat that served as another base for the dogs. Off they go on a voyage and have to go on another mission. Now, now is Zuma’s time to shine. Taking out the two dogs with multi-converting kennels, the rest don’t have boats. So there are three dogs to pick from for this mission. Except, no no. ALL the kennels can now turn into boats, plus the other dogs all have cool new gadgets that let them scuba and sail and what not.

Basically Zuma has been written out of the show, without being written out of the show. He has somehow become the canine version of High Tide (the boat robot in Transformers). Except instead of begging for a water based mission, he is being completely overlooked for them. I actually heard the character ask Ryder (the human overlord of these talking pups) if there was anything he could do to help on one of their missions.

Those were the last lines I’ve heard the character say. It seems that the voice actor also realized Zuma is completely pointless. All the show does now is animate him.

Mother's Day in the time of COVID-19

Mutli-cards

This is a weird post. I had intended to write a little piece on Mother’s Day, because that’s the sorta stuff that belongs on this site. But I hadn’t wanted to write about COVID-19 at all. Then Ireland went into this strange quasi-lockdown that we are in and suddenly the article I want to write and the one that I didn’t want to write had a baby.

An awkward little baby that basically meant you cannot write about one without mentioning the other.

So let’s get the boring shit out of the way first. Olivia with her underlying lung condition is susceptible to catching things and when she does it isn’t plain sailing. Whatever meds are required to get rid of the current ailment only work so far, because her lungs are greedy little shits. They hang onto any and all illness and drag it out for weeks. Resulting in the old trip to the hospital. Making COVID-19 a bitch because we definitely want to avoid her getting it at all.

Which sorta messes up the standard Mother’s Day plans.

In the past we’ve gone down to the village and had breakfast in Karen’s favourite coffee spot. Sitting in or out, weather depending, and munching away on some good eats. All that is shut down down while we weather the storm, so what’s a family to do?

Consult the Internet and watch a video on how to make scrambled eggs like Gordon Ramsay. Actually a thing, by the way. I recommend it. It is so simple to do and the results are excellent.

But breakfast is just one part, we need coffee with those meals. Luckily I was a good boy this Christmas and got a cool coffee machine that allows for the making of Lattes. Seventy failed attempts later we have success with a full on frothy beverage of awesome levels.

The meal made, ready to go up to bed, next up is the cards.

I say cards, because we do a lot of cards. I like to get Karen one from myself, a wife specific one, just to throw a little note in there telling her how great she is at this motherhood lark. Then there is the card from the kids. This is an official, Hallmark, creation. Not some slapped together heap of shit they made because they think they are artists. The trick here is that Karen prefers to be called ‘Mummy’ instead of ‘Mammy’, ‘Mam’, ‘Ma’, or ‘Mum’. You’d be surprised how hard it is to find cards with ‘Mummy’. Then along comes the heap of shit the kids slap together (I mean works of emotional art, of course). With a little help from their dad, these are added to the pile. Then we get the present (which, per agreed rules, is one from both kids and nothing insane) and away we go.

So far the day is going the way you’d want all things considered. We go walking up the stairs and that’s when ALL HELL breaks loose.

I mean we are walking up the stairs, one breakfast being carried by me. One present and two cards in Olivia’s tiny hands, with Thomas carrying the least important ones (i.e. the crap cards that can be damaged by his clumsy walking). Except Olivia wanted to carry her hand-made card up, because heaven forbid that Karen mistakenly thought Thomas made two cards while Olivia went out and bought her ones.

I took her one off Thomas and handed it to her. Smiles on her face, immediate tears on his. He dropped down to the step and went into full pout mode.

Turns out that he wanted to carry two cards. Olivia, now, card rich didn’t want to give up any cards. I had to literally bargain with her to get my card so that Thomas could carry it. But by now the boy has figured out that he has two hands and a card in each, but Olivia has two hands and more things than hands.

“Me help,” he moans up at me, pointing at the present.

So as we continue walking up the stairs I have to get Olivia to agree to let Thomas help her carry the present into Karen. Another round of negotiations took place, in which case I reckon I handed over ownership of the house to my daughter. They both marched into the bedroom like joint victors returning from battle, startling their poor mother awake.

Cards and gift were dumped onto Karen before she could even get up in the bed. Kisses, hugs, then both of them ran from the room to cause chaos elsewhere in t he house.

So, basically, COVID-19 just changed the menu options for the day that’s in it. The kids were still pains in the butt, but at least Karen knows they love her.

Work From Home, Eileen

The home office – my Fortress of Chaos

I should preface this post by saying that Karen took the majority of the hits during our first day of working from home as an entire family unit. Typically Friday is my ‘most meetings’ day and since Ireland is in semi-lockdown because of COVID-19 (which rhymes with ‘Come on, Eileen’ for those wondering about the title of the post) we both had to work from home with the two terrors in tow. Not all heroes wear capes – some wear children around their neck while still getting some work done.

The day was March 12th, 2020 and everyone was watching the news for the same reason: was there going to be some sort of extreme measures announced to help combat COVID-19 in Ireland. A little before lunch our Caretaker Government finally did something to justify all their inflated salaries, they closed the schools and creches to try and stop the virus spreading. Of course this act brought with it a lot of chaos in the lives of parents. For those lucky few, it meant working from home with the kids in the house.

Something akin to trying to balance on the tip of a needle while reciting old poetry in Latin and writing out pi to a thousand places on a grain of sand. Whilst whistling Bohemian Rhapsody.

Actually that is easier than working from home with the kids.

Kids, particularly the young ones that haven’t gone to school, need entertaining. A lot of entertaining. Plonking them down in front of Netflix or Disney or ‘Popular Streaming Service’ is going to only get you so far. They will get grumpy and grouchy and want to be fed fifteen times a minute despite the fact they normally don’t. Kids don’t adjust well to change in routine, because why would they? Being able to roll with the punches would make parenting so much easier, the little shits don’t want that.

They are organised.

But hilariously I found that working from home with the kids has similarities to working in the office without them. Scarily so.

For example, standups.

In order to get most of my first two hours of call done, Karen had them make masks.

Any of my reports complain about stand-ups in a paradoxical sort of way. They see the need for them, but also say they take too much time. They are a necessary evil, but one they’d rather shoot instead of attend. Basically they don’t take stand-ups seriously. Turns out our kids view stand-ups the same way. Showing up in the middle of the video call with masks and then just muttering nonsense before running away.

It was like they had worked with me their entire lives.

Lunch is another one. I manage a fairly big team, meaning there are a lot of personalities on said team. Not everyone is going to be in the mood for the same lunch suggestions on any given day, which is fine. If we were all the same the world would be boring. But the dreaded question of ‘So, plans for lunch?’ always ends up with a few suggestions, no agreements, and a splintering of the group as people go forth to forage on their own.

WFH with the kids, same result. Karen asked about lunch and they both screamed out two completely different suggestions. Neither of which could be made easily or at the same time, because why would kids suggest the same thing? Ending up with Karen (because I had to run for another poxy video call) making what she wanted and the kids getting that for lunch.

Which was invariable what they actually would have eaten anyway.

Then there is the whole etiquette around being on a conference call. Most people who work in an office will have experienced at least one con-call in their time. It is always audio chaos at first as people shout to be heard or talk over each other. Eventually somebody, generally the call organizer, will start to run the call. They will suggest people shut up (politely, of course) and then start to funnel questions and comments in an organised manner.

WFH with kids while on a con-call is pretty much the same. Except while the person running the call handles the adults, the adults have to handle the kids.
‘WILL YOU SHUT UP FOR A SECOND SO DADDY CAN ASK HIS QUESTION!’ –
‘Derek, sorry, could you go on mute there before you contribute anything further to the call.’

And, of course, there is the impatience. People in an office situation, particularly on a Friday, will watch the clock like a robotic hawk. Laser focused attention on the hands as they mentally try to make time move faster and bring forth the weekend.

WFH with kids, regardless of the day of the week, has the same stuff going on. Except an adult in the office at least starts this around 3pm. The grumbling typically only starts after they do approximately five hours of work and check the time again, distraught to see that it is only 4pm. Kids will start wondering why you are not doing stuff with them that is ‘fun’ from 7am, getting more vocal about this complaint with each passing minute. By the end of the working day shift you would wonder if there is room for original complaining left in your brain.

Desk drop-ins are another commonality between working in the office and WFH with kids. Desk drop-ins are the bane of any worker’s day, because they cause you to get distracted from the task at hand. They are an evil that needs to be killed from the office, but apparently murdering a colleague is illegal in most parts of the world.

Thanks modern society.

WFH with kids, same problem. You can give them crayons, colouring books, food and water. You may eventually buckle and just fire them in front of the telly, in the hope that those thirty minutes can be used to do some work. Then, like cute ninjas, they appear beside your desk. Looking for something.

Always. Looking. For. Something.

I suppose the reality is that WFH with kids is no different to working in the office without them.

But bugger me this was only day one. We’ve two more weeks of this crap to get through.

As one of the folk on my team said ‘This period will see a load of babies made, with a load of divorces happening.’

He probably ain’t wrong on either part.

But, in a rarity for me, let’s finish with some helpful tips on how to WFH with Kids for a long period

  • Try, as best you can, do both muck in. It may not be possible if you have a lot of meetings or calls but if you have even thirty minutes between them try and give your other half those thirty minutes.
  • Grabbing a coffee or tea? Grab two – you can be full sure you other half is burning the candle at three spots.
  • Craft kits are a godsend – stock up on those bad boys. Same with colouring books, crayons, all that arty junk. Kids love to do two things from a young age. Make a mess and destroy your house – craft kits allow both to be done and kept their attention for a few minutes.
  • Break the screen rule – screw it. Yes screen time is bad, we should limit it, blah blah blah. You know what else is bad – losing your job because you had to entertain the kids for eight hours. In times of madness the rules can slide a little. An hour in front of telly isn’t going to kill them, but it will give you sixty minutes to get four hundred minutes of work attempted.
  • Get out there – while socialising is meant to be kept to a minimum you can go for a walk or run or jog. Eat lunch at the desk, get the family all out for some air on your lunch hour. For adults it is good for their mental well-being. For kids it might tire them out just enough that they sit still for a few hours when they get back.
  • Vent on social media – it will help. Trust me there is a country load of people going through the exact same thing, bottling it up isn’t going to do anyone any good. In fact bottling it up to seem like you are a pillar of strength will only lead to an argument with your partner and nobody wants that. A tweet, a post, a picture – tagged with the wfh-covid-19 tag will have you growing a support network in minutes.

But trust me on the sunscreen