Traditions Die Hard

Being Irish, traditions are a big part of my background. It goes with the territory. Who knows, maybe it is something in the Celtic DNA. But who am I to argue, I’m as much a stickler for tradition as the next person.

One tradition that Ireland partakes in along with large portions of the world is that of Santa Claus. Sure he is a fictitious character, apparently based on the real St. Nicholas (boat still out on whether or not he was real), but it is a nice tradition to be involved in. The magic of a gift giver sprinkling wishes and joy to all the well-behaved children. Who wouldn’t want to get behind that?

I remember reading a line on some website or blog or newspaper (still a thing at the time of publishing this article for any future kids reading this on holo-screens) that I thought summed up the tradition of Santa Claus nicely. Sadly I can’t remember who said it exactly, so I can’t give due credit, but the line went something like this: There are three phases in a person’s life. When they believe in Santa, when they don’t believe in Santa and when they are Santa.

I always thought it was a nice sentiment. Not everyone becomes a parent, but those who do get to join in on the fun of being Santa. Sneaking presents into the house during the month of December so that the Littles don’t see. Hiding said presents in locations the Littles never go to ensure the myth of Santa is kept alive for as long as possible. Threatening the kids into good behavior by telling them that Santa sees everything. I mean you have to hand it to the Christian religions, they know how to make a reward system based on voyeuristic invisible beings. Hilariously God doesn’t seem to cut it for kids, because the rewards for being good are all in the Afterlife, but Santa can put the fear of God into them to behave.

It’s a clever system.

What’s even more fun about the whole Santa tradition is how parents can go and make their own traditions based around it. These vary from house to house, family unit to the family unit, but you can be damned sure they happen.

For example our tradition from back before the Littles was that it wasn’t officially Christmas until I had seen Die Hard (I’m not getting into why Die Hard is a Christmas movie, it just is. If you don’t agree well jog on dear reader) on the telly box. This used to be a nail-biting affair for me, it has to be said. Back in the day of appointment television you really had to pay attention to what was showing on what channel. But now, thankfully, in the age of digital streaming you can watch Die Hard whenever you want.

Since the Littles appeared on the scene (as if by magic that only took nine months) our family tradition has been to do the present setup on Christmas Eve with Die Hard playing in the background. To be honest it is a dicey choice of background movie, since the noise can drown out the gentle pit-pat of kids coming downstairs when they should be tucked up in bed. But traditions are tough, you have to do them and do them right or they aren’t traditions. I even set myself a little challenge, to have the presents all built and setup before Hans falls off the tower. It adds a little time sensitive pressure to an already intense situation.

If you don’t think setting up a handful of toys perfectly, along with fake snow footprints and half-eaten carrots, all why acting like a Black Ops marine trying to go undetected is intense then you haven’t lived.

Now that Nugget is a bit older we’ve added a little to our Christmas Eve tradition: a Christmas movie before they go to bed. This year I’m going to suggest that we watch Die Hard Junior (aka Home Alone) to ease them into watching a movie about a solo hero saving the day against insane odds all during Christmas. That way when they get a bit older the watching of Die Hard on Christmas Eve will still be part of our family tradition.


Daddy Bear Asked The Right Question

I’m lying on my back, in bed, staring at the light coming in from the landing through the open door. Myself and the lady have long since outgrown the need for the landing light to be on, we’re no longer scared of the dark. We’re adults now, there are much scarier things to worry about than the dark: like taxes. In truth the light isn’t even on in the landing, it is from the floor below. Neither of our little ones need the comfort of a night light to sleep, we’re lucky with that. But my echo-location skills are on par with those of a door nail; utterly non-existant. When a Little shouts out in the night it helps if you don’t walk into evey wall and bit of furniture on the way there.

I’m lying on my back, listening to the deep breaths of people sleeping. It’s early, at least for me. Eleven at night was when I’d only start doing stuff, back in my younger days. I’d code, game, watch a show, read something or maybe even attempt to write a few words down. Eleven was when I’d be sauntering into the comedy club, preparing to get up on stage and try make strangers laugh. Now eleven is prime ‘get some sleep before one of them wakes up’ time. But I’m hearing the deep breath of two people sleeping in the marital bed, yet I am awake.

I’m lying on my back, sleep evading me for a change because I wasn’t in work during the day, so the mind is not tired. I turn and look at my bed buddies. The lady, sleeping like a beautiful work of art brought to life, eyes fluttering as she dreams. Wrapped under her arm, reminding me of a bear cub in the warm embrace of its mother, is the youngest. He lies there, looking like the cat who had not only got the cream but also the cream from several other cats. He has won this round. Our parenting rule had always been ‘No kids in the bed’. We had heard the horror stories from friends. Kids come into the bed once…then twice…then every other day. Next thing you know you have a five year old in the bed who refuses to leave.

I’m lying on my back, wondering how we lost this battle once again. I saw ‘we’, but that is meant purely in the Royal use of the word. I can stick steadfast to the rules, but motherly instincts work two ways. They are rock hard, unbreakable, when somebody does something to the young. Yet collapse at the slightest hint of a cough, when the Little just needs mummy.

I’m lying on my back, trying to turn without making too much noise onto my side so I can attempt to go to sleep. I fail, the Little’s eyes open and stare directly at me. I’ve disturbed his slumber and he, like a demon from cute Hell, is going to let me know that this will not stand.

“Up,” he declares, pushing at my shoulder.

“You want up?” I ask in a whisper, not wanting to wake the lady.

“No,” he says in that moaning way that grates on the nerves at 2am when you’re trying to console him. “Up, daddy. Up.”

More pushing and the message is clear, he doesn’t want up. He wants me up. Up and out of the bed. The battle is over before it even begins as he starts to get worked up and herself begins to stir.

I look at the Changeling in my bed, cute cherub face definitely a natural defence from Apex Father, and give in. It isn’t worth ruining everyone’s sleep to try and sooth him, attempting to barter for my spot in my own bed. I get up and pad across the floor, passing the open door of the bedroom my son should be sleeping in with his sister.

“Daddy,” comes a little call from the doorway. “Thomas isn’t in his bed…I don’t want to be alone.”

I’m lying on my back, staring at the light coming in from the landing through the open door. The bed is but a distant memory. I have an Iron-Man teddy as a pillow and something that is blanket shaped. A satisified sigh from the bed above signals that the daughter is happy with our new sleeping arrangement.

I’m lying on my back, thinking: Daddy Bear was asking the right question ‘Whose been sleeping in my bed?’. Since, right now, the answer is most definitely not me.

Mental Movember

[This is a post I just wrote for my own site – but figured it is worth sharing here as well]

I haven’t posted anything in a while because I’ve not really had anything to say.

Actually, that isn’t true. I’m notorious for having “something” to say: whether it should be said or not. But if I didn’t self censor sure this part of the Internet would be full of the ramblings of madness that I should keep to myself.

But today I figured what the hell.

As most folk will be aware, it currently is Movember. That wonderful charity event that happens in November and makes folk walk around like 1960’s pornstars with lip caterpillars that belong consigned to the bins of history.

Originally it was an event targeting testicular cancer, the whole purpose being that folk sporting a ‘tache were meant to encourage people to talk about this topic. One thing the male folk are notoriously bad at is talking about health things with each other. It probably stems from the whole “man-up” culture that was prevalent for so long in the world, but luckily we’ve evolved past that and people are needing gentle nudges to talk about things these days. I learned recently, however, that the scope of the event has changed in the last few years. No longer is it about just testicular cancer, rather the purpose of Movember is to encourage men to talk about all manner of health concerns: mental and physical.

It’s the first health topic that I figured I would post an entry about today, because it is just as important in this world as the physical health conversations. Maybe even more so.

Recently I was at a conference for work and there was a fantastic talk on this topic called ‘The Unmonitored Failure Domain: Mental Health’ by Jaime Woo who works at Incident Labs. The whole premise of the talk was that the world is now moving at such a fast pace that people can find it hard to look after their own mental health. More importantly the talk highlighted people need to pay attention to external signals to identify a problem, much like how a computer system needs to be monitored.

The example explained how system monitoring itself may never see that an issue is occurring, as it contiguously makes adjustments and corrections to remain at 100%. But external signals viewing the system can come back and point out that the constant adjustments are not keeping things in a healthy state but rather compounding the problem.

Just like a person who is fighting with their black dog. They can keep telling themselves that the mood swings, the dark thoughts, the lack of motivation or interest in things that bring them joy are all normal. Part of everyday life. But that is how the black dog works, whispering in your ear that joy is bad and misery is good. It is the system making those adjustments to prevent you truly questioning if you’re doing okay or not.

Then somebody comes along and asks ‘Is everything okay?’ – the external signal that has seen something isn’t as it should be.

With Movember now encompassing all manners of health it is important for people to pay attention to their external signals, just on the off-chance their black dog is tricking them. Never forget that people, generally, have good intentions when they ask these questions. You should never assume they are trying to trick you or are pointing out a flaw. Rather if a person has asked this question it is coming from a good place, because they want to be part of the solution and not add to your problems.

Plus, as I’ve said before on this topic, talking is really easy to do. You open your mouth and words come out. Maybe they don’t start as the words about your problem, but like water falling over a cliff it is very hard to stop the flow once it starts (anybody who leaves comments about dams and the likes can just bog off :P). But the joy of Movember is that the world is going to be full of people for the next month literally wearing a sign that is basically saying ‘I am doing this charity event so that people like you can have a stranger to talk to if you need it.’

All you have to do is ignore the fact they look like a 1960s pornstar and have that chat, you’ll feel better for it.

Don’t Feed The Trolls

I’m at that point in my life were I have been creating content for roughly ten years now. Not good content, granted, but still content. The problem with that, in this day and age, is that producing content is like a giant flame to a bunch of asshole moths.

Or rather moths that just like to be assholes.

You get them in all walks of life. From comments on the content that literally are just meant to be harsh to posts about the content tearing it apart in petty and cruel ways for no reason other than they want a quick like or two.

In general it is all water off a duck’s back with me. I’ve grown up taking barbs from people my entire life, mainly based on being a ginger. Since sometimes people can’t waste a bit of brain power on a decent insult.

At least give the insulted something to appreciate when you insult them.

Any road, why am I waffling about this? Well because recently the Karen has been experiencing the darker side of the internet since she has become a content producer.

Bloody good content, as it happens.

See along with doing this site…the Instagram…the podcast…and the Twitter, she also runs her own personal Instagram account. On it she mainly posts parenting stuff as well, but from a mum perspective as oppose to the joint affair Parenting Pobal is meant to include. Sadly there are some folk out there that just don’t like to see people do anything good.


Not the cute, cuddly, Anna-Kendrick-voiced kind that sing songs and have great hair. Rather horrible asshats that sit behind their keyboards and phones and leave comments that are designed to do nothing else but hurt people.

This happened last night, in fact, when a person left a particularly nasty comment on Karen’s Instagram. It actually upset her quite a bit, until the wise ginger (it’s okay if we call ourselves that) explained to her how to ignore the asshat.

See back in the day before the Internet everyone will have known or heard about a person to avoid in their local town or village. A particular individual who was just nasty for the sake of being nasty. A venomous asshat. The psychological reasoning behind these people is that they are wired to take joy in hurting others on an emotional level. But they were few and lonely, maybe needing a hug but that isn’t something folk will volunteer to do on account of the asshat-ery.

But then along comes THE INTERNET and suddenly those people have entire new platform for their barbed comments. They maybe be the same mindset as the lonely folk back in the pre-Internet days or they could have just been sitting on the fence and now they don’t have to worry about being punched in the face in real life because they have the safety of the Internet to hide behind.

You know the sorta person I’m talking about. Proper cowards. People not brave enough to attempt to create anything so instead they spend their time destroying what others are doing.

It took a while, but I reckon Karen finally saw sense to what I was saying. That her being upset by what the Troll had said was exactly what they wanted. It was feeding them and just like the ugly donkey at the petting zoo you should never feed the animals.

It’s actually an important thing to bear in mind as parents of children in the digital age. Bullies now aren’t just the kid who punches you in the head anymore on the way home from school. They are some snot faced little shithead who logs onto <insert popular social media here> and then posts content designed to hurt. Devoid of the empathetic impact such online posts have…because they don’t have the stones to be that mean in the real world.

I’ve always lived by the view that a bully won’t stop until one day you turn around and punch them really hard in the face. Sadly that advice isn’t something that is going to work when your bully is throwing digital digs at you. I guess all that can be done is to highlight that what these dicks are doing is allowing their jealousy to come front and centre because they have no other creative outlet. We as parents have to teach the littles to ignore it as best they can, while also making sure they don’t stop creating what they love in the first place.

To the Troll, if you end up reading this. Look in the mirror. Are you alright, hun?


How Parents Take Phonecalls

One universal, undeniable, truth about becoming a parent is that your life changes in ways you cannot even fathom. Yes there is all the awesome stuff mixed in with all the madness, but nobody can sit you down and say that X, Y and Z are going to change when your kids arrive.

The same things don’t even change for everyone. Some folks might continue to play golf every weekend (great way to ruin a walk, by the way) and others may find their clubs after five years and wonder what they used them for.

The hilarious thing is those aspects of you life that change which you don’t even think will change.

Like making a simple phonecall.

Before we had Nugget and Jellybean phonecalls typically went like this between myself and Karen.

Derek: Hey.

Karen: Hello, how are you?

Derek: Grand, work is a bit mental. Wanted to check if you want to watch that movie tonight?

Karen: Sounds lovely, gotta run. Love you, bye.

Derek: Love you too, bye.

But that is before kids. The following is an only slightly modified transcript of a call that happened today.

Derek: Hey, honey. How’s you’re day going.

Karen: Hey, baby. It’s going … no… no…don’t hit your brother. STOP HITTING FRODO. FRODO! SIT! SIT! We’re just back from….OLIVIA NO PUT THAT DOWN…Rush we went….NO NO NO NO DON’T DO THAT….hold on one second.

Phone is put down on a counter. Footsteps walk away.

Karen in the distance: Get over here now. Give me that. Frodo stop. Olivia will you put that down. Watch your brother. Thomas…come to mummy. Oh why are you crying. Up? You want up? FRODO STOP! Oh Olivia he didn’t mean to knock you over. Okay Thomas I’m just going to put you down for a second so that I can give Olivia a hug…

Sounds of children crying and dog barking. Something falls over and bangs on the ground.

Karen in the distance: FRODO!!! Okay Olivia I have to pick up Thomas now…you run inside there and get an apple.

Sounds of footsteps approaching the phone.

Karen: Hello? Who this?

So there you have it. Nobody tells you that having a simple two minute conversation with your other half becomes utterly impossible. Unless you don’t mind those conversations becoming conference calls with tiny terrorists.

Poor Frodo doesn’t even get a look in. He just wants his doggy naps.

– Derek

Let’s talk positive childcare

I sit here watching the much-talked about RTE Prime Time Investigates: Creches, behind closed doors and I feel compelled to write this.

Tulsa need to be held accountable and the system has completely failed those parents and children. However I think in the interest of showing a true representation, RTE Prime Time should have showcased best practice, gone undercover in creches that ARE doing the right thing.

Knowing how many viewers would be tuning in and knowing he likelihood of huge numbers of working parents watching, RTE as the national broadcaster had a duty of care to show both sides.

I debated even watching the piece. Working parents absolutely kill themselves with guilt every day handing kids into childcare…whether or not this is by financial necessity or by the choice that you would like to continue to have some work outside the home.

I want to preface the rest of this post by saying I have the utmost respect for those who are working stay at home parents. I will be honest and hold my hand up and say I could not do it. I wish I could be selfless enough to work 24 hours a day seven days without any time alone even to pee.

My passionate pee fans as I sit on the loo

Work for me is something I choose to do. A differnent kind of taxing, a different kind of challenge, for me, the difference, the change, is as good as a rest. The change from being a full on Mummy, for me, allows me a chance to recharge and then be the best Mummy I can be on those days I have with Olivia and Thomas.

What allows me to do this, to keep my foot on the career ladder, pay bills, help keep a roof over our head and mentally help me be the best Mummy I can be, is the amazing, wonderful group of people (in my case, women) in our creche.

We painfully researched, visited, questioned and interviewed creches, childminders and even au pairs. We do not take the decision to have someone care for our children while we are in work lightly.

We have had the most wonderful experience. I won’t waste this post raving about a creche that readers might not even live close to but I will say the two wee ones go into creche every morning, either running or waving us off as a second thought….even Thomas, my little sticky plaster, as I call him.

Mama’s Boy

In the evening I get a play by play of the adventures of the day from Olivia, activities, games, outdoor fun, even turning a delivery box into a car that they got to decorate and ‘drive’. Molly the Dragon who hides every night and they have to find her in the morning, photos of slow cooked beef and veg stew, paint stained hands and feet brandishing personal art pieces at the end of the day. Children interrupted mid play (and also mid sleep with their blankie in the sleep room) during those unexpected early pick ups which we never have to announce. Cuddles, kisses, hugs and appropriate discipline (hello fellow fans!! hands are not for hitting fans). Happy kids, with lots of stories of how much they have done and seen.

Thomas in crèche
Olivia meeting the Lollipop lady at road safety
Outdoor fun is possible all year round
And, in Olivia’s words, road trips throughout the year, this one from the trip to sing Christmas Carols in a local nursing home
Drawing time is a big hit
Baking is a regular occurrence…. much to the sadness of my (lack of) waist line

Tonights show while it shines a light on the categorical failing of Tulsa in not following up with identified issues, I worry it coule scaremonger working parents. I am not for one second condoning the behavior carried out by these specific creches. Nor am I saying Tulsa go far enough in their protection, inspection and holding childcare providers accountable.

What I am saying, is that those childcare facilities are not the norm. Childcare is a vocation. Those who work in it are called to work in it. They are those you can see working in a childcare and education setting from an early age, they are drawn to it, born for it. They are the people who selflessly care, teach, play with, comfort and love your child when you are not there.

To those who do this for Olivia and Thomas while we work, I salute you, I thank you and we appreciate you all more than you will ever know.

Thomas enjoying his endless cuddles

To those parents who are concerned, talk to your childcare provider, research your childcare setting before you place your child there, ask the questions you need to ask (see my Instagram for those accounts who have excellent research questions) and if any any stage you are concerned, talk to your childcare provider and if you are not happy with the action taken, put your child first and take them out of the setting and report the setting to Tulsa

Trust your child and trust your gut. Both are usually telling you what you need to hear.

For new parents, please look for the positive stories, this case is not the norm and once you do your research, ask questions, ask friends, neighbors and family for recommendations and feedback. Childcare can be daunting, but trust me, it doesn’t have to be frightening.

Karen and Derek

For our golden eggs

They come home with sand filled shoes, paint stained fingers and minds full of stories and adventures from their day.
They have built spider houses in the garden, met the Lollipop lady and he sto, look and listen, and chased ducks on visits to the Mills.

There have been visits from Wooly Wards Petting Farm, a Gardai, Santa and his elf and daily hide and seek with Molly the Dragon.

There are cosy naps when they are tired and cuddles when they feel overwhelmed, lunches, breakfasts and snacks so healthy I envy their daily grub

There are drawing sheets the length of the room and colouring while dressed as a dinosaur in a pink Stetson declaring the game is rocket ship space heroes.

There have been days of chats with carers, when they have been out of sorts, discussions to make sure we are all on the same gentle parenting page. There are have been tantrum tips shared and biting bits helped while talking about kindness to friends

These people are those who walk our parenting path with us. These people are our childcare providers.
Not every egg is a bad one. Most in fact are golden. Thank you to those golden eggs we have looking after Olivia and Thomas


Panicky Party Parent

This is a daft post, I’m just going to throw it out there at the get-go. It is a post based on my own personal experiences which, now that I’ve got kids, has translated into a stupid, baseless, fear.

The fear of nobody showing up to a birthday party.

See my birthday is at a somewhat awkward spot in the year. Aside from my family, the only person whose ever really made a big effort to make me celebrate it is Karen. For years I generally just let it pass without so much as telling anyone about it. I’d take the day off work so as not to work on my birthday, but other than that rarely made any fanfare about it.

All because, at least to me, it seemed that outside of my family nobody really cared if my birthday happened or not anyway.

But now I’ve entered into that stage of life, parenting life no less, when your little bundles of migraine-inducing joy are getting invited to parties. Which is great to see, it has to be said. Olivia has been to at least three non-family birthday bashes and all the kids were genuinely delighted to see her. She dove right into the crowd and was as much stealing the limelight from the birthday child as she was attending their party.

Her own birthday is approaching in a little over two months. For the last few weeks she keeps on telling us who she will invite to her birthday party. Last year we just kept with the low-key family stuff. But this year we decided that clearly we don’t have enough to drive us around the bend and booked a slot in a nearby playcentre that Olivia loves. The idea will be closer to the time we’ll invite her friends from creche along to it.

Which is were I’m starting to panic. But, like I said, it’s a stupid panic based on no evidence. Yet still, I worry.

What if nobody shows up?

Now, Olivia will be four (woah, hold on a second while I actually process that. When the hell did that happen!!!) and still is lucky to have a childlike view of the world. You get sweets, life is about playing and mean people are only the ones who hit you too hard during a game. So, if on her birthday it is just herself, her two cousins, and her lil brother she will be delighted with life and none the wiser that no kid she invited actually showed up.

But I’ll know and I genuinely thing it might break the lump of coal that pushes the black sludge around my veins in lieu of a heart and blood.

It’s stupid parenting panicking at the highest order.

She is more popular now than I will ever be in my entire life. She could invite the entire creche and the other kids would definitely show up. Hell she could invite the entire village and I’d say we’d be hard pushed for rejections.

It is just the fear in the back of my head. A fear that all parents no doubt have when making a similar step into the parenting world. A fear based off the fact that while the children view the world as sunshine and lollipops, parents are old and weary of it all. They know the world sucks balls when it wants to. They’ve read the stories online about nobody showing up to a six-year old’s birthday party because, at the heart of it, kids can be bastards just like adults can.

Olivia has about ten kids in creche that she regularly plays with. The staff there tell us that she and four other kids are a little gang unto themselves. If those four kids showed up and nobody else I’d be delighted, because it means that my fears are unfounded.

But if we go and invite them and they say they will come, then don’t show up….oh boy. Short of a valid death cert to get them out of attending, I will make it my personal mission to show up to each and every one of their next birthday parts and shit in their birthday cake.

Because, while I may be a panicky parent I am also a parent who is more than willing to teach any kid that hurts my little one’s feelings that the world can suck from an early, possibly insane, age.

– Derek

Baby Brain – The Quiz Show

They say that we are currently in a ‘Golden Age’ of television. Which is a fair statement I reckon. I remember growing up and the types of shows that I liked to watch (sci-fi, spy, fantasy) were few and far between because nobody really watched them. Then along came reality t.v., cheap brainless crap that took a shoestring budget to make and catapulted idiots into the limelight for fifteen seconds. But in recent years we’re getting some really good shows to watch. Even if the last season of these shows tends to be utter garbage (I’m looking at you Game of Thrones).

Although somehow, like the cockroach of the entertainment industry, reality shows have no fully died off just yet. Honestly, I thought Love Island was a joke until a person in work talk about it at lunch so much that I wanted to pull out my eyeballs and strangle said person with my own optic nerves.

But one type of show that has always survived through the different generations is the quiz show. Everyone loves a quiz show. Prizes that can never be won because the studio is basically Vegas, ensuring the House always wins. A bunch of common people like you and me randomly teamed up, or dragging their family along, to take on the big boys and win. Who doesn’t love a good quiz show?

As I was making breakfast for the two nippers this morning (omelettes no less, which they took a bite of and then declared were yucky) I let my mind wander a little about quiz shows. Not sure why, as Karen will attest I am quite insane and my thought process tends to verge on the chaotic rather than just the random.

Like in Taken, when Liam Nesson is telling the gangsters that they have disrespected him and ‘for that the price has gone up 10%’ – he does that like four times. Do you reckon that is a compound interest situation or does he just keep adding on 10% of the original amount?

Anyway as my mind didn’t focus on not burning the house down I struck upon an idea that I reckon could be a great quiz show. So great, in fact, that I figured I should document it here and claim a patent before somebody else goes and steals my idea.

All good quiz shows have two competing teams of normal people (that way the belief that somebody other than the studio wins is real and people at home can cheer on their favourite side). They also should have knowledge that the viewers at home are more than likely to have as well. There is no point asking about how to calculate gravitational distance between planetary objects if Nancy from Cork works as an accountant and has an online degree in art. You want the questions to be things that Nancy from Cork will potentially have the answer to. An answer she will scream at the telly as she is swept up in joy of the game.

You want your show to generate conflict on and off the screen, so that the masses watching will shout at the ones on the show at how stupid they are for getting the answer wrong.

What will the majority of people currently have a shared educational knowledge on?

Children’s shows!

Think about it. If you can’t name all three P.J. Masks are you even parenting, bro? What about being able to sing the entire second version of ‘You’re Welcome!’ from Moana? Can you tell your Tru from your Chip? Do you actually know what Potato is?

The questions basically write themselves and the scary thing is there are so many that you’d never run the risk of repeating one. It would have people jumping off the sofa, dropping both bottle and baby to the floor, as they scream at the top of their lungs ‘It is Iggle Piggly you dope!’.

I’m telling you, I’m onto something here. Baby Brain – the quiz show that gets adults to answer questions about nonsensical things. Mainly because we’ve actually started to forget what having conversations with other adults about grown-up television is like.

The Dog and The Mask

I’m not sure if it is a colloquialism unique to Europe or not, but I’ve often heard depression described as ‘The Black Dog’. I’ve used this phrase with some of my American friends over the years and they always are puzzled by what I mean. Maybe it is unique to the English speaking countries of Europe, but in a very real way it is a fitting title to bestow on depression.

A black cloud over the happy thoughts.

A black dog always nipping at your heel.

It is powerful imagery when you dig into it. As a person’s depression gets worse, grows in strength and control, they feel powerless beneath it. Just as you would be if a giant dog sat on you and prevented you from moving. Likewise when a person manages to come out the other side of depression the black dog is often described as being ‘under control’ or smaller in stature.

I believe that everyone, every single person, is born with a black dog. But the dog is invisible, utterly and completely, to their mind’s eye. Most people may even go through their entire lives and never realise that the dog is even there. Sure they may have doubts and fears, but never anything strong enough to cause the dog to appear.

Sadly for those few that do end up meeting their black dog in person it is an entity that is around forever more. You may conquer it when it grows to mammoth size, battling your way through so that it shrinks once again, but you will forever be changed. There will always be a black dog in the back of your mind, just waiting for you to let your guard down.

What’s all this waffle about, you may ask. Well recently some folk in work started listening to the podcast and a few of them commented on how they had no idea I’d gone through depression. I slightly corrected them and said that I was not ‘through it’ but was now in a better frame of mind to control the dog.

I’d slapped the yappy shit around the metaphorical nose with a rolled up newspaper of shaddup.

But I know it is there now, no longer an invisible thing trying to get my attention. So I have to watch it and go against everything I know about being a good dog owner: I have to starve my black dog so that it doesn’t grow up big and strong again.

The bit that most people found startling though was that they had not spotted it in me at all. Which got me to thinking about the dog a bit more. Not only do the bloody things hit you in the mental space, they also give people a sucky super power that I call ‘The Mask’.

The Mask is the face we put on when the black dog is wagging its tail and ruining your day, because the Mask hides all of that from the outside world. It is, if anything, the more dangerous aspect of depression. Being able to present yourself to those around you in such a way as to totally convince them nothing is wrong. Putting your best self forward, even though internally you need help.

I’m not completely sure what the point of this post is about, other than to highlight to those who have listened to our podcasts about depression after having kids that it may be a lot more common than you think. With the Mask it is very hard for others, even those who know you very well, to see that standing right beside you is a horse sized dog of misery.

Never beat yourself up over not spotting these things, the Mask is extremely efficient at doing what it does. Some folk may spot it slip or crack for an instant, long enough to see that a person might need a friendly shoulder to chat to, but you need to really be on your A-Game for that stuff.

I guess the closing point I’d like to make is that the Mask falls away as soon as the person figures out how to stop feeding the dog. And while you may not spot the Mask in place, never underestimate just how much a person appreciates being made feel normal when they tell you about the black dog.

A friendly chat can go a long way to starving the rat bastard back to puppy size.

– Derek

Hobby Time

As stupid as this post might sound, it’s important for parents to get a little down time. Particularly if those parents have hobbies. Raising kids is equal parts insanity and joy, with a dash of questioning what you did with all your spare time pre-kids since post-kids. People tend to have hobbies, things that bring them happiness outside of what they do during the week to pay the bills and all that boring adult crap.

Post-kids hobbies and social lives are definitely the two things that suffer the most. In fact you’d almost feel like printing off some ‘Missing Person’ posters and putting them around the place in the hope somebody can find them for you again.

They never do, by the way. Those are gone forever.

But if you’re lucky to have a partner in parenting that supports your hobbies, while having some of their own, then you can pretend to still be young and carefree. All you need to do is barter hobby time back and forth.

With me and Karen there are a collection of hobbies. We both run. I write comedy books and have recently started kayaking. Karen was heavily involved with the local drama group. There are others, but these are the ones that are time consuming.

When I tell people in work that I manage to run about four 5K runs each week they look at me like I have told them the moon is made from cheese. They can’t figure out how a father of two has time to run. The answer is simple, Karen and I trade off bedtime with the kids.

See the night that Karen goes running, I take the bed duties. Both changed, teeth brushed, story read and tucked into bed. While Karen goes out for her run. Then the next night we swap around and I run for freedom (at least twenty five minutes of it) while herself deals with the terror twins.

But that’s just a system, it can be bent. Like today for example. Tonight was my shift to put the kids down (not in the ‘old dog’ sort of way, but the thought has crossed my mind) but I had a day-from-hell in work. I was in a stinker, worse than a stinker I was just down right in shitty form. To which Karen goes ‘Why don’t you go out in your kayak and I will do bedtime tonight’.

Let me tell you I didn’t need to be asked twice. I was floating up and down on the water without a care in  the world while I left Karen to put chaos 1 and 2 (as we affectionately  call them when they are in ‘hair pull out’ mode).


The important thing though is to know that while the bedtime system works for parental units, it has to be flexible. When Karen was involved in the play I had a few back-to-back nights of putting the terror twins down for the night. That’s just how you roll and as long as both parents roll that way you can keep a glimmer of sanity in your head.

Just long enough so that when somebody wakes up a 3am screaming because she can’t find her dolly you don’t immediately consider mass murder.