It’s The Job

You never interview before becoming a parent. Sure, in most cases, when you hear of the dead beat parents out their that should do better by their kids, you think to yourself “Maybe you should have to interview before becoming a parent.”. After all you don’t need a lot in the way of qualifications to be a parent (regardless of how the kids appear in your life) but you do need to be capable to ‘parent’ once you take on the responsibility of tiny little lives.

As usual, pestilence and plague have landed in our house and it is doing the rounds between the four of us. As even more usual, Nugget is the one worst hit with it all. With her bronchomalacia any sort of cold, flu, sneeze, basically becomes a hundred times worse. We get her over the first illness, but then she develops this horrible whore of a cough that we can’t get rid of. She has inhalers, we get steroids to help her, but effectively we have to ride it out. Which is grand and all, except she coughs so much she will get sick, her throat becomes a war ground of pain and she barely sleeps.

And as any parent knows, when your kids don’t sleep you don’t sleep either.

Over the years we’ve investigated and tried various things to try and sort it out for her sooner, but nothing seems to work. We have some tricks that help alleviate the problem, but nothing that resolves the cough so she is back to fighting form. It is one of the downsides of having a great creche. Nugget loves going to creche to see the staff and her friends, a fairly ringing indictment that the creche is doing a fantastic job if the kids can’t wait to go there. But if some kid brings anything at all in we are at Def Con Cough in the house because it is a waiting game for Nugget to catch the bug, then have her cough flare up.

It’s a pain in the ass.

As she is in the middle of a cough bout right now, we’re doing the usual. Meds, fluids, sacrifices to long forgotten gods for better health. Nothing is working, as usual. The poor girl is exhausted. In order to get her to sleep we put her in the parental bed and opened the window.

Cold air helps. I guess it helps with the throat and cause less irritants or something. I dunno, I’m not a doctor. All I know is it works and she can get over. The only problem is that it means she cannot sleep in her own bed as she currently shares a room with her little brother. We don’t want him getting a cold, because that’s just shooting ourselves in the foot. We’d no doubt just get her sorted and next thing he is down with a cold and we are playing countdown again.

Typically when we do this cold air trick it isn’t that big a deal, one of us sleeps with her and the other sleeps in the spare room. But we had guests over during this session so the spare room was gone.

“I’ll sleep on the floor,” I said, getting a spare blanket from the hotpress.

“No, I will,” herself says.

I smile.

“I’ve a bad back and an ability to sleep anywhere, the floor is grand. You won’t be able to sleep on the floor then I will have to listen to you complain about being tired the next day.”

This is met with a dirty look and a slap to the head with a pillow. Uncalled for, maybe, but it is an indication that we haven’t reached breaking point yet if we can joke like this.

“Get into the bed beside us,” herself says. “The bed is big enough.”

It’s true. Recently the CEO of the Marriage informed the CFO that a new bed was required. Apparently a double bed just isn’t big enough, you need a Gaza strip between the sheets to allow for wedded bliss sometimes. I look over at the starfish child that is taking up two thirds of the bed and shake my head.

I don’t want to risk waking her. She has been asleep for about two hours now, cold air clearly helping, and if I get in there will be mattress earthquakes that will disturb her from much needed slumber. The ladyfriend weighs about the same as an angel’s feather, so she is the better option to get into bed.

I take a spare pillow and toss it down on the ground beside the bed. I lie down, sausage rolling in the duvet since I don’t have to share for a change, and take up my place at the foot of the bed like a giant deformed guard dog. Herself stands near my head, looking down at me.

“You’re serious?” she asks.

I’m not sure why, we’re together long enough for her to know just how stubborn I can get. Particularly when I want to ensure my sick family members are comfortable.

“Go on,” I said, snuggling into the pillow and finding the floor strangely comfortable. “It’s grand, honest. Sure it’s part of the job.”

A job that I wouldn’t change for the world, although the terms and condition around sick periods could be improved a bit if possible.

Give Peas A Chance

Everyone knows the deal with Santa: he makes a list, checks it twice, figures out who is naughty and nice. They also know that if you’re on the Nice List you are meant to get the things you ask. For some parents this can be a real nightmare as kids of ever decreasing ages ask for things that are near insane. Like a six year old asking for the latest iPad, it puts the parents in a tricky situation. How do you go about explaining that while it is true the child has been good all year, an iPad is definitely not something Santa can bring?

Some parents use the age-old trick of ‘present suggesting’, starting before Halloween even happens. Ads on the telly or maybe read online are pointed out as ‘interesting’ for the kid. “Wouldn’t that be cool?” they ask, while jotting down the reaction of the kid in question to see if the suggestion has landed or not. Most of the time this sort of thing is a resounding success and the gifts are in the house before the first decoration goes up. It helps takes the stress out of the situation for the parents, no longer required to explain why the mystical magical man from the North Pole with near godlike abilities is unable to bring along the latest games console.

We’ve been pretty lucky so far with Nugget. Her first Christmas there was a distinct lack of speaking abilities, so we just got what we thought she would like. A bouncer that took up most of the sitting room floor. Her second Christmas she wasn’t really clued in on what was happening and the arrival of a little wooden kitchen set (complete with a fridge that spat out blue wooden ice cubes no less) was met with shouts of delight. She still uses said kitchen as well, although sections have been re-purposed to suit her needs these days. The fridge, for example, now is a stable filled with a herd of My Little Pony.

Her third Christmas, that’s when things were going to get interesting. As her speech was up there with most moody teenagers, we expected her to be asking for stuff from Santa. Given that she was two we weren’t worried it would be insane, but kids have an innate ability to throw curve balls at parents.

I’m fairly certain it is a Darwinian thing, keep the previous generation on their toes so you can learn just what will push them into the grave early.

Anyway Nugget asked for normal things. A doll, a teddy and a dollhouse. The last one had been one of those ‘present suggestions’ I mentioned earlier. It was obviously well received and despite it taking us the better part of a month to restore an old dollhouse, Santa was, to quote the main woman, ‘Amazing!’.

Except, she wasn’t talking about the bloody dollhouse.

No, see when we were getting her to write out the letter (little more than chicken scratches on a sheet of paper but you get the idea) to Santa, Nugget kept saying over and over again that she wanted peas. Now, being absolutely hilarious, I kept making my joke about ‘Giving peas a chance.’ (like ‘peace’, get it?) but it still raised a serious question.

Did Nugget want peas from Santa?

We had been watching a lot of Toy Story 3 in the weeks leading up to the letter writing, so I got it into my head that she wanted the three little teddy peas from the movie. I searched Dublin high and low for the little bastards, but find them I did because being Santa is a sacred oath.

Christmas Eve we’re setting up the presents and I placed the peas down, thinking we had just created a magical memory, when I doubted myself. I said the ladyfriend that maybe, just maybe, our kid was crazy enough to actually want peas in a bowl. We poured out some frozen peas and left them in front of the house. The next morning, as we went through the motions of it being totally normal for your house to be broken into at night and find new belongings, Nugget bypassed all the toys and went straight for the bowl of peas.

She really wanted peas.

Not one toy, doll, teddy or house was looked at until the peas had all been eaten and all she told anyone about was how Santa had brought her peas. Even the three teddy ones I found, near having to sell my soul to get them, were discarded. The next year peas made it onto the letter again, although this time to keep things fresh they had to have sweetcorn added in. Team Santa (for it is a team effort in our house) did not fail to deliver.

This year? Oh peas made it onto that letter again, although it was now peas and grapes. Why peas and grapes? Who knows? But after all the presents had been put out for child one and two we dropped down a bowl of peas and slice grapes, because the magic has to continue.

Of course this morning, as we brought down the terror twins so they could see what all their good behaviour had earned them from Santa, we realised that one thing had not been factored in. Both our kids are savages when it comes to food. In a room that looked like a small storage locker from Smyths Toystore, they fought over the solo bowl of peas and grapes. Ignored all the toys and battled it out like street urchins who hadn’t eaten anything in weeks.

Peas and bloody grapes. Nugget even declared, upon seeing the bowl, “Peas and grapes, my favourite!”. I mean can you even…?

I suppose there are worse things to argue with your sibling over, but that definitely has to be the stupidest of things to argue with your sibling over.

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.

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).

Bliss.

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.