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.

A new normal in extraordinary times

A normal reality in extraordinary times

What is normal anymore? This way of living, our new normal is a strange way of living, and a change that came so quickly. New ways of being, new ways of interacting, a new way of life, all arrived overnight, the opportunity of spending A LOT more time together, whether we wanted it or not was suddenly here, suddenly… normal.

Working from home with the two smallies, while not easy, has become our normal. We barter and negotiate and trade time alone for work meetings as though it is a more valuable currency than bitcoin. We burn through craft supplies and have restocked at the Bubble Room three times already, plus there are only so many times in a day you can exclaim delight at a rainbow and a mound of scribbles on a page. I prepare about 1,396 380 snacks before lunchtime alone – for such small people my kids sure eat a lot. Olivia and Thomas are on a first name basis now with most of our colleagues, waving hello and showing off those fabulous drawn rainbows in front of the camera in the middle of video conference calls. 

Virtual grandparents, while heartbreaking, has become our normal. We don’t live close to either set of grandparents. This is the longest we have gone without Olivia and Thomas seeing them. Both our parents are in their 50s and 60s but unfortunately Olivia is deemed high risk and so we have been ‘cocooning her’. On the bright side we have Whatsapp and Facetime and we have written letters, painted and drawn pictures and sent them by post. In these tough times it’s been lovely teaching them about a slower way of life. Olivia was truly mesmerized that these envelopes we posted into the box at Skerries Point magically made their way into Granny’s house in Co. Down all the way on the other side of the Mournes.

Showing love with waves, winks and a loud shout, while unusual, has become our normal. One of the most difficult things for us is seeing Olivia miss her friends, especially her Little Rugrats family. She asks daily if she is going to Monti and tells us she misses them and then our days are filled with her plans of baking them berry tarts, picking flowers and marrying her varying suitors. We take our once a day walks and friends on the street, call and wave from the window, she shouts up that she misses them. In short breaks on the street alone, the odd neighbor arrives back from the grocery shop and we all wave, safely, from a distance, looking somewhat awkward and hoping not to appear rude.

Questions, so many questions, are always the normal in life with kids…why do stars shine, why does my poop smell, why does the sun come up, why do you and daddy kiss, why can’t we watch more Paw Patrol, why do I have to wear socks, why are carrots orange, can I marry Luca with these daisies. You get the picture. But suddenly those innocent questions are loaded with insecurity and pressure to get the balance right between informing and not scaring. Why can’t I play with my friends, why are we not going to Monti, can I visit Nanny, when can we have a sleepover with Granny, why is the playground still closed, can we go to the big beach with sand, when are we going for bambi chinos and teddy biccies (they miss Olive as much as they miss creche), is it the bad cough?

We have chosen not to pretend it isn’t happening, but to inform them in as simple a way as possible. It is difficult for Olivia, because from the get go in this crap thing we have had to keep her apart so what most people are experiencing now, she has been experiencing since early March. We talk about the need to wash our hands and keep apart because there is a bad cough and we want to stay well. She and her pals in Rugrats were already learning about how germs spread and we did the pepper test (take some water in a bowl, sprinkle black pepper, have a little one put some antibiotic soap on their finger and touch the water and see the pepper spread away) and we avoid listening to news bulletins but keep ourselves informed.

There are lots of new normals and who really knows what normal is anyway and when we come out the other side of this life will be so different that we will all need to adjust to a new normal once again. One thing I have learned in this temporary normal is that cartoons have much more relevance than I ever thought possible, and so in the words of Anna, from Frozen 2 I leave you with these words of wisdom 

“I won’t look too far ahead

It’s too much for me to take

But break it down to this next breath, this next step

This next choice is one that I can make

So I’ll walk through this night

Stumbling blindly toward the light

And do the next right thing”

Jeez, I miss the days I quoted Seamus Heaney but that dude never endured a pandemic with kids so Elsa and Anna will have to do for now.

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).

Podcasting in the time of Coronavirus

Our latest episode of Parenting Pobal is live. Blame Derek on the title.

Does all the negative #coronavirus coverage make you want to curl into a ball?

Switch off that and switch on to the latest of Parenting Pobal which is live: Podcasting in the time of Coronavirus. We talk the positives with tips for working from home and how to talk to littles about what the hell is going on.

Podcasting in the time of Coronavirus