Daddy Daughter Night

When we were expecting our first child to arrive we were asked the same question on a regular basis. A question I’m sure every expectant parent gets asked: which one do you want?

Hilarious, considering you don’t really have a lot of control over whether you get a boy or a girl. You can follow all the old wives tales, modify your diet because some website said it ensures the gender will go one way or the other, but at the end of it all you get what you get and you love them from second one of seeing them.

I used to joke with the lady friend that I’d prefer a boy for a our first, because boys are easier to train. Oh how we laugh at such a foolish statement now. Train a child…wishful thinking.

In reality though I gave the same answer to the question every time it was asked. That I honestly didn’t care if it was a boy or a girl, so long as they were happy and healthy that was the main thing. We got blessed on that front twice, despite the fact that you’d swear the younger of our pair was unhappy for the first few months of his life.

Ah early parenthood – such a magical time.

Anyroad deep down I would always wonder if I would be a better father to a boy first instead of a girl. Or maybe a girl before we had a boy. It is the standard self doubt that all parents go through, I have no doubt. What if the girl is a lover of dancing and you have two left feet? What if the boy is a football nut and you can’t stand the sport? What if the girl is into mixed martial arts? And so on and so on, the list of doubts is endless. The point was that I just wanted to be the best dad these kids got and considering they got me they were being dealt a rough deal to begin with.

Then upon seeing Nugget’s face all that left my mind and I just said ‘Screw it I will be the best me that I can be and that will in turn be the best dad for her.’

For you see the ‘best me’ has, over the years, evolved into this mad bastard who literally doesn’t give a shit about how the world perceives him so long as his actions entertain others, hurt nobody and don’t cause problems for those around. Sort of like having Deadpool as my spirit animal.

We fast forward a few years and Nugget has her first ‘girls night’ with her mummy and loved every minute of it. There was juice in fancy glasses, face masks, jellies, something on the telly and, most importantly, no boys. She loved it but being a child who never likes to see, or be, left out of things she asked for a similar night to take place. A daddy-daughter night.

Now the great thing about being somebody who doesn’t care about how they are perceived so long as it brings joy to those I care about I was all in. Face masks, sweets, orange juice in a champagne glass (Is this what the people of Bel-Air living like?), something on Netflix and time with my kid. What’s not to love about that?

I’m writing this article having just had our third such night. We even upped the ante a little and used hair chalk to colour our hair blue, just for added fun. A bit of chilling, jelly babies and cuddles. A night well spent.

The bit that makes it all worthwhile, though, was when, after tucking her into bed, she reached up and wrapped her little arms around my neck. I got the tightest squeeze you’d ever get and a ‘I had so much fun daddy. I love you. See you in the morning.’ whispered into my ear.

I’m regularly accused of having a blackhole in my chest that pumps some sort of sludge around my veins. But if that little thanks didn’t melt my stone heart nothing would…and of course it did.

Sure isn’t she already planning and plotting for her next daddy-daughter night.

Coded Letters

I feel like I am Alan Turing these days. Not because I work in the IT industry. Nor because I reckon I am anywhere near as smart as he was (I mean come on the guy was coming up with an insanely complex method to break Nazi codes before computers were even really a thing. That takes next level smarts). No it is because of how Nugget has started her latest after-creche/pre-bed hobby: keeping up with her correspondences.

This might not seem like anything too out there, after all she is a crazy friendly kid. The bit that might be strange about the entire affair, however, is that she can’t write for shit.

I don’t mean in the ‘oh look at the little hipster thinking she is writing the next great Irish novel’ sort of writing…I mean she literally cannot write. They have only started doing letters in her Montessori in the last few months and in typical child-like innocence the shapes are correct, but in random ways. For some reason the ‘L’ in her name is always drawn like a ‘7’, no matter how many times you explain to her why that isn’t the correct way. I even tried getting her to just do a lowercase L instead, which she grasped the concept of pretty quickly. Until I caught her adding a little bit of flare to the top of it when she didn’t think we were looking.

Kids…can’t teach ’em, can’t send them back for a refund.

But why do I feel like Mr. Turing? Well it’s because I have to remember all the crazy stuff she writes down on the paper. You see sometimes these letters are given out to her friends in school…and she then gets back similar scribbles on paper the next day. Sometimes these letters need to be given to the mammy or a grandparent, but of course Nugget has forgotten what the letter is meant to say so it falls to daddy to recall it. Then you get those letters destined for her live-in fairy, Fizzlesticks, but these have to be read out loud before bed because sometimes Fizzlesticks doesn’t read the letter before morning time.

Yep, Nugget has figured out how to ensure that her important thoughts are read by her fairy on the rare occasion mummy and daddy forget to take the letter away before they collapse into bed.

I’m not even sure if Alan Turing would be any good at doing any decryption on these letters, however. Each scribble is identical to the one before, the only difference being the colour of crayon used and where Nugget signs her name.

Still, it is entertaining each night (yes, this is now basically a nightly activity) to see her stretched out on the mat in the kitchen with sheets of paper. Writing away, speaking out the words that she clearly thinks she is writing down. The stories that get shared between herself and her friends are hilariously innocent. If email hadn’t killed the pen-pal star I reckon she would be doing that as a hobby in her teenage years.

A New Fa(mily)d diet

Fad diets are barely a fad anymore. You open up an article online or a newspaper if you happen to be visiting a museum and some new crazy diet is being described. Plant based, because sports types say it is good for recover. Meat based, because butchers don’t like people eating nothing but vegetables. Cut out the carbs….eat nothing but carbs. Have white rice but only on a day that doesn’t end with a ‘y’. The list goes on and on.

I’m here to tell you about a new Fad Diet, one that very few people seem talk about. See the problem with all other diets is that you have to basically cut out something. No meat, or less meat. No bread, despite how that would make it impossible to have a rasher sambo. Cakes have to be avoided…for some insane reason. Pretty much the golden rule of all popular diets is to stop enjoying food.

I know there is probably some valid reason behind it…but dammit I like food.

Anyroad this new diet I am here to tell you about? Kids!

Now, I’m not saying you need to go wandering into the forest and build yourself a gingerbread house in the hope that some kids get lost because their breadcrumbs are being eaten. Mainly because who could afford to build their own bespoke house in Ireland these days? Unless the forest you had in mind was one of those fantastic ones were money grew on the trees.

No, what I am saying is having kids is the best way to lose weight and I am not even touching on the part about how breast feeding burns off loads of calories. This is a diet that applies to parents from all walks of gender.

It is really simple to do. You simply attempt to eat a normal sized meals, ones you have eaten your entire life, in sight of your little bundles of joy. Then, without any prompting, training or instructing, the kids will fill in the rest.

Take, for example, your average yogurt pot. Me, I am a big fan of hazelnut yogurts. I have been since my Nan (the grandmother on me mammy’s side) would get them for me as a treat back in the day. So now they regularly get picked up in the shop. There is about ten teaspoons in each pot, a perfect snack amount if I am being honest. Unless you happen to eat one in front of our two littles. Then those ten spoonfuls have to be doled out among three mouths. Now, I’m no Messiah so that pot doesn’t magically start making more tasty goodness and of course I shared with the kids.

Greedy little shits.

But that’s just a small example of how kids help you lose weight. If they are around you when you are eating then they reduce the size of your portions pretty damn quick. This creates a calorie intake deficit (see, there is even science in this) and you start to lose weight. Want to lose more weight? Increase the number of kids you have around you when you are trying to eat.

There also doesn’t seem to be a way to combat this. Unlike normal diets when you can have a ‘cheat day’ and go off menu, the Kid Diet ensures that cheat days don’t work. For you see in order to cheat you need to eat and if the kids are around they will want what you are eating.

Even trying different eating methods won’t help you. Such as a family dinner time when you all eat at the table together. Forget about it. What will happen here is the kids will want to eat what is on your plate first, even though it is the same food on their plate, or they will wolf down there own food and then come looking for seconds from your plate. Which, of course, a loving parent will give them because the kids are growing but still the little savages are like bottomless pits.

This very morning, before I sat down to type up this little rambling, I even tried two new tricks. I got their breakfast ready first and while they were eating it I set about making my own breakfast (a white pudding sandwich with a good cup of coffee). Right as my breakfast was done the two littles had finished all of their grub. I could sense them looking at me…like wolves waiting for their prey to let down their guard. But I am a hunter-gather somewhere in my family tree…I was ready for them.

Out popped two apples for them to munch on.

The offerings were accepted, the tiny pagan gods appeased.

I finished making my breakfast, poured out the coffee, and went over to the table to have my meal. I swear to Dagda two little heads appeared out of nowhere on either side of me. Drooling at the sight of my food.

“Did you finish your apples?”

“Shop,” the youngest said.

“We don’t have them anymore, daddy,” replied the eldest.

They kept eyeballing my food. I cut the sambo in half, then halved one of the halves. Without even being asked to, little hands swooped in like mutant vultures and grabbed the quarters. Delighted with life they both ran off, munching happily. I wasted no time in devouring my own half of breakfast before they returned.

They always return.

But why had my new tactic to bring in a cheat day to the Kid Diet (a cheat day in this instance being a day you get to eat all your own food yourself) failed this time. As I sipped at my coffee, which thankfully both kids know they will never get to drink so they don’t bother asking about it, I watched the two littles finish their ill-begotten gains. When I saw that I had been outsmarted my two tiny chess masters. Once they had finished the sandwiches, checking my plate with a sneaky glance to ensure there was no more to be stolen, they walked over to a duplo box. Taking off the lid the youngest reached inside, pulled out an untouched apple, and handed it to his sister before reaching in and taking out his own apple.

I had been played, hustled by the two cutest con-artists in the land.

While the weight just continued to fall right off me.

A Study On Naps

There is a joke about Santa Claus specific to parents that I always smile at. It goes like this: There are three stages in a parent’s life. When they believe in Santa, when they don’t believe in Santa and when they become Santa.

It’s as true as true can be. The same joke can apply to naps, however. You just tweak it slightly. It would go something like this: There are three stages in a parent’s life. When they used to take naps, when they get the kid to take a nap and when they fondly remember when the kid took a nap that last longer than fifteen seconds.

Don’t get me wrong, hanging out with the kids at the weekend is a highlight and something that I defend when the world tries its very best to make it not happen. But by whatever imaginary super powered being in the sky you believe in; naps are just brilliant.

See, in the beginning, before parenthood (or PB to use the parental archeological term) naps were a luxury. You might have had a hard week at work, or just been on the lash (that’s getting well and truly intoxicated beyond all human needs for any non-Irish readers) the night before. Energy levels are lower than one of those competing bunny rabbits in a Duracell advert on the telly. You stretch out on the sofa, maybe pull a hoody over like a blanket, or if you are in the pro league you climb the stairs and get back into bed. The eyes are closed and a nap takes place. Good for the body and the soul, setting you up for the rest of the day.

Hell nap time at work would be a wonderful thing…must mention that to my boss.

Anyway, once you have kids you enter a strange limbo place. See at the start you’re zonked from one end of the hour to the next. Sleep deprivation is a thing and if you mainline any more ground up coffee into your nostrils your next sneeze is likely to look like fossilised dino snot. Every bit of advice, from nurses to grandparents to friends to books written by strangers, says the same thing: when baby sleeps the parent should as well.

So that’s what you do. However, this begins a vicious cycle because when baby is awake you can’t really do much other than look after baby. If you are sleeping when baby is sleeping the chores, those pesky things that need to be done in order to maintain a house and stop it turning into a self contained garbage dump, build up. Sure you’ve loads of energy…or rather a bit more than you probably had before the nap…but that doesn’t really help put away the laundry or wash the dishes.

Then comes the fun part…the balancing act. As the kid gets older they need fewer naps. In fact, hilariously, their very own DNA will tell them when to ‘drop’ a nap. What this means to any non-parents reading this (welcome, by the way) is that the kid who used to require two naps a day suddenly only needs one. But they decide, at some genertic level, when this is going to happen.

With no forewarning to the parental unit at all.

Now you’re screwed. Some parents would have gotten into the routine of having a nap during the first nap time and maybe catching up on some of the housework during the second one. But now you’re down to just one nap and it is anyone’s guess as to how long that nap may last. Will you have enough time to put away the washing, but on a new load of dirty clothes, straighten the house out a little, wash and put away the dishes, take that poo you’ve desperately needed to take for five hours but couldn’t because, you know, ‘parenting’?

You’ve to roll the dice and do what you can – ironically all the while using up what little energy you may have gotten left over from the night before. Because that’s your life now, you believe with all your heart that sleep is something you store up in some magical, invisible, container. A well of power that you can pull from whenever you are tired at different points in the week.

It’s a lie…but a lie we all share. So don’t go spoiling it.

Then, right as your ass hits the sofa with a cup of well earned caffinated beverage, you hear it. The siren song of the parent, coming from the baby monitor. The first little grunt that your darling is awake.

You climb the stairs, go into the room, only to be greeted by the smile of your little cherub as they reach out their arms and say ‘Up’. Lifting them from the cot, their little legs wrapping around you, you return to your cooling drinking and take a sip. Five minutes later you sit and wonder how in the Hell a toddler has just undone all your cleaning and returned the house to a chaotic state. Toys are all over the floor, clothes strewn about and their is a faint hint of poop in the air even though nobody has pooped. The walls of your sanity come crashing down, right as the kid climbs up on the sofa beside you, snuggles in, and gives you a big old hug.

And you think to yourself “Screw the house, this is cuddle on the sofa is what it’s all about.”

The Interrogation

I hate circular conversations, they are the worst. Nothing feels more like a complete waste of time than asking the same questions back and forth and getting nowhere.

Circular conversations are the verbal definition of madness: trying to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

“What do you want for dinner?”

“I don’t mind, anything really. Whatever. Honestly I don’t mind, you choose.”

“Ok, let’s get Indian.”

“No I’m not in the mood for Indian.”

“Then what are you in the mood for.”

“I told you, anything at all.”

Scene fades to black as a single gunshot echoes out in the night.

I can’t remember how long we’ve been here, but I know it feels like forever. The interrogation started like they always do: with a question.

“What do you want?”

“Mark.”

“Mark?”

“Shop.”

“We’re not going to the shop, we just got back from the shop.”

“Noooooo.”

The drama in this last part is almost a physical thing. Head thrown back, mouth opened at a strange angle that only sword swallowers can manage in later life. All it does, really, is reset the conversation.

“I said no, we’re not going to the shop.”

“Daddy!”

There is a line about never arguging with a fool, because people outside the conversation may not be able to tell which is which. The same applies to having these types of arguements with a pre-two year old. Using my language skills against those of Jellybean are always going to end in disaster. We speak the same languge, just wildly different dialects.

“I don’t get what you want. Are you hungry?”

“No.”

“Do you want me to play?”

“No.”

“Do you want to play football? We play some football?”

“No.”

“Do you know what you actually want or are you just defaulting to no?”

“No.”

We’ve entered circular conversation mode now. I can feel the small atoms of my remaining sanity disappear into the void. He clearly wants something. He knows that I can get it to him. But neither of us is speaking the same lingo so we are at an impasse.

“You’re not hungry, you don’t want fruit or a cracker?”

He smiles, that devilish little grin he has that I know will cause us trouble in the teenage years. It is a smile that immediately disarms and most of the time gets what he wants. Cuteness on steroids.

“You want a drink?”

“Shop!”

“We’re not going to the bloody shop.”

“Mark.”

“Uncle Mark isn’t here. Do you want juice?”

“No, daddy. No juice.”

I think I have just about grasped the thing he wants. A drink, maybe. He got very excited when I said drink, but I’ll be damned if he is getting into the habit of asking for a drink that requires a trip to the shop. You do that once and they remember forever more. It ain’t happening. Not on my watch.

Picking up a nearby kid cup, I hold it out in front of him.

“Drink, right?”

That smile again. He is happy that the language barrier between our two peoples has broken down slightly.

“Shop!” he says, nodding.

“No shop!” I’m slightly stern with my tone. I need to nip this shop shit in the bud.

“Daddy!” he moans.

“Water?”

“No water.”

“Juice?”

“No juice.”

“Orange juice?”

Both kids call dilutant ‘juice’ but consider orange juice to be something else entirely.

“No juice!”

This is his stern tone now. It sounds like a leprechaun on laughing gas, but at least he tries to be intimidating.

I’m reminded of all the scenes from Indiana Jones were the Nazi’s are asking him questions. They peel off a glove and give him a slap to the face, then repeat the question. Only for child protection services said you’re not allowed to do that sort of thing any more I’d be off looking for my gloves.

“Right,” I said, exasperated and still holding the cup. “You want a drink, right?”

“Shop. Mark, please.”

I’m about to abandon all hope, when the lady friend walks in.

“He wants a drink of milk,” she says, passing through the kitchen like a train of logic en route to different lands.

“What? He never even said anything that sounds like milk.”

“Mark, he uses Mark for milk.”

“Well how the hell was I supposed to know that? Kids need to come with phrase books, each one is different. Is that it, you want a drink of milk?”

He smiles and claps his hands together. The caveman has finally understood.

“Shop!”

“We’re not going to the bloody shop.”

“Shop means yes,” herself shouts in from the living room.

I feel my shoulders sag, defeated by a language barrier of my own creation. Since fifty percent of this cute demon child is me, so he had to get the skills to understand from somewhere.

“One milk, coming up.”

“Thank you, daddy,” he says, taking the cup of milk from me and running away delighted with life.

I update my mental Rosetta Stone for future conversations and continue cleaning the kitchen.