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.

Kitchen Kick-about

The first rule about kitchen kick-about is: you don’t tell mummy about kitchen kick-about.

Most folk that no me longer than five minutes are aware of my dislike for all things related to football. I can’t stand watching it on telly,  so much falling over blades of grass with more drama than you’d see in a Shakespearean play. Not to mention the total lack of respect for the ref, I mean what is that all about?

Then there is my utter inability to play the game. My hand-eye-foot co-ordination is utterly atrocious, I wasn’t built for that sort of sport. I can run pretty well, but that’s not much use when you need to kick a ball.  This all means that I never enjoy playing the ‘sport of kings’, because I completely suck at it.

Along comes Jellybean, the little ray of chaos in the sunshine of my day. He, for some reason, absolutely loves all things football related. One time when we were out for a family meal he spotted a match on the overhead screen and was glued to it. The lad isn’t even two and he would not take his eyes off the match. I’m not sure he even knew what the rules were, but it got us thirty minutes of silence to eat our food so that’s a win. But when we’re at home he is constantly asking me to play football with him.

Now, Jellybean isn’t so great with the words just yet but he does know how to get his request across to the adults. He walks up to them with the football and then puts it down on the ground, doing a little run up to the ball before kicking it. You get the message pretty quickly.

Being a modern dad I know that you need to overlook somethings when it comes to parenting; so if the little lad wants a kick-about with his old dad then a kick-about with his old dad is what he will get. After dinner we put the ball down between us and kick it back and forth for nearly twenty minutes. He loves it. There are screams of pure joy as it sails past him and he has to chase it. When he lines up his next shot there is the low battle cry of a child in his element.

We’re not playing out in a field. It is indoor football. There are walls, tables and counters to factor into all your kicks. This let’s me get a little creative with how I try and send my shot past the youngster. I don’t have to worry about a straight line, I can bounce it off the back of a chair then into a wall.

Basically we play pinball football in an unspoken attempt to mask just how poor my kicking skills really are.

To be honest I secretly love these little sessions, because I never thought I’d have them with anyone in my life. But what they do, sometimes, is make me forget how shit I am at football. In particular kick-abouts. It isn’t everyday that I get the phrase ‘No ball in the house!’ shouted at me, let alone from my wife.

The hilarious bit of that is when Jellybean stops dead in his tracks and puts his hand up to his mouth, looking at me in faux shock.

Of course that doesn’t stop us having our nightly little kick-about sessions. Only the other night we had one, but the dinner dishes hadn’t been cleaned away when we started it. Forgetting for a second that I was not, nor ever had been, a good footballer, I put a bit more mustard on my kick than I should have. It bounced off a wall, crashed into a chair, then flipped up onto the table and sent a glass of water flying through the air. Luckily the glass didn’t break, but water did spray the wall nicely like some sort of sucky modern art installation.

I stopped in my tracks and looked down at Jellybean. He was staring at the wall, hand to his face in the faux shock position.

When he clearly remembered the modified first rule of kitchen kick-about: you don’t tell mummy about kitchen kick-about, unless it was daddy who caused the carnage to take place.

Without a second thought the little Judas was running past me out into the hallway, declaring at the top of his little lungs “Mummy! Daddy spilled water!”.

I guess there is a lesson in all this, even for me. The first rule of kitchen kick-about is important, but there is a rule before it that nobody speaks of. That maybe, just maybe, these little sessions are something which the kids will carry with them fondly for the rest of their lives.

If that isn’t worth a few glasses of spilled milk, nothing is.

Snot Son Salute

I wake up later than usual. It is a weekend, my work alarm hasn’t gone off. I am in that blissful limbo of not knowing what is going on. I know it is later than normal because I check my watch and see it is reading past eight.

Past eight, at the weekend! Something has gone horrible awry.

We have kids, this can’t be a thing. We can’t ‘sleep in’… can we? It doesn’t make sense.

I slowly roll to the side, being sure not to wake the ladyfriend, and listen.

Something woke me, of that I am sure. A noise, some sound. I did not just wake naturally, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it was that woke me. A normal person would roll back over, try and get more sleep before the kids wake up. But I’m not a normal person, I’m paranoid as hell and now my ears are straining to listen for anything that could have woken me.

The dog isn’t barking, that’s good. People trust alarm systems in their home, I trust Frodo. He sounds like Cerebus when he starts barking and barks at the slightest thing that is out of the norm. How we still have a postman using the letter slot is a mystery. But if the dog isn’t barking, then it isn’t something outside the house. No car door being opened or house alarm going.

“Heh…”

I hear it then, but it happen so quickly I’m not sure if I actually heard anything.

The kids are definitely not up. There is no movement from their room at all. No sound of teddies being force fed imaginary tea or a book being bashed against crib bars like a tin cup in a jailhouse cell.

Maybe I’ve finally gone crazy. Crazier? More crazy? The lack of sanity in my skull is a near documented thing at this stage, but still anything is possible.

“Heeh…”

I definitely hear it this time. There is no mistaking it. This is what woke me. I’m a paradoxical sleeper. I am fairly heavy when I need to sleep and yet after a night of sleeping I’m so light I can hear a pin drop three streets over.

“Heeh…”

It’s louder this time, but just barely. I get out of bed and tread across the floor quietly. Stepping out onto the landing I wait for a few seconds.

“Heeh….”

The kids’ room. Whatever it is is coming from in there. I think maybe the smoke alarm battery is going and wonder how we got lucky that the battery is going during the morning time. How often do those things go at 2 a.m.? It’s like a design feature of the bloody things, I’m sure of it.

Stepping into the room I first look at Nugget and find her sitting up, pressed into the corner of her bed, head tilted back. Her beautiful brown eyes lock onto me with a mixture of happiness and pleading.

“Heeh!” she says, barely moving her head.

The reason why she is barely moving her head becomes obvious as my eyes adjust to the gloom of the room. Spreading out from her nostrils, extending just past her top lip, dangling precariously over her open mouth, are two snot-cicles.

What is it with kids? They sneeze and somehow produce these two strings of snot like walrus tusks of slime.

Nugget has a book open on her lap. She obviously has been awake for a while and then the sneeze happened. Like all children she lacks the ability to wipe her own nose and as the snot-cicles formed she just tilted her head back. It’s all like a very strange Bond-esque style death trap. I’ve no idea how long she has been like this, but she has been too afraid to call out for help for fear of dislodging the snot-spikes into her mouth.

“Oh honey,” I say, taking off my night t-shirt and using it to mop up the snot.

I’m a dad…clean sleeping attire is not required in emergencies like this one.

“Phew,” Nugget says, moving her head. “Thank you daddy. I sneezed and then I had snots.”

“I can see that,” I say, kissing her on the cheek. “All clean now.”

“DADDY!”

The cry is from the youngest. He is standing up in his crib, looking over the rail at me. When did he get so tall, I’ve no idea.

“Morning, buddy,” I say to him, smiling.

Before anything else happens he puts his hand up to his mouth, then sneezes. Not once, not twice…but thrice. Three full on sneezes, with his hand under his nostrils the entire time. As he stops he looks up and smiles at me, then pulls back his hand.

He has given birth to Slimer from Ghostbusters. The hand is covered in green gunk and there are strings of it stretching from face to hand.

“Daddy!” Jellybean says again.

“Oh dear Dagda,” I say, cleaning his hand and face with my snot-shirt.

The glamorous wake up call of the parent, a snot gun salute.

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.

 

Parenting a child with asthma

Our daughter was a little over one year old when we noticed something was amiss with her chest and lungs.

Chest infection

It started with a small chest infection. She had just started crèche so we were expecting the onslaught of viruses and bugs. It didn’t seem to be shifting I booked her in with the GP, it was a Friday so I didn’t want to run the risk of it worsening over the weekend. On Saturday morning I met a friend and her little girl for breakfast and a catch up. Olivia seemed in good form, full of chatter.

Then within the space of 20 minutes she had gone pale and was shivering and shaking uncontrollably. Her wee lips were turning blue as if she was freezing but her temperature had spiked to 40oC. I rang my husband and he picked us up straight away and we headed into Crumlin. Despite serious overcrowding we were admitted right away and that put the fear of God in me as at that point you know if after triage you are not turfed back into the waiting room then something is very wrong.

It turned out she had pneumonia, a chest x-ray also showed it had done a fair bit of damage in her lungs. Everyone was baffled as to how she contracted it and how quickly it escalated.

It would be months before we got an explanation.

The aftermath

She was plagued with a constant cough afterwards. And I don’t just mean a little cold and a sniffle I mean she sounded like she smoked 90 fags a day and was constantly practising for a seal impersonation competition. We had countless late night runs to the doctors and were persistently placated with terms like ‘viral infection’ ‘just a touch of croup’ ‘try giving her calpol’ and so on. On top of the constant coughing she was forever coming down with chest infections. We rarely got to see the same doctor so every time we were explaining her situation we were made feel like we were overreacting because (as often happens in cases of croup for example) the cool air would ease her symptoms.

It wasn’t until we moved house and settled in with a new GP that we finally started getting somewhere. It was on our third visit to him that he asked had she been checked out for asthma. He explained that it would be unusual to get an asthma diagnosis for a child so young but he strongly suspected that this is what was at play. He offered to refer us to a specialist and he stated all her symptoms and the reasons why he suspected asthma.

Stupid health system

In typical fashion we got an appointment that was over a year away. We couldn’t go through a year of our baby girl coughing so much she was bringing up blood and getting sick. A year of spending nights with her wrapped up in duvets in bed beside us with the window wide open. A year of telling her to stop running around with her friends because it would bring on a coughing fit. A year of trying to stop her crying the minute she started because once she got upset it would lead to coughing. Or trying not to tickle her too much because those infectious fits of giggles would turn into fits of coughing and struggling to catch her breath. So we opted to go private and were seen within a matter of weeks. The unfairness of the two tiered health system. We were fortunate but I know that isn’t the case for everyone, but that is a rant for another day.

Our consultant in Temple Street was amazing. After examining her he was able to tell us she had multi-trigger cough variant asthma. In plain non med speak this means that anything that triggered a sharp inhale such as running, crying, laughing, a cold, would cause her to cough as she didn’t have the capacity to take those deep breaths. He also suggested she have a procedure called a bronchoscopy. He felt there was evidence of an underlying issue as to why she caught pneumonia, why every cold she got ended up in a chest infection and why she was plagued with constant respiratory infections — all of which triggered severe asthma attacks. We agreed as although the idea of having out baby girl put under anaesthetic was scary, we were desperate to get to bottom of her symptoms and figure out the best way to help her.

The spacer definitely helps when giving children their inhaler

Trial and error

While waiting for the procedure she was put on a number of inhalers and other meds. We knew it would be trial and error in finding out what would work best for her so what followed next was a tough few months. The first inhalers were no good and she got zero relief during her asthma attacks which were happening as often as ever. The next option was a combination of the inhalers and Singular — which was a powder to be made into a drink. The asthma attacks became less frequent but were replaced by nightly night terrors which meant she would wake screaming 4 or 5 times a night. So that wasn’t an option. While Singular can be very effective in treating asthma, for a small minority it causes a side effect of vivid nightmares. So back to the drawing board. We stuck with just the inhalers until her procedure.

Superhero

To say she was a wee trooper is an understatement. I was a mess, I couldn’t face seeing her being put to sleep so her daddy went into theatre with her. I needn’t have worried, it was all done and dusted in an hour and she was back in my arms, cranky and asking for toast. My little superhero. Afterwards the consultant explained to us that Olivia had a bronchomalacia (I had to google that again just to double check the spelling). Basically, the airway going into her left lung is structurally weak and is ‘floppy’ when she tries to take a deep breath causing the cough which is her body’s way of trying to get more air in. It also stops proper excretions (how gross is that word) meaning when she gets a minor cold the secretions become trapped in her lungs and lead to an infection. Ah ok so that explained the pneumonia incident and the persistent chest infections too. It also explained her cough variant asthma.

The good news we were told, is that she will likely grow out of it by the time she is eight, as her airways grow and get stronger. The bad news is that until then there is fuck all we can do except ride it out. Ride out another six (or more years) of that chronic cough, prolongation of lower respiratory tract infections, exercise intolerance, respiratory distress, recurrent pneumonia and recurrent bronchitis. Yep, just some of the symptoms we were told. As well as the aforementioned asthma attacks.

Prevention is better than cure

In asking how come this wasn’t picked up until she was one I was told that in all likelihood the fact that I breastfed her until then meant she wasn’t picking up viruses as much. Plus she hadn’t started crèche and we all know that with the kids practically licking each other every day it is inevitable that viruses get passed around.

With that in mind our consultant developed an asthma plan specifically for Olivia and her specific condition. She gets a prevention inhaler twice a day and this allows her to run around with her friends without sounding like she is hacking up her internal organs. She has a light relief inhaler for those days she might overdo it (but thankfully it is rarely needed) and a relief inhaler for when an attack flairs up.

The action plan from the Asthma Society of Ireland

Winter is coming

These days her asthma isn’t an issue day to day but it does become a problem any time she gets a cold. The famous ‘Winter is coming’ meme gets used a lot in our house hold. We avoid out of hours now as her asthma plan has us follow a number of steps at home and if that doesn’t work it is straight into hospital. We have steroids in the house that she gets if she has a cold and it hasn’t shifted in a few days as that means it is settling in for the long haul.

We have croup-like attacks on a regular basis but (and I am also afraid to type this in case I jinx it) we are getting more of a breather (no pun intended) between each one. It used to be around every six weeks it seemed her wee lungs got worn down and a virus was able to take hold but the last two had two and a half months between them which for her was great. And now we are coming into the summer months she hopefully will get a bit of a break.

If your child has asthma

For parents who are maybe just processing the news that their child has asthma it might not seem like it but the diagnosis is a good thing. It means you now know what you are dealing with. Eighteen months ago Olivia couldn’t run the length of herself without coughing and struggling to breath and now she happily runs, chases and plays with her friends completely unaffected. Yes we have rough days when she gets a cold or virus but we can handle that now that we can see her having a good quality of life. And we always have the end goal in sight, in hoping that she will grow out of this.

There are some things which we have tried and tested in our journey (every old wives tale you can imagine) and for us there are a few standard things that work. Olivia’s bed is titled slighted and she has a pillow tucked under her sheet to keep her sleeping at an angle as when she lies on her back the pressure on her airways causes coughing. We have a saline plus machine in her room (not at all sponsored by the way) and without a doubt that definitely has helped as she has been able to clear colds and respiratory viruses faster than normal. When her asthma flairs up we use a cool mist humidifier to moisten the air in her room. We never use the vicks or calpol plug-ins when she has a cold as they dry out the air. When it is really bad we take turns sleeping with her in the spare room, we tilt her up wrap her up in layers and open the window. On those occasions we keep her at home for a few days and spend them watching movies and chilling out to give her wee system a chance to repair.

Thankfully she has always been willing to take her inhalers. That could be down to the fact that at the very beginning we tried to make the inhaler fun. Her first spacer we let her decorate it with stickers and practice giving it to her teddies. We have a routine so she knows the steps so even when at a sleepover at her grandparents she will use the inhaler — it’s toilet, wash hands, inhaler, wash teeth. Now she is a bit older we let her push the inhaler down herself and we make a big deal of how important a job that is. There are days when she can’t be arsed going along with it all so bribery of sorts has to come into play, but sure what would parenting be without a little negotiating with your tiny terrorist?

Karen