We’re All Going On A French Summer Holiday…

The phrase ‘family holiday’ is not one that necessarily instils me with excitement.

Some parents have become so entrenched in their family lives that the idea of taking a week off and not dragging their children onto an plane seems like madness.

These poor souls prefer to think that they couldn’t possibly relax with their beloved offspring half a world away, rather than remember the blissful freedom that they had once as younger souls. Now, whilst I don’t want to trample over the precious dreams and memories of honest-to-God happy families, I think it’s really important to keep things in perspective. By all means, a week spent in Disney Land at an eye-watering expense might be a dream come true for your kids, but can you honestly say that you’re gaining an equal amount of enjoyment?

I say all of this as I’m on the cusp of booking a family holiday of my own, although this one won’t take me to the muggy climes of Orlando, Florida. In a bid to create a holiday experience that is equally enjoyable for both kids and parents, I’ve decided that our yearly voyage will take us to Ardeche, France.

You might be wondering how I came to this decision. My children, worldly as they are, had not heard of Ardeche before and were similarly blank face when I told them about the vast natural wonders that litters the countryside there, but it was the activities that you can take part there that I felt they would really chime with. My boys are getting to an age now where they’re eager for adventure. The play parks and slides that were once so thrilling no longer have the same appeal to them, they long for something that they can show off to their friends at school about. Luckily for them there are ample opportunities for canoeing, mountain biking and climbing which should keep them happy for the ten days we’ll be staying there for.

Whilst I know my wife will be a little rueful at not being able to sun herself on a beach on the French Rivera, I will at least be able to placate her with a visit to a local vineyard and multiple trips to idyllic markets to pick up some fresh produce for our dinners. The South of France is a destination that we’ve both visited before as a couple, in our life before children, and by returning to this veritable Eden during the height of Summer I’m hoping we’ll be able to capture some of the care-free spirit of those early holidays.

I know that some parents will be snorting derisively at my attempt to have my cake and eat it too, but I do believe that it’s possible to create a family holiday that can appeal to every member of the family, that doesn’t involved forking out a shed load of money.

Whilst the villa that we’re renting is costing us a few hundred pounds a night, it’s still far cheaper than any ghastly all-inclusive hotel and we’re so close to the local attractions that it’ll be like we’re staying in our very own theme park – minus the screaming children and queues.

Step-and-Repeating Back Into Working Life

After years of exile living as a stay at home Dad, it would appear that my time at home is almost at an end!

Despite my best efforts, it would appear that the working world is pulling me back into the daily grind and, to be perfectly honest, I’m quite happy for it to do so.

There have certainly been highlights to being a stay at home Dad, not least of all being able to pack my sons of to school on a daily basis, packing their lunches and driving them to the school gates. Although I know that many parents happily put their careers ahead of these daily ‘chores’, I feel like I’ve certainly been able to appreciate the little changes that they’ve made over the last few years. In the time that I’ve spent at home they’ve successfully graduated from toddlers into young men who have taken on the responsibility of school life with real aplomb, I’m very proud of both of them.

However, now has come the time for me to do a similar thing and graduate from the role of stay at home Dad into a new kind of man. I’ve not had a traditional working day in over 6 years, so stepping back into a suit and black shoes might prove to be a little odd, especially considering how comfortable I’ve got in my regular attire of trackies and hoodie…

You may be wondering what possibly could have persuaded me back into the working world, after spending so much time in the blissful ‘peace and quite’ of the home-maker role. It might surprise you to find out that it wasn’t money, but rather an industry that I was truly excited to get stuck into. The print industry is one that has always fascinated me. Despite the ever dominating digital age, the demand for physical print is still high with dozens of print shops in London serving the needs of all manner of companies. Although I’d built up the majority of experience in the world of Finance, I’d always longed to be involved in an industry that was more focused on a job-to-job basis and that’s exactly what this new role gives me.

Although I won’t be working hands on with the large format printers that are required to get these jobs done, I will be directly managing the team that is involved with doing this and am really looking forward to getting down onto the ‘shop floor’ motivating staff and pushing through jobs. My first day is tomorrow and the first job on the schedule is a step and repeat board for a major design brand; it’s a big job for a client that could lead to much more work in the future should it go well.

There’s plenty to be thinking about in terms of the practicalities of getting the job done, but my mind is mostly preoccupied with how my morning routine will be changing. For the first time in over 6 years I’ll be waking up early and not knocking on my sons’ bedroom door to wake them up, or preparing their breakfast.

It’s going to be quite the change, but one that I’m certainly looking forward to.

Stay-At-Home Groundhog Master

There have been few defining moments in my life as a parent.

Many would-be parents look at their future as ‘Mum and Dad’ as an endless string of little events, making each day a new adventure and yah-dah-yah-dah-yah-dah…

I feel no guilt whatsoever in saying this: parenting is not an emotional roller coaster. It is a long, taxing road trip filled with noise, arguments and tears. It will take you much longer than you think to reach the end and (from what I’ve heard) you might well fall asleep at the wheel a couple of times in the process: so just be ready for that when it happens!

As a stay at home Dad, my role as a parent is quite similar to the role that my own Mother played whilst I was a child. I spend my days staying on top of cleaning duties, a task which is made easier with the kids out of the house and out from under my feet. Just like my Mum before me, I feel like I spend most of my time following a trail of mess around the house, whether it’s a visible mud track that’s been walked in by little boots or a scattered path of belongings that have somehow lost their way back to their rightful place.

After doing the stay-at-home-Dad-thing for the last 8 years, I’ve now reached a level of competence that is bordering on the robotic.

My Monday to Friday routine is a pin-point accurate ballet that covers every nook and cranny of the home. I’ve been adapting and refining this daily routine, which has become a sort of domestic Groundhog Day that I’ve been learning to improve at with each passing day, week, month and year.

There’s more to house-keeping than just keeping the house clean and the development of technology has certainly put me ahead of my old Mum in terms of efficiency. Once a week I order in a food delivery that brings all our groceries to the front door, the kids’ washing is all done in the space of a day and that only leaves the school-run itself to sort out which is the only point in my day that is out of my control.

When I was my boys’ age I’d walk the 3 miles into school every day. My Mum would pack me off with a sandwich and an apple, then I’d merrily traipse my away along busy main roads to school: simpler times indeed. My boys know how to cross roads, but there’s no way I’d let them cover the same distance by themselves.

Nope.

Each and every morning I bundle by kids into the car. Like a couple of world-weary GIs with one too many battles on their consciences, they usually spend the 20 minute journey in brooding silence. We don’t play the radio in the car, so the hum of engines is only punctuated by the half-muttered expletives that escape my mouth which are usually followed by the stifled titters of the boys in the back.

The drive back is always much more serene, in the wake of rush hour the roads are much clearer, giving me more than enough time to grab a coffee on the way home. Things might have changed a bit since my Mum’s time, but us stay-at-home-parents should always be allowed their treats…

Unintentional Lie In Leads To Manic Morning

Have you ever had one of those mornings where everything just goes a bit wrong?

Yesterday was an absolute prime candidate, although there’s arguably not much that can go wrong in my life on a day to day basis.

It used to be that a ‘bad day’ in my old life as an investment banker would have meant that I had lost a client a few hundred thousand pounds and I was due for a meeting with some Executives where I would be summarily run down by a group of old men. As fearful as I was of such an eventuality, it only occurred two or three times in my decade long career as a money-shifter. Today, my sole responsibilities are to my home and to my family. If the house doesn’t stay clean, my kids will get grubby and my wife will get angry. Do you see the causal relationship there?

Whenever I talk to any of my ex-colleagues, still furiously cutting deals and snatching investments in the Big Smoke, they tell me that they can’t imagine leaving the job, that a life without work would be one of endless ennui. I always ask them if they still enjoy working 10 hour days and never seeing their family, to which they reply that they haven’t started one yet. That’s when they tell me they have to go because they’re heading out to Coq d’Argent for a Chataeubriand steak and I suddenly get very jealous and start thinking about coming out of retirement.

But I don’t, of course, because my life here in Kent is good and I’m happy – for the most part at least.

My happiness does get infringed on at certain points.

My ‘bad day’, the one day in a hundred that fails to go to according to plan was heralded by the fridge giving up the ghost at some point during the night. The old girl had been with us for a while at this point and clearly decided it would be better for everyone if she was to go peacefully during the night. Her last gift to us? Shorting out the electricity in the house.

My wife has been using the same digital alarm clock for the past 8 years. Its suffered a similar level of wear and tear to the fridge, although it shows its age merely on the surface level. The snooze button has been eroded down on one side and the cheaply printed labels for the buttons have long since worn away. The one thing it does need to work is power.

I was woken at half 8 by the sound of Constance swearing loudly. This is usually an amusing sound and much cause for ridicule. Her Public School background, far loftier than my own, prohibited any kind of cursing, as a result she has maintained a solid vocabulary of Primary School level swear words that even my boys find amusing. Hearing real vehemence behind the cursing, I woke abruptly and wondered why the sun was shining so brightly outside.

That’s when I clocked that if my wife was late, then I was probably late. A quick glance at my phone confirmed that the kids had 10 minutes to change and eat before running for school. It was then my turn to start swearing, a much more colourful string of syllables left my mouth, quickly stifled by a pillow thrown by my loving wife who has no time for the dropping of the C-Bomb under any circumstances.

Within 5 minutes I’d wrangled uniforms on the boys and frogmarched them down to the kitchen, to find that the milk had taken on a solid form over night.

Cereal was out the window, toast would take too long, so I prepared possibly the worst breakfast imaginable for my growing lads. One handful of dried Cheerios with half a banana each. They had no time to complain as I ushered them out the door, along with my wife who had managed to frantically smear lipstick onto her chin.

With that they were gone. Their rushed mornings would continue whereas mine seemed to grind to a halt. Cheerios scattered the floor, our room upstairs was a mess, a rancid food smell lingered in the kitchen and I searched for way to solve all the problems all at once. I had the lingering feeling of being in the eye of the storm. Home appliance repairs have never been my strong point, so I Googled for a solution until I was bored of reading dry articles on how to fix fridges.

Instead of sorting any of the problems, I opened the fridge and started to consider what kind of breakfast I could make out of three varieties of cheese, 3-day old bacon and last night’s tuna pasta bake.

The last gift from the fridge was a meal that kept me toilet bound for approximately 4 hours, I got a lot of reading done that day but not much cleaning, to my wife’s chagrin…

A Father’s Guide To The Half-Term Problem

Half-Term Is Approaching!

Soon the peaceful sanctum of my home will be invaded by two pre-teen kids with (as yet undiagnosed) attention deficit disorders.

Of course, I enjoy spending time with my boys. Our evenings spent as a family – eating dinner and playing games – are the most cherished moments in my daily routine, but that’s exactly what we’ll be losing for this week: routine. Take away the weekday schedule from kids and all Hell breaks loose.

Over the 5 or 6 years that the boys have been in school, I’ve had more than a few cracks at solving the pervasive problem that is Half-Term. Although I’m a long way off mastering the logistical nightmare of keeping children entertained for days on end, there are a few simple tricks to making the whole thing run a little smoother.

Create Your Own Routine

Children thrive off of routines. During term time, as long as you’ve got a solid ‘Bedtime Plan’ in place, you can pretty much get them to dress and feed themselves. However, once you step into the Twilight Zone of Half-Term (let alone the truly frightening expanse of the Summer Holidays) all the rules go out of the window.

Why should they go to bed early, if they don’t have School in the morning? Why should they even get up early if there’s no where to go to?

Luckily, kids have incredibly elastic minds, so you can knock up a new morning routine in a jiffy, ensuring that they’ll make the most of their week off and that you’ll be able to ease them back into the school run again with fewer problems.


Schedule Each Day Well In Advance

Don’t let them drift into Half-Term with no plans, this will inevitably lead to hours spent in front of video games and Netflix. Get them involved the week before and plan out your time together. If you’ve got no big holiday plans, try asking them where they would like to go.

Although you might have to spend an hour or so knocking through the obligatory destinations that are simple unfeasible (the Moon, Madagascar and ‘that massive toy shop from Toy Story 2′ had to be sternly rebuffed), this can sometimes lead to some surprisingly affordable day outs that could expand your kids’ horizons.

Grab a wall chart and plan each day, so that your kids know the plan as well as you do. This year we’re looking at heading to a Skate Park, the Forest of  Bowland and the Beach (they wouldn’t listen to my criticisms that it may be too cold to swim – I’m packing a Thermos of soup).


Don’t Put Them To Work

Far be it from me to tell you how to raise your kids, but I’m a firm believer in not forcing them into working during their holidays. ‘Chores’, as they’re known in American Pop Culture, don’t teach children the value of hard work and teamwork. All they tell them is that you’re in charge and that housework is boring – two undeniable truths that bring them no joy whatsoever.

I spend around 15 hours or so a week keeping the house in a fit state. To achieve this feat, I have a variety of systems in place to ensure that all the tasks are performed at optimum efficiency. Introduce kids to this system and the whole pack of cards could come tumbling down.

By all means, if you need a hand with something, they’re there to help. Otherwise, its easier and kinder to let them enjoy themselves – they’re only young once remember!


Send Them Packing

Most working parents dread Half-Term as a logistical nightmare – a time-based conundrum that crops up twice a year to cost them a bomb in Childcare and leave them scrambling back from work every day to pick them up.

An easy solution to this problem? Just send them away. Up to a certain age, some children might not be comfortable spending time away from home – but 5 days isn’t an eternity and this can often prove to be a real chance for them to grow as people .

Although there are countless kids camps and activity weeks that you can send your kids to, I try to avoid these ‘organised fun’ institutions. I prefer to use the week as a chance to get them better acquainted with our extended family. Half-Term is a great opportunity for kids to get to know their cousins and form some close bonds that could last well into their teens.


Treat Them To Something Special

The most important thing to remember when preparing for Half Term is that this should be a special week for them. Any spare time that you can glean with your children, sans electronics devices and other such things, should be treasured. Try something new with them: go out for dinner, bake a cake, buy them a new game or ball. After this week, they should be breathlessly eager to head back to school and tell their friends about all the week they’ve enjoyed.

If you’ve done your job well then, by the time Friday evening comes around, your charges should be exhausted and looking forward to returning to the routine of school life with a new bank of happy memories in their minds.

Long Car Journeys and Caravans

After weeks of careful planning, half-term has ended as quickly as it began.

 

Although I tried to stick to the guidelines that I laid out in last week’s post, there were still a couple of occasions where we fell off the rails.

Luckily, Constance was home early on Friday so we could take the kids on a surprise holiday to Bowland Fell Park. The kids were so enamoured with the place that they’ve been hassling both of us to buy them a caravan of their own, which we’re not going to do even though the Park did have a few handsome specimens for sale (https://www.bowlandfellpark.co.uk/buy-a-bowland-holiday-home/static-car avans-yorkshire/).

I discovered a long time ago that correctly gauging and setting kids’ expectations is absolutely key in keeping them quiet on long car trips. If you over hype the destination to your child, then you run into the problem of too much excitement bouncing around the car. On the other end of the spectrum, if you downplay where you’re going, then your kids will begin to question why you’re travelling so far in the first place.

Constance and I have developed the perfect balance of excitement fuelling chat and ambiguity that keeps our boys in a constant state of expectant confusion.

We don’t tell them how long the journey will take – so there’s no clock-watching – we just tell them where we’re going.

Additionally we never tell them how far we have to go and we hide the Sat Nav, just to really throw them off the scent. If you’re wondering how we manage to avoid tantrums, there is a shameful truth hidden behind the apparent idyllic charm of our long drives: frequent stops.

Anyone who has travelled with kids will know how even the most placid of children will become a screaming mess of noise after more than an hour in a car. Our answer to this age old problem is two-fold.

Firstly, pack all your things well in advance and ensure that you leave early. I mean really early. We leave an extra 3 hours earlier ahead on every journey to allow for the second part of our smart solution. With a little luck your kids will have passed out in the car for the first hour or so of your journey – this means you can make good ground in relative peace and quiet.

By the time your charges have rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and started asking questions, that’s when you strike: pull off at the first of your pre-planned stops and yank the sprogs out of the car.

Bleary eyed and confused, you can then distract them from the potential boredom of the remainder of the journey with your current location. As your kids (ideally) won’t be aware of what their final destination looks like, each time you make a little stop (once every hour or so) they’ll be confused as to where they are and whether its the end of the journey or not.

Of course there are a few downsides to utilising this plan; frequent stops usually entail a more expensive trip, you also run the risk of tiring out your kids before you get to where you need to go.

On this particular day though, our strategy worked.

We left at 6am and the boys slept peacefully for the first few hours. When Saul woke up, Constance clocked him first and made an immediate turn for the next service station where we plied him and his brother with donuts, sending them back into another hour of blissful dozing. By the time they’d roused themselves again from their slumber we’d, thankfully, drifted away from the monotony of the motorway into the more interesting countryside of the Forest of Bowland.

Within an hour we’d reached our destination, Constance and I congratulated ourselves that night with a bottle of champers and hoped that the kids would be as eager to sleep in tomorrow morning as they were in the car on the way here.

They weren’t and we wished we hadn’t had the whole bottle…

 …

My Children Can’t Wait To Be Advertised To

It’s been a tiring week.

Davey Teller, the rich kid at my boys’ school has just got the new iPhone 7.

Of course they’re jealous. I’m even a little bit jealous. When the new handset came out last September, I was still working in London. I remember the hubbub and excitement that ensued in the office. A load of men in their 40s and 50s spending the morning excitedly swiping and thumbing their new phones, trying to ascertain what makes them different from the last model.

New technology used to be something that only overweight schmucks and Trekkies had the time to get distracted by. But now, a new phone hits the market and the world stops moving so everyone can either queue up and buy it or watch enviously from the sidelines. If you’re wondering where my boys (and myself for that matter) ended up on this rather binary spectrum then I’ll save you the calculations and tell you now that we weren’t all basking in the omniscient glow of Apple’s new phone last September, nor shall we be in the near future.

My boys are 10 and 11. I’m not completely insensitive to their ‘needs’.

I understand kids of their generation have grown up watching their parents incessantly tapping on electronic devices of progressively slimmer stature, they see it as the gateway to their adulthood.

Through their first smartphone, they’ll have access to thousands of servers all around the globe. With this information they will be armed to cheat their way through every essay and piece of homework. The friends they make using it could well be people that they know for the rest of their lives – if only through various simulacrums of online communications.

However, this first phone, given to them from their parents (because how else would they be able to afford it?), could also expose them to the kind of human truths that they may well have avoided for another few years.

As much as the internet spotlights all that is wonderful about human ingenuity, it also shines a light on the less admirable portions of our existence – with the same unerring beam.

Not even teenagers yet, is it too early to show them all of this? Or is the development of the internet simply another ‘talk’ that the parents need to have with their children?

Beyond the waking nightmares that all parents have, when considering the psychological ramifications of unintentionally exposing their children to unsuitable material, there is also the insidious power of the Internet to think of as well.

From the moment we all connect to the internet, whether its through our phones or a computer, we are being advertised to. Whereas 10 years or so ago, this advertising was restricted to obvious ‘banner ads’ and ‘pop-ups’, the bidding of multi-national corporations and powerhouse brands is now done by the most unassuming agents. Thousands of contributors to the internet, from prominent YouTubers to the legions of writers working for BuzzFeed, now create content with an agenda.

They know how best to market to college students and they know how to transform your child into the perfect consumer of tomorrow. The only question is, do you let them?

I’ve decided to attack the problem pragmatically.

Should my children, not even teenagers yet, have the latest iPhone in their grubby mitts? No. If I don’t get one, then they don’t.

Should they at least be given a chance to dip their toes into the virtual pool of information? Yes. That’s why they’ll both be receiving budget smart phones for their Christmas presents this year. For the time being, they’ll just have to cope with living a life untethered to electronic devices.

They won’t understand me when I tell them to enjoy it whilst they can.

From TV Abuser to Internet Bruiser

There’s a certain guilty pleasure that I derive from roaring myself hoarse at the television.

I understand that the very act of doing it is the perfect example of ‘wasted breath’ but if all the yelling and cursing results in my sleeping better at night (regular glasses of Whiskey do help in that regard too…) then is it really wasted?

My wife would definitely say so. When she invariably wakes me from the armchair, the TV still blaring and a fine web of saliva slowly drying to my stubble, she makes a resigned sigh and asks me if I wouldn’t be happier simply reading a book each night, to which my reply is usually: ‘Blarglshmar-bloody-UKIPpers.’

Last night was a typical one for me. The boys barrelled into the house at 4pm, out of breath from their usual foot race home from school. They run back everyday, but somehow don’t seem to be getting faster or fitter – perhaps this is something that I should take up with their PE teacher…After throwing biscuits at them until they ceased their yammering, they disappeared upstairs to either do their homework or murder their classmates in a virtual war. Dinner was a simple pasta affair, made ready for my darling Wife upon her return to the homestead and we ate at the table, as is our wont.

Whilst Constance patiently pried precious pieces of information from our boys, I slyly kept one ear open to the World Service playing in the kitchen. The News has been particularly fantastic recently. Admittedly, the World may be collectively holding its breath for the the first sign of a Nuclear Holocaust and Racial Tensions have arguably never been more fraught, but its made for some of the best news that I’ve seen in a decade.

In the last two years there have been more shock resignations, blindingly odd referendum results and confusing press releases than I’ve ever seen before. Firing up and exaggerating every political oddity is the full force of the internet. From irate individuals sharing their opinions via Facebook, to the ‘unbiased journalists’ of Buzzfeed; from all corners of the web, opinions are flaunted and shared prolifically to thunderous acclaim and equal amounts of disdain. Now the internet has one more angry voice to join the baying mob: mine.

Since leaving my job in Investment, some 7 years ago or so now, I’ve been struggling in vain to still feel a part of the world at large. In my days, pre-Fatherhood, I would be meeting bankers and businessmen on a daily basis. Titans of industry would know me by name and I felt like the decisions that I made, from the pattern of my tie to the choice of my words, had a significant effect on the World.

Now, the main thrust of my work involves feeding hungry mouths, keeping kitchen surfaces clean and sucking the endless reams of cat hair out of the thick carpet that we never should have bought. My sons could well grow up to be important men with the weight of the world on their shoulders, but that’s an investment in time and effort that is a long way off returning.

For now, I’m going to see if I can spend less time drunkenly yelling at the oblivious faces on television and more time writing my thoughts down here…like a rational person.