31 December, 2011

The Pursuit of Happyness

Occasionally. Just Occasionally. I’ll be a bit jealous of the lifestyle my non-child-having friends enjoy. Both the flexibility and possibility of spontaneous-ism. And also the disposable income. 
Our combined salaries apparently put us in the top two per cent of UK households. But once you add time constraints and subtract childcare costs/all the things we buy for the kids/saving for their future education it results in 90% less ski trips, 100% more £5-limits on work-day lunches and infinitely less moonwalking-across-the-deck-of-a-yacht-moored-in-St-Tropez than I foresaw at these income levels.

However, human adaptability means we all get used to the patterns of our lives and quickly take things in our routine for granted, leaving evolutionary psychologists to say that happiness largely comes from "encountering unexpected positive events". So for Kanye West to feel sensationally happy he has to fly to Paris on a private jet full of Victoria’s Secret models. All it takes for me to achieve rapture is opening the kitchen bin to find I can drop my rubbish in it without having to first squish-down overflowing contents with my hands. Poor, poor Kanye West.

Plus fatherhood is getting more rewarding as the kids develop. My little girl is 4 now and is starting to be mildly hilarious (my little boy isn’t yet 2, but does a good line in facial expressions and energetic Scrappy-Doo-style assault). Conversations with other parents are also getting better. Where it was all monotonous patter about feeding cycles, behaviour-control techniques and how tired everyone is, there’s now lots of anecdotes about genuinely funny things that have happened. Ok, it’s not always as funny as days-gone-by chat with your friends about drunken antics/sexual encounters/accidental puffin slaughter, but it’s entertaining stuff. Recent examples:

- Friend tells us that her teacher called her to say there was a problem with her child’s language. Friend says “Oh bugger. What has she said?” Teacher replies “Bugger”

- Wife tells me to stop being facetious. Daughter gasps, lowers voice and says “Don’t say that. The police will get you. It’s a bad word… like f*ck-it or oh-sh*t”

- Sis-in-law finds 3 yr old son playing with huge kitchen knife. Goes spare at husband for letting him get hold of it. He later tells me that he walked past, saw tooled-up lad and – through a haze of pre-occupation, tiredness and just being very used to seeing both knives and his boy frequently (though separately) in day-to-day life – all that went through his head was “Huh. Nice knife son”

- Crackers and jokes over Christmas lunch. Family and both sets of grandparents. Daughter wants to join in but, being unable to read her cracker joke, has to freestyle… “Everyone. Why did the duck cross the road with only pants and no vest on?.. To get to the sexy cow” 
If we’d been able to ignore the uncomfortable fact that our tiny daughter/grand-daughter had just revealed her awareness of sexiness and, seemingly, beastiality, I’m sure that would have got a massive laugh rather than a stony silence. Family’s a tough crowd.

So over Christmas, while Facebook was telling me that a friend “can’t wait to go skiing” and another  “is spending a 3rd straight day on the beach”*, I was jealous but only fleetingly. Who needs exotic locations when you’ve got increasingly comical chat? (And future challenging conversations about the birds & the bovines)

Learned Wisdoms
#35: If you read back on the child-related things that have amused you over the festive season to find they’re mainly to do with swearing, sex and danger, just try not to think about it. Nothing to worry about. That’s probably fine.

* In the Southern hemisphere. Not North Yorkshire. 

20 December, 2011

The Good, The Bad & The Snuggly

While it’s not totally illegal (see Learned Wisdoms #33) to hit your kids in the UK, it’s certainly heavily frowned upon. Rightly so… If you’re disciplining your children for fighting, it’s probably a bit confusing to tell them that physical violence is unacceptable and then give them a massive smack.
That said, I do imagine it was a pretty good deterrent of naughtiness back in the day. And with the behavioural issues we’ve faced with our kids to-date, the disciplinary techniques left at our disposal have had varying levels of success…

Frequently Encountered Bad Things:
- Not sharing with other kids / snatching / hitting
- Name calling & using naughty words. My favourite example of this was when I told my daughter she shouldn’t call people names. She paused then said, “Ok. You’re not a stupid bum-bum head face”
- The vindictive saying no to every question phase
- Lying! This one caught us off guard. “Mummy – daddy hit me” What?!? No I didn’t. “Daddy – the child-minder bit me”. Questionable. (Making stuff up was one thing. When she started planting forensic evidence and bribing cronies for false alibies, it got beyond a joke)
-Acting-totally-spoilt-with-a-massive-sense-of-entitlement-and-crying/whining-anytime-what’s-wanted-isn’t-got.  Grrrr

Disciplinary Responses:
Reward good behaviour. Ignore bad behaviour:  The ignore bad behaviour bit can be difficult. Especially if it involves super-loud whining in public. Or hitting me with a broom. But kids like attention and hate being starved of it - this seems to work. Our 4yr old is now always keen to dress herself/wipe her bottom/make her own breakfast, knowing she’ll get a big cuddle and be made a fuss of. And at times now she’s so proud of not hitting her little brother back that, rather than moving out of the way, she’ll call out “Daddy, look – I’m not even hitting him back!” while he’s still lashing at her. 9/10

The naughty step: Everyone knows the naughty step. It’s a natural extension of the ignoring bad behaviour idea. Actually being isolated from the rest of the family and starved of attention for a short period is pretty effective. Though we did have to scrap this technique for a short period while our little girl had a phase of always wanting to play on the stairs. 7/10

Shouting: Doesn’t really work. Makes you look like an idiot. Similar to the smacking-for-fighting paradox, doesn’t make a lot of sense if you’re disciplining your kids for making too much noise. Innocent bystanders are often caught in the crossfire – any time I’ve shouted at my little girl for being naughty while her little brother has been in earshot he’s got scared and burst into tears [#makesmefeellikeadick] 1/10

Take a toy away: Bad thing has a non-violent, non-shouty consequence. Explain what’s going to happen if bad thing doesn’t stop. Two warnings then, if bad thing still doesn’t stop, something gets confiscated. Like the naughty step and the reward-good/ignore-bad, the key is consistently following-through to ensure it’s understood that bad things always have consequences… and with the added bonus of making me feel like I’m some sort of hostage-taking mafia overlord (“I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse. Perhaps you stop snatching your brother’s toys for the next two days and perhaps you may one day see your Rapunzel doll again, eh?”) 8/10

Super Sneaky Special Counter-Moves:
All was starting to feel in control, but - in the same way there’s a constant race between the performance-enhancing drug producers and the anti-doping screening organisations - the kids are swiftly adapting to our techniques. Largely with charm offensive. When my little girl is in trouble she’ll act all sad and cute, say sorry and try to kiss me; if my 23 month-old boy clocks me round the head with a plastic horse, he’ll instantly smile and try to cuddle my head… turns out I also like the attention and it is tough to discipline them at that point.  
Manipulating me already. And they're, only 4 and nearly-2. The next 16 years might be difficult...

Learned Wisdoms
If you’re unsure whether smacking children is illegal and so google the subject, you’ll find articles containing the following information/quotes:
- In the UK, spanking or smacking is legal. However, parents in England and Wales who smack children so hard it leaves a mark face up to five years in jail under laws passed in 2004. In Scotland since October 2003 it has been illegal to use any implements when disciplining a child
- 2004 reaction to law:
NSPCC boss Mary Marsh: "There is a risk parents may choose to hit children on parts of their body where injury is less visible”
Head teacher of the Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, Phil Williamson: "The law doesn't say how long the mark has to last for. It also ignores totally black children who don't mark and don't go red. It's just a ridiculous law,"
… if you have something of an enquiring mind, this may lead to these follow-up searches:
- On which parts of a child’s body is injury less visible?
- Most popular implements for hitting Scottish kids
- Totally black children
- Does black skin mark when hit?
- How do you completely delete your search history forever?

#34: When your daughter has fallen in the playground and got her first little black eye, if you’re subsequently out with her in public and a shopkeeper looks at you disapprovingly it’s best not to react. What you absolutely shouldn’t say is “What? You think I did that? Are you kidding? Look at the size of her. She can’t even defend herself. If I’d have hit her, half her head would be gone”. That doesn’t make anyone more comfortable.


27 November, 2011

My Amazon Profile Thinks I’m Five

It’s the best part of a decade since Jeffrey Zaslow wrote the famous My TiVo Thinks I’m Gay article in the Wall Street Journal about how to combat profiling algorithms when they get the wrong end of the stick about your behaviour. I was thinking about this the other day when I saw Amazon.co.uk’s recommendations for me

The fact is, I can’t complain. That is generally the kind of stuff I buy. It might not project my aspirational self-image of a well-dressed, cosmopolitan executive-come-stuntman in the prime of his life, but that’s only because it’s based on actual “data” and “facts”. There’s not a lot of money spent on exciting items for me these days. At least not pre-emptively online - my wardrobe is pretty healthy, but that’s largely populated by items purchased from the shops near my office just after I arrive at work having not noticed that the morning’s child readying & deployment activities have left my garments streaked with milk/face-paint/porridge/vomit/other.

How money gets spent isn’t the only area where electronic data sources tell a story of offspring influence. Use of leisure tools has evidently also been skewed their way.
Here’s a representative sample of items on our Sky+ planner…

[2 parts kids to 1 part me]

And here’s what YouTube thinks I’d like to watch…

[3 parts kids to 2 parts me]

Obviously this is all to be expected. I can’t really complain. It's no surprise that the children dominate most areas of life. It’d just be nice if data profiling recognised when I’m clicking for me and when I’m acting on behalf of the little people who share my account, then gave me the choice of looking at recommendations for me or recommendations for my kids.
Until then, if I want to see recommendations that certainly aren't for the kids, there’s always my spam email folder. Admittedly their targetting still seems a little off* - I don't currently have erectile dysfunction, or want a hair transplant, or fancy looking over the Financial Proposal from Mr Ahmed Hassan, or need to know the real truth about which penis enlargement pills work best - but if I ever do, I know those guys are there for me.

Learned Wisdoms
#32: If you're looking to update your CV and the only potential new Other Skills & Experiences entry that comes to mind is "Finally developed the knack of brushing knots out of small girls' hair without inducing horrific screams", then it's probably best to just leave it as-is

* honest

16 November, 2011

Jenny Maguire?

My little girl was in bed, I’d read her a story, kissed her goodnight and was about to leave the room when she said, “Daddy. I don’t want to go to taekwondo anymore.” Why? Don’t you enjoy it? “I like it. But a nasty bigger boy makes horrible angry faces at me and makes me scared.”
Cue a huge welling of furious anger, adoption of a gladiatorial Russell Crowe-stance  and a swearing of vengeance in this life or the next...

I love playing the sports. It’s been a big part of my life to-date. The health benefits are great and it gives such fantastic life-learnings on commitment & dedication, on how to win & lose with dignity, on respect and on teamwork. And on how to throw.
I’d love both my son and daughter to play loads of sport. But my wife is convinced that society is rigged against our little girl getting involved. There are a couple of issues she sites:

i) Opportunity in professional ranks
With the comparative lack of professional options there’s less incentive for girls to play sport super-seriously. Gaining parity on cross-gender prize money, sponsorship and viewing figures would require a massive shift in media positioning & promotion. I’d guess this is unlikely to happen before my daughter reaches her sporting peak (especially if she gets into artistic gymnastics, as that’d only leave about 4 years). And chances aren’t helped by the administration of some sports, which are seemingly biased against women gaining increased recognition. The best recent example of this was the preposterousness around Paula Radcliffe’s 2hr 15min 25sec  marathon record suddenly not counting because… err, it was set in a race where men were running, so… err, she could have got an advantage from… err, drafting. Yes. That’s it. Drafting. (Kenya's Patrick Makau holds the men’s world record of 2hr 03min 38sec – uncomfortably not that much quicker? - having used pace-makers for the majority of the distance. And when Roger Bannister broke the 4 min mile he was drafting all the way.)

ii) Gender typing 
Subtly, or not so subtly, girls (and boys) hear messages throughout their early life about what they should/shouldn’t be doing. Society & the media give boys encouragement to invest in sports… not girls. As Tanni Grey-Thompson flags in this article, there’s still not the investment in women’s sport that the performances should warrant. Why?  Possibly because female athletes are not publicly presented as strong role models, which also subsequently means kids aren’t inspired... meaning there will be little sporting enthusiasm and encouragement around my little girl at school each day (I don’t know exactly what the girls were doing while I was playing football every lunchtime at school, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t tennis or darts or quidditch*).
Apparently 80% of UK girls are not playing enough sport or doing enough exercise to benefit their health. And, if a girl should somehow manage to get really into sport and do really well, there’s the risk she’ll struggle for funding unless she shows some flesh (beach volleyball), get picked on if she doesn’t have movie-star looks (Rebecca Adlington), or – if she’s really talented - get accused of actually being a man (Caster Semenya).

So. What do we do?

On the face of it, there’s not a lot my wife and I can do to counter issue i. But I’m not sure how big a deal that actually is. Football was the main sport I played between the ages of 6 and 30. I’ve invested thousands of hours playing and training. But I never for one minute thought I was going to be a professional footballer. There might be big rewards at the top of the profession, but only a small number get there and I never put my eggs in that basket. I’ve enjoyed it and got a lot out of it without ever aspiring to make it
I think the issue of incomparable rewards & recognition will only really become a problem if our daughter turns out to be elite in a sport. My wife says I’m wrong. (I’ll let you know which of us was correct once we’ve set up two parallel realities containing differing views to women in sport and measured the athletic progress of identical versions of our daughter in each)

I also think we, as parents, can have a massive impact on both our kids’ interest in sport. Particularly if our little girl sees my wife doing/enjoying sports. Again, my wife thinks I’m wrong. She believes media and school friends will have more influence on her, lessening her interest in Sports (so that’s now four parallel realities I need to run identical versions of my daughter through before I can get back to you with conclusivity on which of us is the best at being right – please be patient).

The fact is, we’ll do our best to encourage her and I’ll be hoping that her friends (and society in general) don’t do too much to discourage her. Hence finding out that my daughter was already being put off taekwondo by some idiot kid who doesn’t like girls being there made me angry. And I’ve promised her I’ll sort it out**.

Getting into specific sports can be hard enough as it is… There’s an obvious economic snag to making every sport readily available to every boy and every girl. According to this book, Norway has by far the highest sporting-participation rates due to government incentives and a strong enough economy to invest in making sport accessible to everyone. But even in Norway I'm sure there would be barriers if, as a male, my little lad wanted to get involved in, say, rhythmic gymnastics***… and to throw on top of that discouragement of girls getting involved at all is unacceptable.
Admittedly I wouldn’t have even started thinking about this if I didn’t have a little girl but, if you’re a woman, or a father, or even just a man who likes sport and isn’t Richard Keys/Andy Grey, you’ll probably agree that girls should be given as many sporting opportunities as possible. Overcoming the long-standing bias against this seems daunting, but maybe driving sexism out of sporting administration & media is really just a matter of fronting up to more of the bigger nasty boys making horrible angry faces.

Learned Wisdoms
Not strictly sports, but as part of encouraging our little girl into an active lifestyle, my brother indulged her love of dancing by buying her a full ballet outfit on her birthday. Upon taking her to lessons for the first time, my wife found the following equation to hold true:
[Kid wearing all the gear]  +  [All other kids wearing tracksuits or jeans]  =  [Other mums instantly disliking mum of kid in all the gear]

... she also found that, if your daughter walks straight to the centre of the room, announces "I'm here!" and takes a bow, it's surprising how effectively a silent group of women can say "No matter how nice you and your spoilt little show-off daughter really are, we will never, ever be friends after this" using only their eyes

* Actually, is quidditch-involvement-level even across boy and girl wizards at Hogwarts? Based on minimal knowledge, I don’t think it is. Rubbish. Even if we send our little girl to a fictional school for mythical beings she won’t get an equal shot at sports

** Any suggestions welcome. The only approach I’ve currently thought of is punching him in the face, which doesn’t necessarily articulate my argument as eloquently as I’d like

*** Admittedly, not least from me. Not because I think it’s just for girls. But because I think it’s rubbish. I wouldn’t want my little girl to do it either. Mincing about with a stick and a ribbon.
(I’d apologise for potential offence here, but I once loudly expressed this opinion verbally before turning around to find the entire Australian rhythmic squad stood right behind me - long story - so I figure I’m beyond forgiveness and may as well just stick with my ignorant view)

30 October, 2011

You Do It To Yourself, You Do

If you’ve never seen the video to the Radiohead track Just, then click here. It’s great. And a working knowledge of it is needed for this post to make any sense (... I don’t know how anyone expects to get the most out of the blog if they won’t do the set preparatory work)

A Coincidental & Mildly-Amusing* Thing That Happened
(* Given a somewhat-niche background knowledge of popular culture. And a pretty generous sense of humour)
My little boy does this thing when he gets tired or sad (or both), where he just lies down flat, silent and motionless on the floor. To an extent I admire him - if I wasn’t a slave to social conventions I’d probably do the same thing about three times a day - but it can be a bit embarrassing when we’re out & about. It's hard to project the image of a motivational parent, inspiring their kids' to great enthusiasm for life while you're stood over what's effectively a boy-skin rug.

So, we were at a birthday party the other week. There was a bouncy-castle. And food. And a rule that the castle would be deflated as soon as the children sat down to eat. (Shrewd stuff. I guess you don't spend too much time wiping partially-digested quavers/cheese/icing off your colourful vinyl before you see the value of introducing that one)
Food time came around. The castle went down. My little boy, tired from the frantic bouncing and sad that it was over, predictably slumped to the ground and laid quietly on the flattened jumpy-château.
A few other kids noticed him and wandered over. They had a little look at him. And then at each other... And then they all laid down!
I couldn't believe it. It made my day. I thought it was brilliant.
(Though I'm well aware that you might not. The octogenarian I was talking with at that point certainly didn't... but, I suppose, if you're a) not familiar with Radiohead, b) not interested in toddlery life-imitating-art coincidence, and c) not that welcoming of  any conversational-deviation from the impact of open-end spinning technology on the Yorkshire textile industry, then no amount of excited pointing and laughing on my part is going to convince you that this was a noteworthy moment)

Future Opportunities
So there you go. The bloke in the video had been on a bouncy castle and was a bit tired and a bit sad. Or not.
Either way, my little boy's tendency to lie down where and whenever he wants resulted a nice little funny moment.
I'm now on the lookout for other scenes from popular culture that the kids could be nudged towards re-staging in miniature...
My daughter loves climbing. And she carries her little toy monkey everywhere with her. If anyone needs us, we'll be at the nearest model village until a small-scale bizarro-King Kong moment ensues.

Learned Wisdoms
#30: When your little boy suddenly vanishes inside your house, you will be relatively comfortable that he can't have got far (once it's clear that the doors are locked and that his passport & tricycle are still there). However, until you actually find him, it will be very stressful. So, if he is known to have a penchant for lying-down flat and motionless for significant periods of time, it will save you a frantic 6-to-7 mins of confusion if you check under the duvet of your bed right away.

16 October, 2011

Colour My Life With The Chaos Of (Double) Trouble

It was my wife’s birthday party the other weekend. I was up with the kids the morning after. Feeding them, dressing them and playing with them… whilst trying really hard not to lie down, moan and pass out. It made me think back to how different things were when we only had one child…
Getting pregnant the second time meant there would be a sibling for our little girl. (Plus it was nice to know everything was still working after another couple of years of keeping a mobile phone next to my genitals.) And I figured that, once you’re used to the lifestyle-restrictions of having one child, throwing another into the mix would probably be easy-peasy lemon-squeezy. I was wrong. It's difficult-difficult lemon-difficult.

Within hours of our little boy being born we got the first sign of trouble. My wife and our new-born had to move wards through the maze of hospital corridors. They were pushed in a wheelchair by a busy porter. I had hands-full carrying  all the gear we’d brought to the hospital. And our little girl was riding a scooter that the new baby had given her (see Learned Wisdoms #28 below). She soon decided that following was a bit rubbish and shot off down a random corridor. The porter was too busy to wait and carried on with wife and baby boy. I couldn’t chase her while carrying all the gear and had to drop it to run after her. Once the fugitive was detained, it was hard enough finding our way back to the bags, never mind to the rest of our family, and we spent 15 mins walking the hospital corridors like a father/daughter version of Hansel & Grettle. (Equally breadcrumbless, but with Grettle - still high from the thrill of the chase - repeatedly trying to bolt in random directions.)

This was symptomatic of the biggest challenge in transitioning to a state of multi-childdom. During their waking hours, unless you’re in a heavily-padded confined space, you both need to be on duty all the times. For example, we recently went to Cyprus... Every morning we’d go out to the pool and set up our loungers. Within ten seconds the kids would both walk off in different directions. I’d head after one, my wife the other. By the third day we didn’t even bother laying our towels out properly - we certainly weren’t spending any time lying down.
When one’s contained, e.g. strapped in a push-chair, one of you can switch off. But the kids need/want to roam around so, unless those remote-control electric-shock dog collars turn out to actually have positive physical & psychological effects when used on humans, pool-side holidays with multiple toddlers will continue to involve tailing your allocated kid(s) while they attempt to stumble into the deep-end of the pool / eat soil / commit minor acts of inflatable-toy larceny.

Also on the trips & holidays-front, as soon as we had our second child we were back to travelling heavy. It was a squash to go anywhere in the car with all the gear. And I'll never forget the first time we tried to get through airport security with a load of bags, two children and no knowledge of the fact that you actually have to take the baby out of the buggy and put it through the x-ray machine*. No-one's got enough hands for that.

In the hungover-morning situation, with one little child there’d probably be a nap-break at some point (when I’d take the chance to lie down, moan and pass out). Even if there wasn’t, it’s a lot easier to look after and engage a single kid. With two, you're dealing with demands at pretty-much every given moment. And while I (like a chump) remain able only to be in one single place at a given time, there’s always the potential peril of chaos erupting in two parts of the house simultaneously… while one’s nearly choking, the other’s hiding your keys; while one’s weeing on the floor, the other’s throwing milk-drenched breakfast cereal with unerring accuracy at your laptop.

I guess, if you want multiple offspring without having to deal with a prolonged lack of relaxy-time, you could wait until the first one’s big enough to be a bit autonomous. But there’s a lot to be said for having siblings of a similar age. And, the fact is, we're probably only facing a couple more hard years until they’ve both got a bit of self-sufficiency (though no-doubt there’ll be other challenges as they get bigger). 
We are definitely done now though. Two is enough for us. (I’d never be comfortable relying on zonal marking. I need the comfort of reverting to man-to-man when things are tough.) 
This has, however, led to another thing that I didn't have to worry about when we only had one child... the looming prospect of The Vasectomy. Shudder. More on that another day…

Learned Wisdoms
#28: Having the new baby 'bring their older sibling(s) a present’ is a nice tip to limit the initial animosity and jealousy. It’s pretty unbelievable though. And, if you do leave a big gap between your kids, you’ve got to worry that there’s a point where cognitive development doesn’t allow it. Not sure what age that’s at. All I can confirm is that a 26 month-old doesn’t have any problem with the idea of a woman giving birth to a baby that comes out bearing a nicely wrapped scooter.

#29: If you’re the first-born of three children, you will suffer a bit from being the one that’s most-able to be left alone. This is particularly notable when looking back over those photos you get from rollercoaster rides... your dad & your younger sister waving; your mum & your little brother screaming with delight; you, fighting G-force to lean away from the creepy & unhygienic-looking stranger.

* The buggy, not the baby. Obviously.

04 October, 2011

All These Things That I've Done

I’m pretty clued-up on the parenting techniques. I’ve read some of those books they have nowadays. I know my naughty steps from my reward charts. I‘ve got solid game.
But occasionally - when I need just a second in-amongst the constant questioning and play-demands, or if I’m in a situation where I urgently need to quell crying and get the kids to do/stop doing something – then, just occasionally, I have done the odd thing that Supernanny or the Baby Whisperer would frown upon.

I’ve listed some I can think of off the top of my head. I’m pretty sure we all do this sort of thing occasionally*.  And seeing my list of rogue moments might make you feel less guilty if/when you take the odd naughty (but entirely human) shortcut…

1. Trying to get out of the house in the morning. Made promises of future fun, contingent on doing-as-told now. “We’ll do xyz tonight if you get my phone out of your mouth and find your shoes”

2. Subsequently relied on the forgetfulness of tiny heads to avoid having to do xyz tonight

3. Used the promise/threat of Christmas presents to drive good behaviour. (And, with a little girl’s birthday in November, Q4 is generally a pretty easy stroll)

4. To avoid making a stop, used the old classic, “I’m afraid you can’t have an ice cream. You hear the van’s playing that music? It means they’ve run out”. (Was subsequently asked what a zooming fire engine had run out of)

5. Played hide & seek. But, as allocated seeker, sat down and read a magazine for the 5 mins it took the hiders to get suspicious

6. After dealing with the third set of wet/soiled pants in a 30 min period, left a potty-trainer roaming naked while I watched the early-Sunday edition of Match of the Day. Was only alerted to the pool of wee wee on the wooden floor by the loud crash as little feet ran into it and slipped over

7. Bribed crying child with sweets to subdue a public scene

8. In a rush, agreed to the bargain that toilet would only be sat on if hands did not subsequently have to get washed. (At least negotiating the counter-point that little hands be kept on head away from sticky zone during entire procedure)

These are rare** occasions, but still… Bribing with unhealthy food? Allowing non-hand washage? What’s next??
“If you stop crying/do xyz, then you don’t have to: wear a seatbelt / learn to read / avoid operating heavy machinery after alcohol

The fact is, we all try to deal with our kids the best we can. But it's important for your own sanity to accept that you can’t do everything perfectly all the time, especially with the time-pressures working parents live under. (Just don’t ever make/read a list of your shortcuts. It really hurts your virtuous self-image)

Learned Wisdoms
#26: When your kids are very small, in the rush to get them out of the house in the mornings without tantrums, you may resort to the odd white lie (“We can’t watch TV now, but we’ll watch a whole film tonight.” “We can’t play dancing now, but if you’re good I’ll get you a… a giraffe.”), knowing they’ll have forgotten later. Be aware that your empire of deceit will crumble much sooner than you expect. After ~30 golden months, a little person will tell you, “No Daddy, I’m not going to bed. We’re staying up to watch Monsters Inc… why do you never get my giraffe?"

#27: If, while considering yourself a good and caring father, you write a whimsical post about the occasional shortcut you take with the kids and then read it back to find that listing all those things in one place suggests you’re actually (at best) a pretty lazy dad or (at worst) criminally-negligent, then it’s probably shrewd to imply somewhere that it was all exaggerated for increased amusement. Yes, it was a work of semi-fiction. That’s right.  Of course. [Single bead of sweat rolls down forehead]

* He said. Uncomfortably aware that “we” might not actually do this kind of thing at all. In fact, this might be the kind of thing that drives “we” to pitchfork-wielding angry-mob formation.

** ish

26 September, 2011

Playhouse of Horrors

My wife would like to get a playhouse for our kids in the garden. We’ve talked about it a few times and I‘ve always been very negative about the idea without really knowing why. When she pushed for my rationale the justification finally popped out from deep in my subconscious… “Because a vagrant will use it as a toilet”. [Insert your own confused silence. We both did]

I do tend to see all the potential problems with a thing/scenario, rather than focusing on the likely positives. This can be useful at work and in other circumstances where it gives the chance to mitigate probable issues. But it does mean I’ve got more concerns floating about my head each day than anyone reasonably needs. (I spent a whole commute last week considering how I’ll cope when I someday get sent to prison for a crime I didn’t commit.)
However it turned out that my vagabond-dung-angst was actually based on life experience - when I was growing up, a hobo did once sleep in our back garden and extensively fertilized our back doorstep.

But discovering the odd smelly surprise probably never really hurt anyone. Maybe it's even character building. It would obviously be really nice for the kids to have a playhouse. And I refuse to live in fear. It’s like the war on terror*. If we’re scared to go on buying playhouses as normal, then the pooping-drifters win.

Another slightly more likely unlikely scenario, given their huge numbers in our area and recent instances of attacks on humans, is that one morning my little boy opens the playhouse door to find a bewildered fox in there. Still a long-shot though - I just did a google search for "Playhouse Fox Incident" and found no wendyhouse-specific cases to back up my apprehensions.
(And if you ever get a pub quiz question “Who did special effects for the 'Without Incident' episode of 1950s TV show Playhouse 90?”, I can tell you the answer is Jim Fox.)

So we’re going for it. We are going to get a playhouse. And if my irrational worries mean getting up every morning to check it for tramps, angry foxes, and miscellaneous faeces before letting my kids into the garden, then that is what I shall do. For I love my children. And I am free man… (At least until that crime I didn’t commit thing happens.)

Learned Wisdoms
#24: If your mother-in-law ever asks you why there’s such a big lock on your shed door, just say it was the only one you had lying around when you put your shed up. Don’t say “Because I’m psychologically scarred by a childhood incident and believe that, every chance they get, beggars will spread their cack over all my things. More tea?”

#25: Once you’ve got the kids to bed on evenings when your wife is working late, if you spend your spare time writing and working out, you’ll be slightly disconcerted to notice that you’ve already gravitated naturally towards using rec time for hobbies you’ll be able to continue once you’re wrongly imprisoned.

* Yes. This matter is just like 21st century world issues with terrorism

15 September, 2011

Dazing & Confusing School Decisions

Our daughter will start school next year and my wife and I are currently debating the state vs private options for our kids....

My wife got a scholarship to a private school for 6th form and subsequently went on to Oxford University. She’s had great career opportunities as a result. Also I obviously like her personality quite a lot, which has gone some way to conquering my sweeping prejudice that all people who attended private school have a slightly anti-social sense of entitlement and get crippling panic attacks if they find themselves more than two meters from a deck shoe.

I went to a comprehensive in Bradford. And initially felt uncomfortable that going to private school would be yet another way that my kids are different to me…
- I was genetically squashed by my wife in our children’s features and appearance;
- Having been born in London, the kids are Southern. Unlikely to support Huddersfield Town and, worse still, I caught my daughter pronouncing it “grarse” recently;
- I didn’t know what pesto was until I was about 25 – it’s currently my 1yr-old son’s favourite food

… until I realised that (see Learned Wisdoms #21 below) I don’t actually want my children to be the same as me. I want them to be better*. And school choice is probably the biggest life-shaping lever we have for the kids outside our direct relationship and interactions with them.
In theory at least, they should have more career and lifestyle choices if they get a better education.

As is the case in most of London, the schools we’re in catchment for are a real mixed-bag with staggering competition for the decent ones (which is what led us to start thinking about private in the first place). Plus, private schools generally have better sports and extra-curricular facilities/programmes (something that was a significant frustration for me growing up at state school).

On the other hand, from my own experience, I think there’s a lot to be said for a down-to-earth upbringing, having to overcome challenges along the way, and not being surrounded solely by people called Tarquin and Sebastian**. So, despite The Daily Mail trying to convince everyone that going to a comprehensive school in London will mean our kids have to run a gauntlet of stabbings for the chance to achieve impregnation and secure their genetic succession at the age of 13, I’d like them to do at least some of their education through the state route. Which, to avoid new kid stigma and name-calling (especially as we unwisely named them Yagina and Resticle), probably means state primary school then moving to private as they make the switch to secondary.

So that’s the plan at the moment. Just one more thing – how are we going to afford private school fees?  Not 100% clear as yet. We’ve had a look at what current luxuries we’d probably need to cut out and roughly where we’d need to get our salaries to over the next few years. They seem to be attainable-but-significantly-challenging targets… though if my blog posts suddenly dry up you can assume that taking part in medical experiments and selling organs doesn’t leave the necessary time or life-force for writing.

Learned Wisdoms
While we all know that you shouldn’t put undue pressure on your children or have unrealistic expectations of their capabilities, you will occasionally falter. Prepare for disappointment when, during the ear test in your daughter’s first month of life, the result comes back normal after you’ve inexplicably started to expect that the healthcare person is about to recoil and quietly utter “It appears that your child has something approaching… super hearing.”

#22: Even if you go to a church that happens to be associated with an excellent non-pay primary school, be aware that there will still be a lot of competition to hit the selection criteria:
- Having siblings already at the school (which apparently only leaves another 4-5 spaces each year): Unless we attempt some sort of hostile adoption, we’ve got no shot on this one.
- Being regular-attending and active members of the church congregation: We do our bit, but I have never seen such a busy and busting congregation… suspiciously skewed towards young middle-class parents
- Proximity of your address to the school: We don’t live ultra-near. (And I can confirm that bribing crows to fly by more favourable routes is impossible)
Funny piece about trying to get your children into the best local school in this episode of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (from 04:20)

#23: With many people having funded their children’s private education by re-mortgaging during the housing boom, its decline may have reduced the number of families able to stretch to school fees. So supply & demand notions might mean it’s worth getting your negotiating trousers on for conversations with private schools.
If you’re not a natural negotiator (for example, maybe you once found a massive disgusting hair in a chapatti and, after talking to the restaurant management, agreed the position of getting zero pounds taken off the bill and actually paying more for an additional chapatti to replace the hairy one), then it might be worth getting some tips in advance.

* Though I’d settle for them being happy and living the lives that they want. (I suppose)
** Another sweeping generalisation, which my ex-private-school-going mate Matt picked me up on last night at football (having annoyingly defied my lazy stereotypes already by being much better than me at that)

02 September, 2011

Temper Trap

We’re going on holiday soon. Abroad. I should be happily looking forward to a bit of sun and a relax. Instead I’m slightly stressed thinking about in-flight child-containment strategies.

At home I have no problem with our kids making a big din in the name of fun. And if there’s a tantrum to ignore, I’m your man. (My in-built noise-cancellation technology has evolved to the point where I can totally screen it out.)
But in a confined public space it’s a different story. I’ve never been a massive fan of other people’s crying kids imposing themselves on my ears, and I’ve always felt hugely awkward when mine have gone loud in the restaurant/book shop/Trappist monastery.

There is a lot to be said for avoiding ‘scenes’ and keeping your life easy while they’re little. To minimise our instances of being the most-disliked family in earshot, we made a few guidelines:
Timing is everything. If you’re eating out, get there early so that food arrives before your kids have got really hungry (as opposed to ordering when they’re already hungry and having to endure ravenous screams for the duration of the wait)
Unconsciousness is your friend. If you want to do some shopping straight-forwardly, do it when they’re due a nap and can fall asleep in the pram
- Don’t force it. If the kids are tired or having a bad day, it’ll most-likely be very stressful eating out. (And no-one wants to be the person who snaps and drops the C-bomb in Pizza Express on a Saturday afternoon.)
Do it another time. Or get a babysitter and do it when they’re in bed.
Swiftly analyse your environment. Jason Bourne walks into a diner, “The first thing I'm doing is I'm catching the sight lines and looking for an exit. I can tell that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs 220 pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the grey truck outside.”

I walk into any café/bar/restaurant, “The first thing I’m doing is I’m looking for a quiet place to change a nappy or put on a meltdown-calming puppet show. I can tell that our waitress knows where to get crayons and that the group on the next table won’t see the cute side if our daughter wanders over and verbally-freestyles on their physical appearance. I know the best place to look for a chocolate-based distraction is the newsagents next door”

All that is great for short-term situations where you’ve got the fall-back option of taking the kids outside if they kick-off. Long train or plane journeys are a different matter. It’s all about temper control. And the children have the strongest negotiating position. If anyone’s got any different tips, I’d love to hear them, but so far the only solution we've found is just to drop all the usual rules on use of treats, TV, Rohypnol, etc.
... My holiday hand luggage will contain stickerbooks, a laptop, various Pixar & DreamWorks DVDs and a heady cocktail of crisps, chocolate, Calpol and sweets.

Learned Wisdoms
#19: A good way to overcome your fears is to face them. If you’re often embarrassed by the somewhat anti-social actions of your children in public, wait until your daughter is old enough to walk and to operate basic mechanisms like, say, the lock of a pub’s disabled-toilet-&-baby-change-room. Then leave her free post-nappy-change while you use the loo. Once she’s opened the door, walked out and left you standing, mid-stream, in-front of a table of eight interested elderly folk, you’ll be effectively embarrassment-proof for the rest of your life.

#20: Before you’ve got children, when you see a parent shouting at their screaming kid in public you think “Oh, what a terrible parent. That poor little child, living with such an aggressive bully”.
Once you have children, you see the same scene and think more along the lines of “What horrible thing did that mean little f*cking little kid do to push that poor, poor adult over the edge?”

26 August, 2011

Be In The Moment (When You’ve Got Time)

It’s nice to enjoy your life. (Strong opening Captain Obvious.) Yet my wife & I sometimes wake up on a Monday morning, talk about getting through the week and slip into routine as if there’s no actual life-living value coming our way until the weekend.
Buddhists reckon being in the moment is of great importance on 'the path to enlightenment'. They call it smṛti or sati, which translates as mindfulness.
My over-simplified-to-the-point-of-being-borderline-xenophobic understanding of it is that you enjoy the main course more if you focus on your chicken rather than wondering about whether there’ll be a chocolate option for pudding.

There’s definitely something to be gained from this mentality. How often has your mind been elsewhere when you could have benefitted from engaging with your surroundings? Whether it’s paying no attention to a conversation with your partner because you’re pondering a work situation; not fully relaxing to enjoy a film because you’re thinking through potential childcare options for a future commitment; or missing some interesting insights in a work meeting because you’re wondering who’d win a fight between a large grizzly bear and a medium-sized white shark in the shallow end of a swimming pool.
We all do it (except maybe that last one) and you don’t have to be the Dalai Lama to realise that we’d get more out of each day, and out of our lives in general, if we spent increased time appreciating what was happening now
But that’s easier said than done. Especially if you’re stressed. And particularly if you’re concerned that your collective moments maybe aren’t shaping up to deliver everything you’d hoped for from life…

I’m ashamed to admit it, but there have been plenty of occasions when I’ve not made the most of time with my children because my mind’s been elsewhere. I love the kids, they’re the best little people I’ve ever been affiliated with, but I’ve got two big challenges with mindfulness:
i) I’m a planner. And without being safe in the knowledge that everything’s in-hand for the success of future moments, I have a hard time concentrating on this one. (And, yes, I generally ruin those future moments by worrying about the ones after that anyway.)
The only way I’ve found to avoid this is to block out a short time each day to plan whatever needs doing and make a list of the required actions. Then, for the rest of the day, if my mind starts to wander towards planning I can reel it back in… because I’ve already planned when I’m going to plan.
(Totally justifiable to speculate on how my brain hasn’t exploded yet.)

ii) I’m terrified of wasting my life. Whether it’s something genetic, something from my upbringing or just that I already threw away a significant lump on the TV show Lost, I’m often more aware of what I’m not doing than what I am doing. (And, when you’re working full time and have two kids, there’s a lot of stuff you’re not doing.)
This mind-set was making me quite depressed for a while. The solution I found was to identify exactly what I wanted in my week-to-week life so that time outside work felt well-rounded. My wife did the same. My list was:
- Plenty of time with the kids & quality time with my wife
- Dinner/drinks with friends at least every couple of weeks
- Writing
- Sports & Exercise. Weekly football / cardio / weights. Tennis / hit some balls on the driving range / horse riding every few weeks (see Learned Wisdom #17 below) 
Clearly the problem is finding time to fit everything in. Particularly as, after woring all week, we want to maximise our time with the kids during their waking hours. Realism had to bite, and get really good at skiing, improve my Spanish, learn rhythm guitar have been left on the shelf for now. Everything else on my list (and my wife’s) we are finding a way to fit in. Generally by getting babysitters in the evenings (e.g. we were surprised to find that, during summer, we can get a canter-out together from a local stable once-a-month in a Wednesday 8pm-9pm timeslot after we’ve put the kids to bed), but also by doing things like cycling the work commute for cardio a couple of times a week (so that I don’t have a weekend-time trade-off of be with the kids vs go running).
Knowing that there is space for my stuff in the weekly/monthly routine (even though some things aren’t even that frequent) means I worry about what I’m not doing much less.
Now I'm generally in the moment a bit more and I frequently, as Woody Harrelson instils to Jesse Eisenberg in the brilliant Zombieland, enjoy the little things.
(Not every tip for getting through life on an earth where zombies are the dominant species is as applicable to a life with children… actually, see LW #18 below.)

Obviously my life hasn’t suddenly become entirely populated by sunshine and lollypops – if I’ve got something stressful going on at work it’s hard not to have it dominate my thoughts that week – but when I’m with the kids I am finding it much easier to focus on just enjoying that time with them. And it’s dead nice.

Learned Wisdoms
#17: If you grow up proudly working-class in the North and find that anyone mentioning their enjoyment of golf or horse riding causes you to internally respond with “Oh f*ck off, f*ck off, f*ck off. F*ck off, f*ck off, f*ck off. F*ck off, f*ck off, f*ck off… F*ck Off”, then it’ll be a sizable hit to your rugged self-image when, upon actually trying these things, it turns out that you really quite like them. (You may have similar experiences with skinny vanilla lattes, the film When Harry Met Sally and exfoliating facial scrub.)

#18: A surprising amount of things that are good rules for surviving a post-apocalyptic zombie-ruled world are equally applicable to surviving life with small children. For example:
- Be swift and vigilant on the toilet. Something could burst in at any moment
- Come to terms with the fact that you may never see your friends again
- Always carry antiseptic wipes
- Get used to eating fast, you’ll most-likely have to move quickly very soon
- The putrid smells you encounter every day can be lessened if you breathe through your mouth

20 August, 2011

Men Are From Earth, Women Are Also From Earth (Where No-One Enjoys Tidying Up)

I just spent 15 mins folding and putting away clothes. It wasn’t awesome. I would have rather done something fun for that quarter-of-an-hour and let the heap on the landing grow for a couple more days. However, tidying-up the clean washing (within specified post-drying timelines) is a job I signed up to in The Anderson Peace Treaty of 2010. Before that, a lack of appreciation for each other’s priorities was causing a few household skirmishes…

Despite my natural tendency for a bit of cosy mess, I have always put effort into ensuring my children grow up in a nice environment, free from e coli, strangle-hazards and potential falls-from-height. However, in the early days, my wife would have described my contribution at home with words like "lazy", "self-centred" and "f*ck-knuckle".
Essentially, there was a sizable gulf between my view of acceptable commitment to house work and my wife’s perception of the required efforts.

This was largely because, while I was still merrily oblivious, she had recognised the extent to which our non-child-based leisure time was restricted by having a kid alongside a career each.
Her earlier acceptance of this was probably because women are forced to start coming to terms with constraints and sacrifices the moment they get pregnant:
No alcohol/pâté/rollercoasters > No energy > No lean torso > No comfortable position to sleep in > Huge physical trauma > No break from being the dedicated nutrition-facility for a small human
… whereas a man’s journey over that same period tends to be:
Gain designated driver for nights out > Get 2 weeks off work
(It's little wonder we're a bit behind at first.)

When my wife’s maternity leave was over, we divided the household chores roughly in half and both kept largely on top of our stuff. However, maybe due to some maternal nesting instinct thing (or perhaps because it’s pretty standard to not want sh*t strewn all over your house), it became clear that my relaxed attitude to clothes-putting-away was really infuriating my wife. And I couldn’t understand why she wanted to spend all our free-time ration doing chores instead of enjoyable stuff.

Eventually I came to terms with the fact that there just is a load more stuff to do in the house. It still feels like Norris McWhirter should be appearing to verify my record-breaking stats on weekly volume of garments returned to wardrobes, but I get why the amounts are exponentially higher than when you’re just a couple. (Post-birth, not only are there all the baby’s little costumes, your things also need washing more frequently due to constant non-specific baby-engendered soilage.)
It only takes a couple of day’s neglect before our house starts feeling like the inside of an arcade 2p drop-down. So, until we earn enough money to employ a maid or (ideally) a team of trained cleaner-monkeys, I should probably keep trying to deal with my little jobs before I have a work-out or sit down to watch telly. But, on the flip-side, my wife also recognises that, to avoid going mental, there’s got to be a reasonable point each evening where we both stop and relax.

Learned Wisdoms
#15: If someone at work says you look "a little bit tired and out of shape", complaining about this to a woman who’s carried a human for 9 months, pushed it out of her vagina, been up in the middle of the night breast-feeding for 6 weeks and can no longer go for a run without a-little-bit-of-wee-coming-out is not a strong move.
(The scene ends badly, as you might imagine, in a cavalcade of anger and fear.)

#16: In the division of house-hold chores, put the bins out is generally a good one to pick. It’s perceived as a high-value deliverable, but actually only takes a few minutes.
However, if you live in a suburb where foxes frequently rip open bin bags and scatter the contents all over your garden, you may want to think twice about signing up for it. Particularly if your wife is a good negotiator who can easily make a strong case for pick up the disgusting bin-mess that’s covering the entire lawn being an implied sub-task of bins out.

11 August, 2011

Let's Fall Back in Love

I opened the fridge door the other evening to get milk for the kids. A bottle of soy sauce fell off the top shelf and smashed on the floor. The spatter pattern (I watch Dexter) extended to the vertical surfaces on all 4 sides of the kitchen. And out through the open door, right across the lounge to the sofa*.
Not ideal. But this was a notably-positive moment for me because my subsequent train of thought was, “Oh. That’s a bit rubbish. I suppose I’d better clear up before something macabre happens involving all this broken glass and those fast-approaching small children.”
What I didn’t think was, “Why the f*ck does my f*cking wife always leave tall f*cking jars on the shallow f*cking top shelf of the f*cking fridge door? What the f*ck is f*cking wrong with her? F****CK!”

This was significant progress because, as it turns out, once you throw work and then family pressures into the mix, a happy relationship isn’t something you can take for granted…

We met at the start of the twenty-first century on the same graduate programme at a company in Nottingham. Two years later we got together (me having reached into my bag of pick-up techniques and pulled out ‘twenty-four months of awkward flirting, general inaction and fading self-respect’). And we were very happy. We had 5 fantastic years - courting, getting married, travelling & working around the world, getting pregnant. Enjoying both the adventures and the mundane times because we were deeply in love and living them together.
When our little girl was born we went through the standard-issue 3-4 months of sleep deprivation, but having our first child was amazing and we loved finding our way together. Things started to get difficult when my wife went back to work after 10 months. Suddenly a daily routine was:
Wake up > Dress, feed & drop-off our daughter > Rush to work > Work all day > Rush back to pick up our daughter > Bath her & put her to bed > Log on and finish any outstanding work > Cook tea and finally sit down together at 9:30-10 > Realise there’s still other chores to do > Spend our evening’s conversation bickering about who needs to load the dishwasher/tidy up the pile of shoes that’s starting to restrict lounge-to-kitchen movement/put away the clean washing so we can actually utilise our wardrobes rather than rooting through the clothing alp on the landing/etc… [repeat to fade]

Living in this situation we became constantly grumpy with each other. Even at the smallest of things. (Something’s amiss if you’re shouting stridently at the person you’re supposed to love because “Glee didn’t magically delete itself off the Sky planner, did it?”.) And as our emotional intimacy deteriorated, the physical side went with it… There’s that adage that if you drop a sweet into a jar for every time you have sex in the first year of a relationship, then take one out every time subsequently, the jar would never empty. That sentiment was starting to become true for us (though, in reality, the jar would actually be empty within 20 mins due to unfortunate confectionary-related self-control).
After about 18 months of this, on a night out with friends, an oriental man on the front desk of Karaoke Box stated that we had “a very distant relationship for a husband and wife”. If a total stranger can see that in the time it takes to pay for a session, order some drinks and enquire about borrowing a tambourine, then it’s definitely time to take action…

The first thing we tried was getting babysitters more frequently so we could go out together once the kids were asleep. This was a positive thing eventually but as an isolated first step it really didn’t help (see Learned Wisdom #13 below).  We had to take more basic day-to-day action.
A key thing was both making extra effort to keep on top of our side of the household chores – more to follow on this subject in the future (how tantalising is that?)
And then came a surprising turn…

I listened to the abridged audio book (because the first of the 12 recovery steps from rubbish-concentration-span-ism is admitting you have a problem).
It felt a bit bellyaching, mollycoddled rockstar to be taking self-help guidance from a bloke who’s been on Oprah, but we went with it and very quickly it helped identify behaviours that were driving a wedge between us. Plus the first three of the seven principles had some obvious-sounding-but-surprisingly-effective steps that helped us rebuild the intimacy of our relationship…
1. “Enhance Your Love Maps”. Talk more to understand your partner’s interests and aspirations. Asking open ended questions really helps. (My opening effort was, “If you could have any coffee, with any syrup, from Starbucks, Nero or Costa, what would it be?”. My wife’s initial shot was, “How would you like our life to be in the next 5 years?” Hers was better.)
2. “Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration.” Focus on the things you love about your partner and try to respect/appreciate their differences. Say “Thank you” and “I’m proud of you”. Key note is not to assume they know what you think - you have to say it. (We’ve been making an effort to do this for a while, but my wife still seems to assume I know she thinks I’m well dressed, great at the sex, and able to enrich all conversations with vaguely-relevant film/TV references in a way that is charming and not-at-all annoying.)
3. “Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away.” Listen to your partner when they want your attention. Engage and be enthusiastic. (Even if they seem to be telling you about their day in real-time…)

It felt unnatural to be having conversations or consciously responding in a certain way because the book said so, but very quickly things that had felt prompted started to happen automatically and, over time, our positive sentiment towards each other has returned. We enjoy each other’s company again – at home, as well as out over candle-lit dinner. And it turns out that having intimacy in a relationship is a pretty solid basis for romance and upgraded bedroom-based passion.

When something stressful happens now we don’t immediately look to blame each other. We try to accept what we can’t change about each other and focus on all
the positives... for example, I'm pleased to say that my catching reflexes are now awesome, and getting better with every trip to the fridge.

Learned Wisdoms
#13: Surprisingly enough, spending more time alone with a person you don’t get on with doesn’t make either of you happier.
You know the Thunderdrome “two enter, only one leaves” idea out of Mad Max where people with differences head alone into a confined space? That.

#14: If you know that your wife loves to receive the Hotel Chocolat tasting box every month, that’s good love mapping. If you make sure it always arrives just as she’s due on her period, that’s prodigious & uncoachable relationship-mega-flair.

* which is dark brown – smartly picked with realistic expectations of life in mind