mumsnet

The Parental Misuse of Facebook

Anyone who regularly uses Facebook would have seen that the social networking site turned 10 years old this week. I noticed this as my feed was rammed full of identical movies from pretty much everyone I’ve ever known. In 2006/7 everyone joined. The pictures showed that they looked young, they drank and they were happy. By 2014 most had got married, had kids and on the whole looked old, sober and miserable.

Having seen those movies it is hard to deny that there is a positive side to Facebook. It’s become a scrapbook of your life, documenting every moment and memory with the additional benefit of providing you adverts for Russian hookers who are lonely in London. However, there is an aspect of social sharing that riles me like no other. It’s what I deem ‘The Parental Misuse of Facebook’.

Let me clarify exactly what I define that to be. I’m besotted by my little girl and like most parents am eager to thrust pictures of her at people at the first inkling of their interest. As such, I appreciate the parental desire to share and update, often regardless of who might actually be interested. What I’m talking about is a trend of a specific type of sharing. The type of sharing that makes you think, “ok, that’s too much.”

The following highlights specific examples of the Parental Misuse of Facebook:

1) Potty Training Updates

Since when is this news? No one cares if Sammy has just done a poo in the potty and I hate to think what kind of a degenerate ‘likes’ a post like that. What did potty training parents do before Facebook? Post little pieces of their child’s faeces to all their friends to keep them in the loop? No, no they did not!

2) ‘My Amazing Family / look how lucky I am’ persistent proclamations

Everyone should be allowed a couple of these. It’s lovely if you have a family who you love and who make you happy. It’s the persistent offenders that I’m talking about here. Let’s get one thing straight. No one’s family is that amazing. In fact, 90% of the time they drive you bat shit crazy. The more you post, the less we believe you.

3) Pictures of kids in the bath

‘Dear Mr Paedophile, I understand with Operation Ore and other police clampdowns you are struggling to get hold of nudey shots of toddlers? Well, I thought I’d cut out the middleman and post pictures of my child completely starkers straight to the Internet for your perusal.’ Serious point here, it’s just not safe.

4) ‘I’ve had no sleep’

Then don’t have kids. Simple.

5) Direct messages to your child

I’ve never met a young child with a Facebook account. Considering this fact, they seem to receive a disproportionate amount of messages wishing a happy birthday, good luck for their first day of school or just a simple declaration of love. If you possess a child who is able to boot up the computer, log onto Facebook and read the message you’ve sent them, then I suggest rather than spending your time posting crap, you contact Oxford University or a circus because your child is clearly a genius or a freak.

I’m really not against people posting updates about their kids. It would be hypocritical if I were as I’m partial to the odd post about my daughter. It’s amazing to live in an age where we have a tool that allows you to observe family and friend’s children growing up, hear the hilarious things they say and do and of course witness the enjoyment that people derive from their little ones.

All I’m saying is to think whether the gem you’re about to post would be acceptable in every day life. Would you: Talk about poo at the pub? Show naked pictures of your kids at a party? Continually boast how lucky you are or how hard life with your child is in a room potentially containing those who, for any number of reasons, would do anything in this world to swap places? I’d say probably not.

Guantanamo Baby: The Party

There are very few genuine miracles in life. The invention of Sky Plus is arguably the most incredible, followed by the instant boiling water tap I recently installed in my kitchen. Not far behind these is the wonder of conception. What an incredible process that is. Millions of happy go lucky sperm make what is essentially a kamikaze mission into the promised land (as in the uterus, not Israel) in the hope that a single fortunate man worm might be invited in to fertilise the elusive lady omelette. Should that all happen, and the chance is only 15 to 25 percent each month, an embryo will be formed.  Over 9 months, what starts as a group of cells, develops limbs, organs and in a cruel twist of nature, your nose and your partner’s hairline. Then finally, the day arrives where the visible incarnation of this miracle occurs. Out of one human being’s body another human being emerges. Whether you believe this to be a scientific marvel or a divine blessing it will be enough to cause tears all round. The baby cries as it adapts to a new world outside the warm, cosy cocoon of the mother’s womb. The mother cries from the joy of holding her own flesh and blood in her arms for the very first time. And most emotional of all, the father cries as he mourns what has happened to her poor, poor vagina.

I’d still argue that while definitely impressive, procreation is by no means as clever as being able to set a series of The X Factor at the touch of a button or making a cup of tea without the need to boil a kettle. But as a parent, I can understand the yearly desire to celebrate the birth of your little income consuming, relationship straining, miracle of life. No, really I can. I also get that the family will be overwhelmingly excited by these landmark occasions. So by all means celebrate with the grandparents, aunts, uncles and what the heck, even the cousins. All I ask is that you don’t invite me along. It’s not that I have anything against you, nor against your child who I’m certain is an angel. It’s just that, and I hate to break it to you like this, but children’s birthday parties are fucking awful.

For several years before we had Lyla, I had to suffer in silence; cantankerously deriding any parents who, in their well meaning wisdom, decided that the best way for me to spend my commitment free Sunday afternoon was in a church hall surrounded by hyper lunatics off their tits on squash and cake. Having recently curated my first kids party I now feel I have the knowledge and experience to talk openly about this prevalent issue. And it’s a relief to be able to do so. I’m certain I’m not the only one who lives in a paralysing daily fear of seeing a Hello Kitty or Thomas The Tank Engine envelope parachute though the letterbox. Each one upholding this ridiculous fictitious charade that it’s a sweet invitation sent from one toddler to another. If your toddler is anything like mine she barely has control of her bowel movements and thinks her shadow is her friend.  So to comprehend a scenario where she somehow was able to draw up a guest list and then individually compose thirty invitations is, let’s be honest, incredibly far fetched. I think everyone would be far more receptive to the idea of attending a child’s party if there was a bit of openness from the start. So for Lyla’s party I proposed a far more honest invitation:

'Dear toddler who can not yet read,

Georgina, and in truth Georgina alone, would love to invite you to celebrate Lyla’s 2nd birthday. This party has consumed Georgina’s every waking thought for months now and there’s no telling what Adam will do if they have to have another conversation about the contents of the going home bags. Speaking of Adam, he ‘will’ be attending, he ‘will’ enjoy himself and if he writes a bloody blog post about this, Georgina ‘will’ bloody kill him. As for Lyla, she is yet to comprehend what a birthday is negating any real need on her part to celebrate it. Her long-term memory is still in its infancy so there’s a fair chance she won’t even remember the day at all. Being two she’s yet to develop the social skills to formulate any meaningful relationships with other kids, but for the sake of cuteness let’s call your child her friend. However, she does love plastic crap, so we’ll be grateful for any gift you feel obliged to purchase off the back of this invite.

Please let Georgina know if you can attend. If you can’t, Georgina will be quite hurt. If you need to create an excuse not to come, Adam will more than understand. And Lyla, quite frankly, couldn’t give a shit either way.

Lots of love

Lyla, Georgina and Adam’

Unfortunately this idea was dismissed by Georgina and following a brief calligraphy course we set Lyla to work on hand written invitations to her soft play party. The concept of a soft play party never fails to amuse me. Today these places are big business and the ethos is to provide an environment for curious little bees to explore safely and uninhibited. Whereas, in Victorian times, if you locked incoherent babbling loonies in a self contained room encased in padded walls these were called asylums. What does fail to amuse me about these types of party is the need for parental participation. I turn up knowing that inevitably, at the behest of my daughter, I’ll find myself crawling on all fours attempting to squeeze my lumbering frame through a yellow plastic tube clearly designed for someone formed of far smaller proportions than I. My real issue is the precedent this sets. What if Lyla, after seeing me get involved at her shindig, thinks it will be perfectly acceptable if the same occurred at one of our dinner parties? I have nightmarish visions of her waltzing down the stairs in Peppa Pig pyjamas, entering the dining room, pouring herself a gin and tonic and joining in as we regale sordid tales from teenage holidays to Aya Napa.

Soft play parties aren’t all bad. In fact, there is an extremely beneficial side to them. You will not find, and believe me I’ve looked, a more effective means to knacker your little one out. But before you can get them home to the utopia of naptime, there’s one more challenge to overcome. By the end of soft play they are on a euphoric high, completely wired from a good hour’s worth of pain free running head first into walls. Having used up their vast reserves of energy they are hungry and, like the parents around them, on the verge of getting emotional. This is the phase I like to refer to as the ‘Meltdown Synchrony’ where one by one, each toddler will find a different reason to have a complete meltdown. Rachel had hers because she wanted to carry on playing on the slide; Benjamin was set off when Emily looked at his fish finger in the wrong way; Joshua erupted after someone moved his cup an inch to the left; Zach cried because there was another kid called Zach; Sophie didn’t like the candles being lit; Jake didn’t like the candles being blown out; and Lyla kicked off because she has no idea who any of the people at the party were. By the time they receive their going home bags they have pretty much all had one.

My ‘Meltdown Synchrony’ theory for toddlers actually has a lot of similarities to the concept of ‘Menstrual Synchrony’. That’s the one where women who spend time in close proximity will all have a period together. There is definitely the same amount of crying involved, an almost identical amount of irrational behaviour and the only tried and tested way to shut them both up is chocolate.

In addition to Sky Plus, boiling hot water taps and procreation, I definitely now class organising and surviving a toddler’s birthday party as another of life’s genuine miracles. And after a statement like the one I made in the previous paragraph, if I avoid a black eye that will be another.

Guantanamo Baby: Peppa Pig World

I’m not surprised there is such a big furore around the issue of teenage pregnancy. Theres no way on earth that a teenager could possibly be prepared for the sleep depriving, social-life sucking, monotonous boredom inducing, unadulterated joy that producing an offspring engenders. I was 31 when we had Lyla and under the naive illusion that I was ready for fatherhood, yet 2 years on I still find myself struggling to cope with the incessant demands involved in keeping her alive on a daily basis. The teenage me would’ve had absolutely no hope. To be fair, the teenage me had absolutely no sex, so in truth none of this would really be a problem at all.

Of course they’ve tried numerous methods to bring about a reduction in the numbers such as handing out free contraceptives and giving teenagers the responsibility for battery operated robot babies. They’ve even started showing them delivery room birth videos which, from experience, isn’t so much a deterrent but more a sure fire way to bring on night terrors.

I have a new solution. One that I guarantee will put teenagers off the desire to touch each other intimately for life. My solution is that every 13 to 17 year old in the land should be made to spend a day with a toddler at Peppa Pig World.

If you haven’t been to Peppa Pig World, it’s like being in the mind of a 3 year old and a drug-addled-crazed-loon at the same time. And if youre not familiar with Peppa Pig, she’s effectively the Bin Laden of children’s telly. An evil little terrorist, who encourages her hoards of mindless followers to undertake acts of extreme naughtiness. The sooner the CIA ruthlessly execute her, dump her body in the sea and bomb the shit out of Daddy Pig’s house the better, if you ask me.

When George suggested that we take Lyla away to Peppa Pig World for a couple of days as a treat for her second birthday, I instinctively knew it was a bad idea. As hard as I tried I could see no positive side to spending two hours in a car, followed by two days in a wallet draining glorified soft play, combined with two nights holed up in a shoe box sized Holiday Inn hotel room with an over excited two year old.

I tried every trick my tired mind could muster to get out of going which included an almost successful attempt at convincing Lyla that the bacon aisle in Tescos was in fact Peppa Pig World. This was to no avail and I soon found myself on the M3 listening to that twat Mr Tumble murder classic nursery rhymes while the back seat of my pristine car was being transformed into the aftermath of an explosion at the Hovis factory.

The moment we pulled into the car park of Peppa Pig World we were met with a sight so demoralising, it immediately made me curse our flippant disregard for contraception 33 months prior. For as far as the eye could see there were estate cars and people carriers.  The realisation hit me straight on the trotter. Not only would I have to tolerate my own child bounding around like a chimp high on chips and e-numbers, there would be hundreds if not thousands of other people’s snot machines at it too.

With a rather stern reminder from George that this was a treat for Lyla ringing in my ears, I composed myself and promised to make the most of our family outing. That resolution lasted as far as the ticket office. "Eighty Pounds!" I couldn’t quite believe what I’d been quoted for a two day pass. "Eighty bloody pounds to see a man in a pig suit. For eighty pounds, at the very least I’d expect to see a pig in a man suit. Now that would be worth the money". I reluctantly handed over the cash and made a mental note to subtract it from Lyla’s wedding fund. The time will come when she asks why she can’t have the flowers she wants on her special day and I’ll tell her its because we used that money taking you to see a make believe pig in the New Forest. That’ll teach her.

Once we got in to the park, Lyla had a whale of a time, none the wiser that she would now have to get married in a Wetherspoons or that Peppa Pig World is an elaborate fraud on a quite astonishing scale. What the creators of this parental detention facility have done is taken your run of the mill local play area, given everything a child friendly name, encased it all in copious amounts of plastic and smothered it in enough primary coloured paint to send you giddy. Take Mr Potatos Playground; really it’s just a glorified park, the only real point of difference being that a giant testicle wearing a cowboy hat, which I’m assuming is meant to be a potato, greets the children as they enter. Then there’s the infamous Muddy Puddles also known as the ‘splashtastic water experience’. No! It’s a garden hose, a water fountain and a sprinkler system. And finally, Peppas brother brings you ‘George’s Spaceship Playzone’ or as you and I regularly refer to it - Soft Play.

And don’t get me started on the rides. Theyd have you believe your toddler is able to experience the high speed exhilaration of Daddy Pig’s Car Ride, a relaxing sight seeing tour on Grandpa Pigs Little Train, a step back in time on Georges Dinosaur Adventure and life on the open waves on Grandpa Pigs Boat Trip. What these con merchants have actually done is ensure you spend your whole day going round and round in continuous circles on what is essentially the same ride just disguised as four different modes of transport. I’m not asking for a Disney-esque experience here. I’m just of the old fashioned opinion that to call yourself a ride at an adventure park it should, at the most basic level, have the potential to make a child vomit.

Despite the urge to become a vocal whistleblower against the owners of Pork Park, I decided to keep my grumpy old man theories firmly to myself. In my newly established role as a father my one and only priority is to maintain and do nothing to harm the happiness of our little cherub. That’s not to say a teenage father wouldn’t feel exactly the same. Its more that at this stage in life, despite my ranting to the contrary, I get enjoyment and a contentedness from spending my day waiting in queues to go round in circles, feeding bread to fake plastic ducks and continuously shouting at someone to put their shoes back on. Its an enjoyment and a contentedness that I know the teenage me just wouldn’t understand.

Mummy Pig (that’s George) and Daddy Pig (that would be me) embraced the nonsense and our little Peppa had the time of her life. In fact, you could say she was happier than a pig in shit. Which is actually the phrase I believe the designers based the theme park on

Guantanamo Baby: The Talking

It’s an unfortunate blip within human evolution that children aren’t born with the immediate ability to speak. Admittedly it would probably freak you out at first if, as a newborn emerged from between its mothers legs, it turned around and gave the honest assessment “Well that was pretty disgusting, wasn’t it?”  However, it would be a hell of a lot easier than what most new parents resort to; that is, sitting there like sleep deprived enigma code breakers trying to decipher what the baby wants based purely on the tone and affliction of the cry.

Sadly we don’t live in an ideal world. If we did, they’d also be able to change their own nappies and make cups of tea. In truth, there is a huge amount of pleasure to be had in observing them explore, grasp and understand language. Like the first time Lyla looked up at me and knowingly pronounced me “daddy”. My heart melted and I beamed with the pride that my little girl knew I was her daddy. However, this fatherly euphoria was short lived as she proceeded to declare the Tesco deliveryman her daddy followed by Jeff our elderly next-door neighbour and a Jehovas witness who on the positive side hasn’t rung our doorbell since. All of this has left me with the unenviable predicament of having to decide whether my child is a compulsive liar or my wife’s a bit of a slag. 

When it comes to learning words that are largely irrelevant in everyday conversation with adult humans, Lyla truly excels.  Should there ever be a profession that requires the accurate naming of animals and uncanny replication of their noises, she’s your girl. If one day they created a degree at Oxford which necessitated an in depth knowledge of basic shapes and primary colours, a first will be guaranteed.  And, were the Chancellor of the Exchequer in need of someone with the ability to count up to ten while mysteriously omitting the number seven on every occasion, they should look no further. However, beyond animals, colours, shapes, numbers and the compulsory word in every toddler vocabulary -  'No', understanding what the jabbering little alien is going on about has proved more challenging.

There are certain words and names for things that Lyla has contemplated and decided are not quite working for her. Take the iPad for example. Apple have spent millions on research, development and marketing over probably a decade to ensure that the iPad is one of the most universally recognised products in existence. Unfortunately, toddler brand specialist Lyla Harris begs to differ. So thanks to Lylas unofficial trade mark change the iPad is now known in our house as the ‘Pickle’. We literally have no idea why our child has chosen to name an electronic device after a condiment. What we do know is that the poor little thing was force fed Cheese and Branston sandwiches for almost a month until we explained to the baffled child minder what she was actually whinging for.

Another speech based issue we have is the mispronunciation of words. More specifically its words that emerge from Lylas mouth sounding distinctly like rude words. Now, admittedly I used to find it hilarious hearing a little person say something rude or inappropriate. That hilarity quickly passed as soon as I spawned a tiny parrot of my own. So, I have made a concerted effort to keep what is a largely profanity based vocabulary outside the house. As a result, my work colleagues probably think I have turrets but at least my daughter doesn’t have a potty mouth. Until recently that was. First she wanted Boobies after her dinner. Dont we all, I thought before realising she actually meant Blueberries. Then there was the request for dick which is actually stick and cock by which she meant clock’. However, the most puzzling one occurred when I came downstairs to give her breakfast one Sunday morning. I heard Lyla in the other room repeatedly saying titty, titty, titty. My initial terrified thought was that Id forgotten to delete the browsing history on the computer and the little rascal had rumbled me. Fortunately this wasn’t the case and I tried in vain to figure out what on earth she meant. In an act of desperation I even got milk out of the fridge in case titty was some kind of nostalgia for breast-feeding. Out of ideas, I had to wake the toddler whisperer up form her lie in to find out what the bloody hell titty was in Lyla land. Treated with disdain for disturbing her and like an idiot for not solving the simple conundrum myself, George grunted, obviously she wants her Hello Kitty toy. Obviously.

Finally and a slightly more problematic nuance in Lylas linguistic development has been a selection of words that she interprets differently to their commonly acknowledged meaning.

A couple of weeks back George shouted from the kitchen an offer of a cup of coffee. As yelling between rooms in the accepted method of communication in most family homes, I loudly replied that Id rather pour myself a whisky. Then all hell broke loose.

Whisky requested a little voice, as she took a break from trying to shove as many pieces of lego as she could down the back of the sofa.

You dont want Whisky,” I said, trying to nip this in the bud quickly, You dont even know what whisky is.

Whisky came the immediate response followed by puppy dog eyes.

No I replied using the parental soft no trying to keep tantrum potential to a minimum. Whisky is only for daddies. When youre a daddy you can have whisky.

WhiskyPleeeeeeease.

Good girl for saying please but you still cant have whisky no matter how polite you are. How about a carrot?

The old vegetable-alcohol switchero did not go down well to say the least. Feet started stamping, tears began streaming and then came the deafening shrill of WHISKEEEEEEEEEY.

The ferociousness of the scream and the bizarre nature of the request coming from a toddlers voice was enough to prize George away from a hard earned cup of peppermint tea.

Whats wrong Lyla? she asked sympathetically, kneeling down to provide a comforting hug.

With bottom lip firmly placed above top and whimpering for full effect she said, want Whisky.

George, being more in tune with the mind of a toddler than I, quickly deduced that what Lyla thinks whisky is and what whisky actually is may be two very different things. So she asked Lyla to show her where the whisky is kept. Head down and moping she led us into the kitchen. Pointing up at the biscuit cupboard she enthusiastically begged Whisky! Whisky!

Thankful that our toddler doesn’t actually have a drinking problem, George explained that its pronounced biscuit and proceeded to treat Lyla to a couple of Cadburys chocolate animal crackers.  With crumbs all over her lap and chocolate plastered across her face, Lyla turned to us with a huge celebratory chuckle and said yummy Whisky.

I guess that with all the language to absorb at that age, its no surprise that some words get made up, some mixed up and some just come out wrong. The only concern is what the other parents will think when my child will be the only one at birthday parties demanding Whisky, Boobies and Titty.

Theyll rightly think she takes after her father.

 

(See video in previous post)

Follow on Bloglovin

Guantanamo Baby: The Talking

This video makes a lot more sense when you read the blog above

Follow on Bloglovin

Guantanamo Baby: The Pool

There was a time, not so long ago, when I’d take two meaty old books on holiday to read round the pool and it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility that I’d finish both and also have time to catch up with whatever the ‘Shopaholic’ was up to in George’s chic-lit rubbish.

Sadly, once you make the decision to reproduce, engaging with quality literature becomes a thing of the past. Never mind two books, you’ll be lucky if you can get through two pages. That’s not to say you won’t do any reading at all on holiday. There are menus. You’ll read them. There’s the back of the calpol bottle. You’ll always read that. Mainly because you’re so tired that you can never remember how much of that teeth eroding magic syrup can be safely forced down their throats at any one time. And of course there’s the kids books. You’ll read that sh*t over and over and over again. The same bloody story, with the same bloody characters, with the same bloody pointless plot. Which as far as I can tell is also the editorial principle behind the shopaholic series.

To divulge slightly, the one children’s book that really gets me is that gluttonous insect known as ‘the very hungry caterpillar’. He can’t seem to understand why, after eating ice cream, gherkins, cherry pie, strawberries, salami and chocolate cake, he has a stomach ache.”I’ll tell you why your belly hurts caterpillar. Its because you’re a greedy f*cker! That’s a diet that should only be consumed by Americans or pregnant women. This is how eating disorders start.” At which point George tells me it’s best if she takes over story time.

Come to think of it, George wasn’t that amused when I decided to add my own story to the ‘That’s not my fairy’, ‘That’s not my kitten’ and ‘That’s not my bear’ collection of books, which I educationally titled ‘I’m not your daddy’.

Forget being able to read by the pool, getting down there with a toddler before the sun sets is a mission in itself. Firstly there is the aquatic sewage storage facility known as the swim nappy. They have a rather ingenious but arguably flawed design. You put them on the child like a traditional pair of pants. But to get them off quickly they rip down the sides essentially utilising the same principle as items of clothing worn by male strippers. This quick-change element is also the flaw in the design. If, like we do, you have to employ judo techniques to insert your wriggling toddler into their clothes on a daily basis, items with built in tearing functionality tend to get torn.

After generally wasting three swim nappies and getting embroiled in a violent altercation while putting on the swimming costume, we then have to somehow smother Lyla in enough sun lotion to stop her getting tanned for life. Armed with a pump action Ambre Solaire factor 50 spray, we start to circle her. She knows what’s happening and makes a run for it. We open fire indiscriminately. Within seconds she is caked in enough of the stuff to ensure every leaf, bit of sand and dead insect she comes into contact with throughout the day will remain firmly attached to accompany her back to the room and make a reappearance later in the bath. To ensure full coverage, we manually apply cream to her face, which of course she reacts to like she’s the wicked witch of the east being doused with water. Alas to say we’re unable to fully rub the cream in. So everyday we’d have to venture down to the pool to be met with peculiar looks from sun seekers wondering why our 18-month-old girl is donning an impressive white beard.

Once down by the poolside it’s easy to identify the best child friendly area to reside. It will be a small plot of land near the shallow end with excellent peripheral views of the whole pool. You’ll know where this spot is because it will be where all the other parents have set up what looks like a baby themed refugee camp. There will be mountains of inflatable boats, buggies full to tipping point, an armada of discarded floating plastic toys heading towards the deep-end and fathers stalking their toddlers like sun hat assassins trying to wedge it back on their heads. Oh, and it goes without saying that not one person will be reading.

When we arrived in Gran Canaria, one of our first purchases was an inflatable boat. Fulfilling my fatherly duties, I spent a good half an hour putting my lung capacity through its paces ensuring it was buoyant enough for my little princess to cruise the chlorine and urine cocktail that is the childrens pool. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty chuffed with myself as she boarded the majestically inflated craft while singing row, row, row the boat. There was a small issue though. To Lyla, this was without doubt one of the most exciting toys ever to have been created. However, the problem was that she insisted on only using it while she was on dry land and more specifically on the very dry land of our hotel room. In fact, the only toys that Lyla wanted to play with around the pool, were those belonging to every other child. One day she took a particular shine to a little Russian girls zoo animals. Feeling the dissatisfaction growing about this situation from our eastern European parental counterparts and fearing a call to the Kremlin to arrange a toddler hit (I’m sure they’ve assassinated for less) we decided to buy Lyla some zoo toys of her own. Naturally, as is the contrary will of a toddler, Lyla refused to play with the exact same zoo animals once they belonged to her. To give her some credit, thats not entirely true. She did play with her new zoo animals, and with the beach ball acquired after the poolside disagreement with the Italian boy and also with the bucket and spade purchased following the rather heated ‘spade-gate’ incident. She played with these of course, not around the pool, but in the dry of her boat that was safely moored on our bedroom floor.

image

Guantanamo Baby: The Food

You know the mess that toddlers make in your house at meal time? You know, the one where they calculate the best velocity to catapult baked beans up the wall. The one where they decanter the entire volume of their milk cup into their own lap. The one where they dip their whole hand into a yogurt pot and proceed to squidge yogurt into tuna and peas to create a concoction Heston Blumenthal would be proud of. Well, at meal times on holiday they make that exact same mess. Fortunately, you won’t have to clean it up. Unfortunately it will occur in a restaurant, in plain sight of other humans who will all be left wondering why on earth you have brought your uncontrollable pet chimp on holiday with you.

Having dabbled with various meal options on previous holidays, George and I concluded that full board would offer us the required flexibility when it came to satisfying the unpredictable dietary whims of our little princess while in Gran Canaria. However, that meant several times each day we’d have to run the gauntlet of public feeding time in one of the buffet restaurants.

It would all start well enough. “Hola” was the polite welcome from the friendly Spanish waiter who showed us to our table. He was still smiling at this stage, despite Lyla scowling at him with a look that bordered on the xenophobic. Once she was secured in a high chair the first task is to move out of reach anything that could be used as a weapon to harm herself, us, other hotel guests or waiters whose nationality offends her. This was a lesson well and truly learnt in Marbella after she narrowly missed passers by while wielding a knife and fork like an erratic Samurai. Im fairly sure Peppa Pig swimsuits arent standard issue for samurais, but judging by the fear she created, a change of battle robes could well be in the offing. With cups, cutlery and condiments out of harms way, we both assumed our designated roles. Whoever drew the short straw would have the job of distracting Lyla from realising she’s hungry. This is done to buy enough time for the other to go on a supermarket sweep style dash around the food hall haphazardly picking up items for her to inevitably try and then reject.

Desperately seeking to avoid the easy option of the compulsory fried food you find on holiday buffets, we try to encourage her to eat something more nutritious. So we tempt her with some freshly grilled chicken. “No ticken’ is the dismissive response. George gives a bit of reverse psychology a go. “Okay, mummy will eat your chicken then. Mmmmmm, yummy chicken. Does Lyla want some?” Lyla shoots George a look as if to say “like I’m going to fall for that trick. That idiot daddy tried the same stupid charade yesterday and it didn’t work then either. Amateurs.” What she actually said was “no ticken! No ticken!” We then attempt some vegetables, which are belligerently tipped straight onto the floor. The ever willing waiter rushes over to pick up the mess and we apologise in a typically English manner. He smiles at Lyla and ruffles her hair. However she’s in no mood to apologise. Quite the opposite. She scowls at him again but this time with such ferocity and intent that it was essentially the toddler equivalent of flicking the middle finger. Guests on other tables are now laughing and we can only sit there grinning uncomfortably, embarrassed by our daughters intolerance of foreigners. As for the waiter, he’s no longer smiling.

While part of us didn’t want our poor undernourished little dolly to fade away through starvation, it would be more truthful to say we’d do anything for a simple life and were desperate to avoid another scene that concludes with spaghetti being propelled at strangers. So invariably we’d give in to the bad food. Once you give in to toddlers, they never forget. They log the fact they had chips in a particular location in the ‘toddler memory bank’ along with other essential ‘must not forget items’ like the fact I always gets a biscuit after the doctors and that grandma doesn’t know I’m not allowed to sit on the coffee table. Lyla would play the long game, rejecting anything that contained the remotest hint of goodness, waiting for us to deliver her the fried or breaded items she’d detected in the vicinity. The only positive to come out of this is that George and I could step out of the chicken nugget closet to consume them proudly in the open. As opposed to hiding them ashamedly under salad in order to avoid the heightened senses of Lyla’s finely tuned toddler nose.

To try and limit the level of Lyla’s daily chips, nuggets, fish fingers and waffles intake to a level below that of the average northern child, we told her that once she’d finished the portion that’s was it, there was no more. This strategy backfired spectacularly. Believing supplies were limited and not wanting to face a situation where her stock was depleted, Lyla would stockpile all the bad food from every one else’s plate. With the threat of an impending tantrum, we’d have little choice but to relinquish ownership of our nuggets. She had gained an effective monopoly on chicken nuggets. We couldn’t even go and get more, as this would undermine our limited quantity story and question our reliability as parents. All the while she is sitting there, incredibly pleased with herself as she counts her piles of fried, breadcrumb coated, processed chicken nastiness. The minuscule master manipulator had defeated us again.

image

image

Guantanamo Baby: The Routine

When we first considered taking Lyla away we were young and naive. Her routine had taken months of militarised regimentation to perfect so it didnt even enter our heads that it may not be executed as smoothly abroad. To allow minimum disruption to Lylas precisely choreographed day, the decision was made to only pick a location with a maximum time difference of an hour. We thought wed just make her routine an hour later or better still keep our watches on English time and run the whole meals, milk, bath & bed process to the finely tuned clockwork we achieved at home. She’s a baby, she can barely distinguish her nose from her ears when you ask her, never mind tell the time. Lyla will be none-the-wiser. What we failed to realise was that something happens to your baby as soon as you hit foreign soil. It’s as if they have been hypnotised on hearing a foreign language to have the whole precious daily schedule that was keeping their parents on the cusp of sanity erased from their tiny minds.

We arrived at the hotel in Tenerife in the early evening almost perfectly timed to hit the ground running with the tried and tested 3B technique. It was all working seamlessly. George tackled the bath with efficiency and elegance, delivering a pristine baby with the compulsory feint odour of sudocrem to me in record time. With the bottle prepared I began the process of plying her with enough dairy Rohypnol to keep her comatosed until the morning. The bottle was polished off and bed was achieved well within the necessary time frame. After an hour, we began to realise something was awry. She was still awake, and appeared to be in the middle of an increasingly heated debate with Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. After an hour and a half she was standing, cruising round the cot like a babygrowed Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption, plotting a method of escape.  After 2 hours, cuddly toys were being hurled and reasoning with her that it was bed time was met with what appeared to be a barrage of baby profanities. Finally, after 3 long hours she settled. Thinking this was probably a one off caused by a change in environment we pursued the routine the next day to a very similar outcome. We knew we couldn’t spend every night of our holiday holed up in a hotel playing and losing mind games with an 8 month old, so we decided on an alternative course of action. All we wanted was a relaxed evening together on holiday. The kind we used to have. The kind that didn’t involve a discussion on how to get a Weetabix stain out of jeans or included the phrase “you know what we need to buy from Mothercare”. Most importantly, the kind of evening that didn’t have a dinner guest with the tendency to throw forks at waiters. This became an almost obsessive mission, one that consumed our every waking thought.  We needed to figure out a new routine to get Lyla to sleep so that we can have at the very least one evening to ourselves.

We tried an early dinner followed by a long walk in the buggy. Still awake. We tried extending the length of the walk to a ridiculous distance. She remained conscious. We experimented with a long walk followed by a late dinner. Yep, you guessed it, no sleep. We even gave walk-dinner-walk a go only to peer into the buggy at midnight to be met by a victorious grin.

Following this crushing defeat in Tenerife, we tried a very different tact in Marbella last September. If Lyla was going to show such a blatant disregard for the routine, then so would we. Lets see how the pint-sized dictator liked them apples. We concluded the best course of action was to plan our evenings around what we wanted to do and not concern ourselves that we had a wide awake visitor in tow performing an almost continuous rendition of wind the bobbin up. The idea was simple but incredibly effective.  Load the electronic child pacifier known as the iPad up with cartoons, bring milk, a comfort toy and some crackers and there you had one content baby and two very content parents. Of course we received looks that questioned our parenting skills. And it was right that we did. We were sat in restaurants in Puerto Banus harbour at eleven o’clock at night, sipping Rioja as our baby chilled out reclined in her buggy watching In The Night Garden. However, had those doubters been in Tenerife with us, they knew we deserved this. We bloody deserved it.

By the time Gran Canaria came around, as good as this method was, it was no longer sustainable. Having on the whole dropped the blessing from god that is the afternoon nap, Lyla needed her sleep in the evening or we’d all pay for it the next day. So, we concocted our most elaborate and audacious plan yet. One that was certain to outwit even the most defiant toddler. After bath and bottle, operation ‘family sleep time’ kicked into gear. It was based on creating the illusion that mummy and daddy were also going to bed so Lyla would believe that there was absolutely nothing she could miss out on, which was undoubtedly the reason for her holiday insomnia to date. The usual bedtime routine to settle her in her cot was followed to a tee.  However, in a devious master stroke, George and I would also put our Pj’s on, then get into bed and turn off the lights.  And then we’d wait patiently and silently in the dark. Waiting to hear the first sign of heavier breathing. Like parental ninjas waiting to strike. When we were confident that sleep was occurring we’d spring quietly into action. Both in and out the shower and dressed within 25 minutes, ready for evening meal. Not as mummy and daddy but for the first time in a long time on holiday, as husband and wife. We just had the minor difficulty of transferring Lyla to the buggy without her waking up and rumbling the whole facade. Operating in almost complete darkness so not to stir the tiny beast, I lifted her out and placed her delicately in the buggy. George then secured the package while I inserted a comfort toy. With the sleep shade fastened we were ready to go. That evening and the four that followed were fantastic. We had great food, a little to drink and even time for dessert while Lyla slept there next to us without a clue shed even had a night out. We chuckled as we ate chips without the chip monster there to confiscate them from us. Lyla would have loved this.

It was our confidence bordering on cockiness that led to our downfall. As with all the greatest criminal masterminds, its a small oversight or error that leads to them getting caught. Toddlers are incredibly perceptive. They monitor situations to ensure the status quo is being maintained and will quickly identify the clues if something appears unusual or out of place. Detective Inspector Lyla Harris spotted one such clue. While I was giving her milk, she noticed that George was reclining the buggy in preparation for that evenings cot extraction. Her eyes started to flick left and right as her toddler brain processed this information at rapid speed.  “If we’re all going to bed and not going out until the morning, why would the buggy need to be reclined? That just doesn’t make sense to me. Unless, they’re not really going to bed. Hmmmm. Interesting theory. I tell you what; maybe I’ll just stay awake tonight and see what happens. I hope they’ve charged the iPad….”

And with that our game was up.

Guantanamo Baby: The Walking

The immediate issue you encounter as you step outside the plane doors is that somewhere in the hold sits the mobile straight jacket otherwise known as the buggy. This in turn creates the second and bigger issue. An issue that will torment you for the duration of the holiday. This is the toddler’s insistence on walking EVERYWHERE. The problem with toddlers, other than they are tiny people who do adult size poos, is that they have tiny legs and teeny feet. This severely restricts the speed they can walk and therefore the length of time it takes you to get ANYWHERE. You can’t believe how demoralising it is to see a flight full of German tourists, who landed half an hour later than we did, march past us to passport control as Lyla dawdles along stopping to touch every single fire extinguisher along the way. The only consolation is that half an hour behind us there will be a little lad called Jürgen putting his parents through exactly the same situation. He’s just more likely to be Goose-stepping his way towards baggage reclaim than dawdling.

Speed of movement isn’t the only problem that arises from the almost Ranulph Fiennes necessity to walk everywhere and explore everything. This infinitely increases the risk of injury and maiming. Lyla, so excited by seeing a swimming pool on arrival at the hotel, decided to test the temperature of the water while still wearing her suede boots and purple puffer jacket. Alas to say, after the experience of slowly sinking dressed as a miniature violet marshmallow man, she naturally refused to go into the pool again the whole holiday.  Then there was the African chair with protruding spikes that naturally became a circuit for high-speed death laps. That was until a combination of giddiness and a strangely phallic shaped cushion sent her ricocheting face first into a brick wall. She’s just lucky she has her mum’s little button nose to absorb the blow rather than her dad’s great big Jewish honker. Oy vey the mess that could have caused. And we’ll not even go into how close she came to impaling herself onto an 18th century rusty anchor.

image

There is a compromise solution. Not that you should be entering into any kind of negotiation with someone who’s two foot tall and drinks bath water. The compromise is reins. Yes, it transforms your toddler into part pet, part kite. But it’s a reasonable and effective way to keep them under control while they insist on wandering the streets alone. However, there is a negative consequence. With their new sense of freedom your child will instinctively run as far as their chubby little porkers will carry them, dragging you along behind for the ride. The problems arise when you attempt to stop them doing the thing they have got into their tiny little minds they must do at all costs. This includes darting into oncoming traffic out of eagerness to say hello to the ‘woof woof’ she’d seen in the other side of the street. It includes sticking her hand down a sewerage drain to rescue the remains of a soggy breadstick she’d been munching on for over an hour. And it includes picking up a half smoked cigarette that instantly became the comfort toy she could never be parted from.

They really don’t like the reins being used as reins were designed to be used. Essentially to stop them getting up to dangerous shit. So, knowing she had reins attached to her, Lyla would react to the infringement on her civil baby rights by essentially bungee jumping face first onto the floor. Being caring parents, who don’t want to see their little darlings tear stained mush squished into the floor of the main promenade of the resort, we naturally used the reins to halt her fall. Unfortunately, to any onlookers the whole scenario appeared at best as if I was using my own child as a lasso and at worst as if I was starting the first rotation of an Olympic hammer throw. And after the scene she made, the latter was an incredibly tempting option. With the right momentum I reckon I could have easily cleared thirty meters. Easily. 

Guantanamo Baby: The Plane

In Tenerife, last March, she was crawling. By Marbella, last September, she was walking. They were hard holidays, If you can even call them holidays. Baby run torture trips is a more accurate description. So, why in god’s name we decided to take a walking, talking, tantruming toddler to Gran Canaria in January is beyond me. The wife thought it would be a great idea to lap up some winter sun and allow the three of us to enjoy some quality time together. And she was partly right. Our weeks jaunt to the Canaries has given us both lovely tans. My freckles are blooming, if thats what freckles even do? As for family time, well, that’s a longer story. Without wishing to spoil it, let’s just say George has had to spend most of last week wrestling the pen off me and away from the adoption papers.

It had all started reasonably well. The airport was navigated with relative ease, if you count the tantrum in JD sports as a minor blip. I’m sure the fair minded out there will appreciate the injustice that Lyla felt when daddy ruled that all forty one footballs which had been ever so carefully dislodged from their home and rolled around the store, wouldn’t be accompanying us onto the plane. Of course there was the inevitable fiasco of airport security. I swear, they should use the challenge of successfully taking a toddler through security checks without losing something, especially the said toddler, as the sole entry criteria to MI5. Basically, the security people, or to give them their official title ‘The 100ml liquid monitors’, make you remove your, up unto this point, reasonably well behaved child from their buggy so that you need to carry her. You then have to go through the usual process of essentially mugging yourself of everything that is currently residing in your pockets, taking off your shoes, removing your belt and handing over your coat. These are all placed in the blue dinner trays and they, along with the folded buggy and your hand luggage, are sent on their merry way through the conveyor belt. Providing you don’t get questioned as to why one of your hand luggage bags appears to contain most of The Early Learning centre’s stock, this is where the challenge begins. You’re bare foot, your trousers are falling down, you have no money, no phone, no coat, three bags to collect, a buggy to unfold and a child who has an ever increasing desire to ram raid the shiny utopia that is the duty free shop the other side of security. Adding to the pressure, a queue is already starting to build up behind of Lanzarote bound chavs with the desire to drink and smoke the duty free shop dry. Team work here is crucial and there is a specific unwavering process to ensure an efficient and painless passage to the departure area. George holds Lyla while I unfold the buggy. Lyla naturally resists the return to her mobile shackle device. Who can blame her? She’s tasted freedom and she liked the flavour. But needs must in this situation and despite much back arching, a good sleeper hold gets her back in and securely fastened. She’s now screaming with such ferocity that baristas in the airport Starbucks a good 200 meters away are calling social services. This problem is quickly resolved with a bit of quick thinking. I give Lyla my wallet and phone to look after while we tend to our missing items of clothing. Silence descends as she carefully removes 50 euro notes from my wallet and throws them around like some kind of philanthropic baby billionaire. In a short time, all baggage is retrieved, clothing is replaced and all in all, losing 250 euros is a small price to pay to get through security fairly unscathed.

Like most parents with a child under the age of two, and most importantly who have previously  travelled with them on a flight, we had the intense debate around whether to book her a seat of her own. On the plus side, or I should say the cost side as there is no real plus side in this situation, there is no charge for her to travel before she turns two providing she sits on your lap during the flight. I don’t need to point out that this is very much the downside. To illustrate it for those have yet to experience one of life’s real joys; it’s like having a heavy, incredibly hyperactive octopus with the world’s shortest attention span sat on you for 4 hours. There were precedents that should have made this an easy decision. Namely the ‘glasses throwing’ incident of the Tenerife flight where the poor elderly gentleman next to us was relived of his spectacles and had them lobbed four rows back. There was also the ‘evacuation button pressing’ misdemeanour of the Marbella flight. I’ve never seen a baby single handily strike so much terror into so many people. However, with the cost that we’d already incurred on the holiday and the fondness for dirty looks from strangers, we opted against the extra seat. We had a plan. You always need a plan where tiny people are involved. Without a plan the little buggers have already won. Now, you’d think two arguably intelligent and fairly well educated individuals would have concocted something reasonably sophisticated. In short, no. Our plan simply involved plying her with enough breadsticks to keep a cheap Italian restaurant supplied for a year. We just needed to ensure she had one in each hand and one occupying her gob at all times. On the whole this worked a treat and we just accepted the fact that she would almost double in size over the course of the flight as a necessary consequence. Of course we had some help long the way. The lovely clown faced lady (a flight attendant I believe) gave us an extra seat free of charge. I swear I was happier than the day Lyla was born and the moment she was conceived combined. Naturally during the flight Lyla opened and closed the tray table continuously, kicked the back of the chair in what appeared to be the drum rhythm of we will rock you and insisted on running down up and down the aisle only when food was being served but that is standard toddler fair on a flight. Nothing out of the ordinary.

As we landed George and I shared a brief smirk. A facial high five if you will. We didn’t want to seem too cocky. Firstly the manipulative little midgets sense it and will use your bravado against you the first opportunity they get. Secondly we know however hard the flight can be, that was only the first battle….

Next time: Guantanamo Baby: The Walking

TOTS 100 - UK Parent Blogs