Dad and Toddler group – Crashpad!

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Most of the toddler groups I’m aware of are during the week and largely, even if not explicitly, aimed towards Mums.

A year or so ago, Lovely, Big Brother and I all headed off to Bristol to visit some really close friends there.  We were staying for the weekend and enjoyed yummy food, fine wine and some awesome ice cream.  On the Saturday morning though, our friend Larry (@lazbash) and I took the kids to the Dad and Toddler group.  This was based in their church which made things easier because there is a toddler group on during the week anyway, so all the equipment was there and it was easy to set up.  There weren’t that many people there that time but it was growing, there were other Dads, bacon sandwiches and a space to hang out with our kids for free.

I came back to Brighton and really wanted to do this here but didn’t have access to an appropriate venue.  Our church meets in a school on an estate which is great but it isn’t set up for hosting toddlers and Dads or for the making of bacon sandwiches.  I knew it was a good idea but it went on the back burner for a while.

During paternity leave with Little Brother I went to a toddler group that Lovely goes to during the week and mentioned my idea to someone there.  Before I could blink, I was being introduced to their gospel worker there and we were planning how we could go about this.

We decided we’d make it monthly (on the third Saturday), not clash with Baby Boogie in the local library, have bacon sandwiches and try to get the word out as much as we could.  We had our first one in January and decided we’d call it Crashpad.  Big Brother loved it, we had a chance to hang out with some of our friends, we had bacon sandwiches and Lovely had a bit of a break.

Next week is our second one and I’m really looking forward to it – this time I’m taking Little Brother as well so Lovely can really have a break.  So, if you are around in Brighton on Saturday 21st February from 10am to 12am come along to Crashpad hosted at Calvary Church on Viaduct Road.  Bacon sandwiches will be provided!

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Who needs sleep?

This song gets played and referenced a lot in our house and it is not hard to imagine why.  This is the stage of parenting when little boys don’t know that there is day and night, don’t like to be left alone or to stay down for very long, make a lot of messy nappies and generally act as big bundles of need, need, need.

This time round I’m sleeping in the living room during these early weeks meaning I haven’t been entirely overcome with sleeplessness – I get good chunks most nights.  Lovely on the other hand has managed a maximum of 3 hours in a row since Little Brother arrived.  Of course, 3 hours happens rarely, and the rest of the time she is surviving with 1-2 hour pockets of sleep.  I think that’s amazing and am blown away by new Mums the world over but in particular by my amazing lovely wife.

At some point our boys may appreciate and be grateful for all of her sacrifice.  Probably not until they have kids themselves and walk alongside their partners, recognising the crazy whirlwind this parenting business is.  As for me, I’m incredibly grateful and bowled over day after day at her ability to keep going and just get out of the house in the midst of screaming babies and toddlers expressing challenging behaviours.

Sleep will hopefully reign in our house one day again.  As I see my tutor group roll into school in the morning rubbing sleep out of their eyes, it gives me hope that the battle will one day be to wake these monkeys up rather than help them get to sleep.  The challenge for now is to keep going – to put one step in front of the other – and to remember that this too will pass.

It was harder to accept that with Big Brother – with Little Brother there is a sense of recognising that BB got there in the end, so LB probably will too.  It does make it more bearable and slightly less frustrating but that’s starting from a pretty high bar.

So, for those whose nights are as long as their days (and in particular my lovely wife), you’re doing a great job!  Keep going!

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Evolving character

IMG_3571It’s a privilege to witness the characters of our boys develop and evolve.  Little Brother’s arrival earlier this month was met with excitement by Big Brother and each day since (each nap even) he has woke up asking for his brother, wanting to see him, hold his hand and give him a kiss.  We’re hoping BB enjoys LB this much always but are holding loosely to it as we treasure it in the moment!

Today, we celebrated two years of BB breathing oxygen with his own lungs.  Two years since the lengthy labour and the disorientation of theatre.  Two years since we began the adjustment to being parents.  Two years since we met the squirming bundle of need who is now our energetic and hilarious son.

To celebrate we went to the Sea Life centre in Brighton.  Lovely and I were a bit bemused as, this time last year, we were visiting in Chicago for a family wedding, and went to the Shedd Aquarium for BB’s birthday.  Comparing that to the Brighton Sea Life Centre is like … comparing Las Vagas to an arcade on the seafront? Mary Berry’s cakes to a Year 7 Food Tech class? The business acumen of Jeff Bezos to a candidate on the Apprentice?  Either way, it was fun but I miss Chicago!

Big Brother is a processor, probably an introvert, definitely slow to embrace new situations.  He goes to music class with Lovely once a week along with some friends – he spends the whole week talking about it, singing the songs, on the way there he is excited about it, on the way home he is still going on about it.  When he is there he is quiet and seems to be disengaged and not having fun.  That’s the way he is at the moment.IMG_3580

Today, he ran around the Sea Life centre – we managed two laps in an hour – and I didn’t think he was taking anything in.  He loves running down slopes and going through tunnels – the Sea Life centre provided several of each of these.  Since we left though, throughout the rest of the day, he has been mentioning specific animals and details that I didn’t think he’d picked up on or seen.  I didn’t think he was enjoying it but he obviously was.

As we watch and nurture our boys, it can be hard to remember they are different from us, that they will respond to people and situations differently from us.  I’m so excited to meet the men our boys will become, to see how the fledgling seeds of character we see in them now manifest themselves in their fully grown form.  For the moment, I need to hold off assuming something hasn’t been enjoyed until a while after it has finished.  I need to give BB the space to process it properly.  That’s a tough discipline to learn but one I’m committed at growing in.

Happy birthday Big Brother!  It’s a pleasure knowing you, seeing you and hanging out with you each day.

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Strange day

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Today is a strange day.

It is Little Brother’s due date. A day we have looked forward to and now, here we are, waiting for him to make an appearance.

We know these days are estimates and I’ve run some statistical analysis on how actual birth dates are distributed around the due date, so we won’t be surprised if he doesn’t arrive today. So, we wait.

Today has another significance though – one that rings out every year like a birthday – today is the day my Mum died, three years ago now, after a 13 month long battle with cancer.

I’m so glad that Mummy got to meet Lovely – that in the last months of her life they grew to know and appreciate each other deeply, to see how the other thought and enjoy sharing what made them human. But, as we wait for our second son to make his appearance it reminds me that she didn’t see our first boy arrive or grow into the boy he is now and will never meet our second born either.

We did see her with my nephew and saw her love and devotion as a grandmother. She’d have loved these boys and been generous with gifts and time and energy.

She isn’t here and, three years on, I still find myself picking up the phone to talk to her and remember that she has gone. What lives on though is her passion for people, her love of place and roots, her commitment to justice and her awareness of life beyond herself.

These live on in my sister and I and they’ll live on in our boys as we tell them of their Granny and live lives that have been shaped by her.

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What shape is it?

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I’m a little pedantic. I like things to be correct and get twitchy when I notice things aren’t.

This means I’m good at rereading what others have written and spotting typos (and when I’m diligent I can normally spot most of my own errors too).

But it also means I like things to be named correctly. Whether that’s a heel of bread (the slice at either end which my wife seems to think is called a crust) or that lodging a cheque in the bank should be called that and not paying in. Okay, I accept that either of those might be a result of my Northern Irish cultural heritage. What isn’t though is the mathematical name of shapes.

Big Brother has a number of books with the names of shapes in them and before we read them I check them to make sure that the two cardinal sins have not been committed. One, is using an archaic word and the other just, well, wrong.
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Firstly, oblong. This is a word which used to be used a lot to talk about a rectangle but we now use rectangle. Having taught secondary Maths for over a decade now, I can confidently proclaim that it is a rectangle. Don’t call it an oblong childrens’ book or you will not come into our house.
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Secondly, the biggie. Some books call a four sided shape in which all the sides are equal and opposite angles are the same a diamond. A diamond? Really? Crushed carbon that is dug from the ground and polished and placed on jewellery – that is a diamond. The shape that these books are looking for is a rhombus. A word that Big Brother can say well without being condescended to with mathematical inaccuracy.

My very close friend and mentor rang earlier in the week to say her son had just been taught in reception that a rhombus was a diamond. We laughed and then I fast-forwarded to when our boys start school and how I’d react. I fear I’m going to be one of those parents. In fact, I already am – I guess being a son of a Maths teacher makes it more likely that you’ll pull yourself up on a chair and demand, “Daddy, me, Maths!” and that you’ll know a rhombus is a rhombus.

I’ll be encouraging and helpful to the boys teachers, I promise. Just don’t call it a diamond!

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Conkers before the storm

I love the Autumn. I love stomping through leaves and hearing the snap as I step on fallen twigs. Today, as we continue to wait for the highly anticipated arrival of little brother, we all went berry and conker hunting.

We found some yummy blackberries and munched on them then had some cake (which Lovely had baked rather than foraged from a cake bush).

Now that we were sated it was time to hunt for conkers.
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One of the most important part of collecting conkers is putting them into the pockets of my shorts – something that Big Brother was very good at (it is really warm today, hence the shorts and flip flops).
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We collected lots of conkers and when we got home it was obviously time to make some conker tea. IMG_2147.JPG
I remember conkers from the primary school playground, piercing them with string and trying to whack your opponent’s, mercilessly destroying it. People had various strategies like baking them in the oven or painting them in transparent nail varnish. The hunt to find the perfect conker was always fun – there was a tree beside where I got the bus home each day which sometimes gave amazing specimens.

I’m looking forward to playing these games with the boys and seeing what other killer strategies we can come up with (beyond working on hand-eye coordination). For the moment though we marvel at finding them on the ground, putting them in pockets, making conker tea and finding them months from now, shrivelled and in unexpected places around the flat.

As we wait, we enjoy the changing seasons and imagine next Autumn when LB may be on the point of starting to walk and BB will probably be having full blown conversations.

What a difference a year will make.

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Back at work

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One of the great things about my job is the large chunks of the year when I don’t have to do it.  Each summer, I get to spend six whole weeks at home.  Before we had kids, Lovely wasn’t the hugest fan of this – her holidays didn’t match mine and, to be fair, once I caught up on my summer reading, had done some long cycles and played lots of computer games I was a bit bored and ready to get back to work.

Now we have Big Brother and are imminently due to be joined by Little Brother, summer holidays are completely different.  Lovely is a stay at home Mummy and so we three got to spend a lot of time together.  As pregnancy has been painful and tiring, Big Brother and I did lots of hanging out.  We were able to go to the park, the museum, the beach, out on the bike and generally able to give Lovely some time to rest most days.

Term has been back in session for two weeks.  It has been busy and full on – but I like it that way.  I’ve met my new students and got stuck into teaching them.  I’ve hung out with my new tutor group and got to know new members of staff.  I know that paternity leave is going to happen soon, so I’ve had to be preparing for that and I have a new role which is also keeping me busy.

My routine involves me leaving home at 7am and returning at 5pm – I only have a 15 minute cycle commute which is awesome.  As labour could start at any point my phone is on me all the time but being in school is so all-consuming that I barely stop the 5 minutes it takes me to inhale my lunch.  If I don’t work like this then I’d have to stay later, arrive earlier or take more work home.  I use the cycle ride home to try to leave school behind and begin to move into being at home.

The hardest thing about term being in though is getting used to how the boy treats me.  I know he doesn’t mean it maliciously but as he gravitates towards Lovely as primary caregiver – I get royally shoved out.  He doesn’t want to hug me as I leave the house or as I return.  When I do get back, he wants his Mummy to read to him or play with him or sit with him and doesn’t want anything to do with his Daddy.  I do bath time and bed time with him and this is normally great.

I know my holidays are a privilege and the time I’m away from home is probably less than other people – I’m not griping, just sharing that this is hard and I’m guessing I’m not alone.

My current strategy is to make the most of the weekends and the holidays and trust that they will be enough to keep us going.  By the end of Saturday, he normally remembers he likes me so that seems to be working.  In a few years he’ll be at school when I’m at school and it will become less of an issue but for the moment it is one of the challenges that life presents.

Postscript: Lovely tells me he does spend all day saying “Daddy, Work, Maths” and maybe it just feels like he doesn’t want anything to do with me …

Edit: Now updated with a picture from my actual classroom. New room so still working on displays!

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We love Maker Faire!

IMG_2132.JPGI’m a geek. I love Maths and computers. It gives me great pleasure to spend several hours writing computer code or solving Maths problems. Fortuitously I get to teach Maths for a living, so get to spend a lot of time exploring Maths problems to find the best ways to get across concepts to people who have never encountered them before.

I also love making things. I love playing with Lego or building lampshades using dowels and a glue gun. In this though, I’m no expert and so getting to visit Brighton Maker Faire every year is an awesome privilege. I get to chat with Makers from all around the country (and sometimes world) as they share their latest project and talk enthusiastically about how it was made and what is next.

This is the fourth time that Maker Faire has been organised in Brighton. I’ve been to all of them and this was the second time I’ve gone with Big Brother. Last time he was 10 months old, this time he was 12 months older than that. This time he was out of sorts (I think he’s teething) and so tired enough that we could only stay for an hour.

But what an hour! As always we got to see a life size remote control Dalak (what Maker Faire would be complete without that?), 3D printers and the computer museum (A600, Spectrum ZX and BBC micro anyone?). We also heard about and got to play with some conductive paint that can act as a proximity sensor, a hair dryer levitating a pingpong ball and controlled with a wii-mote and a scaletrix track controlled by a raspberry pi whose speed could be controlled with the keyboard. Not to mention the craft, the amateur radio guys, the pacman on a huge sphere, the laser cut wooden Carcassone and Settlers tiles and the models of Iron Man!

I don’t really know how much the boy got out of it but I hope year on year his imagination will be stimulated and he’ll want to be a maker himself. I’m a huge fan of the maker movement and love the thought of making sure our boys are not just mindless consumers but actively contribute to our world in a creative way.

If you have never been to a Maker Faire yourself, I think you’re missing out. See if there is one near you and go have a look. Or even better, if you’ve got time, see if there is a project you can come up with or a Hackspace nearby you can join to add to the creativity on offer and meet up with other enthusiastic people who like to make stuff.

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Camping adventures

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Over the course of the summer, we have been camping four times. That might sound more impressive than it is – while we had a lot of fun, none of those trips lasted more than two nights.

Since we got married and thought about what we’d want our shared family life together to look like, camping has always featured high on my list of desires. I don’t really know where this comes from – I don’t come from a family who camped and I didn’t really have an established tradition of doing it myself. We still have only done short camping trips but I love it and look forward to future trips with both the boys – particularly as they get older.

My old housemate Larry blogs over at Chasing Wilderness and his blog has got me seeking out mini-adventures with Big Brother. Camping is part of that. The boy loves it and repeats keywords regularly.

“Camping!”
“Tent!”
“Fire!”

And of course

“Tap!” (Outside taps are very exciting in our house).
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This last weekend we went camping with four other families who we met in our NCT class and who have all become good friends (another family from the class came out to join us on the Saturday and it was great to be with them too). It was an awesome time of hanging out, sharing cooking responsibilities, bonding with each other’s kids and deepening friendships with each other. Sleep was not always forthcoming. There was a loud wedding near by that played loudly until 2.30am and there were some snoring issues. But the quality of time was amazing.

Time does something funny when camping – it slows down. Whether that’s the fact that there is less to do, less distractions that help time speed by or that the novelty of being outside for the whole day makes us stop, I don’t know. I do know I like it, that it was great for us as a group and that I look forward to longer trips as our boys grow.

Little brother is due to arrive sometime this month, so unsurprisingly Lovely didn’t sleep in the tent with us. We weren’t too far from home so she drove back after the camp fire died down and everyone was heading towards bed. She did enjoy most of the other bits of camping. It’s awesome having a spread out site to run around in and explore but it was also nice to return home to our little flat where we didn’t have to run after BB and stop him from exploring someone else’s tent or trying to break into someone else’s car.

I don’t know when we’ll be camping as a family again. Not sure whether LB and Lovely will be ready next summer – I hope so. I’m looking forward to long trips with friends – camping with friends is way more fun!

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Rides outside supermarkets

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Big Brother loves all kinds of vehicles. When driving or walking down the road each vehicle type is shouted out with delight.

‘Tractor!’
‘Van!’
‘Lorry!’
‘Bike!’
‘Digger!’
‘Train!’

So, when we see those sit-on rides at the supermarket or on Brighton Pier, he loves to sit on them and imagine he is driving. Occasionally, they make funny noises and light up of their own accord.

What the boy doesn’t know is that if we put money in the experience would be different. He wouldn’t enjoy it for as long but maybe the excitement would be higher. We spent 15 minutes on the one above outside our local Sainsburys. I can’t help but think that we would have got two minutes of fun if we’d put the money in it and missed out on the fun of pointing out features or getting on and off or just pressing the buttons even though they didn’t do anything.

I don’t know how long it’ll be before he realises that you can put money in and the nagging might start. For the moment, I’m going to enjoy it not least of all because we can’t afford to put money in to all of the vehicles that the boy sits down in.

I wonder if this is a metaphor though – are things more fun when you make up your own narrative? If we experience manufactured fun then it lasts for as long as the designer intends but if we make up our own game it can last as long as our interest does. Does too much manufactured fun rob us of our imagination?

For now, we have time to hang out and can enjoy the time these things take. With two boys and work starting up again it might be hard to hold on to these moments. But, for today this is helping me slow down and enjoy the moment more. Thanks dude!

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