What Price an Apology?

That’s not a rhetorical question, they’re currently trading at 10p.

 

You see, I’ve introduced the boys to pocket-money. In part to teach them the value of money, but mostly because I’m a fool.

 

It all began in Sainsbury’s. Tired and distracted, I took a wrong turn and found myself in a cul-de-sac of toys, my escape blocked by a double-buggy. Sonny spotted a Spiderman action figure he just had to have. Luca concurred. I panicked.

 

“You can earn it by doing chores”, I suggested, in hope more than expectation.

 

They thought long and hard.

 

“OK”.

 

Just like that.

 

Stand-off averted we made it to the checkout with nothing more than we’d come in for.

 

I even allowed myself a sympathetic, if a tad patronising, smile to the mum whose child was mid-tantrum. Well, it’s a tricky business this parenting malarkey … if you don’t know what you’re doing!

 

Sonny helped pack my smugness in a carrier bag. Luca offered to carry it home. It felt good.

 

Two weeks on and the boys have their action figure, earned through blood, sweat and tears. All of them mine.

 

Because unbeknownst to me,what I’d actually done was spawn a capitalist monster.

 

You see, everything now has a price. And I mean EVERYTHING!

 

It began when they got out of the bath that night.

 

Sonny: “I’ll dry my own feet. Shall we say 5p a toe? 10p for the big one, yeah?”

 

Luca: “I’ll read the bedtime story for 10p! S…e…c…r…e…t, secret. s…e…v…e…n …. ”

 

One sentence/hour later …

 

“Psst, Luca. Kick your covers off! … DADDY! I’m going to tuck Luca back in. You can pay me in the morning!”

 

And then, come the morning,

 

Luca: “I only got up in the night two times, that must be worth something?”

 

Sonny: “I’m going upstairs to brush my teeth without whingeing, you can get your wallet out while you’re waiting”

 

I was facing bankruptcy. We needed to discuss what constituted a chore, and for that we looked to the dictionary.

 

Chore;
A routine task, especially a household one.

A tedious but necessary task.

 

We decided to write a list …

 

Sonny: “How much do I get for an apology?”

 

Me: “Nothing”

 

Sonny: “But apologising is routine AND tedious. Fine then, I’ll put down 10p, but only if I mean it”

 

Luca: “What does he get if I don’t accept it?”

 

When your dining room becomes the trading floor of a sorry stock exchange it’s time to admit defeat. I didn’t. Instead I narrowed it down to household chores only.

 

Now, whoever said many hands make light work clearly didn’t have an extra four limbs in a sink of dishes.

 

They’d never tasted a cup of coffee made by a four-year old.

 

They’d never seen a five-year old spill a bowl of blueberries, then pause while he negotiated a price per blueberry to pick them back up.

 

They quite obviously didn’t have children!

 

So when I say they earned their action figure, they did, but I’m ashamed to admit that in the end I paid them not to help.

 

Because when you’ve spent a week tiptoeing round the kitchen doing dishes by stealth, under the guise of going for a poo.

 

When you’re cleaning up their spilt dinner by hand because the sound of the hoover has become synonymous with that of a free cash machine.

 

When you’re hanging out the washing at midnight under the cover of darkness.

You soon realise life is too short. That there’s no place for capitalism in a house of the under 6’s. And in hindsight, £12.99 for a Spiderman action figure was in fact an absolute bloody bargain.

 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I can hear an argument brewing and I can’t afford another apology payout today, especially if it’s a sincere one. Worse still, I think Luca might just be in the mood to accept it, too.

Don’t judge a kid by its costume

A lot has been written about World Book Day, and rightly so.

 

A celebration of authors, illustrators, books and reading. Shared in over one hundred countries. A beautifully uncomplicated premise in an otherwise complicated world.

 

And yet, like any parade, some people can’t wait to piss on it. The main target of their ire? Dressing up.

 

Across social media they bemoaned the influence of Disney, bewailed the rise of the Superhero and mourned the death of their own literary heroes.

 

In most cases it was well intentioned, but more than a few smacked of downright snobbery.

 

I’m no expert on EYFS, nor do I have any experience other than that as a parent, but I can tell you what I witnessed at school on Thursday.

 

The playground was indeed awash with questionable costumes. Like a Frozen convention had been double booked with a Marvel Avengers Assembly (see what I did there!)

 

But I also spent the afternoon in their classroom.

 

I saw thirty children enthralled by Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake poem; at the behest of Batman.

 

Half-a-dozen Elsa’s sat open-mouthed, immersed in the imagination of Oliver Jeffers.

 

And on my table, Iron Man talked passionately about his love of The Gruffalo. Spiderman gave Goldilocks and the Three Bears an ending far funnier than the original. And Elsa read to me from the Frozen annual with such enthusiasm I thought she might wet herself with excitement.

 

And therein lies my point. The costumes are just a distraction. A smokescreen to what really matters. A reflection on social culture more than the demise of literacy.

 

Whilst some write off an entire generation on social media, using less characters than the opening chapter of The Twits, children are developing a love of reading in their own unique way, and it’s a joy to see.

 

It might not be Huckleberry Finn or Christopher Robin, but once that passion for reading is sparked they’ll have their entire life to catch-up on what you think they should have read, and then draw their own conclusion on its worthiness. And who knows, they may even be wearing an Olaf onesie as they do so.

 

My point being, you wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, so why judge a kid by its costume?

Sleep. Avoidance or Evasion

I can empathise with HMRC. You start with a basic fundamental principal that relies on the goodwill of all concerned (i.e. Pay. Your. Tax), and before long the less scrupulous are finding ways around it.

 

So you legislate. You introduce new laws that inevitably get flouted, so you legislate some more. Before you know it, a once simple premise has become 1,400 pages of rules, regulations and amendments.

 

And so it is with our bedtime routine.

 

Because much like the tax system, there’s a fine line between the letter of the law and the spirit thereof.

 

A grey area between your moral obligation to the wider society (me), and the self interest of you and your brother.

 

A myriad of nuances between sleep avoidance and sleep evasion.

 

What started as a simple premise (Bath. Book. Bed) has quickly become a statute book spanning many volumes.

 

Every night I’m drafting new legislation. Every other night I’m having to make amendments. I close one loophole, they find a new one.

 

I’m convinced HSBC has a junior division in Switzerland advising them on all matters nocturnal. Just last night they claimed non-domicile status from their bedroom?

 

But I refuse to be beaten. It’s become a matter of principal. No longer am I prepared to have my football interrupted by the ceiling lights shaking or cries of,

 

“I threw my teddy at Luca and he won’t give it back!”

 

I’d like to think I have everything covered in my latest revision of the ‘Go To Sleep Act, 2015′, and yet I suspect probably not …

 

(1) No Talking. To include:

(a) Whispering

(b) Singing

(c) Humming

(d) Passing of notes

(e) Sign language

(f) Interpretive dance

 

(2) Stay in bed.

(a) Your own bed

(b) No jumping.  (ii) Hopping  (iii) Kneeling

(c) Lay down  (ii) Horizontally

(d) Under the covers  (ii) Your covers

 

(3) No fighting.

(a) No weapons in the bedroom

(b) No improvised weapons in the bedroom

(c) Not even for self-defence

(d) A ceasefire shall be honoured between 7pm and 7am

(d) No mind controlling your brother

 

(4) Going to the toilet.

(a) To be done alone

(b) Regular updates on your progress are not required

(c) Your brother does not need entertaining whilst having a poo

(d) Or someone to pass him the toilet roll  (ii) Or throw it to him  (ii) Or at him

(e)  No laying booby-trap pieces of toilet paper on the floor to slow his progress back to bed

 

(5) No playing games.

(a) Hide and Seek is a game

(b) So is Snap

(c) And Buckaroo

(d) Calling it Lucaroo and hanging things off his ears/nose/toes – see Buckaroo

 

(6) There’s no reason to come downstairs.

(a) You can’t have a nightmare if you’re not asleep

(b) A daymare isn’t a thing  (ii) nor is a pre-nightmare

(c) Nothing is so important as to not wait until the morning, apart from a fire

(d) Your brother is not on fire

(e) There are no monsters under your bed  (ii) Behind the curtains

(f) You shouldn’t worry more about the clowns in your wardrobe. I was joking

(g) Coming downstairs on behalf of your brother does not make the above rules null and void

(h) It’s not morning time yet

Secret to Happiness

As part of the Post-it Brand’s ‘Make It Happen‘ campaign I was asked to comment on a recent study about the secret to happiness.

 

I say secret, apparently you just need to earn £80,840 a year, live in a £443,000 four bedroom house, be healthy, married with two children, and work a twenty-seven hour week.

 

So who better to ask than a bankrupt divorcee, living in a northern two-bed terrace, with questionable physical/mental health and who earns precisely £80,840 a year less than the ideal.

 

It’s no wonder I’m so grumpy in the morning. It’s a miracle I get out of bed. OK, so a kazoo-tooting four-year old’s dribble in my ear may have something to do with it. And my forty-year old bladder. And being a stay-at-home dad apparently means I’m responsible for the school run … but apart from that …

 

There must be something I can pin my happiness too …

 

“Money is the biggest barrier to achieving life goals (46%) followed by age (34%) and a lack of determination or bravery (25%)”

 

Dear God, it gets worse. ‘Poor, old and lazy’ is the working title of my memoirs.

 

Do you know, before reading this report I thought I was quite happy, but maybe I just have delusions of happiness; there’s definitely a manic edge to my smile that wasn’t there before the kids arrived.

 

It could just be I’m high on a lack of sleep, in which case I should be careful what I wish for as a full night uninterrupted could bring my whole world crashing down!

 

Or maybe it’s something else … I’ll read on …

 

“The average man wants a wife who is three years, six months younger than him”.

 

And there it is. Janet is the reason I’m happy. Damn it, she was right. I’ll be honest, I had this down as a negative on account of her being the more likely benefactor of our life insurance.

 

“62% believe the health, wealth and happiness of their loved one contributes more to an ideal life than their own health, wealth and happiness”.

 

Now I feel guilty, I take back what I said about the life insurance.

 

katie_piper“It’s great to have a life plan but we need to ensure that we don’t get disheartened if things don’t go to plan,” says Katie Piper, author, inspirational speaker, TV presenter and charity campaigner.

 

“You should never give up on your dreams. Just be prepared to modify them, and continue to keep them at the forefront of your mind as life throws you different paths and challenges.

 

A combination of positive thinking and plenty of support from friends and family can really help you get that bit closer to your goals.”

 

Now I admit I’m a reluctant convert to the positive message.

 

Not the inspirational quotes that flood my social media on a Monday morning, printed on a badly photocopied picture of a dolphin jumping through a rainbow. I like to think the people who post those are crying into their cereal as they hit send; but something more personal definitely has its place.

 

marks_marbles3After my breakdown my big sister sent me a box of marbles with my name on. They’re a daily reminder that despite everything I went through I still have some of mine left, rattling around my head and desk.

 

Not the ‘kingy’ mind, the boys lost that under the sofa (now there’s a metaphor if ever there was one).

 

And when I decided to study for a degree last year, my little sister wrote this on the opening page of the notebook she bought me,

 

believe3

 

I see that every day when I sit down to study, and despite my morning mutterings of misery it does make me smile and keep me motivated. Well, that and the thought of my student loan.

 

“Be brave,” says Katie. “Set some small, achievable goals to aim for, and go for them. Don’t give up. Anything is possible.”

 

I set myself goals at the start of every week. By Wednesday they’ve gotten smaller and in theory more achievable. On Friday I’m adding goals I achieved the previous week, just so I can cross something off my list.

 

This sit down and cup of coffee I’m having right now was justified off the back of the windows I washed … in February … 2014 2013.

 

But despite my grumblings to the contrary I am happy. Very happy.

 

I have my (suspiciously well insured) health. I have Janet and our beautiful boys. I love being a stay-at-home dad and feel blessed to have the opportunity to share in so much of their early years.

 

But there’s also the smaller things that make me smile.

 

The excitement in Sonny’s voice when he told me he’d won a prize for sitting nicely in assembly.

 

pooping2Luca putting a note on the bathroom door saying ‘no pooping or stinking’.

 

The two free poppadoms in last nights takeaway, or when I saw a bodybuilder lambasting his poodle puppy for its poo being too runny. I’m easily amused.

 

I also have goals. Clearly defined goals. To get the degree I intended to have twenty years ago. To start a new career path based on choice rather than circumstance. To ensure the boys reach their full potential, follow their dreams, and god willing, pay for my retirement.

 

And in the shorter term I have these …

 

washing_basket2 blog2

 

And if I achieve these I’m going to go for the big one…..

 

Convincing the boys that we might, possibly, just maybe think about taking some of their drawings off the dining room wall.

 

We can but live in hope.

 

drawing_wall

For more information on the Post-it ‘Make It Happen’ campaign, visit www.makeithappen.post-it.co.uk, or search for #makeithappen @PostItUK.