Post 40 Denial

I have my 40+ health check this week.

 

It’s not helping with my post 40 denial but it’ll be fine because I’m sat here drinking herbal tea, and everyone knows that replacing coffee with Chinese green tea for a couple of days can reverse twenty five years of abusing your body.

 

No really, it was a headline in the Daily Express, below the story where they channelled the spirit of Princess Diana to predict the best/worst/wettest/windiest winter/summer on record {delete as appropriate}.

 

This is the same appointment I had to collect a urine sample pot for last week. See, how easy is that, ‘urine sample pot’.

 

When I approached the doctors receptionist I wasn’t prepared. I wanted to say ‘piss pot’. I knew I couldn’t. I panicked. What I asked for was,

 

“A wee…..wee…collection bowl”.

 

My post 40 brain no longer works under pressure.

 

In her professional role you’d think she’d gloss over this, but no,

 

“Can you bring your wee wee sample with you on the day”, she sniggered.

 

On my last visit to the hairdresser, amongst the usual small-talk of weather and holidays, she suddenly chipped in with,

 

“Shall I trim your eyebrows while I’m here?”

 

Eh, what? While you’re here? ‘Here’ is the top of my head! Now I know I have the odd errant eyebrow or four but they’re not sprouting beyond my frickin’ scalp!

 

I bit my lip and nodded.

 

Hairdressers aren’t helping with my post 40 denial.

 

In fact Mark is in such denial over his receding hairline that he even talks about it in the third person.

 

Then there’s my groaning. I’ve been groaning whilst getting up from my chair for a while now. So long that when Luca was a baby he’d mock me with the same noise. Clearly he thought this was the default sound you made when getting to your feet.

 

This week I noticed a disturbing change, and I’m not talking about the sit down groan, that too has been happening for a while. What I noticed was that I now groan at the mere prospect of standing up. A full five seconds before. So long before as to forget why I was getting up in the first place. I’m sat on the sofa groaning and grumbling to myself without even moving an inch. Throw in some cursing and I’m turning into Father Jack!

 

And whilst I’m on the subject of random noises, recently I made a sound I’ve not made for decades. In fact the last time I made this noise was when as a prepubescent teenager I saw my first nuddy mag. And what was it that warranted such a reaction? Tupperware! I didn’t even know Tupperware porn was a thing? I do now.

 

But post forty denial works both ways, because on the rare occasion I accept my age I immediately wish to be older.

 

Recently I’ve been washing the boys Great Grandma’s clothes. It was whilst hanging her washing on the line that I suddenly got struck by elasticated waist envy. Seriously, they look so damn comfy. I want to skip middle-age fashion and go straight to that of a 97 year-old Chinese woman!

 

When I apply for jobs and they ask that difficult question about my goals in life I at least now have an answer. Elasticated waists.

 

But I don’t need to ask Janet to know she’ll selfishly deny me such comforts at forty, so I need something to tide me over. Something to see me through middle-age. And I’ve only gone and found it!

 

My epiphany occurred while walking through BHS. I stumbled on a department I’ve never seen before. A world of wonderfully weaved woolliness. The patterned jumper of the 50+ man. And taxi drivers.

 

So you can stick your H&M and Gap, I’m holding out for the BHS jumper. And if I can just find some maternity jeans for men and their expanding waistlines, in less than a decade I need never go shopping for clothes again.

 

Feminist dad

When I first became a stay-at-home dad I always intended to write a retrospective post about my experiences. Of how I entered a traditionally mothers environment as the ‘minority dad’ and came out the other side.

 

In my head I already knew what I was going to write. How facilities aren’t geared towards dads. How we’re treated with suspicion. Of negative attitudes and having our masculinity mocked.

 

It was for these reasons I spent the first few weeks at home. We’d occasionally go to the library, get our books and on the way out pass the baby and toddler group with a ‘maybe next week’ cowardice.

 

But as any stay-at-home parent will tell you, the true enemy is isolation. It’s the lack of adult interaction. It’s recounting an anecdote about your day and realising midway through that what you’re actually describing is an episode of Mr Tumble.

 

And so with a large degree of trepidation we set off to our local playgroup. Once there we discovered other groups we could attend, and in doing so realised us dads aren’t the novelty we once were. Our fore-stay-at-home-fathers had already trodden this very same path, and some had even hung around for the tea and biscuits.

 

Maybe I was lucky. Maybe living near a city centre made things easier. Maybe my self-deprecating humour helped or more likely I was just too tired to notice; but whatever the reason I was never made to feel anything but welcome. I never felt discriminated against. I’ve never once struggled to find baby changing facilities and what little masculinity I had remains largely intact.

 

OK so I was mocked by my male friends and I’d expect no less, but dig a little deeper and they all admit to being envious of the time I spent with the kids. Jealous of our trips to the museums and art galleries. Regretful that they’ve missed so much of their own children’s early years through long hours, deadlines and the misery of the commute.

 

So you see all my preconceived fears and opinions of being a dad in a mum’s world were just that. Preconceived. When it comes to being a stay-at-home parent, equality reins. Our side of the battle is won. Or so I thought.

 

But what does this have to do with feminism?

 

Well, as a middle-aged man I never felt feminism had anything to do with me. It was the woman’s battle for equality. Whilst I may have agreed with their ethos and end goals it was, and always would be their fight.

 

It was only when listening to Emma Watson’s amazing speech to the UN that I realised how wrong I was. Inequality is every bit my problem. Every bit my responsibility. And as the father of two boys probably more so.

 

As a stay-at-home dad I may already be an inadvertent feminist but that’s largely through circumstance, because prior to taking on the role I never considered it an option. I was the breadwinner. My role was to provide, Janet’s to nurture. It’s an archaic attitude I’m not proud of.

 

It only came about because I was made redundant and suffered a mental breakdown. A breakdown that with hindsight was largely due to my entrenched attitude that as a man I should be able to cope. That I shouldn’t ask for help. That like so many men my age it was what was expected of me. Only I didn’t cope. I didn’t ask for help. It never should be expected.

 

Gender equality is every bit my problem.

 

And why don’t my male friends feel they too can play a larger role in their children’s early years? They’re more likely the breadwinner. They’ll statistically be earning more. It’s still what society expects.

 

Gender equality is every bit their problem.

 

And what of my boys. So young and yet already gender stereotypes are being instilled into them. What toys they should play with, what careers they should aspire to, and what activities are appropriate to them.

 

Recently in the school playground I overheard two parents discussing a party invitation their boys had received from a girl in their class. It went along the lines of,

 

“Why would she invite boys? It’s a Princess theme. I’m going to have to pretend we’re away that weekend.”

 

Why wouldn’t she? They’re four. It’s a party!

 

Gender equality is everyones problem.

 

I’ve loved being a stay-at-home dad. It’s been the happiest and most rewarding years of my life. To watch them grow and develop is something money can’t buy.

 

But I also realise how lucky I am. How many dads would love to do the same but for whatever reason can’t. And I appreciate just how important it is to instil gender equality into Sonny and Luca so that when they too are parents they might not be so hampered by the stereotypes and behaviour patterns of my generation. That they’ll respect women as their equal and share equally in their opportunities.

 

Being a stay-at-home dad may make me an inadvertent feminist but that in itself isn’t enough. I need to do more. Men need to do more. We all have a duty to do more, because by definition equality for women means equality for men too.

 

Which is why I’m proud to call myself a feminist. It’s why I’m proud to bring my two boys up as feminists. And it’s why I’m so passionate about supporting the HeforShe campaign.

 

“Now it’s time to unify our efforts. HeForShe is a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all.”

 

 www.heforshe.org

Hari Ghotra Curry Kit

hari-ghotra-kitI love cooking. As the stay-at-home parent it offers a rare respite from the post-school squabbles, at least until they discover it doesn’t really take half an hour to prep beans on toast.

 

That’s not to say we don’t share time in the kitchen. Sonny likes to ask how long dinner will be and regardless of whether I say two minutes or two hours throw himself to the floor like he’s auditioning for the opening credits of Platoon.

 

hari-ghotra-1Luca loves to bake. He doesn’t really care what just so long as there’s a spoon and bowl to lick.

 

Until recently however neither helped me make dinner, and not only for reasons of respite. You see like any good magician the illusion lies in what the audience don’t know. Let them in on the tricks and alchemy used to get vegetables into their diet and what are you left with?

 

Fish fingers and chips, that’s what!

 

But a boy can’t survive on cupcakes and cookies alone. If their cookery skills are to go beyond a WI cake sale they need to master something savoury. So when Hari Ghotra asked if we’d try one of her curry recipes the time seemed right. And as the child who didn’t once dip his popadom in a VERY spicy sauce despite me telling him not to and therefore the least resistant to spices, I asked Luca to help.

 

hari-ghotra-7The curry kit we were sent was for a madras. It included all the spices needed, helpfully put in numbered bags so we knew what to use when according to the instructions. All we needed to add were a few fresh ingredients; in our case, chicken, onion, garlic, ginger and plum tomatoes.

 

We started with the madras powder, using a pestle and mortar to grind coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, white poppy seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, fennel seeds, cassia bark and whole cloves, which we then sprinkled onto the meat and left it to marinade.

 

hari-ghotra-6Luca loved smelling the spices as much as he did grinding them up. Sonny looked on suspiciously.

 

As the mustard seeds and curry leaves cooked we made our own tamarind water, mashing it with a fork before sieving it into the pan.

 

Luca was fascinated by how the hard tamarind became a liquid. Sonny looked on suspiciously.

 

hari-ghotra-4With the rest on the ingredients added to the pan (less the chilli powder which I would have left out even if Luca hadn’t already sneezed into it) we left it to simmer gently while the house became infused with an amazing smell.

 

The resulting curry was every bit as wonderful as it smelt. I’ve never made my own curry from scratch before but this kit made it surprisingly easy.

 

I’d definitely make it again for Janet and I. Luca found the taste a little odd but had a good go at finishing it. Sonny looked on suspiciously … and ate the rice.

 

It was lovely to see how involved Luca was with all the cooking methods though and undeterred by the taste he’s keener than ever to try making another.

 

We had a look at Hari Ghotra’s website afterwards and he chose the Korma, roti and gulab jamun for our next culinary adventure. Clearly he has more confidence in our abilities than I do.

 

Sonny looked on suspiciously.

Hari Ghotra has a fab range of recipes on her website … www.harighotra.co.uk

{We were sent this kit without any obligation to review. All words and opinions are my own}

 

hari-ghotra-5

Half-term and Halloween

This last half-term was one of self-discovery. Of sorts.

 

I discovered my blood pressure is intrinsically linked to their lack of symmetry when building with LEGO, and that I’d never considered myself a control freak until Luca offered to help with MY side of the colouring-in book.

 

I discovered there’s a massive leap between Junior Monopoly and the full version, and that there’s some hours of your life you’ll never get back.

 

I discovered that playing Taylor Swift on your phone somehow increases its battery life. I only gave it to Sonny because it was on 5%. After finally managing to ‘shake it off’ him after the hundredth play it was on 9%?!

 

I discovered the boys get their habit of walking away mid-conversation from me, when for their half-term breakfast(?) they requested porridge with sultanas, a cup of warm milk, an apple (peeled and cored) and a side bowl of …… they got Coco Pops.

 

And we all discovered Halloween isn’t for us.

 

I do feel partly responsible. I’ve been known to scream like a girl when catching my own reflection in the window. Teen Wolf gave me nightmares. I’d be surprised if my epitaph didn’t read,

 

“One scare too many.”

 

And it’s not just in the genes. Last year I took them on the Spooky walk in our local park. Before we’d even got there some teenagers jumped out from behind a bush. Luca screamed, Sonny screamed, I *might have screamed, we went home.

(*I did.)

 

This year Sonny didn’t make it to his school Halloween disco, spooked by a toddler in a skeleton mask before we’d even reached the front door.

 

And poor Luca discovered that Halloween is not the season to be trusting his brother, and I know just how he feels.

 

As a child my sister and I would play the tasting game. You’d put something on a spoon and the other would have to guess what it was whilst blindfolded.

 

There was a pattern:

I’d give her milk, she’d give me ketchup.

I’d give her mayonnaise, she’d give me yoghurt.

I’d give her banana, she’d give me … tabasco sause/curry powder/washing up liquid/ear wax {delete as appropriate}

 

It’s a classic sibling manoeuvre. Trip them up by their own misguided trust.

 

The boys game involved leading each other around with their eyes closed.

 

There was a pattern:

Luca led Sonny out of the house, Sonny led Luca to the car.

Luca led into the lift, Sonny led out.

Luca led Sonny towards the supermarket. Sonny led Luca into a … bin/door/stranger/Halloween display {delete as appropriate}

 

The latter was a move my sister would have been proud of. As if walking blindly into a display isn’t shocking enough but then opening your eyes to find yourself buried beneath spiders, witch costumes and Frankenstein masks!? It was like a scene from the Aldi Chainsaw Massacre.

 

Suffice to say we didn’t make our ghostly biscuits. We skipped the Woolly and Tig Halloween party episode. And when they asked to have the landing light left on that night they didn’t get any complaints from me!