Negotiating With An 8-Year-Old

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Ellie likes to play “Truth Or Dare” with me – and also Jake when he’s in the mood.

No, don’t look at me like that! It’s a child-friendly version, OK?! Although the ‘Truth’ options can be a little ’embarassing’ sometimes. It’s possible that I’ve had to be, shall we say, “economical with the truth” once or twice.

She’d chosen “Dare” on this occasion, and I think it’s fair to say that she wasn’t too happy with the outcome: “Wear a sign on your back that says “Kick Me” for the rest of the day”.

Negotiations ensued. I started using the word “Forfeit”. She began panicking. It’s amazing how competitive 8-year-olds can be! She eventually agreed to wear it, but just for the duration of the game.  For the sake of peace and a quiet(ish) life I agreed.

When Jake heard what was happening he immediately stopped what he was doing. This is a thing unheard of, as it usually involves a screen of some kind which seems to turn on a Star Trek grade tractor beam whenever he looks at it. No, he was very excited about this, and set about enthusiastically making the sign especially, just for his twin sister. What a loving, helpful boy he is!

By the way,  I coloured it in. Yes, thank you; I thought so too!

Probably as a result of Jake’s involvement, Ellie was having further doubts! She insisted on my also wearing the sign on my back, which she very helpfully made for me. By this time I’d given up, and just wanted to get on with the game.

Anyway I was winning! I can’t think where they get that competitive streak from….

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Something immediately struck me about her sign. She’d added “Please”! So polite!

I wore my sign. Did hers stay on for the rest of the game? Guess!

And the moral of the story? When you negotiate with an 8-year-old don’t expect the deal to stick, but at least when she breaks it you can expect her to be polite about it!

Shank You Very Much

 

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Three

Please don’t go. Stay here with me. It’s not my fault, I’m only three. I’m only three!

Giving adult voice to the thoughts and feelings of a three-year-old who misses their parent, this song tears me up: in more ways than one. It hit me like a silken sledgehammer with all those feelings of loss, of separation, all the guilt and recrimination that go with it,  and the “what-if” / “what could I have done differently?” thoughts that torture and taunt.

How old were Jake and Ellie when our separation became formalised?

Three.

‘We’ had been living here in Wales in a good-sized family home we were renting while we tried to sell our old place in the Midlands.  I was splitting my time between there and the little temporary place we first moved into which is now my home. The twins were just starting pre-school and only for a few hours a week, so I was still spending a lot of my time looking after them there. It was a ‘trial separation’ in all but name; “need some time apart” I was told.

I’d found a great new home for us all, right next to their school, in a quiet cul-de-sac; with a good-sized garden, a communal green outside and with friends they could play with nearby. It was perfect for ‘us’. I’d stayed up all of Christmas Eve cleaning up the incredible mess that a family with 3-year-twins will inevitably make, and finalising the packing and moving. I then drove through the night to London to join the family with my in-laws for Christmas. I didn’t want to miss opening the presents around the tree! It’s such an important and joyous time for young children.

I did all this in the full expectation that this would be ‘our’ new family home, that we would all be moving in there together as a family. I was wrong. That’s when our separation started for real.

They all moved in and I stayed where I was. Separated.

My wife had gone back to work after her maternity leave while I carried on looking after the twins when they weren’t at school, so for financial reasons (I thought at the time) it was only her name on the title deed. I hadn’t stayed overnight there so I couldn’t claim any right of residence.

I would still come over for evenings, have dinner there & play with them until their bedtime: that’s when it it became – for want of a better word – ‘difficult’.

In my life I’ve experienced grief and pain. My favourite uncle died when I was a young boy; I was a pallbearer at his funeral. I had to take the day off school and I think I spent most of it crying. My Dad died in 2005; he’d lived to a good old age, and I’d seen him only a few months before, but it was still tough. I’ve had abscessed teeth (several times), I’ve woken up in the middle of the night after a knee operation when the anaesthetic had worn off in such pain that – as an agnostic – I prayed to die.

None of that compared to what I experienced here though. As it became time for me to go the twins would become distraught. They would plead for me to stay, shouting, screaming, crying uncontrollably. They did everything they possibly could with their little 3-year-old bodies to stop me leaving. They would grab a leg each and hang on as hard as they could, gripping me like limpets and refusing to let go. They would throw themselves between me and the door to try to stop me from leaving: all the while screaming, crying & shouting “DON’T GO DADDY! STAY HERE!”. They’d try distraction, delaying tactics, everything they could think of, to stop me from going.  And I didn’t want to go!!

But what could I do?! It wasn’t my house! They were no longer under my care!

It was, is, and I think always will be the most painful, distressing thing I’ve had to go through.

You say you love me, then you walk right out the door; I’m left here wanting more.

I was left high and dry and didn’t feel I had the means or resources to look after them as they needed any more. They would come over to my little place, and still do, but when it became time to leave it was the same distressing scenario all over again. This went on several days every week, for many months. Over the ensuing years it’s lessened but it’s still there. To be honest, I’ve lost track of time for it all now.

I only found out quite recently that they blamed me for all this. They thought that I had left them, when the opposite was true!  It’s only in the last year or so as they’ve grown mentally and emotionally that I’ve been able to explain to them what actually happened – that I didn’t leave, didn’t want to, it wasn’t my choice and that it was the last thing I wanted to do! They thought this about me, that Daddy had left them, betrayed them – for all this time! Awful!

They’re great kids, balanced, largely happy, smart, doing well at school and socially, etc. I still see a sadness in them however, a Dad-shaped emptiness, and I just can’t help feeling – despite the circumstances – that I’m to blame. All those “if only”s!

Looking back I can think of things I might have said and done differently that may have made a difference. Who knows? I can’t rewrite the past so I’ll never know. “Hindsight is always 20-20”! At the time I was so shocked, distressed, confused, struggling with my own personal circumstances and, yes, depressed that I couldn’t see any alternative.

They were only three.

They’re older now, but they’re still children: my children. All I can do is try to do the best that I can for them with what I have, and that’s what I’m doing.

DIY Daddy
Shank You Very Much

The Golden Girl

While the twins were at my place on Sunday Ellie decided to do her homework!

Its theme was ‘mythology’. She didn’t know what that meant so she asked me and I explained as best as I could.

King MidasShe then went onto google on my PC (under my supervision of course!) and came up with the story of King Midas. I showed her how to click on the link she wanted and before too long she had written 2 sides of an A4 page with the story of King Midas & his ‘golden touch’. It was in her own words too, and not just copied, showing that she had understood the story. I’m a proud Dad!

She needed some help with some of the pronunciation and spelling – I mean how the heck do you pronounce ‘Phrygia’ or ‘Dionyssus’ anyway? I don’t know! It’s all Greek to me!* –  but her comprehension and written account of the story was excellent

    * sorry, couldn’t resist

Yes, it does seems a little strange her choosing to do her homework during the limited time that she has with me. She does love spending time here with her Daddy – that’s what she tells me anyway – but I think I understand. We were still doing something together, which I was enjoying & I which I think she was too. She & Jake however often don’t enjoy the same things, and even when we do all do something together they more often than not compete with each other rather than play together cooperatively. I often find myself having to break up a fight. I imagine that’s not unusual for young boy-girl twins!

When they’re with me they each mostly just want to do something with me and so are competing for my attention. I only see them part of a day on a weekend and one evening after school so we all try to make the most of our time together. It isn’t easy!

Minecraft warriorAnd to be honest Jake and I were engrossed in a series of intense one-on-one Minecraft battles that day, which he’d been preparing and planning for and looking forward to for some time. I said to both of them before they left that next time I was going to spend much more time with Ellie to compensate.

So Ellie was being ‘a good girl’, and she is that, in doing her homework here – but she had also put some thought into her reasons for doing so, which actually makes me think even more highly of her. She explained it to me:

When she’s at ‘home’ (or as I prefer to call it “her other home”) with Mummy she likes to play on the green outside with nearby friends of around her own age. More often than not, she explained, she gets called in from playing to do her homework, which obviously doesn’t usually go down too well in Ellie land! She thought then she’d take advantage of my little home office set-up to do her homework at my place, and then she’d have more time to play with her friends.

Smart girl!

Oh, and my Minecraft battle with Jake? 2-2. We are planning a rematch!

Now there is of course only one way to end this post:

The Treadmill

So…I’ve bought a treadmill.

Ellie, ever observant, noticed this – probably because Jake was standing on it at the time – and asked me “Daddy, why have you got that – ” Me: “treadmill?” “yes: ‘treadmill’?”

I actually have this slightly mad idea of using it as I play my favourite Xbox game, Skyrim, so that I walk as my character does, run when he does, & sit down in the Inn and drink ale as – well, actually I probably do enough of that already, & that’s probably why I need the thing in the first place…

I was explaining to her what a treadmill does and why I need it. I believe the words “big fat belly” may have been used, again. Possibly.

Her response took me by surprise.

“But daddy, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it matters that you’re kind”.

Wise words for a 5-year-old, and definitely a Magic Moment!

Although I do need to lose weight (as well?) 🙂

For more Magic Moments just click the pic:

Jump on it!

Who remembers space hoppers?! (It’s OK; you don’t have to admit it if you don’t want to.) 

The good news for those of us who do – whether we’ll admit it or not – is that they seem to be making a comeback!

And for those who don’t – read on! (Hint: they’re great.)

I was delighted to receive from the fine people at confused.com not 1 but 2 great space hoppers – complete with natty pumps –  as part of their #Jumponit campaign.

Jake and Ellie were very excited about this, and also were determined, as ever, to do as much as they could themselves.

So, first step: Pump it up!

It was fun! but then we had a bit of a surprise:

Even so, we were pumped and ready to go, so there was nothing else for it but to head out & test-drive our new bouncy toys!
Fair warning: some of this was filmed by a 5-year-old boy. He did his best…)

I love how Jake tried to make his hopper smaller by trying to let some air out! And I’d forgotten just how much fun a good bounce in a space-hopper is!

Also: I’d like to point out, please, that there was a storm here the night before. My garden is messier than usual, honest…

As you can see we had a lot of fun, thanks to confused.com: Jump on it!

LIke Father, Like…

Recently I’ve been writing fan fiction on a gaming site dedicated to my f’avourite ‘video game’, although it’s recently expanded: ‘The Tamriel Vault‘ (formerly ‘The Skyrim Blog’) if you’re interested.

I told Jake and Ellie that I’d been “writing on the Internet, about a game I like to play” and Jake insisted on doing it too.

Here is his story, almost verbatim as he dictated it to me, and with almost no prompting. The italics are my additions.

Personally I think it’s adorable!

I am Jake and I made this story.

I don’t play Minecraft very often. So I play all different games on the Xbox.

I play the ice game (Polar Panic), Mickey Mouse games, Fable 3, Sonic Boom, racing games.

I don’t often play this one but I do play it and it’s called Faery batman.

We do lots of fighting in Fable.

And in the ice one we do lots of pushing ice at bad guys.

In the Mickey Mouse games there’s lots of magic and puzzles and they confuse you.

He’s always insisted that it’s not finished so we may add to it later!

For more Magic Moments just click the pic:

My Sunday Photo: Extreme Photo-bombing!

 

Magic

Sharing in the pure excitement, the joie de vivre, that Jake especially shows when he discovers a great new toy.

Magic.

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The look of ecstasy & elation when I compliment Ellie on her art, & tell her “You’re an Artist, Ellie!” as she responds” Really?! I could be an Artist, as a grown-up?!”

Magic.

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A parrot, & a mermaid in the sea: by Ellie (with some finishing touches by Daddy)

Jake repeatedly telling me: “I love you Daddy. You’re the best Daddy in the world. You’ll always be the best Daddy in the world.”

Magic.

Watching both of them grow, develop & mature, in so many ways.

Magic.

Hands-on, devoted parenting is really hard work, especially – if I may say so – with active, outgoing boy-girl twins.

But these Magic Moments are the pay-off: what all the hard work is for, when you realise it’s all been worth it: raising these two adorable, capable, wonderful children who I love so very much & who love me in return.

Magic. Pure Magic.

For more Magic Moments just click the pic:

Fashionable Dad Gear: A Must for Every Dad

OK, so what’s the latest in dad gear? What does every father need… and simply cannot do without? Let’s start with the basics…a diaper bag (or tote) for one, a wallet, comfortable clothes and shoes for keeping up with his kids… and a great watch to top it all off. Moreover, if they happen to look cool, that’s much better. Here is a list of six ‘must haves’ for every dad.

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One – A Great Watch

Sure, your smartphone can give you the proper time. However, when you’re busy running around, trying to get the kids to school on time (or to that last-minute appointment) a watch is really handy.  Why not invest in a quality watch that will last. From the day they start school, until they march across the stage at graduation, you can wear the same smart style. Michael Hill Jewellers is a great example for classic watches like these that stand the test of time.

Two – A Wallet

Another place to make a sensible investment is in a durable wallet. Find one that clips on for extra security. Separate compartments for sorting bills and credit cards also help. Moreover, if the wallet happens to have a section for pictures of the kids…traditional and perfect!

Three – A Tote (Diaper) Bag

Men’s tote bags have taken over the old-school briefcase, (and they don’t have to look like purses). They hold many of the necessities that just can’t be packed into an attaché case. Take diapers, gym shoes, your son’s favourite blanket, extra clothes, biscuits and bottles. Now you can look cool and still carry around everything you might need! Who knows, there may still be room for a laptop!

Four – Good Looking Shoes

Before the children came along, shoes had a completely different meaning. Today you can get the comfort that you need in some truly awesome styles. Just because you’re a dad, doesn’t mean that you can’t be fashionable. From low cut boots and loafers, to dress shoes with extra support, there’s almost no limit to great looks for men (and happening dads). They best part… they can help you keep up with the children!

Five – Comfortable Trousers (and Shirts)

The fashion focus is on men, and the choices are better than ever. So, when it’s time to leave the sweatpants at home, you can go out in style. From jeans and chinos to dress pants, relaxed chic is perfect for any occasion. Pair up any number of hot colours… blue, brown, beige with a button down shirt, jumper or polo shirt and you’re out the door and ready to rock. What’s more, today’s stylish dads really can’t own too many shirts!

Six – Sweaters and Jackets

Sweaters are back and jackets are here with retro style. They’re the perfect add-on to any fashionable outfit. With so much rushing around, from here to there and back… it never hurts to carry along something to pull on, when the weather shifts. Pull on a hat, some shades, and carry a raincoat. Now you’re set for just about anything.

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The secret to being a trendy dad is being prepared. Raising kids is full of surprises, yet when you’ve got just about every situation covered, you can relax and enjoy the ride!

Written in collaboration with MichaelHill.com

The Story Behind the Photo

Jake & Ellie, balloons, a clown, the seafront: that was my Silent Sunday Photo yesterday, & a lovely one too I think.

What is it they say? “A picture paints 1000 words”. There are definitely a few words behind this one!

The town we live in was having a ‘Seafront Festival’ , promising rides, stalls & entertainment. There were plenty of stalls alright, & good entertainment, but only 1 ‘ride’ – a sort of long soft-play bouncy castle. Probably just as well actually, as it was £2 for 5 minutes, & of course with us everything is x2!

After an oom-pah band the entertainment was this clown, a Mr T Ricks. He did a great show: he was funny, had great rapport with the kids, made some balloons then did a great ‘Punch & Judy’ show. The twins, & the many other children there, loved it.

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We then wandered off for an over-priced lunch in a nearby cafe, then it was back to the seafront where Jake & Ellie selected their promised “1 treat & 1 toy” – both small! – each, the deal which had been thrashed out in earlier negotiations.

Jake found an ‘Angry Birds’ Pez ,which he loved, & Ellie a slurpy licky sugary juicy thing, which she didn’t. They both decided on loud horns for their toys. Oh goody…

I’d forgotten my earplugs! They sounded a lot like Vuvuzelas.

I hate Vuvuzelas!

After getting ‘tattoos’  – free from the lovely Mr Ricks – they decided they wanted to see his show again.

We’d grabbed a couple of (small!) balloons on the way – Jake a Spiderman one, & Ellie an Elsa & Anna one from her beloved ‘Frozen’. They were helium but were wrapped around their wrists so they wouldn’t fly away.

They were sitting down enjoying the show when their balloons become tangled in the wind. I stepped in to untangle them but somehow in the process Ellie’s came loose & flew off up into the sky!

She was very upset. She cried!

The lovely Mr T Ricks noticed, & actually stopped his show for her! He called her up, & made a special balloon, just for her! It took quite a while, & all the time he was making a fuss of her. And it really was a special balloon – a green-stemmed big white flower with a red love-heart inside the petal!

She still missed her ‘Frozen’ balloon but was very happy with her new one. Mr Ricks sir – you are a star!

We then walked back ‘home’. I was leading the way carrying Ellie’s flower balloon, Jake his Spiderman one, & they were tooting on their horns nearly all the way. We were like a mini-parade, & I was a little surprised all the children within earshot didn’t try to fall in line with us! We certainly got noticed!

We paraded all the way to – strange but true – the Library!

They do a weekly reading & crafting session there, 1 of the twins’ favourite activities. They made sparkly fish, & did a ‘monster-hunt’ treasure trail, & really enjoyed it all.

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Some trees we prepared earlier!

A great day, including a real Magic Moment, courtesy of a very kind clown!

For more Magic Moments just click the pic: