Dear Dave

Friday 30 April 2010

This is what cameras are for

Dear Dave,

Have I mentioned we're having our kitchen done? I think it's possible I might have let it slip once or twice. Not that I'm panicking at the imminent arrival of a horde of tradesmen or anything...

They'll probably have large hammers and thick, Glaswegian accents. They'll wave the hammers in my direction, mutter something I can't understand and then look at me expectantly. I won't know whether they're wanting a cup of tea or asking if it's OK to install the oven upside down because it fits better that way.

I'm not sure I can cope.

I was thinking it would be over in a week but then I realised I'll still have decorating to do after that. There's also the small matter of moving all the stuff back that I've just spent a week moving to other parts of the house. I've done my best to thin things out but there's still a ton left. Even getting rid of this car was more effort than I imagined:

A small, grey car for a toddler.

Fraser got it for his first Christmas but even Marie's been too big to ride it for at least a year now. It's been tucked under a chair in the kitchen, gathering dust, since about 2007. As such, I imagined I could safely take it to the charity shop without causing too much fuss.

I was wrong.

When I mentioned I was taking it away, Fraser wanted to keep it as a memento of childhood memories. I pointed out that if it stayed, it would have to go in the loft and he wouldn't see it again until he had children. Before he could reply, however, Marie chipped in with, "When I was small, I used to keep magnets in it!"

This brought various recollections back to me. The seat of the car slides open to reveal a storage area big enough for a medium-sized cuddly toy. Managing to press down the catch and slide the seat at the same time is beyond most under-fours, however. All three of my children spent happy years putting stuff inside, closing the lid and then crying because they couldn't get the stuff out again. Usually they got me to endlessly open the lid for them; occasionally they simply wandered off and forgot about the whole incident until much later when I'd already searched the entire rest of the house for their favourite snuggly, my phone or their brother's trousers.

In general, the thing drove me rather crazy. That said, the boys did have a ritual for a while where one rode through to the bathroom to get ready for bed on the car and the other followed on a similarly dinky trike. It was the Teeth Train. When it didn't run over my toes, it was pretty cute.

As the kids gathered round the car, sharing their memories, a lump formed in my own throat. They'll never be that small and adorable again. Surely one push-a-long car couldn't fill the house...

Then I came to my senses. The house is already full.

"If I take it to the charity shop," I said, "someone else will get to play with it and enjoy it. Isn't that better than it being stuck in our loft?"

They reluctantly agreed and said their goodbyes. There was much patting, fiddling and squabbling over it. Lewis stroked it and gave the horn a few final beeps.

Sarah and I looked on. "What do you think?" she asked after a while. "Will we get treated this fondly when it's time to switch us off?"

I did a quick mental calculation of the ratio between the annoying and delightful memories I might invoke in my offspring when I'm old, obsolete and my stickers are peeling away.

The numbers didn't look good.

I shook my head. "I wouldn't count on it," I said.

Then it was time for school and work and one last final, final beep.

As soon as everyone was out the door and round the corner, I made a hasty sprint to the charity shop before anyone (including me) changed their mind.

Goodness, if we're like this over a toy car no one's touched for months, what's going to happen when the Glaswegians with hammers try to take away the tiles from the kitchen floor?

Yours in a woman's world,


Monday 26 April 2010

Full cupboards and an empty wardrobe

Dear Dave,

I'm exhausted. That's all the stuff emptied out of the kitchen and office, ready for the destruction and appliance-shuffling involved in fitting a whole new kitchen. I've also stripped the kitchen walls of the kids' paintings, a layer of horrible vinyl wallpaper we were hiding under the paintings and two even more hideous layers of paper concealed beneath that.

I've learnt two things:
  1. We have a lot of stuff. These days, Sarah and I normally keep nearly as many possessions in a third of our house as we had altogether when we first moved to Edinburgh.

    This is scary in so many different ways.
  2. Ten years ago, before I became a housedad, I had three types of clothes - smart clothes for work, casual clothes for most of the rest of the time and old clothes for doing DIY.

    Now I merely have clothes.
As with so much else, I think I'll just blame the children and move on...

Yours in a woman's world,


Wednesday 21 April 2010

Back to Earth

Dear Dave,

Yeah, I know, I haven't written to you much for a while. It's nothing personal - just a combination of school holidays and panicked preparation for the arrival of a new kitchen. My time is split between emptying cupboards and being forced to watch re-runs of Total Wipeout. When you're nine, watching grown adults get punched in the head by an automated boxing glove and then fall face-first into a pool of mud is apparently the funniest thing ever. Personally, however, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. (Snorting hot coffee out my nose as some poor unfortunate does an unexpected back flip into slime is merely an attempt to bond with my children...)

By the time the kids have got to bed recently, I've been too tired to achieve much. Instead, Sarah and I have been catching up on some of the TV that passed us by during the years we were busy with babies. We've been watching Life on Mars. It's about a police officer who has an accident in 2006 and wakes up in 1973. He doesn't know how or why he's there but the situations and attitudes are so different from his previous experience, it feels like he's on another planet.

(You may not be aware of the show because you have small children and haven't slept since 2006. Let's face it, there's a chance you don't even know who the Prime Minister is. I'd tell you, but that could all change in a couple of weeks. All you really need to know at the moment is that someone seems to have checked down the back of a sofa and found the Liberal Democrats, much to everyone's delight and surprise. Oh, and the whole country is going to run out of bananas because of a volcano in Iceland...)

After a few episodes of Life on Mars, we also watched Dirty Dancing. That was made in 1987 but is set in the impossibly odd and distant world of 1963. Of course, as with Back to the Future, the the original release of the movie is now almost as long ago as the 'historical' setting was at the time. Somehow, we got to marvel at the wackiness of both the early Sixties and the mid Eighties.

Golly, hasn't the world changed?

Then again, never mind 1973 - for me, 2006 seems like a different planet. It was still a time of nappies and sleep deprivation. Leaving the house took almost as much planning as a polar expedition. Parent-and-toddler, buggies, nursery and so many other things that are long past were still a part of my life. Heck, I hadn't even started writing to you.

That's a long time ago.

When I was at a ceilidh a few weeks ago, I had a strange revelation when a friend offered me and the family a lift home - I realised that it would we easier making our own way back. We didn't have vast amounts of emergency equipment and spare clothes. I knew all of us could make it to the bus stop, catch a bus to the end of our road and then walk home without a tantrum or falling asleep or turning blue with cold or needing the toilet. Why wait for someone else to be ready to go and then have to faff with car seats and being ferried about? It was easier just to head off.

Somewhere along the line since 2006, I've reached a new level of freedom. My job has also changed drastically. I may be trapped watching nutters struggling knee-deep through slime but at least I'm not having to do it myself anymore. Yep, having three schoolchildren to look after is a very different place to be than having three wee ones under the age of six. My housedad adventure is entering a new phase.

What about you, Dave? Back then, you only had a single toddler. Now you have one at school and another almost at nursery. That's quite a journey. I don't think you really need advice from me, these days. In all honesty, I'm so old and forgetful now, you probably know more about looking after small children than I do. The apprentice has become the master.

All in all, neither of us requires the same type of understanding and support we used to. Don't worry, though, I'll keep in touch - just not that often. Besides, I'm not quite done yet. Once this kitchen's dealt with, I still have to tell you about a couple of things. Rob's new baby arrived relatively uneventfully but Scary Karen's getting married and you'll want to hear about that. I can't see it going smoothly. Let's just hope she isn't trying to turn it into a Total Wipeout special... or giving it a 1973 theme...

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Have you considered taking on a padawan of your own?

Tuesday 13 April 2010


Dear Dave,

For me, one of the turning points of parenthood was a few weeks before Marie's fourth birthday when she developed the ability to get out of bed in the morning without immediately finding some reason to come and wake Daddy. I was no longer required to help solve the mysteries of toilet paper, her brothers could switch on the TV for her and all of them could last an hour or two without breakfast. I rediscovered lie-ins.*

Even eighteen months later, this is still a joy. Admittedly, my beauty sleep is frequently disturbed by shrieks and squabbling but I can simply turn over, put a pillow over my head and doze off again until the actual screaming starts.


I think we may have recently reached another turning point. I was in the kitchen sorting through Marie's enormous stack of craft materials the other day and realised she's barely touched the stuff in months. The glue-stick is still crusted with glitter she used for making Christmas cards, and a half-completed necklace of beads lies long forgotten, patiently waiting for some unsuspecting housedad to pick it up by the wrong end while doing the tidying.

She's moved on. During previous holidays, she's nagged me every five minutes to help her with sticking or cutting or threading. If not that, she's insisted on going to the park and being pushed on the swing for an hour. This is no longer the case, however - she's learnt to use a Wii remote entertain herself. She doesn't even need an audience the whole time anymore.

Suddenly, I can turn my attention to other things, despite the kids not having school. This opens up a whole new world of possibility. I could achieve all manner of projects.


The reason I was sorting through Marie's craft materials was because we're having a new kitchen fitted in a few weeks. This requires the room being emptied of everything from the pile of kiddie artwork to the Veggie Tales DVDs, the three dusty fondue sets and the fridge. There's an awful lot of stuff and I was thinning it a little in preparation.

Since then, matters have become more drastic. When the fitter came to measure up, he happened to mention in passing that the new units will be delivered ahead of the installation. We'll need somewhere to store them while the floor is laid - somewhere other than the kitchen.

The only other ground floor room we have is quite small. It's about big enough for a chair, a desk, an Xbox and a couple of chests of drawers. I know this because it's my study and that's what's in there at the moment. It'll have to be totally cleared out to make way for worktops.

I suppose there's a large cupboard under the stairs as well but that's full of junk already. It's also where the plumbing is. So that the fitters can get to all the pipes, the junk will need to find somewhere else to live for a couple of weeks... along with the fondue sets... and the drawers... and the desk... and the dining table... and the fridge...

The entire ground floor is going to have to be emptied. We'll have to turf Fraser out of his bedroom and turn it into our own version of the Room of Requirement in Hogwarts, crammed full of a mixture of treasure and tat. The overspill will be shoved into every spare corner of the house. There's a good chance will be using the tumble-dryer as a coffee table.

To make matters worse, in the midst of this chaos of upheaval and tradesmen, my safe place will have been dismantled. I won't have my quiet Xbox corner to retreat to. I'll be stuck in the lounge with the three children, huddled round the white goods, surviving on fondue until the cooker is reconnected...

So, yes, since Marie's learnt to entertain herself, I could be getting on with any number of things. I'm not, though. I'm taking the chance to hide with the Xbox while I can and finding any excuse to avoid moving furniture.

Maybe later I'll force Marie to do some gluing and then drag all three of them to the swing-park for some fresh air.

Yours in a woman's world,


*That's to say I can now stay in bed on the weekend until a time that I would have considered a bright and early start in my pre-fatherhood days. This may not technically count as a lie-in but it sure as heck beats being woken in darkness by plaintive cries of, 'I need my bottom wiped!'

Wednesday 7 April 2010


Dear Dave,

Yeah, it probably is about time you gave Sam a chore. We got the boys helping out when they turned six. They each have their own job to do and if they don't do it, they don't get their pocket money.

The plan was to make them realise that the house doesn't magically clean itself and thus perhaps give them some insight into the amount of work which goes into all the other things they take for granted. You know, inconsequential stuff like feeding, clothing and entertaining them, not to mention paying bills, herding them wherever they need to go and combatting the unpleasant odour of tweenage child that threatens to overwhelm the livingroom on a regular basis.

This hasn't entirely worked - Fraser still grumbles like his daily three minutes of housework is akin to slavery - but at least they're making some contribution to the household.

Choosing chores for them turned out to be relatively easy. Fraser hasn't yet worked out that one of the purposes of a plate is to catch crumbs, so he gets to hoover the kitchen floor after tea. Lewis' obsession with soft, fluffy items, meanwhile, means he gets to do the dusting. I'm sure you'll find something for Sam to do.

Bear in mind, however, that he'll require training and supervision. As with bringing new workers into any situation, there will be an initial overhead of time and resources. More people will be doing the work but less will get done.

There will also be a much higher chance of everything breaking.

Hopefully, it'll all work out in the long-run. I'm confident that one day we'll both have our own little team of minions that we can happily order off to thoroughly clean the toilets while we sit and surf the internet for funny photos of cats.

I suspect that that day may not be very soon, though...

After much goading and nagging I've finally managed to get all three of my kids to carry their empty plates to the worktop once they've finished breakfast. This usually involves some minor arguing and a couple of kids tripping over each other as they concentrate incredibly hard on trying to walk and hold crockery at the same time. Nonetheless, it should theoretically be worth all the effort in order to ensure the dishes are close at hand when I'm doing the washing up. Unfortunately, my children haven't quite grasped the concept of stacking yet:

The rest of the washing-up is somewhere over there --->

I think the plate at the end may actually be further from the sink than when it was on the table.

Yours in a woman's world,