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Prologue / Week One

What could be simpler, or so I thought?

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So this is a blog – my first (and probably my last) attempt at one and the odds of me finishing it are only slightly shorter than the odds of you actually reading it, but never mind.  As you may know, I have recently left the Royal Navy and come to an amicable agreement with my wife whereby she will go back to work as a teacher (after nearly four years away) and I will shoulder the burden of full time childcare* for two young daughters.  What could be simpler, or so I thought?  This question is somewhat answered via the title of this instalment – intended to be written before (hence “Prologue”) I had even begun as a full-time dad, life so far has been somewhat hectic and so it is a week late even being started, never mind posted.  So this is Prologue / Week One.

So what is the point of this vaguely regular waffle bulletin?  Over the summer I came to the conclusion that I am an incredibly lucky bloke, on several counts: two beautiful, mischievous, intelligent little girls; one beautiful, mischievous, intelligent wife who has agreed to leave me to look after said girls (with no formal training); and the means to survive for a while without having a paid job, largely thanks to the MOD’s generous 1975-vintage pension scheme (life expectancy in 1975 was just 69).  This is an opportunity that few fathers will ever get; I have many friends who have looked back at their children’s formative years and struggled to remember it, nine times out of ten because they were busy / away working / “it just all whizzed by” etc.   I have the chance to avoid this potential regret and I really want to make the most of it – but most of all not forget it.  There is of course the diary option, but I have never been one for diaries and have terrible handwriting.  Then I thought about sharing some of my experiences, perhaps with family and friends, or anyone who might be interested.  Well, family and friends anyway – there is probably a follow button or similar on this page somewhere if you want to keep up.

I will not be writing very often, a couple of times a month at most (not least for practical reasons), and I still have scant idea of what I will even write about.  The only certainty is that it will be about my time with two very special little girls and how they make me laugh, inspire me to do my best and generally keep me honest and on my toes like no-one else can.  Week One brought a special visit from Grandma, her first to our new house, and a masterclass from Daughter #1 in taking charge of adults and making us all laugh.  It also provided my baptism of fire of being home alone with two people wholly reliant on me for their sustenance, comfort and safety.  I have started to develop my ability to leave the house on time to reach an activity (that has normally cost money in advance), although there is some way to go on this.  But most of all it got me thinking about what I will have to do to keep them interested and on-side, to challenge them and help get them ready for the next big steps they will be taking soon (i.e. primary school and nursery for #1 and #2 respectively).  It will be these sort of things that I imagine I will be spouting about, but all suggestions are welcome of course.  I will not use any names but will sprinkle in a photo here and there.

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Finally – what is Deputy Dadd all about?  Well, I am a fairly consistent shunner of social media, having long ago tired of the incessant waffle, endless adverts and reports of where people are having cocktails or that they have just had a terrible poo.  I do use Twitter (although mainly to check the Donald is actually saying all those crazy things, and to raise my morale with the  feed).  But then I realised I needed a Facebook account for keeping up with a cycling group I have joined and, combined with wanting to write a blog about being a stay at home dad, Deputy Dadd was conceived (as I am merely deputising for the expert parent around here, plus I suppose I have to keep the peace from time to time).  So there is now a Deputy Dadd Facebook alias (Facebook won’t allow “Dad” as a surname) but he has no friends – and he won’t be getting any, just doing plenty of cycling.  And trying to live up to the high standards set by his predecessor, of course.

*(Apart from Tuesdays when both kiddos are in childcare, as I am frequently reminded).

Why and the splash-pad

The word “why” has definitely arrived in our house, primarily via Daughter #1 (who understands what it means, if not always when to use it) but also #2, who has taken to mimicking her sister in the traditional way (with little apparent understanding of its meaning).  There is almost no situation where it cannot be asked, including why people are called a particular name, why it is getting dark, why it is lunchtime, why we have a shed and so on.  Some are easy, some difficult, and some I have little idea about how to go about answering.  The easiest question to ask is usually the most difficult to answer when a little one is asking.

Routine has, perhaps with some trepidation, fully taken over in terms of full-time dad-hood, a necessary evil when managing small kids which has the combined effect of making time pass quickly and making it somewhat boring (think Groundhog Day).  The challenge, as it is for all parents, is maintaining the routine for naps, mealtimes and bedtime whilst keeping things interesting for both kids and parents.  Whilst the weather is wet (often during spring) this is harder, but now the sun is shining relatively frequently and the temperatures are up, getting out and about is the way ahead for getting kids fulfilled and tired.  Whenever possible the car is to be avoided, and having a decent bike trailer can allow transportation and napping at the same time.  Magic.

Cycling locally is challenging in itself, not least because the majority of development near where we live happened in the 1970s when cycling wasn’t a “thing”.  Hence all the pathways are narrow and often have steps and/or offset barriers, making them un-navigable for me and my passengers (as well as some pushchairs and mobility scooters).  Not much to be done about this either when the council doesn’t have enough money (or so they say) to maintain the existing infrastructure.  Thanks austerity.

However, summertime allows such fun as splash-pads, picnics, camping and the beach – great news for little people and parents alike.  Just as the sun reveals more of the pasty-white skin of the British populace, it gives me more opportunity to indulge in extra people watching (my current favourite hobby).  I have seen some interesting things, some quite unbelievable.  Of particular note was an incident at the splash-pad on a hot day recently… I watched a child relieve themselves (number one) in full view of the world, stark naked, with no sense of anything unusual having occurred.  It was not a baby or toddler, but a four or five year old – I scanned around the assembled parentage and soon identified the progenitor.  Not a blink, despite apparently watching the entire episode.  I questioned myself – is pissing in the splash-pad ok, even if you are four?  Is tacitly condoning it ok too?  Errr, no it is not.  And I know that I should have confronted the parent to say that it is not ok, but it was a nice sunny day and they were bigger and tougher-looking than me (not going to say if they were mum or dad).  Just move my kids around to the other side of the splash-pad, easy.

Next job – to get a job (i.e. one that pays).  The year of living the dream is rapidly drawing to a close and the return to paid employment looms ever closer, good opportunity to advertise my imminent availability (all positions considered)… the countdown to October is on.

Age of Austerity

Warning – contains a graphic image

Six months into a year at home with the kids, I am still mostly sane and continue to enjoy each day (with the occasional exception).  Cooking, cleaning, changing nappies and going to toddler groups all combine to make the time pass quickly and one day soon becomes the next.  The initial challenges still prevail (including the very fact that I am a dad, which still seems to make me invisible to mums from time to time) but I am getting better at the art of home management.  This naturally includes procrastination and only cleaning the bits that people can see.  My further education in life outside paid employment includes an apprenticeship in people watching, where I have an interest in trying to work out what some people do all day, and trying out stuff that I have never done before (mostly due to lack of opportunity).  An example of this is pilates, so I went along to a class – nothing remarkable in doing pilates but this one was at 10am on a Tuesday morning, with an average class age of around 65 and not too many Y chromosomes in evidence (an ongoing theme).  I did find the pilates quite relaxing but rather underwhelming (maybe that is the idea?), although I have no regrets that I tried it.  A significant lowlight was what I am pretty sure was an emission from a lady of a certain age, in my immediate vicinity (we were all lying down on our sides doing some sort of stretch with a big elastic band, so everything was at the same level) and there was no admission of guilt or regret.  Did she even realise?  This did cause me to wonder  “What am I doing here?” but, on reflection, it is hardly a heinous crime and what is the odd uninvited fart when compared to discovering an actual turd lying on the bedroom carpet, courtesy of daughter #2?

As MasterCard once pointed out, such experiences are priceless but when it comes to actual hard currency the feeling of getting a decent pay cheque each month is now a distant memory.  Once again, I stress that I am not complaining: I submitted my notice with the full knowledge that I would stop getting paid and that I would have to adjust my lifestyle accordingly.  Perhaps the “full knowledge” statement is not entirely accurate… safe in the belief that I would be in receipt of a generous pension (but not too generous, and within the income tax personal allowance threshold) I figured it would be plenty to keep me in coffee, t-shirts and other important personal effects whilst still making a meaningful contribution to the household pot.  All well and good, apart from I left the Royal Navy (and paid employment) halfway through the financial year meaning that my pension was very much subject to the taxman’s attention and my pocket money was now only £150 a month, after paying my share of the bills.  This isn’t so bad – I have enough clothes, I already have plenty of bikes (ahem, five) and I can make a better Americano than most coffee shops anyway.  But I certainly value every penny more than I did when I had a job and seek every opportunity to save cash whenever I can.  Groceries come from Lidl, charity shops frequently get a browse and second-hand purchases on eBay or Gumtree are the norm.  It has made me realise how much the term “disposable income” lives up to its name: it is disposed of, often on products or services that bring little or no benefit.  Think mobile phone insurance (just take better care of your phone) or gym membership (just go out for a run, or improvise some dumb bells).  Martin Lewis would be proud of me.

Do I look forward to having a paid job again?  Of course, but thoughts of employment are exciting and scary in the ratio 51:49.  Knowing that I can get through a month on what some folk spend on a night out is quite satisfying and relieves the pressure of trying to find a job with a big salary.  Actually going to work is still a little way off but the time to really work out what that job might be, and to start applying for it, is now very close.  Lots of ideas abound but it will have to be a pretty good one to be a match to what I do now on a daily basis (or I could just work in a sewerage works and continue my current close relationship with feculence).  Such is my life.

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Is it 2018 already?

Most of the rest of the population probably think this too, but I am confident that my last four months have passed more quickly than most.  This is of course because I have now been through the first third of my “year off” with two kids under four (although very soon one will no longer be under four).  The good bits of Christmas are already a distant memory; my probation is over and rookie errors can no longer be forgiven.  The bleak months of winter stretch ahead of me, seemingly unendingly, punctuated by baby groups and endless trips to and from nursery.  I bloody hate January; in years past I would get one or two weeks skiing in to null the crapness but there is zero chance of that.  Just realised that I am moaning a lot, despite the unbelievable opportunity I am currently enjoying.  I cannot deny that I am looking forward to summer but my moaning is helping me to get motivated to make the best of the dwindling time (eight or nine months) I have left as a stay at home dad, which I know is an extreme privilege.  If it goes anywhere near as quickly as the last four months, I had best get on with enjoying it.

The last month or so has seen a really interesting development in the kids, as the younger (21 months) becomes yet more strong minded every day.  Despite being fiercely independent (“the dictator”), she adores her big sister and apes virtually everything that the elder daughter does.  Nothing unusual there, but her behaviour is often reciprocated by said elder daughter who frequently wants to copy what the younger is doing / watching / saying / eating and so on.  FOMO?  I was not ready for this, but the result is that I am developing an acute sense of diplomacy and foresight – every request must be considered on the merits of its likely effect on the other child.  Example, from dinner time – “May I have a napkin please?” – seems fine (and very commendable), but if I allow this then #2 will also demand a napkin.  #2 wears a bib – incompatible with a napkin, plus she can only just manage cutlery and the hand-to-mouth challenge that comes with it – and we have a finite supply of napkins (four I think).  Paper serviette?  That will last 30 seconds before being eaten or shredded.  Any other solution?  Don’t think so.  Request for napkin declined.  Ten seconds pass.  #1 then asks for a bib… you get the picture.  Hilarious and excellent training in diplomacy and negotiation for my future career, whatever that might be.  But every situation is a virtual tinderbox.

I am not going to bang on about Christmas and how magical it all was – the world has had enough of Christmas plus I am threaders with the unrelenting and growing commercialisation of the festival, but this is not time for that particular rant.  But we had a great time, particularly with #1.  I prefer to look forward to 2018 and the challenges, but more importantly opportunities (for the kids and me), that will emerge – not least school for #1.  This particular event should mark the end of my year in charge so is a great head-mark to keep in mind.  She is looking forward to school and certainly needs to stop eating chocolate ice cream.

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Previously I mentioned Movember and my long standing aspiration to grow a mo (having been unfairly denied by the Queen’s Regulations for the Royal Navy for the last 17 years).  It didn’t go so well – I learnt too late that I couldn’t just shave off the rest of my beard and leave a mo – I had to start afresh.  Having had a beard for nearly two years, facial hair is sloooooow to grow once shaved off.  Add to this the fact I didn’t even start until 8 November and the result was pretty shabby by the time I took this on 21 November (note unimpressed / embarassed look on #2’s face when presented with weak Blue Steel pose), by which time I had had enough and it had to go.  So the only New Year’s Resolution is to do Movember properly this year.

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Time Machine

My initial thoughts of a couple of blogs a month is looking wildly optimistic now.  Mid November and only three entries?  Pretty poor effort really.  The enormity of the task of switching around parental occupations (i.e. main breadwinner and principal childcarer) has really landed over the last few weeks, half term now a distant memory and Christmas seeming even further away.  This is not to suggest I am wishing my time away – far from it – but I think it will take a year for me (and all of the family) to be completely settled with the new roles assumed by both parents.  Unfortunately this will also be the time when I will hopefully be going back to work (TBC, please forward and ideas or job offers), so the upheaval will begin yet again.  At the moment this does seem a long way away, but as the weeks slip by at an alarming rate it will surely come around very fast indeed.  The transition this time has had a significant effect on both parents, especially so in mum who has returned to full time teaching after 3 1/2 years away, but the kids seem to have taken it all in their stride.  The resilience of children is always spoken about and is undoubtedly true in many respects, and I only hope that the transition is good for their confidence and adaptability as they grow older.  But impossible to know without a control group I suppose.

By now I think I am fully “in” my year of daddy day care – we have a good routine established, the days tend to roll into each other and it is a challenge to try and make each day different.  The lure of the TV is always there, and it is certainly the easiest option to plonk them in front of it and then get on with all the stuff (laundry) that needs sorting out.  I am not trying to be parochial about screen time but I do try and minimise it to 30 minutes maximum per day.  Happily both girls seem to prefer nursery rhymes on YouTube and I have no problem believing the supposed language benefits that accompany such rhymes.  Where possible I get outdoors with the girls, often using my bike if practicable (not easy in Calne, possibly the least accessible town I have ever been to).  I did a cross-country ride over to Pewsey recently, incredibly muddy and pretty hard work for us both but such a great opportunity to spend some uninterrupted time with a clever little three year old.  She seemed to enjoy it anyway.

Visits to various groups continue and there does seem to be a greater level of acceptance amongst the mothers’ union, or some members of it at least.  However, this month brings the annual facial hair fest of Movember, which I have been forbidden from participating in for the last 17 years due to the Royal Navy’s ban on moustaches (you can have a beard, but not a mo).  I cannot imagine a moutachioed dad at Tots and Dots or Rhyme Time is going to further my cause for male acceptance; I will post a picture when I have finished growing, but don’t expect too much as I realised that not shaving for two years (due to beard) has somewhat reduced my growth rate.  So a few wispy bits of bum-fluff it will probably be, coupled to the short haircut will make me look decidedly dodgy and probably a bit American (and a Trump voter at that, stereotype tick).

In any case, time is marching incessantly and it is barely four weeks until Christmas holidays (in the independent school sector anyway).  In some ways this is fantastic news as we will have a decent chunk of time together and the chance to do some of the nice things we want to.  On the other hand, this interlude will mark an effective third of my time as Deputy Dad(d) and another step closer to having to find a job and going back to work (boo).  All the more reason to try and enjoy my time and never feel like complaining about spending another hour, day or week with the girls.

 

(Week) Month Two: Male outlier

So this is busy.

Not a particularly auspicious start – not the fatherhood bit (or I hope not), more the lack of any missives or updates.  I doubt this has been noticed by anyone of course, and I did suggest I would write “a couple of times a month at most”, but I have found myself to have minimal time to do anything much over the last month.  This is not what I expected – perhaps I did not devote much time to really thinking about what I would actually do on a day to day basis, but my days seem to swing between stuff I have to do (feeding kiddos, doing laundry, trips to nursery etc), stuff that I should be doing (learning and development, reading, trips out to the park etc) and stuff I want to do (cycling, watching TV, DIY etc).  This is particularly true on Wednesdays and Thursdays, when I have both children all day – I know, I know, break out the violins – plenty of parents (mostly mums) look after 2, 3 or 4 kids all day every day.  Such people are truly miracle workers and I am nowhere near them.

The last month saw an important personal milestone for me when I actually left the Royal Navy after 17 years (6,214 days to be precise).  This was significant in many ways, not least the security (and income) that such a job brings, but also the realisation that the path that we have chosen as a family is no longer wet concrete and that there is no going back.  This certainly made me think (again) about whether this is the right choice, quickly followed by the requirement to snap out of it and stop thinking such thoughts (too late for that now).  But the whole point of the crazy plan is securing the happiness, welfare and development of the girls and, so far, that is going well.  They both seem very happy, love the house and are developing their own mini social circles.  As for the parents – both adjusting to complete changes in location, employment, friends, income, weather (pretty much everything) – it is hard.  Humans are creatures of habit and big changes akin to what we have done are rare, although not unprecedented of course (many military families face complete upheaval every two years or so).  Children definitely seem quite unfazed by it, at least at the young ages that ours are – they just get on with it and make the most of all the opportunities available.  But I would recommend leaving any job (you will do eventually, unless you are Royal or Papal) – your mates turn up for lunch and you get presents!  And a hangover.

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One thing that has been starkly apparent in September has been how unusual I am in my role as a stay at home dad.  At the various groups and clubs I have attended there is occasionally one other father, very rarely two; as usual, the kids are not bothered in any way by this but I think the mums’ union that tends to prevail probably are, subconsciously at least.  I am the hairy-faced, sometimes grumpy, often late or just-in-time man who turns up with two girls, normally dressed in inappropriate clothes*.  This is out of the ordinary and (human nature again – habitual creatures) I suppose it is easier to keep chatting to the people you know already? Except that I don’t know anyone (maybe one or two), cue feeling a bit sorry for myself on the first few occasions.  With two kids and no wedding band (I don’t do jewellery) it is quite possible they think I am a single dad?  But the onus seems to be on me in any case and I have started to get on with it, it’s not so bad.  Asking advice is normally a good starter, together with the obvious “how old is your little boy/girl” (sometimes it really is boy/girl and I cannot tell, which normally just means “how old is your little one?”).  But it all boils down to being a bit more friendly and getting out of the normal comfort zone, and others usually follow.  If they don’t, I’m ok with talking to someone else anyway.

Final (and only cycling related) anecdote came from a trip the the Cycle Show at the NEC in September.  At the event I watched an interview with Martyn Ashton, a British and World Champion mountain bike trials rider who has made some amazing videos (I first saw him in Road Bike Party which has to be seen to be believed).  He was paralysed whilst riding in 2013 whilst doing a display (someone asked “what did it feel like when you had your accident?” and he replied “well, nothing really”).  There are plenty of examples of people overcoming adversity but Martyn Ashton is right up there, and is now riding bikes again – this is the first time.  Certainly an inspiration whenever I think life as Deputy Dadd is a bit tough.

*Not always down to me – Daughter #1 is infamous for knowing what she wants to wear.