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All things parenting from the bestselling author of Pregnancy for Men, Babies and Toddlers for Men and Planet Parent
There’s nothing quite like having a five year old in the house to make you realise how little you know.
‘Daddy, how does the microwave work?’ is a perfectly reasonable and on the surface of it very straightforward question to ask.
But after saying the words radiation and ping a lot I soon realise the answer is essentially beyond me.
As it is for the combustion engine, laptop and even the common or garden dimmer switch.
All too often I find myself restating what something is, as a poor substitute for how it actually achieves what it does. A technique which is always met with an exasperated response along the lines of:
‘Yes I know Daddy, but HOW does it make the light less bright? HOW?
I can’t remember my Dad not knowing how something worked. If he wasn’t sure he’d strip it down, lay it out and reassemble it. Nowadays I struggle to think of anything more complicated than a pair of scissors which I could explain the inner workings of.
As a child I distinctly remember being enthralled by the first car I got into which didn’t let an unused seat belt just dangle limply inside it, but somehow sucked it into a secret compartment, ready to be pulled down again when necessary.
As for the first automatic car window I encountered, or – drumroll please – TV remote control I had he joy of pressing, it all seemed like sorcery – and I’m 40 rather than the 73 year old I’m sounding like.
But when you are born into a world where pausing live TV is old hat and an IPad can allow you to investigate the surface of the moon, it takes a lot more than an disappearing seat belt to generate awe.
Just as for my mother the Prestige pressure cooker is and always will be at the very forefront of the technological revolution, so what I view with wonderment is being left behind as soon as its out of its box.
And as the rate of change gathers even more pace one thing alone is certain – children’s questions are set to get even harder to answer.
There was a time, not that long ago, when 2.4 children as a family average was seen as a real revolution in the birth rate business.
After years of football team sized tribes not causing so much as a raised eyebrow, significant social change meant that the big unwieldy family was out and the smaller altogether neater unit was it.
But it didn’t stop there.
Now the figure is at 1.9 meaning there are more children with no siblings than there are those who have two brothers or sisters.
Despite being the youngest of seven I’m not necessarily a one eyed cheerleader for the enormous family, yes there are benefits and the occasional joyful plus point, but like anything in life there’s plenty of drama and downside too.
Likewise having researched the only child debate while writing my parenting books most of the perceived wisdom around the psychological plight of single children appears to be, on closer inspection of the evidence, a load of old twaddle.
So each to their own, which for my wife and I happened to be having a seemingly trend busting three, with our daughter Nancy joining our eight and five year old boys 12 months ago.
When Nancy was on the way we were warned by well meaning if puzzled acquaintances and quite a few interested and vocal strangers that a third child would mean needing a new car, a new house, several new jobs and a new day or two in the week to get stuff done.
In short, the message was that the difference between having two and three was more, much more, than merely having another pair of shoes in the hall, it was a tipping point, a moment which made the whole outnumbered thing very real indeed.
In truth those dire warnings together with the fact that making Nancy happen at all was far from straightforward have probably helped take the edge of the change for us so far so prepared for ankle biter armageddon were we as a couple.
It’s not been a doddle of course, the volume of washing alone seems to have magically increased by 1000% in all directions with the addition of just one small little girl, but the first year with all its sleepless nights and worry is done and we as a family are ready for a holiday.
Mmm, holidays, we’d not really thought about how they’d change with more kids than grown ups and an eight year gap between top and bottom.
When I take a moment to think it is safe to say that there is a very broad and diverse range of needs and wants when it comes to the Woods family holiday wish list currently.
Our eldest boy Stan wants water slides, ski jumps, multi sports, colouring-in, general ace activities and multiple connected devices. All with Ice Cream please.
Louis would love exactly the same only with the slides and jumps and activities scaled down in size by about a quarter. The Ice Cream can stay exactly as it is though.
Nancy would mostly like to put things in her mouth during her holiday and climb on other things before falling over on something very soft – all while attempting absolutely everything her brothers are doing no matter how mortally dangerous it may be.
All three of them love each other very much too so if all of that could somehow be delivered while they were within hugging and tickling distance of each other that would be just great.
And what do their parents want out of a holiday nowadays? It’s very kind of you to ask.
As every Mum and Dad knows you are only as happy on holiday as your unhappiest child so if even a third of the above wish list is met we will be delirious. Literally delirious.
If we can possibly sneak in a meal together, or at least avoid that most desperate of parental holiday scenarios – silently eating crisps and Laughing Cow cheese in a dark hotel room while small children sleep all around, then that will have been a mighty success too.
Throw in five uninterrupted minutes on a sun lounger at any point during proceedings and we really will have had the best vacation of all time.
If by any glorious chance there’s some sort of laundry service to be had too, well there just might be spontaneous combustion on the cards.
So let’s see, let’s see what big family holidays are out there to be had in 2016.
We might just pack the Laughing Cow just in case though.
You forget about a lot of things in the years since you had a baby in the house.
How much you love sleep is a biggy, as is the wet wipe paradox – the more packets you put into your household the less likely you are to be able to find one during a brown alert emergency.
It’s the unadulterated pain which the arrival of tiny new teeth create for all concerned that has reasserted itself in our parental memories this week though as our new daughter hits 7 months.
Far be it from me to call out mother and indeed father nature, but on the face of it the way us humans go about getting teeth feels pretty dumb, with milk teeth in particular causing a disproportionate amount of bother in the short time they are operational.
From around the six month mark onwards babies begin their three year long journey to push out a set of teeth that will hang about for a while before they start to fall out and are replaced by the real deal.
The process of cutting these baby teeth is termed as ‘eruption’ by medical folk and never in the field of biological jargon has one word been seen as so apt by so many.
The first series of ten or so teeth your baby cuts have the capability to cause one or all of the following: burning cheeks, red ears, high temperature, broken sleep, an urge to bite everything and everyone within reach, screams of pain as the jagged demon cuts through soft gum, cold like symptoms, drooling by the bucketful and full nappies so rancid thanks to the acidic teething saliva being produced that you feel like calling in a UN weapons inspection team to give them the all clear.
Other than trying to comfort them, there are a few things you can do to relieve the obvious pain like giving them a cold teething ring or administering the slightly Victorian looking homeopathic granules you’ll see in the chemist.
There’s next to no evidence these magical powders do any good whatsoever of course but there are parents out there who will wrestle you to the ground rather than concede it’s a load of old flowery hokum. At worst they give your teething bub something new to think about for a while once they feel them in their mouth and you get to feel a bit less useless.
Then after all the pain and the tears comes the moment when you see their toothy little grin for the first time and you wonder where your gummy little new born went.
That and who moved the wet wipes.