Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween - This is not America (unfortunately)

Halloween Lantern

It's Halloween. Time for "Trick or Treat"! Well, that may be true in Connecticut where Hayley lived for some years, but here in our part of Stockport it seems to be sadly out of fashion.

Hayley made a pumpkin lantern with Oliver at the weekend, placed it in the window this evening and was ready with treats for the Halloween visitors. So how many times did we get the tell-tale knock on the door? Once! There were two little girls dressed rather like Cinderella. Nothing too scary at all. (Bless them.) And this was at 8pm, long after Oliver was sound asleep in bed.

So all in all a bit of a let down. But at least the two girls got a handful of lollys instead of the one each we'd budgeted.

Lantern in the window
Lantern in the window

I love my lollipop!

I love my lollipop

Hayley gave Oliver one of the lollipops she bought in readiness for Trick or Treaters. I think we can safely say he enjoyed it!


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Making a Pumpkin Lantern for Halloween

Oliver helped his Mummy make a pumkin lantern for Halloween.

Oliver loves...

At 1 year 1 month 2 weeks and 6 days old, Oliver loves...

  • Reading. Before bed tonight he read a big pile of books with me. Sometimes he gets through the whole book while others are tossed aside after a few pages. I remember picking up a book about his birth-sign before he was born. It said a good career for him would be Critic.

  • Trying on Daddy's glasses. He steals them from my face then tries to put them on (unsuccessfully). I help him and place them on the end of his nose so he can peer over them at me, looking like a mad professor.

  • Thomas the tank engine. During the week, Oliver gets up at 7am and comes into our room to sit on our bed and watch Thomas and friends on Nick Junior 2. He loves to make the whistle sound. He also has a Thomas pushalong which he pushes around the house and is helping him learn to walk. Not to mention an ever growing number of other Thomas toys.

  • Showers. Baths are out of favour right now. He loves a shower, either with his Mummy when he gets picked up and held, or just by himself when he sits under the pouring water palying with the plug in preference to all his bath toys.

  • Walking along with Mummy and Daddy holding a hand each. He loves to do this when we are out and about. I think he imagines he is taking us for a walk. Actually he could be right.

  • Music. He goes to "Song Time", "Rhythm and Rhyme" and likes to just listen to nursery rhymes on CD which his Mummy sings along to. At Song Time, where Damien plays guitar and sings, Hayley tells me he is the most attentive baby, watching our friend Jo who sits facing him as she sings along. At the end of the song he claps. Given that I let him strum my guitar as I play at home, Damien is lucky that he hasn't attempted to do the same there.

  • Teletubbies. It's 8.30 on Saturday morning and Oliver has had his breakfast. We've read a pile of books, pretended to make cups of tea, investigated how to get a coke bottle top off and back on again. Now Oliver is happily watching Teletubbies before we go out. He shrieked with delight the moment he saw the baby's face in the sun at the start of the programme.

  • Walking. This morning he walked the length of the room to the front door. He looked so proud of himself when he looked round with a big smile. Earlier he took me for a walk with his Thomas pushalong, all the way to the little park on Craig Road near our house. His current shoes are "walker/crawler" shoes. His new ones will have to be proper walking shoes.

  • Play dates. He particularly seems to love playing with Niamh, Jessica and Jack at the moment. We only have to tell him he's going to see Jack and he shouts back "Jack!" and gets excited.
  • Friday, October 27, 2006

    Music was my first love...

    Oliver introduces himself to Daddy's guitar

    I used to be a right "muso". Actually, it's not quite that bad. I used to be a wannabe musician. Now I'm just a musician. Amateur, home-bound and largely stagnant. There isn't much time to sit back and strum the guitar. And when I do I'm usually accompanying my own unique version of "The Wheels on the Bus" for Oliver's entertainment.

    But every now and then I hear a piece of music that will remind me how much I love music and why for most of my life I have felt driven to write music myself. It might be popular or classical, The Beatles or Bach, Joni Mitchell or Justin Timberlake. (OK, I'm kidding about Justin Timberlake.) But it makes me long to write just one great song. Because music is a force of nature. I mean, good grief, even Abba's floor-filling "Dancing Queen" is enough reason for me to be glad to be alive!

    And now my love of music has an added impetus: the desire to share the joy it brings me with my son. Sitting at work today listening to my iPod to block out the chatter, Gustav Holst's "Jupiter" suddenly filled my ears. I felt a rush that echoed the music itself. All I could think was how I would love to play this to Oliver and wondered how old he would be before he might enjoy it too.

    Of course, there's no guarantee he'll ever share my tastes. And obviously he'll feel obliged to love his own kind of music when he is a teenager. But maybe once in a while we'll agree. After all, we both enjoyed the Balamory theme tune this morning.

    Back to my iPod. Immediately "Jupiter" finished I heard the familiar strains of "Hanging Around" by the Stranglers and I was struck not only by the ever-presence of some music in my life but also how its meaning to me has changed with the changes in my life. Back in the late '70s "Hanging Around" evoked a hardcore teen identity in the immediate post-punk era. Nowadays it's the song I sing to Oliver to make him smile. I wonder what the 15 year old me would think if I could travel back to tell him that's how it will be one day. I suspect he would smile.

    BBC - "Hewitt asks for alcohol tax rise"

    Hewitt asks for alcohol tax rise

    "Tax on alcohol should rise to reduce binge drinking among teenagers, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has said.

    Ms Hewitt urged chancellor Gordon Brown to "really increase" taxes on alcohol, especially on drinks such as alcopops, most popular with young people."

    I sympathise with Ms Hewitt's motives and I would not scream too much even if they put up the price of my precious beer. But I don't believe this is anything near being the whole answer. After all, drugs are very expensive but young people still find ways to acquire and take them.

    I think getting the message across that drinking to excess is dangerous in the short and long term and that being out of control is far from cool - stupid in fact - is more key to solving this problem.

    Thursday, October 26, 2006

    Walking: it's the way forward

    This morning before I left for work Hayley saw Oliver walk without prompting across the room for the first time. He was standing up against the coffee table and decided to go and see Mummy who was sitting against the sofa. But instead of dropping to all fours and crawling as he usually would, he walked the 4 or 5 steps across the room to greet her.

    It's the first time he has decided to travel on two feet for a distance further than "diving" distance (ie two steps and a dive). Previously he has only walked this far when we start him walking with our hands around him then let go.

    This evening he walked un-prompted and unaided across the kitchen from the cooker to the sink. He staggered slowly with his arms outstretched - zombie fashion! - until he reached the sink where Hayley was standing. She looked down at him open-mouthed with delight and told him how clever he was. He laughed, excited and pleased with himself.

    Twenty six pounds, nine ounces

    Oliver was weighed today. He weighs 26 lbs 9 ounces. He is still in about the 91st percentile for his weight and 93rd for his height. He's a big chap!

    Wednesday, October 25, 2006

    It's only words

    Before having Oliver I imagined that one day a word would pop out of our child's mouth in a clearly defined way. Wrong!

    I am pretty sure Hayley would agree his first word was "Dadda", but he was making "Da" sounds long before it was clear he was talking about me. Nowadays it's pretty clear when he's talking to (or about) me: greeting me as I come home; standing at the bottom of the stairs shouting "Dad"; or hearing my voice on the phone and saying "Dadda". He even progressed to "Daddy" last night in the car. (Somewhat confusingly he says "Daaaaaaaaa" when he sees Thomas the Tank Engine.)

    But he has started to add other words now too. They may not be easily decipherable to any but his parents but we at least can identify them.

    When asked certain questions - usually about things he likes to do such as go for a shower or go out in the car - he will say "Yes".

    Last night he stood at the top of the stairs looking down at me half-way down the stairs, waved and said "bye bye".

    And as I mentioned previously he sings "row row" when we sing "Row row row your boat...." with him.

    It's quite a revelation to hear these first words from him and it brings home the fact that he is growing and learning every single day at an incredible rate.

    It also makes him even more adorable.

    Older eggs pass on fertility risk

    Older eggs pass on fertility risk

    Apparently being an older father also has an impact. Older being 32 years old! There goes my lineage...

    Tuesday, October 24, 2006

    BBC - "Flu jabs for pregnant women call"

    Flu jabs for pregnant women call

    Pregnant women in the UK should be vaccinated against seasonal flu, government advisers say.

    Sunday, October 22, 2006

    Fab Weekend

    The boys love pizza

    As I type I can hear Oliver thundering around upstairs on all fours laughiiing as he goes while his Mummy has a shower. Now he has crawled into the bathroom to join her and is enjoying his bedtime shower. I should be making a better fist of tidying the kitchen but I couldn't let this moment pass without capturing it.

    We've had a great weekend (despite an unpleasant little incident last night) and we haven't really done anything very special. Oliver has been such fun and we spent more time together than usual: our happy trio has shared all but an hour of the weekend.

    Yesterday saw us take a trip to Pizza Hut. Both Oliver and I love bread so it's unsurprising that we also love pizzas. Then we walked with him around Maplin. He loves having each of us hold one hand at either side of him. Occasionally we count "one, two, three..." then swing him in the air. It doubles not only as a beautiful picture-book family moment but an excellent way to speed up progress along the pavement from half a mile per hour to about three.

    Today has been fairly grey and damp. Apart from a brief playdate with Isabella this morning and a trip to Somerfield he has been at home with us most of the day. He played with us or amused himself (while I watched football - Utd 2 Liverpool 0), napped for half an hour and ate a good sized dinner to boot.

    He's so expressive now. Even an interesting frying pan can elicit an excited "WoooOOOoooo" and a chuckle. And he's absorbing things we say and do like a sponge. THis weekend he has added puckering up to give kisses and also blowing kisses. No doubt this will be done willy nilly to passers by. Etiquette tends to pass one year olds by.

    This evening has been marked by him sitting next to us on the sofa eating an apple (from last weekend) while Hayley and I ate our dinners next to him. This soon evolved into Oliver trying to get a chunk of my veggie burger but he did it in such a friendly and un-whiney way that it was as much fun as any game we'd played.

    After dinner there was time for reading (Thomas books and animal pop-up books) before a game of Chase. He starts it by crawling at high speed to the door then looking back at me as if to say "come on!". The moment I lurch forward on all fours he laughs excitedly and scurries off. If I catch him I eatiher tickle him or let him escape under my legs. He absolutely loves this game. His excitement at being chased and his potential capture is plain to see.

    FInally we had a little wind-down time then asked him "WOuld you like a shower?", "Yes", he replied. So off he crawled up the stairs with Mummy "chasing" him for his shower.

    [20 minutes later]
    I've just been up with him while Hayley gave him his milk. It seemed the best way to end the weekend, all together. He's emitting the occasional sleepy grumble quietly now in his cot. I can't blame him. It's the sort of weekend you don't want to end.

    Troublesome teens

    Last night Hayley picked up some friends from the airport. When she came home she immediately burst into tears.

    On turning the penultimate corner before our house she had been met by a bunch of teenagers standning in the road. Most of them moved out of the way, but one remained there there with his arms outstretched in a "come on then" fashion.

    She wound down the window and (polite as ever) asked if there was a problem. She was met with foul mouthed abuse (too foul to re-produce here). She was told by one of the other kids that the boy was deaf (as if this was en explanation). She drove home.

    I'm not a confrontational sort of person. I'm more a peacemaker by nature. But this incensed me. I got Hayley to point out the group who were still sitting at the top of the road and went over to speak to them. In brief I told them in no uncertain terms that they had better stay away from partner or there'd be trouble for them. Several of them protested their innnocence at this point (unsurprisingly) pointing the finger at one boy in the group who was indeed deaf. I was ready to leave it at this point but the boy then stood up and started to be aggressive, standing right in front of me with his arms out saying "come on!".

    Obviously I wasn't about to respond to this. He was only a 14 year old boy and I was acutely aware that if he attacked me, even if I only laid the slightest hand on him in self defence there was the danger of being accused of some sort of improper behaviour afterwards. So I told him to calm down and tried to talk to his friends as he was unclear in his speech and under the streetlights I had no idea whether he could even lip-read what I might be saying.

    But he kept coming towards me, intervening between me and his friends. The said friends then started to explain that he had been fighting with all of them all evening and it started to become clear that really there was only one troublemaker in the group and he was persistently trying to get in my face.

    Eventually as I talked to one of his friends he stood within inches of me and tried to (or made as if to) head butt me. As he was so close I discovered the real underlying trouble here: he was drunk. I could smell it on him.

    By this point Hayley had come over and we managed to get his address from a girl in the group while I kept the boy at arms reach (literally). She told us his Mum couldn't handle him and he would probably be sent to his Dad who would beat him.

    So we returned to our house and faced a dilemna. Should we go round to see the boy's Mum and so perhaps place him in danger of a beating? Or should we let the incident pass and possibly fail him by not letting his Mum know what a state he was in? (Not to mention the fact that doing nothing might give the impression he could get away with it and invite further misbehaviour - and he knew where we lived now).

    As we mulled this over and tried to settle down to enjoy the rest of our evening, there was a knock at the door and there he was, his friends 10 feet behind him on the road. Oh great!

    But to our surprise on opening the door he immediately said simply "sorry" and held out his hand which we each shook and said OK. He truly cut a sorry figure. No doubt his friends told him we were off to see his Mum next day and reality kicked in.

    The only thing that bothers me now is the thought that his Mum either didn't know what he was doing, or worse, she knew and had no control. Either way it's a situation I hope to God that we as parents never face.

    All the best toys...

    Future chef?

    All the best toys are not toys at all! Our living room has a large box which is literally overflowing with toys. So what does Oliver play with? The pots and pans in the cupboard of course. And the door to the cupboard itself which he swings open and shut repeatedly.

    Other great "toys" include:
  • the TV which is great for turning on and off when Daddy is trying to watch something trivial like, say, live coverage of Man Utd vs Liverpool

  • the telephone which has an interesting backlit hands-free button (resulting in several inadvertent phone calls)

  • In my room, making some calls...

  • the Sky remote control which has a worrying tendency to select obscure pay-per-view channels when in Oliver's hands. (That's my excuse when the bill comes in and I'm sticking with it.)

  • the Dust-buster vaccuum cleaner which he helpfully uses with varying degrees of effectiveness

  • Our helpful son

  • Mummy's expensive scented candles in heavy glass holders which have to be removed from the table at every oportunity.

  • the controls on the oil heater in the conservatory resulting in tropical temperatures and the imminent purchase of a fireguard

  • Still, he has to explore to learn. At least to date he hasn't repeated my early experiment with un-cooked eggs by dropping them on the kitchen floor to smash.

    Saturday, October 21, 2006

    Row row row your boat

    For the first time tonight I not only heard Oliver sing but he was singing words. Hayley sang "Row row row your boat..." to him and he clearly joined in and sang "row row". My heart did the sort of flip I thought was only experienced by teenage first loves. It was simply the sweetest sound I have ever heard.

    Fatherhood does this to me. It turns me into a soppy lump. But he is a joy and it's a privilege to be with him watching him grow day by day. And he really does seem to be a little bit different every day now.

    When I met Hayley I thought I had met someone to enjoy every day with. I had no idea she would bring me another little person who also adds so much happiness to every single day. Talk about an unexpected bonus!

    "I'll have that!"

    "I'll have that!"
    Originally uploaded by Steven Townley.
    Oliver loves this shopping trolley which Hayley has just bought. He sat next to it and put in mini-boxes of breakfast cereal, plastic fruit, plastic vegetables, plastic eggs... anything that took his fancy in fact.

    I started to throw things in too saying "I'll have that" in a high-pitched (Monty Python-esque) voice as each item went into the basket. This had him in stitches.

    Thursday, October 19, 2006

    BBC NEWS | Health | Sleep loss in child-obesity link

    BBC NEWS | Health | Sleep loss in child-obesity link

    Last night Oliver woke or stirred and cried on a regular basis. We had to go into him at midnight, 1am, 2am, 4am, 5am and was woken without having to go in a couple of other times between. So lack of sleep is a hot topic in our house.

    But now we discover that our efforts to give Oliver a healthy start in life by feeding him the right foods could all be undone if he sleeps badly. And recently his sleep patterns have changed.

    His nocturnal stirring has worsened this week. We think we might have identified the cause as an oversized sleeping bag which he gets tangled up in. We'll see if we're right tonight as he's in a better sized bag.

    But he has also started to go down to sleep less well. I suspect it's his age. Perhaps he has realised that bedtime need not be a time of our making. So far tiredness has got the better of his protests but it is a worrying reminder of his earlier bedtime woes.

    All we can do is continue to give a him a routine, lots of love and cross our fingers. Oh, and keep sugary snacks out of the house!

    Saturday, October 14, 2006

    "That's 5 small steps for the little man,...

    ...one giant grin for Mummy and Daddy".

    OK, it's not quite walking on the moon, but today Oliver has started to realise that walking can be more than just falling forwards for a couple of steps and it needn't involve holding Mummy or Daddy's hand. Today at "Bounce and Rhyme" he took about four steady consecutive steps. Tonight he repeated the feat a couple of times and then took 5 steps. This is the first time he has really looked steady on his feet far a few feet at a time.

    Until now his walking has been triggered by us tricking him into walking from one of us to the other so that he realises he can do it. Normally his walks start by grabbing my hand, but I sense that is about to change: he'll just be up and off. It's another level of independence for the little man, which is great. It's also a bit more work for us to keep up with him. It's a good job they say it keeps you young.

    A rash

    We've noticed that Oliver has started to come out in a little rash this week. A blotchy rash that looks a bit like a nettle sting: red areas with bumps that look a little like tiny blisters. We can't work out whether he is allergic to something.

    Today he woke from his afternoon nap and grumbled persistently. After a few minutes of trying to persuade him to go back to sleep lying on his Mummy (as he sometimes does) he became quite upset and we noticed the rash was on his face. Once he had calmed down it seemed to go. It's hard to know whether the cause was something on his bed, Hayley's shirt or just agitation.

    Friday, October 13, 2006

    Please step forward the real 21st Century Mums.

    The Observer ran an article in its magazine about 21st Century Mums. They picked out 8 categories of mother who they claimed represented motherhood in the 21st century. They were:

    The career mother
    The surrogate mother
    The older mother
    The lesbian mothers
    The single mother by choice
    The teenage mother
    The adoptive mother
    The eco mother

    The article pointed out that these ever so modern mothers demonstrated how far we have moved on from the "married stay-at-home mother of our parents' era".

    How far indeed! But their assumption that this list illustrates how we've moved in the right direction is one I question. There is a mother missing from their list of 21st century representatives: the Mum who decides to sacrifice the smooth escalation of her career and associated financial gain because she believes the first years of her child's life are the most important and the ones when the child needs their mother around.

    We looked into nurseries when Hayley was on maternity leave and even sent Oliver to one for a few short (and too often unhappy) trial visits. But after researching the subject - and particularly after reading Stephen Biddulph's book "Raising Babies" - I concluded that there was no substitute for Hayley's time and attention as far as Oliver was concerned, no matter how financially unpalatable that looked at the time.

    I'd say the majority of mothers we've come across in the first year of Oliver's life have expressed the wish to stay at home with their child on either a full- or part-time basis. Many of them have managed to do so and couldn't be happier about their decision.

    Work-life balance is talked about a lot. But it seems to me that people are now doing more than talking about it as being important, they are actually doing something about it, even if it means sacrifices. So my message to The Observer is to wake up to the real 21st century trend in mothering: valuing it as highly as any paid job, giving it the respect it deserves and our children the start in life they deserve.

    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    BBC NEWS | Health | Walnuts 'combat unhealthy fats'

    BBC NEWS | Health | Walnuts 'combat unhealthy fats'

    So I can continue to pour extra virgin olive oil all over my salad provided it has plenty of walnuts in it? No problem!

    BBC NEWS | Health | Pregnant women 'oily fish alert'

    BBC NEWS | Health | Pregnant women 'oily fish alert'

    So pregnant women should eat oily fish in moderation and avoid sharks. I suspect they may already be doing the latter.

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    "Mummy not superhuman" shock

    Yesterday for the first time Hayley woke up to find herself feeling so full of a flu-type bug that she had to ask me to stay off work and look after Oliver. It is normally me who succumbs easily to any passing bug or virus whereas she soldiers on apparently immune to infection of any kind.

    Oliver took this as an opportunity to:
    - fill his nappy the moment I had put his breakfast on the table
    - fill his nappy for a "bonus" second time the moment I got to Somerfield with him.
    - abandon his usual habit of going for a nap without protest in favour of a long crying session.

    Hayley - who was woken by the racket - assured me this last problem was because I am so much fun and he doesn't want to be parted from me. She's such a sweet-talker.

    Man, we are so busted!

    Yesterday Hayley was poorly, so I stayed at home in the morning and looked after Oliver. For much of the time we played, read books and watched TV in the living room.

    Late in the morning Hayley came downstairs. Unfortunately we didn't hear her. She walked stealthily into the room to discover me demonstrating to Oliver how to rip up tissues. I would rip one up and Oliver would laugh and follow suit.

    My defence that this scientific experiment introduced him to several key concepts in the field of physics and mechanics seemed to fall on deaf ears.

    Sunday, October 08, 2006

    A day out with Thomas!

    Oliver, Daddy and Thomas

    You don't have to read too much of this blog to realise that Oliver loves Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends. So imagine how excited he was when we took him to ride on Thomas himself! (Thanks to Donna for the tip off about the day!) Oliver's friend Jack also came along with his parents, Manny and Sara.

    Oliver's face was a picture when we arrived at the station and he saw the giant inflatable Thomas (a kind of Thomas bouncy castle). But when he saw Thomas himself on the tracks he grinned a mile wide and did his impression of Thomas's whistle (which is sort of two short shouts) before attempting to climb down from my arms, presumably to head over the tracks to see him.

    He got to a short ride on Thomas and a lollipop, plus a longer ride on another steam train when we trekked over to Ramsbottom where we had lunch.

    Hayley and Oliver

    It was a great day out (even if £11.50 each for adults was a bit steep). There are more pictures from the day here.

    Oliver and Daddy

    Monday, October 02, 2006

    Soppy Daddy #2

    As Oliver climbed onto me whilst simultaneously watching Thomas the Tank Engine at the weekend, his blonde locks brushing my face as he steadied himself, I said perhaps the soppiest thing ever to come out of my mouth. "His hair is made from the straw that angels sleep upon."

    My only defence is love.

    Soppy Daddy #1

    Monday night is Hayley's night to do as she pleases and mine to put Oliver to bed. So it's the one night of the week I am guaranteed to give him his bedtime milk and consequently get a cuddle from the little man as that's one of his bedtime habits.

    Tonight Hayley decided to stay home til he had gone to bed as he has been a bit poorly today (runny nose, a bit grumpy). She sat next to me on the sofa-bed while Oliver sat on my knee and I gave him his milk. When it came time for him to have a cuddle half way through his bottle, instead of turning to me he turned to Hayley and reached out to her. Hayley didn't need a second invitation and promptly stole my only guaranteed cuddles of the week: she's a cuddle thief!

    I can't complain though. He still protests about going to Hayley in the mornings once I have picked him up, so I suppose we each get our share of his affections. Mummy gets evening cuddles. Daddy's his morning taxi.

    When Daddy is left in charge...

    Oliver is always trying to get into our cupboards to play with the pots and pans, so the other day I decided to let him have his way (while I watched over him to avoid disaster... honest).

    When he started there was nothing on the floor...

    "Chop sticks? Drum sticks more like!"

    "This is great fun Daddy"

    "As soon as Daddy stops watchin I'm going to have one of these Weetabix."

    "Oooooh, these Shreddies are a bit crunchy without milk aren't they."

    "Put the camera down Daddy. We could be here a while..."

    Sunday, October 01, 2006

    I'm all lost in the supermarket

    In a very quiet Tesco at 8.30 this Sunday morning I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard the short "Blip" sound of the countdown for "the button" in the TV show "Lost".

    Fortunately it was only the barcode scanner at the checkout.

    Oliver, who was in the back-pack, was unimpressed by the whole incident and fell asleep shortly afterwards.

    Save the world or save your kids?

    We're in the process of moving house and one of the first considerations when choosing where to move was a good local school. Consequently we've really stretched ourselves to buy the place we want.

    As a result I will have to stop my monthly charitable donations. I've been making these for years and have always thought that if a self-confessed middle-class, middle-aged man like me can't donate something then who can. But now I find myself abandoning these charities in the name of my son.

    And similar choices go on daily. I find myself putting the Fairtrade and re-cyclable goods back on the shelf on the grounds that they are "just too expensive".

    So my message to any twenty- or thirty-somethings out there is this: accrue your brownie points early and hope you've done enough to avoid bad karma by the time you have a mortgage that feels heavier to carry than your one-year-old after 5 miles.