Monday, October 27, 2008

Philosophical Rhino

6.45am on Daddy's bed, as Daddy lies quietly savouring the final moments under duvet, Oliver sits next to him playing with his toy Rhinoceros.

Speaking as the Rhino, Oliver says "I'm a Rhinoceros. I don't know why I am."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Who goes there?

We have a "ding dong" two-tone doorbell for our front door. For a while after we first installed it a few months ago, whenever it rang Oliver would jump up and run around shouting in a mock serious tone "It's the doorbell, it's the doorbell" and run to the door to see who it was.

This tendency has diminished now, to be replaced by Lucy's take on visitors. Whenever anyone tries to leave the living room to go to the front door, or to go anywhere else for that matter, she will immediately race towards the living room door to come with them. If they are answering the front door, she will squeeze her way past their legs trying to see who it is. Our friend Jo has nick-named her "The Gatekeeper" in honour of this diligent scrutiny of all potential visitors.

Talking to children about death

This post was written on the indicated publication date, but was not actually published until after Hayley's Dad had passed away.

I haven't posted anything yet about the fact that Hayley's Dad is seriously ill and that sadly his illness is terminal. I did intend to post something last week when Hayley first visited him, at which point he was still undergoing tests. But I have now decided that I will not post anything for some time, perhaps even until after he has passed. But it is such an integral part of our life and of the experience of being a family that I feel it would be strange, even bizarre, to make no mention of it.

I have been looking for guidance about how to talk to Oliver about his Grampy's illness and prospective death. A particularly full, insightful and helpful article is provided by Hospice Net.

All we've told him so far is that Grampy is poorly and that Mummy went to see him to make him feel better. We also explained when Hayley was tearful that Mummy was sad because Grampy is poorly.

Explaining to a 3 year-old is a balancing act between ensuring you are honest to maintain their trust and not burdening or confusing them with complicated explanations.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sixty to nought to sixty


Today I collected Oliver from nursery on my bike. It's the second week running I've done this on Friday (for reasons that will become apparent sometime soon) and on both occasions I've been lucky to have glorious sunshine.

On both occasions also we went direct to the playground in our local park for some fun in the sun. This afternoon when we finished, rather than walking home with an ice-cream as we did last week, Oliver requested a ride before we went home. So I took him along some off-road paths in our area as he merrily sang away. He had been full of beans from the moment I collected him from nursery, charging around the park shouting "Come on Daddy" with a big smile as we ran over to say hello to some child he knows in passing and who looked nonplussed when he greeted them like a long lost friend.

After a particularly fun downhill section, he shouted "let's do that again", so I dutifully turned about and headed back up-hill. But within a minute he had gone quiet and I felt his bike helmet poke me in the back. He had fallen asleep. From full-on to flat-out in 60 seconds!

I reclined his seat before meandering to the chippy, our regular Friday evening destination, where I managed to order from the door and then pay without him stirring.


I then got the little man all the way home (with our lightly battered haddock, chips and peas warm against my stomach, under my coat) before he woke. Then, after this 30 minute nap, it was immediately like he'd never been asleep. I wish I could do that!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

BBC NEWS | Education | Lessons on sex 'to be compulsory'

BBC NEWS | Education | Lessons on sex 'to be compulsory'

A good idea, provided it is handled appropriately. I'm not sure what age it should start though.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Firelady Lucy


BBC NEWS | Politics | Flexible work changes 'reviewed'

BBC NEWS | Politics | Flexible work changes 'reviewed'

So much I could say about this. Let's just say it is short-sighted and typical of government (of all persuasions) to penalise parents, an easy target.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tough times

This post was written on the indicated publication date, but was not actually published until Hayley's Dad had passed away.

Some of our nearest and dearest are going through tough times at the moment.

Hayley spent several days in Wiltshire last week because her Dad is in hospital. The diagnosis is still not certain despite him being in there for over a week. Cushing's syndrome seems to be the current conclusion.

It is a difficult and worrying time. Her Dad's moods and demeanour have been altered by the imbalance in his body, which is distressing for those around him as well as himself.

While Hayley and Lucy were in Wiltshire, Oliver and I stayed up here. He was fairly content but was glad to talk to her on the phone. On Saturday night when I told him she was coming home and would be here when he woke up he said "I hope so".

On my side of the family my Mum's partner was in hospital last week after a nasty turn that was worryingly similar to his first heart-attack a couple of months ago. He's out again now.

Meanwhile my sister has slipped a disc, meaning my Mum is trying to help more with her 10 month old baby, despite having a few ailments of her own to contend with.

I have to say all these things have come as a bit of a shock. No-one I've mentioned was living unhealthily and they all seemed in pretty good shape until these latest turns. All we can do is try to support each other and count our blessings.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Skating shoes


As promised yesterday, I took Oliver to Toys R Us where we selected a pair of skating shoes. They are "Bob The Builder" skates that go over his regular shoes. They have a safety feature that limits the amount of movement in the front wheels, which is handy as without it he was a bit wobbly on our hard floors to say the least. An early backwards fall convinced me that wearing his bike helmet was essential and as it was a chilly day I left the heating off for a while and let him wear his padded jacket in lieu of elbow pads.


After that we went to his Nanny's, where the floors are carpeted and the little man kept his "scaping shoes" on all afternoon.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Video calling to the rescue

At times like this when Hayley is down in wiltshire with Lucy and i'm at home with Oliver, video calling is a real boost. The images may not look great as stills, but as video they convey a lot. As soon as Lucy saw me she said Dada! I captured this shot yesterday when my girls were in Subway, Hayley struggling to prevent Lucy from inspecting the entire shop including all its customers and its kitchens.

Scaping shoes (The start of pester power?)

From the moment Oliver woke this morning he started asking me whether he could have some "scaping shoes". At first I had visions of the little man climbing out of a window or running from the law after a bank robbery (though these days all the "bank robbers" seem to be on the other side of the counter).

But no, it seems he means "skating shoes", those fancy shoes some kids have with built-in wheels. Given that I couldn't see a good outcome to such a purchase, I fended off his requests by saying that they probably only make them for big boys and girls. Unfortunately I often tell him he's a big boy, it tends to help legitimise my requests that he not mimic Lucy's wailing or hit her over the head for fun. So he came straight back at me with "But I'm a big boy Daddy, so can I have some scaping shoes like the other boys and girls?"

It was this last bit about "like the other boys and girls" that struck home. He has often coveted a friend's toy, usually temporarily, but never has he burdened me with the guilt that "other boys and girls" in general have the object of his desire. He was so sweet about it that it was all I could do not to promise him a pair on the spot, but seeing as that could spell tears and disappointment tomorrow I resisted.

It's just another small signal that he is growing up and becoming aware of the world around him. I just hope it doesn't happen too fast.

I've told him we'll ask about these shoes when we go to the shoes shop to check his feet in his current shoes. Tonight he added another requirement to his intended purchase. "We'll get some pink ones Daddy. Pink scaping shoes." I should have seen that one coming!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Charity CD

In my post three days ago, I mentioned how difficult I find it to contemplate either of the kids being seriously ill. Today I received this email from my company social club.

Rex Stinson is a singer/songwriter from Bury. His 4 year old daughter Ruby is terminally ill and has been spending time at Derian House Children's Hospice. It is difficult for us to imagine what Rex and his family are going through at the moment. Using his considerable musical talents, Rex has released an album called 'Precious Child' to raise funds for the hospice. The album contains 12 tracks, including 9 original compositions with a broad range of subject matter including Rex's experiences at the hospice.

As a songwriter my experience has always been that it is only with some degree of emotional distance that I can translate my feelings into music. So I have nothing but admiration for Rex, that he not only copes with what he is going through but also raises money through his music at such a difficult time.

I'll be buying a copy from work tomorrow but if you are interested, check out Rex's myspace page where you can listen to tracks and order the CD.

BBC NEWS | Education | Cricket has a spin-off in class

BBC NEWS | Education | Cricket has a spin-off in class

Monday, October 13, 2008

Through a fog

Oliver slept better after the inhaler and medicine, though he still shouted from his semi-slumbers without ever waking up fully. I feel like I spent the entire night listening for him. When I woke I was still "on alert". But now I'm just tired, as if a goldfish bowl is round my head.

Hayley reports that this morning he has not been entirely himself, a bit emotional, but he seems OK and not struggling like yesterday.

We are doubting the high dosage of salbutamol recommended by the doctor though: up to 8 puffs at a time. We are going to see our own GP about it and in the meantime stay down at 2 at a time (4 at bedtime) and monitor him, giving more if needed. This comes on the back of comments from the pharmacist who was concerned at administering such large "uncontrolled" doses.

Restless night

It's 12.30am and the little man has already woken several times. Just given him 2 puffs on inhaler and cough medicine. Fingers crossed it will do the trick.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Even Spiderman can fall ill

Ever since having his face painted as Spiderman a few weeks ago, Oliver has shown an interest in the webbed super-hero. So when my friend Dave at work told me he had bought seven episodes of "Spiderman and His Amazing Friends" on DVD, I jumped at the chance of an "evaluation copy". Well, despite it being for an age-range somewhat higher than Oliver's, he has been rather entranced by it and asked for it in preference to any other TV this weekend.

In fact, we even bought him a Spiderman outfit on Saturday. We then went to Room 311 for lunch where he entered the disabled toilet and baby-changing room as Oliver and re-appeared as Spiderman, complete with full-head mask.


He not only charmed all the women on the next table and several other customers but brought a smile to the faces of several people as he walked home in full costume.

But last night our super-hero complained of feeling poorly when he went to bed. He seemed happy enough as he went down, but he woke after a few hours with a persistently bad cough. He kept waking despite trying to go back to sleep. We got him up and gave him some medicine. He complained of pain in what looked to be his stomach but in hindsight was probably tightness in his chest. He wasn't wheezing though and at the time, having seen him insist on disobeying Daddy by drinking his own weight in bath water, I wondered whether he had a dodgy tummy.

Today he woke cheery but still coughing. Hayley took him out while I got a lie-in, after which I cleared the spare room and packed away Lucy's moses basket to the attic (finally!). When Hayley returned from an afternoon in the park she said Oliver had been coughing and wheezing.

So at 5'ish this evening she took him to the out-of-hours doctor, who said he might be asthmatic and prescribed a salbutamol inhaler, which Oliver already has. So tonight the little guy had to take 4 puffs of his inhaler for the first time in perhaps 18 months. He doesn't like it but he was brave and did it with no complaint other than on the first puff. He did seem more keen after the promise of star stickers and (consequently) chocolate.

I have to say that I count my blessings that the kids have no major illnesses and have only occasionally been hospitalised. I am a complete coward at the thought of either of them suffering anything major and when faced with news stories of other parents with suffering children I am filled with a mixture of empathy, dread and selfish relief, knowing that "there bit for the grace of God...".

I know lots of kids have asthma, but I also know it can be very serious. Of course it's not even sure that he is asthmatic and I suspect he's just as likely to simply be vulnerable to these chest infections. I'm not asthmatic, but I clearly remember a childhood punctuated by standing with a towel over my head and my face inches from hot water breathing in steam.

But Hayley is asthmatic and apparently it runs on families, so the jury is still out.

Whatever the final diagnosis, I suspect I will never stop feeling like a part of me is ill too when he coughs in the night or has a temperature in the day. I just hope I can always be there for him and help him through. Oh, and be half as brave as my little superhero.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Add your own caption


Friday, October 10, 2008

Booking the registrar

We had an appointment with the registrar at Stockport Registry Office this afternoon, to book their services for next August.

The interview was in two parts, each of us seeing him separately and him asking us the same questions. Seems to odd to think how geared up it is to detecting false marriages or bigamy. As you sat at the desk answering there was a large notice in front of you reminding you that providing false information was prosecutable as perjury.

But the most bizarre moment of the afternoon was when he told me about the oportunity to re-register the childrens' births with Hayley's surname changed to be the same as mine. This was fine in itself but then he asked me, "Did you register the children in your surname or your partner's?"
"Mine" I replied.
"Ah, well it would have been better to register them in your partner's name".
"Oh, really? Why's that?" I asked, genuinely curious.
"Because then if you ever split up she wouldn't have to explain why their name is not the same as hers."
For a split second I wondered whether I had heard him right. I had.
I contemplated mentioning that when you have just jointly received arguably the greatest blessing life has to offer, the possibility of everything going pear-shaped many years downstream is not closest to your mind.

Of course in years gone by the different names on the birth certificate would have been a much bigger deal, so I can at least see why the chance to make the change seemed worth mentioning to him.

At the end of the interviews, despite both of us momentarily struggling to remember how old the other is under interrogation, we seem to have been accepted as suitable to marry. I'm sure the kids will be relieved.

Friday, October 03, 2008

And now, some music...

Oliver has just discovered "Yo Gabba Gabba" (which appears to be a very American kids' TV show dubbed into "English English"). In particular, last night we watched the above performance on the show by The Shins, playing their own composition "It's okay, try again". In fact we watched the song 5 times. And he is watching the same episode again this evening.

Last night after the song he asked me "can I have a guitar Daddy and we'll put it round my neck like the man"? How could I refuse. Not only had he been a little star all day but there's nothing I wouldn't do to encourage my kids to enjoy playing music.

So this afternoon Hayley took him and bought one. He seems pretty happy with it, striking rock poses around the living room. And now Hayley is talking about a proper guitar for him!

Oliver watches Yo Gabba Gabba from the comfort of Mummy and Daddy's bed.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


The little lady managed to injure herself a few evenings ago. She was bashing seven bells out of the TV screen when she decided to turn round backwards, bumping into the coffee table in the process and bouncing forward against the fire-guard, catching her nose on it in the process.

After the initial shock, it doesn't seem to have bothered her at all. Although it has gained her much sympathy from anyone who has met her this week.

BBC NEWS | Scotland | Free meal plan for Scots pupils

BBC NEWS | Scotland | Free meal plan for Scots pupils

Not much use to those of us south of the border.

And typical of many an administration to take the credit for introducing something good while handing over no additional cash to fund it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The weird and the wonderous

I've had an odd couple of days.

Yesterday I had what politicians would call "a frank exchange of views with line management". I'd call it taking unfair verbal pounding. In all my 21 years in industry I left work yesterday more stressed, and indeed distressed, than I can ever remember. I must have looked depressed when I got home as a friend of ours who was there immediately offered to babysit so Hayley and I could go out for the evening.

This morning, still feeling bewildered and beleaguered, I was weighing up whether to go to HR or to first write up the events that had so concerned me, when the said manager asked me for a chat. This turned out to be an immediate apology for the events of the previous day which they admitted they hadn't handled very well. It was the least expected but most welcome turn of events and this magnanimity went a long way to improving my disposition.

Then this afternoon I had an MR scan. It's the one where they slide your whole body inside a long tube. I was completely relaxed about the whole thing. Before they slide you in they lay you out carefully, place headphones on your head and ask your choice of station. I went for Mark Radcliffe on Radio 2.

But the moment I started to enter the machine I realised just how incredibly claustrophobic it was going to be. There is a button in your hand to press if you want to come out. That in itself was a reassurance. I quickly decided that with nothing really to visually focus on, closing my eyes and relaxing as if lounging at home was the best strategy. Of course I had to simultaneously try to keep very still, but this worked well.

The noise of the machine is not as horrendous as some reports I'd heard. Maybe they have improved in recent years. There were lots of long beeps and buzzes and chugging sounds but nothing alarming. I was in there about 20 minutes I guess, which is a long time but after each scan the operator talks to you saying "another scan of about 2 minutes about to start" and the occasional "are you feeling OK?". After a while I felt quite relaxed. In fact at one point a trailer for "Little Britain USA" came on and I almost laughed!

Afterwards while waiting for the CD of my images I got chatting to an older couple after assisting them with the coffee machine which just happened to be the model we have at work in the conference rooms. We chatted away about my kids and about when their kids (with the same age gap as mine) were the same age. As the conversation meandered, I learned that the recycling centre at Worcester has a special repository for windfall apples. The man speculated that the staff take them away in the evening to make scrumpy. A lovely notion.

When I got the CD of images I got chatting to the radiographer, asking about the long list of medical questions they ask before they admit you and how they might affect whether you can be scanned. I learned about various heart pumps and fluid drains and how they can or can't be accommodated. Fascinating stuff.

Finally this evening when I took the images to my consultant, he couldn't get his fancy laptop PC with Microsoft's latest operating system to view them! Clearly not very PC-literate, even if I'd trust him as a surgeon in the operating theatre (as indeed we already did when he operated on Hayley a few years ago), I ended up taking his laptop off him and trying to get the damned software to run. After overcoming a few hurdles it kept giving a software error that was too application-specific to decipher. So I took the CD away and arranged to go back next week when they can send him the hard copies. The consultant couldn't say anything to me without seeing the scans. When I get invoiced for this lack of diagnosis, perhaps I should invoice back for not quite fixing his PC and call it quits.

When I got home I managed to view the images myself on my PC (running Microsoft's previous operating system). I have no real idea what most of them show, though my spine is very clear in several of them. It's an eery feeling to be looking inside my self in such a literal rather than philosophical sense. The whole scan experience has actually been strangely awe-inspiring and uplifting. And though I'm not quite sure what to make of these strange images on my PC, I do at least know I won't be buying Windows Vista any time soon.