The End of #dadtime Days…era closes on my last day of #sharedparentalleave. I’ll miss it.

I’m sat on the sofa, contemplating the day ahead. A day back at work, into the routine I’ve been in since I was 21. Except, it is different. I know that it is highly (astronomically) unlikely I’ll be in this situation again, potentially until I “retire” (ha, aka die on the job).

And it feels different to last time I went through this. Partly this is the experience of going back to a less ideal situation than before – I’m going back to the same job – its time for a new challenge, but haven’t got round to finding that yet…whereas last time I had something different lined up. But in large part its simply because this time has been different and somehow more, well, fun! I think partly that’s confidence, in terms of my parenting skills, but also the different personalities I’ve been dealing with. 

No.2 is just, well, delightful. She is fun, she wants to be the life and soul already, and is simply more….engaging than Junior was at this stage. Even though she is over 2 weeks younger than Junior was at this stage in the process. She has been happier to do things that don’t involve constant entertainment, and doesn’t need quite the same attention he did. Except when she tries to crawl up the stairs! 

Junior is still pretty hard work at times, as the “terrible twos” have been exactly that, but as a toddler he is starting to come into his own. His plain will to do things clearly has been and will be a major feature of his life, and he is really only now becoming able to put into practice the things this mighty willpower wants. As his potty training, eating, playing and socialising show, he is able to express and act in ways that help him make the world more how he wants it to be. A pattern that will continue, and he will only get better at. Gods help the world…

As I’ve mentioned, all parents of two+ told us that children are very different, and that these differences are obvious – but I simply didn’t believe how great and apparent they would be. I assumed that it would be small things – the age or order they did something, the food or toys they liked. But no, it is much, much more fundamental. I haven’t time now, but looking back at the personality projections I did for Junior, I think I was fairly well on the money, and can and will write the same for No.2. Using that really does show how different they are.

Anyway, as I say, this is the end of an era, and one I have enjoyed immensely. My relationship with both of them has developed. No.2 didn’t really know or care who I was before, but now I get nearly as much interest and attention as Mummy. Her smile and upstretched arms are the cutest thing on earth right now. And to Junior, while I am no Mummy, I think I became a bit more relevant, as we have got up to some fun stuff on our own, and I think I’ve helped him come to terms with No.2 a bit through my struggles to create times and activities that are clearly directed at one or the other. However as he’s now at the stage of forming memories that he will still have when he’s older, we’ll find out in a decade or two if all I’ve succeeded in doing is scarring him for life…

I’ll return later to what my key lessons are from this period, but my feelings at the moment are that 2 months on my own wasn’t long enough – unlike last time we never really got into a routine, because we didn’t need to. But this is really a minor thing, as overall I’m just so glad and grateful that I’ve got to do it. And that we all survived of course!


A Dad, toddler and baby walk into a hairdressers. Hysterics, phantom poo and a bowl-cut later, still no joke…

I have recorded a few low points and down days in my time off, but today we reached a new, I don’t know, tragi-comedic apogee today. It did start like a bad joke. And then it got worse. After a promising start I should have guessed it was going too well.

There is a hairdressers at the end of our road, called Juniors, that caters especially for children, with lots of toys and exceptionally patient staff, and it turns out a whole back room for parties. And my Junior and I (because they also do adults, and it’s easier to do it together) were booked in for my pre-return to work haircut.

No.2 didn’t have a good nights sleep last night, but had slept in later than normal, and seemed fine, right up until we were about to leave, but I thought I had some leeway, and anyway was trying to keep her going to an afternoon of settling in. Where nursery was going to try napping her (good luck, they’re going to need it…). So I sent Junior up to get his haircut first, while I played with No.2 to settle her, before I thought I could get mine done.

The first half of the plan went pretty well. Junior didn’t like the electric trimmer much, but had a good haircut, and looks much smarter. No.2 hadn’t settled as much as hoped, but was fairly quiet, and had enjoyed the dolls house (note for Grandad there…). So I got in the chair. First mistake, hubris. Who do I think I am leaving both children behind me? Fool.

No.2 then rejects the toys she’s been playing with and comes to hang off the hairdressing chair and is whinging about 5/10. Which is a lot for her. The hairdresser says she doesn’t mind her being on my lap. BIG mistake. I think it was the hair. She was rubbing it into her mouth and eyes, and this made her rub them more, etc. She goes up to about 8/10.

Junior, who until this point has been quietly playing, starts acting oddly – walking round and round the room. Didn’t think too much of it until this fella appeared:

Yes, the Phantom Poo. Junior uttered the dreaded words: “Daddy my need a poo”. I get up, showering hair everywhere to rush him to the lavatory in the back room. No.2 put on floor too unceremoniously, goes to 9/10. Get him to toilet, but as we didn’t have his special seat, no poo, but clearly desperately needs one. Hairdresser has picker No.2 up to try to calm her. She’s now at 10/10, and clearly going to stay there. Sit back down to try and finish haircut.

Now the next customers walk in. Great, an audience for Act 3. Or possibly guinea pigs for the sound weapon that No.2 now is. 

Junior now insists this time he will poo, get him there carrying No.2 really uncomfortably for both of us. Gets to 11/10. “It’s stuck” declares Junior. Back to the chair, tell the hairdresser just to finish it. At this point I actually look in the mirror, and realise she’s already completely removed my sideburns, which with amount of hair I have means it looks like a bowl cut. Nothing I can do by this point, so I get out as quick as I can. 

(NB There is some artistic licence in this statement, and Tracy did an amazing job in extremely challenging circumstances, and I will be more than happy to go back!  And I learnt how to get matted hair off skin – talcum powder.)

Obviously, the minute I take off the gown, No.2 goes quiet. As I write this, Junior is in bed calling for Mummy after a far longer nap than his younger sister had, and No.2 is covering the house in hair despite a complete change of clothes. 

And still no poo….good job I love them so much!

Typical. Take them to Bocketts Farm and they both fall asleep on the way…sat in car park!

As this is the second day of my last 2-day/2-child stint (thank gods), I thought it would be good, and after yesterday completely necessary, to get us all out of the house. So am currently sat in the admittedly quite nice Bocketts Farm Park car park, with two sleeping babies. 

The younger one is understandable – she had her second settling in earlier. And I don’t think she fully approved of the concept of me not being there. She was crying when I left and when I returned! To reassure, she clearly hadn’t been crying the whole time, but even the staff admitted she’d “taken a while to settle when you left”. Which I suspect is code for about half the time….

But she did settle and start playing, and apparently even smiled…before I think it got too tiring and she started crying again. They want to do quite a lot more settling in next week after today…so Monday we’ll see if there’s improvement!

Junior is just in a bit of a funny state – not really eating. Mostly because he got the hang of Easter really quickly and thinks he can live on chocolate. If only….

Hopefully I’ll be able to update on a successful afternoon at Bocketts Farm, but no stirring yet! 

Winding up to wind down – first day’s settling in at nursery means #dadtime is nearly over :(((

It doesn’t sound like a big deal, an hour for No.2 in the baby room at nursery with me never leaving the room (well, only once very briefly to hang a coat up!). But it is a big day, for all the family in different ways. For No.2 it marks the real transition from being a baby to becoming a more independent person (long though that journey is). For me it means that #dadtime really is drawing to a close; the time I get to spend off with my children has just a few days left. And for Mummy and Junior it marks the imminent start of a routine that will last us at least until Junior goes to proper school.

The settling in went as well as we could have hoped. No.2 wasn’t overwhelmed by the room or people – as you can see it is light and toy-filled. She has been going through a VERY clingy patch, with times when she has been limpeted to Mummy or me constantly, but this started to ease a week or so ago. After 5 minutes of staying within touching distance of me, she started to explore for herself, “playing” with her key worker and I (she’s too young to actually play interactively, but she likes giving you things and taking them back at the moment) as well as playing on her own with musical instruments and the kitchen toys. And when I did pop out of the room she didn’t melt down instantly, although she was pretty keen to come make sure I was coming back, padding towards the door as I reappeared seconds after going out of it.

This hopefully is a good sign, and on Friday we’ll up it by leaving her on her own for an hour. Which I think will be harder, and don’t expect the sound of crying to be easy to leave, but she does have to get used to it.

The difference with Junior is marked here, both for personality and timing reasons. Because last time we hadn’t planned time off together, Mummy was able to take her annual leave accrued while on maternity after I finished Additonal Parental Leave. And Junior had been born on the first day of maternity leave, so he was already 1 when I finished anyway. So he was actually about 13 1/2 months old when he started at nursery. No.2 is 2 months younger. And that is a lot. Also, he is a very (very) active individual who likes exploring and playing with any toys going, so nursery was just a room ful of new stuff. No.2 is more people-focused, which means she simply notices our presence or absence more, and needs to feel comfortable with those she is with. Which is where settling in matters much more for her.

Of course instead of tiring her out, the experience seems to have energised her and after eventually going to sleep she’s had half an hour and is now crawling around my legs spreading Easter egg chocolate round the room….lovely!

What a difference a 2nd baby makes – why #dadtime hasn’t been blogged as much on 2nd #sharedparentalleave

I’ve become conscious that this blog is starting to read like a bit of a good-pub-guide to East Surrey, with a couple of posts pending that feature a walk/cycle and a pub (though one of them was excellent). And I think there is a reason for that. Somehow, despite No.2 sleeping “better” (at least more predictably and with less walking) than Junior, I actually have less time to blog!

Part of this is obvious – it simply isn’t possible to do it when Junior is at home as well, especially as he no longer naps in daytime at all, except the odd catnap in the car on the way places. In addition, No.2’s consistency with me of only sleeping for 30 minutes simply isn’t long enough to really get into the swing of things – by the time I’ve decompressed slightly, if I start writing I have to stop long before I’ve finished. Which may indicate I’m writing too long posts, but it is catch-22 – the less I get to write the more I have to say!

The other impact, and why it’s become a pub guide, is that this means I don’t have the reflective time to write some of the more introspective posts as last time. And I think that is my main reflection on having a second child. You simply don’t have the time (at this stage) to be truly reflective, you have to be much more reactive and immediate. Which neither Mummy nor I find easy to sustain for long periods of time. It is also having an impact on Junior, and I think to some extent leading to his behaviour issues, although that is also the direct constraints on the time and quality of time we get to spend with him.

Needless to say this hasn’t been the only difference – one of the posts I WILL get round to writing is about how different the characters and interactions with the two are – every multiple parent warns you about how different they will be, but you don’t really believe them until you’ve got two and you see just how different two superficially similar crying-eating-pooing machines can be.

I just heard a rustle…break over!

Yomping @NorthDownsWay – 15km with 15kg of (mostly) baby from #Merstham to #Betchworth in glorious sun!

Part 2 of my North Downs Way adventures took place on Monday of last week – the nicest day of the year so far, with the whole walk taking place in pretty scorching (for the beginning of April!) conditions. But what a walk it was! The slight issue was that I was due home to meet Papa (maternal grandfather) as he was staying that night, and we were late leaving (typical 45 minutes of unaccounted baby prep time), which meant I knew I was on a tight deadline to catch a train home without really knowing how long it was going to take, so did it at a fairly punchy pace which meant I perhaps didn’t enjoy all the views I should have.

Setting off from home, we walked to Merstham Cricket Club where the NDW leaves the village. They call themselves “one of the prettiest grounds in the South East”, and they’re not wrong:

The path is then uphill all the way to Gatton Park, about 6 km away. It’s a picturesque route across Reigate Hill golf course then into the Queen Alexandra school grounds before heading up the National Trust part of Gatton Park (the school is based in the old house and Capability Brown gardens), which is mostly woodland – nice shade! At this point I started passing more other walkers already than I had in the whole of my previous walk. Including some runners who clearly weren’t out for a gentle jog…rather them than me, although they may have thought the same about me of course!

At the time I thought I would have preferred a bit less hill at this point, but come the latter stages of the walk I was very glad I’d got the main ascent out of the way early. It was about 180m of total elevation gained, so not steep but fairly relentless.

The next stage was along the Reigate ridge, a path that follows a few decades of military history. First up is the Reigate Hill Fort, actually a very late example, coming from the 1890’s, when there were fears of war with France (how things changed!) – I didn’t go in due to time, but it looks relatively well preserved if empty.

A bit further along the ridge is a more sombre site, the location of a WWII American bomber crash – a story with a lot of family poignancy. My maternal grandfather had been a bomber pilot too, and had an amazing selection of similar near misses. I think they have marked it very sensitively, with two small benches in the shape of plane wings, looking out of the clearing across the countryside and down into Reigate.

At this point I had to stop taking photos with my phone as its battery isn’t up to both tracking such a long walk as well as doing other useful things. I did have my camera, but it was in the backpack and I was nervous of stopping too long to put No.2 down, get the camera out, take the picture and put it all back away again in case I missed the train… This did mean I didn’t take a picture of the stunning view at the end of the ridge out West, with a lovely stone rotunda commanding the view. 

A little bit further along the path I left the NDW to detour via the only public house anywhere near this route, the Sportsman in the fantastically named village of Mogador. One of my favourite books introduced me years to the wonderful exclamation “Well, I’ll be mogadored!”, making visiting this village a personal mission from the moment I first drove past a road sign with it’s name on. While I think “village” was quite a big word for a small collection of houses, the Sportsman was a lovely place to rest. Unlike the previous couple of walks, No.2 was quite happy to come out of the pack-pack, and eat her Ella’s pouch while sat on the pub garden table. And I have to complement the sandwich I had, which was substantial and came with a big helping of salad and homemade coleslaw. And a half (I have learned something!) of Youngs Bitter, which was also very nice. And much needed!

But I knew I couldn’t rest long – while this was past the halfway mark, I wasn’t sure by how much – my tracking app said about 8.5km, and I reckoned it was about 13km in a fairly straight line in total (but knew it would be further in practice). So I set off back for the NDW, which once I rejoined it immediately made a VERY sharp descent from the heights of the ridge down to the plains. I am glad I went in that direction to be honest, as that slope would have been very difficult with the pack-pack. I passed a few young boys near the top who were clearly feeling it, and checking their phones to see how much further there was to go!

The path was then a bit less interesting, as it followed the bottom edge of the woods covering the side of the ridge. This meant that you couldn’t see as much, and also gave me a significant core workout in addition the cardio. The trees were low and over growing the path, and nervous after last time having caused No.2 to cry by catching her with a branch I was bending very low to make sure I didn’t do the same. I think this got me some odd looks from all the groups of older walkers that seemed to be out in force. Until they got level with me and saw her smiling face behind me and then they started cooing over her. Everyone was jealous of her, getting to do the walk without putting the effort in!

After a lot of woods, the NDW descended completely to the plains floor. I now knew both that I was approaching Betchworth, and also was pretty sure I was going to make my train, so was able to relax a little. This meant that when I left the NDW to take a more direct route to the station I actually noticed the scenery. Which was fortunate, as this path went through one of the most beautiful spots I have ever been to in this country. A little vale with a farm hamlet along the track that the path followed, with the hills and woods above, and open fields around, with a few animals in them. Then down to and along the railway, passing some houses I lusted after (Kemps Farm and Wildecroft), a tunnel under the trainline and tucked out of site in the corner of the field the gate into the footpath over the cutting that leads to Betchworth station, and a well deserved sit down for me, and get out and play for No.2!

The only disappointing thing was the vintage of my phone meaning that I didn’t have enough battery to either take many photos or track the complete length of the walk – it died short of my destination, meaning I only know that it cut out at 14.85 km, a bit less than half a km short of Betchworth. Gutted. But I did that in 2 hours 41 minutes, and that includes some time at the pub when as usual I forgot to pause it. In total, including pub time it took exactly 3 hours, as I arrived 30 mins before the train. And No.2 was delightful the whole time, and Southern even allowed us to make it home about 5 minutes before Papa arrived! 

A really good day, although I felt the miles the following day!

Out on @NorthDownsWay Pt 1 – a long stroll to the pub from #Merstham inc @the_pilgrimsway

One of the goals for our joint time off was for both Mummy and me to be able to do some more exercise and get back into some semblance of fitness following the intense first 9 months. I think its fair to say that this didn’t go quite as well as hoped, and although some good things happened (my swimming improved, a running club was joined) in the main we are well on the road to hell.

And when doing solo childcare, opportunities are even more limited. In fact as a Dad they are effectively non-existent, as there are no “buggy fit” classes for Dads, and I’m not in a hurry to repeat my yoga experience of last time. So I’m trying to get exercise in other ways – as in my previous post, walking and cycling appear to be the best options. As No.2 has taken to being carried in the pack-pack, I did make good on my intention to set out onto the North Downs Way a few weeks ago for the first time, and again today, taking advantage of the unseasonably fine weather.

The first trip was a linear, there and back from home out of Merstham to a delightful pub higher up the Downs on the way to Caterham, the Harrow on the Hill. The weather was fine and warm, sufficiently warm that the hoodie I wore was too much, with no wind. As No.2 won’t wear a hat, this meant that I had to put the weather hood on the pack-pack to keep the sun off. It worked well, but was a bit of a hazard in among trees as it would catch on any low-hanging branches.

The path from the station heads up over the Merstham Bund that shelters houses (a bit) from the M25 noise and then go straight over the bridge and into trees. Initially uninspiring the path runs along a road for a short way before starting to head into the countryside proper, briefly engaging with civilisation as you go under the M23 (Merstham is nestled between the two, but except for the edges of the town/village it doesn’t have much impact).

Then came my favourite, if hardest, bit of the walk – uphill through a long field to the top ridge, where the North Downs Way meets the Pilgrims Way. This was good enough for a panoramic photo:

Unfortunately my current phone isn’t exactly up to date, so it’s a bit hard to make much out, but this shows the sweep of Merstham, with Redhill, Reigate and Gatwick in the distance. It really was quite stunning, and made me wish for my proper camera.

The NDW now joined the Pilgrims Way (from Winchester to Canterbury, yikes), and we followed the edge of this escarpment all the way into the next set of hills – highlights along the route included a sign from the ages and a garden from Mad Max:

After the significant trog up the hill with the extra weight on my back, I was glad that it was mostly flat and well-laid paths and roads. My favourite momentary rest on the walk was at the edge of Park Ham, part of the Quarry Hangers Site of Special Scientific Interest, where there was a warning about the presence of sheep (because they’re pretty scary, right?) and asking for volunteers to be “Urban Shepherds”, something I’ve never heard of before, but which is a real thing – check out the Urban Shepherds NGO! With farming blood in my veins, in the event I ever have spare time again I might revisit this idea, as it appeals. Would also be a conversation starter on a CV!

Something that did surprise me was the lack of other walkers – I guess a weekday and an early and surprising first really warm day presumably left many unable to come out. Pilgrims may be a bit more fair-weather these days I guess?

This track eventually brought us to the Harrow pub – which is a proper country pub, despite the customary gastro pretensions (the food is good having been separately). Good beer selection (I had St Austell Tribute, excellent beer, well kept). However my error was again to get a pint – she’d been quiet and contended in the back-pack, having had a nap up the hill and along the ridge, so I foolishly thought stopping for a drink and snack would be what she wanted. Oh no, not at all. I couldn’t take the wriggling and the whinging so left 1/3 of a pint and set off back the way I’d come. The only real difference on the way back was that the view the other direction into London was more emphatic, and so the below poor effort shows what you could see looking into the gleaming spires of London (and the Manhattan of South London, Croydon slightly nearer).

I mistakenly thought this was another gradual extension of No.2’s time in the pack-pack. However it turned out I’d massively underestimated both the distance and the time. In the end it was some 13km taking (not including all of the seemed like 30 second break in the middle!) a smidgen over 2 1/4 hours. Coming back down the hill was a lot quicker and more pleasant, as you saw the view the whole time, not just when I needed a rest!

No.2 did really well, having had a usual 30 minute nap as well as some quiet spells – however the low-hanging branches made an appearance right at the end, and a hawthorn branch kissed her cheek, giving her a shock which meant the final 10 minutes were a bit fraught and noisy. Right as rain when we got home. Having enjoyed it, and been impressed I kept going so long, I was determined to do more NDW, so started plotting my next route – going the other way from Merstham. Which I completed yesterday – an account of that to follow!