Murderball Mayhem @themurderball 2015 – with added baby!

Since I arrived in London a few years ago I’ve been lucky enough to play for a rugby club that not only has a 2nd XV that plays at my sort of level, astounding facilities and a lively social life, but also has connections to a parent organisation that presents opportunities to do some pretty special things – from Hong Kong Sevens to in last week a charity wheelchair rugby tournament (aka “Murderball” from the eponymous film). 

I was a last minute fill-in. Junior had not been having the cheeriest of weeks. He’s had a bit of a cold, and appears to be doing some development. So I decided that instead of trying to contain him and entertain him, I’d just take him out and hope we both had some fun. And boy did we!

This is only the second year of the tournament, which was started last year to support Paul Barker, a guy who broke a leg playing rugby, and as a direct result developed cancer. Last year he got a day release from hospital to come. This year he was there at full strength, albeit minus a leg which was one of the prices of survival. As someone with pro rugby contacts he’d got the Leicester Tigers Wheelchair Rugby team as well as London Wheelchair Rugby Club involved. As a Gloucester fan I was slightly dismayed by all the Tigers logos, but they did it well. The day was in support on the Matt Hampson Foundation, another rugby-based charity. 

Straight away I’d say that wheelchair rugby is the most fun new sport I’ve tried in years. It is one of those deceptively simple games that you can add all kinds of layers and skills to. At its most basic it’s 4-a-side, with the aim to carry the ball across a try line. Wheelchair contact is allowed and encouraged, with opportunities to cheat every bit as much as real rugby. And it is REALLY hard work – the chairs aren’t that light, throwing is an art, and it is completely non-stop. Even though I know we weren’t playing at the pace actual players would!

We had something of a slow start, as although the bank had won the tournament last year, there were only two survivors of that team – the rest were newbies like me. But once we got to grips with the chairs and tactics (“get goal-side!” was the mantra of the day) we started to play some actual proper game. As evidenced by the below video which shows an excellent defensive play by yours truly (extreme left of shot) to not only block their upfield player but also win the ball back for us. 

In the end we (nominally Ireland) came third – nearly winning both pool games (comfortably beating the eventual winners England I might add, and only being denied the win against Scotland by the inspired, surprisingly rapid and unsurprisingly vocal premiership referee JP Doyle), losing to the nominal All Blacks, and then beating Australia in the playoff. 

Best of all Junior loved the whole day and was brilliantly well-behaved. He napped at the best possible times (allowing me to play 3 of the games unimpeded), and was quite happy being thrown into the arms of teammates when substitutions happened – small wobble the first time, but once he realised I was coming back he was fine. I was also lucky that the team was so happy to look after him, and did a great job keeping him happy. Some potentially great dads I think. And he was praised by loads of other people for his good nature. He even made the mass team photo. He was absolutely in his element – new things to look at, people to meet, and actually quite a lot of attention from me to make sure he didn’t crawl in the path of a couple of hundred kilos of man and machine…

I know he’s too young to appreciate the importance of this, but seeing and experiencing something that “disabled” people are clearly better, faster and more skilled at is a lesson I’ll be keen to reinforce for Junior throughout his life – and watching or playing wheelchair rugby seems like a great way to do that! 

Learning Styles in action – watching a child prove psychologists (sometimes) know what they’re talking about!

One of the real pleasures of getting to spend so much time with Junior is really getting to see him develop, and learn things. I’m lucky that this period appears to be one where he does develop an awful lot – his mobility alone has increased beyond recognition, he’s almost certainly going to start walking on my watch, and then there’s all the vocal and intellectual development that is going on as well, from making new sounds to being able to sort shapes to associating actions with words.

One of the advantages of working in the civil service is the encouragement it gives staff to develop and particularly be self aware. I’ve been fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do lots of this, and have developed an interest in it, as well as finding it really useful personally and to work with others better. There’s probably three observations based on this I’d make about Junior, two about learning style and one about personality.

The learning styles stuff is actually more academically disputed, particularly the first one I’ll mention, which is about “how” people learn. According to the theory there are three types of learners: aural, visual and kinaesthetic. Aural and visual are pretty self explanatory – people with these preferences will both respond better to input in their preferred format, and will store their memories in this way too. So for instance an visual learner will prefer to see things, and will store information in a visual form. Kinaesthetic is the same, but basically means through their body – so it’s about physical sensation. I recently discovered that this was in fact my preferred style, having thought for years it was visual. It was the memory part that made me realise – my best memories, while having visual and aural elements, are mostly about the physical feeling I had at the time. I’m still to fully come too terms with this knowledge, and how to use it. But watching Junior, it’s clear already that he has a major kinaesthetic element – I wouldn’t want to say his preferences are set already, but he really only gets things when he feels it – he doesn’t really learn through watching (although it helps), it isn’t until he’s done it and felt it that it sticks. Looking back to my childhood, I should have realised from the endless hours I put into repeating sports practice, mostly to the detriment of my father’s lovingly tended lawn…

Secondly, there is a reasonably well-founded theory by one David Kolb, adapted by Honey and Mumford to describes four basic styles, set out simply in this article. While you can be a combination of these, and may use all of them in your life/career, you generally have a preference, and you can normally figure it out quite quickly. They are:

  • Activist – Learn by doing something
  • Reflector – Learn by observing and thinking about things
  • Theorist – Learn by understanding the theory
  • Pragmatist – Need to see how to put any learning into practice

Junior is without a shadow of a doubt predominantly an Activist. While I think elements of the others show through, he already clearly prefers just trying something – he might then not like it (sand, for instance), but he’ll go full bore until he’s tried it. Which is what makes him so much fun, whilst also being quite a danger to himself – not for him the life of quiet observation…or us for that matter!

Lastly, in terms of personality. The theory here is much better grounded, and goes back to Carl Jung. My preferred model is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, which I pride myself on being pretty accurate at guessing. I won’t describe all of it, but the two traits I’d pick out already are to do with where he gets energy, and his attitude to achieving things, the first and fourth letters of the MBTI descriptor. I think the other two will require more time to determine.

He is clearly an Extravert (note, not extrOvert, this is about where people get energy from – within is intraversion, externally is extraversion – obviously there are similarities with the more usual terms, but it isn’t quite the same). Junior is never happier than when he is receiving lots of stimulation from outside, ideally around lots of people. He isn’t necessarily always demanding attention, but he really comes alive when in a high energy environment. This should help with settling into things like nursery, although it depends on quite a lot of other factors. Mostly I think it means he’ll be wired at the end of the day when we pick him up!

I also have a feeling he is more of a Percieving that Judging type. He doesn’t really seem to be that focussed on the end goal, he’s more interested in doing stuff to see where it might go, and enjoying the ride to get there. He doesn’t get particularly frustrated when things don’t work or get interrupted, instead moving on to the next thing quite happily. This isn’t to say he doesn’t get annoyed when his walking truck gets stuck in a corner, but I don’t think that he’s aiming to end up somewhere specific, he’s more interested in just keeping moving. So by my reckoning he’ll be an ExxP by MBTI type. Which is actually the same as my ENTP.

However, all of this may just be projection on my part, wanting him to be like me – and as Mum has pointed out, his current preferences are also likely to mostly be driven by his developmental ability, and the fact that for instance touch is one of his more developed senses. So check back in 17 years time and we might have a clearer answer!

The discrimination of mothers against men – @JivaHealth yoga is now the frontline of the gender debate

I’m still slightly, well, shocked by this, so this may be somewhat less measured than I’d like, but I think you’ll agree that I have some grounds on which to feel somewhat cross.

As previously mentioned I started going to a Mum and Baby yoga class at Jiva Health in Wimbledon. To recap why, a couple of years ago I developed really bad sciatica, that was stopping me do any exercise. Yoga was basically what got me last this. And I enjoy it! It is hard work but rewardingly different to the sports I play. And as parents will understand, fitting any evening class in around work and bath/bed time is hard. So the opportunity to start doing yoga once a week whilst on APL is really quite a luxury, and one that’s good for me to boot.

Although Mum didn’t understand why, before I just turned up at the class I called ahead to ask whether it would be OK for me as a Dad to come – after brief consultation with the teacher, they agreed. I did that precisely because I could see that they might object. All the staff I met in the 5 classes I attended were very supportive and welcoming of me, and another bloke even turned up at one point.

However I’ve had a (very polite) email from Jiva Health this week saying that after women had made a couple of enquiries relating to both Junior and I, they are going to enforce the “Mum and” bit of the class’ description. The complaints were two-fold:

  1. Junior now being a very capable crawler, he is apparently making a mother feel uncomfortable by encroaching on their mats. This is the one that particularly gets me. HE IS A BABY. JUST LIKE ALL THE OTHER BABIES IN THE CLASS. The class is described as being for babies up to 18 months. Most babies will be walking by that point. So any mother who is uncomfortable with a crawling child is in for a real shock when her little darling – currently lying placidly wherever she is left – starts going, well, everywhere. Would this mother be as concerned if it was Junior’s Mum who was attending? I doubt it – so why not admit the issue is with a man attending, instead of blaming my completely innocent son? Especially given there are other equally mobile babies in the class.
  2. That as there are new mothers they are uncomfortable with a man being present when feeding, or presumably talking about women’s issues. I understand this, and that is why I asked if it was OK in the first place, and why I’m not going to push to keep going. However, I do have a few comments.

I am (quite clearly) a father as I am looking after my son, and hopefully a supportive one at that. My girlfriend gave birth to said son, I was present, and have seen and talked to her about any and all of the issues that are likely to come up in a public yoga class. She breastfeeds, as do a number of the other NCT girls. As a guy breastfeeding is slightly awkward when it’s not your partner, but I hope we are all grown up enough to realise that all women have breasts, and that I’m not using it as an excuse to take a sneaky-peek or anything. Obviously others’ feelings are difficult to anticipate and I can sympathise that a strange man could feel intrusive, especially in the early days when a mother is still trying to build confidence in breastfeeding – it took my girlfriend a couple of months to become fully comfortable with feeding in public (and now thinks nothing of sticking Junior on the booby with only the smallest concessions to “modesty” – which I utterly applaud and am very proud of). Hence why I’m not going to demand a place or do anything drastic.

However, I’m still left feeling disappointed that although equality is still talked about, it isn’t accepted by everyone, on both sides of the gender divide. How can men be expected to consider themselves equals in childcare while there is still the veil of “women’s issues” to hide behind? While I’m not for mandating discussion of gynaecological complaints in public, as for any other medical issue – but is it so hard to believe that men can at least listen and empathise, if not truly understand? How many women see a male doctor at some point in their pregnancy? Won’t men’s understanding only increase when they’re part of the conversation?

I’m also disappointed with Jiva Health. I understand their reason that it is described as a “Mum and Baby” class, and they want to keep it that way, not least as the custom of 2 young mothers is likely to continue long after my 3 months is up.

A Solution?

However, Jiva Health have just started another “Mum and Baby” class every week. My solution would be to call that “Parent and Baby”? This would make clear that men might attend, leaving a women-only class for those that are really uncomfortable with men’s presence, whilst allowing those small number of yoga-practicing, full-time Dads the chance to continue their practice? But that isn’t what’s happened. Sure, there may be many months when there are no men in the class – but at least give us a chance?

While I’m disheartened, this is but one unanticipated stop on the ride that is looking after Junior – hopefully we can find another yoga place, and we’ll try again!