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!

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Dusting off the pack-pack: trial #walking with No.2 – phew, she likes it! 

Avid readers will recall my excitement at about this stage last time when my LittleLife child carrying backpack turned up, allowing me to head out across Wimbledon Common with Junior. Well, now we’re in the lovely North Downs I decided it was high time to dust it off and prepare to do some more serious walking. 

Our village, Merstham, is one of the stops on the North Downs Way, in fact one relatively few urbanish areas it goes through on this bit of the route. However I decided that heading straight out on the NDW would perhaps be a bit adventurous, given my lack of fitness and No.2’s lack of time in the backpack (endearingly called the “pack-pack” by Junior). 

So last week I did a little warm up on a more familiar path South out of the village and round Mercers Lake, which also doubles as my ~5k running route. However, the ground was definitely not suitable for running as it had rained for a couple of days beforehand (someone did jog past me, I don’t know how they made it round the corners!). This route follows the lake, past the sailing club, doubles back to the pub, then in this case I went round Spynes Mere Nature Reserve for the first time, and back into the village. About 6-6.5km all round (I forgot to put my measuring app on). 


Which all went pretty well, with two notable exceptions: No.2 fell asleep 10 minutes short of the pub, and was not amused by the stop, and the path round Spynes Mere was a complete mud bath in places and it was lucky I had good walking boots on, or we’d both have got very muddy. However there were some nice viewpoints – a mix of seagulls and cormorants on the jetty. I have to say, the way round I went left the best of the Mere to last, to start with its mostly trees. Later on some rabbits dashed across our path. 


The pub was a shame, as the Inn on the Pond is a nice place, albeit possibly just slightly over-modernised, as although it has lots of original country pub features (low beams, high bar, fire nooks) somehow they’ve almost been made to look not real with all the burnished wood. Or maybe they aren’t real and I’m a romantic. However the Whitstable Bay is always good, and it’s passingly pleasant in there.

Fortunately she/I/the pack-pack passed the test, and she slept all the way home from the pub, so seems to enjoy the pack-pack enough that I’ll take her out in it again. I may even break the bike out and test her out in the bike seat with her new and tiny helmet!

Note to self: get out more…although little choice from tomorrow! #dadtime times 2!

I think my main reflection on the couple of days I’ve done so far is that No.2 needs more external stimulation than I’ve been giving her so far. 

Looking back at posts from my time with Junior, I came across my amateur effort at trying to define some of his personality traits. I haven’t spent enough time with No.2 yet to comment on all of the same aspects, but there has always been one very clear difference between the two long those lines. While Junior does get his energy from outside, it very much comes from doing things and going places. Whereas No.2 has basically from birth been an entirely social animal. 

When I took her yesterday to the very nice West Central coffee shop in Redhill, she clearly was trying to join in the conversations of some of the ladies that lunch who were sat around us! Whenever anyone started talking,she’d immediately reorient to them and start babbling. It was very cute, but has underlined the fact that in a typical week Mummy was taking her to a class of some sort up almost every day. We do have Joe Jingles (another Gymboree-a-like) tomorrow, so that will help, but next week I must get organised and keep up the baby-signing, as well as some more local things such as rhyme-time at the library.

In addition to Joe Jingles, we will be driven out of the house anyway as Junior is at home tomorrow for the first time with me. He is in fine form at the moment…meaning his energy levels are very high, and we will need to find ways to burn at least some of it off! Given how keen he is to go back to “Grandad’s House” after the weekend (it’s very sweet, he keeps asking if we can drive there), I suppose we could walk the ~100 miles there!

Does baby signing work in a blog?! Another “the only Dad” baby class moment with No.2 at @busylizzymum @tinytalksigning

While Mum has been back on maternity leave in our new home area East Surrey, she’s joined a “family club” called Busy Lizzy. While there are what I know from last time as the usual child-focused classes (what my Mum, a 1960’s trained teacher, calls “music and movement” classes, as good a description as I’ve heard) their twist is to combine these with a range of mummy-focused exercise classes, from buggy-fit to Pilates. 

In an equally familiar franchise style, this group is based at various locations around Reigate. As the Twitter handle suggests, the clear focus is mums, although <some> of the literature says “family” and “parent”. 

Junior has been going to a dance class on a Tuesday, an experience that at times has left all frustrated, as with No.2 mostly not napping when desired, Mum has had to chase after Junior while carrying No.2, who then gets grumpier as he doesn’t get enough attention, especially towards the end of the class when he’s tired and wants a cuddle himself. 

So for the period we’re both off, he’s getting Mum’s full attention at dancing while I occupy No.2. Last week this was a trip to Homebase, but rather more exciting for her, this week involved going to a baby signing class. 

I appreciate this is quite hard to describe on a blog (and not even trying on Twitter), but let me try. Baby signing is a very simple form of sign language that you can use with babies, as they can make signs long before then can talk. We tried inexpertly with Junior, and it worked for one sign, which for him meant “more”. Image of the sign below (actually means milk). 


Mostly applied to food/booby, I now realise it was an early form of nagging, something he now achieves quite well through droning “hot milk” continuously until you give in or go mad…

Today we turned up at class slightly late, so had to do the “rush in, show baby prominently to indicate I’m meant to be here, pretend to ignore fact I’m the only grown man in the entire building” routine. Which was fine, as the class it quickly became clear was mostly singing songs and moving the babies/children about, with the sign language being added to the songs. Which was quite good fun as some of the signs we learnt were suitably easy and obvious (guess what the sign for a banana is……go here to discover you’re right…). And the teacher even remembered to do the signs for Daddy as well as Mummy at requisite points. I don’t think she gets to use Daddy often. This particular flavour of baby signing is called “Tiny Talk”, although the signs appear fairly standard. 

And to say No.2 enjoyed it is something of an understatement. Not so much for the educational value, but as a social opportunity! As she is just crawling, she was quickly going to see the nearest other babies and mums, and was doing some fantastic shaking of shakers. I’m sure it was coincidence, but at one point she was doing it at exactly the right times (cue proud father moment). 

And it was a nice friendly bunch, which is good – I had more conversation in one class than I did in 3 months of Gymboree. It helps my daughter is soooo beautiful, and people can’t stop talking about her eyes…! I think Mum was a bit unsure I’d get on with it, but given how much No.2 enjoyed herself, we’ll definitely be going back. 

A frantic finish to work and a quiet beginning to parental leave – but that’s unlikely to last all of #SPL…

My latest and last adventure in parental leave  started on Thursday. Frankly it was a massive blur. 

Leaving work was not as smooth or well planned as last time. I think the fact I am more confident about the childcare (I.e. Have no illusions about how hard it is going to be…), and being a parent already simply having less time to mentally prepare. This meant that I was working 100% right up until the last second. Not aided by various new joiners to my teams in my last few weeks, but mostly my own fault. 

If I were to do this again, what I’d do differently is mostly not try to cram as much as I have into the weeks preceding the start of SPL. Coming back after Xmas was a bad idea, although I didn’t have enough leave to do anything else. Also you don’t get much control over when the baby is born! It doesn’t help that I had been covering for 2 vacant team leader jobs for about 5 months. 

There is a key contrast with maternity leave here. It becomes very obvious when a woman is about to go on maternity leave, and good ol’ (inverse?) sexism means that as a man I’m going to be very cautious of overworking a woman in such a condition, and towards the end it usually gets pretty obvious when a woman is in such a condition!
Add to this having my phone stolen while on my leaving do, and my stress levels on Thursday were pretty astronomical. It wasn’t until Friday afternoon that the whole “not going to work, chill” vibe kicked in, with some help from Mum and kids. And it properly has now while I sit watching the NFL Divisional Championships safe in the knowledge that (a) I’m not going to work, and (b) it’s my turn for a lie in! 

Buts it’s not all fun and games – my first major goal for the joint time off is to decorate No.2’s bedroom – she’s not in it yet, as her sleeping doesn’t really warrant it, but we’d like to try settling her in it before the 9 month sleep regression hits (see what happened when Junior went through this. More to follow on sleep, obviously.) Looking forward to that one, obviously. 

Two weeks to go to #dadtime: Parental Leave take two, with Number 2!

It has been a while, and I will try to fill in some of the blanks when I can, but the biggest reason for the brief interlude is that No. 2 child, a beautiful, bonnie little girl, was born in May last year. Meet No.2!


Which as well as being a fantastic and joyous event means….I’m about to go back on parental leave! 

But boy, is it going to be different. Firstly to complete the lifestyle change we’ve moved houses, and in fact now live outside London and even the M25, in a leafy corner of Surrey. Served by Bloody Southern Trains, but there’s a rant for another day…

Also different (well, sort of) is the type of parental leave – I am now taking Shared Parental Leave (SPL), not the Additional Parental Leave of last time. Apart from making a mess of all my site names, what difference does this make, I hear you ask…? Err, basically none at all to us, but I will also spend some time talking about that, as one of my goals last time was to educate people on the difference. A task I largely failed in, so I will endeavour to make amends.

As I will also hopefully be able to show, children are very different, and I do hope that I will have more time to spend blogging, as No.2 appears (thus far) to be slightly less demanding than Junior. However this is balanced against the fact that for 2 days each week I will have both children at home. An experience it’s fair to say even Mum has found taxing at times.

We have planned our time better this time around, and Mum and I will be taking 5 1/2 weeks off together at the beginning of my SPL. I’m not quite sure how to cover that in my blogging, but I hope you’ll join me again over the next few weeks and months to find out. Bring on the Dad Time!!

Laziness is no excuse… #dadtime must go on! Wheelchair rugby awesome, Science Museum meh.

Well, the fun of being off full time finished a few months ago now (late Jun 2015), and despite being badgered to conclude this blog, I never did. But now I think that was the right decision – as I am going to start it up again. Although I should let you know my thoughts on Parental Leave.

 

In order to balance work, childcare costs and making the most of the fun years ahead with a rapidly developing and growing up little boy (Junior is not a baby anymore!) Mum and I are alternating Friday's off work. This means Junior gets 4 days a week at nursery, which he loves, and we get a day a fortnight on our own with him.

 

This started a couple of months ago as Mum used her leave to spend a last few weeks off with him before returning to work properly. I think we learnt quite a lot about how we didn't quite get the leave right, which I'll cover in another post. And we've been out and about on our days so far, as well as keeping in touch with NCT friends and Dads and Littluns in Wimbledon Park.

 

The two highlights so far have been the Science Museum, which I tweeted about, and last Friday the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge, as we both enjoyed our day at the #murderball so much.

 

I have mixed feelings about the Science Museum. Personally, as someone with an astrophysics degree, and who is passionate about science, I just don't feel it does the subject justice. Many of the exhibits are a bit fusty, and definitely quite dusty – and even the more modern sections just don't really seem to bring science to life, they're just a bit gadgety. However, taking Junior gave me a bit more of an appreciation of what it does well, as the exploratory areas (there are 3) were brilliant for him, especially the water tank downstairs in the Sensorium, where I literally had to drag him away or he'd have ben there for the rest of his life! But still, how they can make an exhibit of planes so not interesting to a small boy whose first words were “car” and “tractor” slightly depresses me. He did love the very random tractor dioramas though, and the dimly lit space section sent him to sleep allowing me to go round the small but interesting exhibit about Churchill's wartime scientists.

 

The World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge is a new competition, I think the first in the world, to give wheelchair rugby a platform outside of the Paralympics. And it was brilliant. Hosting it in the Copper Box in the former Olympic Park was a great idea – having experienced “the box that rocks” for the handball in the Olympics, even with the 2-300 people there for the session of the wheelchair rugby we went to it had atmosphere. First of all we watched NZ vs RSA, the highlight being the wheelchair Haka – awesome mostly because of the way they integrated banging on their wheels into it. Then GB vs France, always a classic – and GB didn't disappoint with a close-fought but deserved win.

 

During the action, Junior was initially enjoying watching so he could clap when someone scored (lots of goals so he got to do this plenty) but then he discovered all the grannies and the steps there were, and he was off. He barely stopped – in this photo I think he's just getting his breath back before climbing up the steps again. And again! Thanks to the lady with the Help for Heroes teddy bear who kept him amused for a bit.

The day just reinforced my view that wheelchair rugby is a whole load of fun, that the guys (and gals) who play this properly are incrdible athletes (special shout to the South African with one arm (no other limbs) but had a hand like a crane grab), playing a sport that is an spectacle. Can't wait for next year!