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!

 

Additional Parental Leave: What, How and Why on Earth am I doing it?!

The only material point I'm aiming to make through keeping this blog (apart from proving to Mum that I haven't been dragging Junior round golf courses the whole time) is that spending time as a Dad on Paternity Leave is a good idea, fun and rewarding. The latter point will take some time, as the proof may only emerge when Junior is grown up as a normal and fully contributing member of society!

So leaving side any comments on the outcomes (i.e. my fun and his well-being), what is additional parental leave, how does it work, and why is it a good idea?

Additional Parental Leave (APL) was introduced in 2011 by the Coalition Government in the UK. The basic idea is to increase the flexibility of maternity leave to allow parents to collectively agree the best way to take care of their child, and give fathers more of an opportunity to be more involved in the early stages of their child's development. I believe it came from the Lib-Dem side if you care about the politics.

APL works quite simply. In the normal way the mother informs her employer when she wants to go back to work (must be at least 20 weeks after birth), and the father informs his employer that he wishes to take APL starting from the date the mother goes back to work. The father can take up to 26 weeks APL I think. I'm only taking 12. HMRC kindly provide a very simple form that allows you to tell your employer this. It doesn't, however, change the financial position – one of us is unpaid for three months. As financially it actually makes little difference which one of us is unpaid we are very lucky.

Why is a much harder question. To me there are three levels on which it is a good idea.

At a really macro-societal level, it could start to readdres the imbalance between men and women in the workplace – while it isn't the only factor, that a majority of women of women take a “career break” to have children is part of the reason why they get paid less and don't rise as high as men.

On top of this the evidence for improved child development when the father takes an active role is also pretty overwhelming, so this should lead to Junior being a much more inquisitive, confident and socially engaged child and adult. Being my offspring means he frankly needs all the help he can get. Don't believe me? Check out all the evidence quoted in this article summarising literally dozens of studies that set out the benefits to a child's development, from social to emotional to cognitive (it also has a lot of studies about absence, which I'm not so much a fan of and can be considered a bit judgemental – I'm just lucky that I get to do more), and read this more journalistic description of the benefits.

I'd reflect already that it is clear that Mum and I have slightly (not very though) different styles when it comes to how we spend our time with Junior – mine appears to involve slightly more risk (a la the Bin Incident) – but this isn't a bad thing. Assuming he survives… This means he is getting to see choice and different approaches already.

And really that's the third, best and most important reason. He's my son. I want to get to know him, and share in his upbringing as much as I can – and am being supported by an amazing woman to do more than most Dad's get the opportunity to – even if they want to. I can't really think of a good reason not to – and there were times in the run up I wondered if it was a good idea.

But a week in, and I'm so glad I've got this opportunity. It's amazing!!

 

Reflections on a first day’s solo flight

Well, that was alright. Not sure what Junior would say – I reckon I got good marks on the home entertainment/living climbing frame front, less good on the feeding and sleeping. And terrible on the toy provision while out. My two big lessons for the day were:

  • We both need to get better at figuring out when he's tired and when he's hungry. Mum assures me there is a difference, but I didn't get it today! This lead to a number of attempts at both napping and feeding that left him confused, me covered in food, and a fair amount of wasted milk – mostly the formula, thankfully.
  • Check the nappy bag before leaving the house! Junior had managed to extract a couple of key items (wet wipes!) and ensure there were no toys in it so when we stopped in the hostelry I was defending their menus from being throughly gummed because he had nothing else to play with. No doubt a cunning ploy to eat paper, his favourite food-group.

Tomorrow should be different again – earlyish Gymboree that will hopefully be sandwiched by some serious napping. A statement that with Junior is always accompanied by some of these…

 

 

Waiting for the adventure to start!

I’m Ewan, a first time dad. My son was born nearly 9 months ago. And incredible things have happened in those months. It has been an adventure like no other in my life. And now I’m about to do 3 further things I never thought I’d do:

  1. Take 3 months off work (assumed I’d die on the job, frankly)
  2. Look after the most amazing little boy ever as full time carer (yes, biased, but have you seen the photo?!)
  3. Blog about it all!

I’m lucky. Not only did the government introduce Additional Parental Leave about 4 years ago, I also have a partner who is happy to give up some of her maternity leave to allow me to do this.

Although I’ll not sure right now that this isn’t a cunning ploy on her behalf to go back to work for a rest! All she’s been saying for weeks is that I can expect to be more tired than I’ve ever been after spending entire weeks flying solo with E Jr.

Why am I starting this blog? Well, mostly because I want a record of what Jr. and I do to prove to Mum that I coped. And if I don’t cope as a way to help me cope!

But also I know that only 1.4% of new fathers are supposed to have taken up the offer of Additional Parental Leave since it was launched. And frankly I don’t even believe that tiny figure, as I am the only Dad I have ever met who is taking this amazing opportunity up (although like Yetis, I’ve heard rumours of others…). And with the system changing into Shared Parental Leave soon, if I can encourage a few more Dads (and Mums) that this is a good idea, then I’ll count that as a proper Boy Scout Good Deed.

I hope you enjoy the adventure as much as I think I will!