Sunday, 6 November 2016

Upwardly mobile

I’m writing this fresh from taking Oscar and Isabel to a soft play area, which is increasingly becoming one of the many highlights of looking after them full-time.

Not only are they absolutely zonked after flinging themselves down slides and running around like lunatics for an hour or so, I also get in an important bit of cardio while I’m waiting for my Wednesday five-a-side session to come back around. Being frank, any parent who says they hate having to crawl around tunnels, mazes and ball pools to keep an eye on their kids is an enormous liar.

This most recent visit to soft play was different though. As it was the Eddie Catz centre in our local Mothercare and the kids have been there before, I knew they would be more than comfortable navigating themselves around it. They don’t need me to be lurking behind them at every other step.

This meant I could do the unthinkable and enjoy a coffee – a mocha since you ask – while watching them dive around like nutters.

As I was keeping an eye on them – and enduring the awkward embarrassment of a random child repeatedly shouting ‘daddy’ at me with her arms outstretched – it dawned on me just how quickly the twins have developed.

Once they were tiny babies who needed all of their toys passing to them, now they are terrifyingly grown-up and rather independent little people who can’t help but give you a piece of their mind (“Isabel, shall we sing Twinkle twink….” “Noooooo, BAAAA BAAA!!!”). And they’re not even two until January.

So, here’s a few of my own thoughts on their journey – it is X Factor/Strictly season after all – to walking.

A shot from Oscar and Isabel's upcoming Winter 2016 catalogue.

Still Life

There’s nothing quite like excitedly bringing your children home, sticking them in a bouncer each and excitedly showing them a sparkly new toy only for them to….do nothing. I know it is probably placing too much pressure on tiny little shoulders, but I remember doing this expecting some instant glimmer of reaction and happiness.

However, this is the gig initially – they’ll sit or lie there, and outrageously expect you to do everything for them. The cheek. While this is draining in itself, it does actually offer some benefits which you won’t be able to enjoy for long. For example, it means you’re able to leave them in a specific position like in a chair in the kitchen while you make a cup of tea or in a bouncer in the bathroom as you shower.

You also get to experience the pure joy of sticking your child in a jumperoo and seeing their unadulterated happiness. Finally, you can take them to groups and have proper conversations with adults as the kids’ll stay in one place and not wander off to stick fingers or other appendages in sockets or something.

During these early days you’re shattered and broken and half a human, but at least you can have a chat. Enjoy this while you can…

Not Still Life

…as walking makes this completely impossible. While I try not to be a helicopter parent (which sounds like a shit transformer), you need to keep a constant eye on them and what they’re up to, who they’re taking toys off and what they are sticking in their mouths.

This isn’t always easy when they’re heading off in opposite directions and it is one of the few areas where I must admit I’m a little jealous of parents with just one child.

Take a recent gathering at a neighbour’s house for instance. I felt like I could barely listen to a conversation or participate as I had to leap into action pulling the kids off the stairs or out of the kitchen cupboards. After all, why would they want to play with toys or other children when there’s stairs to climb?

In Their Own Time

It is interesting how as the initial months pass you hear more and more stories about when various relatives or other people’s kids started crawling or walking. These often include whether they just jumped straight to the latter like super-babies.

As neither of our kids were walking when they hit their first birthday we did hear a few of these tales (“well, little INSERT NAME joined the running club at nine months”). I’m pleased to report though that they’re now fully functional so – shock horror – it is worth remembering that every child gets to this and many other stages in their own time.

This area is one of many where you can end up almost feeling a little bit of pressure if your children have not met a certain deadline. But don’t panic, forget about it and where necessary participate in that highly enjoyable pastime of ignoring people. Trust the kids as, just like with loads of things, they’ll do it when they want to.

It is also worth bearing in mind that while Oscar may have been our first crawler, Isabel actually beat him to the punch when it came to walking. If that doesn’t show you how children will do things in their own time, then nothing will.

Changing Landscape

Probably the key conclusion that I’ve drawn from parenting so far is that nothing ever stays the same.

As a parent you’ll think you’ve found the formula to a contented and quiet life, until something happens which moves the goalposts. This could be anything, from teething to sleep issues or the moment when rolling turns into crawling.

What I didn’t think too much about was how, as their movement develops, their living environment often has to change with them. There are obvious necessary adjustments such as stairgates, but we’ve also had to make other subtle little ones too.

Crawling gives them the chance to discover their environment, as well as the power button on the front of your Xbox One. I initially took to pushing mine to the back of our TV table out of the way and now in some cases still unplug it to bring an end to the minor light display.

One of the key casualties of the need to adjust has been our coffee table. This was a mainstay of the living room and absolutely fine when they were only just rolling over or crawling, but then they stood up.

Suddenly drinks were no longer safe – not just from little hands but the toys they were throwing across the surface of the table. And then the cruising began and ‘out of reach’ became null and void as a concept. Everything is in reach. Finally, when they’re walking and running around, the need for more space emerges and suddenly the big black monolith in the middle of the room is simply deemed to be in the way.

Despite Ana’s best efforts, I held onto my belief that the coffee table was not going anywhere like my very existence depended on it, but eventually (and not for the first time) I conceded to my wife that…she was right. That was perhaps the most galling aspect of the whole affair and it still pains me deeply to admit it. Just thinking about it brings up so many emotions.

On the move with Mummy on a recent trip to Roundhay Park.
Actual Proper Parenting

Now that they’re walking I have to actually properly attempt to be a responsible parent and, you know, set an example and all of that. Part of this has seen me follow Ana’s lead in terms of essentially training the kids when it comes to walking in the outside world. We started from-the-off by telling them they should always be holding our hands when they’re out and about. Touch wood, they’re pretty good at it and also tend to listen to our instructions.

They were wearing their leashes – sorry, reins – when we started this, but that was more of an insurance policy. Our aim has always been to get them off on the right foot (THAT’S A PUN!).

Wheels

Our pushchair has been a trusted friend since the early days and has of course been an amazing help in getting out and about. There’s barely been a day since being a stay-at-home dad when I’ve not been powering along the highways and byways of Leeds with sweat dripping down my back (easy ladies, I’m married).

However, the twins and their walking means that even now going out is no longer simply a case of sticking them in the Silver Cross and getting out there. A few weeks back I went out for lunch and did some shopping. In the three hours we were out, the kids were either in the pushchair or in a high chair and that’s simply not good enough anymore.


They need to be moving and using up all of their ever-increasing energy, so more thought is going to have to go into how I tackle this – whether it simply means heading somewhere with a play area now and then so they can stretch their legs a little. Once again, as per usual, the times they are a-changing.