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The Chicken Saga

 Last week, Lilly, the second of our elderly flock of chickens died. They had both died of old age which is pretty good going for entirely free-range chickens in a urban fox release area, but following the discovery that their mother had simply thrown the first chicken in the bin, the children, horrified, had insisted that we bury this one with full honours. Off they trouped with shovel in hand, to the back of the garden with the dead chicken in a box.

I wandered over to pay my respects and discovered a large amount of earth and grass with a stick stuck in the top as some kind of flagpole memorial. They seemed to have given up digging a hole fairly quickly and decided that it was much easier to simply throw dirt and foliage on top of the chicken. Nevertheless, we gathered around the dearly departed and paid our respects one by one, recalling our favourite Lilly moment and our favourite egg dish, before heading back inside for tea. (I slipped back later to do the honours properly to ensure she was safely tucked away at an appropriate depth). 

Following the upset, the kids immediately announced that we needed more chickens to keep our remaining one company and looking out at the one, sad and lonely girl wandering the garden, convinced me they were right. We responded to an advert yesterday and  have now reserved 2 new chicks for collection in a couple of weeks’ time. 

In the meantime, our last chicken has struck up an unlikely friendship with the cat. I'm not sure I'll encourage that friendship - it might not be good for her health.......
 
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Give it up for the season of self-denial

So here we are again, plunged into that season of self-denial commonly known as Lent. Forty days of fasting and reflection in the run-up to Easter. That’s the traditional definition – set in motion when the Christian church was still young and those early followers of Christ were the poor and needy of the Roman province of Judaea. I imagine many of them were so poor and needy that a few weeks of not eating luxuries like meat and eggs made no difference; at least the reward for carrying on as normal was a state of grace (and maybe hunger-induced hallucination) qualifying them for baptism.

Our word for this period of fasting (Sundays not included, by the way) comes from the Middle English word ‘lenten’, the word for ‘Spring’ in days of yore. The modern version of ‘yore’ seems to be “Yore not having any chocolate till Easter Sunday!”

Like so much which has come down to us, the original meaning and motivations of Lent have been lost or mutated or changed beyond all recognition. Good thing? Bad thing? I don’t know – just a thing.

Anyway, what it means is that – if we choose to make use of it – Lent is a handy way of putting the brakes on; reminding ourselves we have a measure of free will and the strength of character to say ‘no’ to something, at least until a Sunday in early April.

Personally I’m not a chocolate fiend, but I do like a sandwich (in common with everyone else on this island of ours) and I am always impressed to the point of surrender at the sight of any heavily-laden window display in coffee shops and patisseries I might happen to pass. So it’s no bread, no cakes, no pastries or pies for me. And I’ve thrown in biscuits as well, which means the height of my gourmand’s delight over the next few weeks will be a Carr’s Water Biscuit (acceptable exception) and a piece of cheese.

Mrs Stay At Home Dad has similarly forsworn biscuits, decided to cut back on meat consumption (and, I suspect, liberal use of what might be termed ‘old-fashioned’ language in an office environment). Wonder which one she’ll find toughest to stick to…

That leaves the offspring. This is a tough one. How do you persuade children who have no interest in religion to embrace a religious custom? I guess the best way – if you think there’s any point of them denying themselves something in the first place – is to take the religion out of it: you know, ‘give X up for Lent and you can have extra Easter eggs and that electronic gadget you’ve been begging us to buy’.

Actually, persuading them to cut back on electronic usage is a good idea. If you phrase it the right way, they’ll bite your hand off and, in return for an admittedly quite costly trip to the confectionery aisle of your local supermarket, your lovely children’s brains could be 50 per cent less fried for the next wee while. Bit tricky this year though, given that Easter comes at the end of most school holidays so it might be tough asking the gamers of the household to ease off while the rain lashes against the windows and CBeebies / CBBC chuck out endless repeats of shows they didn’t even want to watch the first time.

Of course if your kids are sufficiently clued up they’ll get in first. A friend told me recently that her four year-old proudly announced, at the beginning of Lent a few years ago: “I’ve given it a lot of thought and this year I’m giving up broccoli for Lent.” Game, set and match to the under-five, I think.

Obviously none of this matters if you’re non-religious or non-Christian. All I will say is, embrace this opportunity to exert your authority / get one over on your kids while you still can. If the carrot’s big enough, they will sign up willingly – in blood, even. No, not in blood. And for a few weeks, at least, the parents in your household can feel like the Masters not the Servants.
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The white stuff memories are made of

Interesting how the recent snow episode which brought much of southern Britain to a halt was mirrored by a ‘once-in-a-generation’ snow event across the USA’s Midwest. Honestly, it’s as if they can’t let us experience our own meteorological crisis without having to get in on the act and doing it bigger, colder, snowier…you get my drift, as it were.

Seriously, though, what do all these good citizens (or is it ‘folk’) of Iowa and Idaho and lots of other states beginning with ‘I’ expect? They live there, after all. They know what to expect every winter: snow, snow and then more snow. That and deep freeze temperatures and ice-covered rivers and lakes and public transport shutdowns. Isolation is hard-wired into their systems. Some would argue that sense of being cut off from the rest of their compatriots is what’s brought America to where it is now but that’s not for me to debate. Not in this particular column, anyway.

The point is, they know how to deal with all this white stuff: well-stocked larders (does anyone have a larder nowadays?), mounds of blankets and quilts, ‘stay indoors – beware of frostbite’ alerts coming at them from every possible communication medium, even home-schooling programmes (no, not programs) for those endless snow days. Poor kids, I say.

We, on the other hand, in glorious, temperate Britain, are gloriously unprepared for the glorious winter wonderland which unfurls before us with what seems like increasing frequency every winter. Glory Be!

It only takes a light dusting of snow to send our infrastructure off the rails, and the greatest glory of all is that nothing ever changes no matter how often this entirely natural phenomenon occurs. (Er, entirely natural but probably boosted by mankind’s determination to lead us down the path of climate change.)

As it happens, the snows of early 2019 - firstly in the north and then the south – have had a bit more depth, so widespread disruption was marginally more understandable. An RAF station in Hampshire reported an accumulation of 19cm on February 1st and, let’s face it, that amount of snow is not to be sniffed at.

Even so, we were still treated to the televised spectacle of motorways being blocked by lorries and five-hour freezing traffic gridlock ensuing. Then there were the travellers who thought it made sense to cross Bodmin Moor when heavy snow had been widely forecast. And the Cornish college which didn’t think giving its students the afternoon off was a priority.

Sitting in your car going nowhere on a dark, blizzard-swept motorway is no-one’s idea of a good time and whilst we can question the judgement of those affected, they had our sympathy.

But crossing the moors? In darkness? In a snowstorm? Had these people never seen a horror movie??? Luckily for them, the Jamaica Inn, of mystical and romantic literary renown, proved a beacon of light and warmth (and booze and a dining room filled with temporary beds). This is a hostelry which hardly needs the publicity (though I daresay a few Du Maurier fans were astounded to discover there is an actual Jamaica Inn when they turned on their TV news). But an act of kindness – and, no doubt, a rousing night in the bar – is bound to bring the coach parties flocking come the warmer weather.

And those college kids – 400 of them – will have had an overnight experience they can share with anyone who’ll listen, for years to come. Roaming the corridors, hanging out in the canteen, wandering around wrapped in identical blankets (why did the college have all those blankets anyway?), making new friends, probably losing their grant fees playing cards…what an adventure.

It wasn’t too bad for the rest of us either. Here in the village, Mrs SAHD made the rather inexplicable decision to battle through the drifts for the early train into Big City (‘I have a course today’). As it happens, there wasn’t a snowflake on the grimy streets of the capital so her bravery/misplaced conscientiousness was justified. The rest of us waited for the inevitable ‘school’s closed’ emails to drop and then cranked up the heating, got stuck in to breakfast and made plans for our Friday Snow Day.

Older son loves snow but prefers a window between him and it. So his experience of the white stuff was restricted to opening the back door, grabbing a handful and sticking it in the freezer or seeing how long it would take to melt – that sort of cod-scientific thing. Other than that it was devices, reading and (impressively) homework all the way.

Younger son was even happier. A meet up with friends for an extensive snowball fight / snowman making / sliding session; later, a spell in the nearby field building another snowman, stomping through acres of virgin snow and leaving an earthly host of snow angels in his wake. And in the evening we wandered down to the station, wellies in hand, to meet Mrs SAHD off the train. A good day for him.

Me – I managed a coffee with some other parents as we hid from the near-blizzard. I periodically topped up the bird feeders and tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the cat gang to take a snowy stroll. I spent a lot of time drying the sodden post-snowy-revels clothing (see above) and sent some pictures of our Snow Day to Mrs SAHD. And she was happy to receive them and happier still to slam the front door behind her as we all hunkered down on a night of deep lying snow, frost and – well we all know the rest. Just like our cousins across the not Frozen Pond.
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Right place, Wrong time

The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they come at the wrong time.

Sure, there’s all that ‘New Year, new beginning’ stuff, that annual attempt to turn around a life in the wake of a Festive season full of over-indulgence and inactivity. All very laudable and understandable. But if you’re going to sign up for hard work and deprivation designed to test the very limits of your resolve, what on earth would make you do it in January?

Winter is just getting into its stride; not much cold stuff yet but even allowing for Global Warming (sorry if you’re reading this Mr President but you really should examine the evidence) there are some chilly times ahead. And what’s the most natural response to cold weather? Why, stocking up on nutrients and carbs and all those other things you’re thinking about giving up. It’s the season of casseroles and hearty soups and pasta dishes and mountains of mash and…well you get the picture.

How about cutting back on – or cutting out – the booze…Dry January and all that? Fine after a month or more of parties and Christmas nights out and big wine-lubricated meals. But, again, if you find yourself with some leisure time in the gloomy, early weeks of the year, a visit to the pub/wine bar/restaurant is hardly going to fill you with joy if a glass of fizzy water or a mocktail is your best option.

Let’s be honest, a couple of kids are far more likely to act as an alcohol deterrent all year round. Who needs to get up at Ridiculous O’Clock to ‘help’ the offspring on their way to nursery/school/wherever with a booming hangover? Those days ended not long after the first pregnancy testing strip flashed ‘positive’.

That’s the dietary issues taken care of, so what about personal fitness? Well, the mornings and evenings are still dark. Do you really want to trundle round the streets after a day at home/work sidestepping unpalatable deposits on the pavement, risking panic attacks as you loom large in front of unsuspecting pedestrians or risking personal injury from a car/bicycle?

Speaking of bicycles, don’t bother getting on yours until the spring. You haven’t become an Iron Man overnight and if you haven’t had much practice in recent years it might be as well to wait until conditions are more user-friendly.

What about gyms or leisure clubs? Sure – go ahead. Join up on a taster deal or throw your £s away on a year’s subscription. Then hit the weights/treadmills/pool along with all the other guilty, pasty individuals and see how inspired you feel. Be smart. Give it a few months, build up your levels with a bit of gentle exercise and then take the plunge.

There is, of course, another huge market for Resolutioneers: The ‘Self Help’ thing. Might be personal or professional. All very laudable – again. But why would we think that because a clock ticks past midnight into January 1st we can snap into a new mind set?

Whether you’re planning on taking over the company, plunging into a new career, getting back in touch with long, lost family or friends or just simply being nicer to people, these are fundamental changes to your life. And they shouldn’t be undertaken suddenly or lightly.

So by all means use the early weeks of the year to think these things through, make a plan and get things rolling in a small but positive way.

That’s my resolution: don’t do anything right now – but definitely think about it.
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Deck the Halls and hit the Decks

We don’t have many rules in the SAHD household because, well, you know – kids. We try, but as the authoritarian gene was stripped out of us (as is the case with, I suspect, most post-1970s parents) the second we beheld our Dear Children, there’s not much point.

Among the few remaining strictures is this seasonal one: no Christmas music before December 1st. The shops and public places of our country may have been blasting out Slade, Shakin’ Stevens and other old, er, favourites for weeks but not a Festive note is heard within our walls until the Advent countdown begins.

The DCs don’t waste much time once it kicks off though. As December 1st was a Saturday this year I was hoping for a slow and peaceful entry into the Season of Goodwill. And in a way I got my wish. It may have been before 8am but I suppose there are more violent ways of greeting the new day than hearing the great Tee Jules recount the Cajun 12 Days of Christmas (find it on Youtube. It’s a doozy, as they probably don’t say in the swamps of Louisiana).

If I thought the mood was going to stay mellow I was mistaken. Creole crooning was swiftly followed by Bob Dylan’s seasonal polka version of ‘Must Be Santa’, which is not anyone’s idea of music to snooze by.

Rude awakening banished, though, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the return of the Christmas Song. If you can devote 11 months to the rest of the musical canon, three or four weeks isn’t a long time to let a little Festive fun into the soundtrack of your life.

Of course, you have to be selective. Too much John and Yoko, Wham! Or (dare I suggest) even Band Aid can turn you into the most misanthropic of Scrooges. The trick is to leave the blockbusting ‘Christmas Best Ofs’ in the CD drawer (or if you’re extremely hip, locked away on your phone) and seek out something a little different.

In recent times we’ve tried to find a new Christmas collection every year. Takes a bit of work beforehand, but it does mean we can flip from James Taylor (heart-achingly lovely voice) to Christmas funk and rare groove (mixed quality, but fun) and Spanish kids’ Christmas songs (surprisingly catchy) to Noel Jazz, a riot of mid-century seasonal bop (top buy, ages ago, in a furniture and lifestyle store somewhere on the Continent).

I’ve always thought the energy and inventiveness that went into all those classic Christmas pop hits was something to admire and it’s a great pity the music industry doesn’t still come up with seasonal presents for us like it used to.

Still, the internet means you’re never more than a few clicks away from finding another cool Yule tune. Happy hunting – and listen out for those Five Poules Douces…
Some personal Christmas faves

Santa’s Got A Bag Of Soul – Soul Saints Orchestra

Must Be Santa – Bob Dylan

Fairytale Of New York – The Pogues and Kirsty McColl

Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses

What Will Santa Claus Say – Louis Prima

River – James Taylor

The Christmas Waltz – Frank Sinatra

Who Comes This Night – James Taylor

Fantasy On Christmas Carols – St Paul’s Cathedral Choir / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Ring Out Solstice Bells – Jethro Tull

Christmas Island – Bob Dylan

Merry Christmas Baby – Charles Brown

Merry Christmas Everybody – Slade

7 O’Clock News / Silent Night – Simon And Garfunkel
If you’ve got some Festive favourites, let us know – we’ll all be sick of this lot come December 25th.
                                          Stay At Home Dad
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when only a cuddle will do.......

There’s almost no point in mentioning Piers Morgan’s recent comments about Daniel Craig on a website for Dads. Almost, but not quite.

In case there’s anyone out there in Dadland too busy washing / changing / feeding / taxiing / playing with their offspring to have caught up with this important tale (and there are, I imagine, plenty of heads nodding in agreement here), the television show host and former newspaper editor suggested that the still in situ James Bond was somehow emasculating himself by being paparazzi-snapped transporting his brand new daughter in a baby carrier strapped to his chest.

Encouragingly and unsurprisingly, Mr Morgan was roundly condemned for his tweet “Oh 007.. not you as well?!!! #papoose #emasculatedBond”. This is, after all, the 21st century, where, as we all know very well, fathers are considered an integral and active part of the nuclear family. Though, for all we know, perhaps not in the Morgan household.

To be honest, there are so many places we could go with this one – all of which have probably been covered. It would be lots of fun to point out the irony of a middle-aged, overweight TV sofa warrior criticising an all-action acting superstar (and one who winds up with one or two beauties per movie when he’s not cuddling up to actual wife and fellow-acting superstar Rachel Weisz) for his lack of masculinity.

But, tempting though a soft target is, I think we need to consider a more important issue here. We know that Mr Morgan likes to flaunt his friendship with the stars (well, Donald Trump and Kevin Pietersen) and to broadcast far and wide his dislike of other public figures (viz. Gary Lineker, Arsene Wenger).

We know, also, that his appearances on the ITV wake-up show Good Morning Britain are pock-marked with offensive comments guaranteed to provoke fellow-host Susanna Reid into silent indignation or a well-honed put-down.

Indeed, you might think there’s an inflated ego at play here. At times it seems as if there’s no admired or beloved icon Mr Morgan won’t attempt to shoot down in flames – even though he knows the return of fire will be exponentially greater.

I guess it’s all about publicity; drawing attention to himself, to his TV programme, to his lifestyle. And as a one-time tabloid big cheese, he knows well the value of an outrageous comment.

Perhaps the best thing we could all do would be to ignore him – deny him the oxygen of publicity etc and hope that his candle just fizzles out.

I’m inclined to a different view, though. I think what poor old Piers is suffering from is simple, old-fashioned inadequacy. He probably hasn’t come to terms with the march of time and the need to focus on making your own way in the world, rather than doing down those who might seem better at ‘the game’.

So what he needs is our sympathy and understanding. And a great big hug of reassurance. In fact what he would probably love more than anything, is to be swaddled in a papoose and strapped tightly to a lovely, broad, manly chest where he could soothe himself to the rhythm of a deep voice and some deep breathing. I wonder whether Daniel Craig would be up to the job…
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The horror…the horror

Back in the mists of time, before trick-or-treating invaded every single corner of the British autumn, before zombie theme parks, before – who knows – even the most rudimentary latex horror masks were on sale (sorry, went a bit Dylan Thomas for a moment there), the soon-to-be Mrs SAHD and I were seeking a suitable date for an autumn wedding.

We thought we’d hit the jackpot. Halloween on an October Saturday. What a day to be wed – pumpkin themes, big party, leafy, autumnal decorations…

In the event it all worked out swimmingly. I use the word advisedly, because October 31 that year was the wettest day in British history (probably). It bucketed down all day and all night, which wasn’t the biggest problem for us – indoors, high on atmosphere and fizz – but can’t have been much fun for the merry bands of pre-teens romping around Capital City on a glorified sweet hunt.

This is about all Halloween has come to mean. Forget the bonfires of old, the weird appley games and the autumn bounty of pies and puddings. October 31 is when you place a box of edible treats near the front door and spend the evening running back and forth from the rest of the house, flinging open the portal to be greeted by sugar-craving teenies dressed in the most ghoulish outfits their parents could make/buy.

“Trick or treeeeat!” they shriek, eager hands outstretched as they eye up the goodies you just about remembered to buy at the supermarket a few hours earlier. The screams are bad enough, the costumes just add to the grotesque nature of the tableau. Mind you, once you’ve seen one six-year-old Freddy Krueger you’ve seen ‘em all. I’d be more impressed if I were confronted by a mini Celtic warrior or Boudicca, or maybe a biped cow – which is how it all began, back in Celtic times.

Still, we’re stuck with the hybrid, pseudo-American version of Halloween – pumpkins and candy bars and Hollywood-inspired costumes. In the circumstances, there’s no alternative but to dig out your werewolf costume from the back of the wardrobe, switch on that very funny howling/shrieking/hooting machine you bought last year and lead your own little one in a merry choc-fuelled dance around the streets of your community. Just make sure no-one recognises you.

                                              
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An Enemy At The Gates?

So, the new school year is well under way and the kids are resigned to the fact that they’ll regularly be dragging themselves out of bed to be slapped around the face by the chilly pre-dawn day all the way through to next summer.

It’s a big battle won – though it will have to be repeated to a lesser degree (more of a skirmish than a battle, I guess) following half-term breaks and especially Christmas and Easter holidays.

Small price to pay. Everything’s kind of running as it should: out of bed, lunch boxes filled, breakfast doled out, bags packed, toothbrushes brought within semi-close proximity to teeth and off we go to the Seat of Learning.

But if the offspring are playing their roles in this daily mini-drama, so are all the other players. By which I mean…The Mums at the School Gate.

Unless you’ve never dropped off your little darlings in the morning or gathered them up at day’s end (and, frankly, if that’s the case you need to ponder why you’re browsing the pages of an informed and enlightened website such as this one), you will have encountered this many-hued tribe.

Fine if you’re an occasional depositor/collector. As such, you’re a bit of a novelty and might attract curious (even admiring?) glances as you whisk the little ones into school, all bustle and brisk greeting in your suit/work clothes/dad’s day off uniform.

But for the regulars it’s a very different proposition. Like it or not, we have been mired in the murky world of School Gate politics – one which makes the Westminster version seem like, well, kindergarten.

Actually ‘mired in’ is a bit of an overstatement. The best a dad can hope for is permission to enter the Outer Circle. Even membership to this least exalted level will only come after time and the hard work of smiles and ‘hellos’ have been chalked up. And acceptance allows you to make only cursory conversation – generally initiated by a mum. Try overstepping the line with enthusiastic, extended chat as you await the arrival of your beloved children and see where that gets you. A cold-shouldered, hard-staring brush-off, that’s where.

Mind you, being a social outcast has its benefits. If you’re familiar with Gill Hornby’s novel ‘The Hive’ you’ll know what I mean. And if you’re not, trust me – we’re better off hunched in our own little corner of the playground or pavement, pretending to look at our phones or making grunting noises about sports results we couldn’t really care less about.

That way, we don’t have to navigate the Queen Bees, the Workers, the Yummies, the Slummies or any of the other sub-sets which school mums everywhere seem to naturally migrate towards.

I guess it’s the principle of exclusion that itches like a particularly nasty bee sting. At a time when #MeToo is such a powerful force, it’s tempting to add an addendum: #DontForgetUs (irritatingly, you can’t use apostrophes in hashtags on social media, groans the grammar fan in me).

The ‘Us’ in question refers to dads who build their days around school hours – just like all those mums at the gates. There appear to be more and more of us with each passing term but there’s still a sense that we are an inferior option for the poor little ones tumbling into or out of class.

We don’t get included in parents’ (er, Mums’) WhatsApp groups, we struggle to get on the playdate (‘hangout’ for the older, more sophisticated young people) circuit and we’re inevitably the last to hear school-related tittle-tattle.

Come to think of it, I quite like being an Outsider.
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Move along now, Nerfing to see here…

My favourite news story of late is the one about police responding to reports of gunfire and screaming in a Norfolk village and finding …a children’s party.

The ‘gunfire’ was caused by bangers, the ‘screaming’ was shrieking kids and the only sign of weapons was the array of Nerf guns being touted by the little darlings.

Much as the fearful residents of Yaxham might have wished to see hardened criminals marched out of the premises in handcuffs, they had to make do with three officers piling out of a patrol car then joining in the fun.

The delighted (and I imagine somewhat relieved) mum of party host Oliver told the media how the officers chatted with the kids, posed with them for pictures and even joined in the party games. That’s what you call community policing.

As a fully paid-up bleeding heart liberal, I’m really impressed by the attitude of the officers. We hear and see plenty of reports (accurate or not) of poor behaviour by police when interacting with the public. But at a stroke these officers have given the partygoers an experience they’ll never forget and – probably – the confidence not to be afraid of the police.

I don’t know how much PR work is shoehorned into the average police officer’s training schedule. I imagine it’s more of a ‘thing’ than it used to be, but it would be nice to think that they were just behaving in the way they would want their children to be treated in similar circumstances. That’s what I’m going to run with.

I have no great desire to see my kids become members of Her Majesty’s Constabulary (which, by the time they’re eligible will probably be His Majesty’s Constabulary), but I also don’t want them to think of that as a non-profession, nor of police officers as people to avoid.

I’ve known a few policemen and policewomen over the years. Some were really good people, some less so. But then that’s true of everyone, in every walk of life.

Whether they’re wearing a dark blue uniform or a waiter’s apron, an engineer’s work clothes or an academic’s wacky dress/shirt/tie/waistcoat combo, surely what we want for our kids is for them to be good-hearted and compassionate and, well, decent human beings. Oh, and to be handy with a Nerf gun should the need arise.
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And with one bound he was free

And with one bound he was free

“Free at last, Free at last…free at last.”

Look, I’m no Martin Luther King (Jr). I’m certainly no Carlito Brigante: hero – no, protagonist – of Carlito’s Way. But as the digital calendar clicks over into September, I’m celebrating my own, small emancipation.

The memory of that family holiday is fading as fast as the sunlight on an early autumn evening; those ire-inducing queues in a stifling uniform store have been overcome; WH Smith (other stationers are available) has been plundered for protractors, rulers, unsuitably indelible felt pens and useless novelty pencil sharpeners. Even the last-minute raid on the supermarket has been achieved and the fridge stocked with unacceptably bad snacks and sandwich fillings.

And now, here it is…that glorious first day of school. Up early with all the bounce of a spaniel puppy, lunch boxes lovingly filled with goodies, school bags at the ready, kids fed, dressed, washed (sort of), swept out of the door, into the car and deposited at the Gates of Knowledge ready to embrace another academic year.

Now, what to do. First things first: a trip to medium-sized town for a celebratory coffee or two. Time to skim through emails, browse the web, check the Twitter feed … hell, I’m even going to buy a good, old-fashioned newspaper and read it cover to cover.

Late morning, it’s back home to tidy the breakfast bombsite, whip through the washing/ironing/bed-making/meal-planning. Nice day outside, I’ll go and sit in the garden for 20 minutes and offer the cat a comfortable place to curl up.

Spot of lunch, a few more emails, a fabulous hour or so doing all that admin-y stuff you can’t manage during the holidays because your role as Butlin’s Redcoat/short-order cook/tech adviser/goalkeeper/listener to general nonsense doesn’t permit it.

Quick glance at the clock – Oh God, it’s happened again. I’m late for pick-up. Charge out of the door, race through the village and arrive, panting, to be greeted by the familiar sight of #2Son standing, conspicuously, in the playground, with only his teacher – His New Teacher! – for company. ‘Er, sorry about that, got stuck behind a lorry in the main street, would have been here five minutes ago…’. Teacher is forgiving. #2Son less so. He’s seen it all before. Most school days, actually. Still, a snack from the village shop will pacify him as we head for medium-sized town to collect #1Son. Thank God for after-school clubs.

Then it’s back home. No homework yet, they can help themselves to TV or a bit of device time or head into the garden or come and talk history or politics or whatever they like with me as I conjure another culinary masterpiece: the first of around 190 similar weekday efforts until that blessed day when another academic year draws to a close and I’m free at last.
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Stay at Home Dad

Stay at Home Dad

Walking through the village about a week into the summer holidays I saw a woman I know vaguely. Her kids are younger than mine, some at primary school, some not. She was striding along a path, one child in tow, another behind and one, which we had passed a few seconds earlier, heading who knows where. She offered that 'raised eyes, God help me' look, muttered "spend my life chasing kids around" and was gone.
I'm not criticising her. I taught myself a long time ago to remember always that you don't know what kind of a day - or life - someone's having, so passing judgment is pointless and unreasonable.

What's more, we all have those days when our angels, little and not so little, bear a more passing resemblance to devils.

But what I did think was 'it's a shame you can't turn this round and just enjoy the fact that you've got weeks of holiday ahead of you, your kids are safe because that path doesn't lead to a road and you might as well make a game of it by dinosaur roaring at the runaway then you might all end up laughing'.

OK, I know that's a bit of a tough ask, but the point is, that mum wasn't helping herself by viewing everything as a chore. Sure, it's tough to keep little ones engaged and happy, but it's not impossible. I think planning is the key.

If you kick off every day of the holidays by asking 'what shall we do today?' you're going to struggle. It might work for Phineas and Ferb but you're not looking at 104 days of summer vacation (thankfully), you don't have a couple of pointy-headed geniuses on your hands (probably) and your family pet is not a secret service agent masquerading as a platypus (I hope). No, Real Life needs a bit more of a framework.

The good news is that while your kids are small, they're suggestible. You can still drive the agenda as well as the car. Get into the habit of an evening chat where you talk about what to do the next day (having already decided - just a question of presenting your plan in a positive way). Yes, you're manipulating your kids, but when weren't you? Anyway, give it a few years and they'll be manipulating you like you wouldn't believe.
If your kids are older - say post-10, things are at the same time easier and harder. Easier because they will probably want to do their own thing: see friends, play football, spend all day on an electronic device, watch dawn to dusk TV...

Harder because they will probably want to do their own thing: see friends, play football, spend all day...you get the picture. It's miserable having your role as entertainer in chief curtailed and replaced by the less palatable title of chef/waiter/servant/chauffeur.

Don't abandon hope, though. Pre-teens and teens aren't generally the monsters you might fear. They do like their screen time and their down time but they will often (albeit superficially reluctantly) go along with planned trips, events etc. Even kids get bored doing nothing.

The internet is your friend here. Listings are everywhere, for everywhere: movies, wild walks, summer day camps, sports events, best beaches, best parks...surely you already know all this. Otherwise how have you found your way to this blog?

Anyway, school is not far away. Soon routine will rule your life again. And homework. In the meantime, have some fun. And have fun planning the fun.
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