Tuesday, 29 December 2009

An excellent Christmas

I had a feeling this one would be good but it exceeded my expectations on several levels. I thought Jake would get a bit more from it but he really seemed to enjoy himself. For all the inevitable 'they're more interested in the paper' cliches, he actually seemed to like his presents. When we gave him his toy NinkiNonk his eyes lit up and started salivating, the same thing happened when we presented his Makka Pakka flannel. Anne Wood who makes up half of the production team of In the Night Garden must have made a fortune from creating a TV show which in the first place is like crack for kids and therefore a winner for parents trying to calm children before bed time and secondly spawns a range of affordable toys which continue to bring smiles to young faces when the show isn't on. And she was behind the Telly Tubbies. When you watch the show you think the writter must have taken a hit of acid before setting pen to paper but she's got a gift of giving toddlers exactly what they want; the noises, colours and characters do something to Jake when he's watching it and just our impression of one of them is enough to stop him wriggling when we're getting him ready for bed. Good luck to her!

Anyway, Jake had the added bonus of all four grandparents present on Christmas day. It was the first time for us too. For the last few years we've alternated Christmas and Boxing day between parents houses and then reverse it the following year. This year, however Clare's folks came to mine as a last minute boiler issue would have seen them eating turkey around an electric heater. So it was lovely, a full house, screaming, excited children, too much food, booze, Gavin and Stacey and my answer of 'giraffe' to the Family Fortunes' question of 'name a long legged bird' topped of the day perfectly.

For ages I've felt knackered in the mornings despite how much sleep I get but for the first time in a long time, I've felt more awake and energetic first thing and I think it's the combination of a few days off and the feeling that 2010 is going to be an exciting year.

Firstly, I can now reveal that Clare and I are off on a short ski break to Austria next week. It was a surprise Christmas present for her that I'd been working on in secret for some time. The bride and groom of the wedding we're going to on New Year's Eve aren't honeymooning officially until March but have a chalet booked and a few of our friends are going with them. Originally I tried to persuade Clare that it would be a good idea to join them and take Jake with us, however this was vetoed almost immediately. We didn't want to be the party poopers or the ones with the child keeping people up at night so I initially shelved the idea and resigned myself to another year without snow. For ten years I'd had a snowboard trip pretty much every year up until 2007 and nearly went in 2008 however Clare told me she was pregnant just after I'd paid the deposit so we never went. Had we not gone this year (2010) there would be the very real possibility that there could be something like a 6 or 7 year gap between winter sports' holidays and that, frankly, is unacceptable. So I realised that the only way to get Clare to agree to a trip was to go behind her back and that's what I've done. Jake will have an extra day in nursery and the mums have, very, very, very kindly agreed to share the looking after of him for the four nights we're away. Thank God for our amazing mothers! Twiglet is booked into the cattery, flights are booked and we go next Monday. We'll have three days skiing and will be back on the Friday....one of our closest friends, Fred is back from Canada, from where he cruelly absconded to 4 years ago and he is coming too so we can't wait and it'll do us, and particularly Clare, the world of good. A few days of fresh air, exercise and time off child care after a relentless (but fun) 15 months will be just what we need.

Also, we have plans submitted to the council for an extension to our downstairs which will give us a much bigger kitchen and an area for Jake to make as much mess as he likes. These will be approved or rejected late Jan / early Feb and then we can start building and that's a very exciting prospect, more exciting than moving in fact.

Lastly, I'm hoping that 2010 will be a good year for our business. I feel that we're due one. We've used the recession as a diagnostic tool, made all the right moves, done a deal and generally put us in a position to make some decent returns. I know you shouldn't cross your fingers in business but luck is involved (even Branson says a lot of his success was due to the right place and time) and if anyone is due some, it's us.

So there you have it. A great Christmas, lots to look forward to and I wish everyone a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year. Especially Ben and Izzy who become Mr and Mrs Ansell at 2pm on Thursday. Can't wait.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Odd thoughts

I'm sure other married / partnered people have that conversation where you talk about living a long and loving life and then finally passing away together in each other's arms. Dying together being the ultimate finale to a lifetime's romance. No? Just me then.

Anyway Clare and I have had that conversation, just frivolous pillow talk I guess but it would be the way to go wouldn't it? Not having to go on alone with nothing but memories. Except now it's different, we have Jake and someone needs to look after and out for him. When you open a bank account these days one of the features is often a free will writing service but I'm sure less than 1% take them up on it. Especially as we'd have nine tenths of sod all to pass on but a will is more than that. It expresses our wishes in terms of who we see will be best to take care of Jake and his well being as well as what he'll actually get.

Brittney Murphy died yesterday and whilst the inevitable tabloid rumours point to drug excesses, by all accounts she had a heart attack. She was 32. Stephen Gately was 33 and he died this year as well. Again, his death was subject to rumour but in the end it was put down to a tragic natural accident. The point is that people do start to die in the thirties even if it is a small percentage. This will sound awful but I've always thought I might as well....maybe the naturally pesimistic side comes into play here and of course I hope I live forever, but you feel what you feel. That's why I'm using the end of the decade as a wake up call to look after myself better. I've always done plenty of exercise but a life long devotion to beer and fags has left me less healthy than I'd like. We're going to our great friends' wedding on New Year Eve and any excesses will be left at the marguee door when I leave.

Of course resolutions are there to be broken but there are good intentions behind all of this. I remember my friend's dad dying when we were 16 and I guess his dad would have been 50 odd. At the time 50 was as old as anyone could be, now it's only 17 years away, just longer than the proverbial blink of an eye. We have a responsibility to our children more than to ourselves to get and stay fit plus it's a quality of life thing; I don't want to be wheezing around the garden while Jake is scoring goals against me, I want to beat him!

Anyway I'd like to apologise for writing about death during the happiest week of the year, just had the thought and put them down before we start a fortnight of drinking!

Merry Christmas everyone.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Jake's cleft and 2009 - in context

It's so weird to think how much of a big deal it all was when we were told that Jake would be born with a cleft. Understandable still, it was huge news after all, but it's funny how time levels everything out. Time and obviously the operations have helped put it all into context.

Finding out that something's not going to be quite right before the birth of your first baby will always (and rightly so) be difficult news to hear. I remember talking to a friend of a friend who was then pretty much where we are now in terms of the initial process. He said everything would be o.k and of course it is, but when you're the other side it doesn't necessarily feel like it will be. Experiences like these have to be experienced, empathy is impossible without experience. You can sympathise and try to know what people are going through but unless you've dealt with it first hand, you'll never get close.

I would say both Clare and I are different people. There would be differences anyway given it's been 18 months since we had the 5 month scan and we've become new parents but there are other changes probably directly attributable to the cleft thing. I think we're calmer (granted, not always behind the wheel) and smaller stuff bothers us less. We used to waste a lot of time worrying about what other people think, trying not to bruise egos, treading on egg shells. It's not like we go out of way to put noses out of joint but we have more of a feeling that it is what it is, let's just crack on.

I feel older certainly and I think a consistent lack of solid sleep will do that to anyone. People can stay looking young into their thirties but I think it's that decade that puts most years on and the link between parenting during that time has to be paid attention to. I find myself tutting at sections of society and then letting it all go in one fluid movement. I still get irritated at people but I also think that it's not worth worrying about because it's out of our hands. All that matters is your family, your friends and your wellbeing, be in health, finance or mindset.

Jake is growing up and I'm there for him. I want to protect him from the cynicism I have running through my veins. I guess it's only recently that I've started to accept that I'm not going to be a billionaire and that, in all likeliness we'll be living in a two bed semi (albeit, a very nice one) for the foreseeable future. I've mentioned on here before that Clare and I are always looking forward to the next thing, a holiday, the (bloody) extension, a new job, more money and so on, but I find I'm doing that less now. Which is good. Learn to enjoy now, chill. Life happens 24 hours a day and it happens now, not next week, month, decade.

I'm very much looking forward to Christmas. This year the physical break in the work calendar feels more welcome than ever. Since the disposal of the media division of the business I have been lugging desks around, chucking almost ten year's worth of collected cabling, client folders, out of favour secret santa presents and god knows what else and cleaning parts of the building never before cleaned and in short, I'm knackered. No matter how much five a side or squash I play, I still feel shattered most mornings and a few days off but that don't involve an airport or foreign travel, ought to do me the world of good.

The end of this year and decade is a real watershed for the company and it'll be nice to come back into work with a sense of opportunity and a new start and then perhaps I'll be able to make a billion or two.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Walking AND talking

So Jake said a word the other day. An actual, decipherable word. He said 'car' and we both heard it. Until now the only word has been 'mamamamama' and actually that's more of a half hum, half babble which is more likely to be him exploring his vocal chords than knowing he was talking to his mum.

Every morning, one of the rituals the missus and I have is to ask Jake where his aeroplanes are and sure enough he points to the hanging mobile above his cot and then we ask him where Babar is and he duly points to Babar the elephant hanging on the wall next to his cot. Babar is also flying a plane in that picture so we're doing our best to confuse the lad. We also have a picture near his changing mat of a car. He's known the words 'aeroplane' and 'Babar' for months but couldn't get 'car' until recently, and only then the ability to understand the word and point, but now he can say it. Well, he said it, technically he can't say it as he hasn't done it since, despite Clare and I asking him, in the customarily high pitched patronising tone 'can Jakey say car? Car, car, caa-aar' over and over again.

He'll get there, but I find myself really looking forward to having a conversation with him. Now he'll come over when I call him and he'll put his legs up when I want to get his trousers on but he can't talk back. One of our accounts' ladies bought her two-and-a-bit year old in on Tuesday and I had a full on conversation with him about, funnily enough, his cars. He was carrying a bag around full of toy cars from the film, erm, 'Cars' and we spent a good five minutes naming them and playing with them and he could answer my questions and everything. I really enjoyed it and it made me look forward to doing that with Jake. And that's really just a year away depending on the speech therapy thing.

Separately we got the Clapa newsletter through the day before last. I still don't know how I feel about it. On one hand it's good that they organise trips away for kids and parents affected by clefts and on the other hand why should they bother? Surgery is so good, you can barely notice a repaired cleft lip (as long as it was done in the last 10 or so years) so why make these kids out to be special? It worries me that a) perhaps Jake's lip is not as well repaired as I / we think it is as we see him every day or that b) he will be singled out for it at school even if it is just a small scar.

Either way I can't see why loads of kids need to get together to have fun knowing that they won't get bullied because they've all got the same thing. I just can't see that all kids with a repaired lip will suffer terribly because of it. Maybe that's incredibly naive and perhaps I have a different mentality but so be it. I got teased at school for having big ears and yes it was upsetting. I had a particularly short hair cut one day and the entire class laughed at me and made me cry (I was very young to be fair) and yes I remember that and it wasn't nice. Once I remember two boys putting their brief cases up either side of their head to represent my enormous Dumbo-esque lugs and that wasn't a great day either, but I got over it, I got good grades, have a happy family, plenty of friends, a good job and I reckon I'm an o.k bloke. It probably helped me in some way. I'm not advocating bullying and appreciate that in the extreme it can be very damaging but all kids will be picked on, teased a bit at some stage and bullies will eventually get found out in the real world. Most bullies were also the jocks and there was one in particular at my school and the teachers seemed to be scared of him as well. He would never get called up for the harassment he handed out, mainly because he was the biggest and strongest member of the first IX rugby team but he wouldn't bother me now. And afterall, he's probably breaking rocks or flipping hamburgers - he wasn't what you'd call, a reader.

Anyway, I think that Jake will be o.k and we'll teach him to stand up for himself or learn to tell jokes to win favour or rise above it and walk away. Some days he'll have a hard time which is nothing to do with having been born with a cleft and that will be just what he needs to learn how to get through life and he'll be absolutely fine.

Monday, 16 November 2009

The last few weeks

On a previous post I alluded to a situation at work which has stopped me blogging as regularly as I would have liked. That situation is still ongoing but I hope closure is getting nearer. As soon as I can provide the details of that I will and hopefully posting frequency will return. Maybe I've used it as an excuse, as we're still in our happy lull and there's less to write about and therefore the pre-blog thinking process is more of a forced issue than an easy outpour. Dunno.

Anyway, Jake's great and is a very happy little boy most of the time. He still has a moment or two every day when he'll cry or get crotchety but in the main he's toddling about, playing, eating well, laughing and enjoying being one and a bit. We took him to get his first shoes at Clarks a few weeks back, which was a real nostalgia trip for us. Despite the geniuses in the store planning division deciding the best place for the baby section is the basement, meaning all buggies having to be left upstairs, it was great to hark back to childhood memories of the width machine and thumb test to see where the toe was. They don't do that once you're grown but for everyone's first few dozen pairs of shoes you get used to it. Something I'm not sure I'll get to is the £28 for a pair of shoes which literally fit in the palm of one hand. You always hear about parents moaning about the cost of kids shoes, clothes etc but up until now I've found child care fairly inexpensive. We get £80 odd every month and I reckon half of that goes on food and nappies. The other half goes towards his one day at nursery so we're not massively out of pocket, especially when you consider what we save on not going out like we used to.

We went back to Stoke Park last Thursday for Jake's second bonfire night. He was much more awake this time and despite his initial misgivings about the noise and the rain, he seemed to enjoy it. It's crazy when an event comes round for the second time. You remember how you felt the year before. We were literally feeling our way last November, now we take it all in our stride. You do get comfortable with looking after a small child and as your confidence grows you get more time to enjoy your time with them. Whether it's feeling relaxed about leaving him in front of 'in the night garden' whilst warming his milk or letting him reverse down the stairs, it's all part of the learning experience of being a parent and eventually you forget you're still learning. Of course this is all made possible by the fact that he sleeps all night now so we're doing it feeling human and not like zombies.

This weekend was really nice. Even though it rained, we spent the majority of it all together. Saturday afternoon opened our eyes to a world we never knew existed before Jake came along. Soft play at Merist Wood golf club and a childhood adventure land for Jake to run around in. Despite the ball pit smelling of a freshly soiled nappy it was brilliant to see his face as he was sliding down the ramp into it. He was also obsessed with the fire engine ride, interestingly the only thing which cost more once we were in, proving that parents will pay 50p to entertain their child if the attraction moves and makes noise.

Yesterday was spent at the supermarket. Another rite of passage for me to push Jake around in the bit kids sit in on the trolley and let him play with the products before putting them in. Then a family roast and milk and bedtime. Cliche of family life perhaps but for all the right reasons.