Thursday 25 February 2010

Our new normal

I was thinking the other day how things have changed in a relatively short space of time. You don't notice at the time but slowly it dawns on you how life slips into a new routine. I remember before Clare and I were married that we'd sometimes complain about being bored, not having a hobby or annoyed that we hadn't made plans. When I look back to that time, where we had a relatively small mortgage, loads of friends on the doorstep and the ultimate freedom that comes with not having a child, I find it hard to believe how we could have been bored. Why didn't we go to the cinema, pub, shopping and any number of things that could have been done at the drop of a hat? Of course we did do those things but perhaps our expectations of entertainment were higher then.

Of course, we were also skint in those days so our ambitions had to be tempered by more modest bank accounts. Not that we're loaded now by any stretch but those more frivolous activities are much more in reach financially if not practically.

So, we can afford to do as we like yet we're not afforded the time to do it in. Again, this is an excuse, we can still do whatever we want, it just needs more planning. And because it needs more planning, we tend not to get around to it until it's too late. However, we're seldom bored. Maybe that's because now, our expectations of entertainment are more realistically lower!

People have asked me how having a child changed me and the reply is always that it hasn't really; I think moving slightly further away from friends and family a year before Jake arrived helped set our expectations. It gradually allowed us to settle into a routine of entertaining ourselves and being happier with our immediate surroundings than constantly looking for new sources of enjoyment. I forget who said it or where I heard it first but one of my favourite sayings is;

"it's not about getting what you want, but about wanting what you've got"

I still have constant gadget craving and we're always looking forward to the next holiday, but Jake has given us a load of perspective on what we can and cannot practically do on an impulse. We can still be impulsive but it needs to be planned! How's that for an oxymoron?!

The point is when I'm asked if I can play golf or bugger off to the pub at a few hours' notice, generally I can't (I'm playing golf tomorrow but it's been in the dairy for a month) but I don't resent that and I especially don't resent Jake for it, it's just the way it is. It's important to make sure it doesn't give you a reason to become lazy but I actually like our new normal, it sets the tone and pace for our lives and keeps us all in check.

It might sound boring and perhaps sometimes it is, but in the main it doesn't feel boring and that's really all that matters.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Personality and performance

Over the last few months, Jake's personality has really developed. He's always been a smiley boy and laughs a lot when we get him at the right moment, but he's much more affectionate of late. Clare always makes a fuss when I come through the door and he gets so excited. I can't tell you how awesome it is to see his face light up when he sees me. He legs it across the dining room with his arms up, often laughing. As soon as I pick him up he buries his head into my shoulder as if he'd never expected my return. That unconditional love is so rewarding and not something I'd anticipated so soon. I like to think I'm a nice enough person but no one else I know greets me with such enthusiasm!

He's starting to work things out now as well and watching him investigate and learn stuff is brilliant. He can walk in my slippers, knows how to use a digital camera (well, he can hold it up and look at the screen), knows which button turns off the telly (really, really annoying) and can choose his favourite biscuit from his box of treats.

I always cringe a bit when people forecast a child's future talents from their early achievements (ooo he opened the toilet seat, he's going to be a plumber etc), but it does look like he quite a creative child. This isn't a proud dad proclamation (although I did get a twinge of proud dad syndrome), his nursery reports make repeated reference to his finger / foot / potato painting - he made an almost perfect snowflake (there's an oxymoron) print last week. His teachers mention his coordination with the materials is really good and he picks things up quite quickly. On the downside they mention that it takes him a while to settle down to activities because he constantly wants to play with something else. Naturally, we've taken this as early signs of ADHD but at least he'll be producing some good stuff when he can concentrate!

The creative / materials stuff is what appealed to me about the Montessori approach. I've mentioned before that I used to think it was a bit hippyish but I didn't really understand it. I think I confused it with that Steiner nonsense where kids don't compete and no one wins etc. To be fair I might even be wrong about that but haven't the inclination to prove myself otherwise. Anyway, I digress; the Montessori method uses lots of natural materials to help children learn by playing and interacting with them. So instead of showing them the number '2' for example, they will make the shape of a 2 out of sandpaper, stick it to a block of wood and get them to trace their finger over it. It could all still be a load of bollocks but it makes sense to me and if it means he gets an appreciation for wood over plastic then I'm all for it.

So, basically the boy is a genius and he really loves me. Can't ask for much more than that.

Friday 15 January 2010

Winter photo update

Here are a few pics of the boy and what we've been up to over the last couple of months.

Mr and Mrs Ansell looking lovely

Mr and Mrs Fernie looking stupid

Fully working Victorian fireplace. In a tent. Health and safetey anyone?!

The Stags

Best men

Wednesday 13 January 2010

2010, snow and babbling

To say the new year started with a bang is the understatment of the new decade. We spent New Year's Eve at the incredible wedding of our friends Ben and Izzy (Bizzy). If you shut your eyes and imagine what a winter wonderland wedding would be like, especially in a marquee attached to a beautiful old house (where the bride grew up), which was dressed by a professional art director (the groom), you'll get close to how it was. It was freezing outside but the marquee was toasty and everything was amazing. From the lovely service to the real trees and working fireplace / mantelpiece in the marquee to the snow at midnight, fake waiters who turned into opera singers half way through, the beef and yorkshire canapes and sausage and mash main, it was just perfect and best of all everyone was there. It's been so long since I spent new year with my closest mates and although we'll always see one or two groups of friends for new year this was a rarity. It was a great day we'll remember for long to come.

As luck would have it, Bizzy invited most of the wedding party on their honeymoon as well! The official honeymoon isn't until March so we all went to St. Anton for a ski and snowboard trip. Everyone else went for the week but ours was a flying visit. Just three days although if you saw my bank balance you'd think we'd been for a month. We had a great time and by chance the place I'd booked us into was less than a minute's walk from the chalet everyone else was in. A good job too when you consider a 2 minute taxi was €12!

Clare found it quite difficult towards the end with missing Jake, especially when we got a text from Easyjet saying our flight had been cancelled. She looked at me and said in a tone which meant she'd really, really meant it 'Get me home!'

So we booked on a BA flight which left only a couple of hours later than the original one and another €420 later we were home. I was hoping Jake would be excited to see us and he was, a huge smile across his face and he came over to us arms up and all was o.k in the world again.

It did us the world of good to go away and spend 4 nights on our own (albeit with 14 drinking buddies) but away from washing up bottles, changing nappies, shushing at 4am and so on and just feel young and carefree for a while. Being able to leave a building 5 seconds after deciding to leave it is a massively underrated experience.

Jake's started talking a lot now. To the point where we couldn't shut him up even if we wanted to. The nursery teachers mentioned that he does it as soon as he opens a book. I think he thinks he should be talking when turning pages as that's what we do with him, although we're obviously reading the words and he's babbling nonsense. I'd love to know if what he's saying makes sense to him and if it's frustrating that we don't know what the hell he's on about. It might be just practising using his voice or a bit of both. What's good though is that he's trying to make word noises; the books say that if your child isn't doing any of this or pointing at things and making frustrated 'uh' noises, it can indicate a potential speech issue. I still think he'll need some speech therapy but this is a good start. He's definitely starting to get the hang of 'dada' now, some 6 months later than normal, and he ran over to me the other day and shouted 'eh-lo' so it's good he's learning a) who I am and b) some social protocol. It proves if you say something a million times, eventually it'll sink in.

So, 2010 has kicked off and work has started again in earnest. I'm hoping for some good karma in that department and so far we're getting some decent enquiries so I just need to turn them into customers, should be simple! At the end of the month we'll find out if our planning permission has been granted or not. If it has we'll be doubling the size of the kitchen (which isn't saying much) and will be adding a small sitting area towards the back of the house. This area will be for Jake to play in, a new TV area for me to watch football in and somewhere to put all of Jake's miscellaneous crap. It'll be like a breath of fresh air as I've recently realised that this year will be my tenth as a homeowner and I've only had a dishwasher for one of those years. It's good to have lofty aspirations.

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 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.