Saturday, 24 July 2010

Why oh why oh why?

Daddy, why does water wash things away?
Because it's wet...
But why does wet wash things away?

The 'why' stage. All parents are warned about it, none are quite ready for the staggering extent of it - or scientifically knowledgeable enough to answer most of the questions. Whenever Little C runs out of things to say, you can bet a very basic question about the world and how it works will be winging your way. And the questions are much more basic than you expect. They are not of the "why are boys different to girls?" variety (yet), but are more along the lines of why cuts hurt, why motorbikes make a noise or why babies can't talk. All of these have been fielded over the last couple of weeks with considerable ineptitude. And she's a bit of a Paxman. A simple answer that babies cannot talk because they haven't learned yet gets short shrift. "But why?" is the most common supplementary, repeated until I feel like Michael Howard (and only slightly less mad).

There is a fascination to watching Little C find out about the world, her thirst to understand how it all works. It goes beyond physical things too. A few weeks ago, she reacted very badly when a little friend came down the slide in a park before her for the first time in several attempts. "I wanted to win," she sulked, and could not even begin to understand that the other little girl might have too. The same phrase was repeated ad infinitum when she lost a round of her 'shopping list game' which we play several times a day- the aim being to collect all the items on your list first. "I wanted to win,"she said again and again, until I told her to give it a rest. Then I was informed by her Mum that the resemblance to me after a football match was uncanny. (It was a bad season last year.)

Losing with grace is anathema to a toddler. They simply do not have the empathy to recognise that other people wanting the same thing as them - i.e to win - is remotely valid. "But I wanted to win" - that is a clinching argument as far as Little C is concerned. We have also had tears over games of 'Pairs' when one of us has made the unfortunate mistake of picking up her favoured cards. "But I wanted Pedro Pony!" she wails, as the game ends in bitter acrimony. The tantrum is followed by an attempt at reason: "When someone wants a card, it's not nice for you to pick it up." Explaining you did so in ignorance ends the emerging age of reason. "It's. Not. FAIR!"

It would be harsh to suggest that she doesn't learn from any of this. She does. My thoughtful attempts to teach her that everyone has a degree of competitive spirit through her cuddly toy dog Henry were instructive. His constant boasts that he was going to win made her laugh and his constant failure to do so elicited increasing sympathy. Then he won two games in a row and has since been sensationally banned from the shopping list game, amid rather dubious accusations of cheating.

Every day, she learns something new and every day, she asks twenty or thirty more questions. I feel I should be spending my life on Google finding out answers to the many very simple things I now realise I have never known, but even my rare full, scientific answers get another round of "whys". As fascinating as her quest to understand everything is, it's also bloody exhausting.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Miserable gits should be seen and not heard

A restaurant, early evening:
Little C (loudly): I think that lady's gone for a poo, Daddy."
Me: "Sssh..." (changes subject)
(Ten minutes later)
"That lady's a long time...told you!"

Fortunately, the family in the story above saw the funny side. This is not always the case when dining with a child. More often than not, you are treated to at least one scowl as you walk in, if not to people sighing loudly and moving tables. The other night, over a (very early) dinner with friends, their three kids and our one, you would have thought we had crapped in the food of the miserable couple at the next table. (Next time, we will.).

Now I know it's sort of fashionable to whine about children. We even had one columnist in a London paper a few months ago suggesting only half-jokingly that they should be banned from the capital. They get in the way you see, they make noise, they run about and stop you having your oh-so-interesting conversation. How horrid for you.

I've noticed a huge difference between getting on a tube with Little C at the weekend and doing so in rush hour. Now, being a considerate sort - to her, as much as the furious and bitter sods who inhabit London 'commuter' trains - I rarely travel with her at peak times. On the odd occasion when I have had to, for perfectly valid reasons which I don't have to explain to moaning gits, I can feel the righteous irritation of the masses rising at her clearly offensive behaviour in actually boarding the same train as them - to say nothing of then playing I Spy or asking how many stops till we get off. You can almost feel them indignantly counting the stops down with us.

Let's get something straight here. There is no such thing as a commuter train. There are trains which tend to have more commuters on them because of the time they set off - is all. If they were only for commuters, I wouldn't be able to buy a ticket and Little C wouldn't be able to get on for nothing (yes, whingers, it's all free for her, doesn't cost her or me a penny to ruin your miserable journey). The simple fact is that whether you like it or not, we have as much right to be there as you, we have the right to talk and laugh and if one of us is only three years old, there is every chance we might do so quite a lot. You don't have any right whatsoever to expect deathly silence and dumb glares all the way to work or home again. If it makes you that unhappy, then walk - or get another job.

Similarly, if we go out for dinner - on the rare occasions we do these days - we have as much right to do so as everybody else. If you don't like it, go somewhere that doesn't allow kids or only allows miserable bastards - you will have a great time. If my daughter happens to chatter, or walk away from the table, or sing, or get upset because the pasta sauce is 'yukky' - then that is probably because she is only fucking three. It is arguably more understandable than your loud conversation about your new job, your sordid groping under the table or your outright, all year-round misery - so get a life. The thing about restaurants - and the world in general - is that other people might be there. And some of them might be children.

The British attitude to children stinks. Ok, I have only realised this since I had one - I too have been a joyless, complaining, sour-faced git about them. And now I want to slap the old, curmudgeonly me about the chops and say "You know what? You could learn something from these little people. When did you become such a moaning, selfish loser? Let me help you get that head out of your arse."

I go abroad and see people in Italy or France welcoming children with open arms, fussing them, indulging them, smiling at them. Social and family life revolves around them. It's only in Britain that you consistently encounter the grimaces and scowls. Did the saying "children should be seen and not heard" originate here? I bet it did. I once sat in a restaurant and overheard people at the next table commending Little C's behaviour and saying "I don't mind children in restaurants when they behave like her." Frankly, she was having a good day and they got lucky. It was also about 2pm - so lunch, as well as dinner, is a restricted area for families with children? And I should bite my tongue while others somehow manage to click theirs while talking out of their nether regions?

If anyone should be seen and not heard, it is the moaning morons who have so little joy in their lives, so little indulgence in their souls, that they spend all their time bitching and tutting about children. I know, because I was once such a moron myself. There is nothing worse than a convert, is there? Take it from me, because I've been on both sides. Get a grip, crack a smile
and stop bloody whining.

Monday, 12 July 2010

The world is full of burst balloons

"You can't always get what you want, Darling."
"Why not?"

Little C charged into the room, breathless with excitement, proudly clutching a huge sausage-shaped balloon. "Look, Daddy, a balloon! Let's play with it!"

The extent of her delight at having said balloon in her possession seems to have no bounds. It was a gift from a magician at the end-of-term party at her nursery - and it seems to be a three-year-old's equivalent of a Lottery win.

So we throw it and bat it about for a minute and I look forward resignedly to an evening of balloon-based entertainment. I nip out of the room and hear a high-pitched wail of distress. I return to find that the cat - with that nonchalant sense of spoiling other people's fun to which they were born - has prematurely ended the evening's entertainment with a well-aimed claw, before charging away in gay abandon, or more likely shock. Little C is utterly inconsolable.

Maybe I need to get a grip, but a feeling of heartbreak descends as I watch her simple joy so abruptly crushed. And it makes me realise again that every disappointment she feels is going to hit me in the guts like this. As another blogging parent said recently, having a child is like watching your heart grow arms and legs and going walking down the street. Every time it gets hurt, physically or emotionally, you feel it so deeply that you'd rather it was you. If a burst balloon can cause such distress, imagine what the wider travails of childhood and adolescence might bring. Because the world is full of burst balloons, of little disappointments, harsh judgements and lessons learned. At what stage in life do you look at your latest delight, your new balloon, and wonder at what point it will burst?

I learn later that the balloon itself was a consolation prize for Little C's horror at not winning the dancing competition at nursery. To make matters worse, two boys shared the prize, which is clearly a travesty. Little C's mum consoled her by explaining that you can't always get what you want - except that her simple response of 'why not?' reminded us both that she is not yet at the stage as looking at balloons as potential disappointments - and thank goodness for that. So Jo taught her her first Rolling Stones song, and she thought it was funny and was happy again, until the cat intervened.

"Why does cats spoil children's games, Daddy?"
"Because they're mardy little bastards, Cara" is the obvious answer, but I try instead to explain that the cat doesn't understand and didn't do it on purpose. I am convinced can hear it chuckling in the other room. It's been a strange evening.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Time to stand and stare

"Daddy, do you know why I always want to watch Wobblyland?"
"No, why?"
"Because I like it."

Three year olds are born entertainers. Unfortunately they are also born dictators, whose communication skills have reached a level their empathy with other people's needs can only dream of. So a bizarre programme called Wobblyland is a fierce competitor of the much-looked forward-to World Cup in the viewing ratings chez Hegarty. This is in spite of the fact that there only seems to be about six episodes and they are all desperately dull...having seen what seems to be the same turgid tale of English football farce several times, I can hardly complain.

Being a parent changes you forever. It knocks your life sideways, changes every priority you ever had and invests what seems like your entire capacity for joy, hope and terror in one small, funny and occasionally tyrannical being. It seems no time at all before the helpless, crying thing has turned into a bigger, constantly talking, laughing, bossy thing. And it really is no time at all, because time as you once knew it has ceased to exist.

They say it's the most precious commodity of all - and now you have none of it. You are always rushing to catch up, trying to fit in too much - wake her up, make her breakfast, read her a book, play Peppa Pig playsets, answer two zillion questions, dress her, answer the phone, eat a slice of toast, brush your teeth, brush her teeth, pick up some milk, why didn't you get bread too, you idiot? When there is no time, something has to give and that something is sleep - you are now chronically short of it, seemingly forever...

Or at least that's how it is for me. And I can tell you, the compensations far, far outweigh the lack of time, sleep and other basics, to the point where they are almost an irrelevance.

So Sunday's mission was to take my little girl to see Shrek. Except it wasn't as simple as that, because I'd already promised her a trip to the park first and we have one cashcard between us (because we haven't had time to sort out another) which I then need to drop off back home, before getting the train to the cinema. And I need a haircut - apparent Mr Ugly has returned to our life, as he does every few weeks, when I haven't had time to visit a hairdresser. And I'll need to get her some lunch on the way and meanwhile - just so you understand that I am getting the long straw here - Little C's Mum will be tidying up the flat, loading up the car with heavy boxes and driving to a storage place with half our belongings - we are trying to sell our flat and apparently, de-cluttering is essential. What kind of man goes off on a jolly with a three year old while his beloved toils with heavy boxes? (One with stitches in his lower back from a minor operation - lifting and bending is forbidden - honest!)

And in the midst of this chaos of boxes, haircuts, parks, green ogres and conversations about rubbish kids' TV programmes - I realise again just how brilliant it all is. How taking Little C to the park, watching her running around in manic delight, getting on the train with her to a sea of smiles, hearing her singing to herself while I am getting my hair washed, her climbing on to my knee in the cinema with her special 3D glasses obediently still on - is just joy unbounded. And while we are rushing about trying to fit things into days that just won't go, maybe we need to take more time to appreciate that.

As the poet William Henry Davies put it:

'What is this life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare'

When Little C was in the process of being born, I kept a weekly blog of the pregnancy with all its dramas, irritations and amusements. It reflected the fact that the pregnancy, after five miscarriages, felt like a miracle hanging by a thread. Never did I imagine I'd have so little time to record events after that, the astonishing first year, the often hilarious second, the increasingly fraught but still hilarious third. You can't write about lack of time when you have no time. Or at least, I didn't think you could until now.

Then when I looked at her smiling face as she slipped her little hand in mine this week, I realised that it was too important not to record anymore. All these moments are so precious, yet so fleeting. It is time to stand and stare. Sleep will have to take another one for the team.