Sunday 22 June 2008

Five life lessons for fathers day

Fathers Day 2008: I have been somebodys Daddy (by which I mean in the traditional 'fathering a child' sense, rather than the far less rewarding 'relationship between prison inmates' sense) for nearly 5 years now. You'd think I must have learned a few things in that time, right? Well, yes, I do like to feel that I have accrued a few pearls of wisdom along the way. What's that? Share your wisdom, you say? Why, of course. My pleasure:

1) The fun to be had at a childrens event is in inverse relation to the placement of the facepainting on the advertising.
All kids events seem to feature facepainting, and no wonder: it's a cheap way of keeping at least one child still and quiet for up to 15 minutes at a time while they are transformed into a tiger/butterfly/fairy/panda. But fathers can handily gauge how much enjoyment they personally are likely to wring out of the event by checking where the facepainting appears on the bill. A good event, that even the most jaded father is likely to enjoy, will feature the facepainting as a footnote down with the raffle and the refreshments, so will read something like this:

Childrens holiday event spectacular!
Fun for all the family: Airshow - Helicopter rides - Motorcycle display team - Dodgems - Ferris Wheel - Treasure Hunt - Coconut Shy - Clowns - Balloon Animals - Beer tent -
Raffle - Refreshments - Facepainting for the kids.

See? Sounds like good times. Note that the facepainting is rightly relegated to the bottom line (and ideally, as in this case, it will be in a smaller font, because in the scheme of things it simply is not a big deal and should never be treated as such). However, if you read an advert for something like this...

Childrens holiday event spectacular!
Fun for all the family: Games - Facepainting - Free Balloon - Refreshments - Raffle can tell immediately, by the fact that somebody thought the facepainting deserved second billing, that you are in for one sorry-assed afternoon...

2) Stickers from the 'pound shop' are not the handy, artistic way of keeping kids quiet that you think they are.
Oh, I know: 1300 tiny stickers for £1 sounds like a bargain. And when your child is silent and happy for over an hour, concentrating on making a series of delightful collages and then showing them proudly to you, you may sit back with a self-satisfied sigh and believe you have found a wonderful, almost cost-free way of encouraging your childs artistic tendencies. But you are wrong, you poor smug fool. Here's the truth: your childs interest in making pictures from stickers will run out long before the stickers do. When that point has been reached they will then start to apply the stickers willy-nilly to every available surface in your home. You will be finding unwanted stickers on your walls, clothes, bed, bath, carpets, shoes, front door, car, television, mirrors and even skin for months afterwards. All of them will be held in place with cheap glue that means they will not peel off cleanly and will leave an ugly adhesive residue that attracts dirt. In fact, you will soon come to realise that your investment in 1300 tiny stickers was the worst pound you ever spent...

3) Kids have no 'treat memory'.
Let's say your on holiday with your child. During a a glorious day on the beach you supply an endless succession of treats and good times, all in an attempt to burn happy holiday memories into their little mind, secretly hoping that the day will form a wonderful sunshine-lit vignette for them to recall fondly in later life (when they've started work and are weighed down with responsibilities and the dawning realisation that the carefree times have gone). So their day goes something like this:
9:00 Hit beach. Make sandcastle with new bucket and spade bought specially for the occasion.
10:00. See other child flying kite on beach. Ask parents for kite. Get bought kite. Fly kite.
11:00 Enjoy cool refreshing juice, made from freshly squeezed tropical fruit and bought at great expense from beachside juice bar
12:00 Enjoy lunchtime tray of chips and ketchup, eaten while sitting on warm sand.
13:00 Ask plaintively for, and duly receive, half of fathers cake that he had been looking forward to all morning.
14:00 Ride on rollercoaster. Beg (successfully) with puppy-dog eyes to be allowed to ride again
15:00 Get given ice cream. Eat half, and then drop on sand. Unwillingly supplied with fathers' ice cream instead.
16:00: Enjoy cream tea at hideously expense boutique cafe while watching the surf.

So far, so great. It's at this point that things take a decisive turn for the worse:
17:00 Ask to go to beachside arcade to put fistfuls of parents 'spare' change into penny slot machines. Become horrified at parents refusal to this request, said refusal made on the very reasonable basis that it's now time to go home and that there have been enough treats for one day.
17:15 - 20:00: Howl at the injustice of it all at earsplitting volume
20:00 - midnight: Wilful sobbing, with occasional outbreaks of anguished wailing if the house gets too quiet and there's a danger of anybody sleeping.

And you can bet your life they will forget the ice cream, cake, juice, kite and chips, and all they'll actually recall of the day is that mean Daddy wouldn't let them play in the amusement arcade...

4) Your child will be up early no matter how late they were awake.
This one causes me the most personal anguish. When I'm tired, I go to bed and fall asleep will then continue to sleep until either (a) my poor aching body has recharged just about enough to fire me back into life or, more likely, (b) I am woken by some outside influence i.e: alarm clock, screaming child, playful punch in kidneys from spouse, etc.
Children to not seem to operate that way. Firstly they will stay up as late as their tiny bodies can humanly hang on for, often fuelled beyond normal tolerances with either brightly coloured fruit drinks or with the excitement of seeing something 'remarkable', such as a herd of cows through the car window, or perhaps two yellow cars in a row, or even another child with a pair of Dora the Explorer socks on. And then, despite their lack of rest, they will somehow force themselves awake at daybreak: rather than stay asleep until completely rested they will still rise at their normal time (which is still too early) and instead be in a foul mood for the whole day...

5) Children choose what they want to remember.
So, for example, the many hundreds of times I have told Amelie to stop picking her nose appear to have all been wasted, and when I point out that she is (once again) absentmindedly up to her first knuckle in her left nostril, she tells me that she 'forgot' I had told her to stop. And yet she can recall, with absolute clarity to the nuance on every syllable, the string of invective I shouted at another driver when he cut me up on the motorway, and I mistakenly thought she was asleep in her car seat....

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