Monday, 29 February 2016

The wake up call to the work/family life balance

After a busy start to the year with work, we decided to get away for a long weekend at Centre Parcs. Lots of happy memories (and the FitBit went came into its own) as our first get-away as a family of four. Our lodge was booked until Monday morning 10am, but we wanted to keep our eldest in his routine of his new nursery in an attempt to overcome his anxious transition, so we left late Sunday evening to return home. Having booked the Monday off work to do tip runs, and financial stuff that does not usually get a look in, I thought I'd do the nursery run and pick-up as I've not had the opportunity to do so since he started in January. And I'm pleased to say our eldest was delighted with this change to the usual journey, and it gave my wife the chance to have a lay-in (with our youngest).

We set off walking, and talked about what he could tell his teachers and friends about his weekend, and that we'd print some pictures off to stick in his activity book for show-and-tell later in the evening. Before we knew it we were at the gates being welcomed in. He took me into the building showing me where everything was, pictures of his friends and dragged me over to his teacher. To which he then clammed up and hid behind me, eventually coming round when I started talking about his weekend. We had a massive hug, and off he went to find his name on the table. And a morning and afternoon of tedious jobs awaited me.

The pick-up came around all to quick, so I darted across to the nursery walking past parents in parked cars, which as a novice seemed a little odd. But it was not until I got to the playground where I clearly stuck out like a saw thumb as a new-be, as there were groups of parents huddled round, that I realised why the others were in their car's. Thankfully I didn't have to stand around for long, before I was greeted by my son grinning from ear-to-ear, sprinting across the playground. The walk home was just as fun as that of the morning. I must admit it's something I'm envious of that my wife gets to do, and be involved with. Even when getting home and within a space of 30mins all emotions come pouring out due to tiredness. It was nice to be apart of this little world that typically I'm excluded from due to the hours I work midweek.

The moment came just before bedtime when I was hit with how much my eldest enjoyed the change to his routine, but not in a good way on my part:
My eldest: "Daddy, can you take me and pick me up tomorrow, please"
Me: "I'd love to, but I have to work tomorrow, so mummy will take you and pick you up"
My eldest: "Why do you have to work?"
Me: "To buy things like food, clothes and weekends away"
My eldest: "You work too much, and you don't have to go to work tomorrow, because they don't have anymore money".

Whilst his reasoning was funny, this is the first time my eldest has made any comment about the hours I work. I always try to make sure that in the evenings I give him my full attention, even when I've got other things on my mind.  I often bring work home with me, which when things are not running smoothly as part of the bedtime routine, I'm guilty (and I have to admit that I hate this), that in the back of my mind I'm thinking about being delayed in starting. I thought I had masked this from my eldest, but with the conversation from today he's clearly picking up on things quicker than I had given him credit for. So, I may not be able to do anything about the hours I work mid-week, but I'm determined to make sure that I get the work-life balance in order, so my sons don't feel they're second behind work, and the weekend away certainly helped as a starting point.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Cat got your tongue?

Odd saying isn't it 'Cat got your tongue?'. On the surface there's no malice in the statement. However, recently I've had to think about how words/sayings like this are understood by our eldest, and the impact they have on him. 

He's your typical three going on four year old; chatty, playful, imaginative, caring, helpful, funny, stroppy, wingy, and sometimes a little standoffish in some situations. In the last year and a bit he's had a lot to deal with, from the impending and eventual arrival of his little brother, to moving to the nursery that's attached to the school he'll attend later in the year. Plus all the development he's naturally going through as he transitions the terrible two's to becoming a threenager.

During his first six weeks at his new nursery we've been told that despite making friends, and being very chatty with them, that  as soon as he's approached by an adult he clams up. But it's clear he's wanting to talk/engage. This occurs during both group sessions and one-to-one interactions. Once we were told this my wife and I started analysing situations and identified patterns of this type of behaviour outside of the nursery environment. Was it something we'd done or not? Had we answered to much for him? Were we similar at his age? 

When in the day to day,  it's easy to pass this type of behaviour off as 'he's just shy' or 'he's doing it for attention'. However, when taking a step back to reflect, actually there are patterns which have emerged. When he's in the nursery environment I'm reliant on the information provided by the staff. I must admit it's heart breaking to think he's been locked in a state of silence for the best part of six weeks. When we talk to him about his day he's very positive about the children, adults and activities. So on the face of it everything is good, but it does explain some of the meltdowns when he's home. I can only describe it as a bottle of coke, slowly shaken through the day the pressure builds up, until it's opened and explodes everywhere. 

Now, don't get me wrong it could be a host of things from; having a hell of a lot of things to deal with, whether it's his way of getting adults down to his level, to developing and learning social behaviour, through to selective mutism of some degree. The nursery have been excellent. But I guess what I'm worried about is making sure I'm able to support him in the correct way. I'm dyslexic and also suffer colour-blindness. I know an excellent combination. But when I was younger, I remember my dad did not deal with it in the right way as far as I was concerned. Whether it being getting me to write out my spellings dozens of times over, and over again. Or getting frustrated, I ended up feeling anxious and not wanting to talk about my difficulties. I really don't want my son to feel this way. However, I have unfortuantly found myself demonstrating similar behaviour to that of my dad. Using phrases such as 'cat got your tongue' or pushing for him to acknowledge an adult when he's spoken to wont on reflection be helping him. And what I put it down to is a lack of understanding and education of the topic on my part.

So, whatever it turns out to be, once identified, how I approach it and help him become more confident, and less anxious is of the utmost importance. It's not just my son who has to learn to cope, I've got to put aside my previous learnt behaviours for his sake. Clearly different techniques and strategies will be required in making him comfortable in these situations. There's so much information now available on the internet compared to the 1980s, but I owe it to him to do my best for him in these difficult moments. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Every Bit helps in getting Fit

In my quest to remove the moobs and side handles, other wise known as the 'Dad Bod' I've started running a couple of times a week, and taking more notice of what I eat and drink. I'm not the sort of person that spouts "my body is a temple" rubbish, but after son number two things needed to change. But lets face it, despite the dance of Brad Pitt, I'm certainly never going to look like him. 

For my recent birthday my family gave me a FitBit Surge so I could use it whilst on runs to monitor my performance, as one of my longterm goals is to eventually run a marathon. There, I said it. It's out in the public domain for eternity (well as long as this blog remains live, in any case). 

If your looking into this type of fitness technology, here are some key features you may want to check out:
  • GPS Tracking - See distance, pace and elevation climbed & review routes and split times

  • Long Battery Life
 - Lasts longer than competing trackers with a battery life of 7+ days

  • PurePulse™ Heart Rate
 - Get continuous, automatic, wrist-based heart rate and simplified heart rate zones

  • Notifications + Music
 - See call and text notifications on display and control songs from your mobile playlist

  • All-Day Activity
 - Track steps, distance, calories burned, floors climbed and active minutes

  • Auto Sleep + Alarms - Monitor your sleep automatically and set a silent alarm 

  • Multi-Sport + Smart Track™ - 
Track runs, rides and other workouts with multi-sport modes or automatically record them with SmartTrack 

  • Wireless Syncing
 - Sync stats wirelessly and automatically to leading smartphones and computers
All of this hooks up to your own personal dashboard where you can monitor a host of activity, which includes; Steps taken, miles walked, heart rate, calories burned/consumed, floors climbed, and set goals and track general exercise. I'm only a few days in to it, but it looks like the sort of thing that you get out what you put in. You can also sync up to other people you know to create a sense of fitness togetherness. 

I think there's other uses for the FitBit in general life outside of fitness, and into the world of parenting, and here are some possible uses:
  • Every step helps - we've all been there during the day or even in the deepest, darkest, time of night. Pacing up and down the room/hallway/landing with the little one trying to get them back off to sleep. With the steps counter you'll know exactly how far you've walked, and the fewer steps you do each night you'll rest knowing they're getting easier to settle. So far my furthest recently is 1,500 steps. 
  • Not quite sleeping like a baby - you can monitor your sleep patterns automatically through being inactive for a period of time. So whether it's at night or you're grabbing 40 deep winks when the little ones are you can see not only how much sleep you're not having, but also the quality as it monitors the number of times you are woken or disturbed. 
  • Count to 56 BPM - During the sleep mode cycle your heart rate is monitored to record its resting BPM. So when your buttons are being pushed, and you can feel yourself getting hot under the collar simply check the watch for your BPM to calm down. I must admit I don't know if there's an alarm if the BPM get's too high. If not there should be. 
  • Up and down, down and up and back down - you've woken up and gone downstairs to put the bottle on and make a cuppa. You've gone back upstairs to feed the baby and give your partner their cuppa. You've then gone back downstairs to get the biscuits, and then back upstairs. You get the idea. So far today I've been up and down x14. I'd never really counted before, so the learning I'm taking form this is that I need to stop for a few moments to think if I've got everything etc before I go up/down. But now son number one is old enough, I can send him on a mission. Which will inevitably result in me going to help. 
This is not an exhaustive list, as I'm only just starting with it, so if you have any ideas, please feel free to add them as a comment. 

In all seriousness though since starting out on getting fit again I've certainly noticed a change not only  physically, but also in my energy levels, better moods, stress and sleeping patterns. All for the better both for myself and the family, and things like this watch may be a gimmick, but I'm going to use it to continue to change my lifestyle to a more healthier one. 

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Our 4 stage journey to bottle feed joy

Although there's only three years between our two sons, apparently the world of bottle preparation has evolved with new advice/guidelines. As any parent knows when it comes to feed time, particularly involving bottles there's the potential for hell to be unleashed. The time I'm sure we all dread most is the middle of the night feed. We're fuzzy headed with limited sleep, trying not to wake the other children or if you care enough, the neighbours. So any short cuts that keep the screaming down the better. 

With our first son, once we decided to bottle feed we followed everything to the letter, but it was clear everyone was getting stressed out. In our bottle feeding journey it took four stages before we found what worked best for us:

Stage one - You may think I've left the house, it's taking that long:
I call it this, because that's what it felt like. We'd set our alarm before the two hour mark. That's right we would wake the sleeping beast every two hours (from when the last feed started), as this is what the Health Visitor told us to do. I'd trudge downstairs, blind myself with the kitchen light and boil the kettle, and then wait whilst it cooled in a jug. This took about 20 mins at best. But if our son woke up during this time I think everyone within a 2 mile radius knew about it. Or certainly the old couple down the road would let us know about it. 

Stage two - Chill out:
I'd still trudge down the stairs, but had read somewhere it was possible to store cooled boiled water in the fridge. So that's what we did. We would then spend 10 minutes warming it back up. So revers of phase one, taking half the time, and if I'm honest not much better with keeping the shrill cries to a minimum from upstairs.

Stage three - Lock and load:
It suddenly dawned on us that when we were out and about we'd use cooled boiled water that was good for a few hours. So it was logical that would work at night as well. So we tried it. Powder already measured out, straight into the bottle all before my son's would start making those squeaky noises. Plus we found he was drinking more of it because it was not all 'nice and warm', which meant he slept longer. He was happy, we were happy, and the old couple down the road, well, are never bloody happy.

So, with the impending arrival of son number two, three years later I thought we'd be doing 'Phase three - Lock and load'. How wrong was I. Apparently in that short time, the advice had changed. So my wife not wanting to go back two phases purchased the Tommee Tippee Back to Nature Perfect Prep machine. I was skeptical to say the least. After all it has a filter that could run out any time, it's yet another machine on the kitchen worktop along with the steriliser, it beeps, and above all, phase three worked fine as our first son survived it.  

Stage four - Push of a button:
That said four months on I have changed my mind, because although making the bottle takes around two minutes the whole bottle preparation process is a lot quicker. We're not having to boil the kettle and cool them before using. We simply set the dial to the required amount, place the bottle on the stand and push the button. It puts a shot of hot water in the bottle, you have two minutes to put the formula in before you get a warning beep, give it a quick swill around and put back on the stand and press the button again. Job done. We still measure out the formula as per phase three, take up a couple of bottles with the machine and put it in the corner of the bedroom ready for when he starts stirring naturally. None of that poking the sleeping bear rubbish. The only thing is the filter, I drove round one lunch time trying to find a replacement as the warning light came on. Boots, Toys R Us nor Tesco stocked it. However, I found it on Amazon, with the added bonus of pre ordering automatically. 

So, would I recommend it. You know what, I would. Whether it's for your first, second or fourth child. It's as close to instant as you're likely to get, hassle free with little up-keep required and importantly safe for your little one(s).

Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Day I realised I had developed the 'Dad Bod'

The Dad Bod - get up and active

I've always been active, be it sport or doing things at the weekend. However, I must admit I was unprepared for all of that being turned on its head when we started a family. I think it was worst with our first because we were learning as we went, and after; a full day at work, limited sleep, house chores and DIY etc the last thing I felt like doing was going for a run, or even think about exercise. Instead; we'd eat post 9pm together, most of the time. I'd raid the vending machine of sugary dreams at work, and then crash on the sofa between the two hour bottle feeding cycles we were 'advised' was a must.

It wasn't until I saw a picture of myself whilst on a beach, that I realised I had started to develop the 'Dad Bod', and was actually 'daddy cool'. This was not a look I wanted or felt comfortable with. Don't get me wrong I was not a finally tuned athlete before, but I certainly did not have moobs or a second chin. I'm not critical of anyone who does, as it takes all sorts to make the world go round. But I personally felt something had to change, which I decided to do gradually so I could still help out and pull my weight (no joke intended). But also I wanted to show the boys that taking part in activities was good.

I started taking part in the local parkrun which I found by chance online. It's a free event and only 3K, plus:
  • It's organised which helps in me thinking I've got to go because someone else is taking the time to be there. 
  • You have a unique barcode which tracks you on the morning, and plots how you're progressing time wise, within your age and gender groupings.
  • There are people of all mixed abilities which helps make it a friendly place to go, particularly when it's blowing a gale in the middle of December. 
  • If you're away for the weekend and there is a local parkrun, you're able to attend and your time is recorded using your barcode. 
This helped me start to get back on track and cut those sugary foods from the vending machine etc. Don't get me wrong, I still look nothing like Cristiano Ronaldo, but the moobs and gut are slowly disappearing. Plus my wife doesn't hear me moaning after the third bit of cake anymore. I'm also feeling more energised, which has picked my mood up, and I'm sure is helping everyone in the house as it's one less stroppy person to deal with. 

As the boys get older, I'm sure there'll be opportunity to get back into recreational sports, and they may even join their old man in the weekly parkrun. For now I feel like I've found the balance that's right for everyone. Who knows, I may even meet my target of taking part in a half-marathon by the end of the year, and a full one in the next three (knee permitting).  

Life Love and Dirty Dishes

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Streaming TV, you just saved my mind

We've never had any pay-per view tv services, so either used good old Free View or DVDs. However, we found that we were spending money hand over fist on dozens of kids films only for Toy Story 2 or Frozen to ever be watched/provided background noise whilst we all kipped on the sofa. It must have been about the tenth time of playing Frozen I actually managed to see it all the way through. And, no my life does not feel complete as a result. 

When I found out we were going to have our second I was determined I would not be stuck downstairs doing the last feed whilst everyone else was asleep, to be left watching repeats of EastEnders and Corrie. Or even putting the Shopping Channel on and seeing the Insanity Workout routines and Nutribullet sales pitches (subliminally mocking the Dad Bod).

So with wanting to save space from piles of scratched DVDs, and to keep myself sane through the long winter nights of feeds, nappy changes and fixing broken toys, 'we' opted for Amazon Prime. My eldest also enjoys it as the classic infant catnip of; Pepper Pig, Fireman Sam, and The Land Before Time, (currently this months favourites). Plus there's the music streaming options, or the TV screen saver of an open fire, with sound effects for when those winter evenings really draw in (wishful thinking).

So you may be wondering where those DVDs are now? In the garage waiting to be boxed up and sent off to Music Magpie. That'll no doubt be the summers task when I can't get the BBQ out for all the junk.

My top TV shows with plenty of series and episodes to get through the tough nights are:

The Walking Dead
Ray Donovan
Black Sails
Mad Dogs
The X-Files

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

When three becomes four

When three become four - Keep calm and carry on

This is I guess as good a place as any to start my first blog on OneDad2Sons. Back in September 2015 we welcomed the arrival of our second son. Both my wife and I come from dual-child families, and we wanted to give our eldest the same experiences we had growing up. Although we both had sisters, and he now has a brother. So my wife is now out numbered, and facing what her dad had to endure in being out-numbered.

We tried preparing for our new arrival, but didn't really know what to expect, other than we were having another boy. After all we had just gotten used to having three personalities in the house, and the whole; work, nursery, life, and exercise balance had just gotten back on tack, providing some sort of normality. But now we were willingly chucking a potential grenade into the mix, with a fourth member of the family.

With our first although rewarding, it was bloody hard going physically and emotionally. My wife breastfed for six weeks, and I could see it was becoming stressful for both of them. So I bit the bullet, and got some formula. After reading the instructions because it was not covered as part of the NCT classes, and using cooled boiled water (taking 20 minutes to cool seemingly not ideal compared to the instant milk from his mum), he promptly took 8oz. What was the fuss all about I thought? That was until he bought it all back up out of his mouth and nose. Not exactly the perfect way to relieve a stressful situation at 1am. Needless to say I didn't sleep that night and kept a bleary eye on his basket. It took longer than we ever thought to get into some sort groove. We probably didn't help ourselves with all the books, YouTube videos, and varied yet well intended advise from family and friends. If I'm honest, I did have that experience in the back on my mind as the second pregnancy developed. However, this time round we had ourselves a Threenager, along side a newborn. 

Our biggest concern I guess like most having a second child was how our first would be on meeting at the hospital, and how they'd be when we all got home. I must admit we couldn't have wanted for any better a reaction. He was an absolute star. I think it helped that we ordered a bag full of 'How to Train Your Dragon' toys as a gift from his new brother, to sweeten his arrival. We had spent the 9 months prior involving him in choosing toys, clothes, singing and talking to the bump. Since then, the two of them have developed a really nice bond, with the youngest starting to smile and laugh. How long this will last for I have no idea, but I'm sure that when he starts taking those Dragons it'll change. But for now all is good, and any animosity or jealously is aimed towards us. 

Don't get me wrong, although it's bloody annoying, tedious and frustrating to deal with these outburst, they are inevitable and according to the experts part of their development. We'd rather it be aimed at us than a four month old. Even if I've only had three hours sleep, and getting ready for a big day at work. It comes with the territory, and won't last forever. Or at least I hope it won't. Plus throw in to the mix the fact he's now kicking his naps, and trying not to fall apart by the end of the day as a result. I'm still learning to pick my battles, which is a big learning curve for me. But just as I think I've got it, they're moving on to the next phase, which in itself is tiring.

Just as our eldest is learning about the new dynamics and adjusting, so are we. More so than before, as what little time we had is now split. We often find ourselves; hurrying meals, washing and drying up (no dishwasher), working our way through the mounds of washing and tumble drying, and removing a dozen toys from the bath each night. All this whilst keeping to the routine of the new addition, and making sure we spend time with the eldest. This was made easier during the first six weeks, with the on-hand support from the Mother-in-law. Even bed time is now phased, where I'll do the last feed, whilst my wife goes up early with the dreaded anticipation of getting up in the middle of the night. And before my alarm goes off somehow we've all ended up in the same bed, jostling for position to just about stay in it. Considering they're little people, they take up a lot of the bloody bed in their diagonal starfish positions.

It's my wife who I think has gone through the biggest change, and how she's managed to stay sane I have no idea. I applaud her strength, calmness and ability to entertain everyone's needs. I do try to help but in my slightly blinkered view I think I'm helping, when I'm clearly not. The intention is there, honest. That's another point I'm trying to work on. During weekends when I'm around all the time the routine goes out the window, which must frustrate the hell out of her.

Before the youngest arrived we had conversations about "wouldn't he benefit from the same one-on-one attention the eldest had?". But, you know what, given where we are now we're all having to adapt, and he doesn't know any different. We're making sure we give him all the attention he needs and deserves. Plus we love him just the same, even if he's having hand-me downs from our eldest. If anything, and this will no doubt prove to be the commentators curse, he's fitting around an active family, and everyone seems to be onboard with that. For the moment, at least. Lets see what happens in the next eight months.