Saturdays

Saturdays when I was a lad mostly seemed to involve either hanging around leisure centres while my parents played netball and football, or staying round my Nan’s house while my parents played netball or football.

We were three brothers and it was just how Saturdays were. We explored and played and ran about the leisure centres of Swindon, running onto the pitch during half time and trying to cadge 8p for a cup of hot chocolate from the vending machine.

At my Nan’s we’d have a bonfire, teach Nan how to play computer games on our ZX Spectrum, explore the railway sidings at the bottom of her garden and help her check the football pools when the results came in (an important job since we were all going to Disneyland if she won).

Saturdays for our girls are quite different.

The Lovely Melanie and I aren’t interested in either playing or watching sport; we don’t live in Swindon; grandparents are quite a distance away, and no modern parents would let their children have an unsupervised bonfire!

Yesterday I found myself marvelling just how different the girls’ Saturdays are to my memories, after we caught the train into the centre (of London) and had a great time at the Royal Society, for their annual open day.

Crazy shades at the Royal Society
At the Royal Society

There were demonstrations, robots, talks on how science gives us “superpowers”, stunning holograms, mind-blowing augmented reality, a display of (justifiably!) award-winning photographs, lots of hands-on science displays, and all presented by really smart and nice people.

We expected it to be fun, hoped it might be inspirational – and weren’t disappointed. It was great seeing the girls getting stuck into all the displays and chatting with the people running them. I got talking to those running the robotics and hologram displays, too – it’s nice to let your inner nerd out to play and get really in-depth and interesting answers to any questions you have.

Particularly well done to the lady giving the “superpowers” talk for keeping all ages attentive, but also for showing plenty of women talking about their careers in science and engineering. Millie and Amber probably didn’t notice the gender balance, but I did. 🙂

We stayed right to the very end (as did lots of other people) and then went to Chinatown, as promised, for Chinese food, which we all love. The girls loved the food and the place – especially the giant fluffy dragons by the door.

That’s where I looked around at my family, in a “proper” Chinese restaurant, eating Chinese food with chopsticks, and realised we would never have done this when I was growing up.

Not better, just different. 🙂

Growing up

Woke up as usual this morning, grabbed my phone and opened FacebookTwitter and Reddit for news. As usual.

Then I heard Millie downstairs, singing. It could’ve been any song, but there she was, singing away to herself.

So I put the phone down and listened to my daughter singing. And happy.

It reminded me of the scene in American Beauty where Kevin Spacey asks if his daughter his happy, and the wonderful expression on his face when he’s told she is.

I loved that scene even before I was a dad. I love it even more now.

But later, taking both girls to school, was tinged with melancholy after I realised they no longer need me to wait with them for the gates to open.

A teacher comes to unlock the gates to the infants playground when school starts at 8.45, but the juniors’ gate is open from 8.30 onwards. Millie has been a junior for a few years now, but I still waited with Amber – we’d have a little chat, a laugh and a hug while we stood there in the rain and sun, summer and winter.

Now, they both go straight in. I only need walk to the school gates, give them a kiss, tell them I love them and to have a nice day, and off they go.

They’re growing up, and as much as it’s great getting lie-ins again and the freedom of not needing to keep an eye on them all the time…there’s a pang of regret that I’m not the centre of their world any more.

Happy birthday, Millie

19233243251_b3651004b8_oCongratulations, Millie, you’re now 3,650 days old, give or take – a full decade!

Of course, you should only be 3,560 days old – a fact I’ll no doubt be reminding you of when I’m on my deathbed. That’s just something Dads do – remind you of stuff that you have no memory of and don’t really care about.

Not once during all those 3,650 days have I ever regretted being your Dad. I’ve sometimes wished for more sleep or that you’d drink your damn milk, but I’ve always been so glad to be your Dad.

I’m looking forward to watching you grow up and become a wonderful young lady. 🙂

Happy birthday, my love, and welcome to double figures!

Saturday night – it’s for young people

The Lovely Melanie stayed in last night (Satuday).  Millie didn’t, she was out (birthday) partying in Bexleyheath – bowling, dining and gaming.

I was supposed to be going out as well – to see Clinic play live in Putney – but… I didn’t.  Thursday and Friday I was off work with flu, and Putney seemed a very long way away. So, it was left to Millie to take over the Saturday night partying, and for me to stay in and read a book about insects.

Still, at least I wasn’t wearing a onesie or slippers.  Things haven’t gotten that bad yet.

Corlaine
Terrifying!

Friday night, the Carter family stayed in and watched Coraline together, which was nice.  Unless you were Amber, in which case it was terrifying!  She barely could watch it half the time – even nine-year-old Millie was a bit spooked.

In fact, even 40-year-old Lovely Melanie turned to me at one point and said “This is horrible!”  Then, this morning, she asked if I thought The Terminator was suitable for Millie. :-O

It wasn’t the violence or killing or the cyborg cutting his own eye out that worried her, it was the – whisper it – possibility of any sex being shown.

Sometimes, I don’t understand my wife.

I was more concerned about the scene where the Terminator cuts his own face open with a knife, prises out his eyeball, then sews the socket back up, before checking his collection of weapons and heading back out to kill loads more people.

I mean, The Terminator is a great film.  I first it at age 13, when naughty Uncle Jason brought it round whilst babysitting.  He tipped us a wink and said “Don’t tell your parents.”  I was over the moon, having just finished reading the novelisation of the film the week before.

That was a seminal moment in my teenage years, I can tell you! 🙂

Compared to that, the prospect of seeing naked grown-ups in bed together where they may (or may not) have used their penises and vaginas (and other organs) for sexual pleasure and (occasionally) making babies…  Well, that didn’t seem very terrible at all.

And even if it did, I long ago made an unspoken promise to answer any question my children had for me, no matter how “embarrassing” or uncomfortable.  Answers might need to be tailored according to age and maturity, yes, but never ever swept under the carpet.

New look for Millie

Millie’s room has had a massive makeover – the first for some years.

wpid-20140407_091557_hdr.jpgShe’s going to be nine years old in a few months and the previous look, lovely as it was, was starting to seem a bit baby-ish.  I hope you’ll agree that this room is a lot more grown-up.

The new look is mostly lilac (previously, one wall was yellow, one pink, another green…) which, whilst obviously not a “boy” room, isn’t too “girlie” either.

She also has a bookcase in the corner now, to hold her growing library (previously stacked on the floor) and there’s a little clip-on lamp coming for her to read by in bed. We’ve even gotten rid of a whole bag of cuddly toys (Millie has a terrible weakness for cuddly toys…)!

The massive Sindy house has gone into Amber’s room (to her absolute delight!).  Sparkle the gerbil remains in the same place – but the Lovely Melanie is hoping that the old girl, now nearly four, won’t be with us too much longer.  Sounds mean, I know, but Millie’s not terribly interested in her and she does make a hell of a mess burrowing into her sawdust…

My contribution to the room was to put the bed together – all the other credit goes to the Lovely Melanie, who has spent evenings and weekends patiently coming up with the colour scheme, scouring eBay for furniture and painting everything in sight.  Millie is absolutely over the moon with the new look, which is gratifying, and I’m very impressed, too.

Well done, my clever clever wife!

Growing up and letting go

A slightly sad milestone on Saturday, when I took Millie to a bowling party in London’s not-at-all-fashionable Bexleyheath.

She didn’t want to hold hands with me on the way to the bus stop.

It wasn’t a big deal, no fuss, she just said “No, thanks,” and we carried on chatting.

But I realised, despite all the cuddly toys still on her bed, she’s not a little child any more; she’s not as dependent on us, and never will be again.

Fortunately, both girls snuggled up with me on the sofa on Sunday to watch – of all things – the snooker!

“Boys willys”

No, I haven’t been hacked, you read that title right.  It’s the Google search search I found open on the tablet yesterday when I got home from work.

I knew it wasn’t Amber, because she can’t spell that well yet.  Not quite.

“Have, er, you been searching for ‘boys willys’ on the tablet?” I asked the Lovely Melanie – just in case.

She gave me the look that says, I know what this is about but wish I didn’t.

Millie.  Eight years old Millie.

OK, we both thought.  Tricky.

sex educationBecause the girls use our phones, the tablet and the PC a lot at home they all have Google’s search settings set to “safe” – they should never return any p0rn results, and Millie’s search had brought up pretty harmless results.

But…this is one of those of those parenting occasions where you can’t just let it be; this is the sort of thing that requires nuanced and tactful questioning.  This is one of the occasions that requires a mother’s touch…

Damn, the Lovely Melanie is reading bedtime stories to Amber.  Looks like this is a job for… (looks around hopefully – nope, no one else is here).

Bugger.  Looks like this is a job for me.

Well, the Lovely Melanie and I always swore that we both wanted to be open and unembarrassed with the girls when talking about sex.  We don’t make any kind of a fuss about people being naked and we’ve never avoided direct questions about the difference between girls and boys.

So, with the tablet in my hand I went and casually asked Millie if she’d been looking up “boys willys”.

“No,” she replied, not looking at me.

Part of me was triumphant: Yay!  That’s that sorted!  Let’s go and do something else!

The other, more adult half, sighed heavily and took charge.

I explained that we weren’t cross at all, but that we knew it wasn’t Amber or Mummy.  Or me.

Millie still denied it – which worried me, because I wanted her to understand that we really weren’t cross or disgusted or anything like that.  So I ploughed on regardless, explaining that the internet is great for finding things out, that almost anything you would ever want to know is on there somewhere.

But the problem is that “somewhere”.  There are lots of things on the internet that are confusing or strange or just plain wrong – and there are even things that may be scary.

There still wasn’t much response from Millie, so I pressed on.

“I have a willy, as you know,” I reminded her, “so if you have any questions I’m something of an expert.  And Mummy has seen my willy” (it’s true, she has – three times at last count!) “so you could even ask her.”

“OK” said Millie.

And that was pretty much that.  I reiterated that being asked questions would never make us cross, and that I hoped Millie would never be embarrassed to ask questions.

The Lovely Melanie, who had been lurking outside, then stepped in: “Is there anything you want to ask us now?”

“No,” said Millie, so I kissed the top of her head and let her run off.

Then I remembered; I’d forgotten to correct her grammar: it’s “boys’ willies” not “boys willys”.

Doh!