Kids own too many gadgets

I’ve been resisting writing this, as I know it’ll get up some people’s noses. I know there’s a danger I’ll come across as fairly sanctimonious – and definitely an Old Victorian Arse. But you know, along with getting a bit older is a certain dontgiveashitness, so here goes.

My contention is this: things have gone badly awry in a world in which our kids (and by “kids” I’m focusing on 7-15 year olds) own their own gadgets, expect their own gadgets and spend most of their time glued to gadgets. As parents we should be thinking harder about this, and not resting on our arses quite so much.

Why (apart from the fact I’m a grumpy old git who thought the world used to be a better place when we were kids) do I think this..? Funny you should ask..

#1: adults are spreading their addiction

We have a problem. All of us. Me, you, that bloke over there. We go to the pub with our friends, and sit there looking at our phones. We walk down the street bumping into people because we’ve just seen another narcissistic fuckpump posting a picture of how beautiful they look in their carefully curated, manicured, beautiful Facebook world. We feel more naked leaving the house without our phone than we do leaving it without a key. We “don’t work in the evenings” but, sure, we read our work emails.

Our relationship with mobile devices is badly, badly skewed. And we’re passing it on blindly to our kids.

#2: the money is really badly fucked up.

I see kids, and we have friends, who own an iPad, an iPhone and maybe also a laptop as well. This is, what, £1500 worth of kit? And £600 of it they’re carrying around in their pocket. To school. To town. To the beach.

Stop and consider. And, unfashionable though it is, think about what things used to be like: what you had in your pocket when you were 10. For me it was all about spark plugs and springs and unidentifiable gadgets I’d pulled out of the back of radios.

The idea of a 10 or 11 year old kid owning something – anything – worth this much is, frankly, utterly insane. Not only do kids break shit all the time but they lose it too. And, to be honest (and much as it pains me to say it, as I run screaming from the room as my boys lose another shoe/Lego model/book/bit of homework/etc) – losing and breaking stuff is a kind of childhood right of passage. It’s that losing, breaking thing which teaches you not to, well, lose and break things. But, FFS, learn that stuff with a bit of broken radio and not the latest iPhone..

#3: kids owning gadgets = totally unnecessary.

Just to take an example from an – albeit slightly geeky – household: our two kids have access to the following: a PC, a laptop, a Macbook Pro, an old Macbook, an iPhone, an android phone, an iPad mini and a Hudl. Oh, not forgetting a few Raspberry Pi’s for good measure. They seriously aren’t wanting for gadgets.

The difference is these gadgets aren’t theirs, and so they have to ask to use them – and their time is limited when they are allowed. (Hint: sometimes they aren’t allowed. I know, crazy, huh?).

Also (really heading into “In my day…” territory now..) – we didn’t have phones when we were kids and we didn’t get murdered / lost / in trouble (alright, maybe a bit), so I’m really not sure that the “they need a phone for safety” reason washes. We all accept (with the exception of SHOUTY DAILY EXPRESS HEADLINES) that life isn’t any more dangerous now than it was then. So why do our kids suddenly need phones? And if they really do need to get in touch then why not a £4.99 Nokia dumbphone rather than a £600 iPhone?

#4: owning gadgets almost always means “unrestricted web access”

Most of our friends with kids aged 7-15 have totally unrestricted access to the web. Yes, you might foolishly believe that your ISP can provide complete protection from All The Bad Stuff, but we hopefully all know (we do, right..?) that this is total fiction.

The problem gets worse when kids have gadgets that they own: they install stuff, they go online whenever and wherever they want – and you as a parent lose visibility of what account they’re creating, what apps they’re using, who they’re talking to and when.

I have a problem with this. It’s great that kids get to go on the web. Is it great that they get to see the whole, unfiltered, crazy-assed tangle that’s out there without their parents having a scoobie what they’re doing? No, I don’t think it is. This isn’t about spying on our kids – it’s about slowly introducing them to the world out there so that they can cope with some of the subtleties we adults live with all the time. How do we know that source X is to be trusted? Should I click that link? Can I install this app safely?

#5: “….but my daughter has to have an iPhone because all her friends have iPhones“.

Peer pressure isn’t going to kill anyone. It didn’t kill us as kids when we wanted that Grifter and our mum couldn’t afford it, and bought us a home-painted racing bike instead, and it won’t kill our kids now.

The thing is, Life is this place where some people have things and some people don’t have things – and actually: this is ok. And – more importantly – the sooner kids get used to this and realise there are other paths to happiness than rampant materialism, the better.

Finally: “No” is a thing.

You’re a parent. And as such, you have the power to say “no”. You have the absolute right to say – “no, I’m not buying you that tablet for Christmas” or “not in your room” or “not now, you have homework to do” or “I’ve turned off the WiFi, read a book”. It’s your house, your rules, and you’re a responsible adult with the means to absolutely define how some things are going to be done.

Your kid may cry or stomp their feet or shout at you or run screaming from the room. But that’s OK. You’re a parent. They don’t have to like you all the time. That’s part of the journey, too.

I know. I’m a sanctimonious Victorian twat.

Childproofing relationships

So this piece: Who comes first, your partner or your kids? did the rounds yesterday. Go read it if you haven’t then come back…

I was struck by the negative comments to the piece – and also the fact that people clearly seem to think this is an OUTRAGEOUS thing to say. Personally, I read it and thought “er, yeah, that’s absolutely right. Of course it is. How could you possibly argue otherwise..?”

Looking back at 8 years of parenting we’ve always (not with any particular grand plan) done three things that seem to fit what Marshall says:

1) always said a firm and absolute no (apart from moments of illness where it was absolutely necessary and those first few weeks of non-sleep hell when – frankly – anything goes) to having kids in our bed.

2) Had a solid evening / bedtime routine back to very early on which still maintains to this day – thereby giving us “adult time” after the youth are in bed. No pissing about with fussing “I don’t want to go to bed” kids, no “oo, go to bed when you want” (IMO: wishy-washy bollocks that confuses the fuck out of both adults and kids alike), but a known, solid time when The World is No Longer For The Children. I should say BTW that now ours are 8 and 6 we can adapt this bed-time should we fancy a family night at the boozer or whatever – and the boys are very happy now being out and about until late every so often – but it’s only IMO by having a routine that you can break it once in a while…

3) Always been very open in our affection for each other and – more importantly – our solidarity as a married, coherent, loving unit. We spend a lot of time being supportive of each other’s parenting rather than combatative – I think we both know how hard the other works both in work (money-earning) terms and in family work. (To see the opposite of how I think this works, try reading that bullshit article recently about money being the last taboo in a relationship – there you’ll find a childish, gnarly, nit-picky way of being in a relationship which is wholly NOT how this should go if you want stuff to last IMO..)

We have – I know – been pretty lucky. We’ve got kids who (now) sleep like logs every night. They don’t come and find us in the middle of the night. They don’t fuss about bed-time. I really – REALLY – feel for people who have problems with this stuff. But….I also believe that parents are quite often walked all over by their kids, and this can quickly become a vicious circle: needy kids that always get what they want (“I won’t eat vegetables! I won’t sleep!” – er, yeah you will if you’re hungry and tired enough…) end up taking and taking – usually at the expense of increasingly tired and increasingly unable-to-cope parents – who inevitably, obviously, end up giving the kids what they want. Getting kids to eat non-crap, or into a solid sleep routine, or liking reading, or not spending 24 hours a day looking at a screen or..whatever – is bastard hard work – but you persevere, and persevere and persevere. And eventually it works.

The main thing for me, though, is this: If your solid central unit of family – (in our, traditional case, the man and woman who started it all..) – falls apart, then so does everything else. You and your partner are the hub of the whole thing, the central bit that everything else revolves around. This doesn’t mean (OBVIOUSLY – I hope) that you don’t love your children more than anything on earth – but if you don’t give yourselves time to consolidate, be together, talk about what’s working and what isn’t, be intimate, drink wine – whatever – then it’s gonna break. This central relationship needs as much – probably more – help to maintain than the relationship with the kids.

Surely.

Real men

I had an idea for a thing – but I don’t know if it’s an event thing or a blog thing or a gathering thing or just a thing thing, or maybe not even a thing at all.

Also, I’m in Devon in order to do less developing of things, so maybe it’s just a “put it in the list for later” thing.

But anyway.

Men, right, they’re all about BEER and WIMMIN and CARS and FOOTBALL and NOT TALKING ABOUT STUFF and DEFINITELY NOT CRYING and BEER and COMPUTERS and WIMMIN and GAMING and BEER?

No?

No. The very best men I know – the ones I keep in touch with and consider my real, proper, bestest friends – are sensitive and funny in a non-PHOAR way, and maybe cry every so often and read books and may like the odd car or two but still wonder about the meaning of it all and don’t always feel terribly secure and aren’t afraid to say so in front of other men and (frankly, maybe this is sexist or out-dated or something – sorry) have a bit more of a feminine side to their nature..

And I like that, because I might at times be a brash bastard (and social media doesn’t help with this, it has to be said – sorry) but inside I’m all of those things too. And there’s nothing I hate more than watching a room full of men trying to be all ALPHA and hiding their fears and pretending to be BRAVE when really they’re probably full of fear about where the next paycheque comes from or how to tell their wife that they love them or how to express that they’re depressed.

Then there’s the kids. Mrs E and I are bringing our two boys up with bows and arrows and tents and exploring and Lego – but we’re also helping them cook and read and paint and create and hug and cry and knit and tell us how they feel inside – and our biggest thing is to make them realise that this is all OK, in fact it’s better than OK, it’s really the only way to be. End of.

And I wondered if a kind of League Of Sensitive Men or a Gaggle of Sensitive Dads or something might be a good thing to help support men in realising that this stuff is a good thing and should be encouraged. But I don’t know what that thing might be.

Just thought I’d throw that out there.

Peace

x       <– man kiss

A weekend in hospital

Hospitals are funny places.

Definely funny weird, rather than funny ha-ha. Now I’m in my mid-thirties (I know it’s hard to believe with my youthful good looks…) I, like most people, have been in a few. Sometimes – say at the arrival of a child, it’s a happy time. Sometimes it’s just plain sad, when you’re saying goodbye to someone or watching the erstwhile strong fade away. Quite often, though, it just feels like something you do, something to get through, unpleasant in many senses but just kind of there, a gentle reminder that life doesn’t always go entirely to plan.

Which is a terribly roundabout way of saying that we’re here again. This time Rohan is the troublemaker: a cold turned into a bad cold turned into a chesty thing turned into what doctors now think is ‘Bronchialitus’ (no, I hadn’t heard of it, either). He’s gonna be fine, but is in a plastic hood whotsit while he fights the virus. He also has a feeding tube and an ET-like glowing toe attachment. It all looks alarming but is actually quite straightforward. The hood is the baby version of an oxygen mask to just help him breathe a bit easier, the tube means he doesn’t have to expend valuable energy and air on eating, and the glowing toe thing measures his heart rate and blood oxygen. I know about the latter because I – sadly – looked it up on my PDA and discovered that it works because light is absorbed differently depending on how the blood is oxygenated. It doesn’t, unfortunately, give Rohan the means to signal to alien beings, which is a shame because I’ve always fancied a ride up there and he’s way cuter than ET ever was.

Most of the time the defining feature of hospitals is the waiting. And that’s why I’m here, writing a blog post on my phone, waiting for the next feed, the next night, the next day and of course for him to get better.

In some senses I’m the ideal person to have around during times like this: I’m terribly calm, very pragmatic and generally fairly unphased. In other ways, I can see that I’d be a right pain in the arse: it just doesn’t come naturally for me to worry and I can see that I could easily come across as a cold fish. Working out the medical tech and blogging from hospital sound like echoes from a Daily Mail headline: “‘Mr Ellis sat cooly by’ said one nurse who refused to be named, ‘…all he cared about was the gadgetry…'”

Anyway. There was a funny moment last night just before I left Rach and Rohan here. He’d been miserable all day with lots of coughing and crying. Then the nurse put the hood on him and within about 5 minutes of the oxygen starting an enormous grin was on his face. He looked like a dodgy clubber coming up on a handful of E: red, watery eyes, pale skin and a huge ear-to-ear smile…

Anyway, young Rohan. Here’s the bottom line: you might be a little bit noisy at night and mildly grumpy from time to time. I do like you quite a lot, though, and much as I’m a gadget fan, it’d be better to play with them at home, ok? Get well as soon as you can. I miss you, and it’s only been 24 hours.

But before we go, do pass the oxygen….

a momentous occasion

boys!Wednesday marked a huge and momentous occasion in the life our son, Rohan: he turned 8 weeks old.

Why is this important? Because he has learnt how to speak/walk/eat on his own? No. Because he can now fend for himself? No. Because he has started sleeping through? No (although he’s getting pretty good at the whole sleeping thing..). Because he has left home and gone to university? No.

Important though each of these milestones is, 2 months is more important.

It’s the point at which you can start giving your children Calpol.

Who only knows what this magical potion has in it? It is probably a secret more closely guarded than the Coca Cola secret formula. If I was in charge of Calpol Inc., I’d be guarding it closely, too. Anything that can turn a screaming maniac banshee child into a calm, restful, sleeping one is worth [insert large sum here] to a parent.

So far (so far: remember, I’ve done this before, and I know damn well that TEETH – the bastards – are just round the corner..), Rohan has been an absolute star. But to have the safety net of Calpol is a huge relief.

There are people out there (normally those without children, note) who swear they’ll never 1) put their kids in front of the TV or 2) use pain-relieving drugs. To them I say , simply, ARSE.

t plus 10: I have omphalophobia!

Until about 5 minutes ago I thought I was alone with my particular fear.

Now with a bit of random surfing on the infosuperhighweb I’ve discovered that not only are there apparently loads of people out there with the same fear, but it’s got a name, too: omphalophobia.

Yes, it’s a fear of belly buttons. Stop laughing at the back there…phobias aren’t supposed to be rational…

There are two big moments where omphalophobics (?) really suffer during parenthood:

1. With the question “Do you want to cut the cord?”…Sorry? Pardon? Come again? I can’t even begin to find the words for how much I completely don’t, in any way whatsoever, ever, under any circumstances, even if my life and that of my family were at risk, want to cut the cord. I not only don’t want to cut the cord, I also don’t want to see it, touch it, go near it or think about it. And frankly, I also want to stop writing about it as soon as possible as well.

2. When that damn plastic clipped nastiness that is the remains of the fooking cord falls off. Usually somewhere unexpected (like in your damn bed), usually when the omphalophobic is in charge. No. Bad arrangement. I vote for leaving your newborn in hospital as a matter of course until that fucker is sorted out, cleaned up, no longer an issue. In fact, I vote for a surgical procedure to seal up the belly button as soon as birth occurs. If we did that for a few thousand years surely evolution would just start producing kids without the need? What would be wrong with just simply NOT having belly-buttons? It’s not like they bring anything to the party, apart from fluff.

Do you think it’s alright to be completely in love with 99.8% of your new son, but not the last 0.2%…?

Anyway, what was this blog post about again? Ah yeah, Rohan’s plastic thingy dropped off, mercifully early, and I didn’t have to deal with it. Thank fuck for that.

t plus 4: sleep? over-rated.

No sleep

The yoof has been home two nights now (and a couple of days too, apparently, although it’s a bit of a blur) and I’m being reminded of what it means to not get a good nights’ sleep.

I have to say that it’s a load better it being summer time: Dan was born mid-December so once we were installed at home and had got Christmas out of the way it was pretty much January. And how shit is January, really? It’s dark, cold, cash-poor and you spend most of it with that post-Christmas “must eat salad and lose 10 pounds” feeling. Miserable. They should ban January, same as Tuesdays. (If I haven’t drunkenly ranted to you before about Tuesdays, here’s my theory: Monday = ok, still a blur from the weekend. Wednesday = ok, middle of the week and the end is in sight. Thursday = ok, pretty much Friday. Friday IS Saturday. Saturday and Sunday = obviously ok. Which leaves Tuesday. Rubbish.)

Anyway. Where was I? Oh yeah. Sleep.

The boy is starving all the time and, I guess not suprisingly, doesn’t much like being places other than lodged on top of me or Rach. Given he’s spent 9 months with loads of gurglings and heartbeats and body movement that’s not altogether suprising. Last night at about 2am I was lying there inventing a kind of artificial chest thingy to attach new-borns to, with a heartbeat sound, some breathing movement and a little body-temperature heater. What do you think? Can I retire yet?

So here I am writing a blog post. Dan is out shopping with the parents-in-law, and Rohan is in a sling just in front of me. Which proves I’m a new man, surely?

Everything certainly seems a lot less dark this time around, both mentally and I guess cos it’s not January, physically, too. Having Dan around is just so hilarious it takes the focus off the inevitable inward-lookingness of these first few weeks. But ask me again once the sleep-deprivation starts inducing hallucinations.

t plus 2: a houseful of boys!

RohanHoly shit! Tuesday night at 11.18 pm after I dunno how many hours of labour, my amazing and lovely wife produced a beautiful little boy….! Rohan Alexander was born the right way up and with Rach on just gas and air; no epidurals, Ventouse, or machines that go ping.

(Really) short version of labour:

7am: small contractions
2pm: bigger ones
4pm: really, really big ones
6pm: hospital (didn’t get lost. Yay!)
7pm: expecting birth any second now…
8pm: in the bath.
10pm: things slowing down!
11pm: things speeding up!
11.18pm: pop

Turns out he started OP (Second dad, see, I know all the terms. For you amateurs out there that means back to back, hurts a lot, not a good thing..). This was even after Rach had spent weeks sitting on inflatable balls, not slouching, doing yoga and eating pizza while hanging off the ceiling (I made that last one up). The midwife was incredible in persuading him to turn around: loads of different positions and some hocus-pocus down the “other end” (the place to which we, as dads, do not go during labour..) which all worked spectacularly in the end.

So, he stayed chilled all the way through, came out with a big cry and then started rooting for food almost straight away. He’s absolutely lovely – LOTS of hair (more than me, goddamit), amazing fingers and toes and incredibly alert – already looking for any gadgets to fiddle with, I reckon.

My thoughts on the whole experience: fucking amazing, but ouch.

t minus. . .? tech babies

We passed the 37 week barrier (the point at which we’ll be allowed to go to Paulton Hospital instead of the RUH) on Wednesday last week. So that was good. Dan never got as far as 37 weeks – he popped out three weeks early, a couple of hours short of “officially premature”. We always figured that he was just fiddling in the womb – as he has a tendancy to do out here in the real world – and pulled the plug by mistake. It’d be just like him to be poking about – both he and I share a gene for playing about with anything interesting. So there he was, bored, and just pulled the big rip cord.

Anyway. Today we may well be experiencing the beginning stages of labour, apparently. It all has to do with (look away now if you’re squeamish): mucus plugs and shows, about which I don’t want to hear any more, ever, thanks. Anyway, this is new to us – last time, the rip-cord pulling ensured that 3am the day before was the first we knew – none of this slow glide, week long circling approach to the runway of childbirth.

So here I am, just writing a quick post while, er, not much happens. After that, I’m off out into the garden to finish wiring up the network to my dad-shed, popping back to the house every so often to see if anything has changed. We could be all finished by this time tomorrow, or hanging around for another month. Who knows.

All this tech together with all this baby stuff brings to mind a question I’ve been pondering: could I live-blog the arrival of my second child? I’m sure I could work out a network connection in the hospital, maybe a webcam? I mean, if techies can do it at conferences, surely I could…? No? Maybe you’re right…

t minus. . .keep calm

keep calm7.30am: Came downstairs to find that my other half was in the front room on all fours.

“Alright, Rach?”

“Yes darling. Just some mild back pain.”

“…’normal back pain’ or ‘coming and going’ kind of back pain…?”

“I’m not sure”

“…’really not sure’ or ‘sort of not sure’…?”

“I don’t know, really”

“…’don’t know’ in what kind of a way…?”

“In a really, really don’t know kind of ‘really don’t know’ kind of way. I REALLY don’t fucking know.”

“…what does that mean, exactly…?”

etc.

11am: Nothing. Obviously just “normal back pain”…