Saturday, March 19, 2011

My friendly neighbourhood Spider-boy

My son is 15 months old and he loves to climb.

He's only just realised that he can, and it's simply because his legs have reached the optimum length for couch ascent. His preference tends to be the dangerous north face, without crampons or ropes, which would be safe enough if he didn't bounce around giggling the entire time.

Of course, after the ascent comes the descent. His preferred method of reaching base camp - otherwise known as the pile of hard and potentially-hazardous toys he carefully gathered before starting his climb - is to wriggle off the couch, head-first. This usually results in me having a great view of a small posterior and a pair of legs kicking like frog hopped up on espresso, as his body disappears vertically towards the wooden floor.

Yes, my son loves to climb - and he seems to do it just to terrify me. I have a firmly-held view that children only learn to move around just so they can contribute to their parents' chances of having a cardiac arrest.

There isn't any other stair quite like it

The staircase tends to be a child's first foray into the world of extreme sports. It is, of course, done without fanfare. Ideally, a parent should be unaware that the child is even thinking of climbing until said child is fully at risk. Then it's funnier for the little shrieking baboon.

The moment of revelation for a parent tends to be carefully chosen. Usually, something awkward - perhaps even precious and fragile - is being carried at the instant the parent becomes aware of their toddler crawling grimly up the stairs, somehow looking vulnerable and smug at the same time. The sound of screaming is better when punctuated by the sound of crashing and breaking.

Many people fit complex wooden contraptions to their staircases, to stop their child from climbing. These tend to result in a slight alteration in their cliffhanger tales, usually with added guilt for the parent who left the gate open. Also, the little demons will eventually learn to open the stairgate, and this is kept as a lovely surprise for Mum or Dad.

The best solution: live in a bungalow. Or arrange for a builder to remove the stairs. You can always get a rope ladder.

Escape to Victory

We watch our children very carefully, don't we? We never let them out of our sight. We are responsible, caring individuals who can be trusted to keep them safe.

Wait a minute - where did the little nightmare go now? I only turned my back for a minute!

They love to escape. To a small child, an open door is the same as a carefully-dug tunnel running 200 yards under the barbed wire. Mum and Dad are the Goons and they're asleep in the watchtower.

There is no solution to this problem. No one can glare directly at children 24 hours a day, although often we feel we are. Sooner or later, the spotlight will be turned off and Big X's little brother will start crawling for the perimeter. All we can do is hope we can catch him before he reaches the train to Switzerland.

Then we put him in the cooler - and he starts planning his next escape.

Stop hitting that baseball off the wall!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Come fly with me - but only if you're a idiot

We have to take the children on a plane.

Let me repeat that, to let it sink in: we have to take the children on a plane. I'd rather have snakes.

This is how I feel:


A terrible sense of dread is slowly creeping through my entire being. I've flown with a young child several times before, and it's never easy, but this is the first time with two of them. Prediction: this will end in tears.

But it's not all bad. There are ways to cope, and even ways to squeeze a little entertainment from the situation - if you're a cruel person.

Yes, I am a cruel person.

Torture your fellow passengers

People travelling alone are often foolish enough to hope for a peaceful flight. They are your best victims. Observe them, settling in with their inflatable neck cushions and iPods, reclining their chair a bit just because they can, and wondering what the meal will be.

As you stagger up the aisle, laden down with diseased, squalling brats and more hand luggage than anyone would have thought possible, make a show of scrutinising your boarding passes closely. Focus on a lone passenger of your choice. Now look closely at the seat numbers above their head - and enjoy the expression on their face.

If you do it right, their face should bear a mixture of terror and slight paralysis, as they try very hard to pretend they really do like children and they don't mind at all if you sit next to them. Meanwhile, their mind is in turmoil as they contemplate many hours of smells, mess, noise and punches to the side of the head. Linger for a moment and enjoy it.

If you don't get the proper reaction, don't worry. Just pick another solo flyer and try again. Repeat as often as you can.

Be prepared

Once you're settled in your seat - hopefully next to a genteel, elderly person who is tolerant or at least too polite to complain - it's time to get out the earphones. The best way to cope with children on a plane is to have no idea what they're saying.

Sooner or later, they will get your attention, and then it's time to get out the bag of tricks. Be ready for the squirming little demons with activities like colouring books, or a toy that doesn't roll away when dropped on the floor. A good technique is to start playing a handheld video game, as a child will immediately seize it, turn up the volume and start driving the entire plane insane. This is acceptable, because you still have your earphones in.

It's also important to be ready with snacks. A plane flight, especially a longer one, tends to be punctuated by meals and you can fill the time between them with inappropriate treats. Don't worry about the children being so full of sugar that they babble incessantly. Just turn up the volume and keep those earphones in.

Finally, if all else fails, there is one sure-fire way to occupy a child on a plane. Select a kindly-looking person and send the child over to say hello. Then hide in the toilet.

Unconsciousness is the best policy

Just like at home, on an aircraft the best time to be a parent is when your child is sound asleep. As soon as the plane is in the air, try to encourage them to doze off.

It is good advice to try to book a seat for every child, however young, if you can afford it. It means you have plenty of room and don't have to spend the whole flight holding a struggling urchin. Glaring at people who dare to sit near you can have a good effect, as they will back away in fear and pretend they're being considerate by sitting somewhere else.

Also, try to plan ahead and manage the nap regime so they're due a snooze soon after take-off. But be warned that keeping your children awake for two days leads to the sort of behaviour that calls for an exorcist, and anyway isn't good for them.

If they're comfortable, warm and full of stodgy food - or at least somewhere in the midst of a sugar crash - they should fall asleep. Now snuggle up and enjoy the peace. Leave that parachute alone. You'd only freeze to death at this altitude, anyway.

So wish us luck. Somehow, we will survive. It is very possible that I will be transformed into Shatner (or Lithgow in the film version) and try to open a window with my fingernails and teeth. This time, however, the gremlin is inside the plane.

I'm sure we'll have a lovely time when we get there. We'd better, because we'll have the return flight to look forward to.


Friday, March 04, 2011

Fatal attraction: the stuff children really want

Today's children have lots of toys. Lots and lots of toys. They have so many toys that sometimes I think of sticking an oar into my daughter's room and knocking things out of the window, to clear enough room for me to find a place to hide.

It is therefore bitterly ironic that - whatever major retailers and fat, jolly, bearded men would have you believe - children aren't all that interested in toys. Oh, no. They want something better. They want the stuff they shouldn't have.

This is what they want.

The TV remote

It is a little-known fact that the number of children in a household can be gauged very accurately by the amount of sticky tape wrapped around the TV remote. It doesn't matter where you put the thing - they'll get hold of it.

They may not know how to use it, or even what it's for, but they know - deep down, like some bizarre modern-day instinct - that Daddy likes it so it must be theirs.

Perhaps it's the coloured buttons, or the way it fits into the hand so neatly. Perhaps it's the way that Daddy clutches it desperately while glaring at the people on the Jeremy Kyle Show and repeating, again and again, "We're not like them. We're not like them." Perhaps it's just some evil ingrained in children.

Sooner or later, every toddler is going to get hold of the remote. That remote is then going to be dashed on the floor with all their little might. If you're lucky, it may still work. Only more tape can save it now.

Hot drinks

I drink a lot of tea. It's essential when you have a busy 19-hour day with added brats. Sometimes I switch to coffee, for a MarioKart turbo boost. I hug my mug all day and, boy, is it hard to hold on to.

In a crazy reversal of animals' sense of self-preservation, children are drawn to scalding water. Something about a hot drink makes them lurch towards it like the Walking Dead. Sooner or later, you're going to put your cup or mug down somewhere and some little flesh-eater's going to go straight for it.

I'm thinking of having a special mug made, with a picture of some Brussels sprouts on it. That's sure to repel them. But for now I'll stick to the tried and tested solution of climbing bodily onto the window sill and holding the children back with the aid of screaming and a long stick.

Computer keyboards

SLAP, BANG, YEAH, YEAH, YEAH! No, it's not one of those new-fangled popular beat combos. It's what children do when they get within reach of a computer.

To be fair, it is fun. If you hit the keys in the right order, there is entertainment. Sometimes there are trolls but every kiddie knows that some goats will be along to kill them soon. They just want to hit the buttons, very hard.

Such treatment tends to horrify the parent who spent slightly too much money on the computer, thanks to the confusing nonsense spouted by a teenager in a bad tie in PC World. Parents would like their fancy gadget to remain unshattered, please - at least until they work out how to use it properly.


Anything unhygenic

Trampled toast on the floor. Muddy footwear left in a corner. Worms. The bin. Even - shudder - the toilet brush. Children have a special radar for things that any sensible person would only touch with the aid of latex gloves and a bottle of bleach.

There's a very good argument for letting them build up their immune systems, to promote good health in later life. That's of little use, however, if they come down with scrofula now.

Children also have a very good sense of timing. Any child worth his membership of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants will decide to lick the sole of a filthy wellington boot at exactly the moment an unsuspecting parent is up to the elbows in a hot oven or has a fistful of raw chicken. A cry of "NOOOOOOO!" will be cheerfully ignored.


These surprisingly-expensive items are also a draw for mischievous ankle-biters. Often, they're hanging at just the right height to hide behind. They're soft and warm and they move around in a fun way.

They also provide good potential for what can only be described an an evil lair. Children do so love to hide in the curtains, then, cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West, leap out at exactly the moment a parent is polishing the vase that Aunty Betty gave them for a wedding present. Broken glass on the floor is a bonus that not even the best soft play centres can provide.

Often, a parent will resort to the natural solution of shrieking in terror and rage at the child, who may well counter with the long-established waterworks defence. The real solution is to tear the curtains down in one swift movement. If you don't, then your child probably will.

As usual, I'm presenting a serious of problems and no really practical advice, but this time I think I have some. It involves velcro strips on the ceiling and on the children's backs but I'm not telling you any more. It's my idea and one day it will make me a millionaire.

Or maybe I can use sticky tape?