Quite a long one as it happened. In a nutshell, I took on a lot and something had to give. But that was then; this is now. I’m going to take you through the last 18 months of my life, the approximate time it took me to get to the great place I’m in now.
It’s good to be back.
In the space of the last 18 months, I:
Hit the floor. Not majorly, but enough to take action;
Bounced back up. ‘The ground is a great place to build from’ JK Rowling;
Exercised/not exercised, put on weight. Who hasn’t?;
Recovered in a big way;
Dated. A few times;
Achieved in a big way.
More importantly, the cubs remain to be my everything. The fire in my belly that’s pushed me on, the source of my happiness when I was low and my reason for never giving up. It really hasn’t been easy.
I’m going to take you through my period of exhaustion, including the funny times. It wasn’t all bad!
I’m going to talk about home schooling, including why it can be so hard but rewarding.
I’ll talk about dating. In your late 40’s. Online. In lockdown; in a global pandemic.
And (and I know you shouldn’t start a sentence with an and, but, my blog; my rules..) I’m going to talk about family court. In detail. As much as I can, without breaking UK law.
BSD needs a shake up! to the extent that I need to learn how to use all of these new features on here! they look pretty sweet.
Some of the relationships I forged through this blog; If you’ve reached out to me, I will try to reach back!
New BSD. Just like me; more focused.
Writing is so cathartic. Thank you for sticking with me.
In fact, I remember joking about it in the delivery room, staring into the adoring eyes of my eldest as I held her in one hand. Now, nine and a half years later, that moment has arrived.
She’s noticed her body changing and the bodies of her friends. Her mother has also attempted to impose a preparedness kit on me, that consists of chocolates and cuddles. Niceties aside, I recognised that a growing young woman would need facts.
Puberty can be terrifying if you don’t know it’s coming. There’s a world of changes that will take place over the space of a decade, without warning; I wasn’t going to leave her unprepared.
At her age, change is not impossible; the process of puberty has been reported in children as young as eight, with girls being notoriously early developers. As a woman, I had asked her mum to discuss menstruation with her but was left disappointed by her efforts.
I’m neither inarticulate, nor shy, but I needed help on this one.
I hit the keyboard, or in this case the phone browser in search if child friendly reference material.
As luck would have it, a friend of mine had recommended a really good book, but I decided to do a quick check of what was out there. Amazon didn’t disappoint.
The trick here is not to be sucked in by well illustrated covers, but to read the reviews from verified purchases. Not to put too much emphasis on this but this is one conversation that as a parent, you can’t afford to mess up.
Not surprisingly, there is quite a range of advisory material for puberty. Some aimed at parents to guide conversations and some written specifically for children. The book that my friend had recommended appeared to fall into the latter category and ticked all the boxes according to the reviews. Changing bodies, menstruation, attraction, moods and even sex. I clicked one copy into my basket.
Approaching my weekend, I picked the cubs up from after-school club on Thursday. As is the norm, the floodgates of information and questions opens. This evening, she is full of questions.
‘Dad, I’ve been doing a lot of learning about bodies and how they change. What’s sex? and do you have to have it?’
Before I could answer, she continues.
‘Mummy was talking to me about periods and all of it and some of the girls at school have been talking about sex’
Ok; well what have they been saying?
Let me just get this out there; I think that there are very few conversations that you shouldn’t have with your children; done in the correct way, most information can be handled sensitively but informatively, without inducing fear nor wonder. Kids are sponges; they’re nourished by information and in this digital epoch, there are a lot of places that they can get it.
What I heard next both scared and angered me.
‘Well my friends haven’t said anything really but when mummy was talking about periods I asked her about sex’
Ok; so what did mummy say?
‘Well she was busy so she just walked away, so I waited until night time, when I couldn’t sleep and I looked up sex on my tablet [PC]’
I almost crashed. I had asked my ex to set up an age appropriate account on all of her devices, following a similar incident last year. I also asked her to restrict browser settings to ‘Safe Search’, which would limit access to inappropriate material. I doubted that either had been done and what I was told next confirmed this.
‘Loads of scary things came up that I didn’t understand and it really scared me! I turned it off! do you have to have sex daddy??’
I suppressed my rising ire and took a few seconds to think. The irresponsibilities of my ex would have to wait for now; this was the time for damage control.
Sweetheart, sex is nothing to worry about and more importantly you don’t have to think about it for a long time yet. You really must be careful when you use the internet and the things that you saw were not meant for you; try not to think about them.
‘Can we remove Chrome from my tablet?’
I don’t think that’s necessary, but when you come back to mine from mummy’s bring it with you and daddy will make sure that you can’t see things that you’re not supposed to. Now, when we get home, I have a present for you that will help to answer all your questions and then we can have a talk.
Fortuitously, the book had arrived the day before. Some of the reviews had stated that the depiction of sex within it may have been better left to older children. With this in mind, I had wondered if I should sit on it until her tenth birthday. Now, I feel that decision had been taken out of my hands.
At home, she tore at the protective wrapper eagerly.
What’s Happening to Me? (Girls Edition) (Facts of Life) by Susan Meredith sat in her hands.
‘Thanks Dad! two of my friends at school have this book!’
Double confirmation that now was the right time for this. Having skimmed through it and rewrapped it for her, I gave her the options of reading it herself or us going through it together.
She chose the former, telling me that she would read it before bed tonight. In fact, she went from cover to cover in about 45 minutes. She ran up to me and gave me a big hug.
Do you have any questions?
‘Yes; lots; but can we read it together over the next few nights?’
His bedtime is 7pm; hers is 8pm, but the rule is that she fills that hour creatively. She usually reads, but is not averse to origami or sewing. After tucking her brother in and going through our usual, goodnight; sleep tight sing-song, she calls me in.
I read and begin a guided Q&A session. Taking it slowly, we discuss the basic body changes around weight, height, pubic hair and breasts. I use the correct names for body parts, shying away from nicknames and the like. I don’t see the point in learning something twice.
As expected, she takes it all in her stride. We have appropriate levels of laughter but mainly, this is about reassurance; I’m aware that I’m sewing seeds of body confidence that could stay with her for life.
We will spend the next few nights working through the book, including sex and sexuality.
I’ll end on a couple of points. We need to give young minds both the credit and respect they deserve. Handled appropriately, they can handle almost anything as their brains have the elasticity to do so.
My second point is really a warning; please do not allow young minds to wander the internet alone. Their appetite for knowledge can lead them to places they do not know how to get back from and the damage can be everlasting.
They deserve knowledge and protection in equal measure.
This one is a mixed bag! strap in, keep up and enjoy!
The days between me last seeing the cubs and my weekend had dragged. The Thursday pick-up couldn’t come soon enough.
The after-school club collection was the usual long hugs and excited storytelling. The immediacy of filling in the last seven days crammed the next few minutes. Youngest however maintained his usual reserved stance.
How was school?
What was your most favourite part?
‘Some of it’
What was your least favourite part?
‘None of it’
Ok. Good to catch up.
‘So what’s the plan this weekend dad?’ eldest chipped in; recognising that her brother would yield no more for now.
On Saturday, we’re going to a Kung Fu lesson, then on Sunday we’re going to do a ParkRun. Youngest quickly found his tongue.
‘I already know Kung Fu dad!’ he replied cheerfully. I expected an explanation in line with his recent, I can drive now dad as I’ve seen you do it loads of times; you just press that button and turn the wheel a bit and hey-presto, but his conclusion hit even a well seasoned, left-field receiver like me.
‘When someone turns around, you punch them in the back; then when they turn again, you kick them in the stomach!’
His sister was reduced to hysterical laughter whilst I shook my head in disbelief. That’s not quite right darling; I think we’d better wait until class to learn the correct way. Until then, no punching or kicking anyone please. He tilted his head, before nodding ok.
As it’s the weekend, and training doesn’t begin until 13:00, morning routine is changed. Lie ins all round, apart from youngest, who found his into my bed bright and early. It was still dark outside so we decided to share an audiobook via headphones.
Everybody gets porridge. It’s going to be a high energy day so we all need slow release. They’re then headed into the shower, while I pull out some suitable fightwear.
Things seem to be taking a long time and despite beginning early, I feel the advantage slipping away. My ire rises and I start snapping. He’s ready; I’m in full uniform but she is in her underwear. I then notice a squeezed tube of toothpaste on her floor. I become extremely irritated. We’d had new carpet fitted a couple of months ago and I’d already chastised her for wandering around and brushing her teeth, dropping toothpaste on the carpet.
She’s scolded, and told to hurry up. Whilst she grabs her bag of bits, I pull the rest of our packed lunch together. Neither for love nor for money, will youngest put his coat on. Then he can’t find his shoes; I suggest that looking may help. Then she has no trainers, as they’ve all been left at mummy’s. I ensure that she has good socks on then give her some casual slip ons to wear. We head to the car.
As I strap her brother in, her tablet needs charging so her second action, after belting herself in is to seek out the USB socket in the centre console. To do this, she has to lift the soft armrest. I get in the car and hit my elbow on the now exposed edge. I snap..
YOU TWO ARE REALLY ANNOYING ME TODAY!
It’s fifteen miles before anyone speaks. They both had their heads buried in electronic devices but the tension was palpable.
‘Dad; I’m sorry that you find us annoying. We don’t mean to be’
Eldest’s words cut like a knife.
No darling; I’m sorry. It’s not that I find you annoying at all, it’s just that sometimes your actions can frustrate me; usually I can deal with it but today I had an outburst and that wasn’t right.
To complete the emotional triangle, youngest chips in;
‘Do you still like us?’
That hurt; a lot. And so it should. I’d fallen so far below my standards of parenting. It was a rapid reminder of the power of words on young minds. I had to repair this; fast.
Listen; I love you two more than anything and that never ever changes; I do get frustrated at times and very, very rarely, I say something like that that I immediately regret. It’s a reaction, rather than a response. A response means that I’ve thought before I’ve spoken; a reaction means I’ve spoken before I’ve thought, but never, ever forget this; there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for having you too wonderful people in my life and I will never stop loving you.
I learnt a lesson today and I have a theory. My words and actions will probably work to erase my harsh outburst but I fear that it takes a number of congruent actions over a length of time to build back that trust to 100%
Be mindful of how you interact with little minds.
On the way home
Kung Fu transpired to be a mixed affair. He had an abundance of energy and a shortage of concentration; exactly what you’d expect in a 5 year old. She was better placed having taken Karate lessons a few years back. We kept it at falling correctly, kicking and punching.
I decided to call time after the umpteenth time of being asked for snacks, a break, water, a pop to Aunty’s and anything else to get away from my instruction. It wasn’t bad for a first attempt.
A quick visit to relatives and we headed home.
All of us are chatty, discussing the lesson, the chocolate we ate at Aunty’s and what we were going to do tomorrow. Without trainers for her, the ParkRun was postponed. Not the whole thing obviously.
‘Mum has a new boyfriend! he’s taller than you and has a nickname!’
Good for mum. With the exception of wanting to know who is around my cubs, I have little interest.
‘The last one she had didn’t stick around too long though! she wants to get married but I’ve told her that I don’t want a stepbrother or sister! one is annoying enough!’
I chuckle. She continues.
‘I’m not sure about her plan is but she can’t just keep rummaging around in men like that; it can’t be doing her any good’
Admittedly, at this point I nearly crash the car for laughing. We’re driving on the motorway, through the narrow lanes of roadworks too.
The whole car is full of laughter, and nothing makes me happier.
Laughter is such a great sign and for us, as a family it seems to be our greatest medicine.
As for their mum, I wish her every success in her quest…
In the sprint up to Christmas, it’s a time of many birthday parties and events; the cubs and I are busy.
My weekend will be punctuated by one, 6th birthday party tomorrow but first, my two are due an eye test.
This was a fall out event from daddy having a new prescription a few weeks back. The optometrist and I got chatting and I realised that the cubs had never had an eye test. I booked one in.
Our last visit was a mirthful event as they were both on top form. At one point, the optometrist had to put the tools of her trade down as she was laughing so much. Apparently, say cheese! was not the correct response when looking for retinal scarring.
As we head toward the opticians, I ask them both to run through the rules of engagement (we’ve adopted these to keep innocent people safe from our shenanigans).
Always say please and thank you;
Look where we are walking;
We’re not as funny as we think we are; keep it down.
More can be added dependant on circumstance and occasion. For this occasion, we also included ‘swivel chair rotations will be limited to 180 degrees; no exceptions’.
‘Ok dad; we’ll keep operations obtuse’ chimes in the eldest, impressing me. Youngest nods agreement, but I’m unconvinced he’s on message.
Having watched me get tested, their reluctance to sit in the chair and cooperate is non-existent. Youngest goes first, on a machine that checks the condition of the retina, an autorefractor. His sister positions herself expectantly near the viewing screen.
The assistant adjusts his chair to bring him in line with the machine. ‘Try not to move and I’ll adjust the machine to you‘. He nods. And moves.
‘Ok; this time, try not to move…‘
He nods. then moves.
This happens three more times and I can tell that attrition is having an affect on the assistant. Before I can address the issue, eldest positions herself behind youngest and administers an effective headlock. That does the trick.
Picture taken and a ‘that all appears fine‘ from the assistant is cue for a quick scuffle. It seems that youngest wasn’t going to let the headlock go unanswered.
Her turn next. As she sits herself down, her brother eagerly gets behind her to begin a revenge headlock. I assure him that it’s not necessary, and plop him on my lap.
She’s the model of a model patient and the optician is impressed. A second ‘All good‘ is exactly what daddy wants to hear.
I begin to walk out but the I’m stopped. Apparently that was just the pretest. I thought that was too easy.
We’re moved to the room with the wall charts.
In turn, the cubs have various devices strapped to them and are asked to read, decide and look for numbers in colours. The tonometer makes them both jump and giggle, but the fun quickly wore off when eldest asked the optician why she bought a machine to blow air into people’s eyes.
“That’s all done sir! both your children need glasses!”
They both cheer, and race out into the main shop, bumping into an innocent bystander. I guess they do need glasses. I apologise, and reflect on the damage this will do to my budget.
They split like a display team to the male and female displays of frames. The adult displays. I shepherd them back to the children’s sections. Thankfully, the store has placed the more expensive ranges higher up. Their eyes are naturally drawn upwards.
He goes straight for a pair of specs with a Batman logo. They’re free, thanks to our amazing National Health Service. Great result (two pairs of glasses have cost me just over £300…). She goes for a lovely, purple rimmed pair; they match her coat and the fetching, cat eared headband that she has on.
The assistant places them on each of them in turn, then begins to take various measurements. She hands me her cat ears in order to get a proper fit. I put them on my head in order to keep my hands free to restrain her brother, who has clearly hit the limits of his concentration.
Business concludes without much drama. Both cubs hearts visibly shrink when the assistant tells us that the glasses will be ready for collection in a week. They wanted their reward now. I explained about the process of creating the lenses to their specific prescriptions, which seemed to bore them into submission. They both looked at me, looked at each other and giggled.
It wasn’t until we had walked the full length of the shopping centre to get back to the carpark that I realised I was still wearing the cat ear hair band.
Here in the UK, we have a turn of phrase for being busy; we call it spinning plates. It harks back to the circus act of erecting a number of head height poles into the ground, then balancing spinning plates on them.
The trick of it was to wobble the stick in a circular motion, causing said balanced plate to spin and remain in situ unaided. The skill arrived in getting all your plates spinning, by running to each stick in succession as they slowed, friction getting the better of them, and impart more energy to keep them going.
To be successful, the artist needed to be a blur of movement between each.
The act never lasted long.
Back to reality
My plates were projects, desires, goals and work. It was fun for a while, imagining the utopia of each whilst imparting that energy, but it was extremely tiring. Something had to give and BSD was the [temporary] casualty.
I even considered ending this alter ego but in the nick of time, I realised that it was a pity party move.
It hasn’t been plain sailing in the BSD household recently, and I’m squarely to blame.
Youngest cub has made the quantum leap to being potty trained. A real milestone in the transition from toddler to child. I’m ever so proud of him; he even goes to the bathroom standing up, after observing daddy in some uncomfortably candid moments.
I was conscious of this milestone as he entered the schooling system last September. His birthday is in late August and he had only just turned 4. Personally, I think that this is too young to enter full-time education, but such is life. I wanted him to be dry by the time he entered the system.
There is no shortage of reading out there with useful hints and tips. I knew what I wanted to achieve and set about doing it. I had the appropriate discussions with him and we spoke about what we would do to achieve it. We were both quite excited.
At first, things went quite well. He would excitedly run up to my room in the morning to proclaim his dry night. Great success!
He then had a couple of slip ups, but this was fine; the road to success is rarely a straight one. We could handle it. Bed changed, cub washed, no harm done; on with our day.
We then had a frequency shift; the dry days were beginning to lose out to the wet days. As we awoke in the morning, the disappointment in his voice was heartbreaking. More cuddles and reassurances that this was okay and that he would get it in time were administered.
I changed tactics slightly. Both cubs usually bedded down with a bottle of water to combat nighttime thirst. This stopped. We also watched the volumes of drink that we consumed in the pre-bedtime hour. This was restricted too.
It didn’t help.
We then tried a reward system. The star system that was already established was utilised. A star would be rewarded for more dry nights than wet nights.
This was wrong.
Things seemed to be getting worse.
Not only were we experiencing more wet nights but his skin also began to suffer. He’d clearly been peeing early in the night and then sleeping in it. The damage was visible.
He was also getting damaged inside with feelings of regret and shame of not doing as was expected of him.
I had a paradigm shift.
It followed some soul-searching on my part and answering a few questions.
Why were we doing this?
Who would benefit?
How was it making him feel?
How was it making me feel?
The answers, were quite damming.
We were doing this because I had decided that we should do it.
Whilst we would both benefit, primarily I would.
It was clearly making him feel bad; he was neither dry nor earning rewards.
This made me feel bad.
Time for a change.
We stopped. We had another chat and more importantly we re-bonded.
This took the form of a huge cuddle whilst watching his favourite film and eating popcorn. Eldest wasn’t left out; she got under one arm (and near the popcorn). I could, quite literally feel us all renergising in each other’s company.
There were some big learning points here and they were all for me.
I realised that I had let outside influences decide on what was best for my cub, rather than let him tell me.
Please understand, I don’t mean that I expected a 4-year-old to vocalise what he wanted; our children tell us things in so many other ways. We, as adults have to shut out the external noise and truly listen to what they are ‘saying’.
I was guilty of comparing him to his sister, to his classmates, to books e.t.c and in doing so, I ignored the only one I should’ve really listened to; him.
Attaching desired behaviour to a reward system is an age-old methodology but I applied it incorrectly. I’m still not sure I should have applied it at all.
He’s fine now. His skin shows no traces and he’s his usual, cheeky self. He’s back in the training pants for bed as the realisation that he is a deep sleeper will most likely mean that he takes a little longer to get dry.
I have every confidence that he will be; all in good time.
After a rather successful half-term holiday break, I haven’t seen the cubs for a few days. They’re with me for the next four days but I’ve missed them terribly.
I pick them up from after-school club on what was for me a testing day at work. All stresses fell away after I saw them. Youngest came out first, looking thoroughly fed up; 50% of him seemed to consist of tomato soup, the folly of a white, cotton school top.
Driving home, eldest gives me the full rundown of events from the last time we saw each other.
Someone has used the F word. One of her classmates.
My ears prick up.
‘I told her that I was going to tell the teachers; she begged me not to then started to cry!’
My inner psychologist spiked.
‘It was fake tears though, she kept looking to see if I was looking!’
So what did you do?
‘I told the teachers, but then she cried and they let her off. Then she told other people that I had said it and I AM SO ANNOYED!’
‘Because she never got punished! Then mummy text her mummy and they had a row!’
I smiled ever so slightly, but probably wider than I realised.
I dig deep for a response. I immediately think of the different ways in which my ex and I have approached this situation. For me, this situation does not require a knee-jerk response. There aren’t many situations in life that do.
What I felt was an appropriate response, was to help her deal with such situations when they happen again. I wanted to give her a script that she could call upon in future. I could fix the situation, but how would that benefit her?
I immediately thought of the differences in upbringing between my ex and I, and how this was playing out in our own parenting.
After listening to her, we picked apart the interaction, adding a rationale to each step.
She swore – yep, some people do but not at your age. It makes you look bad.
She cried to get out of trouble – that happens a lot. It the response of someone who won’t take responsibility for their actions.
I got really angry – interesting response; you’re probably holding others to your own standards and values, then getting frustrated when they don’t meet them. That’s a fast track to heartache.
I want to see what she does tomorrow – why? she’s already shown you who she is.
You’re going to come up against people like her all your life. If you let them get under your skin, they’ll ruin your day whilst they enjoy theirs. Learn to blank them out and avoid them.
She went deeper.
‘So mummy texting her mum was wrong?’
I wouldn’t say it was wrong, but look at the motivation. We’re both trying to protect you; just in different ways. Both are done out of love.
I could see her brain ticking over. Then she shook her head.
So to conclude and end this series on 5 life skills, I would like to summarise on my thoughts.
Firstly, this was quite a difficult series to write. It taxed my brain to come up with relevant superlatives when describing the skills, as they were quite similar.
It was also quite challenging to narrow it down to just 5 skills; let’s face it; we want to teach our children everything.
The reason I settled on these 5 is quite vicarious. I reflected on my life and the mistakes that I’d made, including the people who I’d allowed into it (for too long..) and focused on the skills that maybe, would have helped me make better decisions.
I recognise that I have the benefit of hindsight and also that memory is a sketchy thing once exposed to our inherent bias’. I also recognise that as a parent, we can do everything that we think is right, but free will will come into play.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.
Here is a link to all 5; please enjoy responsibly and as ever, thank you for your support.