Dads have a duty to embarrass their children, and I like to think I perform the role pretty well. But yesterday I was within a second of entering the dads’ hall of fame for excruciating embarrassment.
We’d gone out for lunch – my wife, nine-year-old daughter, six-year-old son and I – to an Italian restaurant, to celebrate my wife’s birthday.
It was all very enjoyable, and the only embarrassment I caused during the meal itself was for my wife, when she became the centre of attention for a rousing chorus of ‘happy birthday’.
My brush with notoriety came as we were leaving the restaurant. As we neared the door, I found the waiter standing in front of me, with his arms outstretched and a big, daft grin on his face.
I was struck by panic. What was happening? Did he really want to hug me? I mean, he was a nice man but I didn’t think we got on THAT well. I’ve never hugged waiters anywhere else. I wasn’t prepared for it.
He did seem very enthusiastic about it, though. I wondered if it was an Italian custom and didn’t want to cause offence by snubbing his warm gesture.
It was all a bit awkward, though. Why me? There didn’t seem to be any other hugging going on. And he was about a foot-and-a-half shorter than me, which would add an extra level of awkwardness to our impending embrace. I’d either have to stoop (ungainly) or pick him up (just weird).
Caught in a moment of indecision, I felt my arms rising into cuddle position. I was about to give him the most awkward hug ever, when I noticed he had a lollipop in each hand and was actually handing them to the kids, who were standing either side of me.
Breathing a sigh of relief, and thanking my unwitting would-be hugger, we left the restaurant, and I revealed to my unsuspecting family what had almost happened.
It would have been social awkwardness on a whole new level, and I’d have surely had to stay away from the restaurant and surrounding areas for at least five years.
A brush with infamy narrowly avoided, we drove off guffawing at my silliness.
I may have dodged the hall of fame, but I like to think my cringe-worthy near miss has at least given my children a glimpse of how humiliating their futures could be and scored me some bonus embarrassing dad points.
Once upon a time, there was a little chap called Paul who loved books.
The pudgy-faced young lad, with his tufty blonde hair, would carry a new Mr Men book in his chubby hands for a whole day before allowing someone to read it to him.
As he grew older, slightly less tubby and slightly less blonde, the lad discovered Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Michael Bond’s Paddington books, Norman Hunter’s Professor Brainstawm stories, then progressed to adventures with the Hardy Boys and Swallows and Amazons, and mysteries with Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators.
That fiction-loving young whippersnapper was, of course, me, and, since my teens or possibly even earlier, I’ve wanted to write my own books for children. My fondness for my own childhood favourites has never gone away, and these days I read them to my own children. My daughter has just peered over my shoulder to see what I’m writing, having just enjoyed a chapter of Paddington Helps Out.
I wrote my first children’s book – Splot (a story about an alien who crash-lands in a garden pond) -as an assignment for my English language A Level, and revived it for a publishing assignment as part of my degree. I still have copies of it, and for several years have planned to re-work it.
Other stories have languished somewhere either in the back of my mind, partly sketched out in a notepad somewhere or lurking on my laptop, or long forgotten in a drawer or a box, and it occurred to me last week that I’d given up too easily on my ambition. I’ve entered some competitions, got nowhere, and admitted defeat.
Although all my jobs since I left college have involved writing and publishing to some extent, they haven’t allowed me to make things up using what my teacher at infant school called my ‘vivid imagination’.
I do, however, enjoy the freedom of writing this blog. Sometimes the story is sad, sometimes funny, but it’s my story, and I’m telling it my way.
So the former pudgy-faced, tufty-haired youngster, now bald, 37 and a father of two, sat up in bed one night and thought: “I know what – I’ll dig out a story I’ve written for children, and post it on this blog so that other people can read it to their children.” And that’s exactly what he did.
This is a short story I wrote fairly recently about a monkey toddler who has an unexpected adventure on the way to the banana shop. Tell me what you think, and, more importantly, what your children think.
Scampy Monk and the Bus Full of Babbits
It was the middle of a morning in May and Scampy Monk was bouncing on his bed, bellowing for bananas.
“Bla bla!” he shouted. “Bla bla!”
“A banana?” replied Mumsy Monk. “But you’ve eaten them all! We’ll have to go to the shop.”
Scampy Monk bounced with a big boing off his bed, bumped down the stairs on his bottom and gave his mum a big hug. “Bla bla,” he said, with a cheeky grin on his little monkey face.
He grabbed his yellow bus, put on his blue shoes and stood by the door of Monkey Treehouse.
“Bla bla,” he said again.
Five minutes later, Mumsy Monk, Dadsy Monk and Scampy Monk were swinging down the tree trunk and on their way to the banana shop.
Scampy Monk went bounding down the lane, busily brumming his bus.
He stopped, as he always did, by the broken bench, where he liked to peek at the sheep through the old, wooden fence.
“Zeep!” he said, pointing happily.
“Yes, a sheep,” said Dadsy Monk.
“Two zeep!” said Scampy Monk.
“That’s right, two sheep! Good counting!” said Dadsy Monk.
“Babbits!” squealed Scampy Monk suddenly. “Two babbits! More babbits!”
“Ooh yes, lots of rabbits,” said Mumsy Monk.
“Babbits go lellow bus?” asked Scampy Monk.
“I’m sure the rabbits would love a ride in your bus,” said Mumsy Monk, “but I think they’re a bit big. Let’s go and get you a banana.”
Scampy Monk called out “Bye bye, zeep! Bye bye, babbits!” and with a friendly wave he was off, carrying his yellow bus above his head as if it could fly.
They were just down the road from the banana shop when they heard the loud but cheerful “BEEP BEEP!” of a horn behind them.
As they turned round, Scampy Monk was surprised but thrilled to see a big, yellow bus.
“Lellow bus!” he cried in delight.
“That driver,” said Dadsy Monk, “looks just like a sheep.”
“It is a sheep!” gasped Mumsy Monk. “But sheep can’t drive buses!”
“Zeep!” squeaked Scampy Monk, bouncing with excitement.
The sheepy driver was not the only strange thing about the bus. Scampy Monk noticed something funny about the passengers too.
“Babbits!” he shrieked. “Babbits on lellow bus!”
All the passengers were rabbits. Some were brown, some were grey, some were black and some were white. Some were a mixture of colours. Some were chatting to each other. Some were playing games. Some were looking out of the window. Quite a lot of them were eating carrot crisps, and one or two were having a nap.
The sheepy driver leaned out of the open window.
“Would you like to join us?” she asked.
Scampy Monk had jumped onto the bus before his mum and dad could answer, so they followed him.
“Seatbelts on!” called the driver.
Everyone quickly fastened their seatbelts. Scampy Monk was extremely excited, especially when he heard the bus engine start.
He had a huge surprise when he looked out of the window.
“Bus flying!” he cheered.
“Oh!” said Dadsy Monk. “I wasn’t expecting that!”
Scampy Monk was amazed to see clouds drifting past the window as the bus flew higher and higher, and the sheep and rabbits he had seen in the field below got smaller and smaller. An owl looked in through the window and hooted.
The rabbits on the bus chattered loudly. Scampy Monk turned round and waved at them.
“Hello babbits!” he said.
The rabbits waved back and made rabbity noises.
“Hold on tight!” bleated the bus driver. “We’re going up!”
The bus engine made a loud, grumbling, rumbling sound – more like an aeroplane, or even a rocket, than a bus.
Then WHOOSH! The bus went zooming straight up through the clouds.
“Wheeeeeeeeeeee!” squeaked Scampy Monk.
For a few moments, the monkey family and the rabbits were in clear, blue sky, looking down on a bed of snowy white clouds. Then the sky became dark.
“Time for bed?” asked Scampy Monk.
“No, sweet pea,” said Mumsy Monk. “I think we’re in space.” And they were.
As they left Earth, looking like a green and blue bouncy ball far below them, Scampy Monk spotted something ahead of them that made his eyes goggle.
It was the Moon, and it looked just like a…
“Bla bla!” whooped Scampy Monk. “Big bla bla!”
“That’s not a banana, dear,” said Mumsy Monk. “It’s the Moon. It does look like a banana though, doesn’t it?”
“Moooooooon,” said Scampy Monk. He sat up as high as he could in his seat to get a better view.
“I wasn’t expecting this either,” said Dadsy Monk.
As the bus got closer and closer to the Moon, it slowed down. Slower and slower it crept, until it had pulled up next to the Moon.
“Everybody off!” called the driver.
Scampy Monk bounced up and down on his seat, waiting to walk on the Moon.
The sheep driver gave each passenger a space helmet to wear as they got off the yellow bus. Scampy Monk felt like his little head was in a great big bubble – but it was fun.
There were some steps on the banana-shaped Moon, which everyone climbed to the top. The sheep led the way, and handed out slippery mats. It was a giant slide! Scampy Monk watched the rabbits whizzing down.
“Me! Me!” he yelled, tugging on Mumsy and Dadsy Monk’s arm.
“Let’s all go together!” said Dadsy Monk, who was nearly as excited as his son.
Scampy Monk sat at the front of the mat, holding on to Mumsy Monk’s legs. Dadsy Monk, who had the longest legs, sat at the back.
“Are you ready?” asked the sheep.
“Yes!” shouted all three monkeys at the same time.
The sheep gave them a gentle push, and they were off, speeding down the steep slope.
“Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!” cried Scampy Monk, loving the ride.
When they got to the bottom, the three monkeys rolled off their mat onto a big, flat rock, laughing merrily.
“Again!” said Scampy Monk, straight away. “Again!”
They went on the slide another ten times, going faster each time.
“BEEP BEEP!” The sheep was sounding the horn.
“Everybody back on the bus please!” she called, as she drove the bus round to the end of the slide. “One last ride!”
Scampy Monk, Mumsy Monk and Dadsy Monk took their slippery mat to the top of the slide for the last time and went zipping down to the bottom, flying through the open bus door. The sheep took their space helmets and the rabbits all got on board.
“Off we go!” shouted the sheep, turning the bus round and driving off into space.
“Bye bye, Moon,” said Scampy Monk, waving as the Moon got smaller and smaller.
“Ball!” he chattered, looking at the Earth.
“No dear,” said Mumsy Monk. “That’s the Earth. That’s where we live.”
Soon the sky was blue again and Scampy Monk could see the clouds, then the fields and the trees.
“I wasn’t expecting any of that,” said Dadsy Monk, as the bus landed at the bus stop.
The bus door opened and the sheep stood up.
“Thank you all for coming,” she said, smiling. “I hope you enjoyed your trip.”
The passengers unfastened their seatbelts and, one by one, walked to the front of the bus and thanked the driver.
“Bye bye, zeep,” said Scampy Monk, hopping down the bus step. “Bye bye, babbits!”
“I bet you weren’t expecting that,” said the sheep to Dadsy Monk, with a wink.
Once everyone was off the bus, the driver closed the door, and with a wave of her hoof she was off down the lane.
“Right,” said Mumsy Monk. “What shall we do now?”
“Bla bla!” chirped Scampy Monk, with a big grin.
“Good idea,” said Dadsy Monk. “I’m a bit hungry after all that sliding.”
If you’ve been missing extreme sports like ski cross, slopestyle and snowboard halfpipe since the Winter Olympics finished, here’s something you might enjoy.
These ten new sports – yet to be formally approved by the Olympic Committee but it’s surely only a matter of time – are well established on the children’s extreme sports scene, but have not hit the mainstream until now.
Could your toddler win gold? Is your baby a future Olympian? Is your five-year-old on the way to sporting greatness? Find out with this guide to ten new events that will have you on the edge of your seat.
There are medals in several categories of food splatting, awarded for distance, coverage (of people, carpet, walls and furniture) and quality of mess created (is the resultant staining beyond the capability of all good stain removers?).
A favourite among younger competitors, this event pits infants against each other in a bid to keep a judging panel awake for as many hours as possible. The judges will be looking for a combination of extended periods of awakeness and shorter bursts of sleep interruption. The first child to cause a judge to sob, scream or collapse is the winner.
An extremely popular event, which is likely to prove highly competitive. Contestants will be judged on the volume of tears and wailing, the duration and persistence of the tantrum, and on physical manoeuvres such as the face-first lunge onto a bed, chair or floor. Bonus points are awarded to the child whose tantrum is most irrational.
This fiercely fought sport sees children begging, harassing, haggling and haranguing for a range of items, starting at worthless plastic tat and working up through ‘Stuff seen in advert breaks on telly’ to something completely unattainable, like a fairy castle. Attempts to ban ‘puppy dog eyes’ have proved futile.
Another multi-disciplinary event, in which children must devise cunning ways of delaying bedtime, going to school, leaving playgrounds and finishing meals.
Inappropriate talk of poo
Children love to talk, joke and sing about poo, and it’s never more entertaining than when discussed in an inappropriate setting (a café, for example) or with the wrong people. In this event, kids score points for embarrassing their parents and upsetting guests and bystanders with loud, graphic and inventive descriptions of – and/or songs about – poo.
Doing a runner
A sport that requires daring and stamina. Competitors have to run as far away as they can when called by a parent, and can win extra points by dashing out of doors into a dangerous environment, like a busy main road.
It’s extreme, it’s perilous and it’s one of the most celebrated of children’s sports. Olympic wee dancing glory awaits the contender who can jig, wiggle and hop most frenziedly without actually wetting themselves.
The kids who make it onto the Olympic podium in this sport will be those who can most convincingly and consistently deny having heard a clear instruction.
Gangnam Style dancing
Children are now born knowing Gangnam Style, and get frequent opportunities to perfect their dance techniques at parties and school discos. The winners will be those who show greatest enthusiasm, have the reddest and sweatiest faces, and deliver the loudest cry of ‘Heeeeeey, sexy lady’.
In more than eight years of parenting, one thing has baffled me more than anything else – the wee dance.
This curious phenomenon seems to exist primarily among small boys, who seem to be in permanent denial about needing a wee.
Wee dancers perform their high-energy jig in the moments when they are most desperate for the toilet. Rather than making the logical decision to go to the toilet, they push that urge to the backs of their minds and go jumping and leaping.
The wee dance is a tell-tale sign that the child needs to get to the loo, and quickly. Parents need to recognise this as soon as possible to avoid potentially dire consequences.
Early warning signs include an inability to sit still and even greater distraction than usual. Given that small boys rarely sit still and can get distracted by anything from the TV to a breath of air or speck of dust, these can be difficult to detect. Extra grouchiness is another sign but again this is not unusual in small boys, who are prone to irrational outbursts at the best of times.
So why perform a wee dance?
I was a small boy once but even so I cannot get inside the mind of the wee dancer. I don’t know if I did the wee dance myself but it is entirely possible. What I can see, though, is that for children, going to the toilet is boring and everything else is far more exciting and crucial, no matter how full their bladders are.
The wee dance seems to be the final stage of wee denial – a way of expressing pent-up wee desperation and postponing a toilet trip for a few more seconds. Wee dancers even convince themselves they don’t need to go.
Often the only way to stop the wee dance is to take the child to the toilet yourself. Even under direct interrogation, wee dancers deny needing a wee until they cannot stand it any more.
A typical conversation with a wee dancer goes as follows:
Parent: Do you need the toilet?
Wee dancer (through clenched teeth): No.
Parent: Are you sure you don’t need a wee?
Wee dancer (frowning): Yes.
Parent: Are you totally sure?
Wee dancer: I really need a wee!
There then follows a ludicrous sprint to the loo. The dance is not over, however. My five-year-old wee dancer will dance in front of the toilet, jigging so frenetically he is unable to lift the seat or pull his pants down.
The helpless parent just has to hope that the wee itself can be unleashed accurately into the bowl with minimal impact on clothing, the floor or the walls.
Wee dancers live life on the edge. Not for them, this boring ‘I need the toilet so I will go now’ logic. No, they will face great discomfort and peril to keep dancing. And why not? After all, it’s their hapless mums and dads who have to deal with the consequences.
If you’ve had depression, it’s hard to shake the nagging, niggling feeling that it might come back. Every bad mood, every negative thought, feels like it could be a way for this evil force to return. To help me fight the fear I’ve recruited a very wise consultant – Yoda (see my photo below).
Yoda is a tiny green chap with funny ears. He’s more than 900 years old and lives in a swamp. But his strange and underwhelming appearance is deceptive – he’s extremely powerful, with incredible knowledge and power.
OK, I know, he’s just a character from the Star Wars movies, but when it comes to understanding fear and the Dark Side of the Force (a perfect metaphor for depression) he’s well worth listening to.
Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.
He is absolutely right. The fear of depression at stressful times is the first step down a path to its return. That fear can make you tense and angry. And anger is a very destructive force that leads to suffering for you and others. Even the name of the film this quote comes from – The Phantom Menace – seems to describe depression and its stealthy, shadowy presence.
He also knows what it feels like when depression does strike.
Hmmm. The Dark Side clouds everything. Impossible to see, the future is.
Yes, Yoda. You’re right again. Depression possesses your thoughts, switches off your memory and clarity of thought, and makes you doubt and fear everything. I certainly don’t want to go back to that. Ever.
Yoda clearly knows his stuff, so I am going to listen to him.
Do, or do not. There is no try.
OK, Yoda, I’m with you.
Patience you must have.
You’re right again. It’s difficult though, isn’t it?
You must unlearn what you have learned.
True. I learned in my counselling to unlearn what I’d learned – to unravel the way I’d come to think of myself and my life and start again.
Always pass on what you have learned.
Yep, that’s what I’m doing. I hope it helps.
If you liked this post you might also like:
- Stress, depression and Star Wars (Sept 2011)
- A match for the Dark Side (Feb 2012)
- The shadowy power of depression (April 2013)
“Having children will change your life,” people told me before I became a dad.
It was hard to appreciate exactly what they meant until it happened, but the other day a train went past as I was walking into town and I had a barely controllable urge to point at it and shout “Look! Train!”
Having children makes you see the world through different eyes. Fatherhood has given me – a born worrier at the best of times – new things to worry about (I’ve never driven so carefully as the day I drove home with my baby daughter in the back of the car), but also magical moments to savour and celebrate. There’s something uniquely wonderful about sharing your child’s little achievements, like taking their first steps, counting to five for the first time, learning to read…
Here are five small examples of how life is never the same once you’re a parent:
You get excited about vehicles – and might even wave at them
Young children – especially little boys – love vehicles, especially trains, tractors and diggers. These modes of transport may not excite you personally, but once you get in the habit of pointing them out, it’s difficult to stop, even if you’re on your own.
The ultimate vehicular excitement is if someone in that vehicle – it could be a passing boat or train – waves at your child or, if it’s a car, honks their horn. My kids watched cars passing under a bridge when we were out on a walk, and when one of the drivers saw them and honked his horn, they squealed with delight. It’s hard not to share that thrill.
You become obsessed with poo and wee
Your children will, at some stage, develop a fascination with poo and wee. They will probably make up songs about them. Poo and wee are hilarious. Fact.
They’re not the only ones who are obsessed with poo and wee, though. You probably reach the obsessive stage before they do, and you’ll soon find yourselves discussing what was in your child’s nappy – “It looked like chicken korma!” – or how many times they’ve used their potty. You won’t just discuss it between yourselves; you’ll chat in detail about poo and wee with other parents, or even non-parents, quite possibly while eating tea.
You’ll develop an in-built toilet tracker
You’re planning a trip out. What is the single most important thing you need to know if you have young children? Where the toilets are. Because the poo and wee obsession carries over into a very practical need to know the location of every toilet in the vicinity.
At some point in your outing, you will hear the alarming phrase “Daddy, I really need a wee!” and your toilet-locating reflex will kick in. You will never hear a child say “I think I will need a wee in ten minutes so I’m just warning you”. The need for the toilet will be a full-on, red-alert emergency and the bit of your brain that says “Marks and Spencer, top of the escalator, turn right” is all that can save you from disaster.
You will have to sing in front of people
Children like learning songs and, until they become painfully self-conscious, will enjoy performing their songs to you. You don’t get away with just listening, though. You will often be required to sing songs to them, either for their amusement or so they can learn the words.
There is no humiliation filter, though. They will inevitably want you to sing in front of other people. I had to perform “We represent the Lollipop Guild” in the style of Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz in front of two friends from work. They’d only popped in for a coffee.
You will become soppy
The way you love your children will change you forever. It has made me become a soppy fool. I suddenly see everyone as someone’s child, who needs love and encouragement.
I’d never cried at a film or TV programme before I had children (except ET when I was six). Recently, I’ve cried at two episodes of The Ghost Whisperer, and I even get a lump in my throat watching wildlife documentaries. Why are there always baby elephants getting lost and looking for their mum and dad?