Good Grief

*WARNING* What follows is a predictable, self-indulgent, overly long retrospective on the year just ending which drifts into all sorts of stuff and it gets a bit moany!

As 2016 comes to an end, it feels like we’re all a bit punch drunk. Like some woozy boxer desperately trying to hang on for the final bell, we wobble about on the ropes hoping to avoid the next punch which will no doubt take us out completely.

Looking back now it seems I spent most of the year either recycling or commuting and anyone who was in any way famous that isn’t in jail for Saville related crimes went and died. 2016 also didn’t include a Florida holiday so it doesn’t stand much chance of being seen in a good light!

A quick glance at social media will show you that the seemingly huge amount of celebrity deaths this year has everyone reeling and certainly the devastating combo of George Michael and Carrie Fisher over Christmas was hard to take. Having said that, some of the celebs passing on were less of a surprise. Those of them in their nineties fall into the “good innings” category and as much as that will not reduce the pain their families will feel, death comes to us all and if you get into your tenth decade you’ve done OK. Does anyone else have the feeling there’s one last shock to come before 2016 bows out? Let’s hope not!

Depending on your political views the state of the world right now is either a brave new dawn or the start of the Apocalypse. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out that I fall into the latter camp more than the former, but this isn’t a place for political debate. Suffice to say on a personal note the events of 2016 have not improved my mood, outlook or disposition.

So generally there’s been a lot of grief around this year and I think I was feeling it too for most of the year. Looking back on last year on a personal level, it has been tough. Now, of course, everything is relative and whatever troubles I think we’ve had will without doubt be nothing compared to stuff others have gone through. I always make this caveat before doing any sort of woe is me thing as it’s right to recognise that, but it doesn’t diminish the level of crap experienced! Certainly some of the tales Louise tells me of the stuff she treats people for make me feel like the luckiest man on the planet.

My grief wasn’t really for the latest hero who may have passed on. Having given a lot of thought to what felt like a lengthy personal malaise for most of the year I suspect I was locked in a cliché for some time. This manifested itself in, among other things, some less than brilliant blogging and some proper grumpiness which is not like me…..well, OK, it is, but more than usual.

My grief was not for any celebrity, but rather, I think, for the passing of something else that I loved…….my daughter’s childhoods. Whether it was empty nest syndrome (although we have a partly full nest), a mid-life crisis, or any other number of things that you may want to call it, my state of mind was as cliched as the buying of a sports car and a hair weave by any middle-aged man (neither of which you will ever see me do as I can’t afford them) but clichés are usually clichés for a reason.

I’m lucky enough to have good relationships with both of the girls and with the odd episode apart we get on well which is lovely. I consider us very lucky to have had relatively trouble-free childhoods with them both. Neither of them were ever really bad, in trouble at school or with the police and the only real substance abuse they undertook was sugar. I’m not naïve enough to think I know everything they got up to but generally they did well at school, had lovely reports from their teachers and were a pleasure to be around. One of the real highlights of all our holidays was getting to spend extended periods of time with them as Louise and I, like most parents, usually bumped into them of a morning and evening before rushing off to or back from work and school.

When you are in those childhood years it feels like they will last forever. Indeed, some nights feel that way when they have just thrown up over the fourth set of bedding and you’re showering the vomit off them an hour before you need to get up to go to work!

Certainly in those early years of sleep deprivation, typically little disposable income and an attempt to do the right stuff at work to fix that, life is a blur. Looking back now of course those years lasted about seventeen seconds and most memories of anything bad are lost in the fog of time, leaving just the rose-tinted glow of nostalgia wrapped around what feel like golden years. At the time, it feels like you are always working towards something or some event when things will be better, or finished or more complete. That never comes as the carrots in front of us just get bigger or certainly take different shapes as the years go by and there is no end game.

Those seemingly wonderfully simple childhood years eventually turned into what have been for us very challenging ones as the girls moved into adulthood. Maybe it is the other way round for some, it just seems to be the way the cookie has crumbled for us. As they start to make their own decisions and meet other people who affect those decisions the glorious control you have over their lives evaporates. Sure, you don’t need to fight them to get their socks on of a morning, have a full-blown argument as you didn’t get their plaits right or persuade them to finish their veg, but those positives can be outweighed by having to watch them metaphorically drive at a brick wall at 100 miles per hour with no seat belt on.

Although I have over shared a load of stuff over the years I won’t be sharing the details of what I have alluded to just now. It’s not appropriate to do so as they are things that happened to other adults and not me and this isn’t their blog, but safe to say, we’ve been though some stuff with both of them in the past year and a bit. Some of it has been self-inflicted of course and other things have just happened to them through no fault of their own. Either way, watching the two things you care about most on the planet go through this stuff is heart breaking. You can literally feel that happening. It’s a physical experience.

Lots of folks told me to cherish the early years with the kids of course, but mercifully for me, not in an overly long self-indulgent blog post like this. I didn’t ignore the advice, I was just too busy and tired to do anything about it and by the time I had the ability to appreciate the reality of this circle of life the girls were adults and it was too late. Now I can see how and why grandparents behave like they do with their grandchildren!

I am of course not the first to go through this grieving process. Every parent thinks they are the first to go though everything and there’s nothing worse than someone trying to give you advice on how to do stuff with your families. Who’s got time for that right?

So I don’t offer this as advice, just an observation that might encourage others to fast forward a decade or so and use that perfect hindsight to remind themselves to smell the odd rose as they hurtle through life at a million miles an hour, driving the kids to play with friends whose names you’ll not remember in a few years time, or getting them ready for the sixth party this month for someone called Josh, Jordan or Jacob.

When the parenting of adults has become really tough, and at times recently it has been just a constant stream of stress, problems and angst, I yearn for the driving years. Those years when pretty much all of my spare time was spent being the taxi of Dad. School, Guides, parties, gigs, shopping, A&E, McDonalds…it didn’t matter where I was driving them, I had them safe in the back of the car, I was literally controlling their immediate destinies and it felt right. Sure, you know that I have a Type A control freak streak as wide as a mile. It manifests itself in my holiday planning and most other aspects of my life. I plan, make lists and like to know what’s going on and when. Those driving years were easy or easier it seemed as I was in the driving seat in all meanings of the phrase. Endless hours sat waiting for them outside of events, gigs or whatever they were doing meant I didn’t see a TV for most of my thirties.

When I see my friends and online connections with their smaller kids it of course evokes memories that make me happy and a little sad sometimes. Those times are never coming back and that grief is real. If you are one of those parents of younger ones try to take these ramblings on board if you can. It’s much easier these days to capture memories of course. In the early years of my two you still had to go to an actual shop to have photos created, so that will help, but do try to step outside of the daily madness and soak in a minute or two. You will never have today with your kids again. If there is a choice to be made due to finances, take the holiday, do the fun stuff, don’t renovate the house. If I’m honest, we probably should have done the opposite a few times but we got by and still do and I wouldn’t exchange any of our holidays for a bigger or better house.

Don’t get me wrong I do not put myself up as a paragon of parenting or a master of decision making. God knows I have buggered plenty of things up over the years and made some stinkers of decisions but at this point now I’m blogging for myself as much as anything which is how this whole thing started back in 2009 and maybe that’s the way forward for 2017 too. Who knows that may make the content here every week better for everyone!! That would be welcome I’m sure. Maybe it is natural to have felt like this when being a Dad was probably the one thing I felt I was pretty good at and now the skills required in that role have changed to ones I’m not so good at, like patience, offering advice that is often ignored and not being in total control of the lives I helped create.

Next year sees another Florida trip of course and we are all very ready for that. The only downside to that is that it will be the first trip we do without Rebecca. You see when kids grow up they do annoying things like start their own lives. It’s very inconsiderate of them!! It is of course only a matter of time until we’re doing one of these trips with the next generation of the clan. Those yet to be born youngsters have no concept of the wonderful fun stuff they will be dragged along to across the Atlantic. We’ve had years of practice now and their holidays are going to be awesome!

I don’t make resolutions for New Year. It’s just another day. My goal however for the immediate future is not to become a nostalgia monster. By that, I mean one of those who thinks good things only happened in the past and talks about them all the time. There’s a place for that of course, it’s the main reason I wrote all those trip reports, as a memory jogger and an aide to looking back at some of our most happy times. My guess is that in another ten years, I’ll be looking back on this time with a similar fondness, my memory blocking out most of the horrible stuff again. If that’s grief, then it’s probably good grief. It’s how you females manage to have more than one child isn’t it?

Having spent almost 2,000 words pissing and moaning, I should redress the balance by saying that some things were great last year. Louise found the nursing job she always wanted with a team she loves, professionally for me things have gone well although at times I wonder how or why as I’m making it up as I go most of the time, I enjoyed many a gig with Mustard, Rebecca got engaged to Tom, Emily found herself a job with a great company (and wonderful boss!) and we are all healthy, fed, watered and housed.

Looking ahead to 2017 I know both of the girls have plans in place to make it what they want it to be and of course we’ll be there to help and support them in getting there if we can. Hopefully the onslaught of dramas of recent times are behind us and we can enjoy watching the two lovely humans we created continue to be the wonderful young women they are.

It now feels like this grief has passed or at least diminished in recent months helped by a relative period of calm and a realisation that I should stop being a knob . No doubt we’ll be riding the roller coaster again at some point but I have a strong feeling and hope that the worst is behind us now, hence the sharing of my thoughts here. Life is a series of phases and the troublesome transition for me into this latest one feels like it may be largely done.

Pardon my self indulgent rambling as 2016 comes to an end. I figured that if I don’t write honestly here then there’s little point in doing the blog at all. Here’s to a better 2017 for us all on all fronts and I make you a promise that I will try to write a decent trip report of our April adventures so you’ll have better stuff to read than these introspective wafflings. As ever your continued perseverance, loyalty and interest in this stuff is appreciated more than you know.

Till the next time……

My Work Here Isn’t Done

Well, I don’t care how you voted, the past week has been a shambles and an embarrassment to the country. What a depressing state of affairs that those who are supposed to be in charge of shit have just confirmed that they are in fact a set of self-serving cockwombles.

Our current reality makes The Thick Of It look like an episode of Panorama. Although I would like to unleash a real life Malcolm Tucker around Westminster to sort a few of these expenses cheating, personal agenda obsessed , out of touch with reality shit gibbons out.

As for the football. I have previous experience of being Hodgsoned as I am a Liverpool supporter. Never have I experienced a more tepid, expectation lowering, confidence sapping charlatan as good old Roy. The showing of the England team at the Euros was just the shot in the arm the country needed after such a harrowing and worrying week. Thanks!

Anywho, whilst the Western world crumbled around us, last week brought us some good news.  Rebecca passed her driving test!

rebecca driving test

It is to her credit that she did so in torrential rain and terrible driving conditions. Her teacher had no time for such conditions being used as an excuse for not taking the promotional photo for Facebook, hence Rebecca’s vain attempts to protect her “do” with her hood in the photo!

This passing of the test is good news for several reasons. She’s been at it a while, through no fault of her own. She had to change teachers half way through which set her back a bit, and then took a break from lessons for a few months for reasons I wont bother you with and at one stage was specialising in failing her theory test by one mark.

Anyway, on her second attempt she passed and is now trying to comprehend that she never has to do that again and is free to go out and drive whenever she likes, once she has sold some internal organs to enable her to be insured on a car.

It feels like a landmark for Louise and I too. It’s one of the final commitments we feel as parents in setting the girls up with the right life skills. This is now added to the list of all the other major developmental and life landmarks, such as –

  • Breathing
  • Eating
  • Sleeping (although Rebecca took longer to master this than driving by about three years!)
  • Not going to the toilet in their clothes
  • Getting them into the right nursery, primary school, secondary school….
  • Riding a bike
  • Attempting to learn about seventeen different musical instruments only then to decide they weren’t that bothered really
  • Their first discos
  • First roller coasters
  • GCSEs
  • A Levels
  • Proms
  • Jobs
  • etc etc etc

It’s funny that as you come up to each of these landmarks they are seen as tasks and challenges to get through and as soon as they are behind you, you feel better for it. This tends to prevent you from appreciating and enjoying the landmark for what it is.

At the risk of sounding all poncy and introspective, these things are the destination, not just the journey. You tend to rush at them, driven by the fear that your children will be slower, worse, or in some other way lesser to those other kids we all know who have parents that have all their shit together. They only feed their kids organic pulses, spend three hours every night doing homework and wholesome activities and restrict them to ten minutes a week online.

Well, we were typically too tired for all that and we bumbled our way through parenthood, I suspect, like most do, allowing Lizzy McGuire and That’s So Raven to be a fairly large part of their childhoods, happy to get to the next weekend and another half arsed attempt at a lie in. Constantly being the parents who discovered at 10pm the night before that they needed something for school the next day that was definitely unobtainable at 10pm the night before, we had times when we felt like terrible parents for letting them down.  In that blur of their early years, through unending tiredness, attempts to build some sort of career and still be something resembling a parent we were hopefully somewhere above average.

With them both able to drive it feels like we must be coming to the end of that list now. Once we’ve tucked away a wedding a piece, maybe some kids, their first houses, a bit of baby sitting and interfering in how they bring their kids up we should be…wait….oh crap, this stuff never ends does it??

Till the next time…..

The Parent Crap

For those of you that have internet known me for a while, you will have no doubt been a part of the journey of my little family. Since I started over sharing trip reports back in 2003 and then subsequently via social media, you will have seen many of the milestones we’ve been through, the different phases of parenthood, and the stresses, worries, troubles and joy they have brought.

I’m now an old man (well, I feel like one) and the girls are women in their own right. Emily is 19, and Rebecca 17 so as far as it matters both are adults, starting to find their own ways in the world. This new phase in our family, as all the previous ones have, brings its own challenges, positives and upsides. They both now have boyfriends, have left school and are starting to carve out what will be their own lives in years to come.

In this blog I have previously documented their first boyfriends, endless gigs, and various occasions when they demonstrated that they were growing up before my eyes. Much of the “fun” in this current phase of parenting revolves around their relationships, and all the ups and downs that come with it. You won’t need me to tell you that no boy on earth will ever be good enough for either of them. They are the two best things I have ever done, and so pretending that some hairy arsed youngster is worthy of their company is not a leap I can easily make. Letting their partners into our family unit is tricky. We’ve been four for a long time, and as (hopefully) welcoming as we are with the boyfriends, it’s a learning curve for us too in how to manage the expanding family dynamic.

Don’t get me wrong. Their respective partners are great. Rebecca has been with Tom for two years now, and he’s a lovely lad. Polite, well mannered, hard working and depressingly muscular, Rebecca could do a lot worse. Emily’s boyfriend is a much newer acquisition, so we don’t know him that well yet, but again, he seems to be a lovely lad. In the hormone fueled world of these young couples of course, there are ups and downs. They fall out, break up, get back together and have text warfare, and that can be a cycle that happens several times before lunch on some days. That’s life of course. Even those couples that have been together forever fall out. It is usually over different things to these youngsters of course. Louise often hates me for being so adorable all the time. I understand that it can be tiresome.

When these downs happen, sitting and watching your daughter be upset is not an easy thing to do. We know of course that there are always two sides to every story, so we try not to take sides too readily, but all the time reminding anyone who will listen that if any of these boys even think about hurting one of them I’ll be turning them inside out and setting them on fire.

The aforementioned social media makes these relationships even more complicated. A misguided like or friend request can cause Apocalyptic consequences. As bystanders we do what we can, support them, wipe the tears away and give what advice we can. We try to see their “disasters” as that, and not as the minor blips we recognise them as with our considerable life experience (compared to them). It is largely ignored of course, but every now and again a few words of advice stick, and hopefully they help.

The folks I connect with on social media have children of all ages, and when I see their photos, I think back to my two at that age, what we were going through, and how we sometimes thought we were the first to ever do it, and we had it the worst of anyone, ever. The current stage is always the hardest/worst and they naturally only improve with hindsight, as the brain tends to lose the truly bad bits, and allows you the pleasure of remembering the good bits. I’m sure the same will happen to these times too when the girls go on to do whatever they do with whoever they want to do it with, we’ll no doubt look back and smile wryly at these nights stained with tears and excessive eye makeup (and that’s just me), and our fight to resist the urge to knock their heads together, or at times remove the heads of their partners.

Not actually either of my daughters!

As boundaries are tested and naturally expand we find ourselves confronted by new and challenging dilemmas. Do we let them do this? Is it appropriate at their age to do that or go there? Are we being too restrictive, or much too liberal? Who knows. I certainly don’t so we go with our gut feel and cross our fingers we don’t get things too wrong.

There are certainly areas of parenting that get easier as the children get older. No nappies or fighting to get them dressed of a morning is great and those fall outs about the sharing of toys gradually give way to cat fights over liking the same boy, the other one getting preferential treatment and at all times the other one being your favourite. However, whilst they may be less physical work, the actual parenting bit changes little. Look at last week. My Dad is in his seventies, and just because he’s my parent he was obliged to spend a week on my roof working hard when he could have been golfing instead. Similarly, last night I was up until after 1am as I had to pick Rebecca up from a babysitting job. At my age, a bedtime after the witching hour can set me back for months, but you do it, without question whether it be that late night pick up, or the week’s hard labour.

So we’ll continue to wipe the tears away, offer the advice and pick up the pieces when required, and then moments later accept the fact that we’re then told to just leave them to it, once the upset is over. We shall have payback when we’re old(er) and infirm and they are changing our adult nappies and feeding us blended food.

Oh and Rebecca, if you are reading this, you ARE NOT having a sleeve tattoo, and that’s final!

Till the next time….