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The most challenging project of my life so far.

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My brain is a bit frazzled, I’m in the middle of one of the most difficult and challenging projects that I have ever undertaken.

Since I am planning to go back to work, we’re going to have to send Tomás to a child minder and crèche. He’s been with me since birth so it’s proving difficult for both of us to make this change. I don’t recall the others being as bad when starting crèche, but in all likelihood they were but maybe I’m finding this particularly difficult as he’s the last we plan to have, and this time at home with him as been different than it was for the others.

I didn’t take any time for Aoife other than a few weeks holidays when she was first born. For Aidan, I’d started a course, and then I started working for myself so since he was very small he was with a minder and then the crèche at least a few times a week and then when he was around 2 I went back to work full time. For Tomás however, I’ve been here virtually 24/7 363 days of the year (2 nights off with the wife for time served).

So this is a bigger change for both of us. Over the last week he’s been to both the child-minder and Crèche a few times and I think he is slowly getting better, but wails when I leave him and then when I come to collect him. Both the child-minder and crèche are nice and he’ll do well there. His brother and sister thrived in the crèche they went to and it made it an easy transition into preschool and then big school.

I want Tomás to benefit from the one on one attention that the child minder will give him and the social interaction, more structured learning and language development skills that he’ll get in the crèche so that’s why for the moment I want him to do both.

But he’s not loving the experience yet, he brings his bag everywhere when he’s away from me, to push down the slide first or to walk around with it on his back so that he’s ready to go as soon as I arrive. And he immediately starts to bring me to the door so that he can go. Even at times when we’ve been at home or at the P&T group he’s making baby noises and pretending he’s regressing just to get my attention and to give into what he’s looking for. Of course when he want’s to he’s perfectly able to ask for a banana, apple, the ball or for me to go outside and play with him, all in near perfect English.

For example when I collected him from the crèche today, he was crying “blub, blub, blub” a bit with the occasional “Daddy” thrown in to add extra potency. Of course when I announced that when we got home that I’d get him some lunch, a sandwich and a cheese string. He pipes up with “yea! I want a cheese string!”, and was perfectly fine again until we got out of the car and he seen me with a loaf of bread which he wanted to tuck straight into.

He is getting better, he survived 3 hrs in the crèche today after spending 3 hrs with the minder, which is better than he did on Monday in the crèche. He’s also at that stage where he’s trying to exert his own control over his life, seeing if he can get exactly what he want’s, for us to bring him where he want’s to go and to show who is boss. Maybe it’s a good time for me to spend less time with him as he tries to wrestle control of what goes on away from me and in doing so tests my patience and mental strength to put up with him.

But it’s hard to let him go, I’m not sleeping great at night as I try to figure out what is the best way, the easiest way for him to make this change. What could I do differently or better? That along with the blooming theme tunes to some of his favourite television programmes are waking me during the night, which of course makes me tired and irritable anyway before the battle of wills even starts.

The plan is that over the next few weeks repeated trips to the child-minder and crèche will get him use to the idea. Last week and this we just did a few days, next week I think it will need to be 4 days solid of going to the child minder for 2 hrs, then in the afternoon to the crèche. That way I can ensure that he has lunch and is eating, which he didn’t do today. The week after we’ll get him to stay a bit longer, and I’ll just have to steal myself to the heart felt, painful cries of “Daddy! Daddy!” when I leave him.

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Why should I bother?- it’s for the children!

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I woke Saturday morning feeling a little sorry for myself, a bit low and ba humbug.

Before going to bed last night I read Gerry Duffy’s article “Do the write thing” in the April/May edition of the Irish Runner. It’s all about setting goals, writing them down and making them targeted, all good advice I’ve heard before.

What has got me feeling low is that I don’t have any real goals that I’m currently working towards. I have my daily objectives that I want to get done… mop the floors, get the ironing finished, get the wash hung up, get something for dinner… the stuff that every body has to get done. I’ll maybe include going for a run or write a blog post, but not aspirational goals to strive for.

I have nominal aims, unspecific achievements that I am slowly working towards. I’d like to be able to run 5k in under 25 min (27:17 is current cross-country PB) but other than a notional this would be nice there is no driver for me to meet this target. I would also like to be able to run 10k in under 60 min, I’ve signed up to do the Boyne 10k in May to try and do it, but it still feels a bit of a nice to do.

Oldbridge Sept

I’ve made progress on going back to work, but its difficult to plan and set targets for myself, before I start or even talk to any future boss about what those targets might look like.

Perhaps this is what happens when you decide to focus your time on family and kids. Your life becomes a mix of  child minding, cleaning and cooking. I have to give a stage 10 speech to complete my Toastmasters Competent Communicator Award, but I’m struggling a bit to find something that I am passionate about.

That’s part of the reason I’ve never went into business for myself successfully,  I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing to really make it work, rightfully I compromised my ambitions for my family. My family has always been my main concern,  despite some of my stranger decisions in life (I am after all almost the living embodiment of a character in a Bazz Lurman/Mary Schmich song).

So as I was lying in bed Saturday morning, thinking I should really have got up at 7.30 and went for my run so that I’d skip the Parkrun and let my wife have a lie on in bed. Instead I lay on until after 8.30 thinking about how I don’t have any great passions in life at the moment.

But then something changed,  I got up to wash, and my daughter woke my wife, so when I returned to get dressed, I was told to go for the run, which I did and a nice easy run it was this morning. It kept me just focused on taking my time, working on form and breathing.

I didn’t solve any world or even personal problems, but I did lift myself out of the doldrums. But when I got back from my run I heard news that proved to me that I am passionate about something- family. I believe that it is important to be honest with your family, yes I know there are always some small secrets but you shouldn’t needlessly worry your family, to deliberately exclude them from the important things in life, especially when they try to be there for you and to support you.

I also believe that it’s important to try to set good example, which is probably one of the hardest things to do on a consistent basis. But that’s OK because no-one is perfect.

I quit sugar in my tea to set an example for my kids, but I still need to improve in cutting sugar out of my snacks, I suppose that should be one of my new aims. I also want my kids go grow up with a strong sense of family, to be there for their siblings and to support them when they need it and when they don’t.

And I seem to remember vaguely that that was the same reason for me starting running and looking after myself better. I want them to have good health habits, like taking exercise and be involved in organisations or clubs. It will help them when they are older to have a healthy body and mind. I have the chance now to give them the skills and habits which will give them the strength when they are older to hopefully face the stresses and hurdles that life will throw at them when they are older. I also want them to have the confidence to seek help and to know that they can get it, and expect it form a kind and loving family and good friends.

So I think I need to go now and find some new goals with targets and to include my children in setting these goals, because if they see me setting my own goals and working hard to achieve them then hopefully they will learn to do the same, wither I am successful in achieving them the first time, the second time, or the one hundredth time they can learn the value in putting in the effort, develop resilience and persistence in achieving their goals.

Making Easter memorable- The Rise of a Guardian

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Saturday my kids got to watch Rise of the Guardians on TV again. It’s a good film for keeping the kids entertained and quite approperate as it’s a film about belief, belief in the impossible and what could be.

Easter has become a time when we go up to my parents, and this year my brother was home with his kids so it was going to be a nice break where the kids could all play together. The last few years I’ve tried to make the whole experience of finding their eggs a bit of fun and have set up an Easter egg hunt. Some how this has managed to convince my daughter of the the existence of the Easter Bunny. That wasn’t the plan.

The first year I planned a hunt based on maps of our house, last year it was photos around the inside and outside of my parents home. This allowed me to take the photos the night before and print them off easily. Small eggs were hidden with a picture of the next location, so the kids could take turns in finding the location and it was a real test of how much they know about Granny and Granda’s house. With their cousin home this year he was able to get in on it too. We had to go to mass first to allow everyone to get up as there were a few sleepy heads from restless nights the night before (crying babies :-().

Once back, the pressure was on and the first picture shown to the kids, which sent them off in different directions until they remembered where the old shop scales were sitting. The hunt brought the through the house, the front garden and then around to the back,  running off in excitement to find the next clue.  They got so caught up in finding the clues that they didn’t want to wait till they collected their egg reward at each stage.

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The clue in the Green House brought them back to the living room where my nephew’s lego car was his major clue. Unfortunately for him he’d moved the car this morning from its location in the picture. Luckily his cousins recognised other bits in the photo, allowing the to find the last of the small eggs, and the final clue for the big eggs for themselves and Granny and Granda.DSCF4153 DSCF4159 It worked out as a great bit of fun for the kids and us adults watching them run around and have fun. We’re looking forward already to next year when we will have 2 more cousins running around with us on the hunt.

The Cost’s and Benefits of stopping working for the kids

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Louise McBride, Freelance Personal Finance Journalist wrote in the Sunday Independent about What’s the real cost of stopping work for the kids and it got me thinking about what the costs and benefits where for me and my family since I stopped working.

Unfortunately for me I’ve worked in Engineering and Production Management in plastics companies since I first left college 17 years ago. So unlike Louise,I can’t work from home and continue in the same kind of roles. All the roles I’ve had in recent years have involved a big commute, usually over an hour to and then from work, so an 8 hr working day, usually ended up with me leaving at 6:30 to be in work for 8, then working on till 5 to keep on top of the work load and then not getting home till 6:30 to put the kids to bed.

The other problem I had with work was that it often in small companies who were linked with construction, and in recent years there has been the small matter of the recession in Ireland.

So the cost of going to work, the childcare, the mileage, the food away from home as well as the cost to my family of being at home so little and very tired, stressed and cranky when I was at home was high. With the down turn, pay rates were reduced and the balance between wither it was worth going out to work was tipping leading me to stop working.

Louise identified the costs to her as her salary, pension and work perks. For us it was the same, my salary was cut to zero and if it wasn’t for some savings we would have been seriously in trouble. We didn’t live the high life when I was working, but when I stopped we still had to make major cut backs, all swimming lessons we stopped for the kids, take-aways reduced to once a month, controls put on grocery shopping to reduce waste, and holiday’s were kept local and at minimal cost. Eventually over 2 years I managed to bring our out goings and spending closer to the amount of money we had coming in. But we did burn through a good bit of our savings in the process.

My daughter’s big hope for this summer is that we’ll get to go on holiday… on a boat, not just to my parents in Belfast or to Donegal, at the moment we’ll have to see how things are going.

Naturally Louise in her article focuses on the impact of stopping work on our financial position… it is her job after all. But with out stopping work I would have missed out on so much, treasures much more valuable and precious than the money I would have made while at work. For starters I would probably have had to move away from home to get a job, and only see my wife and kids at the weekends. I’ve friends who have had to do this, and I would have hated this, it would have been awful for my wife and kids as well. I know why some families have to do this, and I know how fortunate that I am that we didn’t have to take this route.

So actually getting to spend time with my family, even more than I use to is the first major perk. OK sometimes seeing a little less of them would have had it’s attractions, but that’s just the sore head from the noise talking.

I got to do some great things with my kids, cycle with them down to school or run while they used their bikes or scooters. Bring my son to school on his first day, and be there to collect him and ensure that over the next few months that he was happy going in, found the benefit of reading and learning his letters, meeting friends and talking about how he was getting on.

Aidan's 1st Day at School

Aidan’s 1st Day at School

I’ve raised the baby from birth, introducing him to P&T groups, making friends and learning to mix and play with other kids. I’ve become his go to person for everything. We celebrated his birthday 2nd birthday a few weeks ago at the P&T Group with his friends, something he could not have done if I’d been working. The joy in his face was a pleasure to behold.

Enjoying his 2nd Birthday

Enjoying his 2nd Birthday

As a blow in to the town we are living in I knew a limited amount of people as I never grew up here. Limited to neighbours and a few people I’d bump into who I knew from canoeing, which I did before Kids. So I did get to other parents at the school door and improve my own social network.

It has been great for me, as well as improving my social network at the school gate, I’ve also made good friends through the P&T groups. I’ve been able to volunteer and help run one of the groups that I’ve been going to. It also gave me the time to join Toastmasters, which has really boosted my communication skills.

Also it has given me the opportunity to go back and study, as I did for a bit around 5-6 years ago. This most recent spell as a SAHD, gave me time to think back over my career and make some choices about what I wanted to do in the future. I was able to figure out that I either needed a complete career change, or go and develop a career in larger organisations than the ones I had been working in the past.

So now after two and a half years I am gearing myself to go back to work. The youngest has just turned two and needs the stimulation and interaction with other children that he can get in a play-school and so I believe that he is ready to move on the newer things as well.

It has been a good two and a half years where I have settled into the role as a SAHD, perhaps I’ve been a little too comfortable most recently but my kids have found it beneficial and have developed into really confident and happy kids able to take on the world. What ever the next few years hold for us, I am determined to make sure that the family don’t suffer, no more 12 hr long days away from home for 5 days a week.

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