Dadinating the Country Side

The Trials and Tribulations of Living the Dream

The many hats dads wear….

Earlier this week The Mamanator was sick. She was in bed for 2 days while I looked after our little ‘uns while on carers leave (best thing ever).On Mondai I wrote about the day we had in a post that was all gushy and try-hard creative writingy and stuff. Enough of that.

Today’s post is about nuts and bolts. The fun and the struggle of it all, and the many many things I failed to do on a day my wonderful and gorgeous wife would have done without a thought or a care. I had to wear many hats, with varying degrees of success, and I thought it worth cataloguing them. Continue reading

Something indescribably beautiful is happening

Before my eyes it’s unfolding. Something obvious. Something inevitable. Something unavoidable. Something exciting. Something exhilarating. Something joyous.

A dance has started. Well in truth it had started before now, it had been going on without my knowledge, interference or involvement. Maybe I didn’t see it. Maybe I thought it was me dancing. Maybe I didn’t realise my role as spectator and thought I was always a participant.

And still they dance. Whatever muddle is in my head the dance.

I’m not surprised by what is starting, not really. It has been building for a while. I’m surprised by how much it means to me and how elated it makes me feel.

It’s a simple thing.

It’s an easy thing.

 

Last night we had dinner. The Lad had his bowl before him, and was tucking in. Suddenly he got up from his chair. He walked over to pick up a sippy cup that was on the floor. Nothing special about that, or about the cup, but he had a purpose to him. He wasn’t ambling in the carefree way an almost-three-year-old often does, he was direct. His eyes focussed his look steeled.

So he marched. He marched the sippy cup right up to the white high chair. The one that sits opposite him at mealtimes these days, and he slammed that sippy cup down. He declared “That’s The Lass’s” (of course he uses her name, but this blog does not).  Nodded to himself at his job done and returned to his dinner. She beamed at him.

 

I was home today. The Mamanator taken ill, so I got to see the dance. I got to hear the laugh.

Today they had laughed.

Laughed so much. It wasn’t me that made them laugh, I’m a funny guy and all, but it wasn’t me. They were laughing for each other, with each other and (yes) at each other. The sound of your child laughing is sweeter than honey. Two of them at the same time is enough to give you instant diabetes, possibly put you in a coma. Two of them in concert with one another can transform you into a pillar of sugar where you stand if you look back. I looked back.

My children are enjoying themselves. Each of them playing with the other in ways I hadn’t witnessed before. My son pushed his sister around in a play car, marshalling her this way and that, yelling instructions and telling her off. She loved it, she beamed and giggled. She frustrated her brother’s plans (whatever they were) but still they cuddled and laughed at the end.

The shared. Well he shared, she still grasps at everything with the pudgy fingers of a baby. But it is forgivable when you’re barely 1.

I don’t know why this makes me so happy. I don’t know why half of parenting makes us so happy. Maybe our brains are wired to compensate us for the exhaustion, the frustration and the self-doubt we all get. This is our brains way of pursuing a private settlement with us so we don’t sue. But I can enjoy a simpleton’s euphoria as well as the next man. As well as the next dad.

But my kids are playing together. Really playing together. They are seeking each other out and enjoying each other’s company. And it makes me smile. An idiot’s smile I’m sure, but a smile nonetheless.

Of Plato, parenting and cats.

My daughter got scratched by a cat a few weeks ago. Someone else’s cat. In spite of my better instincts the cat is still alive. We have cats. 2 cats in fact, called Loki and Puck as The Mamanator and I are a pair of massive mythology nerds. Our cats have different, almost antithetical attitudes towards children which have left our progeny vulnerable to cats.

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In short, Our cats are soft. They have mollycoddled our children and not prepared them for the ways of the harsh feline world.

I shall start with Puck. His attitude to children is a simple one. It is a five step process:1.) Avoid, 2.) Get away, 3.) Evade, 4.) Run and 5.) Bolt. Fleeing is his first through last line of defence. He leaves the room, he jumps to higher ground or he scarpers as fast as he can to the other end of the house. The kids have laid hands on him once or twice in nearly 3 years so I assume he has some sort of spidey sense tingling that alerts him to the presence of infants.

He is a skittish cat, poor boy, we adopted him from the local Vet 6 years ago, apparently he was found in an abandoned lot by someone who’s dogs caught the scent of him. They picked him up and took him to the vet. Apparently when he was picked up he was grey. They discovered he was actually ginger and white once they got all the muck off him. Poor boy, but it explains his skittishness and his natural distrust of humans.

Loki is a different story. He was born under The Mamanator’s old house. He was lured into the house with food, captured ever since he has been our cat. His mum was a feral, too wild for human hands, and ended up being taken away by the RSPCA. Loki’s response to the children is to roll on the floor and timidly submit to what ever is being done to him. He has been headlocked, sat upon, yanked at, scratched and I think even bitten – and sometimes during these ordeals he has purred.

The insane thing is that he occasionally walks up to the kids and lies down in front of them. I’m not sure if it’s masochism or co-dependence. The one time he has ever retaliated for something The Lass was doing to him he turned and nipped with his teeth. He didn’t nip The Lass, but The Mamanator as if to ask her to get her child to lay off, leaving the baby untouched and oblivious to the discomfort she was inflicting.

So neither of them is crotchety or aggressive with the children. They have never raised tooth nor claw to either of them.

Plato writes about justice in his book The Republic, but that’s not really my point. In the book a bunch of friends (including Socrates, Plato’s teacher) are walking to the port, but that’s not my point. The friends discuss the nature of justice, but that’s not my point. They compare the “just man” and the “unjust man”, but that’s not really my point. Someone argues that the unjust man is happier because the just man can always be harmed or ripped off or deceived by the unjust man. That’s starting to get to my point. Socrates counters that the unjust man must be unhappy because he can never form good friendships if he assumes everyone is unjust and that everyone is trying to harm him. He is alone and without friendship in the midst of a world he thinks is evil. He is unhappy… That little part of The Republic (which is 10 books long by the way) has always stuck with me, and I’ve turned it over in my head more than once. For some reason the cats made me think about it.

I could raise my kids to believe all cats will scratch them. I could warn them about cats, take them away from cats or not let them near cats. I could tell them all cats are “unjust” to talk about it in Plato’s language. They would avoid getting scratched, wouldn’t they? But what would they lose?

I could tell my kid’s that everyone is out to get them. That con artists lie in wait, that everyone they see is going to mug them. That paedophiles are about to kidnap them around every corner, that terrorists are about to blow them up . That everyone is out for themselves and that the world is a nasty, cold and hard place. In Plato’s language that the world is unjust. But what would that do?

Patting a cat is a risk. So’s trying to eat it’s ear (just ask The Lass), but she’s going to do it any way. Saying hello is a risk. Smiling at someone is a risk. Shaking a hand is a risk. Making a friend is a risk. Falling in love is a risk. I know bad things happen, the news tells me so every day. EVERY DAY. Often more than once. But the news isn’t the world…. comic407

Source

So what do I do? I don’t want my kids wandering blithely onto the road thinking that cars will stop for them. I don’t want my kids to not read things before they sign them later in life. I don’t want them to try to pet a dog that’s baring it’s teeth. I don’t want my kids to get into a stranger’s car. I don’t want my kids to do stupid things.

But I don’t want them to live in constant fear and anxiety. I think that’s more damaging than the odd cat scratch.

Finding the balance is the hard thing. To use the catch phrase of a government of the past I want them to be “Alert but not Alarmed”. Cautious when appropriate, but not paralysed by fear.

I won’t gloss over the bad stuff when they ask, and I won’t lie. At least I’ll try not to. I’ll just make sure to tell them about the good in the world too. About people who help people, about kindness, about volunteers and about people who look after each other. About the 120 trucks with 600 people on them that turned up to save peoples’ houses during the fire season last year, without a dollar being paid to any of them (I will totally mention that I was one of them!). There is a lot of goodness out there, and it’s easy to forget it.

I’ll leave the bad stuff to the newspapers. one day their voice will be louder in my childrens’ lives than mine.

In the meantime, if a cat looks particularly nasty I’ll make sure we steer clear of them…

Suicide

Dear Kids,

Again something happened in the world which is sad. Actually there’s a bunch of things going on…. There’s an extremist group in Iraq committing horrendous atrocities. There’s a disease spreading in Africa that’s got people worried. Two eastern European countries keep dancing around the precipice of war. There’s plenty more, so in some ways it will seem pretty lame that this event is the one I’m writing about. But the lesson is important, trust me on that.

Last week a very funny man took his own life. You heard his voice last night when I let you two sit with your mother and me to watch Aladdin. His name was Robin Williams, and I watched his movies as a child growing up. He made me laugh so much and he made me cry; because he was so brilliant he could do both, sometimes in the same movie. I remember watching him as Peter Pan, as a nanny, as an insane jungle-man who burst out of a board game, as the CEO of a toy company, an inspirational teacher, as a genie, a psychologist and more.

But now he’s gone. Just like that. He is missed.
Continue reading

Sandpits

A sandpit.

It’s existed in our minds for months now, sitting there looking wonderful. It was overlaid on our vision of the backyard, like special effects, but that cheap version called imagination. It morphed over time, changed size and position, but it has been there for a while. It was a promise to our kid’s that they couldn’t understand, but against which we measured ourselves as parents. Who promises a sandpit and doesn’t deliver? Not this mum and dad, I’ll tell you that.

It was all The Mamanator’s idea. She came up with the concept, the rough design and the placement. My job was to make it happen, hauling dirt and logs around, hoping it lived up to her vision. If it failed, it was flawed design. If it worked, it was because of my commitment and hard work. Win-win! (right?).

Last weekend we had a window of opportunity. Grandparents were visiting so kid wrangling was taken care of. My brother in law (a 20 something year old who keeps very fit) was also present to help out. It was almost too convenient….

Now, a sandpit requires 2 things: Sand and a pit. Actually that’s not quite true. They can be above ground; a clam-shell-pool, a set of timber sleepers, a circle of stones whatever…. So to revise, a sandpit requires 2 things: Sand and something to contain the sand.

Our design met these strict conditions, and I thought it was worth sharing because honestly it was so bloody easy to build something that I wanted to let other aspiring sand-pit artificers know that it isn’t all that hard. Our plan was simple: Dig a hole, surround it with a retaining wall made of leftover timber from our massive gum trees tyres, add a drainage layer and then fill it with sand.

MATERIALS:

  • Sand (duh)
  • Old tires
  • Old carpet
  • Scoria
  • Redgum logs

EQUIPMENT:

  • Mattock
  • Shovel

Phase 1: Marking Out

Marking Out

Using star pickets and the pieces of timber/tire that would become the retaining wall we marked out the space for our sandpit. If making a retaining wall out of “found objects” like us, all you need to do is arrange them around the space your digging slightly back from where they will sit. Once the pit is dug you can push them into final position.

Phase 2: Digging.

We dug a hole!

We dug a hole!

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The hole finally dug

The ground around our house is full of chipped quartz and gravel. Digging through it was difficult, it had to be broken up with a mattock first and then dug out.  Fortunately my brawny brother-in-law Uncle D was on hand. I recommend everyone gets a brawny brother-in-law to help with this phase, they make it much easier.

We dug to a depth of about 15 cm, but we didn’t care too much exactly how deep, and we didn’t care about how level it was. It’s a sand pit not a floor, so it really doesn’t matter. The softer your soil the easier it will be! IF you’re digging into softer soil you might get away with not using a mattock. We certainly couldn’t.

The dirt was retained to shore up our retaining wall and fill the tires we used as part of the wall to make sure things stayed put.

Phase 3: Drainage layer.

Scoria layerA sandpit needs a layer between the dirt and the sand. Well, in fact it doesn’t, but it’s a good idea to have one because it keeps the sand sandy and the dirt dirty, if that makes sense. We wanted to build something that would drain well. In spite of our best intentions we were sure we’d forget to cover the sandpit on occasion, so drainage would be desirableCarpet layer

Our solution was to put in a layer of Scoria (volcanic rock) and then cover it with old carpet before putting the sand in. This did a few things: It let us level the bottom of the sandpit easily, made sure that would pass through the sand but the soil would remain out of it and it created a gap full of air pockets and a porous rock which would ensure water would flow down out of the sand if it got wet. We used carpet because we had some lying around, but really any material could do it. Heshian, shade-cloth… Whatever you’ve got lying around. The scoria layer is not 100% necessary, especially if your soil already drains well, but we wanted to make sure the pit could drain quickly and well if it needed to.

Phase 4: Reinforce!

A retaining wall made out of heavy eucalypt stumps needs to be solid and secure. I want my kid’s to climb over the logs and stumps, play balancing games and jump off them into the sand. So I don’t want the wobbling or moving too much. Using some of the left over dirt from digging out the pit I went around and built up soil around the base of each log, knowing that it will need to be re-done regularly.

Phase 4: Something is missing… oh yeah….. SAND!!!!

Reilwe od ans

Sand in the trailer

Sand goes in!

Sand goes in!

So we had a hole in the ground. Just add sand! Now if I have one major piece of advice, this is it: If you are putting any big-ish amount of sand into a sand pit for god’s sake don’t buy it in bags. Get a trailer (or hire one), find a land-scape supplier and get sand pit sand from them. It is SO MUCH CHEAPER OH MY GOD.  “Sand pit sand” from Bunnings will set you back $7.90 for 20kg. This sounds like a lot, but is really stuff all. A trailer load (1/2 a cubic metre) – set us back 50 bucks. The equivalent cost in bags would be about $300…. Given we need to get a second trailer load in, it adds up quickly.

 

 

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And…. it’s a hit

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