Dadinating the Country Side

The Trials and Tribulations of Living the Dream

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

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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.
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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!!!!

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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

Charge of the dad brigade. Or. The dangers of homework

Working late in a dark study. It’s a familiar thing for teacher parents out there. You come home, you wrangle your kids and you get them to sleep. Then and only then can tackle your “homework”…..

Recently I have started working full-time again. I’ve worked as a relief teacher for a while now (18 months or so), and while it is unstable in terms of income and in terms of a personal routine, it has had its benefits. Random days off, no work follows you home and you actually get to leave at 3:30 (or so), and your weekends are yours.

However I am employed in the medium term. It’s a short-term fill-in job, but it is full-time. Meetings, marking and planning are back on the agenda. Last night I had to prepare some materials for a year 7 English class. We’re working on “information texts”, writing about facts and communicating them through writing.

It was not easy to get started. The kids needed my full attention after I got home, dinner, baths and then bed. The Lad was unwell and occasionally having fits of coughing intermittently, so I knew it was going to be a rough one. The Lad did not disappoint. I was with him till after 9pm. After that was done I came out to do my usual magic trick rocking our little girl to sleep. It worked, and I kept her on me for a while as The Mamanator had some quality time not being in physical contact with a child.

I seem to have a knack for getting our baby to sleep. I think it’s because I am very boring, and could talk a velociraptor to sleep. Job done I caught some important educational programming (Preppers and Bad Ink – quality), before trying to put the girl down to sleep. -

It did not go well. I sometimes think there are children with an inbuilt spirit level with an alarm attached to it which goes off when they hit horizontal. Our girl is like that some nights, and tonight was one of those nights. I went back to rock her some more and failed miserably. The Mamanator realised that I needed time to work and took her off me to settle, and I retreated into the study to do some planning. I opened up the baby gate we use to keep our computer safe from the kids, and logged into the computer.

And then it happened, a cough and a cry from The Lad. I ducked in to give him some water and calmed him down while swearing under my breath because I still hadn’t made a start. But it passed and I disappeared back into the study.

I had found a short video about the danger of using your phone while walking on the street. It’s causing accidents as people neglect their physical well-being in favour of keeping track of their online lives and/or texting their friends. It included footage of people walking into trees and walls and one guy walking off a train platform. I was going to use it to give the kid’s a topic to write about and some information to write with. I concocted a lesson around it and satisfied relaxed into some online loitering on Facebook etc…

Coughs. Again. I shot up and bolted. I bolted towards the cries of my son. I bolted to be his rock in time of distress. I bolted to keep him feeling well when he was sick. I bolted. Straght into the closed baby gate.

Crash

Over I went and my head caught the corner of a chair that happened to be sitting in the corridor. I yelled in pain. I woke up EVERYONE.

Dazed for a moment I stood up and felt my face. Satisfied it was intact I made my way into The Lad’s room ready to get on with dadding it up.

Drip.

Drip.

I put my hand on my eyebrow and felt a warm fluid. I had cut something open. I called out to get help, and ran to the bathroom. I had split my head open just above my eyebrow. I soaked it up with tissue and toilet paper. I held it on my head, got The Mamanator to look at it and did a quick self-assessment of my injury. It hurt, but not much. It was bleeding but not a big wide cut.

In the meantime The Mamanator (Supermum) got BOTH kids asleep on her own, with one hand and one breast, leaving me to shove the gash in her face and ask “Does it look bad” and “do I need stitches” over and over again. It’s a wife’s job in these instances.

I decided I was capable of patching it up myself, so I raided one of our first aid kits for gauze and taped my eyebrow up myself.

Not elegant... But home-made.

Not elegant… But home-made.

I got to bed and was covered in sympathy. And then I started laughing. Then The Mamanator started laughing.

Then The Lad started coughing, so I trundled over to his bed, curled up beside him and slept.

And by morning the bleeding and stopped and all was well.

Safety gate my foot….

 

I’d love to hear I’m not the only person to injure themselves on baby safety stuff around the house.

Share your stories in the comments, and share this story with anyone who might take some solace from laughing at my own misfortune.

Tradies Health Month – and giveaway

This post and giveaway is part of the Tradies Health Month campaign, information can be found here at the Tradies National Health Month website.

As you all know, or are about to know, I am a teacher. I am decidedly not a trades person and I have all the technical skill of a cardboard box. What I do have, however, is a passion for talking about health issues that are focussed on men. I also have a knack for fiddling with and fixing things and fancy myself a bit of a handyman. Sometimes.

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