The Last Day

After almost four years, today was my last day as a stay-at-home dad. And we marked it with a day trip involving two of G's favourite activities: going swimming and eating ice cream.

We drove down to Nantwich to try the outdoor pool there for the first time. It was great, although the water felt a bit cold when the sun went in. I say water but it's actually brine, a bit of a surprise considering Nantwich's non-proximity to the coast. Not that it was a problem, in fact I think the salt content helped G's buoyancy a bit as she swam around very happily.

When we eventually got out and started walking back to where our bags were, she realised she was leaving wet footprints on the ground. So that was a game we had to play for a while. Which was fine, because we weren't in any hurry.

I'd thought ahead and brought a packed lunch, just the kind of valuable life skill I've learned over the last four years. And after eating it I thought we could head back via one of Cheshire's many farm shops for a go in the playground and, inevitably, an ice cream. G had chocolate, as she always does.

So that's about that. Next week I'm going back to work full-time, so I'll no longer be a stay-at-home parent. And besides, G's approaching the age when regular online updates of her life will pass from 'cute' to 'downright embarrassing'. So I think this is the best time to bring this blog to an end.

We've done all sorts since she was born, all 9lbs 15oz of her, in September 2009. There were the typical baby things, such as the vomiting at social occasions, the rage-crying and the swimming lessons, Then there were the less typical things, such as the TV appearances, the meeting with the Prime Minister and the brief involvement in a political scandal.

A lot of people have asked me whether I found the whole experience difficult. I sort of want to say yes, because I think that's what people expect to hear. But in reality, the answer is: no, not really. G slept through from ten weeks, always ate her food and has hardly ever been ill. When she started going to nursery part-time, she settled in fairly quickly. She likes her football and ballet classes on Saturdays, and is looking forward to being a big sister too.

I'd like to claim this is all because of my superior parenting ability, but to be honest I don't think I could have had it any easier.

School Uniform

G's first day at school is still a few weeks away. But Mrs J came back from the shops the other day with a bag full of stuff from the Back To School aisles, which have already made a significant grab for territory in the bigger supermarkets.

Even though she's only joining the nursery class, G still needs a uniform. And she was extremely excited to try on her shirt and pinafore, as shown in the picture. "I'm going to school tomorrow!" she announced.

At the moment she uses "tomorrow" to mean any time in the future, while "yesterday" refers to anything that has happened in the past. So on that basis, I suppose she was right.

Paddling Pool

It can't have escaped your attention that the weather is still dry, sunny and hot. In fact, it's the longest heatwave we've had since 2006, which means it's easily the best of G's short lifetime.

But far from being confused at the persistent presence of a giant yellow orb in the sky, she's been thoroughly enjoying the sun. We had the paddling pool out again this morning, as you can see (I put G's hat on after taking the photo, a sunburnt little girl is one way to guarantee me a proper telling off from her mum).

Mrs J went for her 20-week scan yesterday, and we're having another little girl. This should have the benefit of saving us a few quid, because Mrs J's now going to struggle to justify doing much shopping for new baby stuff. Much to her irritation, no doubt.

However, considering my general non-pink policy with G, I'm sort of tempted to festoon her little sister with pink when she appears. As a social experiment if nothing else. And if it gives Mrs J a convincing excuse to go to the shops, maybe it'll be better all round.

Watching The Aeroplanes

Taking your child to the airport to watch the planes taking off and landing is a classic family activity. But I'd never got round to doing it with G, until today.

Since we moved to Salford I'd been vaguely aware there was an airfield nearby, and after driving past it recently I decided to go back for a visit. And so with the sun out once again this morning, I slathered us both in lotion and drove the short distance to the former Barton Aerodrome, now known as City Airport Manchester, and apparently one of the busiest airfields in the country for private planes and helicopters.

Almost as soon as we got there the North West Air Ambulance (the yellow helicopter by the control tower in the picture) hovered overhead then came in to land, which got G's interest straight away. But soon she was distracted by the playground in the viewing area, and set herself up in the toy house:
There was a little boy, slightly younger than G, also there, and G tried to get him to play in the house too. "Come inside my house," she commanded. He looked doubtful and didn't say anything. But G has obviously learned something from my parenting style. "Come inside my house and I'll give you a treat," she said, hopefully.

It didn't work, and the boy ran in the other direction instead. Maybe next time.

Outdoor Swimming

Continuing our recent tour of favourite places I've taken G over the last few years, we took advantage of the beautiful weekend weather by going across the Pennines to Hathersage and its lovely outdoor swimming pool. I've taken her every summer since she was little, so it's easy to see her progress from baby to toddler to last year's two-year-old.

On our past visits it hasn't always been as warm as it was on Sunday, but I made sure we got there in plenty of time so we didn't end up at the back of a huge queue. The pool itself was packed but we were in there for well over an hour, and G didn't want to get out at the end.

The whole scene was all so ideal I got to wondering why all towns don't have outdoor pools. As enjoyable as the drive over the Snake Pass is, it's not exactly convenient. I overheard two other people having just this conversation, and one said: "The problem is, we only get about two weekends like this a year". Few better ways to enjoy the ones we do get than by visiting a lido, though.

Back At The Waterfall

I'm going back to work full-time soon, and with my time taking care of G having been down to two days a week for some time anyway, I don't have many days left with her as a proper stay-at-home dad. So on Friday I thought I'd take her back to somewhere we've visited before, Lumb Falls near Hebden Bridge. 
Unlike when she was a baby and a toddler, she was able to walk most of the way down the path to the falls themselves. Which meant I could concentrate on carrying the all-important picnic, which naturally included mini pork pies.

The path to the falls from Haworth Old Road (if you ever want to go there you have to stop in an unmarked lay-by and trust to luck you've picked the right one, there are no signs or anything) has been improved a bit since we were last there, so G was thankfully able to walk most of the way back up too. Just as well, because carrying her for more than a few yards is tough going these days, particularly on a hot, sunny day.

Before heading back home I thought we could stop in at Hebden Bridge for a walk about and an ice cream. In the first sweet shop I asked G whether she wanted an ice cream. "No," she said very quietly, and perhaps for the first time ever, so we ended up leaving with a small bag of little white chocolate mice (another favourite).

Walking out, G then announced: "Daddy, I want some water... and then we can have an ice cream". Totally outmanoeuvred by my own daughter once again, we ambled to a newsagent for the water and then a second ice cream shop, and G got her chocolate cone.

It's a good job I like ice cream too, really.

Settling In At School

Well, here's confirmation that the march of time is continuing. G had her first visit to her new school yesterday. She's starting in the nursery class at a local primary in September, afternoons only, so it's not exactly proper school. But she's going to have a uniform, teachers, a schoolbag, all that sort of thing. So yes, she's going to school.

I picked her up from nursery early so we could go along for yesterday's settling-in session. G was very excited until we actually got there and saw the other children, when she went very quiet and started hiding behind me. I asked her whether she wanted to go and play, and she looked dolefully up at me and said: "No, I'm too shy."

This was sweet, but once I got her sat down at a table with some arts and crafts she was happy enough, and I was able to leave her while the parents went into a separate room for one of those question-and-answer things during which I never know what to say. The children had a story and a snack while this was going on, and G looked much happier afterwards.

"Look daddy, I got a sticker!" she announced, and this seemed to be enough to keep her happy on the walk back home. I don't know quite why young children find stickers so enthralling, but we've found several uses for them in bringing up G. So it's fine by me.

Important Announcement

We had something to tell everyone this week. But Mrs J thought it would be good if G got to make the announcement:

Mrs J is about four months pregnant and G's little brother or sister is due on 6 December.

Lego For Girls

I've written before about how I've always been keen to avoid exposing G to too much pink, in the hope that she won't grow up believing she can only do certain 'girl' things. There's not an outright ban on Disney princess stuff, but it needs to be balanced by less stereotypically girly activities. I don't have many parenting rules, but in a world of needless makeovers and colour-themed toy displays, I think this is an important one to stick to.

Lego's frankly alarming girl-focused advertising campaign is a good example of what I'm slightly anxious about. As others have pointed out, Lego used to make adverts for girls that looked like this. Clearly, something has gone wrong somewhere along the line.

Having a lie-in the other day, I was dozily aware of G emptying out her lego boxes and building things beside the bed. After a while she triumphantly produced this, which was apparently Santa's house.

The fact that she's already thinking of Christmas is a bit alarming, but that aside I'm pleased to reproduce the photo I took. No pink bricks in sight. I appreciate it's a bit ironic limiting her access to certain things in order to hopefully broaden her freedom to choose later on, but there you go.

Sandals And Raincoat

I took G to the playground at Parr Fold Park this lunchtime. It was sunny and G wanted to wear her new sandals. It was a good job I brought her raincoat too, because by the time we got there it had clouded over, and soon after it started to spot with rain.

So she played on the climbing frame with an outfit that wasn't really wholly suitable for any weather. Once she'd have got a bit upset about getting wet, but she's a bit more rough-and-tumble these days, and didn't mind getting her bum soaked as she went down the slide.

And as the video shows, G also enjoyed the swing.

Put Me In A Boat

Last week I swapped our usual Friday lunchtime swim for a trip to The Lowry museum and theatre, and a visit to their fortnightly arts and crafts session for children. Aimed at youngsters aged between two-and-a-half and four-and-a-half, it was led by a very enthusiastic woman who directed us to a table full of straws, coloured paper and paperclips, and challenged us to make something interesting.

I asked G what we should do. Given that we'd already been playing pirates at home that morning, she wanted a boat. The picture shows what we came up with. Neither art nor engineering rank anywhere in my skillset, but at least I managed to make something that stood up by itself.

G was quite excited, especially about the little gold bits of paper she cut out and added at the bottom to make treasure. So she wouldn't stand still for the photo, which is why it's a bit blurry. She had so much fun I'm sure we'll be back again soon.

Day At The Beach

We took advantage of another sunny weekend by going to the beach yesterday. Blackpool is less than an hour from where we live, although we opted for the rather gentler option of Lytham St Annes down the coast instead.

I last visited when I went on holiday there as a child, I think when I was eight or so. From what I could recall not much has really changed, except the fading seaside grandeur of the place has faded considerably more.

The beach is still pretty great though. G wanted to make sandcastles so we invested in a bucket-and-spade from one of the kiosks (she picked a Thomas one, obviously). The sand was a bit too dry on top, and we had to dig down to find some slightly damp sand so her sandcastles could maintain a bit of structural integrity. We also had lunch on the pier followed by ice creams, then I bought a stick of rock, so our day out was basically the complete seaside experience. Couldn't find anywhere selling rollmops though, so might have to try Blackpool itself next time.

The jumper G is wearing in the picture betrays the fact that despite the beautiful sunshine and cloudless sky, the sea breeze meant it was actually a bit chilly at times. In true British seaside style, next time we go I'll be taking a windbreak.

Peppa Pig World

The second half of our weekend away featured a trip to Peppa Pig World, at Paultons Theme Park in the New Forest. If you've not heard of Peppa Pig, the bossy but loveable porcine girl who stars in her own cartoon (like Thomas the Tank Engine it's shown on Channel 5 and Nick Jr, and therefore a big part of the reason why our CBeebies-watching days seem to be long behind us), then you've missed out on what can fairly be described as an all-encompassing media phenomenon.

I assumed that taking G to a whole park devoted to Peppa would be like hitting the motherlode for a three-year-old girl. And so it proved.

There are lots of rides. Here's G on a car:

There are also ample opportunities to eat sweet things. As it was a nice day, and both me and Mrs J wanted ice cream, G got one too:

This is on the helicopter-themed ferris wheel. G didn't mind the height, and actually seemed keen to go even higher:

One notable difference between Peppa Pig World and other theme parks is that, because it's aimed at the under 5s, the jaunty Peppa music is constantly being played. I'm not sure whether this is to soothe the excited children, or drown them out when they start crying. Perhaps it's both. As a result, since Sunday I've had the familiar tinkly sounds of the cartoon theme as an earworm. A small price to pay for giving G a fun day out though.

Talking of which, she was extremely well-behaved throughout, even when we wanted to leave. Although to avoid tears this did require a pre-emptive purchase of a dinosaur toy and a Peppa balloon:

Brilliantly, the balloon has a weight on the end so it not only fits around G's wrist, it also can't fly away should she let go. It's almost as if these theme park bosses have thought of everything.

The Castle And The Pageant

We're just back from a long weekend away down south. Not just because it was the first properly sunny weekend of the year (although given that it's now June, that would have counted as reason enough to celebrate with a holiday), but also due to my birthday which fell yesterday. Holidays around this time of year have proved slightly problematic in the past, but things went very well on this occasion.

The first half of the weekend had a medieval theme. Not by design you understand, but it seems that whenever you try to have a day out in rural Britain, medieval sites of vaguely historical interest somehow seem more appealing than when you were forced to go them at school.

And so on Thursday we went to Goodrich Castle. It's near where Mrs J grew up, and she confidently eschewed the audio tour when offered it at the visitor centre. I thought this might be so she could fill me in with various historical facts about the place herself as we walked around, but in reality she spent most of the time catching up with an old friend of hers, who had brought her two children along (one a little older than G). This meant that it was down to me to do actual catching up, of G and her friend as they chased each other around the moat:
I'm still not much the wiser about Goodrich Castle itself. But given that it dates from the 11th century, I'm still it'll still be there next time we're in the area.

G learned more about this period of history on Saturday, as we ended up at a medieval pageant in Somerset. Staying in a holiday cottage in the village of Templecombe for the weekend, I spotted a wooden sign advertising the pageant as a weekend-long event.

I thought it might be a few people dressed up in a field. We decided to go on Saturday lunchtime, and quickly discovered that it was quite a lot of people dressed up in a field, doing various things from jousting to playing the harp. Clearly, and rather like brass banding, medieval re-enactment is another huge British subculture I had never previously known about.

G got into the spirit of things quickly, and painted her own shield:
She then pestered us until we got her a sword as well. Normally I'm loathe to give in to this sort of thing, but she had been very well-behaved despite the surprisingly hot sun. And it meant Mrs J could take this picture of her, so it was well worth it:
As if this wasn't thrilling enough, the following day we were planning to take G to Peppa Pig World. But that proved to be so exciting, it'll really need a separate post of its own.

Making Up Stories

We had a babysitter for G on Thursday night so the two of us could go for a night out in town. When we got back the babysitter said that after G had got out of bed, she told her a made-up story about "Princess G" in order to get her to drift back off to sleep.

The law of unintended consequences became apparent by Friday night. Books are now very last week, and every story has to involve some kind of made-up thing about our heroine (Princess G, Fairy Queen G, always G) doing something exciting. It's clear we're going to have to seriously improve our powers of creativity in order to make bedtime as stress-free as it, thankfully, usually is.

The picture was taken earlier on Friday, when we headed back to Saddleworth to take in a bit of the Whit Friday brass band contest in Dobcross. This was G's fourth Whit Friday, so I was supposed we were due a really rainy one.

Breakfast TV

I made my debut on the BBC Breakfast sofa this morning, reprising my occasional role as a pundit on stay-at-home dad issues. This is an occupational hazard of my career as a sometime journalist, and I'm now a veteran of many of these appearances. But this was the first time I'd appeared on the programme made famous in my youth by, lest we forget, Frank Bough. So I wore a jumper in his honour.

I was appearing with Gideon Burrows, author of a new book about stay-at-home dads. My experience of the media told me that I should really be disagreeing very violently with him for the sake of good telly. But we were both far too polite for any of that.

I managed to say at one point that I "slightly disagreed" with him about something or other. He told me as we walked out of the studio that actually he agreed with me on that point too. But then, anyone keen to hear an all-out ruck at that time of the morning is already listening to the Today programme, rather than tuned to the soothing sofa-based chat of Breakfast, so I don't think it really mattered too much. And they said when Breakfast moved to Salford they wouldn't be able to get any good guests on. I mean, I ask you.

G was watching at home, and Mrs J reported that she got very excited when I appeared on her TV, announcing: "Daddy is my best friend!" Not too upset at missing out at yet another media appearance of her own, then.

Ugly Duckling

As G has grown up a bit, her TV loyalties have switched from wholesome favourite CBeebies to the slightly brasher fayre of Nick Jr. This is mainly because it's where she can watch Peppa Pig and Thomas the Tank Engine. Those shows are also available on Channel 5's on-demand service, which has led to our family becoming possibly the biggest users of Demand 5 in the country.

But she can still be tempted back to Auntie for the odd programme, in particular the recent Ugly Duckling special with the Northern Ballet. I say 'recent' - it was on at Easter and we must have watched it most evenings since.

G often likes to show off her ballet moves in the living room, but since she discovered the Ugly Duckling this has become an almost nightly ritual. The picture shows her in full swan mode.

Sunny Bank Holiday Weekend

We had beautiful weather for the holiday weekend. But although we spent most of it out in the open, I started on Friday by taking G to the National Football Museum at the Urbis. She's a little bit bigger than the last time I took her there, back when the impressive building in the middle of Manchester was still a museum of popular culture. Now that she's playing football herself, I thought it might be fun to take her for a look around the new collections.

The picture shows her sitting on some seats from the old Wembley, although the exhibit which really took her interest was the cabinet full of huge silver trophies. The old Football League Championship trophy was in the middle, but it was the even bigger, shinier and gaudier examples dotted around, awarded for various long-forgotten minor tournaments, which she kept pointing to. When she comes back from football, or ballet, or whatever, with her first little medal, I'm sure it's going to be kept extremely shiny.

There was a food festival at Salford Quays on Saturday. We went along, and Mrs J raided the stall selling macarons. As confections go these have always confused me, mainly because I was brought up in Scotland where we have macaroons instead. Also confusingly, G wanted to eat the blue one. And so she had a blue tongue for the rest of the afternoon, as did I, after I helped finish it off when she didn't want any more:
Cake has been a regular theme of the time I've spent with G over the years. There was a lot around on Sunday afternoon at an event called G Festival 2013, held in Swinton as a charity fundraiser after a girl from the local area who died three years ago. After having lots of fun blowing bubbles and on the bouncy castle, we went to the cake stall and found an appropriate one for G. Although she doesn't much like icing, so I had to have the actual bit with the G on it:
Monday was the warmest day of the weekend, and just as well as we went to the East Lancashire Railway in Bury for another day out with Thomas the Tank Engine. The success of our last visit to one of these events in Llangollen in February was only slightly dampened by the fact it chucked it down all day, so it was particularly good to have a day of train-based fun without having to scurry around under cover all the time. G even had a dress on, and got to meet the big guy himself:
She was less keen on the Fat Controller ("but I'm very shy" she said, intently), and needed a good bit of prodding before finally agreeing to sit next to him. Less prodding was needed to get her to toot Thomas's whistle. She talked about this moment all the way home. This would have been extremely tedious, but we only live a quarter of an hour away. Which was just as well.

Chocolate Cheesecake

It was one of the first really sunny days of the year yesterday, and in the afternoon I decided to go into Monton with G for a coffee (me) and a cake (both of us).

This was the sort of thing I used to do often when we lived in Saddleworth, because there were a few places to go within easy walking distance and it was a good excuse to get out of the house. Now I'm at home with her less, and we're in a much more residential area, I don't get the chance as often. Besides, Monton High Street is a drive away, and who drives anywhere just to go for coffee (other than Jerry Seinfeld)?

We went to Selo Deli, a Ukrainian sort of place which has made a bit of a splash since opening with its own Monton Tart, designed to take on the venerable Eccles Cake. I had a slice, but G went for a chocolate cheesecake.

I pointed out that she might not like the nuts on top. She agreed that she didn't like nuts, but said she wanted the cake anyway. So by the time she dug into it as shown in the picture, we'd had the following conversation:

G: "Is that nuts on it?"

Me: "No, that's sugar."

G: "Oh, sugar."

Lies about cake are acceptable lies, I think. Especially if it means avoiding tears and having to give her my cake instead, neither of which I would have particularly relished.

The cakes were great. The hat was G's choice.

First Boyfriend

This week's big news is that G has her first boyfriend. They met in the old-fashioned way, at nursery.

Mrs J first became suspicious a couple of weeks ago, when she arrived to pick up G, who wanted to take an Octonauts toy home with her. "You can't take that with you, it belongs to nursery," said Mrs J. "But N said I could take it," pleaded G. The nursery leader let them take the toys as long as they brought them back, which might say something about G's negotiating skills.

Since then, Mrs J has noticed that G and N are usually the last children left in the group when she goes to collect G. Clearly, romance has blossomed during this time alone together. In the car on the way home on Tuesday, unprompted, G announced: "N is my boyfriend. And I am a girlfriend". When she got back and Mrs J relayed this news, I asked G what N was like. "We play with toys together!" she said, excitedly. All very sweet, but I suppose I'd better be ready for her to come home inconsolably upset one day, just in case.

I took this picture yesterday, during a walk at the lake at Clifton Country Park.

North East Weekend

We were in the north-east of England over the weekend, visiting G's granny and then another friend of ours. My mum lives in Washington (the original one), so on Friday we went for a walk around the Old Hall, the ancestral home of George Washington's family.

They'd long gone by the time George was born, but no matter, the historical connection is maintained. Not just through the hall, available for weddings (such as one that was about to take place when we visited), but also in the American War of Independence-themed names given to various housing developments in the 'new town' bit of Washington. However, with all the roundabouts, I doubt old George would see much of the Concord he knew in Massachusetts in the north-east version.

I've been coming to the area to visit family for years. So long in fact, that on taking G to the Discovery Museum in Newcastle on Saturday, I realised that I'd actually been there as a child myself. These days there's a huge water table at toddler height, demonstrating the bridges and traditional industries of the Tyne. Here's G having a go at a bit of crane operating:

Later, we took her bowling. It had been a while since I've been, and Mrs J was alarmed to discover that technology has moved on in recent years, so you no longer have to use inflated bumpers in the lanes when children are bowling. Bumpers just pop up and down for certain players.

So, inevitably, G ended up beating her mum, although the balls were a little bit heavy for her to manage on her own:

Changing Kit

I've written before about how G now goes to ballet and then football on Saturday mornings. There's not much time between the two classes, so a quick switch of outfit is required. Mrs J captured it yesterday using Vine (it's the new app from Twitter that lets you record six-second videos which play on a loop).

This is basically the pre-school equivalent of Superman changing in a phone box. Only with the additional knocking down of a few gender stereotypes.

Scarred For Life

There are many sounds which are regularly heard around a house with a toddler living in it. Three in particular usually come in sequence: the sudden crash, the brief silence, then the wailing cry.

The longer the silence, the louder the cry, the more serious the accident. So it was last Saturday afternoon, and we rushed through from the kitchen to the bottom of the stairs to see what scrape G had managed to get herself into. Scrape being the operative word, as she was lying at the bottom of the stairs with a big red mark where the skin of her nose used to be.

She'd actually only fallen onto the stairs rather than crashing from the top all the way down, so at least we didn't have to take her to A&E. In fact, she'd more or less forgotten about it within five minutes. But she's been walking around all week with a big scab directly between her eyes and it still hasn't entirely healed, because the cut at the top is actually quite deep.

This has left me wondering whether she'll always have a little mark there. Will she be late for an important date/job interview/her own wedding because she's still splodging make-up all over it, cursing the day she tripped over in the hallway? If so, at least now she'll know exactly when that day was.

On The Merry-go-rounds

Mrs J took a day off work so the three of us could go to a family fun day at Red House Farm, just down the road near Altrincham. There were various attractions including live performances from assorted CBeebies favourites, but G was only really interested in going on the rides. We had the bus first, then inevitably the train:
Then it was the bus again. G went for several goes on the top deck, a seating preference she'll undoubtedly keep throughout her teenage years:
There was one of those chair swing rides too. When I first tried to put G in one of them about a year ago, she sat down happily enough then burst into tears just before it started going. No such problems this time though:
It was a good day out, but pretty cold in the relentless wind, especially as G kept insisting on playing outdoors. So by mid-afternoon we were quite keen to get into the warm. But to get G to leave we had to promise that I'd do some baking with her once we got home. Here she is, all set to measure out the flour:

Easter Egg Hunting

It was a busy Sunday of Easter egg fun for G. We started off in our back garden, where G got down to the serious work of finding little chocolate eggs that Mrs J had hidden about the place.
Not that G was in the mood for sharing them out afterwards:
We then went for an afternoon at Dunham Massey Hall near Altrincham. It's a big National Trust pile, and there was a trail laid out in the gardens for little ones to follow. Not that G was initially too sure:
But she soon perked up, and particularly enjoyed sitting in this tree:
On the way around, we encountered some chickens:
And eventually G was rewarded for completing the trail with a(nother) chocolate egg. Which she is going to enjoy rather more than this photo, when we dig it out at some future social occasion: