Time Stand Still

“Suddenly, you were gone, from all the lives you left your mark upon…”

It’s a funny old thing, time. I mean, one minute it is early January and I’d just started this particular blog post, and I do mean so early in the month that I hadn’t even broken a resolution yet, and the next thing you know it’ s the middle of November and I still hadn’t finished it. In the intervening months, many things have happened, some good, some not so good and some terrible.

I’ll start with the good – in January I got a new job. My previous job, when I was in the office, was a one and a half hour each way commute at the minimum. If there was any event on the M6, this could double and there were some days where I left home before the boys got up and arrived home long after they had gone to sleep. When I wasn’t in the office and was out seeing customers, often the travel times were longer and it meant nights away from home and my boys. My new job, working for an Irish company, meant some travel to Ireland, a country that I love and the home of Guinness, which just happens to be my favourite tipple, but it also meant that most of the time I would be around to see the boys far more. The concentration on the new job kind of took my time away of writing the rubbish that I do.

Next, the terrible – the boys lost a Grandpa: Mrs Aitchworld’s father. Deep down we know it won’t be the case, but we somehow expect our parents to be there forever; the realisation this isn’t true hits like a ten tonne heavy thing when it does happen. At the age of just 73, this shouldn’t really have happened to Henry and Arthur’s Grandpa. Cancer is a bastard.

The boys don’t fully understand of course. They saw Grandpa nearly every day near to the end of his life. In the final stages of the bastard taking it’s toll on him, confined to his bed and incredibly fatigued, the boys would say “Grandpa sleeping”. After he had died, they went looking for him in his room. We didn’t know what to tell them, so we told Henry and Arthur that he had gone up to the sky to be a star. Every now and again, seemingly at random, Henry will say “Grandpa’s gone to be a star”.

I’ve outlined previously how I used to be pretty much emotionally barren. This did change somewhat after the boys were born, but I thought I was reverting back to type, with very few things upsetting me, other than odd things, the strangest being a piece of music in Nora and Nelly that to this day I cannot listen to without welling up. The impact of my father in law’s death, I thought, seemed to be minimal upon me and I accepted it completely as a matter of fact. The reality was more that it was a delayed shock. Even acting as one of the pall bearers at his funeral I felt the same way. Then I saw the order of service, with David, my father in law’s picture on it, and the tears started to flow.

They haven’t really stopped either and I find myself weeping at all manner of things. Strangely Henry is usually the catalyst – he is the sweetest, most caring little two and a half year old I have ever encountered, so much so it sometimes overwhelms me.

Take today for an example. The boys were taking a break watching my Wall-E DVD in their playroom. Mrs Aitchworld produced a fine picnic lunch for me and the boys and we were eating it in front of the telly, having a thoroughly agreeable Sunday.

On the screen, the scene played where Wall E and Eva appeared to kiss. I felt a sentimental lump in my throat. At this exact moment, Henry tipped his Smarties out into the middle of my squid rings. Immediately he fished out two brown ones and rather than ramming his sweets into his mouth, he handed them to me. “Here you go Daddy: they’re brown like your car”.

Tears rolled. Henry noticed. “Daddy sad!” He gave me a hug. I sobbed. And I’ve felt like I’m on an emotional knife edge for the rest of the day. I could go either way at any given moment. If Henry had have said “Grandpa’s a star as he gazed at the luminous plastic tat that is stuck to their ceiling when they went to bed tonight, I would have required re-hydration salts. As it is, I sat in the nursing chair still in their room to keep them company as they drifted off to sleep. They like that. I also had a little weep in the dark.

Sad news, but on a much lesser scale, I sold my beloved classic car, a 1993 Ford Sierra Sapphire Cosworth. Apparently. Jimmy Nail fans and Spender anoraks will understand completely when I say “it’s a beast”. I bought it, two weeks before their birth, with the romantic notion that I would take the boys to lots of car shows and bond with them over an old Volvo or something. The reality was that I did just a few hundred miles in a couple of years in it and every time I had to get it MOT’d the brakes were seized through lack of use. It was time for it to go.

To replace it, I bought a camper van. Sort of. What I actually bought was an abandoned project. It is a 2006 VW Transporter. I bought it insulated, with a nice lino floor fitted, a pop top roof and a couple of windows. But behind the row of front seats, it was empty. Windows have been put in the back doors, rear seats have been put in and the framework for the kitchenette and dining/second sleeping area is starting to go in. Many hundreds of pounds have been spent on all of the equipment needed to do this. Time, again, is the limiting factor.

My new job working from home with the fancy car (well, another brown Volvo)? Well that lasted less than six months and I became a casualty of economics. I didn’t care about the job – I actually hated it and knew I’d made a big mistake a few weeks in; it was poles apart from what was promised to me, but the loss of the Volvo was a bit of a kick in the teeth. I got a new job within a few days, based just a few miles from home, although it doesn’t come with a company car. I vacillated between buying a large Volvo and a large Land Rover, before going out and purchasing a Mini. Henry is over the moon. He loves Minis.

All of which random rambling brings me to my point. Or at least my starting point. The boys had their second birthday in March. This is an age other parents refer to as “the terrible twos”. Well, I may be tempting fate here, but I’m calling bullshit on that. I’m thoroughly enjoying this age. Throughout their life, I’ve not been wishing it away as such, but I’ve certainly been searching for the next milestone.

Soon after the boys were born, we were hoping for their first smile, their first clutch of a finger, then longer periods between feeds and so on. This soon turned into waiting for them to roll, then crawl, then walk, along the way saying their first few words. Each step along the way the boys have been leapfrogging each other with their developments, Henry doing something first before Arthur, then Arthur being the first of them to do something else.

While all of this was going on, and before they could really speak properly, I worried (as much as I ever worry; it isn’t something I waste a lot of energy or time on as it achieves nothing) about how I was going to teach them various concepts. Stuff like day and night – how would you explain it to someone with no concept of such a notion? But you know what? They just get it.

I don’t know how they have picked up what they have, but they have gone from knowing nothing, to being a lot brighter and intelligent than some adults I have encountered. The pair of them are like super-sponges, absorbing information like some sort of a giant vortex. It’s both fascinating and beautiful to watch.

For the first time since the boys were born, I am not wishing for the next developmental leap. I’m not wanting the next stage, whatever that is, to happen anytime soon. Just for a while, I’d like to freeze this moment a little bit longer. Time stand still.








Running On Empty

I started writing this weeks ago, with every intention of finishing it promptly and publishing it forthwith. For many reasons, that didn’t happen, mainly to do with lack of time and sleep. But this week I have suddenly found myself unbusy after handing in my notice at work. After being relieved of my mobile phone and laptop, and saying goodbye to my colleagues, I was invited to leave the premises and my notice period was to be seen out on gardening leave, so I have some time on my hands. Or so I thought. It’s amazing how quickly a list of things to do appears when someone thinks you have lots of time.

Ironically, the garden needs to be finished after the landscaper we had employed to lay a load of railway sleepers stopped showing up after the second day of working with them and failed to finish the job. His work rate was pretty impressive in those two days and he got all but two of the sleepers in place. On day three though, nothing. He’s not even been in touch to tell us how we might pay him for the work he has done. Unfortunately, January and February aren’t really the months to be gardening, so I’m not sure I will get round to doing any actual gardening on my gardening leave. Annoyingly, I initially thought I had a three months’ notice period and might get round to doing something outside in March, but I was quickly disabused of that notion and discovered it is only a month.

So, the boys then… Well, all of a sudden the developmental leaps are coming through thick and fast and the journey of parenthood has suddenly picked up apace. It was brought home to me just how far we have come when, a couple of months ago, I was working away from home and decided to back up the very many photographs I possess on various devices. In doing this, I took a long and meandering trip down memory lane. I had my iPad (other tablets are available) to flick through old photographs and posts on the Aitchworld Facebook page, reminiscing, smiling a lot, and at times laughing out loud. At one point, to coin a modern parlance, I even did a little roffle.

It reminded me of a recent Facebook trend of people posting a picture a day, for seven days, of their children in order to demonstrate what makes them proud to be a parent. While I was on the ruminating trail I momentarily left Facebook and had a flick through the photo album on my phone. I reckon I could probably post a picture every hour and after seven days I would probably only have scratched the surface of the phone’s content. It is fair to say I take a lot of pictures of the boys and they took a while to all back up.

Henry started walking when we were away in France last October. Arthur followed suit by the end of the month, then Henry started running in early November. Completely out of the blue, at the local fireworks display in the park, in the biggest crowds our town ever sees, in the dark, Henry decided this would be the best moment to become Usain Bolt. We managed to catch him, but he has been determined to run at any given moment ever since. It’s like parenting Forrest Gump.

The other day he decided to run off in Aldi when we were doing the weekly shop; straight down the frozen food section and into the store room. I’m not out of shape, but cycling is more my thing than running and I had a hard time keeping up with him. Arthur decided this distraction meant it was a good time for him to adjust his gait to a faster pace and while I was trying to retrieve Henry from the Aldi store room, he was going in the other direction to the specials section in the middle of the store. Mrs Aitchworld started to run after him but then realised that her handbag with purse and mobile were still in the trolley so she was torn between boys and valuables. Coincidentally the specials that week were cycling accessories, so when I did finally catch up with Arthur at least I had something to look at that interested me.

Before we had the twins (but knew we were having them) and I think I have documented this, I was counselled that I should only listen to parents of other twins for baby advice. Take on board by all means the words of parents who have had one baby at a time, but they will not have a single clue what it is like to deal with twins. This was good, and indeed correct, advice. More than this though, parents of single babies, and only children, won’t see the magical interactions that you will only get with multiple birth siblings.

We first noticed it at nine months old, when the boys would have secret conversations between themselves. It was one such conversation, that neither I nor Mrs Aitchworld could understand, which led to so much cooperative splashing between them that it left the bathroom flooded.

Arthur’s speech is a little more advanced than Henry’s and both are trying to use words, but we still don’t understand most of what is being said and conversations are very much between the two of them. However, with each passing day, we understand more and words are becoming clearer.

Arthur clearly says Daddy, whereas Henry says Dadd’n. I love this little quirk of Henry’s. In fact when he learns to say Daddy properly, I will really miss it. He does point at my car and say “Daddy’s car” though, so he can say it when he wants. He can also say Volvo, which irks Mrs Aitchworld somewhat, because he learned to say this before he said Mummy.

If I had published this when I had intended, a month or so ago, I could have listed all the words the boys could say. They keep leapfrogging each other – one minute Henry will have the larger vocabulary, then a couple of days later Arthur will suddenly expand his. As parents, it’s impossible not to compare the progress of your own progeny with that of others, despite knowing it is futile and that every child develops at a different rate. To then compare your children with others, then with each other is enough to send you in a spin. But they do all catch up and despite slight differences, the boys are on a fairly level playing field with each other.

At dinner the other evening Arthur pointed to something on his plate and said “carrot”. And it was indeed a piece of carrot. So Henry pointed a potato and said “tayto”. Then they both had a conversation with each other that consisted solely of the word “tayto”. This is the first time we had heard either of these words and we hadn’t been prepping them to say it or even focusing on those particular vegetables – they just picked them up. We realised at this point that we had better curb the swearing!

I was impressed when Henry gesticulated towards one of the cats yesterday and said “Dave”. Well, he said “Daiyve”, but it was close enough. And it was actually Dave that he pointed at, but we have noticed that both he and Arthur now refer to Charlie as Dave as well.

They can each say the other’s name, but again Arthur is a little more precise – he says Hen-nee. At the moment, Arthur is the more content at playing with one toy for quite long periods of time, whereas Henry is always busy and will move from one toy to the next with alarming alacrity. And he is always so excited about each new thing that he moves onto, that he wants to involve his brother and is always calling out to him. He calls his brother Rar-rar.

Sometimes they eschew the toy option altogether, if they are both with each other and have a common object to play with instead. Tonight the funniest thing in the world was the living room door, as they took turns to try and shut each other’s fingers in it. Luckily we have foam doorstops that clip on the top of the door to stop it shutting to in order to avoid such an eventuality.

It dawned on me that parents of single toddlers won’t ever get to experience this; the laughter, the shouts of Hen-nee and cries of Rar-rar, the hugs and cuddles in between shoving heads in the doorway were such a beautiful sight and sound to me that it damn near brought a tear to my eye…

Who am I kidding? Even Mrs Aitchworld noticed I had welled up. The truth of the matter was that I had to leave the room so that the tears could freely roll down my face unrestrained. It took quite a while to compose myself.

To do this I thought, as the kids were entertaining each other and needed little or no input from me, I would use the opportunity to sit on the toilet in peace and dry my eyes. I may as well multitask the toilet roll. Going to the toilet without interruption seems to be a life goal of many parents, judging by the comments on parenting blogs and memes alike. I thought I would be so ahead of all these backed up parents. And it was all going so well until Dave popped out from behind the towel shelf, hopped onto the cupboard next to the toilet and onto my shoulder, while Charlie tried to get through the locked door by pulling up the carpet the other side of it. If it isn’t one set of twins, it’s the other.

All We Hear Is Radio Ga Ga

It’s been a while since I wrote any words. Well, at least outside of a work environment. Given the nature of my job, visiting and having meetings with customers, I have to generate visit reports to relay the general content of the meeting to the staff back at base, but there isn’t much scope to vent about baby poo and vomit in those. I still do, on occasion, but generally it is frowned upon by management. Today I managed to spend half of a business meeting discussing the merits, or lack of, In The Night Garden. That’s going in a report – if I have to suffer it, I’m taking others down with me.

The truth is, there has been so much going on, both with the boys and outside of their world, there hasn’t been the time to sit down and bash out a load of meaningless drivel on a laptop. But the visit reports have to get done and by the time they have, there isn’t much time to sit and blog. This is a catch 24 situation though, because there has been so much in the way of development, that there is so much to write about. This could be a long one!

The big news is that we now have two way communication with the boys. Almost. They keep overtaking each other with their development. Henry has a wide range of vocabulary and started first to really communicate with us. “Gah” means “light” as in a light bulb. The switching on of any light in the house is accompanied by this sound. It is also repeated often and loudly on a car journey, which means Henry wants the courtesy light to be switched on. “Gah”, incidentally, also means car. And milk. And star. And quite a few other things, but once you judge the context in which the “gah” is being applied, you can usually work out what he means. “Gah gah” is not a tribute to the Queen song that has now become the title to this blog post, but actually means “all gone” in Henry-speak. “Nee-naw” means fire engine, unless said with a little bit of melody, in which case it is the Clean Up Song from Boogie Babies. It is also used to denote a car, when “gah” seems too much trouble to use.

Arthur waited a little while longer before making his verbal alacrity known, and his first words were “Peppa Pig”. We can even play a game with him – if he says Peppa Pig and we subsequently do the “Doop dooby doop doop, dooby dooby doop doop” of the theme song, he will fill in the gap with perfect timing. If we sing the “Peppa Pig” part, Arthur will attempt the “Doop dooby doop doop” section. This he is less successful at.

Now there is no stopping them. I am writing this from Carnac in France, where we finally made it to for our second holiday with the boys. Since we have been away Henry has continued to use “Gah” for all the things he already did but, to his credit, has added “tractor” “digger” and “more” to his range, and that’s just today. Arthur too continues to expand his vocabulary. They are in repeat mode at the moment, mimicking words that Mrs Aitchworld and I say to him or that he overhears. We will have to tone down our language, otherwise it is only a matter of time before one of them drops an F bomb in front of grandparents. Seeing as we are away with one set of grandparents, this might come sooner than we fear!

Being away this late in the year is both a blessing and a curse. The downside is that things like buckets and spades are in remarkably short supply in the shops in the UK. Shorts and flip-flops too were something that I had a very hard time in locating. The bonus is, when I do find these items, they were all reduced to shift them quickly so that the shops could clear space for their winter lines.

But then that is pretty much how I do all of my shopping – it nearly all comes off the Tesco reduced rack. Virtually the entirety of my current wardrobe has been bought right at the end of a season at maximum reductions. That money saving dude from the telly would be proud of me.

I like to think it’s living on the edge, getting things right at the last minute. It’s quite a leap of faith seeing clothing you like the look of but refuse to buy until it is reduced in price. The reality is that as I travel all over the country with work, if one branch of Tesco doesn’t have something in my size, I can almost guarantee another one somewhere else will. I haven’t been brave enough yet to buy a suit jacket that fits in one branch, but the matching trousers in another; I’m adventurous, not reckless.

Last time we went on holiday, a little more than a year ago, we didn’t dare brave going abroad. It is little more a vague and distant memory now, but I do recall that we were so new to parenting still that we didn’t know what to take so we just took everything. We crammed everything, the entire contents of our house, possessions worldly or otherwise, into every orifice of the car and filled the largest roof box Halfords have ever sold. And we used hardly any of it. The preparation for the holiday was one of the most traumatic events of my life, so this time it had to be different.

We started well. Over the course of a weekend and a total of five hours on the telephone, Mrs Aitchworld managed to book the ferry a few months in advance. Using Avios points to get a miniscule discount isn’t that easy, apparently. Quite how she made this booking is anyone’s guess – at the time I hadn’t even ordered my new company car. We had to assume that the request I had submitted would be passed. This done, we were then asked for dimensions of the car, which involved trying to find out from the internet how tall a car I didn’t have possession of was, then what height the roof bars that would fit the car but I also didn’t own would be, before adding on the height of an inaccessible roof box, stored on its end in the far reaches of a totally full garage.

We could, of course, have made it a little easier by taking Mrs Aitchworld’s car, as we had to the Lake District last year, but at the time of booking we had realised there was no way it was going to pass another MOT without spending roughly twice what the car was worth, so wouldn’t be keeping that. A couple of weeks ago we traded it in, with minutes left on the MOT, for something quite a bit smaller, so taking that would have been a last resort.

My choice of company car was finally approved. As I am in my early 40s and a dad, I needed a dad-wagon, so I chose a big Volvo, in brown, with an automatic gearbox. Nothing says middle aged better. I remember, in 1979, going with my dad to choose a nearly-new car from a local garage. I desperately wanted him to buy a Volvo estate that was for sale, purely because there were a couple of Lego bricks visible in the boot. He eschewed this option on the grounds that it was twice as much as he could afford, but as an 8 year old I didn’t understand the concept – all I knew was that he was letting good Lego slip through his fingers.

Two weeks before we left, my car hadn’t even been made. I needed to get permission from the lease company to take the car abroad, but for this they needed a chassis number and registration number. Such things can’t be assigned to rolls of sheet steel and plastic granules that are yet to be injection-moulded. There had already been one delay to the delivery date, with no guarantee there wouldn’t be any more. Panic set in. On more than one occasion I had a dream about a non-existent Volvo.

Finally, the day before we were due to leave, I was able to collect the car. I did say I like living on the edge by doing things last minute. It didn’t have any Lego pieces in it though. It was booked onto the ferry and we were then able to pack. Despite knowing (and planning in relatively precise detail) what we were going to take, and the new car being bigger than anything else we have ever owned, we still managed to fill it completely. I’ve no idea how, because we certainly haven’t brought with us anything un-necessary like we did last year.

The thought of flying to a holiday destination with the boys abhors me. Spending a couple of hours looking at planes at the airport before the flight, then a couple of hours on the plane itself, then maybe an hour at the other end getting to where we are going, seems to be a tall order. Far better, we concluded, would be to spend all day in a car, all night on a ferry, then another three hours in a car on the other side of the Channel in order to get to where we are going. On second thoughts…

Despite sounding crazy this worked. Well something has worked; maybe it’s because we have been with the boys 24/7 for a few days instead of packing them off to nursery while we go off to work, but we have noticed a lot of development from them, as I mentioned earlier, while on this holiday. Maybe it was the relaxing journey down here that has refreshed them, mentally and physically. Both Arthur and Henry will stand, completely unaided, upright like Meerkats for ages and, frighteningly, Henry has taken his first few steps.

I say frighteningly because once Arthur cottons on to this he will want to do it and once that happens, they will be off. I just know it will be in different directions too. Which one to run after will be whichever is in most danger or which one I like most at that very moment in time. The one thing we forgot to pack this year was reins. We didn’t need them last year, but they were probably in the roof box anyway, somewhere near the second steriliser we took; the one that goes in the microwave in case we stopped anywhere where they didn’t have electricity for the main one.

Has this holiday been a success, compared to last year? Well, we’re only a few days into it, so I will have to report back in a week or so, after it is all over and we’ve got back home again…