Lacking a basis for comparison, children accept their particular upbringing as normal and representative.
Kit was telling me about how his daughter considers it absolutely normal to live in a house full of
insectivorous plants1, and it got
me thinking about our kids, and then about myself:
I remember once overhearing our eldest, then at nursery, talking to her friend. Our kid had mentioned doing something with her “mummy, daddy, and Uncle Dan” and was incredulous that her friend didn’t have an Uncle Dan that they lived with! Isn’t having three parents…
just what a family looks like?
By the time she was at primary school, she’d learned that her family wasn’t the same shape as most other families, and she could code-switch with incredible ease. While picking her up
from school, I overheard her talking to a friend about a fair that was coming to town. She told the friend that she’d “ask her dad if she could go”, then turned to me and said
“Uncle Dan: can we go to the fair?”; when I replied in the affirmitive, she turned back and said “my dad says it’s okay”. By the age of 5 she was perfectly capable of
translating on-the-fly2 in order to
simultaneously carry out intelligble conversations with her family and with her friends. Magical.
When I started driving, and in particular my first few times on multi-lane
carriageways, something felt “off” and it took me a little while to work out what it was. It turns out that I’d internalised a particular part of the motorway journey experience from
years of riding in cars driven by my father, who was an unrepentant3
and perpetual breaker of speed limits.4
I’d come to associate motorway driving with overtaking others, but almost never being overtaken, but that wasn’t what I saw when I drove for myself.5
It took a little thinking before I realised the cause of this false picture of “what driving looks like”.
The thing is: you only ever notice the “this is normal” definitions that you’ve internalised… when they’re challenged!
It follows that there are things you learned from the quirks of your upbringing that you still think of as normal. There might even be things you’ll never un-learn. And you’ll
never know how many false-normals you still carry around with you, or whether you’ve ever found them all, exept to say that you probably haven’t yet.
It’s amazing and weird to think that there might be objective truths you’re perpetually unable to see as a restult of how, or where, or by whom you were brought up, or by what your
school or community was like, or by the things you’ve witnessed or experienced over your life. I guess that all we can all do is keep questioning everything, and work to help
the next generation see what’s unusual and uncommon in their own lives.
1 It’s a whole thing. If you know Kit, you’re probably completely unsurprised, but spare a
thought for the poor randoms who sometimes turn up and read my blog.
2 Fully billingual children who typically speak a different language at home than they do
at school do this too, and it’s even-more amazing to watch.
3 I can’t recall whether his license was confiscated on two or three separate ocassions,
in the end, but it was definitely more than one. Having a six month period where you and your siblings have to help collect the weekly shop from the supermarket by loading up your
bikes with shopping bags is a totally normal part of everybody’s upbringing, isn’t it?
4 Virtually all of my experience as a car passenger other than with my dad was in Wales,
where narrow windy roads mean that once you get stuck behind something, that’s how you’re going to be spending your day.
5 Unlike my father, I virtually never break the speed limit, to such an extent that when I
got a speeding ticket the other year (I’d gone from a 70 into a 50 zone and re-set the speed limiter accordingly, but didn’t bother to apply the brakes and just coasted down to the
new speed… when the police snapped their photo!), Ruth and JTA both independently reacted to the news with great skepticism.
I am not a “dog person”. I’m probably more of a “cat person”.
My mum has made pets of one or both of dogs or cats for most of her life. She puts the difference between the two in a way that really resonates for me. To paraphrase her:
When you’re feeling down and you’ve had a shitty day and you just need to wallow in your despair for a little bit… a pet dog will try to cheer you up. It’ll jump up at you, bring
you toys, suggest that you go for a walk, try to pull your focus away from your misery and bring a smile to your face. A cat, though, will just come and sit and be melancholy with you.
Its demeanour just wordlessly says: “You’re feeling crap? Me too: I only slept 16 hours today. Let’s feel crap together.”
So it surprised many when, earlier this year, our family was expanded with the addition of a puppy called Demmy. I guess we collectively figured that now we’d solved all the hard
problems and the complexities of our work, volunteering, parenting, relationships, money etc. and our lives were completely simple, plain sailing, and stress-free, all of the time… that
we now had the capacity to handle adding another tiny creature into our midst. Do you see the mistake in that logic? Maybe we should have, too.
It turns out that getting a puppy is a lot like having a toddler all over again. Your life adjusts around when they need
to sleep, eat, and poop. You need to put time, effort, and thought into how to make and keep your house safe both for and from them. And, of course, they bring with
them a black hole that eats disposable income.
They need to be supervised and entertained and educated (the latter of which may require some education yourself). They need to be socialised so they can interact nicely with others,
learn the boundaries of their little world, and behave appropriately (even when they’re noton camera).
Even as they grow, their impact is significant. You need to think more-deeply about how, when and where you travel, work out who’s responsible for ensuring they’re walked (or carried!) and fed (not eaten!) and watched. You’ve got to keep them safe and healthy and stimulated.
Thankfully they’re not as tiring to play with as children, but as with kids, the level of effort required is hard to anticipate until you
But do you know what else they have in common with kids? You can’t help learning to love them.
It doesn’t matter what stupid thing they’re illicitly putting in their mouth, how many times you have to clean up after them, how frustrating it is that they can’t understand what you
need from them in order to help them, or how much they whine about something that really isn’t that big a deal (again: #PuppyOrToddler?). It doesn’t even matter how much you’re “not a
dog person”, whatever that means. They become part of your family, and you fall in love with them.
I’m not a “dog person”. But: while I ocassionally resent the trouble she causes, I still love our dog.
Today, a friend reported that they had eaten “Sunday dinner on a Wednesday”, and I found myself reminded of a running gag in this old, old vlog… and threw together a quick compilation
reel of some of its instances.
We’ve missed out on or delayed a number of trips and holidays over the last year and a half for, you know, pandemic-related reasons. So this summer, in addition to our trip to Lichfield, we arranged a series of back-to-back expeditions.
1. Alton Towers
The first leg of our holiday saw us spend a long weekend at Alton Towers, staying over at one of their themed hotels in between days at the water park and theme park:
2. Darwin Forest
The second leg of our holiday took us to a log cabin in the Darwin Forest Country Park for a week:
Kicking off the second week of our holiday, we crossed the Pennines to Preston to hang out with my family (with the exception of JTA,
who had work to do back in Oxfordshire that he needed to return to):
4. Forest of Bowland
Ruth and I then left the kids with my mother and sisters for a few days to take an “anniversary mini-break” of glamping in the gorgeous Forest of Bowland:
The children, back in Preston, were apparently having a whale of a time:
6. Suddenly, A Ping
The plan from this point was simple: Ruth and I would return to Preston for a few days, hang out with my family some more, and eventually make a leisurely return to Oxfordshire. But it
wasn’t to be…
I got a “ping”. What that means is that my phone was in close proximity to somebody else’s phone on 29 August and that other person subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.
My risk from this contact is exceptionally low. There’s only one place that my phone was in close proximity to the phone of anybody else outside of my immediate family, that
day, and it’s when I left it in a locker at the swimming pool near our cabin in the Darwin Forest. Also, of course, I’d been double-jabbed for a month and a half and I’m more-cautious
than most about contact, distance, mask usage etc. But my family are, for their own (good) reasons, more-cautious still, so self-isolating at Preston didn’t look like a possibility for
As soon as I got the notification we redirected to the nearest testing facility and both got swabs done. 8 days after possible exposure we ought to have a detectable viral
load, if we’ve been infected. But, of course, the tests take a day or so to process, so we still needed to do a socially-distanced pickup of the kids and all their stuff from Preston
and turn tail for Oxfordshire immediately, cutting our trip short.
The results would turn up negative, and subsequent tests would confirm that the “ping” was a false positive. And in an ironic twist, heading straight home actually put us
closer to an actual COVID case as Ruth’s brother Owen turned out to have contracted the bug at almost exactly the same time and had, while we’d been travelling down
the motorway, been working on isolating himself in an annex of the “North wing” of our house for the duration of his quarantine.
7. Ruth & JTA go to Berwick
Thanks to negative tests and quick action in quarantining Owen, Ruth and JTA were still able to undertake the next part of this three-week holiday period and take
their anniversary break (which technically should be later in the year, but who knows what the situation will be by then?) to Berwick-upon-Tweed. That’s their story to tell, if
they want to, but the kids and I had fun in their absence:
8. Reunited again
Finally, Ruth and JTA returned from their mini-break and we got to do a few things together as a family again before our extended holiday drew to a close:
9. Back to work?
Tomorrow I’m back at work, and after 23 days “off” I’m honestly not sure I remember what I do for a living any more. Something to do with the Internet, right? Maybe ecommerce?
I’m sure it’ll all come right back to me, at least by the time I’ve read through all the messages and notifications that doubtless await me (I’ve been especially good at the discipline,
this break, of not looking at work notifications while I’ve been on holiday; I’m pretty proud of myself.)
But looking back, it’s been a hell of a three weeks. After a year and a half of being pretty-well confined to one place, doing a “grand tour” of so many destinations as a family and
getting to do so many new and exciting things has made the break feel even longer than it was. It seems like it must have been months since I last had a Zoom meeting with a
For now, though, it’s time to try to get the old brain back into work mode and get back to making the Web a better place!
An extended search by me, fleeblewidget, our kids, my mother, my sisters, their friends, and their kids eventually found this well-concealed container. Thanks for the history
lesson, greetings from Oxfordshire, and TFTC!
We took a family trip up to Lichfield this weekend. I don’t know if I can give a “review” of a city-break as a whole, but if I can: I give you five stars, Lichfield.
Maybe it’s just because we’ve none of us had a night away from The Green… pretty-much since we moved
in, last year. But there was something magical about doing things reminiscent of the “old normal”.
It’s not that like wasn’t plenty of mask-wearing and social distancing and hand sanitiser and everything that we’ve gotten used to now: there certainly was. The magic, though, came from
getting to do an expedition further away from home than we’re used to. And, perhaps, with that happening to coincide with glorious weather and fun times.
We spent an unimaginably hot summer’s day watching an outdoor interpretation of Peter and the Wolf, which
each of the little ones has learned about in reasonable depth, at some point or another, as part of the (fantastic) “Monkey Music” classes
of which they’re now both graduates.
And maybe it’s that they’ve been out-of-action for so long and are only just beginning to once again ramp up… or maybe I’ve just forgotten what the hospitality industry is like?… but
man, we felt well-looked after.
From the staff at the hotel who despite the clear challenges of running
their establishment under the necessary restrictions still went the extra mile to make the kids feel special to the restaurant we went to
that pulled out all the stops to give us all a great evening, I basically came out of the thing with the impression of Lichfield as a really nice place.
I’m not saying that it was perfect. A combination of the intolerable heat (or else the desiccating effect of the air conditioner) and a mattress that sagged with two adults on it meant
that I didn’t sleep much on Saturday night (although that did mean I could get up at 5am forageocachingexpeditionaroundthecity before it got too hot later on). And an
hour and a half of driving to get to a place where you’re going to see a one-hour show feels long, especially in this age where I don’t really travel anywhere, ever.
But that’s not the point.
The point is that Lichfield made me happy, this weekend. And I don’t know how much of that is that it’s just a nice place and how much is that I’ve missed going anywhere or doing
anything, but either way, it lead to a delightful weekend.
Sara’s back! You might remember a couple of years ago she’d shared with us a comic on her first year in a polyamory! We’re happy to have her back with a slice of life and a frank n’ real
conversation about having kids in her Poly Triad relationship.
This sort of wholesome loving chat is just the thing we need for the start of 2021.
Start your year with a delightful comic about the author negotiating possible future children in a queer polyamorous triad, published via Oh Joy Sex Toy. Sara previously published a great polyamory-themed comic via OJST too, which is also worth a look.
First find of 2020. Came out for a New Year’s Day walk with extended family whom we’re visiting and decided to visit the ruin. Checked for nearby caches and spotted this one. Took some
finding as it had gathered some natural camouflage and I eventually found the cache when I kicked it out of its hiding place while hunting somewhere else! TNLN, SL, TFTC.
Our eldest, 4, started school this year and this week saw her first parents’ evening. This provided an opportunity for we, her parents, to “come out” to her teacher about our slightly-unconventional relationship structure. And everything was fine, which is nice.
I’m sure the first few months of every child’s school life are a time that’s interesting and full of change, but it’s been particularly fascinating to see the ways in which our young
academic’s language has adapted to fit in with and be understood by her peers.
I first became aware of these changes, I think, when I overheard her describing me to one of her school friends as her “dad”: previously she’d always referred to me as her “Uncle Dan”.
I asked her about it afterwards and she explained that I was like a dad, and that her friend didn’t have an “Uncle Dan” so she used words that her friend would know. I’m not
sure whether I was prouder about the fact that she’d independently come to think of me as being like a bonus father figure, or the fact that she demonstrated such astute audience
I don’t object to being assigned this (on-again, off-again, since then) nickname. My moniker of Uncle Dan came about as a combination of an effort to limit ambiguity
(“wait… which dad?”) and an attempt not to tread on the toes of actual-father JTA: the kids themselves are welcome to call me pretty-much whatever they’re comfortable with. Indeed, they’d be carrying on a family tradition if they
chose-for-themselves what to call me: Ruth and her brothers Robin and Owen address their father not by a
paternal noun but by his first name, Tom, and this kids have followed suit by adopting “Grand-Tom” as their identifier for him.
Knowing that we were unusual, though, we’d taken the time to do some groundwork before our eldest started school. For example we shared a book about and spent a while talking about how
families differ from one another: we figure that an understanding that families come in all kinds of shapes and sizes is a useful concept in general from a perspective of
diversity and and acceptance. In fact, you can hear how this teaching pays-off in the language she uses to describe other aspects of the differences she sees in her friends and
their families, too.
Still, it was a little bit of a surprise to find myself referred to as a “dad” after four years of “Uncle Dan”.
Nonetheless: in light of the fact that she’d clearly been talking about her family at school and might have caused her teacher some confusion, when all three of us “parents” turned up
to parents’ evening we opted to introduce ourselves and our relationship. Which was all fine (as you’d hope: as I mentioned the other day, our unusual relationship structure is pretty boring, really), and the only
awkwardness was in having to find an additional chair than the teacher had been expecting to use with which to sit at the table.
There’s sometimes a shortage of happy “we did a thing, and it went basically the same as it would for a family with monogamous parents” poly-family stories online, so I thought this one
was worth sharing.
And better yet: apparently she’s doing admirably at school. So we all celebrated with an after-school trip to one of our favourite local soft play centres.