story of a father

Story of a father

Ken Phelans gives an amusing account of the busy summer months and his four-year-old’s pending nuptials.

So, summer is creeping steadily towards us and a whole two months of mayhem span endlessly before me, as in some ominous, tortured dream. Never mind my already fragile sanity, how will I keep my five-year-old occupied for June and July without ageing myself by ten years? What are we supposed to do with the little critters?! I mean, do teachers not provide a set of instructions? Okay, so I’ve lasted summers before, but they were better days, surely, when I was a fitter, stronger man?

Don’t get me wrong, long days on the beach, picnics in the park, even feeding the ducks are all good fun – it’s the in-between indecisive insufferable times that hurt. The times when it’s raining when you’re going to the beach, raining when you’re going to the park, or when the ducks won’t come out because of the rain. It’s the whole thing of being-at-a-loss-for-something-to-do that gets me. I suppose there’s the playground, the local play centre, the cinema, the relatives who’d possibly rather you weren’t there, maybe even the beach if weather permits – so I ought not complain too much.

It seems, upon reflection though, that despite two months’ ‘holidays’, it would be perfectly excusable to go a bit mad being a parent. Your entire thought process involves school runs, lunches, uniforms, washing, ironing, dinners, lunches. Adult conversation, when one is fortunate enough for such a thing to occur, involves muttering jibberish to oneself under one’s breath. Hardly stimulating, or sane. I suppose at least during summer holidays one doesn’t have to worry about homework (yay!)

story of a father

There is much wisdom to be garnered from Mr. Men books – speaking as I do from a position of authority (fifty books read– twice!) Each story carries its own little moral, for example that Mr. Nobody is a somebody (as everyone is), Mr. Uppity has no friends because he’s nasty to everyone and Mr. Birthday is so selfless he forgot his own birthday. Simple tales, secretly passed down through ancient Chinese proverbs from some long-forgotten sage.

There’s something quite humbling in seeing a young child enthralled by the simplest of stories, the most innocent of fables. I’ve discovered to my disdain, however, that I more than resemble a number of Mr. Men characters. I’m often as greedy as Mr. Greedy, as accident-prone as Mr. Bump and as worrisome as Mr. Worry. That worries me. Towards the end of the Mr. Men Collection, I asked Caleb to read himself: “One… day… Mr. Bump… went… to…” and so on. The first ventures into the world of reading. It may not be War and Peace, but nevertheless is in its own way something quite magical.

On starting Junior Infants, Caleb informed me that he was getting married. I have to say, I was a little taken aback; not that she didn’t seem like a fine young lady, more to do with the fact that he didn’t have a steady job, still lived with his daddy and was, in fact, four years old. This was, in my mind at least, a full two years shy of being capable of making such a commitment. He later confided in me that he had been afraid to start school in September, in case “all the girls wanted to marry me”. No lack of self-confidence there anyway.

It’s funny, the way children assume roles so early in life, talking of ‘girlfriend’ and ‘boyfriend’ and even marriage – at four! All harmless fun, and very cute. Also funny that at an early age, there are no gender stereotypes. Sure, boys play with soldiers and girls play with prams, but boys also play with prams, watch ‘girly’ TV programmes and play with play kitchens. Makes you wonder when boys have footballs thrust upon them and girls are given a pram to play with. So where do gender stereotypes originate? Where is the source of all our problems? Perhaps in the playground, and in the roles we ourselves give to our children.

More you might like:

Letter to a first time mum
Lessons from a new mum
Dear new Dad



Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….


Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.