Social Distancing in the Woods

Today was our first proper family adventure in the new van, and it was very much needed! When I bought the van it was mainly to increase space for bigger trips, but what also got us (particularly Jen) excited was the possibilities that would open up for mini adventures – local-ish day trips where we could ride bikes, have picnics and generally explore woods and parks etc.

As getting outside in the fresh air is still being encouraged (as long as you keep away from people and do not touch anything), we loaded up the van with bikes, buggy and picnic and set off for Hicks Lodge – a beginner mountain bike centre near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, that Owen and I visited a few weeks back. We did not know if it would be empty or absolutely rammed, but pulling into the car park it seemed to be the same as normal, despite parking being free (I was planning to pay for parking online so avoid touching the machine). After getting changed we rode/walked/rolled up to the picnic spot together, even on the gravel road climb Owen was riding noticeably better than our previous visit and got some positive comments – he does look the part when he has his kit on! Lunch was a chilly affair, as it was quite windy and the air temperature has not quite matched the sunshine!

After our rushed picnic, Owen and I rode to the last few sections of the blue graded mountain bike trail, whilst Jen and Henry carried on round the walking trail. Owen struggled on the first part of the blue trail we rode, as it was uphill, just that little bit too steep for him. But once we had pushed up the worst bit he was away – the rollers and berms on this section are bigger than Owen has ridden before, but he took it in his stride! When we got to the gravel road he asked if we could ride back up again, but instead we carried on down the blue trail, on the section Owen rode (twice) on our previous visit. His confidence and bike control seem to have stepped up a notch as he was flying down the trail, instinctively catching a few wobbles when he had them and breezing over the largest roller that had stopped him previously. Watching his little legs spinning furiously on the pedals on the run in to it was so cute! Once again, when we got to the bottom of the trail, he asked if we could ride back up and do it again! What sort of mean Dad would I have been to deny him – so we rode back up the hill (non-stop) and back down the trail for more of the same!

We got back to the van just as Jen and Henry were finishing their lap of the lake trail. As I was loading the bikes up, the family parked next to us started chatting to me about the van – something that seems to happen way more often than we anything I have ever driven. As we were only a few miles from where I grew up, after Henry’s first nappy change in the back of the van, we took a detour to show Owen where I lived when I was his age. we inadvertently drove through the town centre, which I did not recognise, but the house was as I remembered it, albeit with a remodelled front garden. It did not take much longer for Owen to fall asleep in his car seat, only waking up to Henry’s crying as we waited for Jen to drop off some Mother’s Day gifts at her Mum’s house. One final stop on the way home was the garden centre – to pick up some topsoil and compost, as our outdoor activities tomorrow are going to be much closer to home – in the garden!

Both Jen and I have said how good the day was! Even without social distancing, it would have been a great day out, but with everything that is going on, getting out of the house for some fresh air and exercise was even more important! Fingers crossed that we can have more days like this in the coming weeks and months.

Parental Leave II: Week 8

My penultimate week of parental leave was also Owen’s pre-school half term. Initially I was dreading this, as it would mean a full week wrangling both boys, but it turned out to be a really fun week! Monday morning set the tone – I was washing Henry’s bottles in the kitchen and Apple Music shuffled to “Sometimes” by Sound of Guns, which Owen correctly identified as the soundtrack to Martyn Ashton’s Road Bike Party film and asked if we could watch it! As soon as Henry saw the bike riding, he crawled over to his bike and tried to climb on to it! Proud Dad moments on both counts! When my Mum and Dad got here, I headed off to fill up the van (over £100 of diesel!!!) and go to the supermarket – because there was no way I was going to attempt to do the big shop with both boys in tow! After lunch, I needed to go to the butchers to get some of their amazing scotch pies for dinner. Mum brought Henry along in his pushchair and Owen rode his bike – I am pretty sure that the 3.68km is his longest ride to date. I was particularly impressed at how he stood up on his pedals to go over a bump. Before cooking dinner, I managed to squeeze in an hour of studying, unfortunately it is not looking like I will have completed my AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner before I co back to work (this was one of my goals for 2020).

On Tuesday, as we had exciting plans for the afternoon, we just had a quiet morning at home. I tried to give Henry cows milk, rather than formula, for his mid morning milk. However he was not convinced by it, especially not as it was in a new cup (as we had been advised to try by the health visitor). The exciting plan for the afternoon was that Owen and I were going for a bike ride! First we had to drop Henry off at his Nanny’s house, then we carried on to Hicks Lodge. Owen was a bit unsteady at first, probably because he is used to riding on asphalt, rather than off road, but soon got going. By the time we had climbed up to the start of the section of trail I had scoped out, he was raring to go! He tackled the trail confidently considering it was his first time on real mountain bike trails! There was only one roller which he did not have quite enough speed to get up. When we got to the bottom of the trail, Owen immediately asked if we could ride back up and do it again! On the second run he was even better – clearing all the rollers and needing less stops. A successful ride! After riding and getting changed in the van, Owen had a quick play on the playground before heading back to find Henry. Rather than coming home straight away, Jen joined us at her parents for dinner and pancakes. Jen was meeting her friends in Nuneaton, so we got the boys into their pyjamas and I took them back home. I was expecting them to both fall asleep in the van, but Owen stayed awake the whole journey, which made getting them from van to beds easier!

Wednesday was the only day with nothing planned. After the excitement of bike riding and pancake day, we had a chilled out morning at home. Henry’s nose was really runny, he seemed alright in himself though. After lunch Owen and I got our wellies on and I put Henry into his running buggy, so that we could explore our local woods, which were very muddy! So muddy that at one point Owen lost one of his wellies in the mud. It was nice to get out of the house, although I am looking forward to some less muddy trips in the coming months! After our walk we watched Top Gear together, which is becoming Owen’s favourite TV show. With no Ready Steady Riders session we had a quiet evening at home.

Jen had booked Thursday off work, so that I could take Henry swimming whilst she looked after Owen, but as Henry’s runny nose had developed into a full-on cold we decided it would be best not to take him. Jen had booked Owen into a creative workshop with Ella, so they went anyway and I ended up with a few hours to myself when Henry had his morning nap. I did not know what to do with myself! In the afternoon we took the opportunity of both being at home with nothing planned to crack on with some jobs – I even managed to combine some errands with a bike ride!

The boys gave us a bit of a lie in on Friday morning, they probably subconsciously knew that we had to be out of the house early… Our first stop was Jen’s hairdresser in Rugby, the plan was for me to take the boys to the park (which has a sandpit with mechanical diggers – heaven for Owen), but the weather have other ideas, so we just hung out at the salon while Jen got her hair cut. From there we drove, via my old house in Naseby (and a further detour through Sibbertoft due to a tractor with its trailer in a ditch blocking the road) to Mini Meadows Farm. Unfortunately the weather still was not cooperating, so we mainly viewed (and fed!) the indoor animals. My favourites were the litter of piglets, but Owen seemed to like the giant rabbits the most – especially as we could go into their enclosure with them! They gladly ate the bits of carrot that Owen placed on the floor for them. To start with he was not sure about letting the animals eat from the palm of his hand, but I eventually got him to brave feeding one of the goats (the biggest/greediest one) and he kept asking for more! Then he discovered the undercover sandpit and finally got to do his digging. The only way we could get Owen out of the sandpit was to tell him about the softplay. By chance, one of his friends from pre-school was also there, it was nice for Owen to have someone to play with! As if the day could not get any better for Owen, we stopped off at his favourite place on the way back to Coventry – “McDonalds with the softplay”! I cannot remember what we did when we got home, but I expect we were all very tired after a busy day!

After the excitement of Friday, we had a day at home on Saturday, and Jen’s friends Dom, Els and Ellie came to visit us. Els is expecting a baby soon so was able to provide a home for a lot of the things that Henry has grown out of – travel system/car seat/clothes etc. It was nice to have a catch up and get excited about the new arrival!

Owen and I had been looking forward to Sunday for a while – the Ready Steady Riders road trip to Adrenaline Alley skate park in Corby. We loaded our bikes into the van (there was a possibility that I could ride in the afternoon) and set off on the M6/A14 – a journey that I used to do daily. The combination of light Sunday morning traffic and the new Catthorpe Interchange, meant that it was a smooth journey, much better than I was used to on my old commute! I was unsure what to expect when we got to the skate park, but was relieved to see that Coach Kazzi had coned off a track in the “Action Space” part of the skate park. The course made use of the most suitable obstacles, whilst avoiding the ones that would be too dangerous for the mini shredders. The first hour was designated balance bike hour, to allow the riders to get used to the track and in particular the surface, which was slippier than they are used to. Despite barely riding his Strider, Owen really enjoyed himself and even won a race at the end of the session! I got to wander around with my camera taking photos of him, so I had a good time too! The second hour, on the pedal bikes, did not go quite so well. Owen was struggling on both the downhills and uphills. I think it was because he had just jumped off his balance bike and was trying to use his feet to slow himself down, then either falling off or being unable to get his feet back on the pedals quick enough to generate enough speed to get back up the hills. After a few laps he was asking for his balance bike back, but I managed to get him to do a few more laps on his pedal bike – and he improved with each lap. I am sure he would have made it round a full lap if he had continued, but as he had tried so hard I let him go back on his balance bike, which he whizzed round on and won another race. It is a tough balancing act between wanting him to push himself and improve, or letting him just stay in his comfort zone and enjoy himself. Owen tends to be happy in his comfort zone, and reluctant to try anything new, if anything this has got worse over the last year, not just with his biking, but with everything. At the end of the session he was very pleased to get a special shiny sticker from Coach Kazzi for “being brave and doing more laps on his pedal bike”, he chose to stick it on the top tube of his bike, where he can see it and remember being brave at the skate park. On the way home we took a detour via Rothwell, and another of my old houses, making that three visits to places I used to live in one week! As I had missed my usual Sunday morning bike ride, I managed to get out for a ride before dinner. As the local trails are so wet, I opted for a hill repeats session, so by the time I got home I really felt like I had earned the tasty roast dinner than Jen had cooked us!

What I had expected to be quite a difficult week actually ended up being really fun and surprisingly busy! Heading into my last week of parental leave I was getting concerned about how I was going to fit four days at work into my week given how busy I had been…

Parental Leave II: Week 7

With my parental leave rapidly coming to an end, the weeks just seem to be getting busier – I do not know how I will be able to fit everything in when I go back to work! The week started with my Mum and Dad coming to visit/look after the boys. Before they arrived I managed to get Henry to take a few steps whilst holding on to his hands. Unlike Owen, who would walk everywhere when I held his hands, Henry takes more convincing. I have found the best way is to be on my knees facing him, holding his hands and shuffling backwards as he walks towards me. I had a few jobs to do in my garage, mainly clearing out the BMW, before trading it in. Owen and my mum had their wellies on and were splashing in puddles, until Owen managed to fall in the mud, needing a trip straight to the bath! After lunch, and all cleaned up, my dad and I took Owen to Coventry Transport Museum to check out the Taking Flight exhibition. Owen had been hoping to see some Spitfires, as I have been telling him about them whenever we drive past Spitfire Island on the way back from his Ready Steady Riders sessions, but unfortunately he had to make do with jet engines. There was a cool installation where visitors could design their own flying machines on to pre-made templates, which were then scanned and added to a skyscape projected onto the wall. The different templates gave different flying characteristics – Owen based his on a hot air balloon, because “Daddy and Grandpa used to fly hot air balloons”, which he made sure to tell everyone! I chose a rocket, because it looked like the fastest! Owen’s balloon floated over the virtual landscape, which he really enjoyed, whilst my rocket-powered design whizzed past! We also checked out the rest of the museum, as even though we visit regularly there are often new exhibits. As we were walking out of the museum Owen said he wanted an ice cream – he has learned that we usually go to Sprinkles Gelato opposite the museum afterwards. Naturally neither Dad or I took much convincing…

On Tuesday morning Henry debuted his newest skill – as Jen and Owen were leaving for work/pre-school he started waving! Then continued when I carried him through to the front room to wave out of the window. He is such a clever boy! We had a quiet morning at home, and just as I finished my morning jobs and was wondering if I had time for a shower Henry woke up from his nap. Walking in to his room I could smell that he would be needing a bath, so decided to risk having a bath with Henry – killing two birds with one stone. It worked surprisingly well, other than Henry tickling my feet the whole time! He loved splashing me and was contained in the bath whilst I got dried/dressed in the bathroom. Bathtime is Henry’s favourite time of day, he loves being in the water! Maybe he was angling for another bath when he spread his lunch all over himself within minutes of being washed and changed into clean clothes… After a quick wipe down with a flannel, which Henry seems to hate, we went to the supermarket for the big shop, then collected Owen from pre-school. I made chilli nachos for dinner, one of my favourites, however Owen was not quite so sure – annoying as he loves eating tortilla chips and chilli separately.

Wednesday started with a lie in – a rare treat! It meant that Owen was a bit late getting to pre-school, but as there was no Ready Steady Riders session (due to half term in Birmingham) we were in no rush, so I let Owen ride in on his pedal bike. Henry had some more tricks to show off this morning, first he started copying me when I stuck my tongue out at him. He threw my iPhone over the back of the sofa, then reached over to retrieve it, with the inevitable fall (with me holding on to his feet), he thought this was fun, so has kept trying to do it. I expect he has learned this from Owen, who needs to be reminded daily about the “no climbing on the sofa” rule. Then, when I was preparing his milk for the day, he crawled into the kitchen, made a beeline for the cupboard where we keep his food, opened it, grabbed his bag of baby crisps, opened them and started feeding himself! I was not sure if I should be proud at his independence, or shocked at his cheekiness! He repeated this stunt later in the day too, confirming it was not a fluke! Unfortunately he also tried it with our Royal Doulton crockery, breaking three bowls in the process – I seem to remember Owen doing something similar when I was on parental leave with him too. As a side note, I have enjoyed looking back through the posts I wrote in 2017 and seeing how similar the boys are, they seem to get up to the same tricks. I will try to do a comparison post with pictures of them at the same ages. The excitement continued when I took Henry upstairs to “help” me set up Owen’s new airbed, in advance of our weekend away. The normal airbed mattress goes in an outer section, I assume to stop small children falling off, so when I had inflated this outer section, which looks a bit like an inflatable boat, I put Henry in it and added Owen’s squishy sloth toy, creating a wrestling ring – Henry loved it (and was contained for a while for me to do some other jobs). After lunch Henry succeeded in one of his main missions in life – he pulled the drawstring out of one of my hoodies, afterwards he sat there with it in his hands and mouth with a look that said “so what do I do now?”. Hopefully he is less successful in his other goals which are crawling out of the front or back doors, or rubbing his hands on the toilet seat. We had another shopping trip, to Aldi (pizzas, nappies and wipes), Screwfix (tools), B&M (Creme Eggs) and Smyths Toy Shop (birthday presents), Henry slept through most of the excitement though. At bedtime, Owen wanted to try out his new airbed by sleeping on it, it must have been comfortable as he managed to sleep through Henry screaming for a few hours! Usually Henry is a good sleeper, so this was very out of character, eventually we got him to settle down by giving him some Calpol.

With no swimming lesson this week, due to half term in Leicestershire, where the teacher lives, Henry and I had a quiet morning. The main thing of note was that Jen had bought Henry a special new reusable nappy, this was the first time that Henry had worn it – so of course he christened it with a mega poo! We had planned an early afternoon trip to collect my new van, but the van was delayed by a few hours. In some ways this worked well, as Henry had a really long nap – it almost got to the point where I did not know what to do with myself! Swapping cars coincided with the boys both hitting the weights needed to move up a grade of car seat – in Owen’s case, I just needed to convert his seat from using the integral five point harness to a booster seat using the car’s three point seatbelt. Henry was really good when we went to collect the van together, especially as there was a bit of waiting around due to my bank blocking the payment, until I had called them to release the funds. The downsides to the delay were that we missed picking Owen up from pre-school (he had been looking forward to a ride in the van) and we also hit rush hour on the drive home. As it would be Henry’s last ride in his rear facing infant seat, I had him up front next to me (with the airbag turned off) which he seemed to enjoy!

On Friday we went on a road trip to York. Despite having just purchased the perfect vehicle for a road trip, we took Jen’s Yaris. We did not take bikes etc, so all our stuff for a weekend away, including beds for the boys, just about fitted. Henry was promoted to the forward facing child seat – he had used it in my MR2, but this was the first time on a long journey. He seemed to like it and I appreciated being able to see his face in my rear view mirror. We were going to York to meet up with Jen’s university friends and their families, it was great that all the children, ranging from ten years old to Henry, played together nicely. Although Henry struggled to join in, he seemed to enjoy being with all the others. The girls particularly liked having a baby to fuss over. I had to take Henry out for a walk, as there was too much excitement for him to have his afternoon nap. We do not see these friends as often as we would like, but it is always great when we do see them, especially watching the children playing together. When Jen first introduced me to her friends, the eldest child was about the same age as Henry is now. Now he is 10 and he is a nice young man, who was particularly good playing with Owen, showing him all of his toy cars etc.

Despite allowing the boys to stay up later than usual, they still woke up early. I guess the unfamiliar but exciting environment did not help. After breakfast (and more playing for the boys) we walked to the National Railway Museum. Owen liked it, his favourite train was the recreation of Stephenson’s Rocket, but his favourite bit was playing with the wooden trainset in the play area (despite having one at home). There was so much to see, but it was tricky with an excitable small boy in tow, however I am sure we will visit again in the future. From the museum we walked in to town for lunch – it seems like everyone had the same idea, so finding a table for eight was a bit tricky. When we eventually found a restaurant our food took ages to arrive, we were all ravenous by the time the food came out. The wind had really picked up when we were walking back to the car, I was finding it tough to walk against, so it must have been even worse for Owen! We were later leaving York than we planned and it was no surprise that the boys both slept for most of the drive back to Coventry.

Sunday was our first family trip out in the van! Jen and the boys had a first birthday party to go to in Nuneaton, from where they would walk to Jen’s parent’s house. I loaded my bike into the back of the van, and dropped them off on my way to Hick’s Lodge cycle centre. Owen and I had been previously, but did not even make it to the start of the trails, so I wanted to do a solo trip to find out if it would be suitable to take Owen on his pedal bike. I had also been told that it still runs well in the wet, which is more than can be said for my usual trails in Coventry! I did a lap of the blue trail, which I found to be quite flat but with lots of standing water. The full trail was too long for Owen, but shorter trails could be made. Next I went for a lap of the green (easy) trail – not something that I would usually ride, but I wondered if it may be more suitable for Owen. However, I thought it was too easy/simple for Owen, the corners were all flat, rather than bermed – which looks less intimidating, but offer no support, making it trickier to carry speed. Not my usual Sunday ride, but given the recent weather is was nice to get out on the bike! After the ride it was good to be able to get changed in the back of the van, although I had not worn my waterproof shorts, nor packed a change of pants, so had to drive back with a soggy bottom. We spent the rest of the afternoon at Jen’s parents house. Gill had made an amazing Victoria sponge and the boys got to play with their Auntie Heather. We had pizzas when we got home and Owen and I watched Guy Martin’s Spitfire. Owen really enjoyed the programme, there was even a piece to camera filmed at Spitfire Island, which Owen really appreciated, because it was seeing the statue there that sparked his interest!

Farewell to the BMW 120i

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The time has come to replace my trusty BMW 120i. It has been a great car, but it was bought almost five years ago to transport me and my bike, but now things are a bit different – our family (and fleet of bikes) has grown! Day to day the BMW was ideal – the bodywork was scruffy, but that meant I was happy parking it anywhere. It was engaging to drive on the fun roads, but also happy cruising long distances on the motorway. The problems came when we needed to load it up with luggage and/or bikes – holidays and even days out started to challenge our packing skills, even after adding a roof rack and roof box.

I did 30,000 miles in the BMW, but not without reliability problems – there were lots of niggling problems, but the main one was an engine issue that came with a four figure bill. It also got through a lot of consumables, as can be expected with a sixteen year old car with almost 100,000 miles on the clock. This all makes it sound worse than it was, it was still cheap motoring. Probably about half the cost of leasing an equivalent new car over the time I had it.

I have some great memories from my time with the 120i. I bought it as a car that could carry people and/or bikes whilst still being fun to drive – it certainly met that requirement. In addition to numerous mountain bike trips and road trips to Croyde (twice), France, where it soaked up the miles and Wales, it was the first car that both Owen and Henry went in! For this reason it will always be a special car to me. Unfortunately Henry will not remember it, but I hope Owen will!

This morning Owen seemed sad when I told him the red BMW would be gone by the time he got back from pre-school – he asked me not to sell it, which made me feel a bit sad and guilty. However, by the time he had ridden his bike to pre-school he was excitedly telling his teacher about the replacement. He is right to be excited, as the replacement will open up more options for adventures together as a family.

Parental Leave II: Week 6

After staying up late to watch Top Gear (where my previous post left off), it was not surprising that Owen had a bit of a lie in, but I was not expecting Henry to also – it was a nice start to the week! My mum and dad came to look after the boys, which allowed me to get some jobs done in the morning. Last week I had read about the bakery near my house doing Nutella doughnuts on the Food Covolution blog, so decided to check them out! It was also a good opportunity to get Owen back out on his bike. Mum and Henry came along for the walk too. Despite the worst of Storm Ciara having past, it was still really windy outside, however this did not faze Owen! He was riding really well, listening to our instructions, using his brakes to stop and I even saw him coasting with level pedals – which I have not seen him do before! Stoke Bakery had a great selection of cakes in addition to the Nutella doughnuts that had inspired this trip. As he had been riding so well I let Owen choose himself a cake – he went for a huge cream filled chocolate doughnut! He had earned it though. After lunch (and doughnuts) I did some studying, before taking advantage of a gap in the rain to cycle to the butchers, where I picked up some of their new lamb and feta stuffed peppers, which Jen and I have been drooling over on their twitter feed. I cooked them for dinner and they were every bit as good as we had been expecting! Henry seemed to make some big developmental steps – first he climbed the stairs all by himself. Luckily I had spotted him heading to the stairs and followed him up, realising that my life had just got a bit more complicated! Later he started pushing Owen’s old trolley along the hallway whilst standing up – one step closer to walking!IMG_1662On Tuesday morning I was in the kitchen and Henry crawled off. Concerned that he was heading upstairs, I went looking for him, and just as I asked “Where is Henry?”, Owen asked “Where is my other slice of toast?”. You can see from the photo above what the answer was! Henry looked so pleased with himself – Owen on the other hand was upset and I had to make him more toast. After dropping Owen off at pre-school, Henry and I went to the supermarket, which is becoming our Tuesday afternoon routine. In the evening Jen and I had a rare night out – her mum came to babysit the boys (who behaved well for her), and we went out for dinner and to the theatre. Dinner was at a new steak restaurant that we had been wanting to try for a while, the food was nice, but I doubt we will go back. I really enjoyed seeing Crongton Knights at the Belgrade Theatre though – you can read my review here.

The boys did not have a good night – possibly because we were not there when Owen went to bed, but he ended up in our bed at 4:00, and Henry followed at 5:30. We were all so tired by the time we had to get up. Henry and I had a quiet morning at home – he had a long nap, where I was able to get some small DIY jobs done and deal with some HR stuff from work – the first time I had switched my work phone on for almost two months! Expecting Owen to be tired in the evening, I decided not to take him to his bike training, so Jen, Henry and I all collected him from preschool. My hunch was correct, as Owen fell asleep on the sofa eating his dinner at 5.30!

Thursday went much better – I took Henry swimming and he had a great time splashing around in the pool. In the afternoon we messed about together at home, then walked into Earlsdon to run some errands, collecting Owen from pre-school on the way back. Jen was out for the evening, so I cooked dinner for the boys – looking back it is funny that Henry managed to eat a whole omlette by himself, but I had to spoon feed Owen his scrambled egg. Obviously at the time it was pretty frustrating. At least Owen was a good boy going to bed, as solo bed times can be tricky!IMG_1676Friday was a busy day! Henry had his twelve month developmental check, which clashed with Owen’s swimming lesson. Jen was off work, so she took Henry for his check and I took Owen swimming. It was his final lesson with Paula from Little Ripples, because when I go back to work next month I will have both boys on Fridays. Owen has made great progress since I last took him swimming before Christmas – his kicking and confidence in the water has got so much better. We need to get him booked onto the next stage of lessons (in the water without us) so that he does not lose confidence again, as happened when he had a long break from lessons over the summer holiday. After lunch we all went shopping for a replacement for my BMW, which is getting too small for us as a family of four. On the way home we called in at Ali’s Chippy, a “new” fish and chip shop that I had noticed around the corner from our house, although it turned out it had been open for about a year – the food was good, so I am sure we will be going back. Recently Henry has been keen to get his hands on drinks, he does not care whose drink it is, or even of the drink is empty. We have to be careful what we leave within his reach, but it was inevitable that he got his hands on my empty beer bottle…Heeding the warnings about Storm Dennis, we did not have anything planned for the weekend. Coventry seemed to get off lightly – it was not even raining first thing on Saturday morning, so Owen and I got outside to play in the garden/jump in puddles/clean bikes. Owen is always keen to help me clean bikes, and to clean his own bikes, and it is nice to have him there with me. We had a family trip to the supermarket, which I think Owen enjoyed a bit too much, looking at the toys, trying sushi and running around – not so fun for Jen and me though! We had an afternoon in the kitchen, Jen and Owen made some amazing chocolate and cherry brownies, I prepped the chicken wings for dinner and Henry supervised from his highchair!IMG_1681.jpegSunday started with bacon sandwiches – a nice start to a stormy day! Jen started making a chilli for dinner, before heading off to the gym, leaving Owen and I to add the remaining ingredients. Owen did a good job of scraping the ingredients into the pan and stirring them in, he is picking up Jen’s interest in cooking which is nice to see. Henry also shares Jen’s interest in recipe books, although he prefers to eat them than read them! After lunch we braved the storm to drive to Nuneaton. The weather did not seem that bad, but there was a lot of flooding on the roads. We had a nice afternoon at Jen’s mum and dad’s house, Henry was being his cheeky self, getting into all sort of mischief. When we got home, Owen ate all of his chilli for dinner, which I was proud of, as he usually just picks at the beans. He was also good about going to bed, although I did sort of miss him watching Top Gear with me, as he had done the last few weeks.It felt like a really long week, possibly as I crammed in a lot at the start of the week, followed by more of a low key weekend. Henry seems to be getting more confident, standing unsupported for a few seconds at a time, usually without realising it – he will be holding himself up, then takes his hands off to pick something up and all of a sudden he will be standing, before falling down again. However he seems to be standing for longer and longer each day. He is also getting more confident – if Owen is on the floor, Henry will climb on top of him and wrestle him – I guess this is what I have to look forward to for the forseeable future…

Parental Leave II: Week 5

Week five started where week four left off – with the boys at their grandma and grandpa’s house! In theory this meant a lie in for me, but I still woke up at 6 o’clock! With the house to myself I managed to get lots of jobs done – general tidying up, sweeping the drive, painting the kitchen ceiling where the bath had leaked last year. As usual, I still had more jobs on my list than time, but I also wanted to get out for a bike ride! The trails were muddy, and my tyres still had too much pressure in after the bike service, so these are the excuses I am using for why I fell off… After my ride I met my parents to collect the boys, I would like to say they were pleased to see me, but they were both asleep and unimpressed to be disturbed when I swapped their car seats in to my car.

After the excitement of the boys’ mini break in the Cotswolds, Tuesday was back to normal – pre-school for Owen and a quiet morning at home for Henry and me. In the afternoon we went to the supermarket, in the MR2 again, but this time we had the roof down! Henry seemed to like this, looking all around. Jen had tasked us with getting some dried porcini mushrooms, we did a few loops around the shop looking for them. Little did we know this would become a saga that dragged on all week!

Whilst dropping Owen off at pre-school on Wednesday morning, I booked Henry’s settling in sessions at the nursery – as unwelcome sign that I will be going back to work in the not too distant future. Another sign that Henry is growing up is that I caught him red handed taking my credit card out of my desk drawer – I thought I would have to wait at least a few more years before I had to deal with that sort of thing! Whilst Henry had his nap I managed to book a weekend away mountain biking with Partho, in addition to the usual jobs I try to fit in whilst he naps. In the afternoon we got out in the MR2 again, this time to do a tip run, a much longer trip than to the supermarket – of course we had the roof down again! We called in at another supermarket looking for the dried porcini mushrooms, again with no luck. After pre-school I took Owen to his Ready Steady Riders Wheelie Wednesday session. The focus of the lesson was looking around corners – definitely something that Owen needs to work on, as he was crashing into the tape marking the course most laps. Purely because he was not looking round corners properly. I spent most of the session fixing the track as Owen crashed into it.

Thursday is swimming day for Henry! Jen took Owen to pre-school, so I managed to avoid the chaos from the previous weeks and got to Henry’s lesson on time. Henry was on good form, splashing and kicking his legs – he even behaved in the changing room! He had a good nap after swimming, then played upstairs for a bit. My Apple Watch was charging on the bedside table, Henry grabbed it and crawled off. I crawled off after him, and this continued for a while, both of us giggling away. Until Henry started to take it too seriously, biting my arm (with all six of his teeth), then trying to put my watch in his dirty nappy bin. After things had calmed down, we went for a drive to get petrol in the BMW and pick up a few bits in Leamington Spa. The trip to Leamington was only partially successful, I picked up a camera strap from London Camera Exchange, but the petrol station I had planned to go to was closed and I still could not find any dried porcini mushrooms…

Henry and I had a quiet Friday morning, whilst Jen took Owen to his swimming lesson. After lunch I went out to run some errands and finally got hold of those pesky dried porcini mushrooms! When I got back, Owen and I cleaned our bikes. I adjusted the rear brake lever closer to the handlebar on Owen’s bike – hoping it would encourage him to use it more. He went for a ride around the block and the adjustment seemed to work – Owen was stopping using the brakes, rather than his shoes! The reason I had been searching for dried porcini mushrooms all week was that Jen had invited some friends round for dinner, and was cooking giant pasta shells with a sausage and mushroom filling. For dessert Jen and Owen made cookie dough pots, ready to go in the oven and be served with ice cream. Dinner for the boys was not quite so gourmet – I made them omelettes! Based on previous experience I had expected Owen to eat his and Henry to spit his out, but Henry surprised me by eating his, whilst Owen messed around – meal times can be a bit of a lottery with these two! At least Owen did get to try one of the cookie dough pots that he helped make! When I eventually got the boys into their beds, we got to tuck into the pasta, both the wait and the mushroom hunting were worth it!

Saturday was my day to do what I wanted – so I went mountain biking at the Forest of Dean with my friend Partho! Despite everywhere else being so wet, the trails were running really well and it was great to be riding them with a friend. It was also good to catch up on the long drives there and back. Jen and the boys had a fun afternoon visiting Jen’s parents!

With Storm Ciara battering the country on Sunday, we had planned a quiet day. In the afternoon we braved the weather to visit Resorts World (the outlet village by the NEC). On the short drive there Jen’s Yaris was being buffeted by the wind, and at one point we had to slow right down on the A45 as the visibility was so poor due to the heavy rain! Fortunately we are able to park inside, so did not get wet on the way to the shops! It was only a quick stop – we picked up some bits for the boys in Gap, and Jen got some new trainers, but after that Owen was making it obvious that he had had enough of shopping! Or maybe he was just tired – as he fell asleep in the car on the way home, just as we were about to turn in to our road. He was in a very deep sleep – to the point where he barely noticed being transferred into the house. I lit the fire and settled in for the evening, watching “The Love Bug”, which was the first time I had ever seen any of the “Herbie” films. It was a nice way to spend a stormy winter evening. Owen slept for a few hours – unfortunately this meant that bedtime was going to be a nightmare. So once he was ready for bed, we let him come back downstairs to watch Top Gear, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

Whilst this series of blog posts has gone through a lot of the things Henry and I have done together whilst I have been on parental leave, there has also been a lot of downtime together at home, the picture at the top of this post is pretty typical – Henry with a mouthful of banana after having smeared his Weetabix over his face! He may not even be one year old yet, but Henry certainly knows what he likes – banana is certainly a favourite. It is no wonder that his is a cheeky little monkey…

Babies in Sportscars – Throwback Thursday

Henry had his first ride in my MR2 today and seemed to enjoy it! It reminded me of this photo from Owen’s first ride, with the roof down!

It was a bit too cold to have the roof down with Henry today, but I am sure he will get to experience the MR2 properly soon!

For a real throwback – here is a photo of me with my Dad in his Triumph TR6!

Parental Leave II: Week 2

My first week (and a bit) of parental leave had only been a warmup, as Jen was also off work – this week Jen was back at work and I was on my own! Well sort of anyway – I did get some help!

When Jen left for work on Monday morning, Henry burst out crying as soon as the door shut – not like him at all! But at least I knew where I stood in the parental hierarchy. My Mum and Dad come round to help out on a Monday, so they took the boys for a walk and I managed to escape for a short bike ride on very muddy local trails. Henry did not seem to be his usual cheeky self, all he wanted to do was cuddle up with my Mum. I am not sure if he has picked up a cold, or if his sixth tooth is trying to come through. When Henry eventually took a nap, my Dad and I went to Ikea to pick up a unit to house the record player I bought Jen for her birthday. After I had built the unit I got the record player set up properly with our sound bar, which was much easier than when I had tried a few weeks previously – it was good to be able to listen to Frank Turner and Arctic Monkeys records to test it though! My Mum had made a turkey pie for dinner, but Henry was really off his food, and had a temperature, so we put him to bed with some Calpol. I was also shattered by 9pm, so had an early night – so much for my plans to study in the evenings!

Henry must have also been tired as he had a (relative) lie in. Jen was first up as she went for a run before work, which confused Owen. His Gro Clock said it was still nighttime when she left – not that it stopped him getting out of bed! As Owen does not go to pre-school on Mondays, Tuesday was the first day just Henry and I at home – the house felt so quiet when Jen and Owen had left in the morning! Henry seemed to be more himself in the morning, he was happy to steal Owen’s breakfast, but reluctant to eat his own. Jen’s Mum, Gill, called to say she would come over and take Henry out for a bit. I got Henry changed and gave him milk, ready for him to go out, then a few minutes before Gill arrived Henry fell asleep in my arms. This is a rare thing these days, but as nice as it was, he always seems to pick the worst moment! I transferred him to his cot and he slept for two hours! Again, usually this would be very welcome, but was slightly frustrating as Gill had come to see him! We managed to get some jobs done before Henry woke up for lunch. He was obviously still feeling poorly as he did not eat much, he also had a temperature again, so had more Calpol. When Gill left, I thought Henry was going to fall asleep in my arms again, but he seemed to get a second wind. We braved the horrible weather to do the “big shop”, I could tell Henry was not feeling well as he just sat quietly in the trolley, usually he would be chattering away and smiling at all the ladies in the shop. He even started to nod off as we were finishing the shop, so he was fast asleep by the time we got home, which at least allowed me to put the shopping away without any “help”. I was impressed at how Henry woke up just as Jen and Owen were pulling onto the drive. I had decided that this was going to be the week I tackled the Apple Watch “Ring in the new year” challenge, by meeting the calories burned, excercise time and hours moving around targets each day for a whole week, which left me with a 23 minute workout to do in the evening. I completed it and felt good for it – also ticking off my “weekly strength workout” goal from my 2020 post. My December expenses from work also landed today – I had forgotten claiming them before Christmas, so it was a welcome surprise to see my bank balance going up, as I am not being paid whilst I am paternity leave.

Henry and I walked Owen to preschool on Wednesday, but the excitement must have worn Henry out, as he was falling asleep eating his breakfast when we got back. This gave me a good opportunity to do all my chores, as we had a trip out planned for lunch! My good friend Stevo had a day off and as he was yet to meet Henry we had arranged to see each other. It just so happened that Jen and her friend Jess, who is also friends with Stevo, were meeting for lunch – so we all went to Mod Pizza! It was good to catch up with everyone, and of course eat pizza! Henry was on good form, gnawing on any crusts he could get his hands on and smiling at everyone. After lunch, Jen and Jess had to go back to work, so us boys went to a cafe to chat some more. Henry must have found the conversation boring as he fell asleep. After preschool, I took Owen to his Ready Steady Riders Wheelie Wednesday bike session. This week the focus was on riding the ramps, which he has been lacking in confidence on since switching to his pedal bike. His “level pedals” technique was improving, but he still has more improvement to do before we can hit the pump track.

Pre-school and bike training must have tired Owen out, as he had a long lie in! Unfortunately he was in a terrible mood when he eventually woke up, and refused to cooperate with getting ready, such that we missed my window for taking him to pre-school before getting Henry ready. Owen had to wait for me to clean and sterilise Henry’s bottles and make his milk, before I could drop him off at pre-school, on the way to Henry’s swimming lesson! I have been taking Owen to swimming lessons for the last couple of years, so it was a bit of a shock to the system taking Henry instead! Owen pretty much gets himself changed now, whereas Henry fights against getting changed. He enjoyed his lesson, did lots of splashing and smiling, and even went under the water twice without crying! All the splashing must have been hard work as he was obviously tired by the time we got back to the changing room and was fast asleep in the car on the five minute drive home. Jen had told me that Henry always had a long sleep after his swimming lesson, so I was surprised when he woke up after half an hour. Unfortunately he was really grumpy, I knew he needed more sleep, but of course he was resisting it. After a few hours, with him mostly screaming at me, I managed to get him settled in his cot again. Whilst Henry had his well needed nap, I was able to crack on with tidying up my desk/work area in the dining room, making space for my radio controlled MX-5.

Friday is Jen’s day off, so I was able to have a lie in! Jen took Owen to his swimming lesson, and I was planning to take Henry for a walk, but it was raining heavily so we had a chilled out morning at home. When Jen and Owen got back we decided to finally hang some hooks to display Owen’s bike medals – of course Owen had to get all his builders kit on and bring his tool box to help! Then Jen’s friend came round with her daughters, who are a few weeks older than Owen and Henry respectively. I took the opportunity to do some work at my Mac. When the girls had gone home, I took Henry for a walk to the butchers, where I discovered they had just had a delivery of Scottish delicacies – haggis and Lorne sausage! This was great timing – Jen has delegated food shopping/cooking to me while she is at work and I am at home, so I am using this as an excuse to cook all of my favourite foods! After a rainy morning, it was a lovely crisp winter afternoon, perfect for getting out of the house to burn some calories and log exercise minutes for my Apple Watch January challenge! It also encouraged Henry to have a nap after the excitement earlier in the afternoon. The walk took a bit longer than planned, which had a knock on effect on my dinner plans – I cooked wings, but the recipe I use needs two hours (but is really good), and Owen was already hungry! Jen fed the boys early and we had a late dinner when the wings were ready – and they were worth waiting for!

We were back at Coventry parkrun on Saturday morning! Jen did not want to run with Henry this week, so as I would be wrangling both boys, Owen took his Strider, rather than his pedal bike – he still does not have enough speed control on his pedal bike to be let loose without direct supervision. It was a cold but sunny winter morning, so we all wrapped up warm – there was even ice on the ground at the skate park, which made for tricky riding conditions for Owen. To warm up after our trip to the park, we had bacon sandwiches, well Jen, Owen and I did. Henry stole some of Owen’s sandwich – at the moment he seems to be much more interested in eating other people’s food than his own. As both cars were at home, along with someone to look after the boys and a gap in the rain I took the opportunity to swap car seats around, making it easier to get Henry in and out of my BMW. I also adjusted the child seat in my MR2 Roadster, so that Henry can come out in it with me, although that will have to wait until the roads are clear of salt. As it was such a nice day, we decided to head to Ryton Pools, so that we could all get some fresh air and Owen could get out on his pedal bike. Owen was riding so much better than on our previous visit on New Years Day, but he kept getting frustrated with himself – I think he forgets that he has only been riding a pedal bike for three weeks! While we were at Ryton Pools I noticed a strange looking aircraft flying overhead – after a bit of online research when I got home I found out it was WZ507 – the only flying de Havilland Vampire in the Northern Hemisphere – a pretty cool plane spot! After two park trips in one day, we treated ourselves to a fish and chip dinner, the photo at the top of this post is Henry looking pleased with himself after successfully stealing some of Owen’s chips. My watch informed me that I had completed the “Ring in the New Year Challenge”, which was a day earlier than expected, but I was glad to tick that off!


Sunday was for mountain biking – a day I had been looking forward to! I was meant to be going to the Forest of Dean with a friend, but he cancelled. It was another crisp wintery day – so I went anyway! The trails were running surpisingly well, given the conditions on my ride earlier in the week (and all the extra rain since), and I ended up having one of my best days on the bike in ages! First I did a lap of the blue “Verderers” trail, taking all of the red graded optional sections. I felt like I was riding better than my last visit back in November, both on the climbs and descents. After completing the amazing “Dragon’s Tail” descent at the end of the “Verderers” trail, I stopped for lunch – a pizza from the shack in the car park! Does it get any better than that? Whilst it was nice sitting in the sun eating my pizza, the temperature was only just above freezing, so I was shivering by the time I got back on my bike to hit the downhill trails. The push/climb to the top warmed me up though. I rode the “Countdown” and “Launchpad” downhill trails – completing each of them in one hit, which I did not manage last time. I am pleased to say I set personal best times on both, which was my goal for the afternoon!

My first “solo” week has gone really quickly – I have kept myself busy and feel like Henry has had a good week, despite teething – the elusive sixth tooth still has not appeared. He is upset when Jen goes, but seems happy enough hanging out with me at home, especially when he gets to roam free. He has started to show an interest in the stairs, so I am going to have to keep a close eye on him! I am getting more into the swing of his routine, although he does sometimes change it up to keep me on my toes!

Parental Leave II: Week 1

This first week of parental leave has felt long, but only because it has actually been eleven days! Jen also had last week off work, our third week off together in a row – it has been amazing spending all this time together! This post has ended up a lot longer than I was expecting, I guess we managed to cram a lot into our week (and a bit)…

The week (and a bit) got off to an ominous start. When I gave Henry his first nappy change of the day he weed on me, and then I had two dirty nappies to deal with by 9:00. We spent the morning hanging out at home, then in the afternoon I managed to get out for a bike ride – definitely better than being back at work on the the second of January!

One of the downsides to being off work looking after the boys, is that my friends are at work. However in these first few days of the year our friends Ali and Jaymi were off work! So after a quiet morning at home, we met them for a walk at Kingsbury Water Park. We brought Owen’s bike and he rode round the park – his confidence on the pedal bike is coming on leaps and bounds! He was standing up on his pedals and at times we had to run after him! I also got to use my new 55-200mm lens – the photo of Owen above is one of my favourite photos, and now the lock screen on my iPhone. My friend Partho needed some help fixing his bike, so after the boys were in bed I thought it would be a good excuse to take the MR2 for a spin to help him… Henry even cooperated by falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, but unfortunately the MR2 did not cooperate. The battery was flat – totally my fault for neither driving it recently, nor plugging in the battery conditioner. In fact the battery was so flat that the battery conditioner would not recognise the battery. So I stayed at home and printed some photos for Owen’s pre-school homework instead.

Getting back into our regular routine, on Saturday we went to parkrun at the War Memorial Park in Coventry. Jen ran with Henry in his running buggy, so that I could concentrate on helping Owen on his bike, and as he was gaining confidence we decided to hit the skate park. Owen soon discovered that switching to a new bike was a bit of a learning curve – where he would be whizzing round the skate park on his Strider, he struggled to get up the ramps on his pedal bike. I am sure he will get the hang of it soon enough though. The boys and I have also been featured on the War Memorial Ramp Renovation campaign blog. After parkrun Jen went away for the weekend with her friends,  and I had to take Owen to a party, so my Mum and Dad came round look after Henry. I had so far managed to avoid children’s parties, so was not sure what to expect. Owen was also confused when we got there – it was a superhero themed party and all his friends were in fancy dress, so he was unsure of who was actually there! He still got stuck in on the bouncy castle though. There was an entertainer, a clown/magician, which Owen loved – he was the first to get involved with any audience participation, including volunteering to assist with plate spinning and magic tricks! After the show, the kids were allowed to play with the circus equipment, Owen made a beeline for the pedal gos and I impressed him by showing him that I could do plate spinning. Owen almost stitched me up, by telling everyone that I can juggle – which I cannot, despite learning to juggle being one of my goals for 2018 – fortunately nobody asked to see my skills. After the party food, there was more running around and bouncing on the bouncy castle – which especially after the bike ride in the morning was showing positive signs for an easy bedtime routine! Well, for Owen at least – Henry had been asleep in his cot the whole time Owen and I were out! After my failure to fix Partho’s bike the previous day, Partho and his wife Marilena, came round to see us. It was good to catch up, as they had not seen the boys for a while. Owen was keen to show off his new toys and not to be outdone, Henry busted out his best climbing up the the coffee table moves! Partho and I, with help from Owen, managed to get the cassette off his crashed wheel, so he can fit it to his indoor smart trainer – his latest tactic to attempt beating me on our annual Strava distance challenge!!! I cooked a gourmet dinner for the boys – fish fingers, chips and beans – which seemed to go down a treat! I let Henry try a bit of a fish finger, and he ended up eating all of it! Jen and I usually put one boy to bed each, swapping each night, it is a routine that works well for us, but means that solo bedtimes can be especially tricky as the boys are used to undivided attention! I got Owen to read Henry and I a story whilst Henry drank his milk, then I read them both stories after cleaning their teeth. After the stories Owen seemed much more tired than Henry and took himself off to bed, whilst I stayed with Henry, who thinks climbing up in his cot is hilarious! Owen was fast asleep well before Henry, unsurprising given his busy day!

Fortunately the boys gave me a Sunday lie in, well relatively speaking… We just had a quiet day at home waiting for Jen to come back, we had planned a trip to the woods, but by the time Owen had finished messing about Henry was asleep, so we stayed at home watching Disney films – I have been really impressed with the Disney Life subscription service, it is definitely getting more use than Netflix and it is great introducing Owen to some of the films that Jen and I watched when we were children, and of course watching the Pixar back catalogue! The downside to a relaxed day at home is that Owen woke when I went to bed and was awake for hours, yelling for his Mum and being disappointed whenever I went to see him. After three changes of pyjamas he finally went back to sleep.

Of course the disrupted sleep meant that Owen had a lie in, which always seems to happen on the odd occasion when we have somewhere to be in the morning! As it was Owen’s last day of holiday before returning to pre-school we decided to go to Birmingham to visit the Legoland Discovery Centre and the Sea Life Centre – hoping that as it was termtime they would be quiet. We made it to the Legoland Discovery Centre just before opening time, to discover that we were not the only people with that plan – there was a queue to get in! Owen loved it though – first we went on a ride, where we had to zap baddies! Next we visited “Miniland” a Lego recreation of Birmingham’s main attractions, which was particularly impressive. Then it was on to the main room, with softplay, cafe, Duplo area and Owen’s favourite the “Lego Racers: Build and Test”. Normally you cannot get Owen out of softplay, but all he wanted to do was race his car down the ramps – we started off building our own cars separately, but I ended up helping Owen to modify his and we ended up with the two fastest cars there (the key is to get the wheels locked onto the axle to avoid rubbing). Henry liked playing in the Duplo area where they had some big soft bricks in addition to the usual Duplo. Unfortunately Henry much prefers knocking things down to building them! We ended up spending well over two hours there, and I am sure Owen could have spent more! Naturally we had to exit via the gift shop, so we treated Owen a little Lego monster truck, which he has been playing with a lot, and I managed to find the elusive mountain biker Minifig! Before crossing the canal to the Sea Life Centre, we went to Ed’s Diner for lunch, the plan had been to meet Partho, but he was stuck on a conference call. Owen and I had hot dogs – Owen did really well eating his, as it was a lot of food for a little boy. Henry was being his usual self trying to steal chips – he did not seem to care that mine were covered in chilli!

The Sea Life Centre was great – Owen really liked the penguins, chatting to them through the glass. I thought this was interesting, as he has never seemed that excited by penguins when we have been to zoos previously. Henry particularly liked the clown fish (Nemos!!!) and the octopus, he was just staring at them and smiling! The boys both seemed to enjoy the 4D cinema, I sat with Owen, but Jen said that Henry was smiling and clapping along with the songs. After the 4D cinema I think Owen was getting bored of fish, as he just wanted to rush through the rest of the exhibits, so we only got a brief glimpse of the turtle and sharks in the underwater walkway. As one of the enclosures was being refurbished, in anticipation of sea otters arriving later in the year, we got a ticket for a free return visit -which I am sure we will make use of. Jen and I loved seeing the sea otters when we were in Monterey on our honeymoon! At bedtime Owen was keen to have a bath, to try out the turtle bath toy we had bought for Henry, but despite all of the excitement during the day Owen struggled to go to sleep…

While Owen struggled to go to sleep it was Henry that was waking up in the middle of the night, the only thing that would settle him was bringing him into our bed – usually he is a pretty good sleeper. With Owen back at pre-school, and Jen enjoying her last week off, Henry and I had a quiet morning at home, Henry enjoyed watching the bin men – giving them big smiles when they waved to him. In the afternoon Jen wrangled Henry, whilst I made some progress on my 2020 goals, before picking up Owen from pre-school.

On Wednesday, we all walked Owen to nursery. Then Jen, Henry and I carried on to Earlsdon, to call in at the butchers, the bike shop and to stop for coffee. We walked back via Go Outdoors, to buy Henry a bag for nursery (their £3 “Freedom trail” rucksacks are just the job) and a sledge – probably guaranteeing a snow free winter for Coventry! It was nice being able to spend the morning together. Jen’s Mum came round in the afternoon, so Jen and I were able to spend an hour tidying up the veg plot in the garden, then I managed to change the brake pads on my hardtail, bed them in and squeeze in a quick bike ride round my Earlsdon Loop before picking Owen up for Ready Steady Riders Wheelie Wednesday indoor bike training! This is Owen’s favourite bike session, but usually we cannot go, as I would need to leave work at 16:00 to get to Sutton Coldfield in time, so this is something I had been very excited about being able to do. Especially this first week as Coach Kazzi was not aware that Owen had learned to ride his pedal bike since she last saw him! Owen rode well, I found it interesting that he did not want to ride over the ramps, as he did not feel confident enough over them on his new bike – he did try a few times with Kazzi’s help though. At the end of the session Owen got his “Pedal Medal” for successfully learning to ride his pedal bike, he had a proud coach and an even prouder Dad! After all the sleep issues, and a full day at pre school on top on an hour riding his bike, I was expecting Owen to fall asleep in the car on the drive home, but he must have been so excited for riding that he stayed awake the whole way chatting to me! Whilst Owen and I were out the tiny jump start box that I had ordered to fix the MR2 was delivered.

After the success of Wheelie Wednesday, Owen asked if he could take his bike to nursery, but as he is still not fully confident at stopping, and he is getting quite fast at riding, I did not think it was a good idea. However, we agreed that he could take his balance bike – which he had not touched since getting his pedal bike at Christmas. He rode it to nursery and I had to run to keep up with him! As this was Jen’s last Thursday off work, we decided to delay swapping our swimming lessons routine, so Jen took Henry to his lesson, whilst a used my new jump start kit to revive the MR2 and take it for a long drive – I had to drop some tools off at my in-laws, so took the long way and enjoyed hooning the MR2 down some b-roads – it was good to be back in the little roadster! The drive charged the battery, so it was just down to lack of use. Jen, Henry and I spent a lazy afternoon together at home, before I went to collect Owen from pre-school – having to run all the way home to keep up with Owen!

On Friday morning I took Owen to his swimming lesson, he did really well, putting his face in the water and blowing bubbles whilst kicking his feet, and swimming round the pool floating on a woggle. After swimming we made the most of our last weekday all off together by taking Owen for lunch at his favourite restaurant – “McDonalds with the softplay”, we have to drive past at least three other McDonalds restaurants to get there, but Owen loves the softplay – and Henry is happy wherever there are chips to steal. As Henry is a bit more active than on our last visit, he got to play in the softplay too, but he was happiest stuffing his face! On the way home from lunch we ran a few errands together, then I went out in the MR2 for more errands – I was happy that the MR2 worked perfectly on my four stop trip around Coventry, proving that it was lack of use, rather than a duff battery to blame for the issues. After dinner, Owen helped me rebuild the front suspension on my radio controlled MX-5, he has been keen to drive it since seeing it in the box, and he seemed to enjoy helping me – slotting bearings into place and tightening screws. Once the boys were in bed I pushed ahead with the rebuild, sorting the rear suspension and regreasing the gearbox. Usually I would have felt like a massive geek working on a model car on a Friday night, but Jen and some of her friends were in the other room doing jigsaw puzzles…

Rather than going to parkrun or Ready Steady Riders Super Saturday, on the Saturday morning we had other plans – breakfast at Hickory’s to celebrate Partho’s birthday! He thought he would just be meeting myself, Jen and the boys, but his wife (who Partho thought was at work) and a group of his friends also turned up, including Baby Evan, who is even younger than Henry. Henry is used to being the smallest, so it was funny seeing him watching Evan, particularly when Evan was having his bottle of milk (identical to one of Henry’s bottles) – Henry looked jealous! We all had a good breakfast, followed by birthday cake, so it did not matter that it was well past lunchtime when we got home! After such an exciting morning, we just had another quiet afternoon at home.

Sunday morning is usually my time to get out on the bike, but the weather was rubbish, so I stayed at home and did a few bits on the little MX-5, in between helping Owen rebuild his Lego monster truck, which seems to shatter into loads of tiny pieces whenever it does a stunt – hours of fun for Owen, but we do need to be careful to make sure Henry does not get his hands on it! When the rain stopped, Owen and I went up to Hearsall Common to test the radio controlled car and to do some bike skills training. I packed Owen’s marker cones, to lay out tracks for both car and bikes. Owen started off doing the throttle for the radio controlled car (whilst I controlled the steering), and he did surprisingly well! There were definitely fewer crashes when Owen was in charge of the speed, than when I was driving on my own! I offered to let Owen do the steering too, but he was not interested. The car seemed to be running well, so that is phase one of the rebuild complete. The bike skills training was not quite as successful, Owen was not interested in learning to use the brakes on his bike, or to roll with his pedals level. We go through this sort of thing whenever we teach Owen to do something new, once he masters the key skill he is not interested in making any further improvements. At least I felt like my manuals were improving – I was trying to roll through a section of cones on one wheel, while Owen was meant to be rolling through without peddling! Owen was just happy riding round the course as fast as he could. When we got home, we had tea and cake, then watched Toy Story 3, with Owen dressed up as Buzz Lightyear and Henry dressed up as Woody (the photo at the top of this post). Henry did not quite last the whole film though, falling asleep half way through…

This first week (and a bit) has not really felt like I have been on parental leave, it has felt more like a holiday, as Jen was off work too. Spending time together has been great – I think we had one day of handover with parental leave for Owen, and that was only because he had a hospital appointment in Birmingham, so the extra time together as a family has been great and I would recommend any parent taking shared parental leave to consider it!

Parental Leave II

As I mentioned in my 2020 post yesterday, I will be taking nine weeks parental leave to look after Henry, when Jen finishes her maternity leave and goes back to work. Today marks the start of my nine weeks! Technically I have already had two weeks off work, but that was annual leave/bank holidays. In some ways the timing has worked well, allowing me to run it back to back with the Christmas break, but on the other hand the weather will not be as nice as when I took parental leave with Owen during April and May 2017. Bike rides and open top car adventures will be a bit trickier this time around, so here’s hoping for some unseasonably warm months!

There will be a few differences for my parental leave this time, the obvious one being that I will also have Owen to look after – although he will be at nursery three days a week. Jen has delayed her return to work by a week at the start of my parental leave, in all we will have had three weeks at home together. Unfortunately we will not be taking a week to go on holiday – having said that, I am not too sure that a week at the seaside in February would be all that appealing. Lastly, this time I will not be checking my work emails – I kept getting drawn into them last time, but this year I have told work I will be fully offline for the duration, luckily I am confident that the guys covering my role will do a good job!

Since my parental leave with Owen, I have noticed a few other Dads taking parental leave, but it is still far from the norm. So, like last time, I will be publishing weekly posts about my experience and what Henry and I have been up to. Officially my leave runs Thursday to Thursday, but I will most likely post on Sunday evenings, with a long first week! Hopefully my posts will inspire other parents to take up the option of shared parental leave!

Reading back through my posts from parental leave with Owen, as research for this post, has brought back some great memories and made me realise that Henry is more advanced than Owen. For example I wrote in the first week that Owen’s new skill was “going from lying on his belly to sitting up” – Henry has been doing this for over a month! And likewise in the ninth week I noticed Owen’s fifth tooth – Henry already has five teeth! It will be interesting to see which developmental steps Henry will take while I am looking after him – will he be walking by his first birthday?