Thursday, January 26, 2012

The cost of bringing up children

Kerching: prices are rising
An interesting survey today puts the cost of raising a child until the age of 21 at £218,000. This staggering sum is produced by an insurance company, so there is an agenda here of getting parents to think more carefully about finance.

Initially the sum seemed way over the top to me, but on closer inspection, they are not that outlandish. The biggest two elements - making up more than 60 per cent of the total - are education and childcare. The education element assumes a child is going to college and the parents are picking up the tab, which may or may not be the case. For childcare, a large chunk of the £62,099 racked up over 21 years is accounted for by the assumption that your child is in full time nursery care from six months until they go to school. For many parents, this is simply not the case. One or both of them, may take shorter hours to spent more time with their child, so childcare expenditure is lower.

Elsewhere the costs assumed for items such as food, clothing and leisure do not seem unrealistic. That's not to say that many parents don't spend less on them. Clothing costs tumble when you have older siblings to pass on from, and not everybody has an annual holiday (here the annual allowance of £740 for your child does seem a little generous to me, especially if you're having a camping holiday in Norfolk, for example).

Cheap holidays: a day by the seaside won't break the bank
Overall though it's quite a sobering picture. All parents get to know how expensive children can be, but having it presented in this way is rather stark.

It goes without saying that this economic approach does not reflect the 'payback' that parents get from their children. You can't really tally this up in pounds and pence, and it sounds mushy to even talk about it, but what you get back from children is a very tangible thing. It lifts you when you are down, it makes you laugh harder than a ticket to the latest comic sensation, and it provides a sense of purpose that can seem lacking in the daily grind. I often feel skint, but I rarely find myself blaming my children for that. When you are a family, you really are all in it together.

Predictably a lot of comments on blogs and newspapers today are from the militantly 'child free' who leap upon these stories as a way to berate parents. "It's your life style choice, so don't moan about it," they say.

As opposed to the lifestyle choice of being an intolerant prick I suppose.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fit dad

Since having child number two I don't think I've done any real exercise. He's 21 months now, so that's quite a long time without breaking sweat.

I used to be pretty fit before we had the kids - I ran, went to the gym, played five a side every week. I think I was in pretty good shape.

But when our first son came along it quickly became apparent that there weren't enough hours in the day to do what I wanted to do. Something had to give.

(It does make me chortle to myself when I hear from mums and dads to be who can't comprehend what time thieves babies are and grandly announce that they'll use the early 'quiet' months for a spot of self improvement - to learn a new language or to start making their own jewellery. I'm sure I was the same and thought I'd be able to tap out my long-awaited first novel with one hand while rocking the cot with the other.)

Anyway, it wasn't just the great Hackney novel that went by the wayside, but also any sense of myself as a person who had time to attend to his physique.

Initially you're just too tired to go for that run, or to hit the gym. It also quickly becomes apparent that such self-indulgences take second place to the needs of the new kid in town. To be fair to Mrs Holiday, she was more into the idea of me going off jogging than jogging down to the pub to wet the baby's head. I can still remember the first time I went out with a mate for a couple of pints after J was born. It was probably a few more than a couple, but I was only out for a few hours, however the put down I got when I got back in still sends shivers down my spine.

That was an early lesson in how things had changed. Suddenly you have to think of other people. Not just the nipper, but also the put upon mother who also wouldn't mind getting out for a couple of drinks thank you very much.

However with just the one child, there was the occasional opportunity to disappear for a run. The gym membership quickly became surplus to requirements though as there was no way I could justify being away from my station for that amount of time.

When the second child came along, even the odd low level workout became pretty much impossible. Not only was there so much more to do, but the tiredness was cranked up another level. You also start to notice the toll that kids take on your health. Knees and backs come in for a real pounding with all the kneeling down and bending over you have to do. On the other hand, I've always thought that your arms get a pretty good work hoisting babies and toddlers - check these guns! They're better than any dumbbells with the added benefit that you get a smile as you're working out.

Now after ages of moaning about not having the time to do anything I've committed myself to getting off my butt and doing some exercise. Last night I went for my first run in a long time. It wasn't a marathon, but it was a start. The good thing was that I didn't simply keel over with exhaustion. Hopefully it's the start of getting back into some sort of shape before my two boys are pushing me around in a wheelchair.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Speak like a child

I've been looking after our youngest for a day a week for a few months now. He has turned 21 months and his language is really starting to develop.

There was a lovely moment today when he looked at me and said "Daddy kind."

It would have brought tears to my eyes if it wasn't for the fact that I was cleaning his bottom at the time. He'd just squeezed out the sort of mega poo, which is about as close as men get to giving birth, so I'm not surprised that he thought I was being kind.

What did surprise me was that he knew the word in the first place and had an idea of its context.

I had been at a stay and play earlier where one of the mums told me that a health visitor had told her that her 18 month old daughter should be able to say 50 words by now. That seemed a lot to me, and although it was only a few months ago for KidA, I'm not sure he would have made the target.

He's been a bit slower developing language than his big brother, or so it seems (memory plays tricks on you. I thought his brother was a walking, talking genius at roughly the same age until videos proved that he wasn't quite the prodigy I remembered.) One of the things about young 'un was that he had a highly developed sense of grunting which was quite expressive and got him a long way for a long time.

Recently I suppose he's discovered that grunting has its limits and is being more adventurous with his speech. It's quite a magical time and there's something new every day, some of it rather poignant.

From quite young he has referred to himself as 'you', which is understandable, as that's what everybody else calls him. But the other day he started using 'me'. It was a bittersweet moment - a little more clarity in communication, but a cute idiosyncrasy lost.

The whole language thing is fairly amazing when you think of it. Even children brought up in the most intellectually and emotionally deprived circumstances will develop speech beyond the abilities of any other animal. Kids just play with the building blocks of language until they find something that makes sense or amuses them.

At the moment KidA is starting to string together two and three words. It's still simple stuff, but it's the start of big changes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why don't more bands play Essex?

One of the things I miss since moving from London is the opportunity to see bands. Not that this was an opportunity I've been able to avail myself of very often since the kids came along, but at least the option was always there. Most weeks in London it was possible to find a few decent gigs that I would kid myself  I could get along to.

Since moving to Colchester I've found it rather odd that a town that is so obviously musical, is so off the map for touring bands. I'm not thinking here of Odeon-filling acts - the town doesn't have that sort of venue, and with a 'mere' 100,000 inhabitants, it's probably a little small. But what about the sort of up and coming bands that you can see night in, night out in London, and plenty of other towns around the UK? The sort of acts who are on their way up, but who are still 'paying their dues' (crikey, does that show my age?)

It's not just Colchester. The nearest large towns, Ipswich and Norwich (okay, not that near, but I'm struggling here!) are not especially well-served either. Why is East Anglia on so few touring schedules?

I noticed this today when Graham Coxon's tour dates were released. As a lad who grew up in Colchester, you could just about hope that he might play the town. Okay, no surprises that he's not, but what about the rest of the East of England? Nope, the nearest place to see him is Cambridge - or London of course.

And it's not just bands. Stewart Lee is one of my favourite comedians, and he is taking his latest show around just about every fleapit in the UK, but as far as I can see, there are no gigs anywhere in Essex, Suffolk or Norfolk. What gives? Our money not good enough for you?

As a relative newcomer here, I'm amazed by how much local music there is in Colchester. There's barely a night where there isn't a handful of live acts to choose from around town, and at weekends there are a huge amount of acts playing and no shortage of venues. There are also about four or five musical instrument shops and umpteen free listings mags.

So it wouldn't seem that there is a lack of appetite for music. Colchester is also a university town. Student Unions were awash with bands when I were a lad, but there doesn't seem to be much occurring on Wivenhoe Campus. Are students too engrossed in their books to want to see bands these days? I find that hard to believe.

It wasn't always thus as this clip of a young AC/DC playing at Essex University shows from 1978. Would this happen today?

There are honourable exceptions to my generalisations of course. Colchester Arts Centre has a varied schedule, but I'm sure there's room for a few more acts heading east and saving us from the trek up the A12 to London. Come on Essex promoters, let's get a few bigger names out here.