Heaven Can’t Wait

Teddy WilliamsMy wonderful granddad Edward, ‘Teddy’ Williams died today, aged 94. He was a wonderful man, and everyone who knew him would tell you that. He lived in Guernsey all his life – apart from when went away to fight in World war II – and he loved that island so much he even wrote a poem about it (which was published).

My dad is a vicar, and he’ll be taking my granddad’s funeral service next week. We’re not expecting a dry eye in the house. My wife and I both agree that our troopers (10, 8 and 5) are too young to go to the funeral, but we are going to have to tell them that granddad has gone to heaven. And we’re expecting a pretty good reception.

The troopers have been building up quite a dossier about heaven over the last few years. It actually began when my sons learned that a young boy in their school had died, and a teacher had pointed out that they weren’t to worry as normally, little children don’t die but adults. So the troopers were upset – and curious – was I going to die? Was their mum? Why did people die? Where did they go?

I told them that yes, me and their mum would die before them but years and years and years from now. I also added that it had to happen that way because we needed to get to heaven first and prepare the party for when they arrived. This cheered everyone’s spirits no end, and my wife and I heartily congratulated ourselves on our ingenuity. Then the party related interrogations began.

“Who can we invite to the party?” “Do they have to be dead too?” “Can we have party rings?” “Do we get presents?”

As for the last question, we didn’t want to be seen to be penny pinching on the celestial party of their lifetime so we said that yes, in heaven there’ll be presents galore. In heaven you can have whatever you want. Forever. That captured their imaginations like only endless possibility can.

Obviously we made the point that you need to be good to get into heaven. But the troopers reckon a life of goodness for an everlasting one is definitely worth it. My son Sam said “Dad, I’m even going to be good after I’ve got in!”

So in our house, going to heaven is almost the equivalent of winning the lottery.

And if that weren’t good enough, we told them that when they have had enough of being in heaven, they can come back down to earth as someone else. “Dad, who’d get sick of having whatever they want?” was my son Jude’s sage response.

So granddad, if you’re reading this, you’ve got three great grandchildren here who want to know what you’ve ordered in for the party.

Until we meet again granddad.

Healthy Packed Lunches for Kids

This blog was written in conjunction with Rachel Jessey, a qualified nutritionist, member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy, and a specialist in infant and childhood nutrition.

It is important that children are fed a healthy diet to promote growth, sustain energy, improve concentration and boost natural defences.  At school it is especially important that a child’s lunch contains plenty of nutrients to stock up on those used throughout the morning and keep them sustained throughout the afternoon.

This I know. However, I still ended up in the packed lunch rut.

 

I didn’t do it intentionally. I thought I was providing great packed lunches: healthy (no chocolate or sweets), a little bit inventive (soup and a sandwich in the cold weather) and full of nutritious food. But last week I heard my son telling my mum about his packed lunches, “We have the same stuff every day.  Sandwich, yoghurt, fruit, bar, crisps. Boring.”

I think part of the reason for the sameness of my packed lunches is that I need to be able to prepare the bulk of the packed lunch the night before – I simply don’t have the time in the morning to make anything more complicated than a sandwich. So I got into the habit of buying things that I knew I could easily assemble. Then I got into the habit of buying those same things without thinking.

I began to look at the contents of the packed lunches more critically. The ‘healthy’ bars actually contained more sugar than a packet of chocolate buttons. I am still getting over that revelation. The tortilla chips I gave them every day (a large bag broken down into individual, small, portions by me – not a whole bag as Sam implied) were too salty. It was ‘breakfast-cereal-gate’ all over again (more on that another time).   So, New Year, New Packed Lunch Menu. Below is a list of a week’s packed lunch ideas, prepared by Rachel Jessey, a qualified nutritionist, to give me inspiration (and you, if you need it).  It is based on all the things my kids like to eat. My youngest is five and so can cope with having a little pot of houmous to dip carrot sticks in etc.

Monday

  • Mini buffet – A selection of crackers, oat cakes and/or rice cakes, or slices of wholemeal bread with cheese cubes, chicken strips, carrot, cucumber and red pepper sticks, cherry tomatoes and dips such as houmous, cream cheese, guacamole or salsa
  • Apple
  • Yogurt
  •  Bottle of water, 100% fruit juice – not from concentrate, or fruit smoothie

Tuesday

  • Wholemeal pasta mixed with tuna, cucumber cubes, red pepper cubes and sweetcorn, mixed with a little olive oil (to prevent it becoming a congealed mess)
  • Banana
  • Chopped dried apricots and nuts (if allowed at school)
  • Bottle of water, 100% fruit juice – not from concentrate, or fruit smoothie

Wednesday

  • Wholemeal cous cous with chickpeas, feta cheese and chicken strips and spring onions, cucumber and tomato cubes. Use ½ a stock cube in the water you make the cous cous with for extra flavour.
  • Box of raisins
  • Fruit in jelly
  • Bottle of water, 100% fruit juice – not from concentrate, or fruit smoothie

Thursday

  • Pitta pockets or wholemeal bread sandwich with egg and cress
  • Vegetable sticks with houmous
  • Yogurt
  • Bottle of water, 100% fruit juice – not from concentrate, or fruit smoothie

Friday

  • Wholemeal wrap with chicken, salsa, avocado and lettuce
  • Small fruit salad
  • Fromage frais
  • Bottle of water, 100% fruit juice – not from concentrate, or fruit smoothie

My kids were back at school Tuesday and so far have had the  ‘mini buffet’, pasta and cous-cous.  All the lunch boxes came back empty, and they all agreed that it was lovely. Obviously, I realise that it is a novelty to have something different and I appreciate that I will have to keep the variety going, but it’s a good start.

My top 5 golden rules for packed lunches:

  1. Make packed lunches the night before. No matter how tired you are. In the morning you will be tired and busy.
  2. Invest in a reusable water bottle (cheaper than bottled and better for the environment) and plastic containers to put the lunch in. They’re cheaper in the long run that plastic lunch bags and stop everything getting squashed. Squashed food just isn’t appetising.
  3. Be mindful of portion sizes.
  4. Experiment with different fillings for wraps and pitta pockets that you know your troopers will like, and mix and match the ideas. Variety is the spice of life.
  5. Always check with your school what foods you are allowed to pack for your child as some prevent you from including nuts, for example.

How I became a stay at home dad

The decision for me to become a stay-at-home dad began with a pact made on the tarmac of Heathrow in 2003.

My wife and I had just touched down on a flight from New York (where we had lived for 3 years) with our two fabulous sons, Samuel (then 14 months) and Jude (then two months). We had decided to come back home as we simply couldn’t juggle work and childcare in New York no matter how hard we tried. And we tried hard. My wife earned more, but my job gave us our visas; my wife worked long, sometimes unpredictable hours, and I worked shifts etc.

So we decided that we would embrace the adventure of returning home. We had no job, no place to live and few savings.

The plane was on the tarmac when we made our pact: the first one to get a job that could support the whole family would work, and the other one would look after the kids full time. No more juggling. We went to stay with my in-laws and my wife rang anyone she had ever worked with in PR, to see if she could pick up freelance work. Within a few weeks she was working and my career as full time stay at home dad began in earnest.

Two years later our little family was living in London and I was working every weekend as a PCSO in the Met, when we heard that we had another baby on the way: Liberty.  When Liberty was 18 months old I became a registered childminder.

My experiences as a stay at home dad led me to write Commando Dad: Basic Training. How to be an Elite Dad or Carer. From Birth to Three Years Old. It’s a no-nonsense, straightforward guide to all the basic skills dads need to be effective parents.

I wrote it because all the books (and classes) lead up to the birth of your baby trooper, not the entire life that comes after. The books available for dads were either novelty books (and believe me, if your parenting is a laugh a minute, you’re doing it wrong) or books that were simply too wordy to be practical. At 0-silly-hundred- hours, with a screaming trooper in your arms, 700 pages of someone telling you about their emotions isn’t the answer.

I’ve got to be honest; being a stay at home parent was – and still is – the most demanding job I have ever had. And I count being a Royal Engineer Commando, PE teacher, and a security guard at the UK Mission to the UN in New York amongst my experiences. It is definitely not easy; but then I believe that nothing worth doing is ever easy.