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Top Five Tips for Buying Presents for Babies

Are you buying presents for baby troopers this Christmas? Follow the golden rules I have used to navigate my way successfully through several Christmases with my three little troopers.
1. You don’t have to buy anything. Christmas isn’t about buying presents because you feel you ‘have’ to. There are a number of things that you really do have to do for your baby: feed, clothe, love, protect and teach them. Please note that buying presents is not on that list. If you find yourself motivated to buy presents because you feel motivated by guilt, or what other people might think, or feel under pressure to buy specific toys because they are in fashion, STOP.

The only exception to this rule is if you have older troopers that believe Santa brings gifts – if you don’t buy a little something for baby, then it may appear the have been ‘naughty’. It can be something small though – Santa knows that the most important thing to give a baby at Christmas is a lot of love and a couple of gentle kisses.
However, if you really do want to buy your baby gifts – and in this current climate it’s great to support the High Street – or if relatives are asking for suitable present ideas, bear in mind the following advice.
2. Buy, or ask for, what you need. If your baby trooper requires any kit, from clothes to cots then why not make this their Christmas gift? This will be genuinely useful to you and your baby trooper. In the absence of guidance from you about suitable gifts, you may end up with a host of cuddly toys and Christmas outfits with a severely limited shelf life.
3. Go for bold colours and interesting texture. Babies aren’t attracted to pastel colours – parents are. If buying anything for baby from toys to clothes, go for big, bright and bold colours. Baby troopers also love texture, but make sure not to give them anything with sharp corners if they have the dexterity to put their hand to their mouth. Baby troopers love to taste their world and will try and put everything in their mouth. In the early days of developing this skill the sometimes miss and hit themselves in the face. Make sure their toys are soft enough to cause no harm
4. Toys with (gentle) noise. Loud and sudden noises can startle young baby trooeprs. But all troopers love toys with noise, regardless of their age. Go for something easy on the ear, like a soft rattle or a tinkling bell. This has the added advantage of being easier for your ears too – too much noise can be overwhelming for the whole unit.
5. Hide, or donate, surplus gifts. Contrary to popular belief, troopers really can only play with so many toys at once. This is especially true for babies. If your baby trooper gets a hoard of toys at Christmas, hide some of the evergreen ones that you believe they will get fun out of in the coming months (depending on their stage of development): soft toys, rattles, more interactive toys etc. These can then be brought out of hiding throughout the year, which means your baby trooper will have a steady supply of new toys. Let your baby trooper play with the age-appropriate toys they have been given, and let them decide which ones they like. The ones that don’t get played with can be kept safe and donated to charities that provide presents for underprivileged children next Christmas. In my opinion there is simply nothing better that you can do with them.
Family Album

The days are long but the years are short

It may not seem like it now, but you have a really short time with your little troopers. There’s not much more than 1800 days between birth and age five.
When you’re in the thick of parenting, multi-tasking, running here there and everywhere it is easy to forget how quickly the time slips by.
It sounds like a cliche but it really does seem like only yesterday that this picture of Samuel was taken.
Seize the day.

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Christmas Gift Idea: a Family Bauble

It’s Christmas!! And time to make the Sinclair family bauble…
See below for last year’s brilliant effort, created using our thumbprints. My wife had actually asked me to cover the fingertips on one hand of Sam, Jude and Liberty with paint and rest a bauble in it, so that it would look like they were holding them. Unfortunately I got the wrong end of the stick, but I hope you’ll agree the beauty below still looks rather great:

In my august opinion, baubles are great for a number of reasons:

  • They make really great Christmas presents, especially for grandparents.
  • They are a great keepsake for years to come (even now we’re playing the ‘is my thumbprint bigger than it was last year? game).
  • Making them is a nice and christmassy family activity, and as we go to a ceramic cafe, no cleaning up is required. My crafty friend tells me it is possible to make one with foil, paper, painted thumbs and PVA glue, but I am leaving that one to the experts.

If you do make them as gifts though, be sure to make yourself one too. The one above was actually meant to me my mum’s christmas present last year but when it was completed the little troopers couldn’t bear to part with it. You have been warned.

The Book

How I got a Publisher for my Parenting Book – Commando Dad: Basic Training

Apparently, it is virtually impossible to get a publisher. I’m glad I didn’t know before I tried, or I might have been put off. As it is, I got two offers on my book. This is how.

  1. I wrote the book. Well, the first version of it any way. After four years of thinking about it, talking about it and getting my friends to agree it was a good idea, I was no nearer to actually writing it. People were now starting to ask me whatever happened about the book. I found it hard to say nothing, because I never did anything with it – far harder than I would have found it to say that I had given it my best shot, but no publisher was interested. So for 10 Saturday mornings in a row, I sat down with my wife and wrote a chapter. We promised to send what we’d written to our cousin Annie every week, a promise that kept us honest. I found that having a pile of papers that I could point to and say ‘this is my book’ had a miraculous effect on galvanising me into action. I had a book. It was real.

2. I wrote a book synopsis. In fact, the synopsis was so good that it actually made me change the book. Trying to make it as appealing as possible to publishers, (by answering questions such as who would buy it, how it was different from what was already out there etc.) made me look at my book more critically. I included three chapters of the book in the synopsis.
3. I didn’t bother with an agent. Oh, I know you are supposed to, because that’s the way of doing things. But when the penny dropped that I was supposed to go through the Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook and send out a lot of manuscripts to a lot of agents, the majority of whom, by the simple law of averages would reject it I decided not to. I didn’t want to feel that I was a failure before I had even begun. And stamps are expensive.
4. I did my research on publishers. The problem with agents was that we didn’t know the difference between the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. So I thought that by far the best bet was to target suitable publishers and ring them up to find out the agents they care about. Then I’d just target those. I had already researched publishers – on and offline – that had released books specifically for dads, written by dads. I had a list of 8. I called up 4, and two of those asked to see the manuscript. The two that reviewed the manuscript made offers. In less than a week.
5. I spoke to the publishers about what they thought my book would look like. The first time you speak to a publisher it is an exciting and amazing experience but I had watched too many documentaries about famous bands signing to labels to get carried away in the moment. Act in haste, repent at leisure. As my criteria for Commando Dad: Basic Training had always been ‘would I pick up this book?’ and ‘would this book have been useful to me as a stay-at-home dad?’ I prepared a set of questions to find out if their vision for the book was the same as mine. So for example, I asked them what they thought it would look like, how big it would be, how many pages it would have, how much they’d like to sell it for etc. I also asked them to send over a draft contract, which is very, very telling.

In the end I chose the publisher that seemed to have a similar vision for the book to the one I had and was amenable to listening to the opinion of a complete novice like me. The book’s not out until May next year – just in time to make a great present for Father’s Day – so I have yet to see how it will sell, but I can honestly say that together we produced the exact book that I have been seeing in my mind’s eye for years.
This of course is the short version – each of these bullet points could make a long and probably boring blog all of their own, and we haven’t even got into the ‘what to do with a contract’ territory, but the main points are here. I am happy to elaborate if anyone wants me to.

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Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree!

Today is the one year anniversary of us moving into this house. If you remember, this time last year we had deep snow, and it wasn’t until that snow disappeared in January that we discovered we had a real life Christmas tree lurking in a pot in the garden.
Well, it’s the time of year for Christmas trees (again) and yesterday afternoon I managed to drag it into the house.
The first surprise was how a tree that seemed mid-sized in the garden became a veritable giant once it crossed the threshold. It touches the roof. The second surprise was a nest lurking in the branches. We had a quick family conference about what to do which largely consisted of us all clambering to have a look, and everyone saying ‘aaaah’. My wife Tara then Googled it to discover that it must be removed right away as it might contain mites. We all took a step back. Then she went on to read that we should have given the tree a really good shake and prune out egg cases. We all took another step back. Tara stopped reading.
We had two choices – we either dragged the real Christmas tree back out into the garden and dug out our little green plastic one from the loft, or we took our chances. The kids looked at all the decorations and the big impressive tree standing right there. Jude said: “Dad, do you actually know exactly here the plastic Christmas tree is?” “No.” We took our chances.
And here’s the result:

Thankfully, we didn’t come down to be greeted by lots of little insects that have been woken up by the immense wattage generated by three strings of lights. We’re keeping an eye out though!

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Entertaining the troops during today's strike

Today’s strikes will leave thousands of parents with the prospect of finding childcare and/or entertaining the troops.
You probably wouldn’t have chosen to take the day off but love it or hate it, you’re off. So do your best to enjoy it. This will make life easier for you, and your troops (nothing says ‘joyless’ more than a parent iterating how little they are enjoying being at home).
The golden rule to remember is that your undivided attention is the most engaging entertainment tool there is. Anything that involves you spending time together will be a sure fire hit.

  1. Of course you can rely on the weather to be cold and unwelcoming. That shouldn’t be a reason not to go out and about – it’ll give you all a chance to work off some energy. Younger troops (nursery through to juniors) will enjoy going to the park where they’ll probably plenty of friends. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can build a shelter or den in the back garden with your older troops (juniors through to young seniors).
  2. Take your troops on an outing. To a library, or a museum, or a gallery, or an urban farm… Check out your area in your local paper or online as you may be surprised what’s on offer and the free activities available. If the funds will stretch, take your troopers swimming or to the cinema (but beware, the cinemas will be heaving and the popcorn and drinks will be a hefty Stand and Deliver! experience that is not advisable for the faint hearted).
  3. If you want to stay indoors, find an engaging activity to prevent boredom setting in (for everyone). Cooking is a sure fire hit, and can be tailored from ‘cooking’ a sandwich for lunch to that night’s dinner, depending on age and experience. At this time of year sorting through old toys is another good one. I convinced my troops that Santa has a strict quota of toys per house and so they need to keep getting rid of the toys they don’t want to make room for the toys they do. Making an indoor den is an evergreen choice and you only need a sheet and a bit of imagination. You could even stage your own film day, shut the curtains, turn off the lights and make your own popcorn.

Help Others
If you are able to take time off on Wednesday, and you have the space, why not offer your childcare services to your friends and family? Not only will this give you an all over good feeling of Christmas cheer, but also if the news is to be believed, this strike could just be the start. Perhaps someone you can help now may be in a position to help you next time.

About Commando Dad

About Commando Dad

My name is Neil Sinclair and I am a Dad, an author and hopefully, a good blogger.

In the past I have been a Royal Engineer Commando, a PE teacher, and a security guard at the UK Mission to the UN in New York, but by far the most demanding job to date is as a stay-at-home dad to my three kids: Samuel, Jude and Liberty.

My Family

My experience of bringing my first child home – when you discover that all the parenting books and classes were geared towards the birth, not the entire life that comes after – prompted me to write a parenting book for dads. It’s called Commando Dad: Basic Training and is out May 2012.

Being a first time author is exciting and exhilarating – but it is stepping out into the unknown. Just like a skydive in fact!

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What kind of parent am I?

Something caught my eye on Twitter last night: “When you really want to know what kind of parent you are, ask your child. Your child’s perception of your parenting matters”.
So this morning I decided to put that theory to the test. I asked my eldest trooper, Samuel, what he thought of me as a parent. I should preface this by telling you that Samuel is 9 going on 19, and that he has somehow managed to acquire the vocabulary – and temperament – of Noel Coward.
He paused for a few seconds to weigh up the possibility that this could be a trick that would impact his Christmas present haul (we told him, in the strictest confidence, that Father Christmas has covert surveillance in the kitchen, which is where we were standing at the time).
“I think you could possibly be a better parent if you let me have a paint ball party for my birthday,” was his opening shot. “No, Sam I mean what am I like as a parent? Am I loving? Am I kind? Do I do a good job?” Silence. “I think you would definitely do a better job if you let me have a paint ball party for my birthday. Am I allowed to say that?”
So I tried out the question on my middle trooper, Jude. I am convinced that he is going to be a politician, and you’ll shortly find out why. “Dad – what a question. You’re the best dad in the world!” was his immediate reply, delivered with a beaming smile. “Really? How do you know I’m the best in the world?” “Because when I was in heaven looking for a dad, I checked out every one in the world before I picked you.” I should point out that this follows on from an earlier conversation: ‘where do babies come from?’ but is still very impressive for a boy of 8. And it certainly put a spring in my step.
Finally, I asked my daughter, Liberty. “Yes” she said with all the conviction of a five year old. Before I had time to congratulate myself that two out of three wasn’t bad, she immediately followed it up with, “so can I have some Jawbreakers now?” Jawbreakers are gobstoppers with chewing gum in the middle. “No Lib, you still can’t have any Jawbreakers.” Her thoughtful response? “Fine! You’re a rubbish daddy then!”
So according to the troopers, I am somewhere between rubbish and the best dad in the world. I know I’m not perfect, but I also know that I try to be the best dad that I can be. Unfortunately, ‘right’ isn’t always popular. For example, I know my boys love me but think that their friends who get to play violent video games have won the best parent lottery. But I’m not parenting them for what they want now – I am parenting them for the adults they’ll become.
I told my wife that I am going to ask each of them of the same question on their 18th birthday. She told me not to get my hopes up.

Family Album

We are Family!

My lovely family on one of our adventures!