Google thinks I’m a solo dad

I didn’t know that there were dating sites for solo parents wanting to meet other solo parents. I just thought that outlet was already covered by playgrounds and kids football (soccer) matches. But Google has reassured me that there are plenty of single mothers on the lookout for me. Well presumably men like me, though the ad did say ‘you’, so I took that to mean me specifically. It’s nice to be appreciated.

Apparently I give off a solo dad vibe online. Well actually initially I just gave off a dad vibe, as I was getting hit with ads for both solo mums and Ashleigh Madison – though maybe they just pegged me as being lonely enough to happily pay to chat to a fembot. But then the AM ads stopped, and the solo mums stayed. I don’t even get the Russian or Asian bride ads popping up. It’s weird.

I’ve been trying to think about what the Google algorithm has picked up in my online behaviour that has me pegged as a solo dad. Not just that but also one that it thinks probably only wants a relationship with another solo parent. I’m sure most of you know that Google tracks everything and is particularly invasive if you run an android phone and use Chrome as your browser on your PC, which I do. It connects the devices immediately, so if you search for a product on your phone you’ll pretty quickly spot ads for it when you’re on your PC, and vice versa.

The funny thing in my case is that I’m highly predictable online. Basically I read news, political blogs and sports. Every now and again I get interested in a particular topic and go searching for more info, but otherwise my online profile would be boring as. No Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest. Nothing I can think of that would out me as a solo dad.

But then I realised what it was. I do the cooking. And because I do the cooking I go searching for recipes every now and again. So Google’s algorithm takes a punt that more likely than not, a bloke who has kids and does all the cooking is probably on his own. Because why else would he do all the cooking? And because I cook and don’t just get takeaways delivered, that must mean I’m a virtuous solo dad who is good material for a solo mum. Not just some bum after a foreign bride.

But I think Google asks a very fair question. Why do I do all the cooking? Why indeed.

See, Google is not spying on me. It’s looking out for me. The truth is I like cooking. Though BB does make an exceptional chicken parma. Might have to rope her back into the kitchen for a guest appearance.

Chaos turns 2

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It was at roughly 9pm on 23 March 2015 that BB informed me our family would be growing. I know this because she decided to drop that gem on me as I was shredding my nails watching Grant Elliot drive New Zealand toward an unlikely victory over South Africa in the cricket world cup semi-final. She did it by handing me a drink with the pregnancy test in it – as if it was a swizzle stick. Because when BB first told me about Hurricane being on the way it was her birthday and we were sitting on the Makara cliffs with drinks. She handed me the pregnancy test and I didn’t click to what it was. I thought she was handing me a swizzle stick for some bizarre reason and it was only when I went to use it that I realised it had a blue line on it.

Rest assured, I haven’t consumed any beverage that a pee stick has been in. Came close though. Twice. Hopefully I’ll be a bit more prepared next time. If there is a next time. That’s still being negotiated.

Anyway, as you can imagine, I did not have the mental capacity to handle both the climactic finish to the greatest game of cricket ever played and the news that baby number two was on the way. I thanked BB for telling me and asked her to come back when the match was over.

Chaos landed in our lives 8 months later – about 6 months earlier than we had originally sketched out in our life plan. But then I’ve never really liked following plans, so it didn’t bother me. Hurricane was closing in on the 2 mark at that time and was at peak adorable. He loved her as much as we did the moment he saw her. He still does, most of the time.

Chaos has always been a terrible sleeper (unlike Hurricane), but she’s rarely ratty during the day. Early on I had a feeling that she was going to be similar to my little sister – very gentle, girly and cheeky. And she is. She loves shoes, bags, dresses, dolls and anything that sparkles. Just like her Aunty. Though she also gets excited when she sees an excavator digging out trenches for gas pipelines, unlike said Aunty.

As Chaos has grown, more of her personality has come out and it’s fair to say she has a very determined streak in her. Some might call it stubborn. Others might recognise it in her mother. In recent times she has started throwing some quality tantrums. The day before her birthday she got so outraged that I wouldn’t let her carry a tray of eggs (for her cake), that she collapsed on the ground and howled at the moon in our building courtyard for at least 5 minutes solid, which felt like 20.

But the reason for Chaos being Chaos is that she is just so busy. It’s only been very recent that she started settling in to watch a TV show with Hurricane. More often than not she is up and off. Taking her on public transport for more than 10 minutes is like wrangling an eel in an oil drum armed with a pair of rubber tongs. She doesn’t want to sit still, she wants to go entertain her fellow travelers. As BB likes to say, she’s a little firecracker. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Obviously. Be weird if a parent was to qualify that. Though if she slept through the night more than once a month…

Anyway, for her birthday Chaos wanted a cat cake. That was all. BB – the birthday cake master – duly delivered. We had the little gang around. It was great.

Oh I almost forgot, that morning we went all the way to Brooklyn to see Paw Patrol Live – the stage show of the cartoon. Damn the songs were catchy. Though Hurricane has made it very clear that I’m only allowed to sing them if no one can hear me. Brutal.

Thanksgiving

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Mmmmm turkey

Thanksgiving weekend has been and gone. We loved it. Started out with an early morning trip downtown to see the Macy’s parade – it starts at 9am and while we got to Columbus Circle (about 15 blocks from where it starts) just after 8 it was already pretty packed out. Managed to get a spot with a line of sight. Not great but good enough. The kids loved it, though I struggle to see why people would want to make a tradition of it every year. Worth going to once in your life. Apparently over 3 million people line the streets for it each year. Crazy really. We didn’t see the whole thing as we got bored and cold (it was -1), and I also needed to get back home to get the turkey on.

That pic above is my turkey. Stuffed with butter and covered in bacon. In other words, protein cooked in fat. Ohhhhhhhhh yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah. We had the Commonwealth Crew over for dinner and between us we pulled off the full spread, with our antipodean cousins providing some quality pumpkin and pecan pies.

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I’ve still got a fair bit of turkey left over. I forgot how big those birds are. I had originally planned to get a real big sucker – like a 24 pound beast – but then I realised it probably wouldn’t fit in our oven and it could take 5-6 hours to cook. So I settled for the friendlier 14 pound option. A very wise decision.

Good times.

 

 

Equal tights

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Spitting image of what I look like in tights…

For some time I have been troubled by the transition of tights from being something ladies would wear under a skirt, to it now being acceptable to don them as stand alone casual or even work pants. Exercise attire I can understand, for exercising. Though even that has since morphed into the Saturday brunch uniform.

The problem isn’t necessarily what you might think it is. While personally I might consider that most people who head into public wearing tights as pants probably have a very long list of problems, including substandard hygiene, I accept that some can pull it off. But the list of people who can pull it off does not include a single man. Not one.

And this is the problem. The world is in this weird place where a good portion of the populace believe equal opportunities is just a capitalist construct that is a roadblock to true utopia – equal outcomes. So if you have fallen into this trap, please let me disabuse you of this fallacy with this very simple example.

Both men and women are capable of wearing tights as pants in public. There is nothing preventing either sex from doing so. Wearing what we choose is a personal freedom that all westerners enjoy. This is called equality of opportunity.

When a woman wears tights as pants, they simply look like terrible pants. Most of the time they are largely inoffensive, with the exception being when someone has outgrown a pair but does not want to accept it. Overall, the outcome of women wearing tights as pants is subjective depending on your views on fashion, but in the scheme of things it’s no big deal.

When a man wears tights as pants, we are faced with a very different outcome. Those who encounter a male in such attire are routinely confronted with the outline of his twig and berries. There are places where one is prepared for such imagery – the bedroom, the bathroom, men’s locker rooms for example. Where you don’t expect to see it is in a New York cafe, with your children.

You see while the opportunity for men and women to wear tights as pants is on an equal level, the outcome is not. Because there is a natural difference in play, and it doesn’t matter how much you might wish it to be otherwise, no one wants to see the clear outline of a man’s schlong over a coffee. Or at work. Or in a bar. Or in the supermarket.

This particular episode played out while we had an Australian friend Ohriviaaa (as Chaos calls her) visiting for the weekend. She only got the rear view, lucky for her. Myself and Hurricane didn’t fare so well. It wasn’t a customer committing this crime, it was an employee. Ohriviaaa did get some follow-up exposure when she spotted a man in his undies in his hotel room, curtains open, while we walked the High Line. She let out such a squeal when he then dropped his daks in full view that a bunch of other tourists came running. The French had their cameras out quick smart. Unsurprising for the French, of course.

Anyway, back to the real target of this post. I can understand the thinking for men to wear tights as pants. Equality. If women can, so can we. It has to go both ways, right? No. It really doesn’t. Just because the opportunity is the same, doesn’t mean the outcome is. So to all those strange dudes in New York who want to wear tights to work, or anywhere else, please don’t. Think of the children. Think of us all.

 

 

 

I survived my first solo + kids subway journey and this is my story

IMG-20171119-WA0000There are some things you should avoid in New York. The subway at peak hour is one of them. Doesn’t require a genius to know that taking two kids on at that time is not to be advised. But that’s what I did.

Not intentionally, mind you. It was because we got lost in the Museum of Natural History. The thing is a maze. I had a map. Well actually Chaos had the map. She hasn’t mastered the art of navigation just yet, nor the ability to keep a sheet of paper in one piece. So the map wasn’t much good to us by the time we got lost somewhere in the origins of Africa exhibit. Or whatever it was. By the time I found another map, it was 4.10pm. By the time we got to the train station it was 4.45. Not good.

The trip down had been a breeze. Jump on a fairly empty train. Hurricane and Chaos perfectly behaved. Jump off. Walk to the museum. The return train pulled in and was packed full. Sardines in a can. I had two small people, my bag and a stroller that I had folded up. Debacle.

Normally New Yorkers are pretty good at giving up their seats for families, however peak hour has more of a survival of the fittest feel to it. A nice young guy spotted us and gave up his seat for Hurricane. No one else moved. Everyone looked away. No eye contact. I stood there, Chaos in one arm, stroller in the other, bag on back. Then Chaos did something unexpected.  She grabbed hold of the bar above my head and started to do chin-ups.

Chin-ups. It was impossible not to laugh. A toddler in a puffy jacket doing chin-ups in a packed train full of very serious, very silent New Yorkers. And the best part? She was counting them out. All the way to 12. Obviously she’s not strong enough to do 12 chin-ups unassisted, she was sitting on my arm. In other words, she was cheating. But man it was funny. Though it didn’t get us a seat. These rush hour travelers have hearts of stone I tell you.

Peak hour trains are slow. By the time it started to empty out and we were able to get seats the little people were starting to fray and required physical separation. So they both just attacked me for the last 10 minutes. They were tired and I could sense the hanger kicking in. I then made a fatal decision. Get off and catch the bus home, instead of drag them up the hill on foot. The train at peak was bad, the bus was a whole different story.

There was one spare seat when we got on, but Hurricane didn’t want it as he “didn’t want to sit next to that woman”. Chaos agreed. So we all stood. Then the bus filled up and it turned into a sauna. The woman that neither of the little people wanted to sit next to, but whom we were trapped next to anyway, loudly remarked about 3 stops later that it was unsafe for children to be standing so she would give up her seat, clearly hoping someone else would say ‘no no, here they can have mine’. But no one did. So after an awkward pause she gave up her seat and Hurricane gladly clambered in, with Chaos following his lead.

Unfortunately Chaos then headbutted her brother in the face. And the howling began. Both of them. One because his face hurt, the other because she was upset that he was upset. A man behind us said: “I feel the same way”. We laughed. Because there isn’t much else you can do.

It took 75 minutes, but we got home. Mission accomplished. More or less.

 

The joys of unsolicited advice

I’ve never understood what compels people to try and offer life advice to complete strangers. I’m quite happy to just watch people make stupid decisions, because well it’s funny, but more importantly because it’s none of my business why they do what they do.

For example, our building has a gym, and I make an effort to get there three times a week in the morning. Every time I go, I see the same woman in there on the same cross-trainer doing the exact same 40 minute workout. Very slowly. Boring doesn’t come close to describing it. I could tell her that she would be much better off just going for a walk outside – for both her physical and mental health – or mixing it up by climbing on a bike every now and again. But I don’t do that, because even though I might have good intentions, good intentions are thoroughly annoying – and about as useful as trying to wipe off a curry with a sole square of single-ply toilet paper. Really, good intentions are too often just an excuse people use when they want to control other people, or feel validated about their own choices.

In my brief stint to date as a primary caregiver, I have come to empathise (yes I found the spot in my brain that has been storing it) with first time mothers who have to suffer from a barrage of unsolicited advice. My increased exposure to mums has made me realise how much self-doubt many of them have about how they are raising their children. They worry they’re doing it wrong. All the time.

I don’t.

I think, generally, I’m just too lazy to worry. It requires a lot of mental effort. The first couple of times when people came up to me and made a comment on how I should be handling Hurricane and Chaos, I just kind of looked at them a bit bemused and carried on. Meh, couldn’t care. But then I heard someone make a comment to one of the playgroup mums about how tired she looked and that her daughter probably wasn’t sleeping because she was too stimulated, or not eating enough protein, and needed a strict routine. The mum looked utterly defeated. She didn’t even respond. That comment, at that moment, was the last thing she needed.

There are two main types of people who offer unsolicited parenting advice – those who genuinely think their advice is helpful, and those who are annoyed that you’re not parenting the right way (ie their way) because you’re either inexperienced or stupid and so need to be appropriately directed. I seem to attract the latter. I presume it’s because I have a penis and that means I don’t know anything about children. Which is partially true. I know what mine look like, which is really the only fundamental you need as it ensures you feed the right little mouths and don’t take someone else’s kids home.

I tolerated the little words of advice to start with, but I’ve changed tack since. Every time these incessant interferers get a civil response, they just feel empowered to keep doing it. So what happens if you push back? Well I’ll tell you.

They do not like it.

Take the 50-something woman in the supermarket, who recommended I get a trolley to put Hurricane and Chaos in so they couldn’t run ‘amok’. I couldn’t help but laugh. It made it sound like they were tearing the shelves down when they were just yelling at me to tell them what species of fish were on display today. I responded and said: “No thank you. If I wanted a trolley I would have got one at the entrance.” Her eyes went all buggy. Poor woman.

Then there was the woman who actually walked across the playground to ask me if I was watching my children (I’m not their shadow, unlike many other parents here) because Chaos was swinging on an overhead bar and could fall. I politely told her she was welcome to go helicopter her own kids, or anyone else’s, but mine were fine. That did not go down well. I think she took a picture of me on her phone.

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Chaos swinging away, oblivious to the conflict she has created

Some bloke also warned me not to let Hurricane and Chaos walk ahead of me on the footpath down dog poo alley because apparently some people drive really fast around there. That just made me confused. Do they drive fast on the footpath? No, on the road he said. So he was telling me not to let my kids walk on the road. I think my face kind of gave it away that I thought he was an idiot. Words were not required.

There is a common saying, it takes a village to raise a child. Unfortunately in the modern world that has changed to: it takes a village to tell you how to raise a child. Spray and walk away. I can’t be bothered with it. And I can’t be bothered being polite about it either.

Winter is coming

 

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First Chaos, then Hurricane. BB is feeling it too now. The dominoes have been falling. I have been dosing up on vitamin C and upping my protein intake. The latter has nothing to do with fighting off sickness. I just like meat.

It’s only November, but the temperature has dived. Two weeks ago it was 19 degrees (Celsius), this weekend it dropped to a high of 4, and apparently went as low as -11 with the wind chill on Friday night. No sign of snow, it’s just freezing cold.

The kids’ sickness we can put down to the rapid temperature drop. We weren’t ready for it. As a result, BB and I have not been in the same bed for most of this week. Hurricane and Chaos kept waking each other up with their coughs and general misery so we had to split them up.

I got to go sleep in the kids’ room, which meant having Hurricane climb in with me in a single kids bed. He slept on top of me the other night. Obviously attached to my armpit wasn’t close enough, so he dragged himself up and ended up sleeping with his nose in my belly button. That was weird. Belly buttons generally are quite weird, and you can lose a finger in mine. It just keeps going. It was a bit awkward having him bury his schnoz in there. But he seemed comfortable, so I went with it. Until it got really hot and I had to peel the sweaty little limpet off me.

He then woke up and decided to tell me a great story about how one time Chaos tried to drink from his bottle because she thought it was hers, but he turned the light on to show her that it was his, and she was like ‘ohhh it’s yours’, and then she gave it back to him and he was like ‘told you it was mine’. Then he started talking about ice cream.

What’s your favourite ice cream Dad?

Chocolate.

I like strawberry.

Ok.

Can I have some ice cream when I wake up.

No.

Why not?

Because we don’t have ice cream for breakfast.

Yes we do. Remember. You had pancakes and ice cream.

I’m allowed ice cream anytime I like because I’m Daddy.

When I am 33 I will eat ice cream for breakfast.

You can do anything you like when you’re 33. Go to sleep.

It took 2 hours for him to get back to sleep. He was wired as once he started talking about ice cream. The kid just loves ice cream. Not sure where he got that from. The other topics for discussion included sharks, ants and why he has to strip naked in order to sit on the toilet. I wasn’t really listening, he was mostly just talking at me while I tried to sleep.

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Squirrels too quick

Anyway, with the small people on the upwards curve we managed to finally get out of the house and get to Central Park before the leaves all disappeared. It’s quite cool to see it in different seasons. It changes a lot. Hurricane and Chaos had a ball chasing squirrels and running in the leaves as dusk settled in. Then we got meatballs and ice cream sandwiches from the Meatball Shop. Quality way to wrap up a pretty tough week.

Though this is only autumn. Getting outside is still doable. The winter shindig is not looking like it’s going to be very easy.

 

 

 

 

Sickly

 

The seasonal change has kicked in and Chaos is an early casualty. The poor wee bug has an ear infection to go with a bad cold. She is not happy.

Our kids aren’t really sickly types, but I have been worried about this. Mostly because I’m pretty bad with cabin fever, and Hurricane is even worse. Chaos kicked off on Sunday night and after looking like she might have been on an upward swing the next morning she then deteriorated and we didn’t leave the apartment even once that day. Tuesday wasn’t much better and we ended up taking her to the doctor today (Wednesday) so she’s now on antibiotics.

Thankfully we have (expensive) medical insurance for the little people, even though that doesn’t make treatment free. We still had to pay $60 to have Chaos seen and another $20 for the prescription. Back in NZ, well we would have paid nothing.

Since I’ve been here I’ve learnt a bit about the US healthcare system and how screwed it is. The truth is, it’s probably beyond fixing. The Government effectively absolved itself of one of its core responsibilities – to look after the health of its citizens – a very long time ago and it can’t really go back. The US now has the most expensive healthcare system in the world, but you don’t really get much for your dollar. Just a whole lot of waste and exorbitantly priced drugs. The relationships between insurers, pharmaceutical companies and the healthcare professionals themselves are pretty sorry when you look at the simplicity of the NZ system.

For example, early on BB went to the doctor and sought a very basic prescription for what back home is an over the counter purchase. She then went to fill it, but her insurance card hadn’t arrived yet. They said if she was happy to pay cash they could get it sorted for her on that day anyway, so she was like sure how much? $700. Seven. Hundred. Dollars. You didn’t misread that. $700!!!!!!!! No really. $700!!!!!!!!

I thought that can’t possibly be right. Surely. They’re just taking the piss to see if some dumb foreigner would pay it. In some ways, yes. See what happens here is that prescription medicines are just part of the money-go-round. The insurers don’t pay $700 for that drug. They negotiate deals with all the pharmas on what they pay, so it’s probably closer to $50 per prescription (which is still triple what it should be). The hyper-inflated price point also drives people to get comprehensive medical insurance, so there’s some mutual back-scratching involved. Just like insurers negotiate deals, so could we try to negotiate a better price. But we don’t exactly have the same bargaining power.

When people (including that super bigly demi-God Trump) talk about Big Pharma extorting Americans, this is what they mean.  Then there’s the other racket where they sidle up to doctors to get their drugs prescribed in the first place. The whole system kind of feels like it was born from a hillbilly dinner where the moonshine-filled cousins started out playing footsies under the table and ended up with a 7-fingered baby.

Anyway, so yeah Chaos is sick. This week is now about nothing more than survival. I’m treating it like a prelude to winter, when a snow-storm will inevitably hit and the cabin fever will truly kick in. Just imagine the ramblings that will emerge on this blog when that happens.

 

 

NY roads are…

Like Kevin Spacey’s career. Absolutely rooted.

You don’t notice much about roads until you drive on them. When we hired an SUV recently, we firstly went upstate to the FDR estate before stopping in Poughkeepsie and then Cold Spring on the way home. That was day one. The next day we drove down to the New York Aquarium and Transit Museum in Brooklyn. Day 2 was a bit of disaster, but more on that later.

I was stunned by how rubbish the roads are here. Pocketed in pot holes, lanes barely discernible as if they can’t be bothered re-painting them, and when it rains, they immediately flood. When you consider the wealth in this city, it’s a bit baffling. It’s definitely embarrassing. I can’t say any of the other big cities I’ve been to share this problem, even those with similar weather patterns, so it seems that the local and state legislatures are probably just a bit useless.

The trip north was rather slow. The max speed on the highway is 55mph (88kph) and most of the time it’s lower, so you don’t really get anywhere too quickly. But it was awesome to get out of the city and within no time at all the concrete fades away and the forest takes over. At this time of year – fall as they call it – the trees are all changing colour. There’s even a website that monitors ‘peak foliage’. It is pretty stunning.

Readers will know about one aspect of my FDR experience, but the rest of the visit exceeded my expectations. The grounds are enormous and the history of the estate and FDR’s presidency, which is covered in a dedicated museum, is thoroughly engaging for anyone interested in that era (1932 – 45). Worth the trip alone. The tour wasn’t exactly child friendly mind you – Chaos wanted a drink of water, which was not allowed in the main house, so we were ushered away until she ‘calmed down’. Calm meaning seen and not heard. Like that was going to happen.

In Poughkeepsie we made a quick stop to walk on a converted rail bridge that is now a public walkway across the Hudson River, then drove on to Cold Spring which I had been told was worth a visit. It was packed with tourists when we arrived. We didn’t know it, but Cold Spring has an annual Halloween parade and we turned up just before it kicked off. The town itself is basically just one street running downhill to the river. Very much a boutiquey kind of feel to it, like a Greytown or Arrowtown back home. Cool place.

On Day 2 of our driving adventures the weather turned on us. Sunny and warm became cold, wet and windy. BB needed to get some study under her belt, so Nana and I decided to take the hour trek to the aquarium with the kids. Hurricane and Chaos love a good aquarium. Unfortunately, the NY Aquarium was woeful. We had no idea that it was currently going through a rebuild – a rather important piece of information that was buried in small print on their website instead of being made clear on the home page. So we turned up in the rain to discover only one display was inside and the rest of what was open was outdoors. If they were a respectable outfit they would only be taking donations to go see a few animals in a construction site, but no, they just reduce the cover charge a bit. Hurricane got to see a shark though, so he was all good. We thought we’d be there 1-2 hours. We were gone in under 30 minutes.

The day got worse from there. We got lost trying to find the Transit Museum, and then when we did find it Hurricane had a bit of a hangry meltdown because he wanted the trains to be moving, not staying still. We left. Then as we were just about to cross the Brooklyn Bridge the little guy announces from the backseat ‘Ouch, I need to do wees’.

Hurricane has the bladder of a camel. He can hold on for hours, so when he says he needs to go, he means it. There was nowhere to pull over, so we asked if he could hold on for a bit. ‘Nope’ came the response. So Nana, doing what all good Nanas do, promptly found a bottle that could act as a receptacle. Chaos immediately recognised it as her drink bottle, and plaintively began calling out ‘No that’s my bottle’. I promised her it would be ok as we would wash it out before she had to drink from it again. She was thoroughly unconvinced.

Hurricane decided, in the spirit of sibling love, not to abuse his sister’s drink bottle and hold the hose. At this point as a parent, you just have to go with the flow. Sure I had to return the car in 2 hours, so if he unleashed I would be employing the hairdryer and deodorant fix, but he is pretty reliable ol Hurricane. Except he was now starting to fall asleep, leaving Nana to employ all her tricks to keep him awake. We made it across to Manhattan and found a suitable exit where we could pull off in relative privacy for Hurricane to pee on some stacked crates.

It was a good thing he held on, because the bottle would not have been sufficient for the volume he was carrying. And so our care hire adventure came to a close with Nana applauding loudly from the passenger seat as Hurricane pulled up his pants, congratulating him on the ‘biggest wee’ she had ever seen. He was so proud, he chatted all the way home.