Before I had my son, I entertained the naïve notion that as soon as he developed neck control I would instil in him an artistic and culturally rich upbringing by dragging him to the latest art exhibitions, which he would enjoy strapped to my chest in one of those organic-cotton baby carriers. This would not only turn him into an open-minded, artistically inclined human being, but also give me inspiration to perform my daytime job (since I now had a whole new night-time occupation too).
Well, guess what? Those baby carriers are a bloody nightmare, and by the time I’d finally managed to get them semi-adequately attached to my body, the baby would need a feed, a nappy change and a break from me. I’d have to undo the whole thing, and the gallery trip would become a distant dream.
I exaggerate, only slightly, but the truth is that in the past three-and-a-half years, since becoming a parent, I have been to the cinema exactly three-and-a-half times (Star Wars Episode VII and Episode VIII, Crazy Rich Asians and the first half of Paddington 2), I have visited zero art exhibitions and the only museum I go to with astounding regularity is the London Transport Museum.
My "free" time during the weekends now revolves around swimming and football lessons, strolls in the park and visits to numerous playgrounds, which are all very relaxing, in unexpected ways, but not particularly culturally edifying. Unless you count running into Benedict Cumberbatch in the café next to where football lessons are held as inspiration.
Some day, when I’m less tired and my son becomes interested in the world beyond his Hot Wheels collection, I hope to resume my cultural programme, but while I wait I get my culture fix where I can. Which means mostly Netflix, YouTube Kids and the mountain of children paraphernalia that, despite our drive to curb senseless consumerism, seems to be delivered regularly to our doorstep.
I’ve been using these two as reference too often around the agency but Hey Duggee (CBeebies) and Storybots (Netflix) are both oases of high-quality entertainment in a desert of dull and unidimensional franchise characters. The very silly but highly addictive Stick song has become a hit among parents and preschoolers alike. They’re yet further examples that you can break from the category norm and remain populist.
Magna Tiles are those magnetic shapes with which you can build huge structures very quickly. Half the fun, though, is seeing the towers and buildings topple. Every time I play with it I am unconsciously reminded that it’s not the end of the world to have to tear down ideas and concepts and start from scratch.
And lastly a literary reference. How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen is essentially a guide to surviving life with young children. Not surprisingly, the techniques it suggests are all transferable to the workplace: give options instead of mandates, encourage collaborative problem-solving, listen, listen, listen.
Ana Balarin is creative partner at Mother, London