Yes, the headline does say “sitting around in a giant plastercast”. And it says it, because I’ve ruptured my Achilles tendon, leaving me lamer than a lame horse who refuses to emerge out of its stable in anything other than skyscraper heels.
Negatively, this has rendered me almost completely useless when it comes to entertaining an adventurous one-year-old child with a penchant for ascending stairs, rifling through cupboards, climbing on tables, jumping off sofas, opening the washing machine door, unloading the dishwasher and shoving his ride-on car into the radiator.
Positively, I have had a bit of time to consider this week’s midweek list. It’s based around the parental lessons I’ve learned since my accident. And it goes a little something like this….
1. Children are smart part I
Our one-year-old son is obviously too young to comprehend why I’ve swapped the lower half of my left leg for a stump of pointless, uncompromising and surprisingly heavy plaster. But has that stopped him straddling my cast and attempting to ride my injured ankle like a horse? It has not. And it also has not stopped him working out that I am in pain and need my crutches to get off the sofa or travel around the house. Thus whenever he sees me begin to move, he brings the crutches to me. It’s so clever and so cute. Now if I can only train him to the same thing with lager when the rugby is on…
2. Children are smart part II
A few weeks ago, after much sweat, tears, lunges, sleep deprivation and ‘sleep training’ (read: trying not to completely lose it while staring at a crying child in the baby monitor), my wife and I finally got our kid to go to bed at 7.30pm and wake up around 6am. It was fantastic, joyous, heavenly and then… I screwed up my ankle and my in-laws offered to ease the pressure on my wife by taking the bubster for the odd evening.
Obviously, we gleefully accepted this wonderful gesture and thankfully the little man instantly slipped into his routine in a new setting without any protest. Yeah, right. Aware that the location and players of the Sleepytime game had changed, he decided to act up and see if he could get the new competitors to bow down to his wishes. Happily, his grandparents resisted his screams. Yeah, right. Understandably, they gave into his tears. Lo: he ended the night in their bed and the routine was smashed to smithereens. Baby 1-0 parents.
3. Don’t put all your parental eggs in one basket
Over the last few months, I’ve been shunning bottles, meal times, naps and all other sedentary tasks in favour of attempting to carve out a niche as the active parent. You know. The fun-loving good cop, who sprints with his baby on his shoulders, scrambles around the soft play area, play wrestles, goes underwater in the swimming pool, roughhouses and generally bonds with his offspring via exercise. It’s a classic dad move, and it was going swimmingly right up to the point I couldn’t swim or sprint or scramble or wrestle or roughhouse any more.
So what happened next? Next, he came over expecting to be picked up and ‘flown’ around the kitchen, I said “Maybe we could read a book?”, he agreed and we all lived happily ever after. Not really. He declined my offer and wandered off to look for someone else to fling him around the kitchen. And I realised that my Achilles heel had highlighted an Achilles heel in my extremely one-dimensional parenting plan.
4. If lame, play the ground game
Following my ‘don’t put all your parental eggs in one basket’ revelation, I began thinking about Strauss. No, not Johann the composer or Andrew the former England cricket captain. Neil Strauss, the pick-up artist and author of best-selling book The Game. A few years ago, I interviewed Neil for a magazine and one of the top ‘chat-up tips’ he provided was to remove any potential height issues from the equation by sitting down. Unfortunately, this nugget proved absolutely useless when it came to finding a lady friend. Fortunately, it really helped me this week. How? Simple.
Instead of sitting on the sofa and looking down on my baby like some kind of half-broken ogre, I’ve taken to lying on his play mats and looking into his eyes like some kind of half-broken, and bizarrely ginormous, nursery attendee. And while I’d be lying if I tried to claim he can’t stop interacting with me, it has made things better. By this I mean, he knocks over my towers, comes in for hugs, swaps toys, climbs over me, bites my ear and sometimes points and smiles in my direction.
5. Baby classes are really important
Not for the kid, silly. For you. Sure, I may not really know the name of the mother of the girl who my son follows around at Tumble Tots, or definitively know the actions to the ‘Dingle Dangle Scarecrow’ song we all sing at Ady’s music group. But, after a week sitting about the house, I now fully appreciate how important the conversations I have with the former and the camaraderie I feel at the latter are. Plus, if you don’t go out you don’t get to see a) that your kid isn’t the only one who kicks off for no reason, and b) that you aren’t the only parent who makes mistakes. And the more I think about parenting, the more I realise how important these confidence boosts are.
6. If you’re going to make rules you should be prepared to play by them
Rightly or wrongly, my wife and I are currently attempting to raise our son without the assistance of a computer, laptop, television, tablet or mobile. Don’t worry, we’re not hippies or anything, we just want to fend off the “Peppa Pig. Peppa Pig. Peppa Pig. Peppa Pig. Peppa PIG! PEPPA PIG!” strops for as long as possible. Because of this, my wife constantly gets in my grill about how I “send out the wrong signals” by using my iPhone in front of the bubster. Up until my injury, I thought she was overreacting, but in the last week my son has brought my phone to me six times and my book to me zero times.
Admittedly, the fact I don’t have a book would make it difficult for him to present it to me, but that’s not the issue here. The issue is that I am telling my son to read books, but not doing the same myself. This might be due to time, tiredness or the need to know what is trending on Twitter right this second, but whatever the reason it’s not good. So I have made a decision. From now until my injury clears up (and I can nip upstairs and use my phone in peace) Facebook is out and fables are in.
7. Single parents are superheroes who deserve more recognition
The final lesson I’ve learned is perhaps the most important. For the last six days, my wife has essentially been a single parent. It’s made her realise how much stuff I do around the house and with our son. And it’s made me appreciate just how amazing mums and dads who raise kids on their own are. I mean, not only do they single-handedly deal with nappies, tantrums, milk, lunch, vomit and naps. They also empty bins, vacuum the carpet, dress and shower themselves, book into baby classes, teach phonics, put up prams, pay bills, hold down jobs, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.
I could have kept the et ceteras going all day, because a single parent’s to-do list is never done. But do you know what? However long the list, they find a way to get it done. It’s astounding, astonishing, incredible. And it needs to be recognised more by wider society. How? I don’t know. Possibly with a section in the New Year’s Honours List? Maybe with a fancy awards ceremony hosted live on ITV by Carol Vorderman? Or perhaps if you know a single parent just take a little extra time to say “well done” and ask if they need any help?