I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but something miraculous happened yesterday. No, I’m not talking about a hamster saving its owner’s life or Piers Morgan publishing a Tweet that summed up the nation’s feelings. I’m referring to me making it through 24 hours of parenting without putting a foot wrong.
I appreciate this is difficult to believe, so allow me to furnish you with some details. Yesterday was a jam-packed day for family Hood. We’d arranged to meet some friends at a National Trust property’s outdoor play zone in the morning and then, after a pub lunch in the sunshine, were heading to at a 1st birthday party via the supermarket. Not exactly sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but pretty exciting when most of your days are spent asking Alexa to play Three Little Monkeys over and over and over again.
The main sell of the National Trust place was the fact it was halfway between London, where we live, and Oxford, where our friends live. And the secondary sell was water. Our son’s obsessed by aqua at the moment, and Stonor Park promised to deliver “super-soft sand and pumping water”. So far, so exciting. But let’s not forget that water has a downside. Namely: that it’s wet. This isn’t a problem if you’re the type of forward-thinking parents who permanently carry towels, wellies and swimming costumes in the car, but it can be an issue if you’re the type of parents who pack in a rush, misjudge timings and always seem to end up feeding bubby a cold pouch that’s been panic purchased from a Sainsbury’s Local. Usually my wife and I are poster parents for the latter camp (three successive weekend fails in March), but for some reason yesterday decided to be to the day that showed us how the other half live. “Have you packed a towel?” asked my wife, as we were rushing out the door. “Yes,” I replied. “And his toys and flip-flops and swimming shorts.”
She was so shocked she walked into the recycling bin. Bubby laughed. And so did I. This soured her mood somewhat, but she soon perked up when I managed to distract the bubster with a book and then sing him to sleep 10 minutes into the journey (Wheels On The Bus in E flat, thanks for asking).
Just under an hour later, we arrived at the day’s first destination, and just under ten minutes after that my wife and I were named Parents of the Season and carried around the play area on the shoulders of the other parents, while all our children played trumpets, tooted horns and let off age appropriate fireworks. Okay, so this clearly never happened, but our mates did gasp at the fact we’d “brought a change of clothes” and three random couples did praise the practicality of his flip-flops and query where we had bought them (duty free at Faro Airport in Portugal, thanks for asking). It was the kind of dreamy, A-star parenting performance that makes you feel superior, but suspicious. Were we being set up for a fall? Were we about to hear a loud bang and a massive cry? Was a meltdown just around the corner? No, no and no. Bubby played, he smiled, he accepted having his clothes changed and then, when we got to the pub, he sat in his high chair merrily jabbering away and pointing at dogs.
All the signs suggested he was up to something and he sort of was. The moment he finished dinner and descended from his elevated enclosure, he made a break for the beer garden gate. Fortunately, I was a step ahead. “Not so fast, sunshine,” I stated, while redirecting him into the playhouse. In my head, I delivered the line with the intensity of a youthful Schwarzenegger. According to my wife, I sounded like a pedantic Scottish policeman. You win some, you lose some, I guess.
And make no mistake, I was winning in all the areas that mattered. At one point bubby lost his balance and I managed to grab him before his head hit the ground. At another he attempted to upend a dog’s water bowl and I checked his hand just in time. On the way home, he threatened to kick off and I soothed him back to equilibrium with a fake plant, a plastic water bottle and a Chuggington book. “You’re on fire,” beamed my wife and a 15-minute in-and-out, no tears, just cheers supermarket excursion proved as much. Now, only one hurdle remained. It was time to face-off against a late afternoon 1st birthday party.
Past experience has taught us that the bubster can go one of two ways at these type of events. He can excitedly get involved with everything, or he can start yawning, become irritable and demand an early departure. After the day’s previous successes, I’d have bet the house on the latter scenario playing out, but a correctly timed nappy switch and a expertly administered fruit pouch ensured he was the life and soul of the party – running around, photobombing, smiling for cameras, dancing etc. etc. etc. It was sheer, stress-free bliss; the kind of afternoon that makes you forget about all the pain and start talking about number two. “I mean, if we’re this good at parenting, is it fair to only share our talent with one child?” (I know. I find big-headed me ‘a bit of an idiot’ too.)
At this point, I would usually reveal that everything went to pot during dinner, but on this occasion I simply cannot. To put the cherry on the top of a day sent from parenting heaven, he ate his main course, he made animal noises, he scoffed down his dessert, he audibly pooped, he skipped off to have his nappy changed, he played in the shower, he went to bed without protest, he slept peacefully through most of the final round of the Masters golf and then… midnight struck and he turned into a pumpkin. If only. He actually turned back into a teething child who likes screaming and dislikes sleep. “Back to reality,” smiled my wife sometime around 3.30am. “Oh, there goes gravity,” I replied. It’s an Eminem lyric and she didn’t get it either.