Surprise! After last week’s oh-so-predictable rundown of the 13 things I do less since becoming a parent, I thought I’d hurl a cat into a squad of pigeons and make this Midweek List all about ‘the 17 fathers of Ancient Greece who have inspired my unique parenting ethos’. Then I sat down to write the article and realised a) that I knew nothing about Ancient, or indeed modern, Greece, and b) that I only had a patchy idea as to the definition of the word ethos.
With just 12 hours to go until my self-imposed deadline and my son due to be awake for at least 480 of those minutes it was a bona fide media crisis. I summoned the Father-Hood team together (read: stood in a room with two mirrors) and declared a state of emergency. No-one was allowed to walk out the door until we had decided on a new list topic. Two minutes later I began picking my nose. Five minutes after that I fell asleep. And exactly 34 minutes further on my wife woke me up and said: “Why don’t you just do that parenting surprises piece you keep wittering on about?”
All of which brings us to the here and now. A time where I’m in the doghouse for burning last night’s rice and you’re getting ready to be amazed by my list of 10 parenting surprises I’ve experience since becoming a dad.
1. The rejection
I know that I have watched far too many romcoms. And I appreciate that I have read far too few parenting manuals and taken far too little interest in my friends and relatives’ children. But I can’t be the only parent who was shocked to discover that the unconditional love they’d expected to pour forth actually had clauses like: I’m going to cry and scream in your face until mummy comes back in the room; I’m going to hold my breath until your give me back to granny; and, my personal favourite, I’m going to smack you in the face, laugh hysterically and then buck like a bronco until you put me down.
2. The price of holidays
And we haven’t even got to the pay full price for a plane ticket, can only travel in school holidays stage yet. Still, I hear our garden is lovely at this time of year.
3. How your day begins
I blame every single colleague who had kids before I did for this revelation. And I blame them because whenever I used to ask them how their morning was, they would say “fine”. Thus I presumed my post-kid morning routine would be pretty similar to my pre-kid one. But it isn’t. Oh my word, it isn’t.
Sure, I still get to my desk at about 9.30am, but instead of being woken by my alarm at around 8am, having a relaxing shower, meandering down to the tube station and grabbing some breakfast on my way to the office, I now get…
…Woken up by an angry infant at around 5.30am, stumble downstairs, spend 30-40 minutes feeding the wee man breakfast, run the gauntlet of a nappy change where there’s a 50/50 chance I’ll get poop on my hands and clothes, wrestle the little man into the shower, wash him while he screams and throws wet toys onto the floor, battle him into some clothes, push his pram round to nursery, run home, take a quick shower, put my work clothes on, realise my T-shirt has drool on it, decide I can’t be bothered to change it, sprint for the train, rush to the office, discover I’ve forgotten my pass, get let in by the security guard, run to my desk, collapse into my chair, take a deep breath and then tell all my colleagues that my morning was “fine”.
4. The reaction you get from gangs of local youths
They may intimidate the elderly, listen to their playlists several decibels too loudly and spend 97% of their time with their hands down their pants, but I have to hand it to my town’s teenagers. Whenever I’ve wheeled the bubster into the park where they hang out, they’ve courteously vacated the swings, stubbed out their ciggies and cleaned up their language. “Maybe it’s because they are scared of you?” said my wife, before bursting into fits of laughter and adding “Oh, that’s a great one. Must write it down.”
5. The hours
I was aware that this job was going to be tough. But I had no idea how tough. I mean, in the one textbook I’d read it said something about newborns sleeping for 16-18 hours a day. Conclusion in my dreams? There are 24 hours in a day, so my wife and I would have more than enough time for some beauty sleep, a bit of housework, our jobs and the latest series of Game of Thrones. Conclusion in reality? What the hell just happened? Is it Tuesday or Friday? Do all kids cluster feed, refuse to sleep and come down with colic? And why am I wearing my wife’s underwear?
6. The pride you take in things that seem really mundane when you describe them to people without kids
“Oh my God, he did the most amazing thing last night. He was sitting happily in his high chair, so we sliced up some cheese, put it on his tray and he picked it up and started eating it. The odd one missed, but most of them went in his mouth. It was like, wow. We didn’t know he could do that, especially with his left-hand, so we’re now wondering if he might be a southpaw like his daddy. Hello. Darren, are you still there? Darren. Darren! DARREN!”
7. The manipulation
Welcome to Mastermind. Our next contestant is Shakil Hood. He’s 14 months old and his specialist subject is: How to play people so I get what I want all the time.
Q1. You fancy a snack, but can’t be bothered toddling to the kitchen, what do you do? A. Simple. I cry, knowing that Granny can’t hear me cry for a even a second, so will pick me up and give me a free ride to wherever I want to go.
Q2. You want out of your high chair, what do you do? A. Simple. I pretend to be sick, knowing that Mummy’s fear of vomit will see her whisk me into her arms in no time.
Q3. Your bored of daddy’s “hiya cars; bye bye cars” chat and fancy a laugh, what do you do? A. Simple. I scream, knowing that daddy’s paranoia over being even slightly rejected (see entry 2) will see him immediately sing, dance, hit himself in the head with a plastic cup, turn on the microwave, read books, eat dry pasta, let me draw on him and do any number of other ridiculous things in a bid to turn my frown upside down.
8. The things my kid finds fascinating
My son’s latest obsession? The underside of his toy car. His previous obsession? Daddy’s Lucozade bottles and the cupboard they are kept in. His ongoing obsessions? The dishwasher, wheels, vacuum cleaners, daddy’s chin, mummy’s glasses, shoes, doors, empty boxes, the kitchen blinds, mud, dogs and the gate in the corner of the play park. Somewhere out there a child psychologist is salivating.
9. Other people’s generosity
Reckon getting married is the best way to secure a load of gifts? Think again, because having a kid is on another level. The neighbours, family friends, workmates, parents of the other children at nursery, distant cousins, people visiting my in-laws, the NCT crew, close pal’s pets… you name them, we’ve unwrapped pressies from them. What’s that? Yes, it’s true. A surprisingly large percentage of these people do struggle out the difference between boys’ and girls’ clothing, but, hello, re-wrap and re-gift, baby. Re-wrap and re-gift.
10. The fact that despite all the above there comes a time when you begin to discuss the idea of having another baby
Go figure that one out.