I’m wondering if people can tell that I have no idea how to hold my newborn. It’s warm and it smells like slightly off milk and sick. It has weird, dark, alien eyes that follow the fluorescent lights along the hospital corridor. Sometimes they seem to focus on me when I sing softly.
I have my earphones on. I have made myself a hospital playlist. Somehow a Queen track has sneaked onto it from my childhood.
“Don’t stop me now, I’m having such a good time…” I find myself singing, and I look into his wobbly eyes, and something weird happens. I start crying. It’s happiness, but I’m also emotionally flattened by a big lump of time and memory all landing on me at once. Yesterday I was twelve doing Brian May air-guitar. Today I’m making embarrassing electric guitar noises at my first-born son.
What feels like the next day I’m sitting in a school hall listening to twenty kids singing, together physically, but all choosing their own tune and tempo. “Don’t stop me know, I’m having such a good time…”. My first born son looks like a rock star, long hair and confidence, beaming after a transformative week at summer holiday stage school. They are performing a thinly concealed version of School of Rock. I sing along, crying a little, grinning like I’m insane.
Afterwards, my first born son is thrilled and energised. The show has awakened his inner rebel and he is, to say the least, a bit sassy. I have to tell him to do something he doesn’t want two do. He gives me a look. His weird, wobbly, newborn eyes seem to focus on me.
“No I won’t, you… fat idiot.” He says.
He seems confused when I laugh crazily and my eyes moisten with emotion.
Life is poo.
The way the world is at the moment is not to everyone’s taste, but that’s not what I mean. I mean, actual poo is everywhere and it is a vital part of life one our planet. As I like to tell my kids, Poo is a favourite food of plants and trees. They love it. Yum yum yum! And who eats plants and trees? Basically everyone and everything. Including us.
“So we eat poo?” My children ask, grinning.
“In a way, yes. But you must never eat poo. Seriously. Don’t eat poo.”
“And birds poo seeds!” My son tells me. “They poo seeds out when they are flying and the seed grows and makes a new tree!”
“Yes.” I agree. In my mind I give his teachers a high five. Teaching tag team!
“Daddy!” My son screeches. “There are seeds on this strawberry! Can those seeds grow out of our poo?”
“Yes. I suppose. I don’t know.”
“We should do an experiment!” My son says excitedly. “We could put our poo in a plant pot and see if strawberries grow out! But how do we get poo out of the toilet?”
We all seem to have the same thought as we turn to look at my youngest. His face is covered in pulverised strawberry. He is still in nappies.
“He’s done a poo!” My daughter screams and we all rush to the scene. The operation to transfer the poo into the pot and cover it with compost is revolting, exciting and chaotic. The kids water it thoroughly. We put the pot on the windowsill. Satisfyingly, it does not smell. Somehow this all feels normal.
Nothing grows from the pot. Especially after my youngest excavates his poo out of the pot with his bare hands.
Summer holidays week two.
My daughter is like a cat. She takes absolutely no notice of anything I say and is basically impossible to teach.
Admittedly, I have no teaching qualifications, At all. But I have always known, somehow, that I would be an amazing teacher. The kind of teacher that they make inspirational films about.
I decided that the teachers at school can take care of the basics, that’s what they’re “trained” for, and when my kids get home I will inspire them to reach new heights of achievement. It will be amazing. They will be so inspired they won’t even realise they are learning.
There have, admittedly, been some bumps in the road. My number line beatboxing had a similar effect to my tooth brushing beatboxing. Hilarity without any progress towards any goals. And then there’s my daughter. She will see the word “The” in a reading book, a word she knows very well, and confidently say the most random word she can think of, “Cat”, just for her own amusement. And her writing. If archaeologists found it etched into a clay tablet in a viking tomb they would assume they had discovered a new civilisation.
Not on my watch. I inspired the heck out of her. The results were always the same, no matter how amusing and inspiring my beatboxing was. Her practice sentence would consist of a couple of bizarre hieroglyphics that she would carefully colour in.
Last week I gave up. She is completely unteachable. Perhaps she just expects the rest of the world to change the way they write.
Then yesterday something bizarre happened. I noticed her writing her name on a birthday card. The letters were perfectly formed examples of standard cursive. I am utterly confused. How could this happen so quickly? And without my inspirational beatboxing?
When you have your first child, you feel, perhaps for the first time in your life, truly special. Everyone gives you that look, the sympathy look, the one which says “Nothing in your pampered, narcissistic life has prepared for this, has it. You poor fool. I’m rooting for you.”
When you’re second child arrives you notice a distinct drop off in sympathy. People are still understanding, but you have lost the element of victimhood. You knew what you were getting into. You didn’t learn.
When you have your third, the world’s sympathy is spent. Occasionally you get an expression of amazement, “I don’t know how you do it.” They shake their head. What they really mean is, “I don’t know why you did it.”.
My two year old son, being a fairly normal, healthy child, does all the normal psychotic things that two year olds do. He takes his shoes and socks off while you’re rushing around trying to get out of the house. He demands a particular food from you then hurls it on the floor because you took too long to get it. He performs the classic lying down protest, his favorite place for this is the supermarket, then when you finally manage to sling him over your shoulder he farts loudly in your ear and laughs hysterically, dropping the various items he has stolen off the shelves.
At the check out he snatches my wallet and hurls it across the floor, debit cards scattering. “You’re amazing.” A nice woman says as she touches my arm sympathetically. “I’ve been there. You’re amazingly calm. Don’t worry. It gets better.”
Its so long since I’ve had this kind of public sympathy, I nearly cry. I carefully don’t mention that I have two more at school. I’m enjoying the sympathy too much.
You’d think 2 weeks would be long enough.
It’s difficult to make informed decisions about products that you buy online. They could literally have been manufactured somewhere near the ninth level of hell, but when we are faced with the choice between something that costs £4, made in heaven, and something made by Satan himself in a factory called Burning Arsenic Desertification Ltd, that costs £1, it’s a decision that needs thought. Yes, Satan is bad, and BAD Ltd does have, what politicians would call, one or two question marks about it’s ethical practices, but £3 is £3. I could buy a coffee at a leading coffee outlet. Only two pounds ninety eight of that would be profit, which seems very reasonable to my coffee addled brain. I am also buying an experience. The experience of being awake.
So I bought the pot of BAD Ltd play-slime. There was a picture of a laughing child. How bad could it be? Oddly there was no picture of angry parents trying to scrape play slime off every surface, then throwing ruined bed sheets away.
I decided to give BAD Ltd one more try. I saved another £3 buying the BAD Ltd play tattoos. I gave them to our children at the beginning of the Easter school holidays. That was three weeks ago. My four year old daughter likes nothing better than to strut around like a red hot chili pepper, her torso covered in biker tattoos that appear to have welded themselves permanently to her skin. Good job school is so understanding. They understand that I’m an idiot.
I try to think of a solution. I go online. Oh, look. BAD Products Ltd make play-tattoo remover. Oh, look, it also removes play slime. And it’s so reasonably priced.
Education is, people tell us, the magic bullet for curing all society’s ills. Given what my son seems to be learning, I’m not so sure.
My son, in key areas, is already better educated than I am. His reading and writing has come on in leaps and bounds. Last year it took him forever to write his name, and it looked like Strava tracking a cat. This year you can read what he writes, it actually looks pretty good. And he’s started reading to his baby brother, something which triggers so many parental emotions in me I can barely be in the same room without blubbing with happiness.
It’s not really what he’s learning from the teachers that causes me… consternation. It’s what he is learning from the real teachers. The real teachers are not the teachers. The real teachers are not even me and his mother. The real teachers are the other school kids.
“No! Don’t say it. I’ve told you. I don’t like it.”
“I… just don’t say it.”
Of course, as soon as my son knows that there is something he can say which causes me consternation, he wants nothing more than to say it repeatedly. It’s like giving him verbal bullets to shoot me with.
“Buuuu-”. “No!”. “Buuuut Snaaa-”. “Don’t! I will catapult you into the heart of the sun!”. “But Sna-”. “I do not like it! Do not say it!”
He grins at me. I layer threat upon threat. He continues grinning. I know he’s going to say it. “But Snack!” He cackles gleefully.
“Right! That’s it!”
“What? What’s wrong with But Snack?” He is crying with laughter now.
Truth is I don’t really know what’s wrong with it. I’m not well educated enough. And, by god, I never will be.
Everything that my children do is completely fascinating and amazing.
There is a level on which this is still literally true. I am fascinated and amazed that a universe exists in which I can convince someone to have children with me. And that the forces of nature can combine in utterly baffling and impossible ways to create something that starts off looking like a tar-pooing alien grub then within a couple of years is walking and talking. Where did that come from? What’s it all about? It’s fascinating and amazing.
And they keep doing amazing things. The billions of other parents probably think exactly the same thing about their own children. They’re wrong, of course. Their children tend to be dull, loud and annoying in my experience. But my children, uniquely, are completely and utterly beautiful and amazing.
However, although they are amazing, and do many amazing things, not absolutely everything they do is amazing.
When they bounce up to you and say “Daddy! Look! I’ve found a stick!”
You can’t really reply, “So what?” or “Big deal.” You just can’t. Doesn’t matter how tired you are. So you say, “Wow. That’s an awesome stick.”. You say it in your parent voice.
The parent voice is the voice you use to tell your child how beautiful their scribble is. To begin with you’re genuinely amazed that they can scribble. But there are a limited number of scribbles that can be amazing. So you have to fake it. This is fine when they are small. Problem is, the little blighters keep advancing.
“Come on guys. Let’s go outside and search for bugs with the magnifying glass!” I say, enthused and excited.
“Yeah. That sounds amazing.” My son replies.
He is using the parent voice. I am genuinely amazed.