You’re Amazing

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.

BAD Ltd

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.

But…

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.

“Bu-”

“No! Don’t say it. I’ve told you. I don’t like it.”

“Why?”

“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.

#Ooh, that’s nice

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.

#Revenge fantasy

Admittedly I am a flabby, gangly, shy, bespectacled, excessively polite, floppy haired nerd. But I’m also highly emotional. It’s not that hard to trigger me. Injustice makes me grind my teeth. I can barely listen to the news anymore in case my head explodes. If you harm my children. Mmmm. Mmmmmmmm. You may not be able to stop yourself laughing as I gangle towards you, crying behind my glasses and apologising profusely for what I am about to do, but it will be your last laugh.

“Bad day again today, Daddy.” My daughter sighs.

“Oh no. What happened?”

“It was a hitty day, Daddy. And a kicky day.”

“Come here. Give me a cuddle. Who hit you? Who kicked you?” I can feel myself triggering. My blood pressure is rising. I’m grinding my teeth. I dole out the hugs. She likes to tell me about anything bad that’s happened at school straight away to get some extra attention.

“It was Attila again.” According to my daughter Attila is the “king of the baddies”. She did have a brief period of thinking that she might be in love with him, but that passed, thankfully. I should mention at this point that my daughter is a very imaginative person. She has, in her head, several parallel universes, all creepily similar to ours.

I spend a sleepless night grinding my teeth and fantasising about kicking doors down. My wife tries to tell me not to worry so much, but it’s too late. I’ve turned into Liam Neeson.

“I’m going to see your teacher today. Tell me everything Attila has done to you. Everything. Leave no detail out, however small or insignificant you might think it is.”

My daughter looks confused for a moment, then laughs. “Oh Daddy, you are silly. That was just a Joke.”

#Destroyer

Should I get a real Christmas tree? Obviously I’ve left the decision a bit late, but that’s a Christmas tradition in itself. Christmas arrives like a predator. You see it on the horizon, look away, then it jumps on you.

It’s pretty odd if you think about it. There are literally lots of trees outside, but we buy one, prop it up unsafely in the living room, cover it in shiny plastic and watch it slowly die. It’s sort of like a ritual tree sacrifice. It’s pretty cool. Normally I’m on board.

Your first child is challenging. Especially for me. I went from a relatively easy life, to what was for me the equivalent of being sent to a Siberian labour camp. It was bad. But we assumed that our first child was basically how all small children were. Yes he was loud and tempestuous and demanding, but we sort of got the hang of it.

Turns out, though, our first child was a pussycat. Life was just toying with us. Our daughter raised the difficulty bar considerably. She was, basically, a wild animal. In some ways she still is. Turns out, she was easy.

Our third and last child has come. He is shouting at me now as I try to hide in the kitchen, he’s rattling the child gate like a crazed ape. A moment ago he lobbed a wine glass over it which shattered on the kitchen floor. He has overcome the child locks on the sideboard. Again. As I cower, I can only think of the inventor of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer, quoting Hindu scripture. “I have become death, destroyer of worlds.”

Which brings me to the Christmas tree question. I can’t get one this year, unfortunately, because my third child, quite literally, will eat it.

Hate

Parenting, it turns out, is not all sunshine and lollipops. It can be, for me anyway, an emotionally pummelling trial. But as time goes on, some things do get a little easier.

I’ll never forget the first time my son told me that he hated me. There was a tense bedtime standoff. I insisted that he needed to go to bed. He dropped the H-bomb.

“I hate you, Daddy!” He stamped.

The air filled with the Adagio for Strings. We were both shocked. Me most of all. I had to hug him for a good ten minutes while I rode the wave of my own emotions. It was like a gut punch. The air was knocked out of me.

Finally we reconciled. I agreed to put off bedtime, and we agreed the we did love each other after all. Later I told my wife about the incident. I got tremulous. She gave me a hug.

Fast forward a couple of years. Now I have three children. Each of them, in their own unique, delightful, fascinating way, spend most of their time each day trying to break my mind and trample me into the dust. Far from reasoned, sensible negotiations, at least eight times a day I have to pile in like a prison guard trying to quell a riot. They don’t want to do anything I want them to do, and they are prepared to use any means not to do it. It never seems to get any easier. Accept for one thing.

“Right! That’s it! Tooth brushing! Now!” I holler. I never used to holler.

“No!” My son screams at me, shaking a defiant fist at me like a cross between Spartacus and Churchill. “Never!”

“Tooth brushing right now or no more telly. Ever. End of telly. The telly goes to charity. Or to the dump. To be smashed into tiny pieces so no other children can watch it either. Five, four, three, two-”

“I hate you Daddy!!”

“Yeah. Whatever. Tooth brushing. Now.”