#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.”

I will never bend

I never recommend products. Never. It’s just not something I do. Ever.

So here’s my product recommendation. Unlike all other parenting product recommendations, which are all lies, this one will literally change your life immeasurably for the better. Fasten your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen. I’m about to blow your minds.

Babies are cute. They’re funny. They’re noisey. But most of all, they are disgusting. Why can’t they just eat food? Why does it have to go all over their faces? And clothes? And the floor? Surely evolution should have made babies that can get food in their mouths, to prevent starvation if nothing else.

Eighty percent of the food he gets his hands on ends up as horrible, rancid floor compost. I could hoover it up, but hoovering food seems gross and wrong somehow. And I can’t bare the idea of a greasy tube. The only real answer is to get down there with a dustpan and brush. It was there, while I was down on all fours, amongst the vile mess, being laughed at and having food thrown at me like a slave at a viking feast, that the life changing idea came to me.

Two things will happen when you drunkenly knock over a pot plant in the foyer of an american hotel. Come on, we’ve all been there. The second thing is that you will be escorted from the building. The first is that a man will emerge carrying a dustpan and brush… with handles. Long handles. So he doesn’t have to bend down. It’s called a janitorial dustpan and brush, and it is the best thing that has ever been created. Between 10 and 20 pounds on Ama-bay, depending on crapness. I now officially love my janitorial dustpan and brush more than I love my children.

Just Don’t

I’ve tried, tirelessly, in this column, to help people avoid making the terrible mistake of having children. But I still see you. Everywhere. Having children. Out and about with your first child, carefully fussing around them as if they were unexploded bombs. Oh, the naivete. It’s almost cute.

If you have ignored me, and have one, for goodness sake leave it at that. The one you’ve got might seem horrendously difficult and frustrating, but believe me, you’ve still got it easy. If you have two, you repeat offending fool, then don’t ever be tempted to think that another one won’t make much difference. It so will.

Take this morning, for instance. Others calmly and happily prepare for the morning commute. Showering pleasantly. Bopping to the radio. Eating a crisp, calm piece of toast. Reading a crisp, calm news paper. Reflecting with wise detachment on whatever dark comedy is being played out in the news today. Not me.

My baby son woke me up at 2am. 4am. 6am. Then finally, after I had given up putting him back in his cot, at 7am, by trying to tear my face off by the lip. I lever myself out of bed and drag my other two grumpy, angry children downstairs where they begin their first task of the day. Shouting at me.

“Stop shouting at me!” I shout. I never used to shout.

I make breakfast, change a nappy, find clothes, dress myself, drink coffee, all as calm and poised as a giraffe with a migraine. My children refuse to eat breakfast, or put on clothes, or stop shouting. I hide in the toilet for 4 sweet minutes, too tired to cry. Getting them in the car is like the worst clown act in the world.

We arrive at school, too late to park legally, looking like aliens sent to earth to impersonate a human family, but who missed a key seminar.

Whatever you do, don’t have three kids. Unless you’re my Mum, of course. I’m fourth of five. Thank you Mum.

Get in!

When it comes to football, I’m rather like Donald Trump. Profoundly, disturbingly ignorant. Also, like Trump, I’m not that bothered about being ignorant. “I don’t know anything about football.” I brag, a big smug pout on my big fat ignorant face.

But something strange is taking place. One of the few things I know about football, largely because people who do know about football keep telling me, is that England is rubbish. We won the world cup once, a long time ago, when the team wasn’t paid and smoked pipes as they played, but now we’re rubbish.

But suddenly everyone’s singing about football coming home. Dreams are becoming reality. The sheep is laying with the wolf. Dogs and cats, dancing in the streets. Brexit is definitely going to be a huge success. Football is coming home. (If I were football, I’d wait to see how Brexit goes first, but there you are.)

“Croatia has won only two of their last ten games against england.” I say, as if I know things. Thank God for google. Now I can sort of join in with the excitement, by repeating what google tells me and occasionally shaking my fist in triumph and saying “Football is coming home!”. I can, for the first time in my life, seem like a proper man. Even to my son. We can watch football together, and shout “Come on then, England!”

“Daddy, that’s amazing.” My son says excitedly, pointing at the TV.

“I know.” I say. “It is amazing, isn’t it!” It’s working. We’re watching football together! And enjoying it! I’m a proper Dad!

“How do they make those stripes on the grass so perfect?” My son asks.

“I don’t know. Really careful mowing, maybe. But those really are amazing grass stripes.”

Get in! Dad win!

Avenging Angel

My son clings to my legs as the double doors open. Four or five smiling people in blue operating theatre robes beckon us in. The pre-opp room is a bit like an elevator. The unconsciousness elevator. Going down.

They sit me on the bed, sit my son on my knee, and start chit-chatting to us. We hardly notice as they take my son’s arm and put it around my back. He winces as they put in the cannula. I cradle his head tightly.

They want him to count. He’s too frightened. We all start counting for him. He has no real way of knowing what is going to happen next. All he has to believe in, in this tiny room, is me. And I’m about to leave.

I don’t know what adenoids are. I think they can make you talk funny, like having a kazoo up your nose. My son has a malfunctioning head Kazoo. He also needs comedy plasticine dogs implanted into his ear-drums. I’m fuzzy on the medical details. All I know is that for the first time in his life, I am powerless to protect him, and it’s sending me a little bit Dad-mental.

I pace up and down in the waiting area. Twenty minutes ago they told us he would be out in ten. I fantasize about striding through the corridors, bursting into rooms, demanding my son. “Where is my son!” I dream of bellowing, like an avenging angel, my righteous rage making the walls shake and the lights dim. These Dad-fantasies make me breath fast through my nose and glare at anyone in a hospital uniform. They smile back at me.

We all count. He glances up at me, eyes wide. Three. Four. Five. His eyes close. Six. He goes floppy. We lay him down on the bed. They tell me they’ll look after him. For a moment I cannot let my son’s unconscious body go. “We’ll take it from here.” They say. They mean I have to leave. They literally want me to leave so they can cut my son’s head open. I stand. They smile at me. One of them ushers me out of the double doors. They close behind me.

“If they harm my son, I will destroy the entire human race.”, an odd, primordial part of my brain pops up and announces. It’s a bit of a surprise to me that I have that part in my brain. As a boy I liked flower arranging and Gandhi. I wonder back to the waiting room, jaw clenched.

The next fifty eight minutes is excruciating. I pace up and down making everyone less comfortable.

Finally they bring my son out. He is sleeping. Slowly he comes round. The look he gives me makes me nearly cry. Again.

Later, in the evening, my son is jumping up and down on me, laughing hysterically, trying to make me smell his bottom.

I’m a wordsmith

I was never great shakes at school. My exam results were universally a disappointment. But if there’s one thing I do know, it’s words. I know a lot of them. I haven’t counted, but it’s got to be above average. Words like “zeitgeist” and “cantilever” and “aldi” and “lidl”. Some of them I know what they mean too. I’m a wordsmith.

So helping my son learn about words has been something I was particularly looking forward to. Together we would submerge ourselves in the wonderful, exciting, magical world of words.

“What’s that word, Son?”

He shrugs.

“Come on. We know this.”

He gives me a look that not only says he doesn’t know, but that he resents being asked because he truly and deeply does not care. This beautiful father/son scene has been repeated every evening since he was a baby.

Then he starts proper school, and virtually the next day he can read. He takes a book about a slightly odd looking monkey on a skateboard out of his book bag, sits down and reads it to us. I am speechless. Initially. Then I start trying to take credit. “I’m taking credit for this.” I announce to my wife. She rolls her eyes.

Each night he reads us a different book from school. It’s as if he’s taunting me. “Some words have two letters that make a sound together.” I explain, trying to be all teachery.

“Yes, that’s right, Daddy.” My son congratulates me. “When two letters make a sound together it’s called a digraph.”

“Digraph?” I ask, smiling. Aah. That’s so cute. He’s making up words to try to impress me. He knows I’m a wordsmith. I laugh lovingly. I love this little fella so darn much. “Digraph. Ha ha. There’s no such word, son. But it’s great to get excited about words, isn’t it? Maybe one day you’ll know lots and lots of words, like daddy.”

“He’s very good with his digraphs.” His teacher tells us at the parent’s evening.