As a parent, I’d worked my way through all the stages that are supposed to be hell on earth: sleepless nights, teething, separation anxiety, having your shoes filled with sick… the whole gamut. And the thing was, that despite all the hype, none of these events was quite as bad as I’d expected. Like the worst type of film – all the best bits were in the trailer, leaving my partner and I feeling slightly underwhelmed to experience the supposed horror of the real thing.
It was with this (understandable) sense of over confidence that I greeted the my son’s (inevitable) turning from 1 to 2. It was simply a number, I told myself. A personality doesn’t change THAT much as the result of just getting a little bit older. What was the worst that could happen? After all, we’re just talking about a tiny tot.
HOW WRONG WAS I?
In boxing, the fight is grueling, no doubt about it. But even in this most demanding of pursuits, there are little breaks, where the pugilists sit at the side of the ring, have a drink and try to regain their senses. It’s only as a result of these intermissions that the fight will ever have the chance of going the distance.
For me, it was the same with parenting a little one. For hour upon hour your senses are pummeled as tears, food, poo and puke fly. The parent becomes totally punch drunk, but clings onto their sanity in the knowledge that there’s a nap around the corner, the child will be sleeping any time now. This sleep is, I feel, far more restorative to the parent than it’s ever been for the child. It’s a chance to catch your breath, wipe down the walls and consider a few winks of sleep for yourself.
At any one time I’ll be putting shoes on my toddler, picking up Lego, texting my partner about dinner, trying to put my own socks on, brushing my teeth, waiting on hold to speak to the gas board, wiping dripped toothpaste off my T-shirt, sniffing my toddler to see if a nappy change is necessary, half watching Homes Under The Hammer and trying to eat some cold toast. Whatever this chaotic process of attempting to do everything at once is called, one thing is certain – I didn’t act like this before the baby.
It had been a few minutes, three maybe. I looked at him, as encouragingly as I could, and spoke.
“OK, that’s good. It’s easy, just one, two, three and push.”
I’d tried to hide any stress (rapidly growing within me) from my voice.
My son looked back at me, seemingly unconvinced.
“We can have a cuddle when you come down the slide.”
“Just go down!” chimed in a boy, about twice the age of my son – part of the growing queue for the slide forming behind my little one.
“He’ll go when he’s ready,” I said, once again trying to appear calm – reminding myself that empathy isn’t a skill kids are born with. “Just one, two, three and push!”
It was going to be a long day.