With his wife away, it's time for Laurence Mackin to claim his spot as Calor Gas Husband of the Year. Surely, the parenting gods will be on his side...
On a recent weekend, my wife is in London working, which means I am home with my daughter and a packed itinerary.
My daughter will charm her public, one pudgy finger wave at a time. Her father, me, will revel at the top of the parenting heap, now that his wife is conveniently out of the way.
On the street, men will nod approvingly. Women will beam in admiration. The Calor Gas Husband of the Year award for 2019 will surely be a formality.
Well, if man plans and god laughs, then this man plans and the parenting gods settle in for a Netflix comedy special.
We have a regular routine of swimming on Saturday mornings so when she sees the costume coming out, she gets giddy. As do I: swimming exhausts her. So afterwards, when she pops off to her crib, I usually have a glorious free run at the morning. I can hop back into bed (broke), I can read the papers (woke), or I can catch up on the piles of dishes she creates (bespoke Calor Gas husband of the year territory).
"While I wrestle with a plastic cover, she kicks up a fuss, as we are now dangerously close to her regular nap time, putting the entire daily schedule under pressure."
So on this Saturday, on goes her little outfit (a pink butterfly effort with wings that make her easier to grab when she goes full Michael Phelps and heads for the horizon) and, while she is busy chewing a swimming cap, I look for the car key.
This is the first sign that things are going awry. We give up on the car, and decide to trundle to the pool, it being 25 minutes away. The rain kicks in after 10 minutes with a soft gale for company. While I wrestle with a plastic cover, she kicks up a fuss, as we are now dangerously close to her regular nap time, putting the entire daily schedule under pressure. (My blood pressure is also not helped by the radio commentary I have in one ear of a certain early morning rugby match.)
Determined to get the day back on track, we arrive at the swimming pool to an empty car park, which is disappointing as this means there will be fewer kids for her to splash and stare at. (She does a great stare usually followed by a stumble, stalk and grab, closely followed by my profuse apologies, made all the more awkward by the fact you are mostly naked and in a pool.)
Closer to the door, I realise the building is very dark. A man strides towards me, with the air of one who has great, terrible news to impart and is only delighted to hand it over.
“It’s closed,” he half-shouts. “The pool went on fire.”
Much like my blood. With that we wheel for home, me swearing softly while the rain gives me a consoling patter on the head, and my new friend provides the lowdown on the boiler that is ruining my weekend (it’s not gas-fired, incidentally).
We are now in a race against nap time, because our sacred schedule has gone to the dogs. Any new parent knows you mess with the schedule at your peril. Yes, all babies are unique individuals blah blah blah but if you can wrap them up in a routine it will solve many of your problems.
We’re lucky in that our daughter works like chunky clockwork so nail the nap times, and she’s a chuckley delight. Get it wrong, and it’s sulky face, dagger looks and mean pouts until you can fool her into sleeping.
"We agree to cease hostilities about half-way through, and as she battles her way out of the high chair, I abandon my own lunch."
Back home, distraught at peeling off a perfectly dry suit, she is not for fooling. After 20 minutes of her refusing to sleep a jot, I fire her into the pram and head for town.
We go for lunch and she hates what I’d brought her (a cauliflower dish I made myself, Calor judges, if you must know). We agree to cease hostilities about half-way through, and as she battles her way out of the high chair, I abandon my own lunch to wheel her around the new Museum of Literature Ireland. We manage one room when I get a text to remind me that window cleaners are due in 30 minutes.
Later that night, when she is finally in bed and I’m inhaling a large glass of red and staring out my spotless windows, I realise that all this frustration is entirely of my own creation. My daughter might have been a bit tired, but she was also delighted for most of the day. We’d been to the packed playground in Stephen’s Green and she’d charged around it as if she owned it.
I had at least four conversations with lovely strangers who she wrapped around her fingers. My friend from the pool was only being decent and I was letting my own frustrations colour my judgement.
If I’d stopped worrying about nap times and schedules, I would have enjoyed the day much better. Usually the perspective of having another parent there stops you worrying about the small stuff and keeps you focused on the best bits.
So, I’m learning to like the schedule, but love the moment more. Because if you can’t learn more about yourself from your child, are you even fit to wear the Calor Gas crown?
Parenting tip #2
This is less parenting tip and more survival tip. Nowhere in this column did I say I was “babysitting” my daughter. You cannot babysit your own child. But much more importantly, you cannot ever say you are babysitting your own child in front of a significant other. Because they will punish you. They will punish you good.
So never say that. Or, like me, say it nice and early in the whole parenting journey - preferably before the child is even born and you’re still getting roughly the UN’s recommended humane level of sleep - so that the reaction is only sub-nuclear and you have plenty of time to heal.
Any later than that or do it as a repeat offence and I’m afraid you’ll have to find alternative suitable accommodation for your new life alone.
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