In previous episodes of my life, I was a younger, better looking model of stoicism. Now I switch on 'Matilda' (for the child obviously) and choke up watching it. What is happening?
Is there something that physically changes in you after you have a child?
(Sorry, I should have pointed out that this was one for the men in the room. That’s right, all those male IMAGE readers. Simon, Joel great to see you both. Simon, how’s the family? Joel, you’re looking well. The new hair suits you. (Digi Editor's note: In fact we have quite the cohort of male readers on IMAGE.ie. And we welcome you all!))
There are various things that are definitely different, and I’m struggling to blame them all on my child instead of old-fashioned ageing. Creaks where heretofore none existed. Strange moans coming out of my mouth when doing the merest of knee bends. Sudden, sharp urgings from bits of my anatomy and my brain when I scoop down to rescue my child from the jaws of an open oven.
"Years spent working at the flinty coalface of arts journalism had rendered me a relative stone ... I had to deal with the raw, emotional output of theatre folk, film people or, god forbid, the dance community."
However, there is one physical issue that is definitely the fault of my daughter. I seem to have a problem with my nasolacrimal duct (for those who didn’t have an unhealthy obsession with House, that’s a tear duct). The damn thing won’t close.
A model of stoicism
In previous episodes of my life, I was a younger, better looking model of stoicism (there may be a lot of revisionism going on here, but stick with me Joel). Years spent working at the flinty coalface of arts journalism had rendered me a relative stone.
Sure, some colleagues from my previous newspaper job would regularly travel to war-torn regions, ticking off civil wars like ski holidays. But I had to deal with the raw, emotional output of theatre folk, film people or, god forbid, the dance community.
"Children’s movies provoked little more than a shrug. The only film to consistently move me to tears was Rocky."
After a decade of this stuff, I was fairly sure I was immune to emotions. Deep into my 30s, I was starting to wonder what strong feelings were. I knew I had them, but I also know I have kidneys: I’ve no idea what they actually feel like.
Children’s movies provoked little more than a shrug. Nature documentaries were admittedly spectacular but did not cause me to cheer as the iguana scuttled scot free up the rocks. The only film to consistently move me to tears was Rocky (parts I, II, IV and yes Balboa. Not III though. I’m not an animal.)
And then my daughter was born. Now obviously the birth was an emotional time, but I won’t give you the full details because I know Simon is a little delicate about such things. But I assumed this was just a passing phase around the emotional highs and terrifying responsibility lows of bringing a new life into the world with your only previous experience being puppies.
Then I noticed a few, quietly devastating details. Small things began to move me. Tears would arrive unbidden. Things reached a new low when I found that I couldn’t watch the TV series Chernobyl because I found it too upsetting. What fresh hell is this, comrades?
The other day, we put Matilda on to try and distract my daughter for five minutes. And I immediately found myself choking back a tear or two. How dare Danny DeVito treat her with such disdain! What monster has Carla from Cheers become? Mara Wilson is a treasure and we are all lucky to have her.
"How do I go back to previous bliss of being immune to ads, sad songs and any suggestibility for shedding tears?"
It being a rare lazy Sunday we ended up watching the whole thing and I had to quietly choke back the sobs on more than one occasion. Now, it’s not just Matilda that’s the problem. The whole thing is clearly designed to play you like a finely tuned emotional piano. But now it seems like everything affects me.
Sports: Pass the tissues, we’ve got a gusher.
What cruel trick of human evolution and fate is this? How will this help me raise a tiny human? And how do I go back to previous bliss of being immune to ads, sad songs and any suggestibility for shedding tears?
I’m also starting to realise that the damage appears to be irreparable. Just this morning, while I was getting ready to leave the house, I got a sudden wave of anxiety that felt like a premonition of things to come.
Unlike his majesty Stevie Wonder, I am not given to superstition but it was odd enough for me to tell my wife, and advise her not to take any risks that day.
Cross at the green light only. Be aware of approaching trams. Just the one bottle of wine each with dinner, that sort of thing.
"Don’t be surprised if you encounter me, walking a country road and wailing like a banshee."
I come from the country (Louth) where superstitions and sudden intuitions are as good a reason as any to down tools for the day. At a recent party, I was telling my auntie about a friend who is suffering from some ailment or other, and she confidently told me that there was a fella from Faughart who had “the cure” for that.
(For those unfamiliar with Louth-based medicine, “the cure” can be anything from a potion or lotion to the quiet, steely focus of the individual who happens to have it, which is then applied to you, the stricken, disbelieving patient, blinded by your city slicked ideas and impoverished by your trust in science. The cure delivers results, damn it, that are tested and proven by decades of greasy application and irrefutable small-town values.)
So this now is the new me. Regressing to my country roots, filled with irrepressible emotions, and a walking mass of instability. Don’t be surprised if you encounter me, walking a country road and wailing like a banshee (because I believe in those now) after I’ve read a particularly poignant quote on the internet.
It’s just as well she’s cute, Joel, because now both of us are crying.
Parenting tip No.3
In my last column I wrote about going swimming with my daughter. I waited months to do this, and I’ve no idea why.
It’s the best fun, she absolutely loves it, and it does your heart good to see all the gas little units powering around the pool, no matter what age they are.
If you have a wee baby, don’t wait to do it. And the best part is, in the pool no one can tell those are tears.
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