In which our reluctant hero reveals a Top Secret secret. Probably.
Like a modern day blogging equivalent of Steve Wright (in the Afternoon) I have received a request. Not a request to play a hideous power ballad from the 1980’s while banging on about “ups and downs”, but a writing request. A request to write about what it is like going from the relative serenity of a one little person household to the cataclysmic chaos that is two. Or something.
Now, I may get round to that after I have finished creosoting the fence, but first things first. I’m going to let you into a little secret. A secret about giving and getting advice when going from a household with none to one with one. If that makes sense?
As soon-to-be-Dads many months into the pregnancy, we’ve all found ourselves trying to maneuver our considerably better other halves safely around without needing to attach “Caution – Wide Load” signs and reversing sirens to their backsides. Oddly, this triggers panic that the due date is worryingly close and an overwhelming urge to know exactly what to expect from now on in descends. So we decide to ask someone.
Who though? Another parent, obviously. They’ll give it to you straight…
“Oh, it’ll be fine. We were worried too but it isn’t that bad. It’s all very natural and wonderful. The tiredness isn’t a problem. Just get to bed twenty minutes earlier. Horlicks helps. You’ll be great, trust me.”
Fast forward through a couple of weeks. It’s three in the afternoon. You’ve not showered, shaved or dressed. There’s a mainline coffee drip permanently attached to your arm. You’re wondering whether the strange green dressing gown stain is mushy peas from last night’s chippy tea or something altogether more sinister. And then it hits you…
“THEY LIED! BUT WHY?!”
Fast forward through a couple of years. You are chatting to another soon-to-be-Dad by the tea point at work. Catching you off guard, they unexpectedly ask the same question that you once asked many months back. Time to give it to them straight.
“Oh, it’ll be fine. We were worried too but it isn’t that bad…”
Eh? That’s what I was told. That’s not right. What just happened? Am I’m now part of a weird conspiracy against my fellow man?
Maybe. Or perhaps, with hindsight, it wasn’t that bad.
As Dad, your primary function is to make sure everyone is clean, fed and gets enough rest. You scrub, shop and cook. You walk round for hours at a time, sobbing, desperately trying to get the little bleeder that is now permanently attached to your shoulder to sleep. You learn new vital skills, like changing nappies and pouring dregs from a wine box one-handed without dropping a sleeping child or, more importantly, the wine glass.
But, thankfully, most of us cope. Routines get established. The once tricky stuff gets done on autopilot. You find yourself able to cook a cheese souffle rather than cornflakes on toast (again) for lunch. You start noticing little signs of your baby’s development and finally begin to enjoy being a Dad. See. It’s wasn’t so bad, was it?
And then something happens. Walls go up as your memory protects you from the horror of the tricky bits. Mums forget how painful labour was, especially towards the end of the Blair-Brown era. Dads forget how enjoyable reading the paper and watching Super Sunday on a lazy afternoon was.
And when, years later, you are asked the question you fib. We all do. (SHHHH… it’s a secret!) Partly because you don’t actually remember how hard it was, and partly because your uncomfortable version of “the truth” will be totally different from everyone else’s.
Now, it may seem to the untrained eye like I’m yet to discuss the request (don’t panic, Whitney Houston is all cued up.) But understanding the above is all very important. Vital in fact. Trust me.
“But why, wise Sage? Tell us more. We beg you…” I hear you gasp in collective anticipation.
Why? OK. Well, because I can’t possibly answer the question. And if I did I would have to fib. Dur!
So, this is how it was for us…
You pass your Level One parenting exams, and have the basics permanently etched on your subconscious, so that bit is easier. You also already have routine and coping strategies (and a good cheese souffle recipe) in place. So far so good.
But then, suddenly, you have a new little person demanding 100% of your attention to go with the existing little person who is also demanding another 100% of your attention. Uh-ho.
Now, I’m not Carol Vorderman, if I were I would still be hiding after the controversy of advertising dodgy payday loans on daytime TV, but the maths don’t really work do they? So you come up with new strategies. You’ll probably throw your principles out with the bathwater (having safely taken the baby out) too.
Remember the “only half an hour of telly a day” rule? CBeebies and Nick Jr are your new best friends. It won’t harm will lt? The programmes these days are quite educational after all. Ten hour sessions will be fine.
Remember sitting with your newborn on your knee, singing a little song and trying to make them gurgle or laugh? Forget it. A toddler can occupy vacated knee space quicker than breastmilk can pass through a newborn into a freshly changed nappy. It’s not going to happen.
Remember that bit of quiet time, when mum and newborn were napping and you could have a cuppa, watch a film or catch up with yourself? Your twenty month old has long dropped the afternoon nap and you’ve now got an extra two hours of bleary-eyed Play Doh to look forward to. Fetch the coffee and matchsticks.
So, to summarise. One to two? It’ll be fine. We were worried too but it isn’t that bad…