Thank you for returning to read the rest of my far from comprehensive, barely instructional list of twelve things I’ve learned so far as a parent. May it strike a chord, or make you feel smug and superior, you hubris-filled wanker. Either way, I hope you enjoy it. You can read PART 1 here and PART 2 here.
9.) Dinner time ‘aint what it used to be.
Dinner time used to be a time for… well, eating dinner? I think that’s what I used to do at the dinner table, anyway; I might even have regarded it as a sacred space; a place for joyous reflection, vigorous discussion or occasionally just silent bliss. A bit like the toilet, but slightly more sanitary. I’m wiser now. I know that mealtimes shared with young children at the dinner table have the same grim uncertainty as urban warfare; the mess, the thuds, the shouts; the hunks of chicken strewn over the floor like innards; the Dexter-style ketchup splatter.
The more kids you have, the worse it is; the more it becomes like some almost impossible late-80s video game. You have to work fast to plug the correct mouth with the correct piece of food at exactly the right moment, or else it’s screamdemonium. To achieve this near-impossible feat you have to ignore your fallible human brain-body-interface, and turn yourself into either some sort of psychopathic, epileptic octopus; a Hindu God on fast-forward; or a demonic incarnation of one of those big shaky tube things that flails around outside American car dealerships.
It’s Hell. As you slither and dart around the dinner table, plugging half-escaped screams with chicken nuggets, and begging older children to eat something, God damn it, ANYTHING AT ALL, your own dinner will grow cold as the grave; cold enough to attract polar bears to the table, who’ll burrow their weary bulks into the uneaten snow-dune that your mashed potatoes have become. You’ll spend long minutes shouting terrifying proclamations at your children through a megaphone: “Stop trying to knock your little brother unconscious with hunks of lamb! Eat that bloody sausage, don’t just push it around your plate! Eat a pea at least? One measly pea?! You won’t eat a pea?? Do you hate me? You must really hate me if you won’t eat a pea. Maybe I’ll just choke myself to death on those peas, would you like that?? Don’t care about that, do you? Well maybe you’ll care about the fact that your stomach is so hungry it’s gained sentience, and is in the process of trying to escape through your mouth so it can eat your face off. SCREAM MORE QUIETLY, WILL YOU, YOU’RE WAKING UP THE BLOODY POLAR BEARS!!!”
10.) Discipline is like its own science
When we were assembling our parental toolkit we decided not to include vicious punishment beatings; after a fierce debate, we also ruled out the construction of a medieval dungeon in the cupboard under the stairs. This left us with rather limited options for our stratagem to civilise our eldest son.
We couldn’t use reason, because reason doesn’t work on toddlers and very young children, the absolute fucking psychopaths that they are. Seriously, you’d have better luck teaching a pigeon to do maths.
We couldn’t ignore his behaviour or use undiluted bribery to subvert it, because unless you’re born into a disgustingly rich family dynasty whose destiny it is to rule the world through golf and evil, it’s probably best not to turn your kid into a fat, scheming, morally-vacant sex maniac.
So we used stickers. Not to cover his mouth or eyes or anything: no, to build a reward system that would encourage positive behaviour and discourage negative behaviour. I say ‘we’. I wasn’t allowed an opinion on the new discipline system, on the grounds that I hadn’t accrued enough good behaviour stickers. She’ll train me to put the toilet seat down, and open packets of cold meat without tearing them into eighty different pieces yet.
Jack has to hit five stickers to get a reward, which could be anything from a mini-adventure to a small toy he plucks raffle-like from a cardboard bucket we keep hanging from the wall. He gains stickers for doing things like being polite and well-mannered for long periods of time, listening well, being kind to other kids and to his little brother, and helping out with chores. He loses them for things like smashing his baby brother in the face with a toy helicopter.
I had a few reservations with the system initially. I worried that we were teaching him to jump through hoops to get trinkets, rather than encouraging him to be good for goodness’ sake. I quickly moved past that when I remembered my realisation from a few paragraphs ago that all kids are psychos, and if you aren’t going to hit them, then you’re sure as shit going to have to bribe them. I guess it’s a good idea to erect a moral framework around your kids as early as possible, one that will hopefully make deeper sense to them once they get older and start thinking beyond rituals and commands: stabilisers for the soul, if you like.
My other fear was that the justice underpinning the system would be dispensed arbitrarily, based more upon what mood we happened to be in at any given moment than on solid ethical principles. For instance: ‘I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ANY PROLONGED VOWEL SOUNDS TODAY! YOU LOSE A STICKER!’ or ‘WILL YOU SHUT UP? I’M TRYING TO WRITE THIS BLOG ABOUT WHAT AN AWESOME DAD I AM. THAT’LL COST YOU TWO STICKERS, MY FRIEND.’
But, we found a groove, ironed out the kinks, and discovered rather quickly that the sticker system works well, both as a deterrent for naughtiness and as a skill-and-confidence builder. There’s a dark, ceremonial joy to be harvested from de-stickering a child. I find myself adopting the tone, voice and poise of the horror character Pinhead on those rare occasions when I have to take one away. “Ah, human goodness, so delicate and ephemeral, so easily lost or moulded. Did you feel pride when you earned this sticker, boy? Pride is a sin of which I’m happy to divest you even as yet blacker sin pours from you like a faucet. There are no stickers in Hell. Only pain.”
By this point in the speech, he’s usually smashed his little brother in the face with a helicopter again.
11.) Being a stay-at-home parent is not easy – especially if you’ve got more than one child.
Stay-at-home parents shouldn’t be devalued or denigrated. I’m jealous that my partner gets to spend every day with our kids, but at the same time I’m absolutely fucking relieved that I don’t have to, because giving your mind, body and soul to your kids 24/7 is exhausting. Beautiful, enriching, incomparable, yes. But absolutely draining. I love and respect my partner immeasurably for what she does.
The only people who think that looking after babies and kids at home during the day is a piece of piss, and not as challenging or important as a ‘proper job’, are a) people who have had their amygdala surgically removed and replaced by a bag of morphine; b) the dead; c) super-advanced Japanese butler robots; d) the sort of loud-mouthed, blathering troglodyte who still says the word ‘Phwoar’ out loud when he sees a set of breasts, and who spends his days doling out sage nuggets of wisdom like, ‘Birds love it when you whistle at them from up high, makes their fucking day it does’ and ‘Course, I don’t know what the world’s coming to when those poofs in the courts won’t even let you call them darkies anymore,’ and e) blinkered, bitter or judgemental working mothers who subscribe to the ‘I’m not doing that so it must be wrong’ mentality.
Unfortunately c) doesn’t exist.
Unfortunately d) and e) do.
12.) Being a Dad is amazing.
I originally planned to go down the cop-out route for thing number 12. I was going to entitle it, ‘Having kids means not having the time to write the twelfth entry on a list of twelve things’, but upon reflection I think I’m going to take my tongue out of my cheek, temporarily remove my scatological-hat (I was going to shorten that to ‘scat-hat’ in the interests of snappiness, but I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea and picture me in the closing minutes of some ungodly German porn flick taking off a hat that only minutes before had been squatted over by two dead-eyed, loose-stooled lunkers, and then proceeding to wipe a waterfall of effluent from my stinging eyes.So rest assured there won’t be any scatology anywhere in this entry, none at all: and if there is, I’ll eat my hat) and show some honest-to-goodness heartfelt humanity.
Being a Dad has handed me happiness and focus in a way that I wouldn’t have imagined possible. Every sentimental and groan-worthy cliche about parenthood is true. Though each member of my nuclear family may occasionally irritate every atom and fiber of my being, they – individually and collectively – are everything to me. And without them I’d be nothing.
Nothing else matters.