Twelve things I’ve learned being a Dad to two under four (PART 1)

1.) Buggies suck.

You know the old proverb. “Fold or unfold a buggy for a man, and he’ll be able to push the baby for a day. But teach him how to fold or unfold the buggy, and you’ll still have to do it for him every fucking day.”

The operation of most modern buggies is remarkably simple. Click, clunk, push. Press, pull, fold. So why then do I find myself, every single time – and I do mean every  single time – jumping up and down in a car park, my arms flailing like a possessed, pissed semaphorist trying to marshal an airplane, loudly threatening an inanimate hunk of cloth and plastic with death and destruction? I’ve been shown how to operate the infernal contraption time and again, on an almost daily basis, and each time I say, ‘Ah, of course, now I remember. Next time will be easy’. But next time isn’t easy. Next time is another angry wrestling match betwixt man and plastic. It’s like Groundhog Day, but by the end of the movie Phil can’t play the piano and he’s still having eighty doughnuts for breakfast. Why aren’t kids born with wheels?

2.) Never use the ‘Bad Man’ to deter your kids from disobeying, or running off.

He’s a demonic boogey-man routinely conjured by lazy parents to strike an easy jolt of fear into their children, when the same result could easily be achieved through gentler, less traumatising means, namely by employing the twin powers of reason and imagination.

(Starts with a snicker, builds to a convulsing laugh, ends with me in hysterics, hardly able to breathe and slapping my thigh like a coke-fueled cowboy) Yeah, right. Fuck that. The ‘Bad Man’ practically has his own room in our house, en-suite and everything. He gets breakfast in bed, and even gets to leave the toilet seat up after a piss. At first we used him sparingly. ‘Don’t run off round that corner. The bad man might be there.’ Then we started riffing, really having fun fleshing out the character:

‘He’s got an electrified glove that will burn you like toast,’

‘He’s got a time-grenade that’ll blow you back to the prehistoric era and your head will be crunched off by a T-Rex,’

‘He likes to melt children down and make them into candles, and then he farts on the candles, and then he pees them out.’

We started pretend-calling him for the most minor of infractions. ‘Hello, is that the bad man? Yeah, he won’t blow his nose. You’ll what? You’ll skin him alive?’ (lowering phone and whispering to son) ‘I can’t negotiate with this guy, he’s a fucking lunatic, you’d better just do what he says.’

Reason doesn’t work on young children. That’s why you need to get yourself your very own on-call behavioural terrorist. Long live the bad man.

3.) A bacon sandwich tastes so much sweeter after you’ve suffered through 3,000 episodes of Peppa Pig.

Not 3000 new episodes of Peppa Pig. The same episode 3000 times. Each staccato plink of that risible theme song starts to feel like a knife to the spine. I hate that my three-year-old loves it so much. It’s horrible. Not only does it make you feel like you’re watching TV through a spy-hole, but the kids are insolent, disobedient little shits and the father is a marginalised moron who’d be more use to the world inside a BLT. I’ve largely cut meat from my diet and don’t eat pork anymore, but I’d make an exception for Daddy, the snorting imbecile.

Don’t let your kids watch it. If none of that convinces you then never forget that the pigs are clearly walking, talking big balls-and-cocks. Look at them! It’s undeniable. Peppa Pig? Peppa BIG Nutsack more like.

4.) Toilets will never be the same again.

A week or so ago I had to make a hurried journey to the bathroom, with just enough time for a brisk detour to pick up a book. I perched in comfort, readying myself to begin the expulsion not just of my internal waste, but also of the day’s worries and frustrations. I was happy. I was safe. Nothing out there in that noisy, calamitous universe could touch me, at least for the next five minutes.

I was perched on the toilet, enjoying my brief reprieve from life, when from downstairs came the screams of my second-born, Christopher. He’d been placed atop a soft blanket of toys by his mother as she bravely attempted to start cooking dinner. Christopher’s not a kid usually prone to screaming, but when he feels the need he makes sure to broadcast those screams at just the right frequency to pierce steel, skull and concrete. ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ came the cries from my eldest boy, Jack, accompanying his baby brother’s fervent WAH WAH WAHs.

Jack kept wailing as he staggered and trudged up the stairs like a mustard-gassed soldier: ‘DADDY, DADDY, MY EYES!!! MY EYES!!!’

He’d found a bottle of his mother’s perfume and naturally had decided to spray himself directly in the eyes with it, the bold little scientist that he is. ‘MY EYEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSS!’

That’s what most trips to the toilet are like these days. Remember that old Dad-centric cliché about a bathroom being a man’s last bastion of peace in a chaotic household? It’s full of shit. The bathroom door may as well be spun from spider-silk or constructed by a mime artist. If your kid needs to get through that door, locked or not, and no matter what you’re doing in there, then you’re opening up. They’ll rap and tap and chap and bang until you’re forced to waddle towards it like an all-penguin John Wayne. They’ll then make you stand there by the sink in hellish, bowed-leg silence, like a naughty dog – squidgy poo-parcel half-nipped and glistening – as they take the longest piss in the world. Or even a particularly savage shit, just to rub some salt into the wound.

It’s toilet Top Trumps, and your kid will always win, principally because it reflects rather badly on you as a parent if you force your kid to stand outside in the hall and shit themselves.

THANK YOU FOR READING, YOU ADORABLE BASTARDS.

ANOTHER FOUR NEXT WEEK.

Frustration? I can’t be arsed.

cheWhen I worked for the Scottish Court Service I joined the union and became a representative for my office, primarily because I liked the thought of officially sanctioned time away from my desk, and indeed the entire building. It helped that most days out on union business consisted of 5 per cent conferencing to 95 per cent drinking.

Whilst installed as the office representative I became adept at asking meaningless yet persistent questions at conferences in a bid to justify my presence in the union flock. I’d say something like, “A few people in the office were asking if they could get some free pens. Well, can they?” and then nod sagely. I once half-heartedly participated in a strike for better pay conditions. I spent an entire day standing at the picket line limply clutching a sign, chain-smoking and nodding silently at everyone as they walked past me. I think I muttered ‘scab’ under my breath a couple of times, just as my hero Che Guevara would’ve done. A manager eventually brought me out a cup of coffee and a sandwich, which I accepted without hesitation. I think you’ll find that the Communist Manifesto has quite a lot to say about the importance of balancing worker solidarity with the delicious necessity of free cheese sandwiches, even if they do come from the hands of your bastard enemies.

Sometime during the steely reign of my short stewardship, our national executive issued a memo urging us to boycott Coca Cola. Coca Cola was accused of turning a blind eye to the plight of workers at its many sub-contracted South American bottling plants. Right-wing paramilitary groups – allegedly in collusion with the plants’ owners – were murdering, or otherwise ‘disappearing’, workers for the crime of organising unions. The workers were only trying to ameliorate their poor working conditions and make a better life for themselves and their families.  Coca Cola’s silence and inaction in the face of this horrific systemic homicide was taken as tacit approval of the paramilitaries’ methods. “COCA COLA? …Death-o… Cola… more like,” I’d mutter quietly to myself, before taking another sip of Coca Cola.

coke

My personal boycott lasted less than four hours. 9am until lunchtime. Vive le revolution! I loved Coca Cola back then, you see. Drank it every day. Came to depend upon it. It was my fizzy heroin in a can; my daily hangover cure. “Why can’t they be killing workers at Dr Pepper factories instead?” I lamented. “I fucking hate Dr Pepper.” I was ashamed of my weakness. There were men in the world who would give up blood, freedom, family and oxygen for their principles, and I couldn’t even kick Coca Cola for four fucking hours. Thankfully, I’ve long since abandoned the drink. Not for any ideological reasons. I’ve simply arrived at the conclusion that Coca Cola is a black broth of tooth-taking, penny-polishing, pancreas-punishing arse-juice that leaves your heart flopping about like a fish in a bucket. And that’s a Scotsman saying that.

When something I own breaks, I tend not to fix it, but instead force myself to adapt to the new reality of its brokenness. I once had a TV that could only be switched on if the power button at the front of the unit was pressed in as far as it could go and held there at a constant pressure. Naturally, instead of mending or replacing the TV, I pressed the button in as far as it would go, and then used a rook from my chess set and a roll of masking tape to hold it in place. I then left it like that for three years. Check mate, TV. Check mate!

When the locks in my old Fiesta started to fail one by one, rather than have it mended I simply allowed my method of entering the car to evolve naturally. When the lock on the driver’s side seized, I clambered in to the car through the passenger side. When the passenger side failed, I went in through the back seats. When all of the locks had failed, I climbed in through the boot. Every time I entered my car it looked like I was either a) participating in an all-cripple version of It’s a Knockout, or b) in the process of breaking into it. Thankfully, in the part of town in which I lived, car-jacking wasn’t an unusual occurrence, allowing me to fit in as ‘one of the lads’.

I don’t think I suffer from apathy per se, or at least not all of the time. I have an incredibly low tolerance for frustration that co-exists with a fear of failure, an expectation of failure and a rage at the world for not doing what I want it to do. If I sometimes take the easy route, or hit the button for the ejector seat, it’s less about laziness and more about saving myself an exhausting, four-letter-word-fuelled explosive meltdown.

My mum said I cried and wailed at the age of four because I couldn’t write functional computer programs on the ZX Spectrum. When I was twelve, a faulty dot-matrix printer made me so angry that I snapped a fountain pen in half, leaving me with a big blue face that took an hour to scrub clean. If I hadn’t been wearing specs I probably would’ve been blinded, no doubt learning in the process some biblical lesson about the cost of anger: a pen for a printer makes the wee fanny blind, perhaps.

When my step-sister and I linked our Gameboys together and she beat me at two-player Tetris, I headbutted my Gameboy, smashing the screen to smithereens. I hid the evidence at the bottom of a toy hamper, and waited for the heat to die down. For more on this subject, have a read of this:  http://www.denofgeek.com/games/videogames/31783/frustrating-games-in-videogame-history ).

Don’t ask me to fix finicky things, or build up intricate items of furniture from Ikea. I’ll only end up hurling them out of a window. Or standing around with a big red face promising to murder myself in a series of increasingly ludicrous ways. “If this piece doesn’t fit I swear I’m going to puncture my lung with a toothbrush, and spend my dying minutes cracking my fucking skull open by beating it against my own knee! I MEAN IT, I REALLY MEAN IT, I FUC… oh, it fits. Excellent.” (strides off whistling)

If I’m stuck in traffic, I’ll swing the car around in a cloud of f’s and c’s and take a ten-mile detour in the wrong direction rather than confront the heart-pumping frustration of a very mildly inconvenient traffic jam. The modern world makes a Hulk out of me. I’ve almost ripped worlds apart trying to open tins of corned beef.

corned-beef-fail

In my early twenties my GP referred me to a Stress Management group, which comprised a gaggle of cripplingly shy and shaky-handed people, including one old hippy guy who was in a state of terror because he thought we were all going to invite ourselves en masse to his house after the meeting. I don’t belong here with these fucking mental cases, I thought to myself, rather uncharitably, and wholly unrealistically.

Still, I thought it would be smart to keep going, in a bid to better understand my stinking thinking, and how to counteract it. Week two arrived, and I was cooking some chicken in the oven before group. I was starving, and running late. The chicken had been packaged in some sort of plastic tub, which in retrospect I don’t think should’ve been placed in the oven. The plastic warped with the heat, and when I tried to retrieve it it wobbled and wilted in my hands, sending globs of burning hot sauce all over my hands, and raining chunks of chicken down upon the kitchen floor. I hurled the floppy, half-empty tub across the room and aimed a hard kick at the oven. “THAT’S… IT!” I shouted, standing there with my arms hanging down at my waste, my fists balled in rage. “I’M TOO STRESSED OUT TO GO TO THIS STUPID FUCKING STRESS MANAGEMENT GROUP!” The delicious irony of this angry ejaculation caused me to laugh like a madman, my anger gone as quickly as it had arrived. I never made it back to the group… although I did try to break into the hippy’s house a few times.

asdasd

The independence referendum in 2014 shook me out of my apathy a little. I genuinely cared about the political process again, and desperately wanted to do my bit to bring about change, even if my bit was just talking twaddle with strangers and signing an ‘X’ on a little piece of paper. I have friends who felt moved to canvass and campaign for their parties of choice in the wake of Scotland’s political re-awakening. I thought about it. And then realised I couldn’t be arsed. Oh, there’s a town meeting tonight. Right, I’d really better get along and… actually Monday’s not a good time for me. It’s Game of Thrones night. There’s one on Wednesday, too? Hmmm. I’ll probably be a bit tired by then… OH WHAT’S THE POINT, WE’LL ALL JUST GET CRUSHED UNDER THE WHEELS OF THE MACHINE, FREE WILL IS AN ILLUSION, THE ILLUMINATI CONTROL EVERYTHING ANYWAY. Plus I’ve got to take my missus to the bingo.

Yes, I’m crazy. But I think to campaign for things – to dedicate your life to an ideal – is its own form of craziness. I’m the wrong kind of crazy to change the world. I wish I could harness my rage and frustration and point it in the direction of a worthwhile cause, but I can’t (unless it directly involves my family’s health, happiness or safety, I’m not really interested). Thankfully, there are passionate people out there with the zeal of psychopathic stamp collectors who can fly the flag on my behalf across a whole range of issues. I salute those fucking lunatics, I really do. Half-heartedly, of course.

When I can be bothered raising my arm.

PS: I started writing this in February.