Two children, one night to survive as a solo parent… What could possibly go wrong?
For the past few weeks, we’ve been trying to get our little cherub to drink formula so her mum can have a bit more freedom. The first few weeks of trying were calamitous, as our doughy poppet seemed utterly repelled by the thought of latching on to anything that wasn’t anatomically connected to someone. She interpreted our first offerings of formula as, ‘Here is some poison for you to drink.’ Now, she gives us the annoyed, but indulging, response one typically gets from the words, ‘Is Pepsi OK?’ which we consider progress. My daughter’s attitude to me is generally similar. I adore her, but she thinks me merely pleasant, holding me in the strained ambivalence my wife has for the people who do holiday cover for Radio 2 presenters.
My baby doesn’t get many detailed mentions in this column, partly because she seems like a bit of a hater, and I refuse to engage with those. But mostly because her most recent milestones are ones I’ve covered in lavish detail when my son went through them, and I hate to repeat myself. So please be contented that she has begun smiling and laughing and teething and can, almost but not quite, sit up by herself. But as we near the end of the ‘just keeping her alive’ stage – which I promise does not mean we will cease trying to keep her alive – we have begun to spy a new phase on the horizon.
So, today is the first time I’ve been left to try and sustain her with my manly charms and frequent bottle use for 24 hours, as my wife goes off to my sister’s hen under strict instructions not to text me anxious notes about my progress, since I’ll only tell her everything’s fine, no matter what. All’s going well, but it feels redundant to say that parenting a five-month-old and a four-year-old simultaneously is challenging and that I’m enormously lucky that neither my wife nor I have to do so by ourselves very often. I try to maintain this perspective as my daughter decides she doesn’t want to feed, at exactly the same time my son begins screaming because he has some orange juice on his hand. It is 8.05am.
Eventually, my son’s hand is cleaned and a brisk 40-minute walk lulls the baby to sleep. Over the next few hours, I receive a steady trickle of texts from family and friends who did not get my No Texts injunction, worried that I’m looking after a baby who’s not fully into bottle-feeding – or me. I consider writing back a sniffy reply to the effect that I am a father of two who is more than capable of wrangling his children by himself, thank you very much. I don’t do this as my left hand is holding a screaming baby and my right is on my phone, researching those padded shirts with fake breasts that dads can wear.
There is more walking, more wailing, more reluctant feeding and I finally get both down by 8pm. My phone buzzes, no doubt their mum texting to see if everything is going OK. Her message just says she’s getting ribbed for wearing white to a hen do. Honestly, would it kill her to ask how I’m getting on?
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
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