I recently became a father again. Unbelievably, given that I’m a bit of a dickhead who tends to stumble through each day, I am now a father to two boys, tasked with keeping them alive and raising them to be kind, loving, thoughtful, intelligent, confident and empathetic human beings. It’s a truly daunting prospect.
The birth of my latest progeny was slightly different to when my first son arrived, as my wife was induced this time around. This meant that I was plagued with an earworm for most of the day (Toyah’s ‘It’s A Mystery’, where “mystery” was substituted for “pessary”) but it also meant that we could get settled on the ward, in our little curtained bay, and just wait for things to happen.
As my wife’s body began to shift through its multiple gears in readiness for another truly superhuman feat – which, we were told, could take anything from a few hours to a few days – I suddenly had time to do previously unthinkable things, like read a book. I also used the time to make sure I’d read and understood the instructions for the TENS machine so that I’d be less likely to fuck that bit up again. (I then proceeded to ask my wife repeatedly if she wanted to use it so that I could dazzle her with my new-found pain-relieving skills – but she wasn’t interested.)
I scrolled through my Twitter timeline endlessly; I walked a few circuits of the hospital grounds; I ate a partially defrosted trifle from the lunch service trolley (then spent roughly an hour worrying that it might kill me). Then before I knew it my wife was being wheeled off to a delivery suite, where disembodied screams and howls of pain echoed about the place like an audio track from The London Dungeon. At that point, I’d managed to get through just 20 pages of my book.
I will obviously spare you the excruciatingly detailed account of the birth. Needless to say, the key moment came when the midwife stressed to my wife that “baby doesn’t like where he is” (a bit like when I once stayed in a shit-awful Travelodge on the M62, which had a full English breakfast that tasted entirely of bleach). But those slightly unnerving words – and the apparent trouble the midwives were having detecting a heartbeat – sparked a truly Herculean effort from my wife to ensure that my son was safely delivered following three determined pushes.
Seriously, when you watch a woman give birth you just have to accept that girls are not made of sugar and spice and all things nice; they’re made of fucking graphene or something.
My amazing wife obviously did (and does) all the hard work. She walked away with the after pains and the stitches, having also metamorphosed overnight into a 24hr on-demand milk access point. I just got a slightly fancier epaulette for my Dads’ Club ceremonial dress uniform, which my son can now occasionally vomit warm, frothy breast milk onto.
Two months in and, once again, we’re doing our best to sleepily navigate the newborn months. We put our son in his cot each night, then back away on tiptoes like he’s a WW2-era unexploded bomb that could go off at any moment. We bicker about stupid things – like the other night, when I told my wife that the baby was stirring because she was brushing her teeth too loudly. We marvel at our son’s gravity-defying shit, which can shred a vest and sleep suit like a shell from a 12-gauge shotgun. Oh, and we get pissed on a lot. And this time, we’re doing it all the under the watchful eye of our three-year-old son.
Thankfully, our son seems to have accepted the arrival of his sibling really well. He occasionally refers to his brother as a “little fellow” and believes his smattering of downy hair is “pretend hair”. He also frequently asks if he can “stroke him like a rabbit”. And even though he recently asked if he could put his baby brother in prison for crying loudly while he was trying to play the ELC Rockin’ Robot game, it’s generally been a positive experience.
However, while we’re trying to drag ourselves through the first year of having a baby, we’re also occasionally having to deal with the ‘Terrible Threes’ – which I had no idea even existed. I’d heard of the nicely alliterative ‘Terrible Twos’ – which we’d survived with very few horror stories to tell – so I assumed that we were home and dry.
But I was wrong.
For instance, my son recently became fractious and upset at a family meal when I inadvertently got a minuscule splodge of ketchup on a chicken goujon. He’d already stubbornly announced that he wasn’t going to eat it, so his displeasure at its tomatoey defacement was baffling. Today, he had a tantrum that a hot dog bun had been cut in half for him, so he pummeled it a bit because he wanted someone to stick it back together. It sometimes feels a bit like I’m waiting on Kim Jong-un, with the same bubbling undercurrent of fear that something might not be to his liking.
The other morning, he told me to be a chef while I was making his breakfast. He seemed in fairly good spirits so I initially played along, opting for the mild Nigel Slater end of the Scoville chef scale. But by the time he’d barked my lines at me for the tenth time (“No! You’ve got to say it like this!”) while becoming tearful and furious if I broke character, I eventually hit the fiery Gordon Ramsay end of the scale. The ‘Terrible Threes’ can suck the fun out of anything, and things can turn sour in the blink of an eye.
When I was shouting at my son the other week, as we tried to fire-fight another meltdown over something ridiculous, he suddenly said to me: “I hate hearing you talk”. I’d never heard him use the word “hate” before. And he hadn’t previously said anything like that to me, ever. My heart wasn’t so much crushed as pierced with a stingray barb, quick and clean. Floored by a three-year-old’s clumsy turn of phrase in the midst of a spiralling tantrum. I’m far too sensitive for this parenting lark.
When telling someone about this the other day, their eyes flashed with realisation. “You’ve got a ‘threenager’!” they said, enthusiastically. Even with my dislike of portmanteaus it was like someone had finally diagnosed what we were dealing with. The irrational and unfocused anger; the determination to establish some kind of independence and a sense of self; the unbearable rollercoaster of emotions. It was everything I’d felt as a teenager bundled up into a three-year-old. I’ve been told that this stage can last for anything up to 18-months. And we’re currently only three months in.
Having said all this, when my son is good he’s really good. But there are also days when I find myself thinking about that father who disciplined his son by ordering him from the car and then leaving him to wander aimlessly into bear-inhabited forests in northern Japan. And I now sort of get how you might crack in the heat of the moment and think that your son being mauled by a bear is simply the only way he’ll learn.
We have all this to come again, of course. But at least now we know what we’re up against.