Down on the ground in my son’s bedroom surrounded by toys, scattered like so much flotsam and jetsam from a wreckage bobbing in the sea.
It’s a suitable image because I feel like a shipwreck survivor today. Exhausted, weary and on the verge of giving up.
I’m having a bad day.
It’s Monday. One of the days when my son is with me from first light to bedtime.
I know I’m supposed to say that every moment with him is precious. Every second spent together a golden memory.
But I don’t feel that way today. The truth is there are times when I hate it.
There, I said it. The thing that no parent should ever even think, let alone write down.
It’s not yet lunchtime and already I’ve been a monster, a pirate, a cowboy, a human trampoline and a punching bag.
Now he’s pulling boxes of toys out from under his bed and emptying them on the carpet, asking me to find some trivial item not seen or bothered about in years.
I scarcely know what I’m looking for as I move my hands through the piles of endless plastic junk. It’s like searching for a single blade of hay in a giant pile of needles.
‘Where is it daddy? Where is it?’, the impatience rising.
It’s relentless today. His voice is like a stab of pain to my head.
It’s as if he’s attached to me, taking my energy, taking my ideas, taking my life, sucking the marrow out of my bones.
If I could just have a minute to myself. Just a minute to myself.
There’s a molten mixture of volcanic issues at play here. From my own mental health problems, lack of self-confidence and low mood, to my son’s constant need for attention and his rampant, inexhaustible creativity and curiosity.
Add into this my feelings of guilt that I’m not enjoying this morning with him, not giving him the best of me. Yes, it’s a very bad day.
I’ve achieved nothing yet. The breakfast is not made, the clothes not ironed. We’re still in our pyjamas and I haven’t written a word. The sense of waste is upon me. Wasted time, wasted potential.
I’ve been trying to get into the shower for more than an hour. Jesus, if I could just get a minute to myself.
I think about all the things I have to do and it threatens to overwhelm me. I feel the familiar line of cold sweat on my spine and know that a panic attack is sweeping across like a sandstorm. I feel the anxiety spreading in my stomach and chest like a weed.
I go into the toilet and lock the door, hoping it will pass. But he’s knocking within seconds.
‘Come and play daddy. Come and play!’
I want to put my head on the floor, my cheek against the cold tiles and shout. Enough! Enough! Enough! Please just leave me alone!
I open the door and he has me by the arm, leading me downstairs, explaining some new game he has invented and my role in it. We sit together on the carpet in the front room and he starts to wheel a toy car around me. I feel like I’m going to burst into tears. I feel it is all falling apart again. It’s the paralysis of depression.
I decide we have to get out of the house. I’m claustrophobic in here, like I need to burst out of my own skin. I tell him that we’ll go to the park. At least there we can run around, get some fresh air.
It has been a fine and sunny morning. I put on his clothes and shoes and open the front door. At that exact moment it rains. Not gradual, the way rain usually comes, but sudden and immediate and heavy. It’s an angry rain, the fat drops pounding the Tarmac of the road and then bouncing up again. We didn’t even make it past the doorstep. It’s a really really bad day.
We go back inside. I put something on the TV, some cartoon to distract him for just a few minutes. I sneak out and into the kitchen and post a couple of quick blogs. Quick and cheap jokes, just so I can pretend to myself that I’ve achieved something, left a part of myself in the day.
I read them back and don’t think they are funny. There seems to be something faintly absurd and pathetic that I’m trying to make other people laugh when I can’t raise a smile myself.
Soon my wife comes down from her office and we decide we’ve all earned a break. We go out for a coffee and a juice and then for a short drive. We chat, about nothing in particular, but with enough mutual respect and humour that the clouds soon begin to dissolve and I remember that I am somebody. Just the process of having a little bit of family time, all of us together out of the house, brings me back to a place where I’m comfortable. It’s often the little things we give no thought to that have the most hold over our feelings.
It worked today anyway. Another day it might be something else.
As we drive through the countryside in the rain I notice my son is getting quieter in the back. Soon he is dozing and I head for home.
I lift him tenderly from the seat and lay him on our sofa. He sits up and looks at me with confusion for a second before he settles again on his side. His little eyes are not quite shut, as if he is asleep and awake at the same time. A tiny hand is at the side of his face. He is oblivious to his power to pull you this way and that.
I sit beside him on the sofa and read. I want my face to be the first thing he sees when he wakes up, so he doesn’t have a moment of fear or uncertainty.
Then we can do whatever he wants. We can run around, play, watch cartoons. Whatever he wants.
Yes it’s been a bad day. So far. I suppose we all have our own versions of a bad day.
But there’s one thing about a bad day. It can always get better.