The normal family

I haul myself out of bed.

I can’t say I’ve just woken up. That would imply that I’d actually been asleep in the first place. Rather I’ve just summoned the energy to pull myself upright.

Well, almost upright.

It’s a quarter to eight. We have to be out of the house by a quarter past eight.

If I wasn’t so tired I’d be starting to panic now. If I was clear headed enough to think about all of the things which need to be done in the next thirty minutes I’d be really panicking.

It’s like writing a news story right up against deadline. If you stop to think about it then you simply wouldn’t be able to do it.

I look my my son, still sleeping. Mouth open, eyes closed. He ended up clambering into our bed at some point in the night. Again.

He woke us up a couple of times in the early hours looking for a drink. He woke us up needing the toilet.

At one point I woke up and he was lying on top of me. His feet resting on my face.

At another point he moaned ‘Daddy you’re squashing me’ as he sprawled out on the bed and I was banished to the Siberian cold outer edges of the mattress.

Now he’s sleeping sweetly. Of course. Now that I need him to be washed, breakfasted, dressed.

I decide to shower before he’s awake. The water is tepid. Naturally.

You could argue that if we were a normal family we’d have set the alarm, set the timer to warm the water, had the schoolbag packed, the clothes ready. If we were a normal family.

I come back into the bedroom. Mummy is sorting through piles of clothes. I presume there’s a point to this.

My son is climbing out of bed, hair like leftover spaghetti. He smiles.

‘Is it morning already?’

It’s cute, yeah. Adorable. But a little sinister too. Like he knows a little too much. Is it a smile or a smirk? I give him a hard stare.

I try to rush him downstairs for breakfast. But in my haste I’ve forgotten his light sabre. I lose another minute running back to get it. Everybody knows you can’t have breakfast without your light sabre.

I go through the motions of trying to get him to eat something healthy.

‘Do you want some fruit?’

‘Honey Monsters.’

‘Maybe an apple?’

‘Honey Monsters.’

‘I could peel it and slice it up?’

‘Honey Monsters.’

‘Or I could make a smoothie? I’ve got some lovely fresh strawberries.’

‘Honey Monsters.’

I think for a second.

‘Ok, you can have Honey Monsters today because we’re late but tomorrow you’re going to have something healthy. You can’t have Honey Monsters every day.’

I ponder my own breakfast. The array of cereals in the cupboard. Fresh fruits in the fridge. Nuts and seeds. I decide to have Honey Monsters.

But he won’t start eating until the TV is on. I fumble with the remote control, my fat fingers bouncing off the buttons like King Kong trying to play a harpsichord.

There used to be a time when you pushed a switch and the TV started to work. A simpler time. Now you have to endure a seemingly endless process where the telly seems to be warming up.

A taunting message keeps flashing on the screen. ‘Nearly there…..nearly there…..nearly there….’ And then the screen goes blank again.

When I was a kid you had five minutes of children’s TV a day. And you felt grateful. My son insists on his favourite programme. His favourite episode of his favourite programme. His favourite scene from his favourite episode of his favourite programme.

And then we can eat.

I run upstairs with a cup of tea for mummy. She’s still doing something with clothes.

‘Where’s the wee man’s uniform?’ she challenges me.

‘How would I know?’

‘Well you took it off him last night.’

‘No I didn’t.’

I know I did but sometimes you just have to hold the line. I glance at the top of the basket, where I always throw clothes in a crumpled pile. The uniform isn’t there.

We go into the spare bedroom. His uniform is laid out neatly on the bed. Clean underwear and socks. The advantage has moved to me. Mummy clearly did this before bedtime but had forgotten. To admit it now would be to admit she was the last one to touch the uniform.

‘There you go,’ I declare insufferably, ‘just where I left them.’

She lets me have the moment. Then she thrusts the uniform at me.

‘Well you can get him dressed then.’

I trudge back down the stairs. It’s part dressing, part all-in wrestling. With Honey Monsters thrown in.

I’m gently encouraging him. ‘Come on son, you should be putting your own socks on by now.’

He’s bashing me over the head with his light sabre. Not gently.

But somehow he ends up dressed.

‘We’re all ready!’ I shout up the stairs to mummy. A hint of triumphalism and challenge in my voice.

‘Is he washed? Has he brushed his teeth? Are his shoes and coat on? Have you packed his snack?’

I don’t respond.

I wash his face roughly with a flannel like I’m cleaning graffiti off a wall.

‘Too rough daddy!’ he tries to protest but his mouth is full of facecloth.

I turn my attention to his lunchbox. I have to come up with a healthy snack for my son every day. This is a boy who regards chocolate raisins as a health food.

There’s a note from the school. Some of the children have allergies. Can we avoid sending anything in which contains nuts or egg. I stare at it with disbelief. My plans for a cashew and pecan frittata have just crashed around me.

I put a crumpet and a little box of raisins in his schoolbag.

Then it’s shoes. I’ve been able to put my own shoes on now for….I don’t know….forty odd years, but putting someone else’s shoes on seems to throw me.

My son gives me the usual warning.

‘Put them on the right feet daddy. Check they’re on the right feet daddy. Are they on the right feet daddy?’

‘Look I’ve only sent you out with your shoes on the wrong feet once!’ I growl back.

‘You did it twice daddy.’

‘Ok, well, I’ve put them on the right feet more often than the wrong ones.’

Mummy comes down the stairs as I’m fastening him into the car seat.

I think we’re ready to go now but instead she’s looking for envelopes in the kitchen.

‘What are you doing?’

‘We have to send in these reply slips for the teacher.’

‘Why didn’t you do this last night?’ I say, without a hint of irony in my voice.

‘Why didn’t you?’

I think about this. To say that I didn’t because I was watching a repeat of last year’s Superbowl seems to lack authority, so I shut up.

Then I notice her slipping money into one of the envelopes.

‘What’s that for?’ I protest.

‘To buy some stuff for his art projects.’

‘What do I pay my taxes for?’

The pedant could point out that as I’m currently out of work I don’t actually pay any taxes, but hey, we’re against the clock here.

Finally we’re ready for the car. I lock the front door. At this exact moment, just as I do every other day, I realise I’ve forgotten to take my pills.

I’ve been taking my pills for so long now that it I’ve no idea whether they actually do anything for me. Perhaps if I didn’t take them there’d be no obvious reaction. On the other hand perhaps I’d turn into a completely different person. Maybe Sid James. Perhaps I’d develop a dirty laugh and go around in the mornings expressing a world-weary ‘Cor, blimey!’

I rush back inside and hurriedly down the little white tablets with a glass of water. Then I run back outside and start the car.

At this point my son says.

‘I need the toilet!’

For a moment nobody says anything.

Then mummy speaks.

‘Did daddy not check if you needed the toilet before you left the house son?’

‘No mummy.’

As she takes him back towards the house I shout out the window, ‘We’re already late so blaming people now isn’t going to help us or get us to school any faster.’

I sit back, thinking that I’ve slightly softened the edges of my defeat.

Soon they’re back in the car and I’m driving faster than I should, flashing my lights and beeping my horn in the school carpark to get children and mummies with prams to move out of my way.

As we take our son through the gates I notice I’ve put his coat on inside out. I decide to let it go. He’ll be taking it off in a few seconds anyway.

We take him to the classroom. We’re not even the last ones there. We kiss him goodbye and walk away. Leaving him in the care of his teacher.

Just like a normal family.

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