I dare not make a sound.
I’m creeping past the door. Softly, softly.
My senses are heightened and I can feel my bare toes rubbing against the individual strands of the thick carpet.
Don’t rush it.
I can’t help myself. I peek in, holding the door slightly open. He’s sitting on the carpet watching Peppa, eyes burning into the TV screen. He doesn’t know I’m there. Not yet.
Am I ashamed that I’ve been reduced to tip-toeing around the house so my son doesn’t notice me?
Absolutely not. When you’ve got a whole day of looking after a young child you do what you can to grab a moment to yourself.
I try to move past the room but there’s a tiny creaking sound. It might be the door. It might be my bones. Whatever; it’s enough.
He turns around, his little red face opening up in a smile.
‘Hi son. Are you enjoying Peppa?’
The advantage is with him now and he know how to press it home. He stands to face me, arms in front, held wide open.
What am I to do? I know it’s a trap but I’m inevitably drawn to it like a foolish man rushing towards his own ruin.
I step towards him and give him a big embrace. His arms go around me, tightening like vines.
‘Let’s play daddy.’
‘I will buddy, I just need to get the breakfast ready for you and mummy.’
But he’s already pulling at me. With the inevitability of a torpedoed liner sinking to the bottom of the ocean, I’m dragged to the floor.
Play consists of this familiar routine of him wrapping his arms around my neck and pulling me to the ground. Then he’ll order me to get up do it all over again. Each time he drags me over he yells ‘Timber!’
When he tires of this game he forces me onto my back. He sits on my stomach and bounces up and down chanting ‘Daddy’s got a big fat belly!’
I used to have a job, an executive role in an office. I used to have responsibility for a large team of workers and a budget. My phone used to ring incessantly.
Now I’m a belly.
And the phone never rings anymore.
I struggle to free myself and rush to the kitchen. I know mummy has to get to Dublin for work and it’s my job to get the breakfast ready on time. Tea, toast, boiled eggs (in a cup, the way she likes them).
I shout back to my son.
‘Do you want some toast buddy?’
‘What d’ye want for your breakfast then?’
Always a picky eater, he has recently decided to test my nerves by moving towards an all breadsticks diet. The more I discourage it, the further he travels towards it with absolute conviction.
I make him some cereal. I’m pretty certain he won’t eat it but at least I can tick the box of saying I tried for one more meal. I give him a smoothie as well, the only way I can get him to eat fruit. And a few breadsticks.
Mummy and I breakfast at the kitchen table.
He remains in the living room pouring the milk from his cereal into the spaces between the cushions on the leather sofa.
Mummy has to leave for work now.
He is angelic, kissing and hugging her and putting on his best little boy smile as she walks out of the door.
Mummy drives off. I see the back of her car disappearing around the corner.
It’s very quiet. I wait.
‘I want mummy.’
‘Now buddy, you know mummy’s gone to work. She loves you very much and will be home really soon.’
‘I want mummy.’ A little bit louder, more threatening.
‘Yes I miss mummy too but it’s you and me now. It’s a daddy and son day!’
I get that feeling I’ve said the wrong thing.
He takes a moment, as if deciding which sort of tantrum to go for.
The rage tantrum is more direct, gets the point across quickly, allows for a bit of foot stamping and some object throwing. You get to shout a lot too. Easy to see the attraction for him.
Ah, but then there’s the sorrow tantrum too. A good old bawl, tears dripping onto your clothes. Lying inconsolable on the ground. Much to be said for that too.
He decides on rage. But he’ll blend a bit of sorrow in there as well. Just to keep it fresh.
The feet stamp. That’s how it begins.
‘I hate daddy! I hate daddy! I hate daddy!’
‘But I love you son.’
My words sound utterly impotent in the face of his anger, like trying to stop a tsunami with a jam jar.
I move towards him. I know that despite his show of anger I need to give him comfort. To address his insecurity with reassurance.
A breadstick bounces off my nose.
Then another flies past my ear.
‘Now son you can’t throw food, that’s not good behaviour.’
‘I hate you daddy! I want mummy!
He starts to make a noise, something between a scream, a screech and a wail. He’s my boy and I love him but I have to say it sounds a bit demonic.
I put him in his room to calm down. I want him to know that he’s not being punished, I just want him to think about his actions, to learn to take responsibility for them.
‘Now wee man, daddy loves you very much. I just want you to think about why I put you in there.’
He screams again, kicking the door to add to the sound effect.
‘Yes I know you’re angry, but we all need to learn to control our emotions.’
He’s been through this before and knows the drill. He soon quietens, knowing I’ll crack and open the door. I pull him into my arms and give him a consoling cuddle.
I can hear myself saying sorry again and again even though I’m thinking it should be the other way around.
‘D’ye want some breadsticks? And some juice?’
He nods a grumpy assent. Not talking to me. Making it clear I’ll have to go a bit further to atone for my wrongdoings. I’ll have to think about my actions.
‘And we can go to the park later if you want? Or to feed the ducks?’
We go back to the front room and he sits on my lap as we watch more TV. He munches determinedly and soon I’m covered in a thin layer of breadstick crumbs.
At some point we’ll have to tackle getting dressed. Then there’s lunch. Trying to persuade him he can’t have breadsticks for lunch. Leaving the house. Going to the shops. Going to the park. Dealing with the tears when we leave the park. Starting dinner. Trying to persuade him he can’t have breadsticks for dinner.
But they’re all a bit too daunting to think about at the minute. Too many mountains. For now we just enjoy sitting in our pyjamas and watching Peppa.
Soon I’m feeling sleepy. Exhaustion is pouring through my body like ink in water. I must have dozed off because when I come around I’ve got breadstick crumbs on the side of my face. I rub them away.
I look at my son. Eyes still burning into the TV screen. I look at my watch. It feels like we’ve done a lot already, like we’ve been to the other side of everything and back again.
It’s 8:47am. Only 8:47am.