0

Mid-term break

I’m slipping deeper into the tiredness as if it were a warm, soapy bath.

Lying on the sofa, I’m about to experience the forbidden indulgence of an afternoon nap. Like the magic Turkish Delight from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, once it is experienced it can never be forgotten.

There’s the beginning of a dream. No clarity has emerged from the narrative yet, it’s more just feelings at this stage, fluid and smooth like liquid metal. I imagine I’m smiling.

But then….

But then an intruder smashes into the scene. There are hands on my face. Sticky hands. My beard is being yanked.

‘Wake up daddy! Wake up!’

‘Uh? Uh?’

‘You fell asleep daddy. We’re supposed to be playing.’

The little hands are pulling my eyelids open. The first thing I see is a Coco Pop stuck to the elbow of his jumper.

The water in this bath has suddenly gone cold and spilled all over the floor. And I’ve got my big toe stuck in the water tap.

I’m pulled upright. PJ Masks is on the TV.

‘Daddy, you said you’d play with me.’

‘I have been buddy. We’ve been playing for the last seven hours.’

 

It’s the first day of mid-term break. Just the first day and already I’ve exhausted my creative store of role playing scenarios. We’ve been pirates, adventurers, policemen, ninjas and knights. We’ve had a sword fight which ended ingloriously when I was struck with a light sabre in the testicles. We’ve spent an hour searching toy boxes for the Darth Vader figure (‘No daddy, it’s the other Darth Vader toy I wanted!’). We’ve been to the park where we played a game which involved climbing a muddy hill to rescue crystal dragon eggs. We’ve completed a wooden obstacle course (my son clambered over the obstacles while I had to walk alongside humming the Indiana Jones theme tune). We’ve fed the ducks at the pond and bought an ice cream against my protestations that it’s the middle of February. We’ve argued over the ice cream after my son claimed that I was stealing the strawberry sauce while I reasoned that I was just licking it to stop it melting. We’ve been to the diner for lunch and argued over whether he should eat pasta or chips. We’ve argued after he accused me of stealing some of his chips. We’ve played storytelling in the car when I had to extemporise a narrative about a fire breathing dragon getting killed by a tiny mouse. We’ve played wrestling (he was Big Daddy, I was Giant Haystacks. He won). We’ve done some colouring-in, played a game on my phone and read a couple of story books.

And now we’re watching TV. This was my idea because I thought at least it was an action we could pursue without me becoming physically or mentally involved (and perhaps even allow for a nap). But watching TV with my son is an interactive experience. We have to assume the characters and act out the plot as it plays before us.

‘I’m Cat Boy daddy. Who do you want to be?’

‘Uh….I’ll be Omelette.’

‘It’s Owlette daddy, not Omelette. Duh!’

I’m pretending to fly across the living room floor while simultaneously battling some masked baddie. My son watches me throughout, ever eager to find fault (‘Higher Daddy! Higher!’).

‘After we finish this daddy we can play the treasure hunt game. And then after that we can play the game where I throw you off the bed.’

I can’t think of anything to say so I just nod along. I also have to get to the shop and to think about his dinner and bath. And to get some professional work done. And maybe even write a blog.

Mummy is due home from work in four and a half hours. That’s two-hundred and seventy minutes. Or sixteen thousand two hundred seconds.

It’s the first day of mid-term break. Just six more days to go.

0

Epic daddy fail

Quite deliberately I’ve never pushed my son into supporting any sports team that pulls at my affections.

As always, I prefer him to find his own way. He may come around to an interest in competitive games at some point. But, if he does, he can develop his own illogical tribal preferences.

Having said that there is an undeniable charm in the potential of him having some shared interests as his daddy.

So it was pleasing when he recently expressed a desire to watch a football match on the television alongside me. The delight was only slightly diluted by the transparency of his actions being a ploy to get out of going to bed.

The game was Manchester United v Arsenal in the FA Cup and he asked me who I wanted to win. When I said Man Utd he concurred that he wanted them to win as well. That was nice.

Watching the match was an unusual experience. His mind wandered often. At one point he argued with me that there were actually three teams playing in the game.

At another point he asked me if Spurs were playing too. When I replied no he said, ‘That’s because they’re off playing rugby tonight.’

As I said, unusual.

But I suppose you have to start somewhere.

So when he came home from school this week and asked me to play football with him I was happy to comply.

The game was fun and the fact that he insisted that it was in the rules that he was allowed to tackle me with a mop was only a minor irritant.

Then he asked me to watch while he kicked the ball as hard as he could. He shot the ball firmly with his right foot. Then he did it again.

I was impressed.

Infused by the spirit of progress I tried to pass on some of my wisdom.

‘You know buddy, really good footballers are able to kick with both feet.’

He looked thoughtful for a moment, then he asked me to pass him the ball.

He made a clumsy, ungainly attempt at a kick but missed the ball.

Then he tried it again….and fell over.

He tried it one more time, and fell over again, this time landing with a thump which looked and sounded painful.

As he rose I could see the tears coming into his eyes but I was confused about how his ability to kick the ball had deserted him so suddenly.

‘What are you doing buddy?’

‘It’s your fault daddy!’ he snapped back angrily. ‘You said good players kick with both feet.’

And then I realised.

‘Yes buddy, but I didn’t mean at the same time….’

0

Retail Therapy

He hadn’t intended to go into the grocers. The hanging carrots, bunched together like fat, dirty fingers appealed to him in only the most abstract way. The sort of thing he might buy if he was closer to the person he pretended to be. The person who planned healthy meals in advance and bought fresh, organic ingredients. The person who always had a lemon in his kitchen. Not the person who was constantly trying to catch up with order by buying ready-meals from the 24 hour garage.

It was the fuel on the footpath out the front which made him hesitate. The bags of coal, logs and sticks. The peat. He loved the way that peat smelt on his fingers, how it brought back memories of being on the moss as a child. The funny shaped spade and the piles of freshly-cut earth drying in the sun.

It had been a cold start to the year. Mornings when the frost layered the ground like a ubiquitous spider’s web. Perhaps it was caused by some latent ancestral memory but now he only ever felt the house was properly warm when he lit the fire. The radiator was fine to hold the chill back but it didn’t have the raw, urgent energy and power of the rising flames in the grate.

He didn’t even mind the work that went with it. The scraping and brushing, removing the ashes and leaving them beside the back door in the little tin bucket until they were cool enough for the plastic bin. The art of building the fire, layering the sticks with air between them so they could breathe. Do it properly and there’s no need for firelighters or newspaper. Brushing the dark, silky soot out of the chimney. The black grit which stayed under his nails even after he’d washed his hands.

He ran his hand over the surface of a bag of logs as if he was examining a prize cow. He liked the rough, uneven feel of the bark under his hand. He thought about a story he had heard recently on the news, something he half remembered about how damaging it was to the environment to burn wood. There was a statistic he was trying to locate, like searching for keys in a deep pocket. Was it that timber is made up of seventy percent water? Or was he mixing that up with the fact that seventy percent of the planet is covered by water? It troubled him that he could not bring order to his mind.

Then he entered the shop. It was darker than he expected and the piles of produce in trays at every wall made the space seem small, as if the walls were closing in. There were no other customers. The counter was in the centre of the shop and behind it a grey-haired woman was writing something on a notepad. He approached the counter but she didn’t raise her gaze, keeping her concentration on the words and digits she was scribbling.

He stood there awkwardly, wondering for a moment if she had failed to notice him and if he should make a throaty noise to announce his presence. Then she looked up. No words, just the slightest rise in her eyebrows. He felt she was not pleased to see him. Like an intruder.

He knew exactly what he was going to say but stumbled over the first few words under the intensity of her glare.

‘Um, well, uh, could I have a bag of your logs please?’

She studied him with barely concealed frustration. He had the familiar feeling of being in the wrong place, as if he was interrupting something more pressing with his presence. He could feel his cheeks and neck redden and hated that he was impotent to control this external display of shame.

Then, eventually, she spoke.

‘We don’t have any logs at the minute.’ And then a second later. ‘We’re waiting on the man coming with more.’

She lowered her gaze once more.

He nodded along, dreading any adversarial situation. He knew from experience that little misunderstandings or disagreements tended to incubate and swell into something much greater and darker in the oven of his mind.

He tried to laugh, to bring some levity. Then he looked out the window as if to escape from a situation that was threatening to suffocate him.

‘Well,’ he tittered idiotically, ‘I think there might be a couple of bags left out there.’ Then, almost as an apology, ‘I’ll just take the one if that’s ok.’

She considered him again. Then she shook her head sadly and exhaled a deep sigh which spoke of much more than the availability of a bag of timber. She walked silently past him and out of the shop. Every twitch of muscle in her body seemed like an unbearable effort.

He watched her through the front window of the shop. She bent a little and moved to where the fuel was piled until he could see her no longer. Standing alone in the shop he became aware of his own body, how useless his arms seemed hanging by his side. He didn’t know what to do with his hands, where to put them. He felt, perhaps, that he should run away.

Then the woman returned. He tried a desperate smile but she would not meet his gaze. She resumed her position behind the counter and thumped some buttons on an ancient cash register harder than was necessary.

She still did not look at him as she spoke.

‘That’s three pounds fifty.’

2

The operation and the scaredy cat

My wife and I often share an affectionate joke that our young son seems to be a ‘scaredy cat’.

It’s born of the fact that he seems to be afraid of much of the world around him – afraid of the dark, afraid of riding his bike without stabilisers, afraid of trying anything new. Afraid of the richness of his own imagination and the possibilities it creates.

As parents we always strive to meet these challenges with love, good humour and support. Reassuring and gently nudging him in the right direction while reminding him that we are always there in the background.

One of the manifestations of this fear has been an unwillingness to participate in any extra-curricular activities, to join any of the classes that could broaden his social base and strengthen his confidence.

But recently we had a breakthrough when mummy introduced him to a martial arts class which he loves. Now most days begin with him asking if it’s the day for ‘ninja school’.

Like all seemingly insurmountable problems, you succeed by chipping away at it a little day by day.

 

 

Some months back we noticed a small lump on the back of his neck, like a wound that hadn’t healed properly.

We monitored it for a couple of weeks but the condition seemed to be worsening, rather than improving. It was often bloody and looked painful, although he assured us it was not.

Eventually we took him to the doctor. The GP wasn’t sure and referred my son to a specialist. The consultant identified the lump as a granuloma. We were told that while the benign growth was not serious, it would need to be surgically removed and tested.

And so this week we arrived at the children’s hospital for the scheduled appointment. The doctor who was due to carry out the tiny surgery was kind and full of empathy. He was also, it seemed, a little surprised by a referral for a procedure to be carried out under local anaesthetic on a child who was only five years old. He told us that a general anaesthetic would be more normal for someone as young as our son. The logic being, presumably, that you’re not quite sure how such a young boy would react to being awake while something is being cut off his body.

At one point the doctor disappeared briefly to talk to one of his colleagues. The discussion, I later surmised, was him raising the possibility that he might need some assistance because of the age of our son.

Then he told us about the small risks involved and my wife signed the consent forms. My son had been quiet up to this point. I put this down to some natural fear on his part.

We were then taken to another room and my son was asked to sit on a bed. I had brought along my iPad to distract him and he played happily on it while the operation began.

I watched as the doctor twice inserted a needle, containing anaesthetic, into my son’s neck. He didn’t make a sound but I noticed a little tightening of his features. But when my wife and I asked him if it was sore he simply smiled.

‘It’s ok mummy and daddy, it doesn’t hurt at all.’

He continued playing his game while the doctor worked at the back of his neck with a scalpel, first cutting off the growth and then scraping away several further layers of skin to make sure the whole object was removed.

Undoubtedly the anaesthetic had deadened most of the pain but, it might be assumed, the very process of feeling a knife cut into your neck may be enough to cause alarm and fear. My son didn’t move or demonstrate the slightest hint of worry.

At this point the other consultant, the one the first doctor had spoken to about requiring assistance, entered the room to ask if any help was needed. Our doctor simply smiled and pointed to my son.

‘Look at him, he’s incredible. We’re just fine here.’

Finally the wound had to be cauterised so a glowing stick was held against my son’s neck to seal the wound with burning heat. Again he didn’t move a muscle.

Afterwards the nurses and doctor was effusive in their praise for our little boy. The doctor then told us he was the youngest child he had ever carried out such an operation on using local anaesthetic. He said we were lucky to have such a brave son.

Then we went to buy a toy and get a McDonald’s. As my son munched chips and played with his new action figures I kept asking him how come he wasn’t afraid? He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and went back to the Happy Meal.

Later that night both my wife and I were exhausted because we had exerted so much mental energy on the day. There was the small worry about the operation but a much greater worry about about how our son would cope with the operation. As it turned out, he was the only one who was not a scaredy cat.

As I lay unable to sleep in bed that night I tried to make sense of it all. How could this be the same boy who howls in fear when mummy goes to cut his toenails? Had he merely been putting on a brave face or was he genuinely immune to any concern about having a knife inserted into his neck? I’ll probably never know for sure.

What is clear though is that courage can be measured in many different ways. No doubt there will be further occasions when my son scares himself by inventing one of his spooky stories or when he sees a spider.

But when it really mattered he was the bravest of us all.

1

Why I shouldn’t be allowed out alone

The frost has created a white film which clings onto the car windscreen, thick like the hide of a wild animal. I watch patiently as the demister thaws the edges, a process so gradual that seems without end. I think about the brief conversation I had with my wife before I left the house moments ago.

‘Where do you have to go to?’

‘Dublin.’

‘Yes, I know that, but where in Dublin?’

‘I dunno….just Dublin,’ I answered with a shrug.

Eventually I pull out onto the main road and begin the drive south. The truth is that the world is a lot smaller than it used to be and a trip to Dublin should really be as routine as popping to the shop for a pint of milk. But it never seems like that inside my mind.

Last night I had an anxious sleep, interrupted with unpleasant memories of previous trips south. The troublesome toll booth, finding myself at the cash desk before I realise I’ve no Euros. Or the occasion when I went to the pre-paid lane by mistake and ended up stuck between a barrier in front which refused to rise and a line of inpatient drivers behind.

Then there are the mysteries of the city centre traffic. The occasions when I’ve spent hours transversing the dizzying warren of roads in a growing panic searching for some elusive location or my car being surrounded by swarms of lycra-clad cyclists to the point where I’m afraid to change lanes lest I ingloriously unseat one. Almost invariably the trips end with a van driver sounding their horn and shaking their head.

Today, I’m heading to the city to carry out an interview for a magazine article and I have to find the office where my subject works. I’ve given myself plenty of time and everything is going smoothly. I’ve made the obligatory stop at the Applegreen service station for a coffee and a pastry and I’ve counted out the toll booth money in advance. I’ve programmed the location’s address into the sat nav on my phone and I turn the directions on as I near the city. This trip, I have decided, is going to be the one which cures my phobia about driving in Dublin.

Just a few miles from the city the sat nav buzzes into life. The calm, authoritative voice telling me to take the M50 exit off the M1 motorway. I move into the far left lane and manoeuvre as instructed.

Then, after a moment, the sat nav fires another instruction.

‘After exiting the M1 stay in the right hand lane towards the R139 and take the second exit at the roundabout towards Malahide.’

In truth he could have told me this a bit earlier because I’m now wedged into the far left lane in morning rush hour traffic and can’t get across to get to the lane which takes me towards the roundabout. Instead I find I’m trapped on the M50.

At once my brain seems to turn into blancmange and I’m infested by fears I’m going to be boxed in against my will in traffic, until I end up in Cork or Galway or some other such place.

The sat nav now senses a problem and the voice is there again.

‘Make a U-turn. Make a U-turn.’

I let this go the first couple of times. Then again….

‘Make a U-turn. Make a U-turn.’

‘I can’t make a fecking U-turn!’ I roar defiantly. ‘I’m in the middle of the fecking M50 you knob!’

The sat nav must be suitably chastened because he does not repeat the instruction again. Instead he finds an alternative route which involves me coming off at the next roundabout and doubling back on my route.

I glance at my watch. Before getting lost I was on course to be comfortably early. I’m still on schedule to make the interview on time, but I can afford no more mistakes.

The sat nav guides me to a huge industrial estate in the middle of several other huge industrial estates on the edge of Dublin. Every building seems to be modern and stylish, and all are without signs to aid easy identification.

The sat nav triumphantly chirps ‘You have reached your destination,’ before going back to sleep.

But in reality I’m just on a road in my car staring at multiple red brick buildings, vainly trying to find a name or number.

I slow my car down to a crawl to have a proper look. The roads are narrow and I notice that a large white van is looming in my rear view mirror. As my pace decreases he begins to angrily sound his horn, forcing me to pull away again.

I take a left turn to allow the van to pass, but it also turns left. Then I take a right. The van turns right. I try another left. The van turns left.

I slow down again to attempt to get my bearings. The van sounds his horn even louder. Eventually I manage to pull onto the footpath. As the van passes me I give a weak wave as a gesture of reconciliation and apology. The driver makes a wanker gesture with his hand in my direction.

I look around and realise I’m lost again. There’s nothing else but to wake up the sat nav again to try and get back to my original location. I’m sure I can detect a hint of surprise in its voice.

We have another argument as I drive off and it keeps repeating ‘Make a U-turn. Make a U-turn.’

Some minutes later, and after stopping several people to ask for directions, I’ve found the right building. I glance again nervously at my watch, I’ll just about make it on time if I can get a parking space quickly.

But there are none to be found. I drive up and down narrow streets looking in increasing exasperation without success for any space in which I can wedge my ancient, battered car. Moreover, every lamppost and building has a sign attached warning that vehicles will be clamped or towed away if they are illegally parked.

I’m close to desperate when I spot an arrow-shaped sign which reads ‘Retail parking.’ I follow the arrow, which takes me to another arrow, and then another, before I finally pull up outside what seems to be a multi-storey carpark. My car enters the cavernous building.

It’s all narrow lanes on the ground floor and, surprisingly, there are only a small number of parking spaces, all of which are occupied. My watch now tells me I’m going to be late so when I see the ramp which leads up to the next floor I head straight for it.

But it’s desperately narrow, barely any wider than my car. I have to make several turns and adjustments just to get the vehicle square in line with the ramp. As I ascend, glancing nervously in my wing mirrors, I’m muttering ‘How the feck do they expect people to get their cars up here?’

The first thing I see at the top is a large green cross. It takes the smallest of moments to recognise this as the sign for a pharmacist, only slightly longer for me to think ‘Funny having a chemist in the middle of the carpark’ and another moment to realise I’ve gone badly wrong.

I’ve driven my old car right up to the pedestrianised shopping concourse. Several startled shoppers stop to stare. One old woman makes an urgent stop gesture. I wave and smile in a way which I hope conveys the message ‘My gifts lie in other areas.’

My next problem is getting back down. There’s no room to turn or manoeuvre so I have to begin reversing my car back down the narrow ramp. This would be a test of my dexterous driving skills on any day, but now my arms and legs feel like they’re full of water and I can sense my face is flushed like a beetroot. Somehow I get back to ground level, drive out of the carpark and find a space nearby. There’s a sign warning that cars will be clamped and I’ve no idea if I’m parked legally but I’m too late to be worry about it now.

I run to the office and circle it curiously, looking for the entrance. I see a man leave through a glass door and head straight for it. I’m hurrying as I go to push through the door, only to realise too late that it is secured with an electronic lock and my face slams straight into the resistant glass.

A security guard on the other side wears a neutral expression as he points out the revolving door, less than six feet away. As I’m about to enter the building I notice there are four empty parking spaces at the front door and a little sign which says ‘Visitors’.

I sign in at the front desk, just a few minutes late. My interview subject meets me with a handshake and smile.

‘Did you have any trouble finding us?’

‘No. No trouble at all.’

1

Searching for the Holy Spirit

I hear the question and at once pull the blanket tighter around myself.

‘Mummy, who is the Holy Spirit?’

There’s nothing for a second. And then.

‘Ask daddy. Daddy will be able to explain it better than me.’

I lie still, hoping it will pass. But soon I’m being roughly shaken and I’m forced to sit up.

‘Daddy….daddy, who is the Holy Spirit?’

I’m rubbing my eyes, scratching my head and trying to stall for time. Usually I like a smoother passage into the day than this.

‘The Holy Spirit? Where did you hear about that buddy?’

The teacher told us in school. What does it mean daddy?’

I look pleadingly towards mummy but she’s facing the far wall with the blanket pulled to her ears. I’m sure I can see a small tremble in her shoulders which I think might be an attempt to smother laughter.

‘Well….uh…..the Holy Spirit…..it’s um….sort of a type of a spirit, I suppose.’

His little eyes are fixed on me. He’s not to be bought off by such a paltry answer. I delve deep into my memory, from a time almost four decades ago when this particular concept last troubled my thoughts. I’m not sure I understood it then, I’m sure I don’t now. His eyes haven’t moved. I try again.

‘Well, you see, some people believe different things about the origins of the world. Some people believe in a god, and some of those believe in a god which is divided into three. There is God the father, who you’ve been told about in school. Some people think he lives in heaven.’

‘God’s house in the sky near the sun daddy?’

‘Uh, yeah, I suppose so. And then there’s God the son, who some people believe is Jesus, who came down to earth.’

‘And has his birthday at Christmas?’

‘Well yes. Then the third part of God, some people believe, is the Holy Spirit.’

‘And what’s he like daddy?’

‘Hmmmm, well, it’s hard to be sure. Those who believe in the Holy Spirit think he’s like a presence, something which is everywhere and in everything we do.’

My son stares at me without comprehension. I’m beginning to regret starting this. I go on.

‘Sometimes the Holy Spirit has been depicted as a flame….or as a dove, which is a sort of bird.’

‘A bird which is on fire daddy?’

‘Yes, well, I think that’s just for illustrative purposes. I think the point is it’s supposed to be a feeling, rather than a thing. God’s presence on earth. When I was a kid we called it the Holy Ghost.’

‘He’s a ghost daddy? Like the ghosts in Muppet Christmas Carol?’

Again I look around for help, but none is coming. I’m well out of my comfort zone.

‘Well…not exactly like that. As I said, this is just what some people believe in. Other people have different ideas. The only truth is that nobody really knows.’

He stares at me hard for a second, almost as if he’s considering whether he should prolong my torture. Then….

‘Daddy, can I play on your phone?’

I quickly hand the mobile over, happy to be spared further interrogation. Soon he’s happily playing a game and humming along to a tune of his own making and I go downstairs to make breakfast. As I spread butter on toast I’m troubled by thoughts that I didn’t handle the encounter very well. That I made my son a lot more confused than he was before.

I know what my instinct wanted me to say. As a longtime and committed atheist I wanted to say that religion is a load of manmade superstitious nonsense and that the idea of the Holy Spirit is on the very far edge of the whacky scale. Leave no room for doubt.

But I didn’t do that. Partly because I don’t want to directly contradict something he has been told in the school classroom. While I’m far from convinced of the merit of introducing a five-year-old to an idea as woolly and opaque as the Holy Spirit, I’m more concerned about the disturb that might be caused by having him thinking his teacher and father are pulling in different directions.

But the bigger reason why I didn’t dismiss the Holy Spirit as obvious hoodoo is that, even though I’m his father, I’m not sure it’s my place to do so. He has the right, like every child, to make that decision himself.

While I’ve always been dubious about the wisdom of inculcating children in any narrow form of religion as an inalienable truth, it would surely be just as arrogant of me to simply expect him to share my humanist views.

Which is why I try to tell him everything, and about everything. And why, on occasions such as this morning, I get myself into a holy mess by bending over backwards to give all sides of the story and to be fair to everybody. Even when I believe the concept to be nonsense.

I’ve little doubt that my bumbling words this morning made no impression on his formative mind. But, as he gets older, more ideas will be introduced and more concepts will stick. His mind will learn how to reason, to make decisions based on evidence and to think critically. And he will learn about lots of religions, and science, literature and history.

And then at some point, when he’s ready, he will pick his own path. He may follow his father as an irreligionist. Or he may decide to follow a faith, after all there are certainly plenty to choose from. And that will be just fine.

Between then and now there will undoubtedly be many, many more questions. And more faltering, stuttering attempts at explanation. It’s all part of the journey of self discovery. For him and me.

0

Dark days and the wobbly tooth redemption

The vapidity of these days is, I suppose, to be expected.

Christmas is over. Done. We’re in that strange in-between time. School and work have yet to recommence and the days pass now with none of the intoxication of before. I feel trapped in their dreary emptiness while simultaneously dreading the crushing, imminent return to grey normality.

It’s always like this in the early part of January. After the interminable build-up Christmas passes as fast and slippery as a young fish and all that is left is some familiar sense of desperate regret over the inexorable, grinding progression of the clock.

Those who are attuned to the fragility of a healthy mental state will know of the danger of the dark, January days. In December the bleakness of the cold, red morning horizon is filled with enchantment. In January it can reek of hopelessness.

Perhaps this is because the defences have been temporarily lowered, the mind and body surrendered to a state of abandon. Perhaps it is simply because endings are easier than beginnings. Whatever, the worries and responsibilities seep back into my thoughts, spreading like mould.

The new toys are still scattered on the carpet of the good room. The Christmas tree is there in the corner. I haven’t found the will to take it down but have no desire to see the lights. That’s where I am, stranded, unable to summon the energy to do anything new even though I am tired of what has gone before.

As I said, it’s a dangerous time and I know the trick is to bring focus and order to the mind. To give myself a task. To bring some mystical, awful importance to what would otherwise be inane. Don’t let the sense of rot set in.

Today it is the bins. The glorious comforting dependable routine of the bins. Sorting the surplus of rubbish into piles for the green, brown and blue receptacles. I’m tearing cardboard boxes to pieces and crushing cans and plastic bottles as I challenge myself to fit more and more in.

I find myself slipping into a familiar obsessive state as I go through every individual piece of waste, making sure it is in the right bin. Soon I’m removing labels from plastic containers and washing them, taking time to ensure that every small particle of food is removed from the most elusive corners. I think I may even be smiling as I consider that basically what I’m doing is washing my rubbish.

It’s just my son with me in the house today, mummy has already returned to work. We play superhero games which consist of me chasing him around the house only to be bashed on the head with a pillow when I catch him. It seems to go on for a long time. In truth the game feels a little bit flat and I wonder is it possible that even children can grow tired of having too much empty time. 

Then he wants to watch a film so I leave him in the front room while I go upstairs. I try to read but find I cannot concentrate on the words. I’d love to write something but I know that it’s when I struggle to reach a creative state that I’m least likely to find it.

So instead I just lie on the bed, wandering somewhere deep inside my own mind. I know I’m not depressed or anxious, I’m just concentrating on being self-aware. Trying, as ever, to understand all of the layers and processes. I can’t stop thinking about how thin the lines are.

Then I hear him coming up the stairs. My first emotion, I’m ashamed to say, is one of weariness. I’m anticipating another long bout of superhero role playing. ‘Aw, buddy, just let daddy have five more minutes.’

But when he enters the room his face is flushed and serious, like a child trying to replicate an adult expression. I sit up immediately as he begins to speak.

‘Daddy, there’s something I have to tell you. Something I need you to check.’

‘What is it buddy? Are you alright?’

His face is creased with the effort of processing new thoughts and experiences.

‘Daddy, I think I might have a wobbly tooth.’

He wants me to look in his mouth. Eventually I manage to persuade him that he needs to remove his finger and move his tongue and then I see it. A tiny pearl tooth in the bottom row which is dangling by a thread. It must have been loose for some time but he has only just realised what is happening.

‘Yes buddy, you definitely have a wobbly tooth. That’s going to fall out soon.’

And then it begins. The pleasure overtakes his tiny body and he begins to bounce, as he always does when excited.

‘I can’t believe it daddy. I can’t believe I have my first wobbly tooth.’

He talks like this with animation for some time. He begins to tell me about every person in his class at school, naming them individually as he recites how many wobbly or missing teeth they have. A complete juvenile dental record of all of his friends. He has never spoken to me of this subject before but now I’m aware of how it must have dominated his thoughts and discussion in the playground. How often he must have wondered when it was going to be his turn. Children’s minds, just like those of adults, are full of suppressed mysteries and surprises.

We talk of the tooth fairy and I find his joy and wonder spreading into me like a contagion. It’s only a tooth but it means so much more to him. He seems to be more excited in this moment than he was at any time over Christmas. Perhaps more excited than I’ve ever seen him before.

He keeps repeating a couple of lines over and over.

‘I can’t believe I’ve got a wobbly tooth. I’m a big boy now.’

Perhaps there should be some pathos in this process, as my boy takes another step towards growing up, another step away from me, but I can’t help but be carried along with his excitement and pure, undiluted joy.

He is desperate to tell mummy. In his world no experience is complete unless it is shared entirely with his mother. I tell him I’ll get her on the phone but he wants to wait. To tell her in person, to do it properly and with due ceremony.

So we wait and play more games, but now the elusive animation and adventure has returned. Occasionally he stops just to give me one of his smiles and I’m aware of how the romantic has swept away the cerebral and how much better I am for it.

Eventually mummy comes home. I have to bring her into the front room and ask her to sit down so my son can make his announcement. There are tears and hugs.

Mummy puts him to bed but it is some time before he is calm enough to sleep. Later she tells me that he kept repeating the same two lines as he lay, over and over, in a whisper.

‘I can’t believe I’ve got a wobbly tooth, I’m a big boy now. I can’t believe I’ve got a wobbly tooth, I’m a big boy now….’

 

There is momentary panic the next morning. The tooth is gone, leaving only a dark gap at the bottom of his mouth. Soon mummy finds it on the mattress. She holds it in the palm of her hand and we stare, astonished by how small and white it is. Like a delicate jewel or even a tiny, distant star.

Tiny and white, but able to illuminate the depth of night and to brighten the darkest of days.