“Daddy, what’s an asshole?” asks Sunshine. We are in a queue of about 5 people. There is a man at the counter who is drunk and acting like an asshole. Sunshine’s question has nothing to do with this, but the man behind us and the woman with her children in front all smile (albeit the mother’s smile is more this is not something I usually approve of). The drunk at the counter turns around and says “What?! Can’t you blah blah blah” I have no idea (or care) what he is saying. I just wish he would stop torturing the poor girl at the counter (who could, after all be my daughter one day) and be reasonable.
All the while, I am thinking Shit. This bad language has seeped into Sunshine’s lexicon. Shit. I was raised with good, clean language. It has served me well. Sometime in my teens, I started cursing. I thought I liked it. I kept doing it. Now, cursing has become part of the rhythm of my conversation. Should I need a few syllables here or there (for decoration; for fear of sounding terse); I add them with curse words. This is ludicrous, adolescent, behaviour, and I have tried to stop since I had children. As I have tried to stop smoking.
Sunshine is asking what an ‘asshole’ is because of what happened when I was parking the car (to come into this shop). As I was lumbering backward with my jerky “this way/that way” steering, another driver (of whom there was no sign when I began my famously poor reversing) belting up the small, windy road of the village, jams on his brakes, beeps his horn and waves his hands like he was signalling a need to get home quickly to interfere with himself (as you can see, I am still bitter). So, under my breath I wondered whether he needed to be such an asshole.
Children view the world around them just like that – it is around them, and they are the centre. So Sunshine naturally thinks I am asking her whether she needs to be such an asshole. The only thing saving this daddy-daughter relationship is the fact that she does not know what an asshole is. It also helps that I am bringing her to the shop to buy a cheap DVD and a magazine because she is sick.
Eventually, we get our DVD and magazines (one for Sunshine, one for Starlight), and home we go. I make up a sick bed for Sunshine – you know, the couch with blankets and cushions. Table pushed right up and FULL remote control privileges (which doesn’t mean much for a 4 year old, it should be admitted, as I still need to actually change the channel). This in itself seems quite a cure for Sunshine. But not enough. She labours through the day like her father labouring backwards into a parking spot.
When Starlight gets home, Sunshine is feeling somewhat better, but not enough for her little sister’s manic energy. One child lies on the couch – evidently better, but feeling lazy from a day of recovery – the other is bouncing around the sitting room, singing a tuneless song about a child (Sunshine, specifically) lying on the couch. The lyrics are as random as the tune. As is the accompanying choreography. Sunshine is holding forth about the music, the dance, the lyrics. At the top of her (weakened) voice. “Stop! Be Qu-I-Et! Dadeeeeee!” The two year old is being the tormentor, the four year old, the tormented (although “tormented” here means I got attention all to myself all day, and now I have to put up with this?).
So, we get them out of the sitting room, and try to get them doing something. They play with some material, boxes and bits and pieces on the kitchen floor.
“Look Daddy!” says Sunshine, “I made and aeroplane and Teddy’s going to fly in it to Africa!”
“Wow! Where will Teddy go in Africa?”
“To the shops!” she says.
Starlight says “Look Daddy, I made a… a… thing!”
“Wow!” I say. “And what is that thing?”
“It’s a… a…. THING” she says. In triumph, she holds it up, turns it over and around. She looks at it, then me. These actions make everything obvious. It is quite clearly a thing, and for that, she cannot be faulted.
Clearly these kids need to get out more, so last weekend; we retrieved the trampoline from the shed. The trampoline had gone in there last October, a gift from grandparents. Clearly my parent’s feel the children don’t bounce enough, or perhaps are not quite manic enough. Or, having raised four kids, they decided to show us the effect by doubling the bounce of our 2. A kind of passive-aggressive retribution, which I relish inflicting on my kids one day.
Before the kids could jump on it, it had to be built. So my brother (Tom Cruisalike) was summoned, with his sons, Red and Destruktor. He came seeking beer, he was handed a screwdriver and a set of instructions. I looked at him. He looked at me, quizzically.
“Well – what?” he asks
“WHAT DO I DO?!”
“Oh,” he says, “well, if you’re building this, I would lay everything out. Don’t just take random pieces from the box and shove them together.” He looks at the instructions. Turns it. Turns it. “Here” he says “These legs – lay them on the ground in a circle, like this” he turns this page of instructions over, so everyone can see where he is channelling this information from. This is the kind of genius insight I needed. This is why he was summoned. Soon, sister and brother-in-law came, along with Chuckles, the girls’ cousin. Now we had a bunch of kids running around, helping us by passing over nuts, bolts and poles; then seeking our help in return
“Daddy, what’s this for?”
“I don’t know Sunshine. I really don’t know. But can you put it back so we don’t lose any pieces?”
“Here Daddy, I got you this…”
“Thanks love, but I don’t need it right now…”
“Why not? Aren’t you building the trampoline right now?”
“Yes, but I’m not building that bit, just yet.”
“Aren’t you going to finish it today?”
“Yes, of course!”
“Well, here. You’ll need this.” Piece of something dropped, child toddling off. Due to a pretty serious leg injury, my brother is walking around like Herr Flick from Allo Allo, checking the instructions, and translating the (to me) indecipherable markings of some technical writer in a land so far removed from reality, a trampoline can be represented by a circle and some spare Ws that were probably left behind when the bus picked up WWW for the Internet. Obviously, my brother is some kind of ambassador for this land, or at least translator. Finally, we get the trampoline built, and the kids get on and get jumping. “Thanks Uncle Tom Cruisalike!” say the girls, and the boys, as my brother looks benevolently upon them, waving. I would interrupt, but I am sitting down, drinking tea, breathing heavily, sweating.
This weekend, Starlight’s bed arrived. She will sleep in a bed now. We cannot quite get over it. When it arrived, her cot was still up, so we had to quickly dismantle it. No problem. Although a problem did arise. Not with removing the cot, or with bringing in the new bed, but with the Morbidity Analysis. That thing you do as a parent. Your child is going into a new environment. So you must calculate the number, risk and severity of methods by which your child could kill themselves in this environment. Then you must take steps to reduce the number, risk or severity of those things. Curtains are removed. The dangly bits on blinds thrown over the curtain rail (a temporary measure until we agree on either removing the blinds altogether or getting those things (screws in the wall?) with which to tie up the blind’s dangly bits.
Starlight runs around the room proclaiming “It’s my new bed! It’s MY new bed!”
Sunshine wastes no time pushing her up onto it, and showing her how to jump on it. We talk about putting the barriers on. But I have a problem with barriers. We had them on Sunshine’s bed. Starlight once used them as bouncing assists (a fulcrum and weight bearer), to get higher and higher until eventually, she swung herself from the bed, onto the floor, landing on her head. A night in Tallaght hospital later, she was fine, but I was (and am) suspicious of the value of bumpers. Yes, they prevent the child from rolling off the bed. But on the other hand, they can be exploited by a child’s imagination for use as some form of extreme toddler acrobatics.
Between Sunshine, Starlight and their friend who lives next door, discover the bed is on castors. They set about moving the bed around the room. Sometimes as a ship (with one pushing and one or two on the bed)
Such are the vagaries of parenthood.