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Saturday, June 23, 2012

21st June on Planet Fatherhood

I’ve learned that the strength of being a Dad is found not in intellectual brilliance, physical strength or thickness of wallet – a Dad’s real strength can be seen in his ability to sacrifice anything for his kids. At least this is what I tell myself when I eat my Sultana Bran in the morning and my two girls, like a pair of starved sea gulls swoop to my side with open beaks and their fingers, sticky with snotty goodness, reaching into my cereal bowl.

Another night shift the evening before and yet another bed time taking place almost six hours after when I should have gone to bed. The last thing I see before I close my floppy eyelids is my iPhone telling me that it’s nearly 1:30 in the morning and then everything goes black…

… for about 5 hours until the shuffle of tiny feet in the kitchen is my first warning that whatever dream I was having is doomed in a sea of damaged dreams, where all the ships of broken sleep sink in a Bermuda Triangle of unprocessed thoughts. I flex the muscles responsible for my ability to surrender to consciousness. Miraculously they’re still there.

The routine that follows I could almost do in my sleep now. But good Dad’s don’t sleep. I open the dish washer to discover I once again forgot to put it on before I went to bed and all the bottles are blemished with the dregs of milk from the day before. As I clean them, I know my three year old shouldn’t have a bottle but her 18 month old sister still has one in the morning, and the effort required to reason with the little big girl over the politics of bottles is still in its recharger somewhere. I am a jelly fish washed up on the beach.

Thankfully Mum rescues me this morning by giving me half an hour to myself to jump start my batteries in a hot bath of bliss to contemplate the day. This week I’m determined that the day not turn into a merry-go-round of madness like last week when I battled rain, cold and even Hedgehog poo (long story) to get the laundry done, only to end up asleep on the couch with Haydn who innocently and unconsciously marinated the couch in a puddle of warm piddle, not excluding the remote control from that mess. In the cacophony that followed I put the remote intending to clean it later. Later came when at the end of the day I called out from the bath to my wife, “Honey, the remote is under the entertainment unit.”

“Thanks love.” She called out. There’s a pause and I can hear the surf of changing channels crashing on the shores of the living room. “By the way,” I remember. “There’s pee on it.”

“Now you tell me!” She cries.

Flash forward to this week and I leap out of the bath with uncompromising vigor. “I won’t need the car today, love.” I say to the gorgeous mother of my children, “I’m going to take the girls on a bus ride today; we’ll pick up the car from your work and then go to...” I wish I had of contented myself with letting her take the car and then said nothing after that. As soon as she left, I took all that enthusiasm, that gusto to embrace the day and the impetus to give the girls an adventure - and did the laundry. About four loads.

The laundry in our house is like mould in a Petri dish. Scientists would marvel at its ability to divide and duplicate itself exponentially until you can’t see our bathroom floor anymore, but instead a mountain of filthy attire. It is a living entity that feeds only on copious amounts of time, effort and good weather. Three things we don’t seem to have a lot of except for on our days off. If our laundry was a pet I would be jailed for animal cruelty or neglect, but as it is the laundry seized me in its unforgiving jaws and did not let go until the morning had left me to the whims of the afternoon.

After valiantly fighting back the third load of laundry into the gaping mouth of our seizure happy washing machine (on the spin cycle this thing acts like it swallowed a hurricane and has cracked all but three tiles in our bathroom, practically). I realize that I’m losing the battle. The still cold air on the porch is refrigerating the washing rather than drying it out for its ultimate destination – Mount Laundry Couch; the chair in the corner of the living room where no bum has sat for many a year because of the perpetual pile of unfolded clothing that grows there. There are mountain goats living on it.

Not one to admit defeat I decide it’s time to bring in the big guns, its time the dryer came out of retirement.

See Dearing Dad haul the massive white dryer up from under the house. See how Father arches his back and supports the mighty dryer on his belt and bears it like a quintuplet filled pregnant belly up the garden steps. See how the old man staggers in a stupor across the deck, shouting for the kids to get out of daddy’s way, pulled by the weight of the white good and the need to just get the darn job done. See our living room now complete with a puppet theatre, the entertainment unit, a dryer, Mount Laundry Couch and so many toys the floor is building muscle just holding it all.

As difficult as the whole ordeal sounded, I felt a certain swelling of my manly pride at having managed to achieve a masculine task while playing solo dad for a day. Heck, only an hour before I was on the couch with a needle and thread mending a hole in my daughter’s knitwear. It felt good moving from work that my mother would have done to something as full on as breaking my back under a heavy piece of machinery. In any case, at least I’d have dry pajamas tonight!

Yet an hour and one sound asleep toddle later, there is still laundry to be done! But the day is fast disappearing and I ask Haydn the million dollar question, “Will you be disappointed if we don’t go out?” But in truth I am really asking myself the same question. Cooped up in this house with nothing to do but laundry and Barbies! We’ll wait for Chelsea to wake up at least.

14:00 – we’re out the door, Dad, three year old and 18 month old – and no push chair. It’s in the boot of the car I so lovingly had my wife take to work. But not to worry, after shifting that two ton dryer, I’ve decided I’m a “real man” and this is the sort of thing a “real man” should be able to handle. Baby steps to the bus stop a thousand meters away.

The bus ride itself was a magical experience for at least two of us. Haydn just loved the magic of doing a new thing, the bus to her probably being as exciting as hitching a ride on a camel armed with nuclear missiles, while I’m just loving being witness to the way a child can turn something so normal and common place into a once in a life time experience. Chelsea on the other hand simply looked grumpy. She doesn’t trust anything new and has a standard Winston Churchill Bulldog like gruffness that she puts on for all occasions and people she is unfamiliar with.

We get off outside Rialto, New Market and then it dawns on me. I’ve done something that only a professional dad could do. I’ve managed to bring spare nappies but no wipes. Snacks but no drinks. Spare coats, but no spare underwear!

We go into the Rialto building to at least solve the drink problem where in the food hall I’m met with the sight that meant two completely different things to each party; one of the best in store play areas I had ever seen. To the girls it meant play time. To me, it meant rest!

The girls must have played on the enclosed play set for half an hour while I sat there and simply breathed. It was going so well until the one that could talk says to me, “Daddy, my pants are wet.”

I was sure that at that moment a scratched record could be heard throughout the building. In my imagination everything went in slow motion and someone inside me screamed, “Noooooooooo” in that sort of deep drawn out way a desperate man shouts when time has been cut in half and something truly tragic is about to happen.

Except I check and the pants are dry. Relief.

“But daddy, I need to change, my pants are wet.”

It’s after the third check that I become aware of the squirt. How do I describe this? Somewhere in the hadron collider of her trousers a fart smashed into a number two and exploded into the minor but very obvious mess I now beheld.

“Oh dear,” I said, “Daddy doesn’t have any spare undies for you.” If my car ran out of oil on the motor way or I went on a hunting trip and forgot my tooth brush, these things I am wired to deal with. My man brain has filing cabinets full of natural information for any adventure crisis. But a miniature diarrhea in a food court with no wipes or undies for damage control… the instructions for this predicament are filed away in a cabinet in Mum’s brain and I’m like a gold fish that just discovered the furry thing in my bowl with claws has a cat attached to it.

But it gets worse of course.

I grab the 18 month old who, still intent on the play gym, squirms like an eel and squeals like a mauled rabbit at our sudden departure. I look for the signs that tell me where the parent’s room is only to discover that the parent’s facilities are in the female toilets. There is no where I can take her except the disabled loo because there’s no way I’m taking a three year old girl and an 18 month old into a male toilet for an operation of this magnitude and need for privacy.

Inside the Disabled Toilet the juggling begins. With nowhere to hang my coat it goes on the floor on top of my bag. To most people this is no big deal but I’ve always had a thing about floors. Especially floors attached to a porcelain bowl into which strangers make “regular” deposits. I put it down to another sacrifice made for the love of my progeny. The next 10 minutes is spent trying to keep the 18 month old from investigating every unholy surface in the cubicle while trying to extrapolate the splashed out undies. Of course there is nothing for her to lie on so the whole procedure is done while she stands and with nothing to lean on ten small fingers suddenly entangle themselves in my hair and I’m immediately recalling that the initial discovery of this dilemma started with her feeling the inside of her pants and saying, “Daddy, my pants are wet.”

Great, so now I have poo in my hair. Fantastic. “Chelsea, don’t touch that bin! It’s yucky!”

Sacrifice. I flushed my dignity down the disabled toilet, washed every little hand I could and cursed the day I ever forget to go out without wipes again. I left that toilet with an oblivious 18 month old eager to get back to the play equipment, an undiless three year old and a nice little parcel of soiled knickers wrapped in loo paper in my satchel. Nice.

The next half hour I try to rejuvenate my sanity while the girls play in the play pen. This is hard to do without coffee and I can’t walk away from the children to get one. So I sit at the table and across the way I notice a mum frowning at me. Her kid is playing with my kids but the mother’s eyes seem to say, “My kid was here first, you poor excuse of a Father”. I check to see if I’m being paranoid, this is done by looking away and then casually looking back in her direction and sure enough she catapults her frown my way before throwing another at my girls. I’m sorry lady, I think, but I have poo in my hair that I would love to share with you right now.

But she leaves with her business suit clad Husband, who seems unaware of the silent exchange between her and I, and I lure my girls to the table with veggie crisps, juice and a muesli bar which Chelsea chokes on, and given the complexity of the Food Court’s High Chair that she is sitting in, I end up being the Crazy Guy Theatre, being watched by an audience of non-parents as I hold chair and choking girl, dangling in the air with one hand, while smacking her back with the other in a mad panic to save her from the killer oat inside her throat. Moments later she wants more muesli bar. The other patrons are pretending not to look at me. I’m running my hands through my hair and marveling at the snow storm of dandruff flakes falling on the black table in front of me and wondering if I could write my name in it.

Sacrifice. I’ll spare you the harrowing trip to the Museum, a baby step journey of 2000 meters. But you know given no man in my home has ever conquered Mount Laundry Couch, that a dryer nearly snapped me in half and that I ended up with traces of human waste in my hair, they are all sacrifices I am willing to take again times a hundred, for my kids at least, because my laundry, my back and my dignity aren’t worth a scratch of the value of these girls. Besides, the day is coming soon when they can do my laundry!

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