Parents are on call... eight days a week!
- Credit: Archant
Out of Depth Dad: Chris McGuire knows you never really switch off when you're a parent.
I remember how our family dog, when I was a kid, would never allow himself to be completely 'off duty'. Even when (seemingly) asleep, one ear would periodically raise to monitor proceedings – just to check everything and everyone was present and correct. In extreme circumstances an eye would open to corroborate what the ear had indicated. Then, once satisfied, the ear would loll, the eye close and the state of growly semi-sleep would resume.
At the time I'd be greatly amused by the odd way in which our beloved mutt proceeded in this (self-appointed) duty of ensuring the safety of the family. But now, since becoming a dad, I have real sympathy for how on edge the dog felt. Being a parent, I've discovered, means you're always 'on duty' – eight days a week.
With an almost-two-year-old in the house, I never turn off – even when I'm asleep. If my ears could operate independently of my head they'd be monitoring for cries and whimpers as frequently as the dutiful dog's ever did. To be fair, if my ears had that kind of dexterity I'd have made my fortune in circuses and would be living a life so ear-wigglingly decadent that I'd probably have never considered children. Putting that to one side, I do frequently find myself sitting bolt upright in the middle of the night – woken from my slumbers by the quietest of sounds. That's right, in fatherhood, I've become hyper-sensitised to the world around me.
Boy, is it knackering!
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Unlike my old dog, whose desire to monitor comings and goings was completely unnecessary, my worries seem based in reality. As David Attenborough insists on reminding us, time and again, baby animals are born mind-bogglingly well prepared for their surroundings. Lizards hatch from their eggs armed with a Usain Bolt-like turn of speed that allows them to outrun predators even in the first moments of their lives.
To me, this approach seems perfectly sensible. As the old saying goes: 'Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail'. Which makes it all the more frustrating that human babies have seemingly 'opted out' of the notion of being born ready for action! Our young enter the world with all the survival skills of Jacob Rees-Mogg dropped, butler-less, into… the present day. This complete lack of ability to self-preserve means it's no wonder that we parents of tots are left in a near permanent state of panic.
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To be fair, it's not that baby human don't have survival skills. No, the situation is far worse than that! Tots possess what I can only describe as: 'reckless glee' in the face of danger. A human baby faced with predators wouldn't struggle to outrun them. Oh no. A human baby would try to give them a cuddle. My own son has a lemming-like affection for stomach-churning jeopardy. If there's a precarious ledge to be climbed onto, a top heavy table to be up-ended or a sharp object to be discovered, he'll find it. For a long time, I worried he might grow up thinking his name was 'Get down!' - I shout it to so often.
If I'm honest, I think I'm a little jealous of my son and his complete lack of fear. It must be wonderful to toddle through life, with a big grin on your face, expecting to be met with nothing but positivity – oblivious to the chaos around you.
Everywhere you go you're met by enthusiasm – and you never have to pick up the bill. I suppose being a toddler is a bit like being a member of the Royal Family. If we stretch the analogy, I become one of those men who loiter behind the Queen, collecting bunches of flowers and skilfully escorting her past undesirables. I'd bet they're knackered too.
Of course I know that all of this isn't forever. One day my son will be old and wise enough to look after himself. Yet, I've the feeling that I'll be well into my dotage by then. Still, even if it takes a while, I'm looking forward to turning the tables. When my son has to look after me it won't be half-sleep that he gets – oh no - he won't sleep at all!
I intend to be a complete liability, eight days a week!