06:40 in the morning. Theatrical coughs toll from the children’s room. They betray my 4 year old daughter’s veiled attempts to wake her 2 year old brother. My 8 months pregnant wife, long since wide awake and reading, trains a dirty look on our bedroom door. A pause. Another operatic cough. We hiss our daughter’s name in chorus. Our son responds with a groggy whine. Our daughter giggles. My wife and I huff and mutter. An animal with at least twelve thousand feet pounds through the hallway. The children splash onto our bed all gleeful elbows and knees. It’s 06:42 am. The MacInnes household is awake.
07:15 am. I’m barefoot in front of a wardrobe. My eldest daughter is angry that I have chosen an outfit that is weather appropriate. Her choice would have reflected her color preference, she tells me. With reluctance, she gets dressed.
My son is less concerned about what he wears but his opinion about who should dress him is made very clear. Resigned to her fate of sensible attire, my daughter is now marshalling the negotiation. After 7 minutes of concession bartering, I manage his top half.
I have escaped a force 8 tantrum with no. 2. but the ambient threat of one lingers. The scale goes up to 10 in my experience. My wife suggest the real ceiling is 11.
I’m pulling on my trousers as earnest shrieks begin competing with each other. A skirmish over the rightful owner of a hair clip is underway. I raise my voice, not for the first time this morning. My daughter’s eyes are plaintive as I remonstrate with her for not sharing. My reaction colored by stress and fatigue is disproportionate to the crime. I feel rising guilt. My son is a picture of inert, beseeching submission. I apologize and cuddle them both. There’s no time for an internal catechism of parental self mastery now. That comes later.
Throughout this episode, my wife attends to her own routine. It will be the only undisturbed time she affords herself for the next 10 hours.
07:40 am. At the dining table, my son is still only half dressed while porridge, fruit, toast and milk are gulped. Between dressing the kids and making breakfast, several more shrieking incidents have occurred.
Now there is relative peace. My wife and I discuss whether our daughter is too tired to face kindergarten. We’re both anguished by lapses in our patience. What if these are the mornings they remember? We agree on a change in beat for today. My wife will keep my daughter home (my son hasn’t started at Kindergarten yet) and take the children for a swim.
The forces that through the clock’s roots spin the day into bloom, ease. Teeth cleaning, toilet visiting, nappy wearing, shoe fastening and jacket zipping. All the usual battlegrounds give way to diplomatic resolutions. We can take the military options off the table.
With the mood of the room improved, I sense a rare opportunity to get to the office before 09:00 am. I get up to fetch my laptop which I left in the living room the night prior. My wife reminds me, that the children haven’t finished eating. She’s right. House rules. I retake my place, preoccupied with thoughts about work.
08:48 am. I’m standing at the front door. Hugs, kisses and delay tactics from the kids. Daddy has to go sweetheart. My wife looks tired. I feel guilty about the relief I feel to leave the house. I get on my bike and make my way. I feel the twang of a heart string. The image of my kids’ adoring faces from moments before sticks in my mind’s eye. I feel happiness. The relief is gone. In 9 minutes, I’m at my desk and I’m no longer distracted by thoughts about work.
I open my bag. No laptop. House rules. I call my wife and tell her in an irritated voice. Without a flicker of impatience she offers to drop it off at the office on the way to the pool. Fifteen minutes later, I’m heading downstairs. It’s 09:45 am.
Can the kids come up to see the office? They asked five times on the way? Just for 5 minutes? They love seeing where daddy works. My wife will wait in the car. Two expectant little faces. I have achieved nothing this morning and we’re leaning on 10 am. It’s an easy decision.
Let’s put the laptop where it goes. Here’s daddy’s desk. Remember, people are working so let’s not be noisy. Of course you can see the kitchen. Say hello. Good boy. Good girl. Here, have some juice. Be careful with the glass bottle. Ok, let’s go back to mummy.
No, daddy has to carry the bottle. Ok, you can put it in your pocket. Don’t hold it in your pocket. Hold onto the railing. Careful on the stairs. Forget about the bottle. Concentrate on where you are walking.
We’re crossing the road. My son is holding my hand. My daughter trips. She’s holding the bottle. Tears. Screams. Blood. Strangers rush with tissues and soothing coos. There are at least 4 cuts. One of them looks savage.
This happened on my watch. I’m so shocked by the sudden drama that in my eagerness to assess the extent of the injury, I neglect to hug her. More guilt. Action stations. My composure retaken, I’m squeezing her tight. Don’t worry. You’re alright. It’s not deep. You’re so brave. Your so brave. Your so brave. A phone call. My wife sweeps in to whisk my bewildered son back to the car.
It’s 10:20 am. I’m back upstairs in the office toilets. My daughter is sitting on the sink worktop. I wash her wounds and try to reassure her. A colleague brings plasters and bandages. The cuts aren’t deep. Relief. We need to make sure it’s clean. My colleague darts off again, desperate to help.
Can I still go to the pool daddy? We’ll need to talk to mummy first. It’s a lie. There’s no way. My little girl looks at me with no self pity. She is brave, I think to myself. I tell her she is a lion. A smile. A tickle. A laugh. I notice blood on my shirt. What a morning. I’m facing the mirror. I look tired too.
My colleague reappears. She fusses over my daughter with genuine affection. She joined recently and I can’t remember her name. She informs me we don’t have any antispectic. She presents a bottle of vodka with an inquiring look.
Who’s it for, I wonder. It’s 10:35 am.