My Kids Can Sniff Out My Fun And Ruin It

It had just turned midnight. 2017 was minutes old. The crowd was full of expectation. Both for what the New Year would bring but also because I had just moved towards the decks, ready to take them to a higher level with my triumphant selection of tunes. A writhing mass of bodies on the dancefloor hanging on every knob-twiddle, awaiting the first monumental track…

…and then my kids woke up and I had to go and deal with them.

In truth the writhing mass was a couple of slightly pissed neighbours and the dancefloor was a small space created when we pushed the table against the kitchen wall. The atmosphere was mainly being provided by a peculiarly funky cheeseboard. The decks were in fact the Spotify app on wife’s phone connected to a puny Bluetooth speaker, my DJ skills limited to operating the keyboard function.

The record I had lined up was ‘Kiss Me’ by seminal artist Olly Murs. Perhaps a man approaching his forties shouldn’t be dabbling with popular music of the teeny-bop persuasion but I’m always seduced by a guitar bit that sounds like the incidental music from an erotic thriller in 1987.

Olly Murs’ guitar had to be put on ice because both my sons were awake and calling for their mother. But their mother had already been up there for an hour before midnight and because of an unspoken rota system between mum and dad the boys had to settle for me.

Earlier in the evening various party-goers had brought their children and put them into temporary storage in vacant bedrooms, turning the first floor of our house into a toddler doss-house. We knew that if the boys became aware that like-minded small people were close then they would be electrified to the point of insomnia and we’d end up mainly spending the New Year cajoling and lulling and shushing. We deployed an energetic aunt and uncle to exhaust them with a robust itinerary of activities in the day, and both boys sparked out long before the hoard arrived.

But I was uneasy. I knew a prompt turn-in was probably part of a long game that they had concocted to ruin our fun. I’ve seen it before. They can sniff out when we’re planning some festivity that doesn’t involve them and they’ll sabotage it. It’s not just house parties.

I’ve had to live off scraps of football-watching since fatherhood, a bit like sleep. But there are some games which are sacrosanct. The boys know this and when mum is out and there’s an important evening kick-off, they will stage a bed-boycott. And I will miss out on most of watching England lose.

So I was up there for an hour until mum was obliged to return. I could hear the party escalating downstairs, perhaps a third person had hit the dancefloor. All three of us were in my bed, and for different reasons all of us were fighting off sleep. The boys because they wanted me to stay with them, and me because I wanted to leave them.

Eventually my wife came to tag me out so I could return to the fray, determined to carry on as before. But as I minced quietly along the landing children began to wake all over the house, cries spreading like a forest fire. In effect it was a call for last orders, as deflated parents accepted their fate and scooped them off into the night.

I was left to wait for dishwasher to finish while mainlining Nutella cheesecake straight from the dish it had been served on. And in the morning I woke suffering a fraction of the hangover that I might have done had the boys not intervened. And down the street, tales of similar relief came through. Perhaps all our children weren’t out to ruin our night. Perhaps they were looking after us.

Or perhaps they don’t think I should be listening to Olly Murs.

Any good?

The Best Cure for a Parental Hangover is a Duck

Sometimes caring for children while nursing a hangover is unavoidable. Judging by the gallery of restorative booze shots on social media it seems to be a common problem; on a daily basis there are scores of parents posting snaps of Pinot Grigio pints with a jolly message about their increasing dependency. It seems that along with all the nappies and rusks, parenthood can bring with it a mild functioning alcoholism.

My advice to myself is twofold. Firstly, a bit like driving, check that I am not still shitfaced from the night before and if I am don’t attempt to operate a child. Secondly, just get on with it. Looking after my sons is so consuming that I don’t have enough brain capacity to consider a hangover.

It was in this spirit that I accompanied the two boys to a local pond to feed the ducks last Sunday, having attended a party the day before at which I was the first to arrive and virtually the last to leave. To my shame there were children at this event, including my own. Fortunately my wife had to the foresight to perform an early extraction of the boys, before for instance I manhandled my own son and told him that I absolutely fucking loved him.

I have previously confessed on these pages to a quiet admiration for ducks. Their phlegmatic nature, the attractive iridescence of their plumage and the fact they can swim, walk and fly with a minimum of fuss. It seems this respect has been bequeathed to my sons, they are both well into ducks as well. So the trip seemed very apt.

A hangover cannot survive in a world where two small children are careering around a body of water. This is a situation that requires complete focus and the swivel-eye function of a chameleon. In truth I couldn’t muster the energy to face this so the Minor was permanently installed in my arm cradle. This set-up was complicated by a worsening issue with my wrist caused by an insect bite suffered the previous evening. In fact I had been nibbled around twenty times and not in a good way. The bite on my right wrist was inflicted in the middle of what the Minor would deem to be his seat and the pressure of his bum was causing the whole area to swell up.

I had also made a fundamental error in strategy by adding a football to the equation. On arrival the football immediately escaped and rolled into the pond. Fortunately it ran aground on a minor mud flat about a yard away from the bankside. How to retrieve a ball from a pond with a three-year-old and one-year-old sort of sounds like one those corporate riddles posed to get disaffected colleagues to work together. The simple solution is a stick, the sourcing of which became a pleasant distraction in itself. The Major is big on sticks.

I was thankful for the stick mission because the duck pond was a disappointment. There were no ducks. Instead the pond resembled a well-croutoned minestrone, each soggy uneaten scrap of bread representing the shattered dreams of all the children who had visited that day hoping to mass-cater for some wildfowl.

We were on the point of leaving when two ducks touched down on a grassy hump near to the pond. So as not to spook them we approached stealthily (as stealthily as two excitable little boys and man with a hand that was rapidly turning into giant foam glove could).

The ducks may have just lunched because when we threw our grub towards them they skulked off. I’d seen Carol the weathermum off BBC Breakfast explain that bread was actually bad for ducks, so instead we brought a bag of what amounted to some rubbish crudités. Once the ducks had turned their beaks up at it, the Minor tucked in, shoving grotesque squidgy cucumber batons into his mouth. It was only later that his mum revealed she’d retrieved the food from the bin.

But at least by then my hangover had disappeared.

Any good?