Monthly Archives: January 2013

A DAY WITHOUT YOU

Day 13

As I potter listless and alone in the kitchen, the encroaching evening brings with it some relief from the heat of the August day. The chores are ticked off one by one but the disquiet remains as a single thought cannons around my restless mind with pinball fury. I don’t know where he is. In many ways it’s a thought so fantastic that I’m happy to park it for moments at a time, concentrating instead on kneading the dough for the next loaf of bread I’m soon to give up baking, or selecting the next album to soundtrack a solitary Sunday. But in it crashes again. I don’t know where my son is. Words one might expect to hear from the over-anxious parent of a teenager in the small hours of a Saturday night, perhaps. But it’s early Sunday evening, and my son is not quite two weeks old.

My meagre two weeks’ paternity leave is coming to an end, and the last few days have been happy and full ones. The ‘new tiredness’ has proved a pleasure, indeed at times it’s almost sensual, lending a warm fuzz to the edges of my waking hours. The body cracks on and stays with the pace – it has to; the new job is unremitting, but throughout there’s a soft burr not unlike the more pleasing effects of recreational drugs once taken between outbreaks of study.

Ellie’s fatigue is a more formidable adversary, it seems, and on Wednesday I volunteer for what turns out to be a three hour round trip to Argos for a sterilization kit as she claws back lost sleep. My first meaningful foray with young Leo, then. More meaningful at least than a ten minute jaunt for gravy granules. Ghost-like once more beneath white muslin, he sleeps all the way, seduced into slumber by the engine of the 315 as the wheels on the bus go round (and round).

Queuing at the stop on our return, a young mum with toddlers passes. Intrigued by my faceless cargo, and no doubt clocking the tell-tale peeling of the newborn on Leo’s partially exposed lower legs, she lets out the reflexive ‘aaaw’. Here comes my first ‘parent chat’. ‘How old?’ I tell her to the minute. ‘Aaaah…’ Pause. ‘And how’s your wife doing?’ The assumption jars and I frown momentarily – anyone might naturally conclude that the load I bear points to the involvement, at least at some stage, of a sexual partner, but married? It seems a deliciously perverse prospect to let the beans spill, and any number of caustic retorts run amok in my thoughts. How many times will I be asked something similar, after all? And how many times will I scrabble around for the convenient lie? I turn to her, she smiles. ‘Sleeping’, I smile back through my sunglasses. ‘You know, the partners help and support is so important at this stage…’ she continues. Behind the shades, my eyes glaze over. My reserves of irony are spent, all used up in antenatal, and I will the bus to arrive…

Leo doesn’t stir until the garden gate clangs shut behind me and gravel gives way beneath my Birkenstock sandals. It seems he’s developed a homing beacon already.

Home once more, and with parents refreshed, he holds court throughout the long hot afternoon to a small throng of small cousins, all come to pay tribute. Barely a delicately-lashed eyelid is fluttered throughout, and when thoughts turn to feeding him, one young cousin dutifully sets aside his wrecking of my small record collection and disappears into the kitchen before reappearing with a bowl of cat food for baby. Fortunately, only Elton John’s Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy has felt the full force of the toddler’s ire…

As the cousins depart, the ‘three of us‘, inverted commas, buggy and all, head uphill for a walk. Tottering along the rim of the city’s basin, we look down through the haze at the skyline below, fretting over the new buggy’s wayward steering as we go – it’s like wrestling with a wilful supermarket trolley. We’re the picture of domesticity, and I find it impossible to wipe from my mind the disparity between what we are and what we must seem to those we pass by as we amble back to the flat. The pace is leisurely, as is the chat. We are enjoying ourselves, and for the first time I have some inkling that we, Ellie and I, will always be bound, and not necessarily uncomfortably so.

This brief passage of shared tranquility has clearly given Ellie a moment to reflect, too. Back in the flat I step up into the living room to find her on the sofa, weeping steadily into her diary. Awkward pause. It seems an old diary entry (or several old diary entries) have stirred uncomfortable memories, and an apology is blurted between sobs. After a refreshing admission that I’ve been poorly treated, and a frank appreciation of my efforts thus far, we have a conversation that’s long overdue – frankly appraising the journey thus far. Delivered from limbo with the arrival of Leo, our mutual (if not exclusive) enjoyment of him has taken us to a better place, for now.

We’re now moving through the typical stages of a divorce, but at a vastly accelerated rate. The contract between us is being renegotiated, and perhaps Leo is engendering a spirit of concordance. It’s suddenly possible for me, if i peer very closely, to catch a glimpse of a future in which even friendship with James may be attainable. I here he’s keen to meet. He has a concrete future to accelerate into – I hope for Ellie’s sake he doesn’t crash. My future, however, is far harder to see, and I’m not minded to interrupt my honeymoon with Leo just yet.

But as I sit on the step facing the corridor, and Ellie perches on the sofa’s edge facing away towards the window, I can feel all our futures edge a little closer. New players wait in the wings, awaiting their cue as we anticipate the second act. Exit stage left then, for me.

Staring out from the kitchen into the darkening garden on Sunday evening, I have no concerns regarding his wellbeing. I know he’s perfectly safe. He’s with his mum, for God’s sake. She’s ‘just gone out‘ to ‘meet friends‘. Euphemisms, of course, and not repeated here out of sarcasm, it’s just that I barely bothered to listen as Ellie prepped Leo in the buggy before heading out into the sunshine. Resignation took hold. I knew what was happening, and with whom. I knew that another day in the life of my newborn son would remain unknown to me. Maybe one day I’ll ask him. For now, I’ll get on with the dinner.

TRUTH AND LIES

Day 10

Leo shatters the 6 lbs barrier. I exaggerate. He has in fact passed it through stealth, our returning midwife, Karen, weighing him at one ounce over 6 lbs. Forgive the parental hyperbole. Odd, though, still, to think he hadn’t arrived at that small landmark some weeks back in the womb. Having confounded all expectations on arrival he seems to have decided to start his weight-gaining regime in earnest on the outside. Leo has now put on 11 ounces over the last five days, having mastered the manly art of being breastfed, so it’s steady as she goes, and while it’s still hard work for him he’s at least putting in the hours…

It’s more peculiar still to pour tea for and chat with our now stalwart midwife, as Ellie and I play partners for perhaps the last time. Again, I exaggerate. For dramatic effect, perhaps. If we are acting, we’re only playing mum and dad, and that’s not a stretch – we are mum and dad, after all. That fact aside, we’re quite happy to let Karen come to any conclusions she may, knowing full well she’d never guess the unbelievable truth.

There’s been no collusion on this point, no mutual decision taken to conceal the truth. And yet nor could we truly be said to have maintained a pretence. We’ve attended months of midwives appointments and breezed cheerily through weeks of antenatal classes, why would we at any point put our hands up and confess – we’re not what you think we are – ?. Young(ish), seemingly not unattractive, not to mention seemingly in love, why shatter anybody’s illusions, if indeed, they were bothered to have any about us? What purpose could it possibly have served? From my own point of view, it might actually have been a huge relief. Already top of the (antenatal) class for holding the attendance record among males, and considered prime dad material by midwives and classmates alike, the truth might even have seen me conferred with an unlikely hero status. Surely.

Ellie will have had strong reasons of her own to play Mr. and Mrs., and quite naturally. Little or no imagination is required to wonder how a class full of mothers-to-be, or even a midwife, might have judged her. Put simply, it was nobody’s business but our own. And yet it never sat easily with me. We were fortunate enough to have a highly social team of midwives, with an emphasis put on outreach and home visits, and friendships were formed. Karen missed our birth, food poisoning depriving her at the last of the chance to bring Leo into the world. She’d frequently noted that we were both ‘pretty laid back’, but I wonder had she been present at the birth what she mighty have made of proceedings – too laid back even to manage a kiss, never mind an ‘I love you’?

So no lies told, no deceptions, and yet the woman sitting opposite me, bouncing Leo atop her knee, the woman with prime responsibility for shepherding forth the firstborn may never know the truth. I suppress the urge to scream and carry on sipping tea, wondering to myself for the umpteenth time, out of perverse curiosity, if nothing else, if only you knew… I can play happy families for another half an hour. It was what I always wanted, after all.