ALWAYS RETURNING

Weeks 9, 10, 11

It’s unorthodox, as parental routines go, but routine it is and I cling tight to the structure it offers.  Uphill, downhill, each and every day to spend three hours with my son; three hours bookended by feeds, Leo suited up like an astronaut for Extra Vehicular Activity, floating free from the mothership with dad his tether, always returning.

The daily push up Brixton Hill seems an apt metaphor for my idiosyncratic journey as a father.  Unlike Sisyphus I’ve no boulder to shoulder, but I too have little to show when I’m back down in the den with the same journey to be made the next morning, and the next after that.  Though these are no Groundhog days – I may roll back without child to the bachelor chill of the basement pad, but each stint is a three hours deposit in the experience bank, and some previously unseen aspect of the cub in the carrier is invariably brought to light.

I’ll cut up through the autumn chill, ignoring the raw certainty of winter’s approach and savouring instead the snowballing thrill of being dad to the kid I’m tumbling towards with a love sure as gravity, resisting the incline.  All the years of an unwritten future propel me towards him, and all the moments in all those years – dusk-defying kick-abouts in the park, floodlit afternoons side-by-side on plastic seats, afternoons lost in the multiplex, cheese toasties cooked between foil with an iron, bedtime reads from Dahl’s ‘Danny, Champion of the World’, wrestling with homework, night time knocks at the door and the ‘dad, …can’t sleep‘ and the clamber on up into the big bed…

Appointments are made and appointments kept; I haul him to the surgery where ‘Mr Leo John Blake’ is rudely awakened to face the music and take the vaccine. The outrage of two sizeable needles, one for each thigh, is suffered with stoic heroism, his face nevertheless a contortion of disbelief that such a fate might befall him not once but twice.  But a dad hug is all it takes to consign the needle and the memory of to the bin, and in moments sleep reclaims him.

Small steps and moments of clarity as Leo and I describe a loose orbit around the hub; an unexpected encounter with friends brings a window of opportunity – the chance to share him, to make manifest the joy, to remind yourself it’s real if only for short sweet minutes amid the pavement hustle…

Breezy reminders that land like barbs and burrow deep into your breast – that families come in all shapes and sizes now, you know, yes there are all sorts of arrangements; breezy reminders from nuclear families, the type you’re seeing everywhere now.  I walk on, choking on words well meant, as if any of this was arranged, as if this were some kind of lifestyle choice…

Through the long nights in between I listen to the shuffling of an unseen neighbour on floorboards feet from my head, the constant nocturnal rearrangement of furniture.  Three single men  living three separate lives in three separate flats piled one on the other above me – the four of us, for all our close proximity, in permanent disconnection as if cut off in a derelict apartment block in some Philip K Dick novel.

There are trips to the shops, weaving hurry-scurry through the jabber of rush hour, protective hand cupping his head as you take on the scrum disgorged from the end of the line in Brixton town.  We ride the oohs and the aahs from nostalgic mums, we clock the girlfriends’ broody elbows jabbed into boyfriends’ ribs – ‘sooo cuuuute‘ she’ll whisper as they imagine the same futures I once did.  I’m getting used to all this attention, and Leo is positively revelling in it.

And all the while the same conundrum teased out as I walk – how to look single with a baby in a carrier?  It may look admirable – the lips-pursed, good-for-you-mate smiles I’m thrown are all the proof I need of that, but it don’t look available.  It looks very much the one thing I’m not, pointing as it does to an off-stage Mrs., and who’s to know she is, in point of fact, non-existent?  Short of portable signage, I’m stumped.

And there are moments of risk and matching reward, triumphs the world will never know.  A return to the flat with the three-hour egg timer close to empty and feeding time looming, and a snap decision to fly solo.  To the kitchen with Leo strapped on still and soon to rise from slumber, and the bottle is prepped.  Unpacked and awake and tucked under one arm, I touch the bottle’s teat to his nose and he’s fooled – he thinks I’m a tit.

He’s latched on now, and though feeding with something less than his usual aplomb, he’s feeding.  And I’m not his mother.  His eyes find mine and lock on, his tiny right hand finds my free left hand and I’m crying.  Guess the b-word is no cliche after all.  We’re bonding.  Bottle downed, and with a burp and a giggle our three-hour stretch just doubled, and mum can wait.  We just bought ourselves an afternoon…

Home time for Leo beckons in due course, and cue triumphant promenade in the rain; headlights flare and strings of brake lights bunch and stretch as I dodge the puddles thrown upwards by thunderous HGVs.  The carrier strap cuts deep into my left shoulder blade and my calves rebel.  I can feel the weight dropping off of me just as I feel Leo is packing it on.  Sado-masochistic parenting, perhaps – there’s always the bus.  But each ache is proof I can do this and I each discomfort is worn like a badge of honour.

Besides, one bus fare saved is another bottle of milk.Image

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: