It's my weekend all alone with the kids. Wish me luck.
I drive home in the rain and retrieve the children from their grandmother. Three-year-old Popsicle is very excited about having a weekend with her Papa to herself, and informs me of her iterniary which includes playing outside with Papa, playing with her toys with Papa, watching movies with Papa, and making homemade playdough with Papa. "Making playdough?" I interrupt.
"Yes. Mama said you said we goine a'make playdough for me."
"Did she now?"
"Yes, and then I'm goine a'play with it, the playdough, and you can play with me with it also."
She draws a picture with crayons while I put on dinner (reheated rice and chicken) as I do laps around the livingroom with three-month-old Baby Yam strapped to my chest. We bop to Blood, Sweat & Tears, amplified beyond my PowerBook's tinny speakers with a sound system purloined from my wife's studio.
"I want ice cream," says Popsicle.
"You can't have ice cream for dinner."
"Mama said you would give me lots of ice cream for dinner."
"I don't think Mama really said that."
"Well," she admits sheepishly, "maybe she said it a little."
Once the baby has fallen asleep and been transfered to the cradle I walk Popsicle upstairs to brush her teeth and have a bedtime story. We're currently reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and Popsicle is particularly taken with my rendition of Hagrid's gruff voice and thick accent. She begs for a few extra paragraphs and I oblige her. I snap off her light, which is shaped like an aquarium and has little paper fish turning in it.
"Now you say the words, Papa," she instructs me.
These are the words: "Godbless, snuggle-bunny, pleasant dreams, I love you, nighty-night, seeeeeeeee youuuuuu in the moooooorning."
I come downstairs again, eager to be enjoy being off-duty for a few hours, but when I arrive Baby Yam is gurgling and humming and kicking in his cradle, very far from being asleep. I top him up with formula and then walk him around for another half an hour. When he consents to nod off I carry him upstairs and put him in the creche next to our bed. Then, while in the process of trying to turn on the baby monitor, cause it emit a horrifying squelch of static that instantly wakes Baby Yam back up.
Another few dozen laps later I replace him in the creche and very carefully set up the baby monitor as if I am diffusing a bomb.
When I get downstairs again Popsicle is sitting on the livingroom couch. "Hi," she says conversationally. "I'm not even tired. Let's make playdough!"
I shake my head. "It's time for bed and nothing but. Get moving."
Once back upstairs we hammer out the details of an accord which will see Popsicle reading books quietly in her room for a little while, and then she's to turn off her fish-light and go to sleep. Half an hour later she's downstairs again. "I'm scared of the dark."
"But your light is on."
"Yes, but I'm still scared of things."
"What kind of things?"
"Just things that scare me but aren't real like goblins."
"If they're not real, why are you scared?"
"Maybe I'm thirsty."
"You have a cup of water beside your bed."
"Papa, I think I'm feeling very hungry and starving right now. I think that I should have some ice cream or I can't sleep."
I give her a carrot and sent her off. The wraith of her waking spirit revisits me twice more before she finally sticks down, somewhere around eleven o'clock. I pour myself a shot of gin and throw it back. I am about to release a sigh of relief when the baby monitor starts to crackle.
Baby Yam is hungry.
I trudge upstairs and watch cartoons while he snortles back formula. Normally he would fall asleep at my wife's breast and be replaced, limp, in the creche. Instead, when he finishes the bottle he looks up at me with a puzzled expression as if to say, "Now what happens?"
"I'm not sure," I tell him.
He burps. We hang around on the bed and watch cartoons for a while. Yam is impressed by the bright colours on the screen. We cuddle and squish. He does not close his eyes. When I am in danger of losing control over my own closing eyes I hoist him, awake, into the creche and hope for the best, then click off the television.
"Ya?" he calls.
"Go to sleep," I advise.
"Whorl," he says.
"Don't argue with Papa."
At half past four in the morning he starts fussing for more. His eyes remain closed but he's doing his food moan. I groggily insert the rubber nipple into his mouth and he groggily assesses it with his tongue. He furrows his brow. He openes his eyes in consternation: he was expecting an organic nipple. He spits the nipple out and whines.
"Come on, Little Man," I say, doing my best to imitate the inflection and tone of my wife's voice. I stuff the nipple into his mouth again. He twists his head away but I gently but firmly rotate it back. I make significant eye contact with him, which often seems to aid the latch.
Reluctantly, he feeds.
The bottle empties as the first rays of premorning light pale the horizon. A ribbon of cloud illuminates with a bronze glow that reflects into the bedroom, catching Yam's eye. He cooes. He looks around. He clasps his hands together and giggles. In his way he is saying, "Goodmorning!"
His day, and therefore mine, has begun. It's twenty to five.
We play. I pump his little legs up and down and click at him, and he drools and laughs. I sing him a little song. In the distance a rooster crows. Finally, at six 'clock, he falls back to sleep with a big goofy grin on his face. I lie back and rub my burning eyes.
I am afforded half an hour of sleep before Popsicle splits the air with her cries of, "Papa! Papa! It's mornine time and I waked up! Papa! I hafta go potty!"
We go downstairs together. I put a pot of water on to heat up a frozen bottle of expressed breast-milk, and then put on the kettle for tea. The I start hunting for tea, but find none. I finally opt to use a questionable product which claims to be especially made for brewing iced-tea, so my cup of morning cha is somewhat sweeter and more fake-lemony than I would ideally prefer. The baby starts to fuss so I turn back to the breast-milk, which has boiled and is therefore ruined.
I make toast for Popsicle and the dig a fresh bottle out of the freezer. I set the oven timer to squawk after just a few minutes so I won't lose track of its progress this time. When the timer beeps I unscrew the cap and stick my finger into the bottle -- it's warming nicely.
I forget to reset the timer. And I fail to screw the top back on tightly enough. When I return to the stove moments later the pot is lost beneath a billowing blanket of milky foam.
"Fuck it," I say, and mix up another batch of formula.
"Let's go out and play!" cheers Popsicle.
This is a good idea. Parking the children in the cheap showiness of nature is almost as useful a distraction as parking them in front of a television but without any of the associated guilt. I feed the dog and out we go: Popsicle to the sandbox and Yam to lie on the grass in the shade. I gulp my tea and work hard not to fall asleep.
Popsicle makes lunch for her imaginary friend Nada, who is six inches tall and has a pretty green dress and long hair that is red and blue and green, but no shoes because Popsicle hasn't bought her any yet. Nada is enjoying a lunch of mud-pies with sand-sprinkles and washing it down with a cup of grass-clippings and smooshed up dandelions. Popsicle chastizes her invisible friend for wiping her hands on her green dress instead of using a napkin.
"Nada won't listen!" says Popsicle.
"Tell her to go stand in the corner," I suggest.
"Yes, yes I will," she says seriously, nodding. "That's a good answer, Papa."
We go inside for non-imaginary lunch. I make a frankfurter for Popsicle but she refuses it once she spots a bowl of leftover macaroni in the refrigerator. I explain that it's Kraft Dinner, not the sort of macaroni she likes, but Popsicle wants "Papa macamaroni" now. So she eats macaroni and the dog gets a frankfurter.
I finally manage to get some breast-milk into Baby Yam when Popsicle goes down for her afternoon nap. He has tummy cramps afterward so we do some laps.
When Popsicle wakes up again we attempt to make homemade playdough. There are a variety of recipes on the Web, but only a handful of them will work without mineral oil (which we lack), so we choose a simple one which promises "disposable" playdough good for one session of playing before it dries out. Despite the recipe's simplicity it is not long before I become aware that we have somehow borked the job, and we end up with a giant bowl of extremely sticky glue.
We use the glue to fashion a "cake" for Mama and I promise that tomorrow we'll find the ingredients we need to make proper playdough. I put the cake on a high shelf to avoid further mess.
Come dinnertime Popsicle insists that the only thing she will eat is more "Papa macamaroni" so I make another box of Kraft Diner which she eats while watching Labyrinth. Popsicle is interested by the way the heroine, Sarah, has mixed feelings for her baby brother, Toby. We discuss the concept of not appreciating what we have until it's gone, and how it is possible for love and jealousy to co-exist. Popsicle admits to having mixed feelings about Baby Yam sometimes, and also that she has mixed feelings about ketchup. "Sometimes I want macamaroni with some ketchup but sometimes I don't even like that."
"Would you rescue Yam if he were captured by goblins?"
"Yes, I would. But goblins they aren't real."
"But we have them in stories like Harry Potter, and in Labyrinth there are goblins, too, and they say 'shut up!'"
"Saying 'shut up' is rude, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is. Sometimes you said to Baby Yam 'shut up' when he was crying."
"I did, didn't I? That wasn't very nice, was it?"
"No, it wasn't."
"I shouldn't say 'shut up' to Yam."
Popsicle has a bath while I jiggle Yam on my lap, and then we wind down to read some Harry Potter and snuggle into bed. The temperature outside is rising at an alarming rate so we spend some time repositioning her fans for maximum comfort -- we cannot yet leave her ancient and badly screened window open for the night as the mosquito netting on her bed has yet to be installed for the season. "I want my princess bed," she says.
"I can't put up your princess bed tonight honey, but we'll put it up tomorrow night."
"But will mosquitos come in?"
"No, I'm keeping the window closed tonight."
"Okay. Make sure it's closed tight."
"Are you goine a'say the words now?"
"Godbless, snuggle-bunny, pleasant dreams, I love you, nighty-night, seeee youuuu in the mooooorning."
"I love you, Papa."
By the time I climb down the ladder from her loft Baby Yam has fallen asleep in my arms, so I carefully transfer him into the creche and manage to activate the baby monitor without squelching. So far, so good. Once downstairs I pour a stiff drink and down it in one refreshing, tingling gulp. "Now that's the stuff!"
I sit down in front of my laptop to continue working on the short story I've been at pains to finish, but my brain is numbed by exhaustion and my efforts bear no fruit. Instead I pick through BitTorrent searches until I find a decent copy of the latest episode of Doctor Who.
At half past eleven Baby Yam starts to muff for feed so I prepare a bottle and go upstairs to bed. He wakes me again at half past four and, like yesterday, our day begins at sunrise.
"Whorl," says Baby Yam.
"I think I'm going to die," I tell him, which he finds hilarious.
I make another cup of hot iced-tea and open all the doors and windows in an attempt to cool off the schoolhouse before the sun gets mean again. The dog and the baby spend some significant time together, the former licking the latter while the latter sucks on the former's ear. We listen to Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball.
Popsicle wanders down an hour later and asks to watch cartoons, so we watch Arthur and then Peppa Pig while she eats a banana and lolls half-naked on the couch. "Let's get dressed," I suggest.
"No thank you."
Baby Yam, meanwhile, has decided to grow today. He rouses only briefly to feed and then resumes napping in the downstairs cradle, once every two or three hours. Popsicle and I go out and play in the sandbox, and when we return Yam is awake and grouchy. Fortunately, I am able to turn his mood by going on a "baby walk", which runs like this (to the tune of Goin' on a Lion Hunt):
Papa: "We're going on a baby walk..."
Papa (in a high voice): "We're going on a baby walk!"
Papa: "Gonna have a good time..."
Papa (in a high voice): "Gonna have a good time!"
Papa: "Oh no! Look! A lion!"
Papa (in a high voice): "RUN!"
...At which point I pump his legs up and down frantically and "jump" him over various obstacles which inspires him to squeal and giggle, his wide, toothless smiles beginning as soon as I grab his ankles and draw breath to start the song.
He goes down for a nap. Popsicle eats more "Papa macamaroni" for lunch and then goes down for a brief spell of quiet time before we make our second attempt to make playdough. Ultimately we are forced to pop out to the pharmacy to pick up mineral oil so my wife's mother watches Yam for an hour. Popsicle and I cruise in the Mini with the windows down, blaring Pizzicato Five's Happy End of the World (an album so fluffy and gay it makes Swedish pop sound like a funeral dirge).
Mineral oil is secured and we manage a playdough triumph: a giant mixing bowl of bright pink vanilla scented stuff that has the exact feel of commercial playdoughs. Popsicle proceeds to make worms, spirals and big blobs with imprints of her fingers squashed through them. "Look at my fingers!" she crows. "I'm making imprints!"
We find other things to imprint: seashells and combs, the textured back of a plastic crocodile and then the funny patterns of lines on our elbows. We discuss fingerprints, and examine our own.
At dinner we have an argument about whether she should eat something other than Kraft Dinner, but I lose. She is happily enjoying her bowl of "Papa macamaroni" when we both hear footfalls coming up the front steps. "Know what?" I whisper; "I think Mama is home."
"Mama!" Popsicle screams, exploding out of her chair and running to the door. "I missed you!"
Baby Yam wakes up in time to gratefully partake of the organic nipple and grins as he eats, watching his mother's face. Popsicle hangs at her side so I move in and squish her against Mama. "Popsicle sandwich!" cheers Popsicle. "Fambly sandwich with everybody!" she adds, pointing to Baby Yam.
"Family sandwich!" I echo happily.
We bring Mama her sticky experimental playdough cake, and then Popsicle shows off the second generation pink playdough. Mama takes her up to bed while Yam and I go for another baby walk. The sun sets and the schoolhouse begins to cool.
When my wife returns we lounge on the side deck and chat with her parents. They ask me what I've learned. I say, "I learned that as long as my wife is waking up at four thirty in the morning, she can have anything she wants."
I am wearing Tabasco eyeliner -- it hurts to blink. My knees begin to fail and I have to sit down. My broadcast day is just about at an end. I hurt everywhere. I am sunburned. "So," says my wife, "how was it, overall?"
"It was great," I tell her. "It was wonderful."
And it was. It really, really was. I smile and then pass out.
(Godbless, snuggle-bunny, pleasant dreams, I love you, nighty-night, seeeee yooouuuu in the mooooorning.)
Posted by Cheeseburger Brown at 11:54