Absence Makes . . . Babies?
As Tania and Tyson are flying off to Sydney for a conference with her mum and dad in tow, I’m taking Archie and Lewis on a three-hour trip to the country town of Mortlake, where I spent my high school years, to see their Gran and Pa; their aunties, my sisters, Cally and Joanne; their uncles; and their four cousins. We’ll even make a few trips away from the town centre to visit my Nana and Pop, who have retired on their small farm.
The kids are watching Alvin and the Chipmunks on the portable DVD player with a lapful of crackers and nuts. When I take a chance glance at the rear-vision mirror and notice that Lewis is nearly asleep, my knee-jerk response is to yell for his attention, because if he has even five minutes of sleep during the day his bedtime ritual can be put out for up to four hours and I just can’t handle the impact that would have on my schedule of watching my own DVD and eating my own nuts . . . um . . .
Unfortunately, my vocal explosion only serves to shock Archie into showering himself with crackers and crumbs, so I fumble for the buttons on the driver’s door to wind down the back windows and blast an icy wind onto Lewis’s face. A nappy and half a papier-mache balloon are sucked out onto the highway, but Lewis is laughing himself awake and I’m satisfied that the disaster has been averted.
Bang. The chipmunks are singing ‘U Can’t Touch This’ and the boys are smiling and pointing, and within minutes of staring at the open highway and watching the rise and fall of its white lines I am locked inside myself again.
Tania and Tyson fill my mind. I miss them after only waving goodbye an hour ago, but even as I reflect on the desire to have them back immediately and try to ignore the image of them screaming for me as their fire-ravaged plane spirals towards the face of an ice-capped mountain, I reflect on how much easier this trip to the country has been so far with only two kids.
At five months of age Tyson is a very good baby. He doesn’t cry anywhere near as much as Archie and Lewis did, and he smiles a lot, but even a relatively ‘easy’ baby needs to be fed, changed, bathed, held and played with. That bit extra on top of his brothers’ requirements makes a helluva difference, drawing on the already very limited ‘down time’ available in a day.
I wonder what Tyson’s doing and I’m on the verge of homesick-like tears until, in all the Chipmunk-y excitement, one of Lewis’s arms breaks free from the restraints and smacks Archie right in the face. After screaming, ‘Don’t make me stop this car!’ I attempt to stave off any brotherly retaliation by slamming the DVD player shut and powering up the CD player for the selection of songs that has a track record of distracting and engaging the boys during long trips.
Rick Astley is ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ but, unfortunately, his excellent song is also never gonna stop Archie chewing at his car seat restraints to enact a horrible revenge on his brother, and so I skip forward to ‘I’m Too Sexy’ by Right Said Fred.
Bingo. After pulling some crazy faces and bouncing in my seat the boys join the conga line and we’re dancing like there are a thousand spiders in our hair that we just can’t get out, no matter how hard we try. I bow out of the dance when Archie pauses to say, ‘Dad, what’s sexy?’
Oh shit. Sexy. I know what it is, but should he know yet? I run through good definitions of sexy in my head – concerned predominantly or excessively with sex, someone or something that is sexually appealing, Wilma from The Flintstones – uh . . . no. Anything that has anything to do with sex has the potential to lead to other mind-expanding words like penis, vagina and vas deferens.
I tell him that sexy means you wear nice clothes, and I feel okay with that because it’s kinda true in the roundabout way that not telling the truth is kinda like telling the truth, and then I’m dumbfounded by their matching expressions.
They’re frowning, deep in thought, growing their fricken brains right before my very eyes – and they’re so cute! Like little chipmunks. They’re the cutest kids. I feel like screaming, ‘Line up your kids people! I dare you. None of your kids are cuter than mine!’
I only take my leave of offspring-induced wonder when I instinctively look to the baby capsule to see it packed with a bag of clothes instead of the bubble of dependant warmth who’s usually being poked or pulled and generally harassed while watching the rest of us in wide-eyed amazement.
Yes, so many things have to change that little bit when you throw one more kid into the mix – the pure physical effort, the extra space required. And then the smallest things the kids do can make you wonder if you’re getting the balance right or damaging them beyond repair.
Is Lewis cutting the heads off playdough figurines because I don’t call him ‘bub’ anymore or is it just a fun thing to do? Did Archie say ‘fucking fweak’ when he dropped his book because I haven’t kicked the ball with him for a few days or because I have (as yet) been unsuccessful in stopping myself saying ‘fucking freak’ whenever something major happens – like when I leave the fridge open or break a shoelace. It’s hard to tell.
‘Lewis is asleep, Dad,’ Archie says.
Bummer. Archie is covered in nuts, the floor is littered with half-eaten crackers and crumbs, we’ve lost a nappy and some artwork to the road and Lewis’s routine has now become a two-day recovery mission, but this feels almost easy, funnily enough, in the space that Tyson has left.
When you add the needs of three children to the needs of a house and a relationship it gets hard to fit everything in, and then there are the mental battles with doubt and indecision: Should I clean the house or hang with the kids? Should I go clear away a month’s worth of spilled food from the car or do some spelling with Archie? Am I neglecting Lewis by chucking on a DVD so that I can get Tyson to sleep? Does it matter that I spend only twenty minutes reading to the kids at bedtime now?
And yet here I am, pretty certain that Tania and I are doing a good job, and then I’m thinking about Tyson against the background music, feeling a little teary, already missing him – his wobbly, bubby cheeks and his booming giggle – the way he drools and wees on me and how it doesn’t even bother me. And here’s the strangest thing . . .
I’m wondering if we could go just one more.
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‘If David Sedaris had got married and had kids, he would have been Reservoir Dad. Fall-on-the-floor funny, sharp, witty and just a little bit sexy.’ ~ Kerri Sackville, Best Australian Blog 2013 judge
A sharply funny, fresh and irreverent chronicler of real life in today’s parenting trenches, Reservoir Dad is a stay-at-home dad whose award-winning blog has already won hearts and minds all over Australia and beyond for telling it like it is and making us laugh out loud – and sometimes cry, but in a good way.