If I was woken at dawn several days in a row by the crow of a farmer’s cock I would take my axe to the farmer first and then make such a mess of the cock that the feathered fraternity, overwhelmed by an avian-fear-driven hysteria, would Chinese whisper their horror all over the world and put an end to crowing, singing, tweeting and whistling forever.
That is what would happen, yes, and yet Tyson’s five am wake-up cry drives me to my feet and within seconds I am holding his warm little body to my chest as I run down the stairs so that the rest of the family can continue sleeping, and even though I am shivering from the cold and the adrenalin, and despite the fact that my mind is still mostly physically retarded from its overnight production of melatonin, I still manage to lay him down gently and change his nappy with an economy of movement that directly matches my ability to safely handle an eight-kilogram package of human.
Within minutes he is back to his quiet, smiling self, and knowing he can sit for long periods of time marvelling over just one toy, I lay down at his feet and reach for the nearest available object that could double as a plaything – a plaster car that Lewis painted at the Sydney Road Street Party last weekend – and it is this object being smacked into my temple that wakes me, for the second time, minutes later and causes me to revert to my teenage years with the pathetic cry, ‘Please . . . just five more minutes.’
Tyson giggles and says his first and favourite word, ‘Press’, and then pokes my right eyeball with his left heel just as Lewis lands with a resounding thump after jumping four steps from the staircase and says, ‘I slept a looong time,’ and, forced into lucidity by Tyson’s violence, I reply, ‘It’s five-thirty, Lewis. I’m so tired.’ I watch him climb the steps for another jump. He turns around and smiles.
‘Dad,’ he says, followed by, ‘Daa-aad.’
‘Daa-aad. I want . . .’
‘Dad, I want . . . Daa-aad.’
I am a hungry, tired lion and Lewis is poking me with a very big stick, but his infuriating poking is offset by my unrelenting biological devotion to him in such a powerful way that my frustration can only be turned inwards. I bare my claws and prepare to disembowel myself as he says, ‘Daaaa-aaaaad . . . I . . . want . . .’
And he flies through the air and yells, ‘Weet-Bix!’, landing with a thump that obviously reverberates through to the second floor because just as his Weet-Bix are circling the inside of the microwave Archie appears at the bottom of the stairs and says, ‘What does “crack” start with?’
‘Morning, Arch. Um, C. It starts with C.’
He sits at the table, picks up a butterknife and says, ‘What does “knife” start with?’ as Tyson tips over and face plants on the carpet. His crying combines with the microwave’s beeping and Lewis’s attempt to inform me, as loudly as possible, that his breakfast is ready, and several seconds pass in which I can’t decide if I should quickly grab Tyson and serve breakfast one-handed or if I should shove the Weet-Bix under Lewis’s nose first.
‘Um . . . K, Arch. Knife starts with K,’ I say as I pick up Tyson and return to the kitchen.
‘Why?’ Archie asks.
Lewis dips his spoon into his bowl for the first mouthful before saying, ‘What starts with “spoon”?’ and as Tyson is bucking and turning and spinning in my arms, holding his finger towards the ceiling fan, saying ‘Pressss.’
‘Um, there’re some really weird words, Arch, and . . . K is . . . not really needed, I guess . . . in that word. Maybe you should ask Mrs McVeigh when you go to school today.’
‘What starts with “spoon”?’ Lewis says, yelling this time as I fumble some bread into the toaster.
Tyson makes a swipe for the bread first, then my ear, and then tries to press the ceiling fan again. ‘Spoonman starts with spoon, Lewy. He’s a superhero.’
I have been awake for less than ten minutes. Before I started my home-dadding career I wouldn’t have believed that I would ever experience this kind of relentless, minute-to-minute pressure. If I were to be pricked by the end of a steak knife at this moment, I would split down the middle like a fatty pork sausage. I am not only desperately fatigued and half-asleep, but I am surrounded. A quick scan of my surroundsconfirms that the house resembles a chicken coop – complete with the smell of poo threatening to emerge from the nappy that separates Tyson from my arm – and I still have to make Archie’s lunch, dress the boys, dress myself, put on a load of washing, fill out some school forms and remove the bath plug from the toilet before I can even think about cleaning it.
When Archie asks, ‘What does “photo” start with?’ I am gripped by a driving fear because I can’t remember if Archie’s school photos are happening today or next Thursday or even last Thursday. ‘F, Archie,’ I say. ‘Photo starts with fffffff . . . Did you have your class photo last week?’
‘Yes,’ he says.
When I ask him if his clothes were clean he just shrugs.
Something needs to happen. I need to reset myself, refocus. I need to start again in the right frame of mind. I turn on the radio and spend a moment leaning against the kitchen bench as if I have all the time in the world, and the song that follows a long line of ads and an update about the Chilean earthquake is ‘You Can Do Magic’ by the very well-dressed band America, and it couldn’t be more appropriate.
When I start singing, Tyson settles to watch me, Archie starts eating, Lewis bobs his head and the firey, panicky feeling in my stomach is replaced by a different, more welcome kind of warmth.
Scratcha, one of my best friends, is on a flight to London for the funeral of his two-year-old nephew, and in Chile there is a level of suffering that I cannot comprehend, brought on by nothing more than chance and circumstanceand in light of all this, balancing the daily frustrations of running a household and managing tantrums and repetition – and even missing the chance to change your kid into clean clothes for his class photo– can only be seen as a privilege.
As I finish singing the last lines – ‘Do-Do-Do-Do-Do DIT, Do-Do-Do-Do-DOOO DIT’ – Lewis yells out, ‘SPOONMAN!’ and I feel a steely determination rising from an awareness of what I have. Within the space of several short hours Archie will be at school, appropriately dressed and in possession of a mighty lunch, Lewis will be playing with some toys in a clean lounge room and I will be feeding Tyson a homemade meal of five vegetables and tuna semi-mashed in a funky orange bowl, because I can do magic. Within the boundaries of my family I can do anything.