Another parenting related article in today’s Herald Sun does it’s best to maintain a clear division between ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work and to ostracize men from the domestic and parenting role by way of exclusion. Despite the article being based on a survey of 1400 parents it fails to mention Dad or Father once. The title of the piece is ‘Fatigue Turns Mums Into Zombies’.
When a request was sent out, via Source Bottle, for stories of parental fatigue I put my hand up as a stay at home Dad. Zippo response of course. After reading the article today I was mapping out a response article in my head as I was serving up breaskfast and preparing lunches but I’ve decided instead to repost a personal account of parental fatigue. Involved Dads get crazy tired too!
Sleep Deathrivation – Stay At Home Meltdown
Several nights of Tyson teething and a lack of sleep, and the way I’m feeling, right now, has parallels with my one-and-only foray into dope-land many years ago. I was nineteen, cajoled into sharing joints with some hard-core pot-smokers, when suddenly, the walls rushed in at me, my legs were overwhelmed by a marathon-runner’s fatigue; rendering me immobile, and every thought that entered my mind was besieged and dragged into madness by a whirling frenzy that was not pleasant.
I am there again, but this time I’m doped up on sleeplessness, and my mind is becoming increasingly erratic, the longer I walk back and forth along this same short stretch of carpet. Sleep has her arms around me, and she is warm and coercive, but I cannot lay with her – the option is not mine – because I have my arms around Tyson, who, despite being deliriously close to unconsciousness, and way past due for his day-time nigh-nighs, remains stubbornly, hellishly awake.
Hours seem to pass as his eyes open and close and his legs kick out and he drifts off and then wakes again and just as I’m reaching a fatigue and repetition-inspired hysteria and wondering if I should just put Tyson down, set a mobile above his cot, and play some low rhythmic baby-ish music, so that I can go downstairs and gouge my eyes out, he sighs and falls asleep. Just like that. When I place him down and watch his face press against the soft mattress, I feel only envy.
I’m going down the stairs slowly because I’m entirely focused on avoiding all creaking sounds and this is why it’s such a shock, when I lift my vision, to see the entire living room and kitchen covered in toys. Archie and Lewis have opened every box and emptied every crate and I think I can even see a bag of rice opened on the carpet, and something smells like cream cheese, or Burger Rings, and Archie says, ‘We had to find that,’ and points to Lewis, who is holding a plain, undersized, marble, between finger and thumb.
I’m beyond reacting to this. No motivation, no desire, no sense of responsibility can drag me away from this exhaustion. I somehow manage to walk to the sliding door and stumble into the backyard and the fresh air, the slight chill in it, is an awesome relief.
As I sit down next to the guinea-pig cage and take out Nugget – the fatter, friendlier guinea-pig – for a pat, the earth shakes, and ripples run through everything I see, as if someone has thrown a stone into the middle of my vision. I reason that I must be hallucinating, but still, as our five chickens gather around me, one sane thought enters my head – maybe I should stop writing at night and go to bed as soon as the kids are asleep.Yes, that would be sensible. It may help me to avoid infrequent but powerful moments of this drug-like misery and, anyway, writing might be a big fat pointless waste of time because in the meeting I had with the publisher, he said, ‘I really liked your Phuket posts. I love stories of the exotic, of faraway people and places,’ and though I remained relatively conscious from that point on, and even continued with the conversation, my synapses ceased firing, my heart rate dropped, and my mind released its hold on all expectation of a publishable outcome, as soon as he mentioned the word exotic.
The earth shakes again and as Marley and Echo – our two short-haired Border Collies – lumber over and sit at my feet for a pat, I reflect on my motivations. I am interested in people – relatives, friends and those I bump into at the park or the supermarket. And I do like places because I tend to meet relatives, friends and those I bump into, at them, but, I will never write about places outside this tiny backyard, this slightly bigger suburb, or the boundaries of this state, unless circumstance takes me beyond them, and, much to my relief, that doesn’t happen very often.
As I reach over to scratch Marley between the ears, she opens her mouth into a wide stinky dog yawn and says, ‘You’re up yourself, RD’ and hiding my hurt pride behind a quick reply, I say, ‘There’s nothing more exotic, Marley, than the inside of a person’s head, and if you’re looking for something foreign, a little unusual, even alien, you don’t have to go any further than here,’ and I’m tapping my temple for emphasis, reasonably pleased with my ramblings until, Marley, clearly unimpressed, says, in a manner that could only be seen as an attempt to mock me, ‘Uh-huh….’
A bird flies overhead, circles me twice and then lands on my shoulder as Nugget taps me with her nose, and says – in a French accent that is quite becoming – ‘Never mind the Border Collie. You know, RD, a rabbit I was holed up with in the Pet Store, once said to me, that misery is like a monkey swinging from tree to tree. You never know when it’ll share its weight with you, pick at your fruit and bend your branches to the ground…’
I interrupt her to ask, ‘So I’m the tree?’ and she looks confused, drops the French accent, and says, ‘What tree?’ and the ripples appear for a split second, and the bird on my shoulder says, ‘What she’s trying to say, Amigo, is that every town is different, and even though you may ride in on the horse of Misery today, tomorrow you might ride in on the horse of…’. She pauses, struggling for the right word, before Echo, who was quietly licking his arse, sits up and says, ‘Contentment?’ and the skinnier, angrier, guinea-pig says, ‘Joy?’ and one of the chickens, says, ‘er… Happy?’ and the bird on my shoulder covers my ear with her wing before whispering, ‘Don’t listen to a fricken chicken, whatever you do’ and I reply with, ‘The chickens give me eggs, man. What do you give me?’
The bird hesitates, sniffs, and then flies off screaming, ‘Stuff you, ya privileged bastard,’ and just as I begin to think that I have no way out, Nugget yells, ‘Let’s just sing the darkness out of him,’ and all the animals shout, ‘Yeah,’ and Marley, always up for a hearty sing-a-long, pushes PLAY on a 1980’s Beatbox, and I hear the familiar, moving, but up-tempo sounds of Elton John’s Sad Songs, and all the animals link paws and claws and wings with my strange pink-looking wormy hands, and we begin to sing together, as one, and as Elton sings, “Guess there are times, when we all need to share a little pain” I feel the other side of a druggie’s high – weightlessness, euphoria, a sense of belonging to everything – and I realize the over-sensitive bird on my shoulder was right to stuff me, because I am, without a doubt, a bastard of privilege.
This music, this singing, this experience, is nothing short of cathartic.
Suddenly the music stops and I suck in lungful of air, and everything is bright, and when my eyes adjust I see Lewis standing above me, holding a cupfull of mud with my toothbrush sticking out of it.
‘Yes, mate?’ I say, rubbing my eyes.
‘You’re asleep on the ground.’
‘What? Really? Can’t be…’ I say.
I sit up and shake the debris from the back of my arms and Lewis climbs up on my shoulders and starts slapping continuously at the top of my head, as if I’m a human drum, and the playfulness, and the slight sting of it, brings me out of my sleepy dullness. There are no ripples any more and the ground is still. I’m overwhelmed by a feeling that my backyard is good. My backyard is great.
‘Hey Luey,’ I say, ‘Let’s make up some stories. Let’s make some really, really cool stories together.’
‘Okay,’ he says, and he begins, as always, with ‘And then…’ and I like that, because it puts me right in the middle of the story, and I’m hanging on to his every word, and soon Tyson will wake up and Archie and Lewis will fight, and then befriend each other, and then fight again, and the house will have to be cleaned, and I will battle through the lack of sleep, and a million dramas will unfold in front of me in a manner of minutes, but it’s okay, because these are my people, and the story I’m telling about them is as exotic as any – it reaches through past, future and present, and offers me a place that has everything I need and, as far as I can see, inside and outside, it has no end.