My wife, in typically stoic fashion, returned to work just six weeks after giving birth to our first son. Back then Sarah was manager of a group home for two Down’s adults on the outskirts of Swansea, so had to do shifts, which included sleep-ins.
I was working as a part-time lecturer at the local college and also as an ad hoc draftsman for an engineering company in Llandeilo. This meant I was out three days of the week, but home every evening. I spent the other days renovating our house which we had moved in to just six months before Evan joined us.
To say I was inexperienced at parenting would have been an understatement. As an only child I’d never had to look after siblings and was only recently an uncle by marriage to two nieces and a nephew. I’d held their sticky hands to cross roads a couple of times and once held another friend’s baby for a few minutes, but that was it. When Sarah left for work I was quietly panicking.
My mum had died only five months before Evan was born, Sarah’s mother lived in Spain, and my nearest Auntie was twenty miles away, so we had little family around us to help out. I’d had plenty of advice at work to be fair, the most “useful” of which came from the company accountant. An experienced father, he took me to one side when he heard the news about our new son.
A new baby I hear, congratulations!
Does he cry much?
A bit, yes.
I’ve got three kids, don’t worry. Just put him in a drawer and shut it.
Yes. Doesn’t stop them crying, but you can’t hear them any more. A filing cabinet is best, you can lock those too.
Very helpful, fair play, thanks Keith. I never tried it, despite being sorely tempted a couple of times with our second son.
The first night of going solo came far too soon, although it started OK.
After Sarah left at around 4.30 I fed Evan without any mishap. Another friend had told me of his first experience of feeding his daughter breakfast. His wife had gone out shopping leaving him with a high chair, a firmly strapped-in baby and a bowl of tepid weetabix. He’d confidently wrapped a bib around her neck and set-to with the plastic spoon. When his wife came home an hour or so later he was dismayed at her response to his efforts — For god’s sake, I told you to feed her, not Artex her!! They were picking weetabix out of the baby’s ears for the rest of the week.
So I was pleased that Ev was still relatively presentable after his previously expressed bottle of milk and started planning his bath. He took to the inch of perfectly temperate water with a splash and a gurgle as I lathered his little suede head. Then towelled, powdered and freshly bedecked in a new nappy and a ducky nightgown we settled down for another bottle and a read until he fell asleep.
I couldn’t believe it. He was gone after a couple of pages and a burp and I tiptoed downstairs to make my sad little bachelor tv dinner. It wasn’t so bad actually, a tinned curry from Sainsbury’s, leftover rice from the freezer and an episode of Sharpe on the telly.
Before long the baby monitor next to my plate flashed ominously. A row of green lights pulsing dangerously close to red. Then into the red. Then a red glow that turned my Korma to Madras and lit my face up as I finally heard the screaming from the nursery.
I dropped my fork and cleared the stairs two at a time and reached down for the distressed little baby in the cot. I cradled him and patted him, walked about in circles until I felt dizzy, then decided to sit it out a bit. I lasted three minutes, then picked him up again, taking care to walk the other way around to unwind my dizziness. I checked his nappy, nothing there. Tried the bottle, gave him a dummy, no joy. He had just discovered the unfettered power of his blood-curdling voice.
I took him downstairs and thought of ringing Sarah. But pride held me back as I imagined the motherly condescension I would have to endure, and the lack of confidence it would instill in her. I rocked the little chap in his carry cot and sang him Lili Wen Fach and Dacw Mam yn Dwad, but I was getting more and more worked up at the incessant mewling and it must have shown in my shaky baritone.
At that moment I experienced a brush with reality of monumental proportions. It hit me that I was in sole charge of this little life. Me, a complete novice, a barely functioning half-wit with the most precious individual in the history of the world ever as my total responsibility. Christ. I had no time for an Epiphany, but there it was. What the bloody hell was I going to do? What if he was ill? Should I call the doctor? Rush him to A&E?
As I reached for the Reader’s Digest book of baby wrangling the phone rang to enter the circle of desperation I was winding tightly about my head. I answered it with a terse Yes?
Are you Ok?
Vyv was an old work friend of Sarah’s, a formidable woman with two children of her own.
Are you Ok? you sound stressed.
Evan won’t stop crying. Sarah’s gone to work, I’ve fed him, bathed him and now I can’t put him down!
Is he hot?
Only from screaming, I think.
Has he been sick?
No. But I don’t know what to do with him!
There was an audible drag on a cigarette from Vyv’s end.
Right, have you got any Calpol?
I don’t know, a full bottle, we’ve never used it.
OK, I want you to drink all of that and when YOU’ve calmed down the baby will be fine.
Allright. Thanks Vyv. Bye.
I put the phone down. I didn’t drink the Calpol but I took her point, and when I’d calmed myself and rocked him a bit more he did indeed drop off and slept most of the night.
When Sarah came home next morning she found a contented baby and an experienced dad in confident control, flying by the seat of his pants.