What’s the worst bit, friends ask, about being a new dad? I smile and give them my Enron answer: It’s great. This week, I’m changing my tune. I’ve been struggling to get Sam to sleep. Babies don’t always know how to sleep, they have to learn. Which means I have to learn how to teach him.
“He’s virtually asleep,” says my wife Fitzsimmons, handing me our bundled baby.
“Uh-huh. See you in twenty minutes.”
By the time I figure out that ‘virtually asleep’ means wide awake, she’s slipped out of the bedroom, leaving me bouncing mutinously on the exercise ball, while Sam gazes at me wide-eyed. This is Fitzsimmons’ latest tactic in our unspoken competition. We spoke last week about trying to be better parents. I now see that what she meant was to be the better parent. So when she hands over Sam saying blithely, ‘virtually asleep’, it’s a win-win. Either he nods off and she takes the credit for preparing him, or he stays psychotically awake and I’m Rubbish Dad.
What really stinks, I think as I bounce our child listlessly, is that she is the better parent. Her instincts are more developed, her rocking techniques are first-rate and she has breasts. I, meanwhile, have a saggy exercise ball and a handful of secondhand lullabies. I rock dangerously close to the sharp corner of the bed, voice cracking from a cold as I repeat another tuneless dirge.
“Hang on, Sam. I have to get a cough drop.”
As we leave the bedroom to retrieve a Halls throat-soother, Sam perks up. He doesn’t usually escape from the bedroom until the morning, so this must be like the Nazis escorting Steve McQueen to a motorbike race. I settle back down on the ball, bouncing more jauntily. On my tongue, the cherry-flavoured tablet seems the size of a horsepill, easily large enough to last until he falls asleep. My throat feels as soothing as the lullaby. “Beo, beo, be my bonny baby,” I sing, then swallow the lozenge whole.
As a YouTube devotee, I’m accustomed to pythons gulping foreign objects. But the sensation of a cherry-flavoured pebble sliding down my gullet is new to me. Imagine Frankenstein ingesting the bolt in his neck. Despite my discomfort, there’s no way I’m calling for Fitzsimmons. Although maybe I should be dialling 911. Sam’s eyelids are drooping, or perhaps it’s just my asphyxiation. I wonder how the San Francisco press will swallow this one. ‘Mystery of dad found dead Tuesday 7pm beside yoga ball. No murder weapon found. Infant asleep, virtually.’