I had an epiphany the other day. I worked out when it was I really became a parent.
Yes, being there at the birth following 9 months of my wife’s pregnancy was a clue, as was the presence of this baby they allowed me to take home from hospital with her. Strange, surreal days full of not enough sleep and far too much Medieval on the PSOne (hey, first-time on paternity leave, not a lot to do for those first 2 weeks). But it wasn’t until a few years and a couple more kids later that it twigged. And I was reminded of it again the other night.
Picture the scene. It’s 1AM, you’re with your mates, you’ve been drinking and eating. One of you throws up. Now – and I can’t explain this – the human mind is practically hard-wired to join in whenever you see, hear or smell someone vomiting. You can feel your own gag reflex going, you know that you’re about to see whatever it was you had for dinner all over again.
Now. Picture the scene. It’s 1AM, you’re woken by the sound of one of your kids throwing up. If you’re lucky, it’s in the bathroom where you can wipe everything down. More likely, they’re sat on the side of the bed decorating the floor. Some kind of parent reflex kicks in! You don’t join in, you don’t feel remotely nauseous. Somehow you and your partner calmly multitask – getting the kid to the bathroom, cleaning them up, calming them down; stripping the bed, knowing on an almost instinctive level just how much bedding you need to change – just the quilt cover? total strip-the-bed-and-rebuild-from-scratch-including-fresh-quilt?; identifying the patches on the floor that need cleaning and the toys/books that are going to be either cleaned or chucked.
This isn’t something that you build up to gradually, I remember dealing with the first incident just as calmly as the most recent. You even find yourself mentally working out how digested the stuff was you’re cleaning up/washing off to get an idea of how sick they are! The most recent one was, in case anyone’s interested, a case of eyes-bigger-than-belly coupled with said kid’s determination to finish everything on his plate. A noble and laudable aim and we certainly didn’t insist he did so.
Oh, and you really know you’re a parent when you can trade stories like this as dinner party conversation.