Man vs. Baby
So, three months after the birth of our son, Charlie, I wrote a post on Facebook.
This is it.
Matt Coyne, December 7, 2015, 7:38 p.m.
I was congratulating myself today on how I’ve got diaper-changing down to a precision art. I’m basically like a Formula One pit crew . . . in fact, in many ways, I’m better, because when you’re speed-changing the tires on Lewis Hamilton’s car, he’s probably less likely to piss in your eyes and projectile-shit up your arms.
This is what else I’ve learned so far.
• I used to think that the theory that the moon landing was a hoax was total bollocks, just because it required a huge amount of people to share a secret. I now think it’s a distinct possibility, given the conspiracy of silence about how horrendous labor is. The labor suite is like being in ’Nam. It is nothing like you see in sitcoms or films, unless that film is Saw IV, or it’s the chest-bursting scene from Alien. So, to those who told me that the birth would be a magical experience . . . you’re a bunch of fucking liars. Labor is like magic . . . but only in that it’s best when you don’t know how it’s done.
(In truth, the hardest thing about labor is seeing someone you love in such excruciating pain. But then Lyns did once make me sit through an episode of Downton Abbey, so . . . six of one, half a doz . . . )
The first week
• I never knew this, but babies breathe in a jazz-syncopated rhythm. There is no set pattern to it and they stop breathing roughly every forty
seconds, just long enough for you to think they’ve died. Of all the dick moves babies can pull, pretending that they’ve died is by far the most dickish, and they do it all the time.
• A baby crying is a weird thing. During the daytime you can listen to it and think that it’s endearing and cute. . . . At 3 a.m. it’s like having the inside of your skull sandpapered by an angry Viking.
• Baby piss in the eye really is only funny the first time and every single shit really is comically timed. The worst thing is when they do a “lure-shit,” then wait till you’ve got the diaper off mid-change to bring the real thunder. It’s the same thing terrorists do when they time bombs to go off just as the emergency services arrive.
• Every item of clothing is held together with fucking snaps. There are three or four more snaps than necessary just to make you look like a moron in front of your child, who shows his disapproval by endlessly windmilling. Dressing a windmilling baby is like trying to put a rabbit in a fucking balloon. When you tell them to stay still, they ignore you or scratch their own face. They’re mental.
(I’m thinking of launching a range of baby clothing that is all Velcro, based on strippers’ trousers. You should be able to hold a baby in one hand, the clothes it’s wearing in the other, and just separate the two with a satisfying rip.)
• Babies at this age don’t look like anyone. But everyone sits around drinking a fuckload of tea and saying he looks like you, or he looks like his granddad or whatever. . . . In truth, they all look like Ross Kemp. (Well, they look like one of the Mitchell brothers anyway—if you’ve got an ugly baby, it’s Phil.)I
The first month
• Throughout my adult life I’ve
tried to read a book a week or so. I’m not naïve, I knew that I’d have less time, so I thought I’d promise myself that I’d try to read a book a month. It’s now been a couple of months and the only thing I’ve read is a pamphlet on breast pumps. (And I’ve still not gotten to the end of that; I keep falling asleep during the paragraph on “nipple confusion.”)
• It is possible to have so little sleep that your balls hurt.
• Does anyone remember the show Touch the Truck with Dale Winton (before he had his face retrofitted)? It was on Channel 5 and basically eight contestants put their hands on a truck and the last one to keep their hands on it and stay awake won the thing. Having a baby is like being on Touch the Truck. The only difference is that on Touch the Truck you were allowed to have a piss and something to eat every three hours . . . and you won a truck.
• Whether Lyns likes it or not, holding the baby above your head when it’s naked, and singing “Circle of Life,” is funny.
• It’s only when you’ve just gotten a baby to sleep that you realize how loud your house is. I thought our home was pretty quiet and sedate but it turns out we have a bathroom tap that sounds like Godzilla fucking a tank.
• Trying to walk around a supermarket takes ages because old women reeeally like babies and lock onto a pram with the dead-eyed tenacity of a predator drone. Dodging them is like playing Frogger. They’re wily: if there’s more than one of them you’re screwed; they’ll split up and hunt in packs like raptors.
After 3 months . . . now
The most important thing I’ve learned so far is that Charlie is supremely lucky to have Lyns as his mum. She’s tough, smart, funny, and in love . . .
and she will make sure I don’t fuck up too much. Hopefully, her DNA will also batter my genetic predisposition toward big nostrils and man-tits.
He is without reservation the greatest thing that has ever happened to us both. (Better than completing the Panini World Cup sticker album, which I did in both ’86 and ’90.) He has already removed enough of my cynicism to include this paragraph, and I feel pretty sure that I’m going to be good at this. Because as shit, disorganized, and pathetically inept as I am, it is beyond important to me that Charlie comes to no harm. And that, as far as I can make out, is not a bad measure.
I wrote this in a sleep-deprived state one Tuesday evening, when our little boy, Charlie, decided to close his eyes for a couple of hours, for what seemed like the first time since he’d opened them three months before. My balls were aching; I did have sunken eyes reddened by baby piss. I sat, I typed, I felt a bit better. And, as he stirred, I hit the “post” button and sent what I’d written to get trampled underfoot in the social-media parade of shocked-looking cats, dick-pics, and photographs of what Auntie Pat had for her tea.
The following day I logged back on to find that the post had been shared a hundred times. Later that day it was a thousand, and by the end of the week it was tens of thousands. It was shared by bloggers, vloggers, and even movie stars like Ashton Kutcher. Bizarrely, I started to get requests for interviews from newspapers, TV, and radio. And everybody asked the same question: Why did this incoherent and rambling “status update” strike a chord with parents, parents-to-be, and the long-haired one from Dude, Where’s My Car?
I didn’t know.
So I sat and I thought. Then I started to read through the e-mails I’d received from parents who had taken the time to get in touch. The answer was there. It was clear. There was a reason why this particular message echoed, why so many could find their own experience, in between the aching balls and nipple confusion, and that reason was as conclusive as it was striking:
Most new parents haven’t got the faintest fucking clue what they’re doing.
Sure, there are the superparents, the bland routiners, the perfect assholes raising their cookie-cutter children using color-coded charts and whatever the fuck the “pick-up, put-down” method is.
But that’s not us.
We are the screwups; the play-it-by-ear, winging-it normals; the inept, the scared, the disorganized, the immature and clueless. We have vomit on our shoulders and yellow shit under our fingernails and . . . Christ, are we tired!! . . . But we are Legion.
And our kids will be the kids that other kids want to play with. They will become the adults that other adults want to have a beer with. They will be the smart ones, the creative ones, the ones who will change the world or just make it better in tiny slivers. Because, as useless and pathetic as we are, our children will be the best of us.
Because we give a fuck that they can be. I
. Ross Kemp is an actor who first found fame on the British soap opera EastEnders. He is the better-looking half of a bald and angry pair of tough guys called the Mitchell Brothers—Grant and Phil. (Just imagine Moby and James Carville side by side and jacked up on steroids.)