You know when you watch films and the main character, a supposedly normal person, gets into an extraordinary situation and suddenly whips out all these impressive moves - flying kicks, back flips and leaping off moving trains? Yeah, well I always used to watch those films and think “What a load of crap. No-one would be able to do that without intensive training.”
That was before I became a parent. Now, I know I could do all of those ridiculously high-stamina things in life-threatening situations, because parenting is pretty much hands on training. And it’s not just a weekend course, I have been living in this highly-stressed, ridiculously energised way for a year and a half now.
While the characters in action films may seem impressive, almost superhuman, stick a baby in their arms and they’re pretty much your average parent. Since having my daughter, I feel a whole lot closer to Bruce Willis.
Let’s take my average evening routine, as an example. It starts with the mind games, all action films have at least an element of mind control. We psyche each other out. I try to convince her she’s tired. She tries to jump on my back, play music on my phone and generally give off an air of awakeness. This process can last for hours, with neither side giving in. I continue to maintain a sea of calm in the face of an overenthusiastic wide awake child. Of course it is frustrating, but I must not let that show. Never reveal your weakness. Stay calm until the end. Fifteen false alarm potty trips later, and she might be ready to think about, THINK ABOUT, sleep. Maybe.
I lie with her, trying to create a warm and calm environment in which for her to sleep. She slaps me repeatedly in the face, pulls my face and kicks me in the fanny. With her cocooned in my arm, I use my remaining free hand to try and shield myself from any potential injuries - a fingernail to the eyeball, for example. I maintain a strict poker face throughout. At this point in the game (remember, this could be two hours in), I am focused only on the end. I ignore the fact that she’s trying to pull out my eyelashes, and I hum quietly to try and help her drift off.
At some point, my hard work pays off. I look down and see her snoring gently in my arms. I cannot help but feel relief, although I know the worst is yet to come. I very carefully ease her out of my arms, and onto the bed. She stirs, perhaps, but doesn’t wake. I attempt to slide effortlessly out of the bed, but of course this is more like an elephant attempting to rise gracefully on a bed of oil. I grunt, huff and the bed creaks loudly as I untangle myself from the covers. I begin to tiptoe delicately across the room to freedom (read: wine). And then BAM, I unwittingly kick one of the (no doubt deliberately placed, don’t be fooled by those big blue eyes of hers) toys strewn across the floor. It’s not a soft toy that might silently shuffle across the room, no, because this is my life, it’s the top half of a wooden Russian doll. In the general air of chaos of the path to the door, I have encountered a landmine. The legless doll catapults across the wooden floorboards, the sound echoing round the room. The hand-painted eyes glare at me with contempt as they whirl away from me, ricocheting off the wall and continuing on their ever louder voyage of destruction.
I don’t need to check the bed to work out that the shrieking Russian has awoken the child, I know it has, because this is my life. My inner Bruce takes charge and flings me to the ground. I lie flat, pressed against the floorboards, holding my breath, hoping that she will go back to sleep. I hear her lift her head, and move it from side to side. It must be my lucky day, because she accepts defeat and drops back down to sleep.
I can breathe again. Quietly. My inner Bruce warns me not to be too cocky, and so I - very slowly - begin to army crawl my way out of the room, commando style. Anything to avoid the dreaded “Mama?” from the lips of my relentless arch enemy.
I get to the door, and take one last look at the sleeping child, before hot footing it down the stairs. Faster than a high speed chase, I run to the wine, and sit with it awaiting the next battle cry on the baby monitor.