New parents are often subject to extremely powerful and often contradictory new emotions. The surge in hormones, the all conquering nurturing instinct, buckets of adrenalin and potent endorphins all combine to create a heady soup of emotional upheaval. Perhaps the biggest struggle I have faced as a new parent is dealing with the overwhelming urge to love, protect and die for my little crazies at the same time as trying to reconcile the daily, often hourly, desire to get as far away from the little buggers as possible. This blog is dedicated to that struggle.
I have been away with work a couple of times since my daughter was born in 2010. Each time I found it really difficult. I took photos and videos of her on my trip and tried a few Skype link ups each time I was away. I found it hard though, particularly the Skype link ups. I found I just wanted to be there with her, bury my face in her soft curls, smell the sweet, earthy fragrance of her skin, give her a big bear hug and watch her face light up with those gorgeous little dimples.
And it is often late at night when it is the hardest, when I am sitting on my own in some desperate hotel room. It is at these times that I often find myself wondering what on earth I am doing. Becoming a parent has bought it into stark relief for me that the most important job in the world is not negotiating a new contract; it is not convincing your manager that a particular idea is worth investing in; it is not presenting data and statistics on company and staff performance; it’s not budgeting and it’s certainly not reporting. It’s none of this.
The most important job in the world for me is being there for my babies, to nurture, steer and guide; to be a stable and reassuring presence in a turbulent world; to be that person to calm the tantrums; to be that person to cuddle and reassure; to be one of only a few people in the whole world, that they can trust and rely on, and who they know will love them back, unconditionally. My company can get rid of me tomorrow, and I will likely be forgotten in a couple of years. But my family will know me to my grave and will remember me perhaps even beyond. I am working, whether consciously or not, towards creating a lasting legacy and footprint way beyond my brief physical time on this planet. This is a sobering thought and one which helps to put parenting, and its importance, into perspective.
And so there it is, those late night pangs of guilt. Yes, I know that by going on this trip I am providing an income for the family, and yes I know I am securing a roof over their heads and yes I also know I am helping to invest in their futures. But the one inescapable truth is that I am not there for them AT THAT VERY MOMENT. And for babies and toddlers it is all about the here and NOW. And when they are young they are changing all the time, and a week in their world is equivalent to 3 months in ours. One of the worst emails I ever received was during one of these trips when my daughter first became mobile. The email was from my wife. It simply said
“Emily has just started ROLLING! I put her down in the bathroom, and before I knew it she had rolled all the way down the hallway! She was grinning all the way! Thought you would like to know that xx”
Now this may seem a stupid thing to get emotional over (it’s not even walking!), but reading that, in my lonely hotel room, made the tears flow. Here I was, stuck in some stupid meeting about company performance, and I had missed the moment my daughter had become mobile, my own beautiful little rolling pin! And I could imagine her little curls and dimples, tumbling over and over, gleeful at discovering this new found trick, her very first experiment with personal freedom. And I was not there to pick her up, give her a hug and tell her how brilliant she was.
And this is all true. And I love my daughter (and now son too) beyond words, both when I am away from them, but also (more so) when I am with them.
But here is the thing. There are also days when I would happily sell my children on eBay to the highest bidder. This is because they are EXTREMELY HARD WORK. Children mean the relinquishing of your own life and needs, they mean endless nappy changes, petty squabbles, change mat fights, noise, clutter, sickness, trips to the hospital, chaotic dinner times, stressful bed times and mess. And that’s not to mention the tantrums, the sleep deprivation, the teething, the colic, the screaming, the horror, THE HORROR!
In all of my adult life – a life that has at times seen me negotiating with warlords, armed rebel groups and government staff in different countries, working in disaster affected communities in some of the poorest places in the world, managing mass redundancies, disciplinary processes and fraud cases – I have never walked out of a room because a conversation is proving too difficult. Since having children however I have had to walk out of the room twice because I could feel the anger and stress surge up like a fountain. Children are programmed to be parasitic, selfish and utterly self absorbed. They have to be, otherwise they would not survive. But boy this is a drain, particularly if you have two (or more) of the little horrors and you, yourself are also having a bad day.
So in this context, trips away can take on a new, happy meaning for me. A break from the chaos, SLEEP, the return of my own personal space, MORE SLEEP, running to my own rhythm, adult conversations, the ability to just pop out somewhere, go for breakfast / lunch / dinner without having to apologise for re-painting the walls a shade of bolognaise red, EVEN MORE SLEEP and the ability to move between places without having assorted children hanging off my trouser legs – heck I could even go for a pint and READ A NEWSPAPER!
And even writing this above paragraph is starting to make me excited. In a few weeks, I will get all of this. I will be on a plane to a foreign country. Just me. No one else. And by the time the plane takes off, I will be half way through a newspaper, headphones on. The return of my personal freedom, the return of choice, the return of good old selfish me. And this is where the irreconcilable contradiction begins.
I know that during those late night work sessions, stuck in my lonely hotel room, I will be eaten up by that burden of guilt, knowing that my real job is thousands of miles away. I know that I will feel that lump in my throat as I look at photos of my children. But I also know that I will feel euphoric as I wake up after 8 solid hours of uninterrupted sleep. I will shed tears as I play THAT video of my son waddling like a fat duck, pushing his buggy, cackling like a demon as he discovers his own personal freedom. But I will flourish in the luxury of a bar meal and adult company and conversation. And I will feel pain that I can’t be with my children for the 7pm post dinner evening disco that we all love. But I will relish in leisurely breakfasts, which someone else has cooked and will have to wash up. And I will miss the morning cuddles, giggles and rough housing in bed with my kids that set the day up so perfectly. But I will embrace the silence, the space and the mindfulness as I walk on my own around unfamiliar neighbourhoods.
The only way I can begin to try and reconcile all of this is to accept that it is perfectly natural to be excited about a few days away. And that I should be proud that I will be really sad to be away from my kids, because it means that I am an involved father, and that in turn means that when I am with them, I am 100% all guns blazing with them.
And the thing I am going to revel in, the moment those doors close and the aeroplane is cleared for take-off, is that I can be me again. Just me. And that makes me happy. But the thing I can look forward to the most is getting home again, walking up the drive and turning the key in the lock. From there I will hear a squeal of delight and the pad-pad of running feet. It will be my daughter, she is older and quicker, and she will round the corner, out of control of her legs, a morass of smiles, curls and dimples, and she will crash into me, like a wave breaking over rocks. She will give me one of her lovely knee-high sticky hugs and will hold on for dear life.
And then, crawling as fast as his little body will allow, will come my little man, head down, hands slapping on the floor with each move, determined not to be left out, big gummy grin, arms outstretched imploring to be picked up for a cuddle. There will be screeches of excitement and a cacophony of noise as each child competes for the air space to report back, in their own unique way, on EVERYTHING they have done and seen and heard since I was away. And my wife will be stood behind this human tide, arms folded, content to patiently wait her turn. And I know she will be thinking that now there are two pairs of hands and her mood will lift and a weary smile will break upon her beautiful face. And imagining that scene, and that moment of utter perfection, brings me a happiness beyond words.