Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Tag: Child

Daddy Tick Tock

3:06am. He’s crying. The father groggily wakes and looks at the digital clock on the bedside table. The shrouded corpse far across the bed doesn’t move. He hears the seconds dripping.

3:05am. He’s still crying, even if time has ticked backwards. Confused at first, he realises it was 3:05 then 3:06. But the last three hours sleep? Gone in an eye blink. He’s still crying.

And once his other eye opens, the real day will begin. Post the forced wake up, yesterday’s washing must be hung out, snack for breakfast, shower in between, shave while not being cut by an unsteady hand, the new washing hung out to dry, perhaps most of last night’s housework, then the final reluctant rush to work. She’ll sleep through. And the son too.

Maybe a deep sleep on the bus might save me, he thinks. Yeah! But that’s some hope! Then nine hours of bobbing his head up and down with the interruptions and interrogations every minute or so. Selfish people with trivial wants, urgent phone calls or exaggerated crises. Then he’ll tank ten cups too much of coffee. And on the way home, he’s as jittery as Methuselah the bus driver.

And silently, as a burglar, he enters the empty house of no welcome. A kitchen of bowls, cups, saucers, baby bottles, plastic spoons and congealed saucepans. The lounger with scattered clothes both clean and dirty to be gathered, or worse. Somewhere in the fridge, there is a covered dinner of leftovers. Usually his only friends are the freezer, the microwave and frozen pizza.

He slips hopefully unnoticed to visit to his son. As he creeps through the hallway, she’s there. The mother of their child, back to the nursery door, wordless and childless, a pillar of salt with eyes blazing.

He draws close. He takes the usual half step backwards. Then he pushes down the door handle and skips into the open space. If he’s quick, he’ll glimpse his son. Some days he doesn’t make it that far.

“Perhaps this is the day,” he says to himself. “The day when St Thomas finds out who his father really is.”

There he is, in yesterday’s dirty jumpsuit. A covered head, a small contorted face, dolls hands protruding. “My son?” he thinks. He reaches to touch the arms stretched each side of the cot. He stops his breath to listen to the whispered intake of another’s. But she steps inside, blocks his way, steps into him and shuts the door.

“I didn’t disturb him,” he soundlessly whispers. But the standard admonishment is always administered.

Then the flight back to the kitchen, the clothesline and the laundry. Undresses himself in the dark, and slips unnoticed into bed. To sleep wakefully.

3:06am. He checks. Yes they are now both awake. Dreamily, he finds a small mercy. That cry isn’t the endless one-note scream. He forages for the proper definition: a night terror?

A terror shared both by father and son. For nothing can wake her.

If it was that one-note call from hell, it would be okay. He would be at battle stations ready to repel demon boarders. He’d sprint in the dark. He’d take a nanosecond to snatch the child from cot. Forget about unlatching the cot side. Leave that for later. He’s stolen the baby. For then there’s the piercing shriek that dissolves them both. Then that hour long second to pass inconsolable baby to consoling mother. Then silence. Then the bottomless ocean of post pregnant sleep. Which only subtracts a little more from him.

It’s the mummy cry, he recognises. Not to be confused with the daddy cry. Perhaps that doesn’t exist, he thinks. It might if fathers could become pregnant. No it’s the natural order of things, he muses. But it’s still wrong.

“How can she sleep through this? It’s her cry, not mine.” Perhaps a few more moments and she will wake…

He dunks face first into the first pillow, then smothers the back of his head with the other. He turns over and in on himself. He binds himself in his blanket. And he sets a imaginary alarm. She’ll wake this time and there will be peace for all.

Eyes half open he watches and sleeps. The pile of blankets to his right doesn’t move. She’s going to sleep through.

3:07 He’s still crying. Was there a minute of sleep? He can’t remember. In the dusk, the wall of sheets and blankets opposite is unclimbable. But a small gap, might be enough. If he gently disturbs her, she’ll softly wake, yawn and stretch, hear her baby, go to him, St Thomas will be comforted.

And it will be like the old joke. Now we all can get some sleep. That’s the punchline but what was the joke? He scrabbles across and meets two pillows, one on top of another, pressed down under the blankets. He could burrow through but the danger of course is real. For once awake, there will be the usual set-to in front of the baby.

Yet again it’s come to this, he thinks. Maybe this will be the time, when he’ll be lulled to sleep by his father. And know it.

That would be a welcome addition. Then St Thomas will know he’s not a baby napping stranger. Or an absentee father practising for the future. Knowing that, we both can sleep, peaceably, however long that takes. With his mother grateful for the sleep won.

Now, he’s the reproached lover who has started the long walk back. He approaches the cot, walking on the sides of his feet, approaching unheard. But he’s caught out again, even before unlatching the cot. Same as last night. Same as yesterday. Same as the last three months. Or four?

Through the cry, he hears rustling. He looks back. Blankets, sheets and pillows have flown upwards and outwards. The mother, dishevelled, now a phantom. She strides quickly towards the nursery. He’s too tired to shrug off the blow. He never did duck or flinch before. In case you’re wondering , he rehearses, the mark is shaving rash. That is, if anyone asks.

What is she doing? She’s plucking her head. Pulling her hair out? She’s pulling at her ears. Two or three snatches then, two bright objects appear. She throws the earplugs to the floor.

She bares her white teeth and snarls. “Why didn’t you wake me?” Most of that is lost as St Thomas screams even more loudly. She gathers the child, still robed in her blanket and departs to her queendom.

He’s left standing there, too tired to rub his cheek. He thinks, it’s too late to go back to sleep. But too close to dawn to get up. Same and again.

One happy addition, as they say, but all subtractions from now, he thinks. Twelve weeks, two days out, now, isn’t it? Or is that when mother and child came home? Twelve years after that. Then the six or so teenage years. Chained in a land he will never understand.

3:11. He’s crying.

Your Breath

Watching you stumble from one breath to another, I'm trying to breathe for you. I want to Inhale the oxygen, and pass it through my lungs into yours. And from there into that heart that I love so much. And take your breath and exhale it all for you. But I cannot. All I can do and it seems of no use at all is hold your hand. And wait and hope. We always wanted you to grow to a fullness that would exceed ours. But right now I don't know if that will happen. And my fear is that you'll catch my doubt. A doubt enough for youto quietly slip out that door with perhaps barely a nod to us as you leave.

As for your mother, she doesn't know. And that's what she cannot handle. A little uncertainty perhaps which can be overlooked or postponed. But not the uncertainty that is now resident. She worries that it will take over and we will be living moment to moment. She can't say that to me as it would betoo great a worry. She won't say that to you. Or even afterwards. No matterhow things turn out.

You're not as tough as you thought you were. This illness is your companionnow and ours too. I could advise you:  if you can do something, don't worryand if you can't do something, then do nothing and don't worry.  I can't 
take my own advice. I simply don't know how it will turn out. And I can't 
tell anyone, least of all you.

So I should make myself comfortable I suppose. I try not to look at the numbers and zig zags on the machine. Me being me, automatically I try and analyse them to determine a trend. The numbers seem unchanging like a clock that keeps time but never tells it. I grab a spare pillow, wedge it against myplastic hospital grade chair and find a position of least discomfort. 
Unlike yourself.

Tubes run into you and out. For a moment, I hope that it's all unreal, thatjust for fun, they've attached them to your skin only. I'm really waiting for someone to rush in and say it's all been a joke. And you'd wake and 
laugh with me too, until we thought of how to tell your mother. But she 
might see the fun in it too.

There's no change in the numbers or the fuzzy lines on any of the machines.
The door opens. Men and women rush in. Your eyes flickers open. I'm raised to my feet and quickly shoved outside. A joke? No a sarcastic cosmic one. Ishout out in my head, that was a random thought, I was idly thinking, 
I didn't mean it. Much as a child, I fear the horrible thought made true.

I wait for news and fear the over calm manner of those who deliver it.

Baby Crush

A bald head crowned by a few curls peeks out. Two eyes large and watchful wait and see what I might do.

I’m not moving. I stand silent. I’m a daddy statue.

Tiny hands cover her eyes. She tries to catch my gaze.

No way. I’m having no part of it. Not yet.

She opens them. She peeks carefully at me. Then covers herself with the blanket.

“Peep bo!” The blanket speaks.

That’s my moment. My eyes close. Although I keep the good one only an eighth open. Enough to cheat. Enough not to get caught.

Each time she closes her eyes, I open mine. Each time I see her open her eyes, I close mine!

Blanket on. “Peep bo!”
Blanket off. Blanket on. “Peep bo!”
Blanket off. “Peep Bo!”

“Peep bo!” I say again. Before the blanket went on.

I chuckle as the blanket giggles and rolls on the floor. Then smile at her laughter while she wriggles her way out. Usually she beats me to it. Then as she unwravels…

“Peep Bo!” She got me that time.

The blanket again wraps itself up. It giggles and rolls on the floor. Then she crawls out. And stands a little taller than this morning. Now her jumpsuit is too small for her. But that’s no matter now.

Two arms stretch to the sky. She starts to waggle her fingers. Twinkle twinkle? Yes i’m happy to sing that with her. But no peeking. Otherwise she’ll catch me lip syncing.

Then she stops stock still.

No. I was lucky there. Then not so lucky.

“Jump game.”

Oh no! Daddy workout time.

Arms stretch high. “As high as the sky.”

I squat down. I waddle towards her. I put my shoulders under her arms. Then my hands around her waist.

I lift her up. Until her head is level with mine. Her eyes are already laughing. Daddy’s doing the heavy lifting now.

I stand up and throw her high into the air.

Giggles, then laughter.

I stop just before I let her go. I’m not a dad, I’m an astronaut trainer. Besides she’ll never get vertigo from me!

“Again. High as the sky.”

More deep squats. More overhead presses. My knees ache. My shoulders sing. I sneak a glance at my burden.

She’s frozen in time!! One arm up, one arm out, frozen in a ballet pose.

Carefully I shift her to my stronger arm. I lean forward, most weight pushed backward and draw back the coverlet, sheet and blanket. Then i place her in her bed as if one false move would be the last. She slumps flaccid in her bed. I cover her up. I start to lightly leave…

Her hand finds my finger. And crushes it. I hold my breath. I listen to her breath slow and deep measuring eternity one second at a time.

Yes parenthood is a vocation, it’s not a job. But if someone can tell me how to remove a child’s hand from my finger without waking her, I’d be really grateful!

I Can Talk To Strangers

I like to talk to strangers. It’s fun. But my mum and dad don’t like it. They told me not to.

When I asked why, they said bad things could happen to me. When I asked what the bad things they wouldn’t tell me.

I didn’t like that. I kept doing it. They kept stopping me.

Then I found out how smart my mum and dad are. Everybody still tells me not to talk to strangers. Well almost everybody. Mum and Dad stopped telling me.

I still talk to strangers. I still like it. Strangers say funny things. I ask them questions. Sometimes they tell me stories.

Sometimes my mum and dad laugh too. When I’m grown up I’ll know how to talk to strangers when mum and dad aren’t around.

Lost Underfoot

I looLiftarn_Adult_and_child.svgked up. All I could see were legs. Masses of moving legs. I looked down. I saw shoes and thongs and skirts and legs and trousers. But were they attached to anything? I didn’t know. I felt even smaller. It was like a centipede that’s been shopping was walking over me!!

I couldn’t see faces or arms. I couldn’t see that high. I just held on and let myself be dragged through them. I held tight to my show bag too.

Then the hand holding me let go. I didn’t know which leg to grab. They all looked alike. But none of them were mine. Mine was gone. And the crowd moved me on.

The Child that changed Everything

I was handed a small child in a bundle. I briefly held you. Then I returned you to the midwives. They filled a small bath with water, tested it with wrist or elbow I don’t recall exactly. They then started to wash you. You cried just a little and then you relaxed. They laved you gently, picked you up and then dried you. You enjoyed that. They then wrapped you up and handed you back to me.

This is what I saw. Two bright eyes. Eyes that even at the moments after birth missed nothing. Eyes that took everything in. In those moments you were already who you were meant to be. You were born complete.

I met someone who had entered life and just wanted to get on with it. It was like you had been waiting to enter life and at last it had finally happened. And that’s exactly how you have grown.

 

In that moment I realised my calling. It was to ensure life continued : starting with you. After that everything was different.

Through The Eyes of a Child

This is a speech I wrote and performed  during my time in Toastmasters.

See podcast on SoundCloud

See transcript:

One more story. One more story. One more story. Please.

PLEASE. I’ve already read you 3 or 4 stories already and its late.

What time is it now ? Story time daddy.

I’m tired. Sleep Time. Good night.

Another story. Another story. Well, maybe I’ll tell you one.

 

A little boy wakes up from a dream and sees the world for the very first time. He sees the seconds becoming minutes then hours and then to days and weeks. He’s too little to think about years yet. He wants to hurry up and grow up. After all grown ups have it all.

 

Like you, the little boys asks lots of questions, He wants to know everything and now. But no-one tells him all the answers. After all grown ups know it all. He doesn’t see them asking questions. But he still wants to know.

 

He gets a little older. He gets hurt as children do. But sometimes its too much to bear. And so he looks to his grown ups. When hurt comes they don’t flinch. So he does the same. He sets his face like flint.

 

But sometimes, something catches his eye. Like a flashlight behind his head.  Seeing a sunrise. The orange glow then the sun popping its head over the horizon. Watching the waves break tall, the spray cloaking the lighthouse. Like a flame around a match.

 

In time, his delight died. Now older more wiser nothing could touch him. He had seen it all.

Now he was grown up. A rational being. Just the facts and figures. Everything in black or white or shades of grey.

 

But life’s a stream that flows. He tries to send love away but it sneaks in even when he is watching.

The boy now a man, fell in love and married. Is this all ?

 

The river of love carries him forward. The boy now a man becomes a dad. At first being a dad is just another job. Deadlines to meet, tasks to do. A fairly demanding boss.

But sometimes something catches his eye. His daughters first smile. Or something tickles his ear. Her first laugh as he picks her up. And then it happens.

 

Cooped up in the house. Its raining. So loud on the roof that he can’t hear himself think. The air so close like a wet towel that doesn’t dry you. The baby crying of course. Must stay calm. If I’m calm the baby will be calm. The rain stops. The sunlight through the window  Need a breath of fresh air. The sun has just come out. The rain is gone. And she turns and looks. Then she points. “What’s that ?”

 

Just the facts. “Well after it has rained, the sun shines through each raindrop. Each raindrop splits the white light into its constituent colours. This is called the spectrum” And she stops him. She turns and looks and says “What’s That ?”

 

And he stops and looks and sees for the very first time. It’s a rainbow. And it has many colours. Red, green, yellow, blue, purple, orange. And (gasp) it is beautiful. And look closely. It’s a set of colours that seem to weave in and out of each other. Yet each colour is its own. And you could almost reach out and touch it.  And it delights him.

 

I thought I had seen it all. I was blind. I see the sun dancing on green leaves and gilding them gently. Like Icing on a cake . Now I know what gold-leaf truly is. A breath of breeze changes it all and its still icing on the cake. The painting in motion that is a sunset. First the wispy pink clouds in the east turning to purple and then dark . While the sun pours out golden glory in the west

 

And I know like a child that through such things comfort will come. Beauty is always waiting to be found. To steel yourself inside against such things is to steal yourself from the beauty, joy and sometimes ugliness that is this world. At least now I’ve stopped playing hide and seek and can come out to play.

 

But I don’t know it all. Like a child I want to know more. I always did. And there still are questions that cannot ever be answered. But they still have to be asked. Children ask them. Adults should. So do I.

 

I thought grown ups have it all. They don’t. I don’t. I’m just a borrower. Like a child when I see something beautiful. I just want to pass it on.

One day I saw a rainbow coming home on the train. And it was perfect. And so coloured. I was the only one that noticed . Everyone had their heads down. “get up everyone, look at this rainbow”. I wish I had said that. Later on I realised. It doesn’t matter. The rainbow was just for me. All I have to do was pass it on.

 

When you see through the eyes of a child, one sees the world for the first time. When you see through the  eyes of a child, one knows the world was crafted just for you. And then you know what it is like to hold the hand of GOD !

 

 

Pickles Is Dead (A Children’s Imaginary Friend)

The phone is buzzing. In my state of near-sleep, I don’t know if it is the alarm or a phone call. (Mental note: Change phone alarm tone). I scrabble at the phone on the bedside table and just grab it before it falls. I realise it’s a phone call, press the green phone button, and…

“Daddy.”

It’s my seven year old who has just discovered how much fun it is to phone Dad anytime of the day or night.

“What..Oh Hi Josh, how are you?”, I drawl in a tired undertone.

Pickles is Dead”. It’s said in that mixture of certainty, surprise and awe that children use to describe death.

“I’m sorry to hear that Pickles is dead…Are you alright?”

“I’m alright”. Now he has a different tone : why would you think otherwise? As my mind clicks into wakefulness, I start to wonder that children are perhaps more mature than their parents. Or at least their father anyway.

“What happened?”

“Oh. We were outside playing. And Pickles is Dead.”

“Okay, I’m so sorry, What happened again?”

“Oh. A man came along. He stared at Pickles and now Pickles is dead.”

Now I’m awake. I’m rapidly working through my incomplete list of pets, friends and toys. But to no avail.  Pickles isn’t on any of them. Maybe I should keep some form of shortlist.

Time for a sidestep. His mother should know who Pickles is. But I don’t want to ask for obvious reasons. So I ask Josh what his mother knows. Then maybe he will tell me who Pickles really is. But I’m not ready for the answer I do get.

“Have you told Mummy?”

Yes, she was there.”

“She saw Pickles die.”

“Yes, we both saw him.”

“Did anyone else, like your brothers see him?”

“No, only Mummy and I can see him.”

I’m stunned. This does not make any sense at all. I pause and regroup my thoughts. To gain more time, I rephrase his reply back to him, to keep him talking.

“So, you mean no-one else can see Pickles but you and Mummy.”

“Yes”

Now I don’t know what to make of this at all. I do know that children have vivid imaginations. I know I had one as a child.  And Josh has never lied to me. So I can only trust what he is telling me.

I also know that children see things that adults don’t. But a child that sees something that only he and his mother can see makes no sense at all.

Deep breath now. Time to deal with something more confronting that dealing with Pickle’s demise and my son’s yet to be experienced grief.

“Josh, can I speak to your mother, please”

“Okay”. Pause. “Muuuuuum, Daddy’s on the phone”. I hold the phone out at arm’s length and shield my ears. I wait as the footsteps get closer and closer. I think now it looks like I made the early morning phone call. This has to go well. It doesn’t.

“Hello”. There is no inflection to the voice at all.

Friendly and warm, just like my customer service classes. “Hi, how are you?” Now I’m trying to sell my ex-wife eternal life.

“Fine”.

Lightly, like dealing with a difficult customer. “Josh was telling me that Pickles is dead. Sorry to hear that.”

Nothing, no response at all, but a sharp intake of breath. She doesn’t know that Pickles is dead. But she knows who Pickles is. Otherwise she would have told me off. And then the phone goes dead. Which leaves me to add failed detective to my role of failed father, husband, etc, etc.

The mystery still remains. So I try my second son. I text Josh’s brother. He should know something.

“Hey Johnno, how are you? It’s Dad. Josh told me Pickles is dead. Who is Pickles?”

Even at this time of morning, he is always on the phone. So the reply comes back almost instantly.

“LOL Dad. No Pickles there is.” So he doesn’t know. But he does know Yoda from Star Wars. I would definitely like some of his wisdom now.

The next week, the same thing repeats itself. The phone rings, I scrabble to answer it and it’s Josh. Again.

“Pickles is dead.”

He is my son, it is early am and I try to stifle my annoyance. But still I say.

“I’m really sorry but he died last week.”

“Oh no, he died yesterday.”

“What are you talking about?” I realise my annoyance is coming through. So I stop and start more slowly. ”What happened?”

“Oh Pickles came back.”

“How did he die this time?” Now I’m really thinking that this is made up despite his Mum knowing who Pickles is. But his answer completely stuns me into silence.

“I saw a big yellow man look at Pickles and then talk to him and then Pickles died.”

“Maybe he went away this time.”

“No he died.” How can children be so certain?

“This is what I think. I think you should tell Pickles to go away and not come back. And tell him to stay away from Mummy.”

And then the conclusion pops into my head. Pickles is her imaginary friend. And Josh can see Pickles. But who is protecting Josh?

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