How it goes

Days it’s just the two of us I hear you in the mornings, about half past five, and some part of me decides what the next half-hour or hour is for; sometimes exhaustion takes over and I dream strange disjointed stories punctuated by your voice; sometimes I have just enough energy for a little time awake and half-listening to you and drinking coffee and reading something that isn’t work, a holiday in time that’s (we might say) neither day nor night. Or I drag myself out of bed and set out breakfast and fret as you fret until we’ve both had enough. I open your door, put down your mug, switch the light on. I know you can tell from my greeting what kind of morning it’s been already, but there’s nothing either of us can do about it. These days you don’t want the milk right away; you want to look at your morning things. At the moment that’s your old fidget blanket, and then your wooden bead maze, and then the book with the strokable kittens in it, and then (usually still, though it’s falling from favour) the big poetry book from which I have to read a selection of the nursery rhymes, and also the poem about the alligator and the poem about the pigs. You’re energetic or clingy or fussy or calm, and your hair is extra curly at the back as it always is when you’ve just got up, and you still have beautiful feet, and you are occupying the whole of my immediate attention. One section of the back of the brain is chanting “take wipes to nursery, buy milk, take wipes to nursery – ah! – send birthday card”, and the other section of the back of the brain is addressing thirty-five undergraduates “of course Coleridge had spent time in Germany and studied the new biblical criticism”; and my voice begins again with “I saw a ship a-sailing, a-sailing on the sea”. (How long before you realise I never sing in tune?) It’s time to get you changed and dressed, yes Matthew it is, I think it is, once more through that book then, but your nappy is soaked and your pyjamas are soaked and my clothes are still all right, I think (“put on laundry, but not before we go out, yes before we go out because then we can dry it by tomorrow, and then take wipes to nursery, send birthday card”). It is another two hours before I can put your coat and shoes on and pick up both our bags and set off up the hill, and this is nearly all my day with you before the day even begins, and I know I will be very bored with whichever two or three of your books it is today before we go out; and I also know that before two hours have passed after that, another voice at the back of the brain will whisper “maybe, just maybe today the nursery will call and he’ll be ill and I can have him back”. The whisper won’t happen while I’m in front of the thirty-five undergraduates, but at some point in my office surrounded by too many important things to do and trying to calculate priorities I’ll experience nostalgia for the immediate and non-negotiable demand. Of course if they do call I’ll panic and resent it.