Family

Reminding myself how little I knew as a first-time parent is strangely comforting | Parents and parenting

For the first time in a long time, I’ve been reading my own columns from the start. The impetus came when a friend reached out to say he’d started doing so, on account of his imminent fatherhood. Going over the early articles might, he said, give him a sense of things to come. I was cheered by this, because I am extremely vain, but also slightly embarrassed since he’d worked out to do this before I had, now that I face the prospect of another baby and a startling lack of memory about how it should be cared for.

I simply can’t remember much about the early days of fatherhood, because I wrote about the experiences of rearing an actual baby while I was rearing an actual baby. It’s a time in one’s life where memory undergoes a dark age. Stress, sleep deprivation and the constant buffeting of immediate, short-term goals means there are entire months that might only be retrieved from my brain via hypnosis.

This time four years ago, on the other hand, I’d been reading books, buying a small arsenal of clothes, accessories and equipment, cleaning and re-cleaning our house until it squeaked and gleamed like one of those crime labs you see in films. This time out, I haven’t bought a single new piece of clothing, would sooner resit my maths GCSE than read another book about parenting, and the combination of two years spent with both of us working from home, and the grubby ambulations of our three-and-a-half year old son, have precluded our house from being any more hygienic than one of those crime scenes you see in films.

We do, of course, have some reason to be less worried. We’ve done it once before and, grubbiness and tantrums aside, he’s mostly turned out all right. He was also the last baby to be born on either side of the family for a couple of years, and this inherited an unprecedented jackpot in hand-me-downs so our ceiling now bulges with baby toys, gadgets and clothes.

But the day and daily of child-rearing feels distant and hard to conjure. So, here I sit, wading back through old columns to see if they can stand me in better stead, only to be found wanting. Not by the words themselves, of course – even I am rendered powerless by my trademark mix of gentle humour and wry observation. No, by the fact that I failed to create a step-by-step guide to baby care, and chronicled instead my boring old thoughts and feelings about the ordeal.

Overall, I’m stunned by the hubris. Of watching a guy, week by week, learning how little he knows, but always without realising that the frontiers of his ignorance will be stretched back further still by the following week. To some extent, perhaps, it’s cheering; to watch this blundering moron fail, but fail upwards, step by step.

If he could do it, I reckon, so can I.

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats



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