There are so many things they don’t tell you about babies; a fork comes with more instructions. Men begin on the back foot, forever humbled by the female pain endurance of the birth, preventing any mention of trapping their finger in the delivery room door. Meanwhile, women begin motherhood on the back foot resulting from lack of sleep and pain levels that if were accurately recalled, the human race would die out.
But the real fun begins when you get them home. Some babies sleep; generally other peoples. Initially, it dozes off in your arms with the finality of an eldest club member following a port-fuelled anecdote that even the bartender can’t recall how it started, and you lower it into the cot with the delicacy generally reserved for setting diamonds. At which point it wakes up with the kind of full assault that Germans nicknamed lightning war. You discover the ability to transform newly found rage into a coo-ing noise you’ve never made before, which eventually lulls it to sleep. You creep victoriously from the room, ease the door shut, until its last millimetre silently touches the frame, to trigger off the sort of noise that even Germans have no name for.
Parenting is basically a competition in claiming who’s the most tired, which only sounds like the world’s crappest game because it is. The single thing greater than a baby’s enthusiasm for early mornings is your own lack of it. They wake at 5:45am, which is an unpleasant time of day even if you’ve been up all night and are still high on drugs. The irony that you spend hours lulling someone to sleep while you juggle levels of disorientation that you once paid for is lost in the fug of weariness.
There are plenty of things they don’t tell you about parenthood, such as buying five minutes by ‘wheel-clamping’ babies by putting them in the bath (empty!). The impact of babies is seeing everything you ever loved in tatters: from biro on the walls and banana on your vinyl, to the eternal struggle of getting a fidgeting 3-year old’s gloves on, to the fact that lie-ins are extinct. It’s hard to know what the most annoying thing is about babies. I mean even choosing their most annoying characteristic is annoying. If a grown man was kicking the novel out of your hand you’re reading while feeding him milk, you’d have some serious questions, not least why is an adult bottle-feeding and why are you indulging him.
Babies also learn to make a high pitch squealing noise, which can dislodge earwax last seen when you were a cub scout. This screeching meets some forgotten evolutionary function that required the shattering of glass at 500yards. Cats, dogs, bats and other mammals with high frequency hearing would be stopped dead in their tracks, or drop from the sky like lead. Of course babies are gorgeous and you’re eternally grateful, even if it’s sometimes buried. It doesn’t take much to win you back; a smile, giggle or gaggle is enough to forgive the fact you’re too tired to drive safely, haven’t seen the end of a film for months or seen any friends. ‘It’ll get better’ say people who either have no children, or know the challenges get no easier; like a computer game, they simply morph into something else once mastered. Although at least computer games come with instructions, often in several different languages, but they’re important, unlike, erm, bringing up a human being.