Our daughter remembers us as different people. She tells us that when she was young, there was no TV in the bedroom, no treats, no leaving your dinner uneaten. She apparently grew up in wartime London – there were curfews, rations, decorum, decency.
Then her brother came along and the rules were relaxed somewhat; the odd treat, a TV in each bedroom, occasional raising of the voice. The, within 18 months of each other, two more came along, and we descended into a post-apocalyptic hellscape reminiscent of The Road – kids spend more time with TV than with us, junk food now just called food, hourly treats became a basic human right, and volume and vitriol of our interactions went up several decibels. I tell my daughter that she got the best of us, and that her little brothers really just got the scraps; those rules and their implementation were us showing how much we cared, about her and about being parents. So really, she should stop complaining and appreciate that the TVs and chicken nuggets are not signs that we love the boys more, but that the parents they have are a different species to the ones she had. We are outnumbered and outgunned, and all structure in our lives has made way for tail-chasing and nervous breakdowns. But with the dawn of a new school year, it has been decided that we are going to reach for the stars and try to establish that most glorious of parental constructs – a routine.
Our loss of routine is the reason kids eat more junk than they should, watch moreTV than they should, and have to listen to us have meltdowns more than they should. It starts small – you are too tired to make school lunches the night before, so you buy them a roll in the local deli. The younglings smell blood – they know that you are losing control, so they fire in a volley of ludicrous requests for crisps, the nutritional equivalent of crystal meth. No way, you say, but they just keep pounding at you with those pleading voices, and eventually you give way, and once they have that breach in your resolve, it is only a matter of time until they are eating jellies in bed watching movies at 11pm of a Tuesday.
So we convened a meeting of the war council and it is now time to take back control – martial law is being introduced, little people are to be a-bed by 7.30pm, the 11-year-old can stay up to 9pm only if he reads, and the eldest is hopefully going to stop calling us failures. For my wife and I, all this means we rigidly stick to roles – for her, it means more work the night before school, making lunches and laying out uniforms. For me, it means reading stories. It had been so long since I actually sat down to read my children a story that I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it. Storytime is my chance to shine – in a world where I spend most of my time making ham sandwiches and trying not to cry, I take to my readings with the gusto of a panto stalwart, an east Cork Brian Blessed, roaring about Gruffalos, turtle stacks, sneetches and whether or not there is room on a broom. It’s such a simple joy, and an amazing way to draw a close to our day, that I wonder why I ever stopped; Morrissey once warbled that there’s more to life than books, but not much more, and I think he might be right (even though these days he is mostly wrong). Reading to kids is one of those rare occasions where reading stops being an internal, personal pleasure, and is a communal experience, one with pleasingly sedative effects.
Obviously, like all opinionistas, I love the sound of my own voice, and regular readers of this column will be pleased to know that in person it has much the same effect as in print, ie, it puts people to sleep. Twenty minutes of my droning – even with occasional bellows to represent Maurice Sendak’s wild things – knocks them clean out, where TV would keep them glassy-eyed until midnight. It is such a simple, tiny little thing, but it feels like a great victory; the resurrection of storytime, and my glorious return to the stage, in front of a rapt audience of two.