When was anyone going to notice I was doing my best?
It was eight am and I was bleary-eyed from yet another sleepless night.
“Andrew! How’s baby Ben?”
I stopped dragging the wheelie bin towards the end of the drive and turned to my next-door neighbour.
“Not sleeping. Last night…”
But Mrs Kay didn’t let me finish.
“What about Amy? I hope you’re making sure she gets some rest. Being a new mother is so difficult.”
“I left her asleep. And I have to get to work -”
“I know you’ll do your bit when you come home.” She patted my arm.
Ben was beginning to whimper when I went back upstairs to find a tie without a baby sick stain. I picked him up and sniffed his bottom. Amy was still snoring. I glanced at my watch – there was just time for me to do the honours.
As I laid Ben on the changing mat the phone rang.
“Hello. It’s Sue, the health visitor. How’s Ben today?”
“He’s fine,” I said, cocking my head to one side and slotting the telephone handset between my ear and shoulder. I needed two free hands to simultaneously clean Ben’s bottom and stop him wriggling off the changing table.
“And how’s Mum?”
I bristled with annoyance. Why didn’t health professionals call Amy by her name? She was now “Mum”, elevated to a pedestal far above me.
“You are looking after her, Andrew?”
“Yes.” Now it was time for the lecture I’d been hearing from all and sundry since before Ben was even born.
“You must do your bit,” she went on. “When Mum’s been with baby all day she needs a break.
“Bath him when you get home from work and then cook the tea while Mum puts her feet up. Give her a chunk of ‘me’ time.
“She might appreciate a snooze in preparation for another sleepless night.”
I resisted the urge to retort, “What about my sleep?”
How I longed to put my head on the pillow, snuggle under the duvet and close my eyes… I’d been up at least twice every night for the past four weeks changing nappies and supporting Amy as she got used to breastfeeding.
I was fed up of listening to lectures that made me feel two inches high.
The phone rang again. Staring at Ben’s innocent little face as he dropped back to sleep in his cot, I suppressed a swear word.
If I answered the call, I’d be late for work… but if I let it ring it would wake either Amy or Ben.
“Andrew, it’s your father.”
Dad never rang. He left all domestic trivia to Mum.
“Your mother’s gone to early morning yoga. I thought it was time we had a man-to-man chat.”
“A bit late for the birds and the bees.”
“It’s not that – I need to tell you about the Fathers’ Club.”
“No. I am not going to any class where health professionals make me feel even more useless and unhelpful.”
“You don’t understand. It’s all fathers together – we support each other. Uncle Reg introduced me just after you were born. It’s a lifesaver.”
“I don’t want any more lessons in changing nappies, mixing bottles or supporting the hallowed person who gave birth – even though I love her very much.
“I want someone to notice me!
“All everyone sees is Amy and Ben, but I’m scuttling around like a mad thing trying to keep it all afloat and pay the bills.”
My outpouring shocked me – Dad and I usually only discussed football results. I must be more tired than I thought.
“Exactly! We meet every Friday at seven at the Black Horse.”
“You can’t do baby things in a pub.”
“That’s the whole point – we don’t do baby things.
“You young ones escape all that baby stuff for a few hours. We oldies remind you how to enjoy yourselves.”
“But you said Fathers’ Club.”
“We’re all fathers – that’s what we’ve got in common.”
Suddenly I wasn’t alone in a sea of tiredness and responsibility. Dad was throwing me a lifebelt.
“You’re on,” I said. “If I can keep my eyes open!”