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You’re Good At This, You’re Doing It Right

Rating: PG-13

H brought a new toy for Simon yesterday. It's a Mickey Mouse with a little plastic football. When you put the little football in its outstretched hands, it sings:

Catch the ball, hold it tight

You're good at this, you're doing it right

Then it chucks the ball. I must have heard that fucking jingle a hundred times yesterday, and again at one a.m. this morning, and two a.m. and three a.m. and four a.m. – at which point the Mickey got relocated to the top of the wardrobe. Simon cried and cried, but the textbooks say you've got to let them.

An hour later Simon was still crying. Not just mewling, this had gone nuclear. H got up and retrieved the Mickey. Simon fell asleep instantly. I felt like jumping out of the second-floor window. We lay next to each other in bed for another hour, staring at the ceiling, hating ourselves for not being asleep, until H said, "Fuck it," and went to work.

I tried to sleep. Nearly did, except the alarm went off at 7:30 reminding me about Simon's appointment with the doctor. I got up and made coffee with my eyes still gummed closed. My fingernails looked like shit. My throat hurt. My face looked puffy and bruised. And I had menstrual cramps like Bob the Builder was at work in my uterus. All in all, I was feeling better than average.

It took twenty minutes to wake Simon up, and he wasn't happy about it. Not even Mickey would shut him up. Every sod in the doctor's waiting room stared at me like it was my fault. I smiled apologetically, gave him snacks, tried to get him to suck his fingers, sang him a song. It was all I could do not to snap his neck.

"Are you alright?" asked the doctor when he saw us. Like maybe he thought I was cracking under the pressure, mentally broken, and that's why this kid was out of control. He poked at the big lump in Simon's mouth and made some notes on his screen.

"It's an eruption haematoma," said doc as if that was obvious, "nothing to worry about. It'll resolve itself once the tooth comes through." At which point Simon sneezed, and simultaneously shit his nappies. Appointment over.

On the way out, Simon asked for a lolly from the bucket by the receptionist's desk. "Come on, honey, no lollies before lunch," I said, loud enough so everyone could hear I was a responsible parent. He announced his dissatisfaction with a wail like an air raid siren. One of the geriatrics in the room actually dived for cover.

The weather was ok, so I figured I'd take him to the park for a bit. One of the NCT dads was there with his daughter, which was fucking annoying because it meant I had to be social.

"They're a handful at this age, aren't they?" said he, smiling.

"Can we talk about something other than children?" I asked.

"Is yours talking much yet? Chloe pretends to read, it's super sweet. She's even got a couple of her favourite books memorised."

"Simon talks like a caveman."

"Do you use Makaton? The sign language?"


"We swear by it. I think it dodges a lot of temper tantrums, 'cause she doesn't get so frustrated about not being able to communicate."

At this point Simon rescued me from the conversation by screaming that he wanted "Push!" on the swing. I braced myself for the long haul: it was rarely less than twenty minutes of pushing before he'd even consider letting me stop, and even then it would be a battle. I closed my eyes and got as close as possible to sleep while I pushed. I got a little too close, and Simon yelled because I wasn't pushing hard enough.

Eventually I persuaded him to get off. He rewarded my effort by marching over to Chloe and pulling a clump of her hair out. Chloe screamed so loud she drowned out my grovelling apologies. I returned the clump of hair to Chloe's dad, calling him by the wrong name in a moment of toddler-induced dementia.

"Naughty Simon!" I said, about eleven times, then I remembered what the textbooks say, that if you call a child naughty they'll identify with that, so I switched to: "Simon, you're a good boy, but that was a naughty thing to do!"

I put him in the stroller to take him home, and he promptly fell asleep. I was too wired to sleep, even though the bags under my eyes made my face look positively marsupial. So I spent the next two hours looking up Makaton videos on YouTube.

I only realised I'd been asleep when Simon's crying woke me up. The laptop keyboard had impressed a waffle iron pattern on my left cheek. I'd been asleep for thirteen minutes.

We were super late for lunch, so no wonder Simon was upset. I let him scream himself hoarse in his pushchair while I cut up some fruit. He had started on solids – especially buttons and small coins.

By the time I sat him down at the table he was ravenous. He ate the whole bowl without stopping to chew, and demanded seconds, then thirds. He didn't eat his thirds, though, because he vomited prodigiously all over my blouse and the floor, thereby cutting short both his appetite and my own.

The postman arrived with a package. I kind of tried to cover my latticed face and Pollocked blouse, but I think that only contributed to his judgment that I was a mentally ill reprobate unfit to even look at a child.

The package was a Glo-Clock, which you could set to wake your child up naturally with a glowing light in the morning. The textbooks said it could help regulate your child's sleep. I was sceptical, but I'd have converted to Christianity and prayed my heart out if the textbooks said it might help.

While I cleaned up vomit, Simon played with blocks. The kind you could stack, with a letter printed on each side. For a precious moment, he looked like a Mothercare ad. I watched him play, dust motes dancing around him in the sunlight from the picture window. I smiled, despite myself.

Forty-five minutes later, I woke up. He was nowhere to be seen. "Simon?" I called. "Honey, where are you?" I listened like a cat on the prowl – nothing. He wasn't in the lounge. He wasn't in his cot. He wasn't raiding the fridge. Panic swelled in my chest.

I found him in the bathroom, halfway through a worn-out bar of Imperial Leather soap, literally foaming at the mouth.

"Yukky," he said, and took another bite.

In the middle of the floor, he was using the footstool as a makeshift table for a group of stuffed toys having a dinner party. But instead of teacups and saucers, Simon had improvised with the contents of the cupboard under the sink – a tin of Ajax, Domestos bleach, and a dripping bottle of Bio Blast drain cleaner.

I panicked, of course, trying to flush out his stomach with water, literally dangling him upside-down. Should I call an ambulance? Should we go to A&E?

I asked him what he'd eaten and he answered with surprising alacrity. "O. Oopay. Oopay," he said, pointing. Some soap, and the entire contents of two tubes of toothpaste. I spent twenty minutes feverishly Googling, and decided that he was probably not going to die.

By the time H came home from work, everything was back to normal. Simon was thrilled to see him, shouting "Daddy!" and reaching out his little starfish hands.

H took over, bathing Simon and putting him to bed, reading him a story, and cooking us dinner. We sat on the sofa together afterwards, watching a sitcom episode we'd both seen a dozen times before. I rested my head on his shoulder. "Thank you," I said.

"How was it today?"

"Same as always."

H was asleep by ten o'clock. An hour later, I was still staring at the ceiling. I got out of bed and found Simon's Mickey Mouse toy in the lounge. I pressed the little button on its hands again and again and again.

You're good at this, you're doing it right

You're good at this, you're doing it right

Writer for page and screen, guru of short stories, editor of Fiction on the Web. Rumoured to have killed wife with Scrabble and married self.