Three years ago – a period of time I spend every waking hour yearning to return to - my Sunday mornings consisted of lying in bed till 11, ambling downstairs to make a brew and a couple of crumpets, and then retiring to the living room, settling on the chaise longue in my satin pyjamas, and perusing the newspaper before watching a re-run of Match of the Day.
Ah, happy times.
Now my Sunday involves waking any time between 6.45 and 7.15am (although the word ‘waking’ is technically incorrect as we’ve already been awake most of the night due to having a sobbing, puking, belching new-born baby in a Moses basket next to the bed), when I hear the words ‘daddy, open my door’ being screamed from the adjoining room by my petulant two-year-old Mary.
My wife can’t go and get Mary because she has to breastfeed the baby. This is an arduous task which involves Mrs Canavan lying on a selection of pillows while sipping tea and watching a television programme on her iPad. It must be exhausting.
So it is my job to collect Mary from her cot, change her nappy (now a 10-minute battle that resembles a WWF wrestling bout – Me: “Mary, can you lie down, daddy needs you to be still?”
Mary, wriggling and kicking me in the face with surprising force: ‘No. Me not want to’), and then head downstairs to make her breakfast, breakfast which invariably ends with her throwing her bowl on the floor and then pointing to the milk and cereal streaming across the carpet and saying, as if shocked by the turn of events, ‘Mary’s breakfast on carpet’. It is, at times, very hard to love, or even like, your children.
By 9am on a Sunday we have to be at something called Rugby Tots, which Mrs Canavan kindly booked Mary onto and which is meant to, according to the website, ‘promote core rugby principles while meeting important pre-school learning objectives’.
Ahead of our first session I had high hopes Mary might, within a few weeks, be selected as second row prop forward for England under 3s. However, she isn’t quite making the progressed I’d hoped. A month in and when the teacher says, ‘right children, can you throw the ball through the hoop?’, all the other youngsters obediently throw the ball through the hoop while Mary sits on my knee sobbing and shouting ‘I want a banana’. The only part she seems to excel at is getting a sticker at the end. Then she turns to me, beaming, and says, ‘Mary plays rugby’. “Erm, not really,” I respond. “You just sit screaming on daddy’s knee and demand food” - but she doesn’t seem to take this in and instead waddles off proudly clutching her sticker and stuffing a banana down her throat.
As if Sunday mornings weren’t horrific enough, this week Mrs Canavan – possibly as an act of revenge because I’d gone out both Friday and Saturday nights and she’d had to look after the children on her own – booked two tickets to see Peppa Pig at the cinema.
“You’re taking Mary right?” I responded when she told me.
‘No, you are,’ she said, and then stood there, feet apart, eyes bulging, fists clenched, wearing boxing shorts and a gumshield, as if daring me to protest.
I hesitated but protested anyway.
“Are you serious?” I stammered. “You want me to go to the cinema on a Sunday morning to watch a cartoon about a family of pigs and their friends Suzy Sheep, Zoe Zebra and Edmond Elephant?”
‘You’ll like it,’ she lied. ‘And anyway, it’ll be really lovely for you to see how excited Mary is.’
It’s at times like this when I wonder if Mrs Canavan really knows me at all.
And so it was that Mary and I – along with my mother (who had volunteered to come along, which raises serious questions about the state of her social life) - found ourselves seated in the cinema along with a dozen or so other children, all of whom were accompanied by incredibly cheesed-off and weary looking parents.
For the next hour I was forced to watch, with Mary bouncing on my knee in excitement, a selection of new Peppa Pig episodes (the programme is so popular they actually premiere new episodes at the cinema … a fact only a parent to young children is unfortunate enough to know).
Embarrassingly my mother seemed to find the programme hilariously amusing and snorted with laughter when Peppa mispronounced the phrase ‘historical re-enactment’ as ‘hysterical re-detachment’. ‘Oh that is funny,’ she giggled. I looked at her to see if she was being sarcastic. She wasn’t.
It wouldn’t have been such a harrowing experience had they simply shown us six new episodes. Indeed the one where Grandpa Pig goes bird-watching and mistakes the call of a cuckoo for the family’s cuckoo clock was quite good. But instead, to justify the ticket price – or perhaps to deliberately make life hell for the adults present – in between each episode there was a segment featuring a group of precocious young children imploring the cinema audience to join in a number of songs. So at one point, I found myself being urged to join a rendition of ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toe’ by a grinning on-screen five-year-old boy. I declined his offer.
Even Mary got a bit bored after a while and announced she wanted to go home, although unfortunately she didn’t do this 10 minutes in but moments before the end credits began.
I cannot help but feel that life can only get better, though I fear it will be a good 18 years or so before that actually happens.