Bill Linnane: 'When little people wake you at 5.45am for another day of joy and cleaning urine off the floor'
Life in the media isn't all a joyless grind of deadlines, changing the ribbon on your typewriter and checking under your car for explosives - sometimes even part-timers like me get invited to the odd event.
So it was that I found myself at a drinks launch, with several other, younger, more successful and attractive media types, all stylishly dressed and deep in free libations. Naturally I was trying hard to convince them that I was somebody of note. I have a column, I slurred. What do you write about, they asked. It's kind of like Death On Credit crossed with The Simpsons, I said.
Given that they were all young and out enjoying life and building careers, they were curious to know more - what's it like to have a load of kids? Is it wonderful, like Cheaper By The Dozen? Is every day like The Wonder Years? Yeah, I mumbled, kinda. And then I gave them The Talk - a long and tedious speech I wish I could give my twentysomething self, about how much responsibility actually comes with being a parent, the pressures, the shame, the guilt.
Obviously there is wonder, and magic, and even some of those fireworks Hollywood relentlessly promises you, but there is also a lot of just cleaning urine off the bathroom floor, loading and unloading various household appliances, loading and unloading a people carrier, and realising that self-care and mindfulness are luxuries that you can no longer afford. It was possibly because I hadn't been out in a while that my chit-chat went so dark so fast, as at some point I transformed into a reverse Jacob Marley, moaning at them in ghastly tones about how they should focus on their careers, and spend more time at the office. Don't end up like me, surrounded by love, I whispered.
One of the journalists broke the ensuing silence by saying he was thinking about never having kids, and I chirped, good for you. Don't be enslaved by nature's deranged recruitment programme, don't end up conscripted into the human assembly line, stay strong and don't let About A Boy convince you that life sans children is somehow empty. I have friends who don't have kids, and while our lives are different, I could hardly say that somehow my life is a rich banquet and theirs is a microwave dinner for one, shared with a cat.
If your life didn't have meaning before you had kids, then cranking out a load of little dependants isn't going to fill that void.
I didn't always think like this; I can remember when we first became parents, thinking that this was it, the greatest thing a human can do. I can even remember saying to people without children that they should have them. If I could go back I would throw a pint in my own face, because to make the assumption that the sole reason for human existence is to create more humans is really quite sad, and pitching it to others like I'm selling a shady time share deal is obnoxious and insensitive.
I know that having kids has been an incredible experience for my wife and me, but that doesn't mean it is either easy or the sort of thing you would recommend to all and sundry. Being a parent is an extraordinary challenge, and one that you have little preparation for - nobody bothers to pay attention to how their parents did it, there are no modules in school or college that teach you best practice, and most of us are learning on the job, screwing up gloriously along the way. Sometimes I think it's a miracle our species made it this far at all with such a relaxed approach to one of our most important roles.
One journalist told me he couldn't do what I do, that to write about family as I do would feel like an act of betrayal. I thought - is that what this is? Am I some sort of Judas, taking my 30 silver pieces and the odd invite to a drinks launch as payment for detailing my family's life? Probably, yeah - but I'm also aware that without my wife and children, I wouldn't have anything to write about, because I'm not sure I could crank out 600 words each week about male grooming or brunch spots.
They are my muse, and while I gnash my teeth and occasionally advocate for the mass sterilisation of the entire human species, my relentless complaining is part of the love, and there is never a moment when I ask for this chalice to be taken from me, not even when, the morning after a drinks launch, little people wake you at 5.45am to drag you out of bed for another day of inspiration, joy and cleaning urine off the floor.