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When bedtime bedlam in our home borders on a tragicomedy

Barry Egan


This man's life

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“That is the wrong teddy. I want the other teddy.”

“That is the wrong teddy. I want the other teddy.”

“That is the wrong teddy. I want the other teddy.”

I feel Jerry Seinfeld's pain. Often too keenly. "The bedtime routine for my kids is like this Royal Coronation Jubilee Centennial of rinsing and plaque and dental appliances and the stuffed animal semi-circle of emotional support," the creator and star of Seinfeld once said. "And I've gotta read eight different moron books. You know what my bedtime story was when I was a kid? Darkness!"

How I long for darkness in our house at bedtime. It is then where a nightly and occasionally entertaining psychodrama - featuring Minions' toothbrushes, Frozen face-clothes and overflowing baths that have toy ducks thrown with a cackle over the side - is played out at the same time on the south of Dublin.

Children can go to sleep in their own bed, or cot, and wake up in mum and dad's bed. Bedtime in our home borders on tragicomedy. Strike 'borders on'. It is tragic-comedy.

Sometimes I feel like crying. Especially when you have been up and down the stairs innumerable times to get water/fruit/a teddy left in the play room that is utterly essential to a night's sleep. It is a process of complex negotiations, not unlike Brexit, at bedtime. Once each demand is met, it inevitably comes with another, more trying demand...

"That is the wrong teddy. I want the other teddy."

"You have dozens of teddy bears. Which one is it?"

"It is not that teddy! I will come down to the play room and show you, daddy!" This is a not really about stuffed animals. It is a trick to buy the children more time.

Another trick is, just when you think they are about to put their head on the pillow and go to sleep, the child suddenly sits up in their bed and says: they are thirsty. The way they tell it, you'd think it a medical emergency - they have to have a cup of water before bedtime. So, like the fool that I am, I traipse downstairs and return with water, only to be told that they want it in their favourite cup. And that is not their favourite cup.

I want to cry. Again. For peace I go down to get the favourite cup, but upon my return to the child's bedroom, the child has run into mummy and daddy's bed, where the child wants mummy to read a bedtime story. It is highly irrelevant that I have already read two bedtime stories 15 minutes earlier.

The child wants me to go to her bedroom and get her favourite book for mummy to read to her. Like the fool that I am, I go to the child's bedroom, search for what I believe is (currently) her favourite story book.

When I return with Rapunzel, the child tells me: "Not that one. That is not my favourite book. I want The Cat In The Hat, Dr Seuss, not Rapunzel."

It is becoming mildly Kafkaesque. If Disney redid Kafka for parents, the most difficult thing about being a parent are the kids.

In 2003, I was on a small private plane with pop star Ronan Keating. We behaved very much like small children. Albeit after too much alcohol.

Ronan told the joke: "This guy walks into a psychiatrist's office, naked, wrapped in cellophane. The doctor says, 'I can clearly see your nuts...'"

The trip from Oslo to Cologne and then to Leipzig was essentially for Ronan to promote his new album, Turn It On. In Oslo, one journalist's intro to a question comparing Ronan to Robbie Williams - "I'm going to be a little bit rude, Mr Keating..." - becomes the catchphrase for the next 48 hours around Europe. Over Cologne, the emergency alarm goes off inside the cramped seven-seater jet. Ronan says that the pilots can't get the landing gear down. Ronan also says something very funny.

"I'm going to be a little bit rude," the former Boyzone deity begins with a mischievous grin, as it looks like the plane was going to crashland, "I think I'm about to poop my pants!" It was like Morecambe and Wise at 10,000 feet.

Ronan adds that it is a good idea that we put our hands over our mouths when we crash. So they can identify us by our dental records. In the blackest of black comedy moments, we all do.

Someone who was travelling with us has a logical enquiry: "If I brought my granny's teeth in a glass, would they think my granny had come on a two-day bender to Europe with Ronan Keating, too?"

"Fifty-eight years ago, they would have been shooting at us," was my dire attempt to raise the spirits. Beneath us, you could see a giant floodlit football stadium with two teams chasing a tiny ball around it. "We could land there," half-jokes Ronan.

Inevitably, the joking stops, as the plane banks towards the airport. We held our breath as the plane comes into land, praying that the wheels are down, and if they are, will they stay up, and not buckle underneath the weight of the plane hitting concrete at 200kmh?

They don't.

We live.

On the runway, Ronan rings his wife on the mobile and told her what had happened. She is having dinner in the Trocadero restaurant in Dublin with some pals and thought at first it was her pop star husband's practical joke.

The thrill of not being dead means that night in Cologne we drink our own body weight in alcohol. We wake up the next morning dying of the worst hangover ever. But alive.

Sunday Independent