‘I want to talk to Mummy,’ my son bawled, as I picked him up from nursery.
‘What’s the matter, pet?’ I replied, but he insisted this info was for her and her alone. My son experiences a range of emotions at pickup time. First, the ecstasy of seeing me arrive to the door, his arms outstretched as he sprints into my arms. This, I say in full awareness it might make some of you gag with schmaltz, is the highlight of my day, a sincere little ginger love bomb that never gets old.
I’m less enamoured of the second phase of this pattern, which happens roughly half the time: his immediate realisation that his mum isn’t there and a battery of questions about her whereabouts. My son’s confusion on this point would be easier to understand if it were not me – and solely me – who drops him off and picks him up every single day; but, then again, we are talking about a child who still sometimes looks round the back of the TV to get a reverse view of whatever show he’s watching.
I thought little of his maternal demands until we got home and he ran into my wife’s arms. His bawling, which had ceased almost immediately after we left nursery and embarked on our 20-minute trip home, was now redoubled in earnest with heaving sobs. Pulling his mum’s ear close he told her, ‘Phillip pushed me!’ with the horrified air of someone who had just been attacked by wild dogs. We were aghast. Both of us recoiled at the thought of our boy being pushed by another child, and me specifically since I was saddened that he didn’t tell me in the first place.
I can rationalise the fact that my son feels the need to confide in these kinds of things to his mum, but I find it hard. I grew up without a mum so my father was our only port of call for all such dramas, a situation I’m sure he relished as the sole parent of 11 children.
Perhaps I’m expecting my son not to play favourites because it’s not an option I ever had, or perhaps it makes me insecure about how I present to him as his dad. I think the idea of me being too stern or austere for such interactions stretches credulity a little. I dress basically like a toddler and make poo and bum jokes – for which my wife often tells us both off as a duo – so perhaps I lack authority. Maybe my son didn’t tell me because it would be like going all the way to a police station to report a crime, only to deliver your witness statement to a traffic warden.
In the end, we calmed him down with some strawberries and told him he was free to tell us, both of us, anything that upset him from now on. The following day, on being picked up he told me, with delight, that Phillip hadn’t pushed him today, at least. I laughed, thanked him for keeping me informed and hoped some progress had been made.
‘Where’s Mummy?’ he replied.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats