Before my kids arrived I swore I’d never shout at them. But choosing how to approach parenthood before your kids are born is like a caterpillar deciding what kind of butterfly they’re gonna be while they’re still building the cocoon.
‘I’ll still do loads of charity work, of course. And I’ll be REALLY nice to moths too, even though they’ll probably hate me because I’ll be so bloody gorgeous.’
Theory and reality are like sugar and shit.
I’ve raised my voice to my kids more times than I can count. Often just to shout ‘STOP SHOUTING!’ which I’m aware doesn’t set a great example.
‘You should NEVER shout at your kids.’
And that’s fine. In theory.
Because everything’s fine in theory.
The Slimfast diet is a piece of piss until day two when you’ve had three hours sleep and someone offers you a Wagon Wheel.
Of course, I never WANT to shout at them. I love them more than words can describe. But those you love are also the ones blessed with the innate ability to boil your piss quicker than a Travelodge kettle.
In a perfect world, I’d never HAVE to shout at them. Ideally, if there was a problem we’d all sit down over a fresh chai latte and discuss the issue like grown-ups before returning to each other’s fabulous company. But unfortunately, when they’re about to slam your iPad in the fridge door I generally find that loud shrieking works far more effectively than softly spoken explanations.
I do try to explain afterwards. Even when my kids’ refusal to accept logic makes flat-earthers look like Dr Spock.
So, despite my efforts to always remain calm and use reason, I have raised my voice to my children.
Plenty of times.
But I’ve never SCREAMED before.
Until last week.
I was tired. And grumpy.
They were loud.
We were late for the dentist. They did not grasp the gravity of the situation, which irritated me further.
Kids don’t give a shit that you’re late. They have no concept of time. They’re like some weird inter-dimensional species that exists on a different plane to the rest of us.
To my kids, the phrase ‘we’re late’ simply translates as ‘please start dancing.’ They could not give less shits if they’d just given away the very last of their shits in an attempt to win the annual shit-giving competition at the local fete.
The volume of my voice was on the rise.
‘Come on! We’re going to be late!’
My son’s reaction was like every other child faced with information that they deem unimportant.
‘Daddy - does this affect me personally? In this moment? Nope. Come back when you have biscuits.’
So, we’re in the bathroom going through the daily farce of toothbrushing.
I’m barking instructions like an ineffective spin class instructor while they ignore me and fiddle with their privates.
‘We’re running really late here, boys!’
One loudly announces that he needs a poo. We’re so late by now that I’m tempted to treat this as a hoax but there’s a sense of urgency in his voice that tells me that to ignore this would be catastrophic. So I help him climb onto the toilet and he begins to defecate, both into the commode and all over our ever-dwindling chances of being on time.
Almost instantly, the other one decides that he’d also like a slice of the poo pie. (One of the beautiful thing about twins is that the bowel movements of one often act as an early-warning system for the other.) We’re a one-toilet-household so I scramble around for the emergency potty. It’s not in the bathroom.
Inexplicably I remember that it’s in the garden.
I run downstairs to fetch the potty. The backdoor is locked and I can’t find the key. He’s shouting that he’s going to poo his pants. I feel like I’m on the Crystal Maze. I smile at the irony that whilst I can’t open our back door, he’s struggling to keep his shut. But then he’s crying that ‘the poo is coming’ so I run back upstairs, fully prepared to hold him over the bath or out the window like those dirty Tudor bastards used to do. But then I notice the back door key on the floor of the bathroom so I pick it up, leg it back downstairs, unlock the back door, grab the potty, tip an inch of (what I hope is) rainwater out and rush back upstairs, all the while shouting ‘HOLD ON SON! DADDY’S COMING!’
I slide the potty across the bathroom floor with inch-perfect precision, like a curling gold medalist who’s forgotten his puck. Just as the potty comes to a standstill, my lad plonks himself down. It’s a beautiful moment. He immediately makes an unusual rasping sound, as if his arse is warmly congratulating me on getting back in time.
Just as I start to feel a hint of warm parental smugness, I accidentally lock eyes with the one on the toilet. He’s squeezing something out and gives me his full poo-face.
Nobody needs that.
I move my gaze back to my other son on the potty but he’s also now mid-dump. He joins his brother in staring into my soul as he releases his chocolate hostage.
I step back to avoid the stench and yearn for a simpler time when dentist appointments were kept and family members didn’t eyeball me while they shat.
‘Boys, I know you need to do your poos but we’re going to be late!’
One on the toilet. One on the potty.
From out of nowhere, the one on the toilet states with absolute confidence that he would like to view his brother’s poo. His brother refuses, in a move that makes me strangely proud.
The one on the toilet flies into a rage that suggests he’s not only furious but also wounded by the fact his brother has shunned him from a private assessment of his fresh jobby.
To keep the peace, I consider for a brief moment asking his brother to show him his poo as it would be a ‘nice thing to do.’ But it wouldn’t, would it? It’s a fucking outrageous request and he’s well within his rights to point blank refuse.
In the middle of the screaming, they start slapping each other. That’s right - they’re having a scrap. One from the potty and one from the toilet.
‘BOYS! STOP IT!’
I break up the bathroom brawl and take a deep breath to calm myself down. I then silently vow to never again take a deep breath in the same room as two defecating infants.
As their time-sapping, semi-violent double shite enters it’s fifth minute, I decide to run downstairs to grab their shoes.
One starts repeating that he’s ‘FINISHED!’ but before I can get back upstairs, he leaps off the toilet and starts moving sideways across the landing on all fours, like some rare species of shitty-arsed crab.
‘Get back in the bathroom!’
He’s not listening to me. His brother’s giggles from the bathroom are egging him on.
‘GET BACK IN THE BATHROOM - NOW!’
With that, he sits down. His leaking, unwiped, rusty hoop making direct contact with the landing carpet.
And that’s when my screaming started.
‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?! DON’T SIT THERE! I TOLD YOU TO GET BACK IN THE BATHROOM! OH GOD, THERE’S POO EVERYWHERE!’
They’re staring at me.
‘BOYS! WE ARE SO LATE! AND YOU’VE BEEN MESSING ABOUT ALL MORNING!’
The dam has burst.
‘LOOK AT THIS MESS!’
Every petty grievance in my sleep-deprived head is now queueing up to get an airing.
‘YOU GOT UP FAR TOO EARLY AGAIN THIS MORNING! AND YOU DON’T LISTEN TO DADDY WHEN HE’S TALKING TO YOU!’
But they are listening. They’re listening intently because I’m screaming at them.
Louder and louder. More words. More noise. More nonsense.
They look upset.
This is horrible.
I take a deep breath to continue my rant but now they’re both staring at me, confused and afraid.
The tension suffocates me.
Am I the worst dad in the world?
And sometimes, just sometimes, the universe gives you precisely what you need.
Because at that exact moment, the one still perched on the potty leaned slightly to his left, glanced at the ceiling and squeezed out a bottom burp that sounded exactly like the beginning of 90’s chart hit ‘Mambo Number 5’.
And we all laughed our heads off. For ages. When the giggles subsided we all apologised to one another.
Everything was forgotten.
Well, almost everything.
I’ll never forget that lousy gut feeling when I screamed.
Oh, and the massive shit stain on the landing carpet which will probably be there till we move house.