It was a bright June evening but I remember the air was completely still, not even the familiar cloying scent of jasmine from next door's herb garden was able to penetrate the atmosphere. I was slumped on the sofa in the living room, sipping at a beer and beginning to decompress after another long, underwhelming day at work. My wife Emily was putting our 9-month-old daughter Martha to bed after I'd given her the usual lukewarm, shallow bath. This part of the evening was our much-cherished downtime, where we could unwind, have a drink and talk away the working day before I got busy rustling up something in the kitchen for supper.
I realised I was sitting on something. I reached behind me and pulled out one of Martha's small, bright yellow rubber ducks. I held it in my hand, staring at its unrelenting, smiling beak. I grinned back moronically and burped something hoppy and sweet, which instantly made me feel lighter and calmer. I felt tired but happy -- parenting seemed to be getting easier for both of us now. I'd even started my own blog to document the spills and thrills of being a Dandy Dad. Good times!
With her head bowed and her shoulders hunched, my wife walked slowly into the living room, as if in a daze. Her decision to sit as far away from me as possible, at the far end of the other sofa, was a portent. She stared at the floor. I looked over at her and frowned.
"I have some awful news..." she said flatly.
The hair bristled on the back of my neck and that familiar tingle of adrenalin rushed through my body, preparing me for the worst. My mind careened through the myriad of potential disasters that could suddenly have befallen our little family. Perhaps Martha had choked on her milk. Or had she fallen asleep and just suffocated? But Emily would have screamed out to me in horror, surely? No, it can't be Martha. Oh, maybe her grandma had died? She was 94 with advanced dementia after all. But I was about to start a new job in a few weeks, I couldn't take time off for a funeral so quickly after joining could I? Plus it would probably be in Devon and the train ticket would cost a fortune -- it's money we didn't have. No, it's her brother Josh, definitely. He's had problems with substance abuse in the past, maybe he ordered some a weird synthetic drug off the internet that poisoned him? Oh Jesus, that's awful. Bloody hell, I was going mad.
"What? What is it darling? Please just tell me." I tried to sound as unruffled as possible.
She looked up, staring straight ahead with red, wet eyes. She purposefully avoided my gaze.
As a way of telling your partner that you're with child, I guess it was pretty novel-- my wife certainly keeps me guessing/on the edge. However, I much prefer the approach of Dove's Men+Care campaign, where unknowing dads-to-be are handed a gift bag full of newborn baby clothes by their partners and given time to let the penny drop. But hey, I embrace my wife's little idiosyncrasies, which is just as well.
I know her reaction was born out of shock -- this certainly wasn't planned. Actually, we're married with a baby under a year old for fuck's sake -- what the hell were we thinking about having sex in the first place? Part of me also thinks that Emily was scared at what my reaction might be to the news -- like I'd have packed her off to Marie Stopes immediately. Yes we're short of money, yes childcare is expensive, and no we're not in a position to buy our own house yet, but our daughter's bloody hilarious, who wouldn't want to let even more joy into our world?
Right, time to dig out the infacol...