My four-year-old lays her head on my chest and taps my cheek until I open my eyes. I squint at her. Her head feels like an anvil. I can’t breathe. My mouth is dry. “Did you drink too wine last night?” she asks, concerned.
“Yeah,” I say. “I guess.”
“It’s OK, Daddy.”
She taps me on the cheek again and closes her eyes. We have a second of calm, before something slams down on to my bad knee. It’s my 18-month-old. She shouts “bhup”, which is her way of saying “book”. She stands up and drops down on to my knee again. I wince and try not to call out in pain. Everything in me is hurting and I just want to know why neither of my children will let me be hungover. I get them out of bed, dutifully, at 5.30am. I bring them into the kitchen for breakfast. I gulped water as I poured out their cereal and put it in front of them. As soon as they were chomping their way through Cheerios, I lay down on the cool kitchen floor, in the hope that my hungover hot flush might subside. And when they finished, they are ready to play.
I just want to go back to sleep. They just want to play. It’s not their fault. They don’t know I’m hungover. They don’t really know what a hangover is, I suppose. We settle for the game I am most useful for in this state. I get the doctor’s kit down and pretend to have a stomach ache. I let my children shove plastic thermometers under my armpits, test my knees’ reflexes and take my blood pressure, while I close my eyes and run through all the previous night’s bad decisions.
You know those ones? Where a quick drink turns into the “oh, we’ll definitely leave at 10pm cos I have to get up in the morning”, which then turns into cries of “uno mas!”, which turns into you waking up feeling like death. It’s a familiar feeling. I spent a lot of my twenties and thirties waking up feeling ropey and summoning up the will to find a Lucozade and head to work. But now with the added responsibility of waking up when my kids wake up, feeding them and getting them ready for the day, without resorting to losing my temper if their boisterousness butts up against my throbbing head.
Putting in the time and being a good parent often involves taking care of yourself, and taking care of yourself requires letting loose
I’m not gonna lie. It’s happened. Probably this week, in fact. And that night that escalated from a “quick drink” to “uno mas”, well, that was just me reclaiming a part of myself. Remembering what it’s like to go out socially. Remembering what it’s like to go and see friends and talk about Netflix (which I have watched a lot of in my parenting years) and how they are (which I have glimpsed on social media) and what new technologies they’re employing in pubs (none, it turns out, but everything is much more expensive than bulk-buying at Aldi…).
It’s that time of year. When you’re seeing friends and families and being treated to enforced fun at the staff Christmas party. And there’s going to be booze (if you drink, that is) and food and chatting rubbish about nothing and lots of late nights. If you’re lucky, a bit of bopping to Mariah Carey. And then there’s the morning, where you’re going to remind yourself that you have kids.
I guess, what I’ve tried to remind myself a lot recently is, don’t feel guilty, bruv. You’re doing OK. Putting in the time and being a good parent often involves taking care of yourself, and taking care of yourself requires letting loose. I remember my dear friend, the writer Sam Binnie, telling me in the early weeks of my first child that it was a bit like when you get the airplane safety briefing and they instruct you to put your oxygen mask on before you attend to your children. What she was saying was, your happiness can directly affect your kids’.
You have to be reminded that you’re you, too. I got what she was saying.
And I find it a comfort, as I lie on the floor, the day after my freelancers’ Christmas party, where I was the one who insisted on uno mas. And my friends were like, are you sure? And I said, yes, I never do this! And when I got home, I stumbled around the house, waking people up, and when I got up the next morning, it was like I had just laid down. And I can feel a burn in my throat and I need water, more water, and why won’t you let me go to the toilet by myself and sure, OK, you can tell I’m weak… that’s a great idea, why don’t we just put the television on and snuggle and zzzzzzzzzz.