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It’s Just Us Now!

by Katie Hodgkins

It’s Just Us Now!

It’s my son Mark’s 32nd birthday today.

Thirty two years. Man, that’s a long time since I stood in the cold corridors of that maternity ward in Ashington Hospital, the little chap was born in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

It was absolutely freezing that winter, the bloody nurses kicked me out immediately after the birth and I had to wander the streets till 6 in the morning when the bus station opened so I could get myself home…. we didn’t have a car, I hadn’t learned to drive yet..

I had no idea what it would be like to have a baby in the house, not a clue. I was 23 years old, we’d been married three years, and Mark was our first child, so neither of us knew what we were getting into. It’s such a shock, when you first get the baby home and you realise that it’s just the three of you, and you’re totally and utterly responsible for that tiny little person. Other people will help here and there, but at the end of the day you look at each other and think ‘Gulp….now we’ve really gone and done it. How are we going to manage? What the hell do we know about being parents, what if something goes wrong?

And trust me on this one, things *will* go wrong. Teething, colic, sleepless nights, money troubles, worry about the baby being ‘normal’, worry about ‘failing to thrive’…..that’s a good one, eh, anyone who hasn’t had kids will know nothing about how babies are constantly monitored and measured, how they have to hit certain landmarks on weight, height, cognitive behavior, talking, crawling. But this one on ‘thriving’ was a new one on me……Thrive, Mark! Thrive, you little bugger!

It’s usually the new mother who bears the brunt of bringing up baby, and I was dead lucky in that Dorothy was a natural mother, she took to it like a duck to water. She was never happier than when she was pregnant, and if things had been different she would have loved to have a houseful of kids, rather than the three we managed to have. So when Mark came along she threw herself into it, while my main role was bringing home the bacon and helping out whenever and wherever I could. During the difficult colicky screaming fits when nothing would settle him down I used to put him in the car seat and drive around the country lanes around Longhoughton for hours, the motion of the car seemed to soothe him, and he’d drop off to sleep.

We were lucky with Mark, in that he was a ‘good’ baby, and in just a few months he’d sleep right through the night. For those who haven’t had kids yet let me say this:  ‘Night feeds’ and nod wisely. All newborn babies need feeding regularly, every couple of hours in the first few weeks, then if you’re lucky they settle into every four hours…..and that’s through the night as well, so don’t get complacent. It’s extremely knackering, especially as at the time I was working shifts, so on coming home after a hard nightshift I’d have a crying baby and a wife who needed matchsticks to prop her eyes open.

It was really hard for me to adjust to my new role as a father. I was a typical hard-drinking, rip-roaring, piss artist squaddie, I liked going out with my mates and tearing up the town on nights out. I was self centred, in the way that all young men are, and naively thought that having a baby wouldn’t really change my life much. After all, babies are ‘women’s work’ are they not? I thought I’d just go on as before, go off to work in the morning, kiss the wife and sprog goodbye, then put them totally out of my mind as I did what men do, and that’s ‘bring home the bacon’. When I got home I’d pat the sprog on the head and inquire as to what’s for tea, then after getting fed and watered I’d have a nice bath and wonder whether to pop along to the pub and sink a few. The wife could look after the sprog….after all, that’s her area of expertise?

That happy little imaginary scenario didn’t last long. My life had changed, utterly and forever, and I didn’t yet know it. My new life consisted of sleepless disturbed nights, a cranky and screaming baby, a frazzled, irritable and exhausted wife and the all-pervading smell of ‘babies’ that wafted around the house.

We lived in an army Married Quarter in the tiny village of Longhoughton, near Alnwick in Northumberland. It was forty miles up the coast from Newcastle, for practical purposes it might have been on the moon….none of our family in Newcastle had cars, so any visit would be an all-day expedition….by bus. As we lived well away from our families, we couldn’t have the help that we would have got if we were living ‘in amongst’. Aunties, uncles, grans and grandpa, all of those would have been available to take the baby for an hour here and there, babysit now and then, or after the newborn phase, take the baby overnight. We just had to get on with it, a small tight-knit little unit of three…Me, Dorothy, and little Baby-Mark.

Step forward thirty-two years and Baby-Mark is all grown up, out of the nest long ago, and married to Jemma. Its his birthday, today. But I’ll never forget what it was like to come home that first day, when I could bring Dorothy and my newborn son into that little house in Trenchard Way. The ambulance dropped them off, I brought them into the living room, and Dorothy sat in the crappy little army-issue sofa chair with Mark in her arms and smiled at me.

‘It’s just us, now.’

Mood: Nostalgic

Music: Baby Love – The Supremes

Written by Steven Thompson for his blog, onlymestevet.


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