I am congratulating myself this week after winning a small but crucial battle.Mary’s second birthday is approaching, which surprised me when Mrs Canavan told me as I cannot believe it is two years since my daughter arrived on the planet; it feels much longer.
The last 24 months have been a blur of sleep-deprivation, misery and depression, and a general gloomy feeling that life is over. Oh, and two years of watching absolutely terrible children’s TV.
On the last point – and if you want to get a flavour of the kind of living hell I’ve been through since becoming a parent– watch a programme called In The Night Garden. You will never be quite the same again.
If soldiers who’ve fought abroad and witnessed horrific atrocities get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, parents who’ve had to sit through In The Night Garden should be offered the same support.
For those fortunate enough not to have watched it, it features a weird cast of nonsensical characters called things like Upsy-Daisy, Igglepiggle and Makka Pakka (the last of whom lives in a cave and spends his heartbreakingly lonely existence filling a small wheelbarrow with stones and looking depressed).
Every so often they all jump aboard a weird airship called the Pinky Ponk or an incredibly unsafe-looking train named the Ninky Nonk.
Each character has their own theme song. So, for instance, every time the viewer sees Igglepiggle – a blue puppet shaped like a Marlboro Light who, for reasons unknown, has a small red blanket permanently attached to his left hand – we hear a song which goes, ‘Yes my name is Igglepiggle, Igglepiggle, niggle, wiggle, diggle. Yes my name is Igglepiggle, Igglepiggle, wiggle, niggle, woo’.
The first time I watched it I genuinely thought Mrs Canavan had popped a handful of Class A drugs into my evening cup of tea. I spent the entire programme gawping at the television wondering if I was having some kind of out-of-body experience.
Worst of all, our daughter Mary loved it, which in turn led to Mrs Canavan booking hugely over-priced tickets to go and watch the damn thing live at a nearby theatre.
Anyway back to Mary’s second birthday. Mrs Canavan decided it was important to buy a present.
I argued against this as I don’t understand why we need to even celebrate her birthday, after all our daughter has no concept of what one is. I suggested we wait till she is seven or perhaps eight before explaining what birthdays are.
“Think of all the money we could save,” I told Mrs Canavan.
Later the same evening, she suggested we throw a party to celebrate Mary’s birthday.
I asked what she had in mind. ‘We could invite some of her friends from nursery and the toddler groups she goes to,’ Mrs Canavan said.
“Erm, how many children would that be?” I ventured, suddenly apprehensive.
Mrs Canavan thought for a long while – as if doing complicated mental arithmetic - then replied, ‘not many, about 25 or 30.’
After recovering from a short coughing fit, I told her there was absolutely no chance and began a long and impassioned speech, the gist of which was that if my wife invited 30 children to spend the afternoon at my house I was leaving forever to begin a new life on a hippie commune in the Shetlands.
‘I’ll pack your case for you,’ she said.
As it turned out I won the argument about the party – we agreed to have a few family members around instead – but Mrs C was insistent about the present.
She said Mary wanted a balance bike – which is a ridiculous claim as Mary didn’t have a clue what one is.
In fact nor did I, so my wife had to explain that it was a bike without pedals, ‘to encourage children,’ she said, as if she were some kind of toddler lifestyle guru when in reality she’d just read some rubbish on a website, ‘to learn balance and steering’.
Which, to me, is another daft modern money-making thing. I mean why not wait a year or two and buy them an actual proper bike?
Chris Froome didn’t have a balance bike and he’s turned out okay.
Anyway, off we trekked to Halfords to buy one.
Mrs Canavan spent the journey whipping Mary into a frenzy by telling her we were going to buy a bike, so that by the time we reached the store, our daughter – who when we left the house didn’t have a clue what a bike was – began screaming ‘bike, bike, BIKE!’ at the top of her voice.
There was a rack of children’s bikes on the top floor and Mary, rather unfortunately, spotted a bright pink Peppa Pig balance bike and began screaming ‘my bike, my bike’.
The Peppa Pig bike, I noted with considerable alarm, was £65. Next to it was a plain white bike priced £20. The only difference between the bikes was that one had a picture of a pig on it.
‘Aw, look at her,’ said Mrs Canavan with a dopey smile on her face, ‘we’ve got to get to the Peppa Pig bike for her’.
“Over my dead body,” I replied dramatically, and slightly too loudly for a young bloke who looked up from the till he was at and asked if everything was okay.
‘The Peppa Pig one is very popular with kids,’ he helpfully shouted back.
‘Aw, look at her,’ said Mrs Canavan, motioning towards Mary, who had now clambered aboard the Peppa bike and was yelping with excitement.
It was at this point that I did what any decent parent would do and picked up the plain white bike and marched to the till to buy it.
I then had to drag a screaming, distressed and tearful Mary out of the shop, who repeatedly yelled, in between sobs, ‘want Peppa bike’.
Mrs Canavan marched ahead, angrily saying ‘I can’t believe how cruel you are’.
It did lead to a long, tense and fraught day, but on the upside I’ve got an extra £45 in my bank account. Swings and roundabouts.