The minor fib is an essential tool in the paternal armoury…
The urchin has collapsed, slow and howling, on to the pavement while her legs pound up and down on the gum-strewn concrete.
With the ululating squawks and the rhythmic thumps, she sounds like a pterodactyl in a tumble dryer.
The reason? I unscrewed the lid on her yoghurt pouch, the malevolent bastard that I am.
Fortunately, she’s saved the show for the moment we walk past a rush-hour bus stop. This way, my parenting ‘skills’ get to be judged by a panel of strangers, through the medium of rolled eyes, blank scowls and, occasionally, an indulgent smile from a watching granny that says, silently, ‘this is what happens when men parent’.
Usually, this kind of meltdown leaves me with four trusted techniques:
Appeasement – the kind of pre-emptive surrender that would even have made Neville Chamberlain blush, this involves proffering juice, treats, toys and my dignity in return for peace.
The scoop and stride – where I tuck her under my arm and carry on about my business while she flails about.
The lock-down – in this non-violent policing technique, I strap the resistant perp into her buggy, while she goes as limp as overdone spaghetti, like those Vietnam War protestors from the olden days.
The proper parent – a calm and patient explanation of the situation, and why her behaviour is unhelpful for either of us. Rarely used.
But in a moment of desperate inspiration, I fall back on the go-to of loving parents everywhere, and tell a massive lie.
‘Look, squirrel!’ I say, pointing at a nearby tree.
The noise stops. Her head rises. No squirrel here. As she drifts back to the pavement, I go again.
‘Look! There he is.’
Some bus-stop people also look now. The ‘squirrel technique’ is mesmeric.
‘Squiwul?’ the urchin asks.
‘He must have gone for his dinner,’ I say. ‘Shall we have some too?’
There’s a pause, then a nod.
‘Would you like to push the buggy?’
A pause and another nod. A sniffle. I turn to the bus-stop people and smile. It is a look that says, ‘I win at dadding’.
And then I wipe her nose with my hand, because I have no tissues.
But I have no qualms about the lie. Parents of toddlers are trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship, where they will always be the abusee.
You are often ignored, ocassionally screamed at, and, from time-to-time, physically struck. And at each of these you wonder, not what your abuser can do to become a better person, but what you can do to make them one.
You offer devotion to someone who demands feeding, entertainment and emotional comfort at times best suited to them, with no consideration for your own needs. And in the face of it all, your only weapons are patient guidance, calm reason and blind hope.
Yet you find yourself spiritually nourished by the faintest sign of affection, like that time last Tuesday when they spontaneoulsy hugged your shin.
Yours is a heroic emotional effort, and one small porky doesn’t change that.