I got the flu and had to stay in bed for the week. The children forgot I existed.
Their mother had to take time off work to look after them. I lay in the downstairs bedroom, and they'd flit by outside with barely a second glance.
A week earlier I was the centre of their world. I dressed them, fed them, played with them and comforted them. Now that I was no longer of any material use to them, the little effers had no time for me. I lay there, thinking this is a foretaste of things to come.
The second I start muttering to myself or . . . no, hang on, that's already started. The second I start storing the socks in the oven or leaving out food for long-dead pets, I'll be packed off to Shady Pines. A visit the first Sunday of the month from whoever's turn it is. I can imagine them squabbling over it.
"It's your turn to go see Dad."
"Who? Oh yeah, him . . ."
Okay, Annie, who's seven, made me a Get Well card, but to be honest, it looked a bit rushed. It wasn't even coloured in. You kind of felt she had moved on. "Dad? Oh yeah, I remember him. What happened to him? Can't remember. Oh well, pass the salt . . ."
The whole experience was one big eye-opener. You think you're emotionally central to their lives, and maybe you are, but their loyalties are easily transferred. One second I'm the favoured parent; the one they want to go with if there's a choice, the one they want to read them stories; the one who knows exactly how to sneak food into Conor; who knows exactly the way Annie likes her toast. Then suddenly you're removed from the picture and the house stays standing.
I've never had one of them run up to me, throw his or her arms around me and tell me they love me. If I tell Annie I love her she won't look up from what she's doing, but will say in a bored voice: "Yeah, yeah."
I suppose this could be interpreted as a positive thing. Our love for our children is just part of the furniture. They take it for granted, which I guess you're entitled to do when you're seven.
Even when you get up close for a hug, they always ruin it by asking questions like "Why does your nose look like that?" or "Why is your hair the same colour as clouds?" or "Where did those lines on your face come from?"
"You put them there, kid. You put them there."