The other night as I was putting the little pets to bed, Annie, who's seven, sighs and said, "I wish we had a maid."
"A maid?" I said. "I spend my life catering to your every need. What exactly would a maid do for you that I don't, you little gonk?"
Gonk is a word I use on my children as a substitute for other words that I'd like to use but don't because I'm afraid they'd tell their mother.
Without even thinking about it, she says: "Rub my feet."
There is only one answer an Irish father can make to this: "Rub your feet? I'll rub your feet for you in a minute."
Later that night, I was watching one of those period dramas with my wife. Period dramas are so-called because women watch them and they're bloody awful. Anyway, it occurred to me that myself and my wife aren't really parents half the time. We're servants. We're the live-in butler and housekeeper, permanently in service to whimsical and decadent masters who are always demanding and frequently cruel. We don't even get every third Sunday off. We have to dress our young masters, wash them, feed them, cut the crusts off their sandwiches and wipe their little arses. We put up with their rages and sorrows and try and put them to bed happy at a reasonable hour.
Dinner time has gone to the dogs altogether. The only things that I can serve up to them that I know they'll all eat are -- guess what? -- pizza and chips. That takes care of two days. The other five, I frequently have to come up with four different menus.
This week too, everyone was playing pass the parcel with a vomiting bug, so most nights were spent tending to the little pukers, going back and forth with basins, changing sheets and trying not to breathe in through your nose. And, of course, it's an ineffable law of nature that when you present a puking child with a basin, he will do his best to land puke everywhere but in the basin.
Half way through the week, butler and housekeeper came down with the bug. The gentry don't tend to be too understanding when their servants get sick however. You have to try and squeeze puking in between your usual duties. The house went to pot. By Friday, the place looked so bad, if we had been burgled, we wouldn't have noticed. The electric nanny (the TV) was on more or less around the clock, while everyone lay on the couch groaning.
Conor was the first to come out of it, and, like all toddlers, he went from gravely ill to perfectly healthy in about five minutes. But neither of his puking parents could handle his energy levels. He got his hands on the magic wand out of his big sister's magic set and cracked his five-week-old sister over the head with it. She howled. We howled. I suppose we should be grateful he didn't transform her into a frog.