In which I realise the perils of parenting
I WAS on babysitting duty for my three-and-a-half-year-old nephew over the weekend. My shift was from 7am on Saturday until 9am on Monday.
"So did you get the whole parenting experience?" asked his father when I dropped his son home, free of injury and with newly acquired curse words.
He made it sound as though I had paid €5 to jump onboard the MOTHER simulator thrill ride at Epcot, complete with 3D visuals of every single Disney movie ever made and realistic surround sound effects of a child repeatedly asking "why?".
But he's right: I did spend a lot of time over the weekend wondering if this whole parenting lark was for me and, crucially, if I've reached the point at which I'm ready to bring up a child of my own.
It's all too common to hear people decide they are ready to have a child because they've met The One, or because they have advanced to a certain stage in their career, or because they've finally bought that three bed semi-d.
Rarely do you hear people examining if they are actually ready to bring up a child; whether they have reached a level of maturity and contentment and worked through their issues and demons.
The real milestones that people need to hit before they have a child are emotional, not material. Do you have a healthy body image? What kind of relationship do you have with alcohol? Have you done everything you can to get on top of your anxiety disorder?
Children inherit much more than your eye colour, so you need to be the best possible version of yourself before you bring another version of yourself into the world.
My friend told me that parenting is a mirror. Being the father of two children, he says, is akin to coming face-to-face with every aspect of yourself, good and bad.
A child will expose all your short comings. In early life it will manifest as mimicry; in later life it will manifest as drama. I had a glimpse in this mirror over the weekend and it was terrifying. My nephew, like all children, is extraordinarily astute.
He may not have an excellent grasp of the English language but he has a Masters in sensing energy and reading the tone of a situation.
I found that you have to be your authentic self around a child. They instinctively know when emotion is heartfelt because sincerity is their bedrock (unless there is sugar involved, but that's for another day).
Last weekend, I was given no other option but to get into the moment. There was no yesterday and no tomorrow. Just the now.
He might even be at the frontiers of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which essentially rewires the brain using repetition. "Hi Katie." "Hi Davy." "Hi Katie."
"Stay in the moment!" they seem to be saying. "Don't let your mind go elsewhere."
Within the first few hours of babysitting duty I realised that there would be no yoga for me. But then I realised that my nephew was a form of meditation.
All holistic practices are to get 'out of your head' which is exactly where you go when you're engaged in playtime with a child. It's a magical mindspace.
On Sunday evening I put on the 'Happy Feet' soundtrack and took out my hoola-hoop. He's probably the second biggest fan of my hoola-hoop, after me.
We were B-O-N-D-I-N-G, as my mother spelt out (in case saying the word would alert him to the fact that I had to go to work in the morning).
"I really like you, Katie," he said as I twirled around the room. "We live in Lego Land and everyone else lives in Poo-Poo Land." I couldn't have said it better myself.
But back to Poo-Poo Land I had to go on Monday. Davy suggested that I wear my red dress and paint back on the cat whiskers that I had decorated my face with on Saturday. For a moment I actually considered it.
And that worried me. I know children take up every spare minute of your time outside the workplace but I hadn't thought about the transition back to the workplace. It's like coming out of a trance.
It's a complete shift of gears for which I wasn't prepared. Walking into work reminded me of the lost weekends of my early 20s when I'd roll in on Monday morning with grass in my hair, three nightclub stamps still affixed to my wrist and a dangerous glint in my eye.
Last weekend was similar in many ways. After spending it organising treasure hunts, eating Happy Meals, discovering zoo animals, baking cookies and creating nature tables, I came into work on Monday morning almost speaking a different language.
"Yucky!" I said when I saw the mugs piled up in the kitchen. "Oh, he's just a boldie," I remarked about an obstinate client. And I was speaking very slooowly and em-phat-ically.
Balancing work life and family life is always at the forefront of my mind when I consider becoming a mother. Only time and energy used to be the units of measurement.
Now I'm contemplating how to successfully transition from Lego Land to Poo-Poo Land. One minute you're pretending to be a kangaroo, the next you're implementing pay cuts.
I assume working parents compartmentalise by thinking "back to the real world now".
But I'm sure they sometimes wonder just which world that is.