The Germ

I wrote this in 2011, when my first-born, Edie, was 20 months. We’ve had two more kids since – both, like their older sister, terrible sleepers – but as much as life has changed since, it feels like yesterday. The deeper sentiments are still relevant: The Dog (or The Germ as I’ve since re-named it) still growls sometimes, and life remains a crazy, whirring mess.

It might be Melbourne’s ever-lingering winter, but I’ve battled The Germ a bit of late.

So it was with heavy resignation that I hauled myself out of bed and into the 6am darkness this morning.

But I’m a daddy with daddy responsibilities, and I knew it was time to face the day when it became clear that my darling 20-month-old Edie – who’d been wedged between Tash and I, drunk with the warmth of hot milk from the bottle she’d discarded with all the grace of a bogan tossing an empty VB can over his shoulder at a B&S ball – wasn’t going back to sleep.

When the coo-coos and half-words get louder (“Pippy!… Bon-Bon!… Hat!… Airplane up-above!… Mumma!… Dadda!…”) and she’s tired of attaching and re-attaching herself to her mother’s nipple, there’s no other option than to go with my daughter’s flow.

She practically roosts me out of bed. Her little feet rush up the hallway and into the lounge room. It’s time for nursery rhymes.

No, I’m not allowed to change her soiled nappy yet.

No, it’s not time for porridge and toast.

Just Mary had a Little Lamb and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

But she’s a little less wriggly this morning, as if sensing that all is not 100 per cent in Daddy’s world. (Yes, kids are far cannier than we give them credit for.) Instead of dragging me from the couch to her miniature dining table for tea parties, then to the building blocks, her toy guitar and, finally, the office to watch nursery rhymes on the computer (even though they’re already on the TV), she snuggles with me under a blanket on the couch for 15 glorious minutes, lying perfectly still, aside from the odd hand movement that accompanies the tunes.

After Incy Wincy and Miss Muffet have danced their merry jig, over and over and over again, she signals that she wants porridge and she sits patiently in her high chair while I prepare it, with honey (or, “hunna”), and then, to my surprise, eats most of it. She stays put in her high chair as I prepare her toast and Vegemite.

This Brady Bunch-esque behaviour doesn’t last, however, and before I can step in she back in our bedroom and lying across her sleeping mother trying to get at her breast.

It’s clear that Edie’s putting a serious dampener on Tash’s sleep-in, so I force her jacket and shoes on and we’re out the door.

At the local cafe it’s a large and strong latte for me, a Babycino for her. The café is quiet. Too quiet. Edie’s in a menacing mood. In the blink of an eye, the sugar bowl is emptied on to the table and the granules are showered with the water from my glass and her cup. She’s moving far too fast. Her babycino is promptly delivered, which should be a distraction, but isn’t: soon enough her already-Vegemited face is smeared with chocolate dust and milk – and then, as I make the rookie mistake of sipping my coffee, she flicks her little wrist and the table cops the remainder of the babycino. Her porcelain cup smashes on the floor and my gut churns with swarms of dread. I’m teetering.


… as I make the rookie mistake of sipping my coffee, she flicks her little wrist and the table cops the remainder of the babycino.

I grab her and hold her in close for a couple of minutes – long enough to take several deep breaths and for my racing heart to subside – before setting her back down on her seat. It’s then that I catch her eyes, shining with life, and her gap-toothed smile: so familiar. Like catching your reflection in the mirror only to have you angel-self staring back. Time stops for the briefest moment.

The melody of U2’s “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own” comes at me, as if from nowhere, its words imprinting my brain: the chorus “and it’s you when I look in the mirror…” and, from the second verse: “we’re the same soul.” My enthusiasm for U2 – and, in particular, Bono – has fluctuated over the decades, but there’s something stirring about the way he sings the latter line.

The deepest feeling of love washed over me. My daughter had many of my features; my family’s silly sense of humour. She didn’t, thankfully, have my pointy nose, but she was my heart, my soul. She belonged to me, and I, her. We were the same soul.

The mess Edie was creating didn’t matter. And neither did the bullshit swarming anxiety that my heart and head has battled to keep at bay since I was a kid. How I didn’t want Edie to be afflicted by The Germ.

The café is busy now; a queue of office workers spills outside. Edie jumps on my lap as a staffer, wet cloth and brush-and-shovel to hand, approaches our table. Outside the sunshine is breaking through and another city-bound train signals its departure. I cuddle Edie in close again.

I’m working today, but not until this afternoon.

For now, it’s quality time with my favourite person in the world.

How to bottle this moment so I can hose down the next downer?

But there’s no time to think about that too much, which is good. She’s off me and walking behind the counter. I catch her, thrust a pair of two-dollar coins into her hand to pay the staff.

Then it’s “bye-bye…” and the whole cafe seems to be smiling.

Even the guy wiping up our mess.

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