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BLENDING IN The children and Edwin McGreal in the playroom.

Fish out of Water

Edwin McGreal

The times, they are a-changin’.
All going well, next November my wife and I will welcome our first child into the world.
The Scouts motto is ‘Be Prepared’. I didn’t go to the Scouts. I’m not prepared. At all.
I wake some nights with panic at the thought of us leaving the hospital and being responsible for another human being. I’ve just about cracked how to look after myself.
But, being disorganised I haven’t really done much about getting myself ready either. Entreaties to read up, watch relevant documentaries have fallen on deaf ears. I remain wholly unprepared.
I should have some idea of what’s coming. My sister has three kids under the age of four, my wife has ten nieces and nephews. I’ve seen all that’s involved.
But, like watching Mayo in Croke Park, I’ve been a spectator. I’ve never been in the arena, changing nappies, putting kids to bed and being the responsible adult that someone aged 34 should be.
When we visit my sister she might ask me to ‘keep an eye’ on the kids for five minutes while she runs to the shop. She doesn’t say it too often. Maybe it’s because she’s very likely to come back and see me screaming at the television, absorbed in a football game and one of her daughters halfway out the window and the other daughter finding wonderfully creative ways to leave every corner of the room a mess. There’d be even greater trouble if my nephew was at the crawling stage.
So in about three months time I will very much be a fish out of water. To try to give me some insight into what’s ahead it seemed like spending time getting a feel for it was a good fit for my Fish out of Water entry.
So off I went to Ann-Marie Morley’s childcare and afterschool service in Westport.
Ann-Marie and her merry band of kids were very welcoming. I think they sensed my trepidation. They minded me as much as the other way round.
I got to watch and observe. Or at least that was my plan but Ann-Marie wasn’t letting me off the hook that easily so I’m thrown straight into the middle of it, playing a fun board game called Pictureka.
The big child in me has no problem with this side of it, playing games and having fun.
The kids all seem to be really enjoying themselves and are great buddies, even if their ages range from 17 months to eleven years.
I ask two of the boys if they are brothers. “No, but I wish we were,” replies the elder of the two. Cute doesn’t come close enough.
They are all in their element and it looks like fierce easy work altogether - what’s all the fuss about?  
But before I start naively thinking it’s a walk in the park, I see Ann-Marie demonstrate one vital skill - diplomacy.
As the board game progresses, one child has not won any cards and it looks like tears are imminent. They just miss out on getting the next trick but Ann-Marie throws the card their way all the same and defuses the problem before it starts and we’re all smiles again. Being able to be proactive - and nip it in the bud in advance - rather than reactive, and trying to stem the tears when they start to flow, is key.
Of course the fact is that all of the kids here are walking and talking. Much of the hard work is already out of the way.

Qualification
Ann-Marie is expecting her first child one month after my wife but if there was a job interview for parenting, she would ace it and I’d be a long time looking for work.
But she’s quick to stress that it’s meant to be very different when it is your own. We’ve been told this by a lot of parents. While you might be fair but firm with other children, you’re a lot easier to manipulate when it’s your own child that’s looking up at you.
My wife is certain I’ll be far too soft and that she will be full-time playing the bad cop role in our double act.
Friday was the last day at Ann-Marie’s before a two week break. After we left they were heading over to Castlebar to see The BFG in the cinema. They’re all excited about the prospect and all the ‘treat’ bags they’ll be bringing. But as they talk about popcorn and chocolate, a previous controversy rears its head.
“Have you enough lollies for us all,” one girl asks. Ann-Marie nods and recalls the drama.
“We had less lollies than there were heads looking back at me.” That took her best negotiation skills, a vital tool when things don’t go to plan. Two kids agreed to take jellies instead and war was averted. All in a day’s work. All ahead of us.
We go out the back for the kids to take shots on me in a kick about. I try to perfect the ‘letting it in without looking like I’m letting it in’ routine before realising eleven-year-old Conor would score no matter how much I tried to stop him.
I wonder how my wife and i manage this full-time?
Dinner follows afterwards and the kids are full of smiles and manners as I dish out the food.  
Get back to me in four years and I’ll tell you how we fared out. Right now it feels like a long hibernation is ahead of us. Time to start preparing!

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