There are two things common to all first-time parents, regardless of their nation, creed or race.
The first is that they don't know what they're doing.
The second is that they don't want anyone -- and most especially their families -- to know that.
Our first child was a boy.
His sex wasn't important to me, nor to my wife, nor to my parents. You know the saying: 'Just so long as the baby's healthy.' And he was.
Oh, but my father's sisters -- all six of them, all older than Dad -- were all thoroughly imbued with the-name-must-go-on ethos. Family lore has it that my mother was instructed by her then new mother-in-law that babies must continue to be born until one could preserve the Dawson name. I was the one.
To celebrate the birth of the Dawson heir, Michael, three or four of his Great Aunts journeyed from Newcastle to Canberra. To celebrate the birth ... and to view the vehicle by which the name would be continued.
He was only ten days old.
After a convivial dinner at my parent's home, I was sitting quietly, engaging the elderly ladies in conversation, enjoying a warm family atmosphere and, I must confess, a sense of being myself the centre of attention.
Judy, my wife, had whisked our little one off to do motherly things. Minutes passed, which I did not notice, while mother and son remained absent. More minutes passed. I idly wondered whether the delay was inordinate, whether I should contemplate a search. A door near the lounge room opened.
'Stephen,' my wife called, sounding strangely subdued. I went to her.
Now there a few things you must understand. First, my parents had graciously invited Judy to do her motherly things in their bedroom. They were concerned that she preserve her back, so all could be performed on their bed.
Second, Dad had just finished repainting the entire interior of the house.
Third, Mum is very careful to keep her home tidy and, above all, clean.
Fourth, well ... young Michael was only five days home from hospital. We had been permitted to solo with him for only this very, very short time. We were but learners in the ancient tradition of parenting.
So, to my parent's bedroom. There was Michael, snugly wrapped in his baby blanket, looking cute and asleep. Neither condition was unusual.
Judy also looked cute but mortified. I could see nothing amiss. She gestured towards the door by which I had entered. I looked. I was mystified. 'What is it?' I asked. She waved again. I saw it.
A brown streak, describing a gentle arc against the glossy white of the door. Well, not brown exactly ... more like a liquidy light tan.
'What happened?' I inquired, puzzled.
'I was just shaking out Michael's blanket. I didn't know he'd leaked!' replied my beloved.
I guffawed. Judy didn't think it was very funny. Duty called. I pulled myself together.
Fortunately my parents have an ensuite to their bedroom. A little damp toilet paper and soon the door was clean. Reaching up towards its top, I noticed that it extended beyond the door onto that little area of blank wall between door frame and ceiling. I dabbed at that too, using the remnants of soggy -- and now less than white -- paper.
A thought occurred to me. I looked up. I examined the ceiling. I saw what my imagination wasn't capable of envisaging: a great splash of sloppy baby poo extending most of the way across the ceiling.
That was too much. My precarious self control gone, I fell onto my parent's bed in hysterical laughter. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life.
It was the saddest thing my wife had ever seen in her life. Somehow, Judy just couldn't see the humour in it.
This penetrated -- eventually -- so I tried to comfort her.
'It's okay. They won't mind. I'll just get a towel or something to clean up.' I made for the door.
'No! I don't want them to know!' Mortification? Insufficient. How about an urgent desire in my wife for the world to come to end, for World War III to start right at that instant, with the first ICBM descending on a certain home in Canberra. How about a welcoming of the Four Horsemen rather than have our parental inadequacies exposed to family.
'We'll clean it up,' I was told. 'Here, take Michael out to them.' Brilliant! Giving them temporary custody of the grand son and nephew would divert them from wondering about us ... for a while.
I did the deed, stifling the looming chuckles, and returned to my wife, and to the interminable clean up.
Twice my mother came to the room, knocking discreetly at the door. 'Is everything all right?' she inquired, lovingly the first time, with a note of concern in her voice the second.
'Yes,' I answered duplicitously, 'We'll be out in a minute.'
What else could I say? What on earth could she have thought we were getting up to in her bedroom?
Our labour was to clean several square metres of ceiling -- painted in a flat paint to which most substances adhere much better than to Araldite -- with the materials at hand: unlimited quantities of water and a roll of toilet paper.
Well ... not quite a roll. Using a whole roll could lead to probing questions. I judged that my parents were unlikely to have retained in their minds a clear impression that the roll was nearly new, and would not be unduly disturbed upon finding, when next they were called by nature, a toilet roll not quite nearly empty.
Oh, the weighty matters that exercise our minds at times like these!
So, unlimited quantities of water and perhaps half a roll of toilet paper. With which to dampen the ceiling, clean the ceiling, dry the ceiling.
Our trial was to do this whilst handicapped by our individual emotional states. Mine: incipient idiocy brought on by hilarity overload. Judy's: near paralysis brought on by the possibility of visible imperfection before the in-laws.
But, well, eventually the labour was performed, eventually all was restored -- or at least as well as we could manage in the dim light. My hysterics were never far from the surface and erupted periodically throughout. But having finished, we donned unconcerned demeanours and rejoined the extended family.
My parents never mentioned the depleted toilet roll. They never said if they woke up one morning and saw, with the sunlight streaming through their window, suspicious smears across the previously pristine ceiling.
And we have never told them why we found it necessary to seclude ourselves in their bedroom for an extraordinarily long time.
Michael is now ten and still this has never been revealed to his grandparents. My parents follow the newspapers. So by the time you are reading this, we shall have to have gone to them, gently broken the news -- shared the shameful secret -- and, I fully expect, watched them fall about with laughter.
© 1997 - Stephen Dawson