Dear Dave

Tuesday 27 February 2007

Scary Karen

Dear Dave,

Did I tell you about Scary Karen?

We met when I inadvertently sat down next to her during biscuit time at parent and toddler recently. She was older than most of the other mums, big and looked serious. She started a conversation by introducing her toddler. "This is my son, Malcolm. He's named after my dead brother." She followed this up by introducing her baby. "This is William. He's named after my uncle. He's dead now, too." She then proceeded to breastfeed the baby.

Now I'm used to being around breastfeeding mothers. Some are so subtle that I've been talking to them for five minutes before I realise there's a baby up their jumper. Most use a certain level of discretion or at least give me enough warning to look away while their human limpet gets properly attached. Not many wap out an enormous quivering boob right in front of me while continuing to fill me in on the details of their deceased relatives. I just about choked on my chocolate digestive. It was scary.

Most people would probably have smiled politely, gulped down their coffee and then whisked their bemused child off for an unexpected nappy change. I, however, have the unfortunate character flaw of being a 'good listener'. If someone starts talking to me then I'll just sit there in rapt attention like a toddler mesmerised by a row of flashing lights. I'll nod and smile and occasionally interject but I'll be unable to move as my brain is slowly filled to bursting point by knowledge of what everyone in someone else's family had to eat for lunch in a museum of miniature teapots on a daytrip to Dumfries. Even better, as they consider exactly how many little jars of jam were consumed, my screensaver face kicks in and I'm really in trouble. When my brain explodes from shear tedium it would be nice if I developed a blank gape and a vacant stare. Maybe then I'd get left alone. Instead my facial muscles slump idly into an expression of sage-like thought and concentration. This just makes it look like I'm listening even harder. I get to hear all about the teapots and an exhibition of replica steam engines whittled out of railway sleepers from around the world.

So I sat there and quickly discovered that Scary Karen is a 'good talker'. There was no escape. I learnt about her bowel surgery, aromatherapy, her difficult experiences in childbirth, a past life as a torturer and the importance of dental hygiene. She only stopped when the helpers started turning out the lights. Marie had already climbed into her buggy and was straining forwards while holding onto the frame in a doomed effort to drag herself home. We left at speed but I kept looking over my shoulder to check Karen wasn't following us.

The next week was similar except she hunted me out and sat next to me. Then it was wap, choke, chat all over again. I nodded attentively as I was informed about the wonders of homemade cottage cheese, the variable consistency of cat vomit and the dangers of naked yoga on a bus. As soon as everything went dark I grabbed the buggy and ran, screams of "You don't push! I pull me!" trailing behind us down the street.

Things have not improved much since. I've considered changing toddler groups but I know lots of the people at St Jude's, it's close, the chairs are comfy and there's nothing much else on a Monday anyway. I've been trying to disagree more audibly with everything Karen says but she doesn't appear to have noticed. Worse still, she's starting another group on a Wednesday morning in the Millennium Centre which is virtually across the road from my house. She's got the hall booked for tomorrow and invited along a few people she met doing community service. And, you've guessed it, she wants me to be one of the group's founder members.

Another of my character flaws is that I'm not great with conflict. I much prefer to give someone a valid excuse for not doing something than simply tell them I'd rather eat my only pair of shoes. I told Karen that I need Wednesday mornings to do my grocery shopping. She suggested using the internet and getting a delivery. I reckoned it was easier going to the store myself. She gave me a computing tutorial. I said that I didn't really trust some random assistant in Tesco to choose my bananas. She told me she worked as an assistant in Tesco. I... I caved in. I said I'll go.

It's going to be me, Marie, Scary Karen, a select band of her scary friends and a gaggle of their no doubt scary children.

I'm a little nervous.

Yours in a woman's world,


Sunday 25 February 2007

Another child

Dear Dave,

Congratulations! It's great to hear Sam has a little brother or sister on the way. I'm glad the scan went fine and Liz is doing OK. With luck she'll stop being sick at the mention of broccoli soon.

In your letter it sounds like you're somewhere on the border between Excitement and Panic. This is of course a fantastic locale to visit, full of unexpected career changes, lifestyle choices and sky-diving taster sessions, but you wouldn't want to live there. Take a deep breath. Resist the siren call of olive farming in Tuscany, of difficult to explain Visa bills and of mysterious women named Svetlana. Come home to the land in which every housedad should start their day - the land of Hopeful Trepidation. You may end the day in Rage or Despair but it's more likely that things will simply muddle along in the eventual direction of A Beer on the Sofa in Front of CSI. (Don't confuse Hopeful Trepidation with Blind Optimism, however - always travel with a pack of babywipes, a change of socks, three spare nappies and a big stick).

Which is just another way of saying don't worry, you'll cope. Trust me. I've got three under-sevens and I'm still sane... OK, I admit I'm recovering from depression and I've just described your emotional state in terms of a text adventure but I'm not yet entirely crazy and I still have my health. Apart from the bad back from lifting Fraser, this flu Marie gave me and a touch of conjunctivitis I picked up from Lewis...

Hmm... I'll come in again.

Two children? You'll be fine. I've got three and I'm still clinging to the last vestiges of reason and I'm not dead yet. No worries.

Perhaps this isn't as reassuring as I'd hoped. The truth is, you are going to have your hands full for a while. I used to know a guy who had five kids under nine years old. He was a somewhat busy man but he and his wife sailed around quite serenely in a sea of children. He told me that one child changes your life, a second child changes your life again and beyond that there's not much more left to change.

He was probably right. Looking after a baby takes plenty of time. When Fraser was small, I calculated that taking care of him took eight hours a day, nine days a week. It wasn't necessarily hard or constant labour, though. I could sit in an armchair and watch re-runs of ER while giving him a bottle and then get on with other stuff while he had a nap. Lewis made things busier. There was always an awake child to be entertained and I was doing eleven days a week. That may not sound like a vast increase in workload but think of it more in terms of the drastic decrease in time left for anything else, including looking after another child. When Marie arrived, she simply had to fit in.

So, yes, your life is about to change again but not as much as last time and you're on a roll now -you might as well keep going. Still, having another child always seems daunting. You look at a dad with two children and wonder how he copes. He looks at me and my three in bewilderment. I look at a mum with four kids and break into manic giggling while my eye starts to twitch. She smiles sweetly and sails off serenely in her little sea of children. Bah...

Don't be discouraged, though. She doesn't have superhuman powers or an extraordinary level of patience. She's smiling because she's going to be home in ten minutes and then she'll be able to lock the little blighters back in their cage, put her feet up and watch Trisha.

You see, children expand to fill the time you have available for them. If you've only got five minutes they'll settle for that but if you've got all day then they'll take it. One of the most immediate advantages to having multiple children is you quickly learn that a crying child doesn't explode if you leave him for more than ten seconds. Trying to play Snakes and Ladders with one, while you change another and feed a third is just going to end up in some form of misfortune. They have to wait their turn, no matter how much they whine. The more children you have, the more time you will spend ignoring most of them. Once you're good at it you can spend some of the time ignoring all of them and sneak off for a cup of coffee and a quick surf.

Got to look forward to something... (Don't worry, you'll cope).

Yours in a woman's world,


P.S. Wish me luck on Monday - Scary Karen is after me.

Friday 23 February 2007


Dear Dave,

I don't really remember my parents being ill when I was small. I know now that this is because I was the youngest of four and by the time I came along they had had EVERYTHING already.
Small children - you love them, you take care off them, you give them your energy and your youth. How do they repay you? They go out into the world and bring you back diseases, that's how.

Bleargh. I'm off to overdose on Lockets (again),

Yours in a woman's world,


Tuesday 20 February 2007

Life after Children

Dear Dave,

You're right - I have been getting a little ahead of myself in my letters so far. I should probably tell you some more about myself and my family.

My name is Ed, I'm thirty-three and I'm a housedad. I used to be a computer programmer in a Large Banking Organisation. I met my wife, Sarah, at LBO. She works in marketing. At the point our eldest son, Fraser, was born I gave up lounging around surfing and drinking coffee all day in order to put in some really hard graft looking after him. He's now six. We also have Lewis who's four and Marie who's not long turned two. Now I'm lucky to check my email some days, let alone stir up a flamewar on a Star Trek fansite just for fun. As for coffee, I'm like that kid in Signs except I have half-full mugs of tepid cafedirect littered round the place rather than glasses of water. Any alien tries to invade my home and I'm going to pump it full of caffeine, ask it which Captain it thinks is best and then watch it explode in a convulsion of twitching confusion. (A good parent needs a back up plan for every eventuality).

Anyway... We get by. Sarah likes her job most of the time and does well for us. Her boss at LBO is a bit of an idiot who tends to favour those members of the team who go golfing with him (i.e. the men) but with luck he'll do something really stupid soon and get banished to the Swedish office. Fraser's enjoying school, Lewis starts in August and Marie might get a place at nursery from October.

People have already started asking me what I plan to do in all my spare time once I've got all three children out of the house. Obviously I'm going to eat my breakfast in peace while reading GameCentral on Teletext and then follow that up with a spot of cleaning, a chocolate biscuit and an actually hot cup of coffee. Unfortunately the same people find it mildly disappointing that I don't have a scheme for world domination ready to put into action during my two hours a day... on weekdays... during term-time... when all the kids are well.

Maybe I am setting my aim too low. Maybe I can achieve more than sorting out the wilderness beyond the backdoor or filing the bank statements from the year before last. After all, I no longer have cleaning the windows left to look forward to. (Sarah found stuff growing on the inside of one of them the other day so I had to bring the maintenance schedule forward. Still, they're good until 2010 now). Let's see... What are the possibilities:
  • I could put some more work into the script of Housedad! - The Musical. It's a classic tale of one man's struggle to be accepted into the local Women's Institute, featuring nuns on rollerskates, performing dolphins, a dream sequence involving Princess Leia in a gold bikini and the music of S Club 7. I see it as a semi-autobiographical work with myself played by H from Steps.
  • I could learn a new skill. From taxidermy to Kung Fu there are a wealth of possibilities out there. I'm sure every single one of them has some kind of practical application for childcare as well.
  • Get a job. There must be something available that runs for a couple of hours on a weekday morning. It probably involves being underpaid, overworked and getting filthy, though. I've had enough of that already.
  • I could help out at the nursery. See above.
  • Crime. Flexible hours, performance related bonuses and low entry requirements. My preference would be for some form of pyramid selling fraud or chain-letter scam. I could send out letters with six names on (mine and five aliases). The recipients would have to send everyone on the list three shares in Microsoft, take the top name off, add their name at the bottom and pass it on. If I ever needed to hide evidence I'd just give it to one of the kids, tell them it was really important and a wait approximately a minute for it to mysteriously vanish. I'd have little chance of being caught and I'd own Bill Gates. Excellent.

Or maybe I'll just have a rest. I'll be owed seven and a half years of lunch hours by then - that's an awful lot of Phil and Fern...

Yours in a woman's world,


Saturday 17 February 2007

Parent and Toddler

Dear Dave,

Thank you for telling me about your experiences with little Sam at the parent and toddler group. It sounds like you're blending in well. (Or at least as well as any man can in a room full of women who don't believe he can really exist. You'll know you've really cracked it when someone asks you what your husband does for a living). I have to tell you, though, that the competitiveness you mention is unavoidable. The desire to come out on top always surfaces whenever any group of children is involved.

The parents are bound to succumb.

It starts innocently enough as parent A checks that her kid is normal – that it's not too odd for a child to only have had four teeth at a year, or to still be crawling at fifteen months. Parent B reassures. Her child only had six teeth at a year and only learnt to walk at fourteen months. Parent A isn't reassured. Six teeth is more than four. How about speech? Can child B say 'tractor'? Ha, no! That's a point back to Parent A. Parent B retaliates. How many blocks can Child A stack? Only twelve? Really? He hasn't built a scale model of St Paul's, complete with dome? Well, I'm sure he'll learn. 3-1 to Parent B.

Then it escalates.

Before long there are unconfirmed reports of advanced calculus and fluency in five distinct and unrelated languages. Meanwhile the kids happily sit oblivious, chewing on brightly coloured bits of plastic.

It's very strange. Still, Genius Girl came out on top today. At playgroup she demonstrated her innate understanding of the world's socio-economic system and put the knowledge into practice. She took the brightly coloured bits of plastic from the other children, chewed on them herself and then gave them to the nearest adult. In essence, she took from the little people, gave to the big people and had her own small nibble on the way. There's a bright future ahead of her in the City. That or a beating by a mob of angry toddlers.

Ho well, at least she'll probably grow out of it. When she's eighteen, the chances are that she'll have tie-dye clothes, peace symbols painted on her cheeks and a Communist boyfriend. They'll go off to India together to hug trees. Meanwhile I'll still be playing the Progeny Edition of Top Trumps with the neighbours. (You call your kid a dropout? How many Highers did he fail? Ha! And I bet his girlfriend's only a socialist…).

As I said, the competitiveness is unavoidable. If you think you're not doing it, it probably just means you're winning. The important thing is to love the kid even if you're losing.

Oh and by the way, I'm glad to hear that Sam's differentiation is coming along nicely but I have to tell you that Genius Girl can already integrate trig functions.

And she can speak Swahili.

Yours, as ever, in a woman's world,


Wednesday 14 February 2007

The Revolution Begins

Dear Dave,

Thank you for your very positive reply to my first letter. The revolution has begun. Housedads of the world unite! Let's make people realise that men can look after children too. The time has come for us to march on Downing Street and make our demands for a more equal society:

  1. Derogatory comments which assume any man solely in charge of a child is a Sunday parent are to be banned. No old lady who walks straight into a male-driven pushchair causing a pile-up shall be allowed to get away with saying, 'Looks like you need a bit of practise, dear.'
  2. Baby facilities accessible to dads in public places will smell as nice as the ones available for mums. (And we want the comfy chairs too. We know they're in there).
  3. Mums are to be forbidden from looking at us sideways when they learn that some misguided career woman has left us caring for her offspring all day.
  4. We want higher prams.
  5. We want bigger biscuits. (Not that mums already have bigger biscuits but it's worth having something to bargain away and, you never know, we might be able to slip it past Tony).
  6. We want lower…
Oh, who am I kidding? There are only the two of us. We'd have difficulty causing a stir outside Number Ten even if we were wearing balaclavas and speaking with Irish accents. Besides, we'd have the kids with us. Everyone would just assume we'd been sent to the shops to pick up a pack of nappies while our wives took a breather.

Maybe we could put the kids in balaclavas…

No, better leave them out of this and struggle on.

I always think that being a househusband must be a bit like being a female car mechanic. Members of the opposite sex just don't take you seriously. For goodness sake, it's as if they think we don't know a baby's backside from its elbow and that's the first lesson you learn, believe me… Of course, for the full effect, it's best to strap a baby to your front using one of those carriers and then go to the shops. If the baby is facing outwards then every female you meet will spend the entire time talking to your chest. It's a salutary experience. Maybe we're not the only ones with demands to make. Maybe we should let female car mechanics into the group.

Maybe I should clear that with my wife first…

Ho well, I'll be in contact again soon. I'll leave you with my top tips for telling a baby's backside from his or her elbow:
  • If it smells bad then it's probably the backside. No guarantees, though. Where's the baby been? When was the baby last washed (in clean water)?
  • If it's in a nappy then, again, it's probably the backside. Still no guarantees, though – you may have got it wrong last time.
  • If it's sharp and in your eye then it's the elbow every time. Unless it's a knee. Or the TV remote. Or a brick. Or…
Yours in a woman's world,


Friday 9 February 2007

Message in a Bottle

Dear Dave,

I hope this letter finds you well. Actually, I just hope this letter finds you. 'Dave-the-dad-who-stays-home, Leeds,' doesn't give the postie much to go on. Still, it's worth a shot. I'm guessing you must live in Leeds because everyone I know in the entire country has heard of you, so you must live somewhere fairly central. As for your name, well, everyone I ever meet is called Dave and so it's a fair bet. Then again, I haven't actually met you, which might throw the statistics and I… Oh, never mind, I'm wittering on like a man who was up half the night being vomited on by a two-year-old.

Which brings me to my point.

Seeing as we've never met, maybe I'd better explain who I am. I'm the other one. Yes, the other housedad! I thought we should get a bit of a correspondence going to share our experiences because it's a mum's world we live in and no one really seems to understand. For instance, whenever I explain that I'm a housedad, people look confused and then remember that, in this politically correct age, every individual has an equal right to an outlandish and deviant lifestyle. They stop looking confused, they laugh nervously and then they affirm me. They tell me that housedads are quite common these days. After all, their mother's hairdresser's acquaintance's nephew stays home and looks after his children.

I smile and nod. 'Yes, we're all over the place,' I say. Then I go home and phone my aunt and tell her to stop gossiping to random hairdressers about me and the kids.

Of course, it's not always me they're talking about - sometimes they're talking about you – but I'm pretty sure there are only the two of us. We need to stick together. I'm fed up of just discussing babies at parent and toddler group. I want more. I want to share some meaningful insights on fatherhood, football and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At the very least, I want to discuss PlayStations as well as poo.

Please write back if you are able. If you're too busy searching the house for wooden bricks in an assortment of colours, then I quite understand. We have a tub that claims it contained a hundred when we bought it. At the last count there were twenty-three and the others aren't in the washing-machine. Where do they go? Which reminds me, I had a box of tissues here a minute ago…

D'oh! Got to go,

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Vomit Girl encloses several handfuls of shredded Kleenex for your little boy.

Join Ed as he embarks on the next step of the housedad revolution - click on the 'Newer Post' button below! (It's down there somewhere, honestly. Try underneath the ads...)