Sorry to hear your neighbour thinks you're moving in on his wife. I take it he believes that because you're both home most of the time there's more scope for temptation.
Which is just mad.
He doubtless goes off in a suit to a workplace full of smartly-dressed female colleagues who he has ample chance to meet up with in his lunch hour. You, meanwhile, are run ragged by a toddler every minute of the day, barely have a moment to brush your hair and are covered in a multitude of minor stains. Also, quite how you'd find the opportunity to get up to something - let alone keep it secret - with three small kids between you, is another matter. I can't sneak away for a four minute game of Geometry Wars on the Xbox without a little person searching me out and demanding some attention.
If he keeps hassling you, drop Sam round their house one Saturday morning and let him witness how impractical the whole suggestion is at first-hand. I don't know about you, but it can be hard finding time and energy for the woman I already have in my life. I'm not looking to borrow another.
That said, though, I did have an uncomfortable conversation myself the other day. I answered the phone and a well-spoken and attractive-sounding woman on the other end said, "It's Deborah."
The name didn't ring any bells straight off and I didn't recognise the voice. "Er..."
"Steve's wife." I still couldn't place her. "You know - Useless Dad."
"Oh!" I'd spoken to her briefly at parent and toddler a few times but not for several weeks. I remembered her as intimidatingly confident and pretty. Calling her own husband by the derogatory nickname I'd given him had the combined effect of making me warm to her but also of scaring me. I couldn't recall having mentioned the name in public. What else did she know? More than that, what did she want and how had she tracked me down?
She smiled at me down the phone. "I was wondering if you want to meet up for coffee?" For some reason I felt like a fly being waved at by a cheery spider. Something didn't entirely add up.
"I've got the cleaner in just now but she won't be here long - it's only some tidying up really. Why don't you come round at eleven?"
Normally that would be a rubbish time but Lewis was going round to a friend's house after nursery so I didn't have to collect him. I had the distinct suspicion, however, that Deborah was the kind of woman who would remember that I had a child in morning nursery. She probably even had his name, birthday and favourite foods in her mental Rolodex. So why would she suggest a time that she knew I wouldn't normally be able to make? Unless she already knew it wasn't a normal day... But she couldn't possibly know that unless the kids' conspiracy had reached new heights and they were bringing in adults to help them... But that was insane thinking... I was reading too much into things. I... I decided to be non-committal.
"How did you get my number?"
"It was stuck to our fridge."
Being a man in a woman's world has many advantages, such as receiving adulation in the park for being able to reach high enough to unwrap the swings and having a changing room all to ourselves at swimming lessons. One of the disadvantages is that taking the kids round to visit their friends can be a little awkward. It's just socially odd meeting up with a woman in her house without any other adults present. It's not like we're alone or that anything could possibly happen or that I would want anything to happen - it's just strange. I couldn't help feeling it would be even stranger going round to see a woman who was rapidly giving the impression of stalking me.
"Oh come on," she said, discerning my reticence. "I hear the girls get on really well. It would be good for them to get to know each other better. I'll make a cake. We only live ten minutes away."
As attempts to get me to do things go, that was pretty persuasive. She made me feel like a bad parent for not wanting to go and then pointed out the way to be a good parent involved only a short walk to eat free cake. Genius! After a bit more back-pedalling, I eventually agreed to take Marie round and sorted the details. As soon as Deborah hung-up, however, I speed-dialled Sarah. Nothing was going to happen but it's always worth informing the wife after accepting an offer of home-baking from a mysterious woman - that way there's less chance of a misunderstanding turning life into an American sitcom. Only less chance, mind:
"LBO marketing department, Sarah speaking. How can I help you?"
"Your boss's wife has invited me round for coffee. I was just checking..."
"I can't speak right now, Sandra. I'll call you back in a few minutes." She hung-up and I was left staring at the phone. Somehow I'd found myself in a re-run of Friends.
I filled the next while encouraging Marie with her drawing while I pondered whether I would rather be Ross, Joey or Chandler. Then the phone rang.
It was Sarah. "She called you already then?"
"Steve's still around here somewhere," she said and then lowered her voice. "He's not to know about it."
"He's not to know I'm going round to his house?"
"But you know about it?"
"I'm a little confused."
"Well I knew that before I married you. Just go round and listen to what she has to say. You still owe me on all of this, remember?"
"For letting your boss into our house? I thought you'd forgiven me for that. But if you're in on it, no wonder she found it so easy to persuade me. There was no need to go telling her all your secret techniques for manipulating me."
Sarah laughed. "Don't be silly. If I'd told her my secret techniques then you wouldn't have known she was doing it."
"That's not reassuring."
"It wasn't meant to be. Oops, got to go. See you later, Sandra."
I was left staring at the phone again. I felt like such a Chandler.
An hour or so later, I set off with some trepidation. Marie was very excited about the whole prospect, however, and toddled along at speed. "We go play! I run!" she shouted. I did my best to concentrate on gently steering her through the usual obstacle course of puddles, dog poo and admiring old ladies.
Deborah lived in what appeared to be an old, stone-faced hotel that had been expensively renovated into luxury flats. I expected high ceilings, marble finishing and a mezzanine level in the vast lounge.
I wasn't disappointed.
She greeted me with a peck on the cheek and then ushered me through to sit in a bay window where tea and cake had been set out on fine china. There was a table-cloth and everything - the cake was even on a stand. None of this helped put me at my ease.
Marie was oblivious. "I go play now," she said and ran off hand-in-hand with Ophelia. I hoped anything valuable had been put out of reach but I spent the rest of the visit expecting her to come back shaking a Faberge egg, hoping to get the surprise toy out.
Settling back in a wicker chair festooned with cushions, I looked about. Whoever had decorated the place had really known what they were doing - it was elegant yet welcoming. I was acutely aware, however, that the cup I was drinking from probably cost more than all the crockery in my own house put together.
"Nice place," I said.
"I'm an interior designer," Deborah replied and I instantly wished I'd been a bit more effusive.
"Well, it's really nice. Really, really nice." I guess, on reflection, I'm just not a very effusive person. I pressed on. "Do you get much chance to do any work?"
"Not as much as I want. Ophelia will start nursery after the summer but Josquin doesn't sleep for long during the day so it won't help a great deal. A nanny is one solution, I suppose, but I don't like the thought of that. I really need Steve to do more of the childcare in the evening and at weekends."
"Are you sure that's wise. He's a bit... er..."
"I am aware of that," Deborah replied. "I phoned him on his mobile yesterday and Josquin's nappy rang. I get the impression that your wife has some issues with him as well."
"She's not up for meetings on the golf course, she'd prefer to see her family than go down the pub and she has a tendency to disagree with plans which are obviously stupid. This has her marked out as 'not a team player'. She also feels her work is under-appreciated because she doesn't get involved in the testosterone-fuelled bragging his leadership tends to encourage."
"It sounds like she's told you a great deal about it," she said, obviously knowing full well I'd had my share of angst to sympathise with.
"Sarah's mentioned it on a few occasions," I replied diplomatically.
Deborah raised an eyebrow. "OK," she said, spreading her hands on the table in front of her. "I'll be blunt. I need him to be a better dad. You need him to be a better boss. I think we can help each other. You teach Steve to be an involved father and I'll exert some influence on his managerial style. I can also supply Sarah with any useful information that comes my way, such as when he's going to be out of the office and anything he's planning, so she's prepared."
This wasn't the kind of proposition I'd been fearing. In some ways it was scarier. Still, it was a chance to make Sarah's life better, so I couldn't really turn it down. (I do love her).
I sighed. "I guess I could give it a go. Where do you want me to start?"
"You're going with him to soft-play on Saturday. I hear you should be free to meet him round here at two."
"I thought you were supposed to be supplying Sarah with information, not the other way about."
"We're all working together now."
"Apart from Steve," I said, frowning. "I take it he's not to know about any of this?"
"As if he'd believe you."
"Good point. He hasn't really taken in I'm a housedad yet."
At that point, Marie and Ophelia entered the room wearing Wedgwood bowls as helmets and Josquin woke up wanting fed. We turned our attention to keeping children happy and there wasn't much more opportunity for discussion before I took Marie home for lunch.
I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do. I guess I'll meet up with Steve on Saturday and see how it goes. Maybe simply by being round me he'll pick up some fathering skills by osmosis. You never know... Sarah's seeming pleased, though, so that's a bonus.
Good luck with your situation. I just hope that this doesn't all blow up in my face like a steriliser full of popcorn. (Don't try that by the way...)
Yours in a woman's world,