There is a scene in the first episode of Desperate Housewives where the one with the riot of small children (Lynette) runs into a former colleague while attempting to buy groceries. This other woman asks Lynette how things are going and how she's finding being a housemom. Lynette has spent the last few minutes shouting at her children and behind her they are demolishing what little remains of the store. She obviously wants to reach over, grab the woman by the shoulders and shake her, screaming, "I can't take it any more. They're driving me insane! Please, help me! Please..." Instead, she forces a smile, says, "Best job I've ever had," and beats a hasty retreat.
There's a lot of truth there. It can be hard for parents to admit that they're not enjoying themselves. I know I have all kinds of fears - fear of being judged, of seeming ungrateful, of betraying my family or of being reported to social services (or, worse, to the wife). Maybe in my case there's even the fear of being pitied for being a man in a 'woman's job'. ("Well, what did you expect...")
This is, of course, nonsense. Whatever the job, we all have days, weeks and even years where the going is tough. It's perfectly fine to get some sympathy and support.
I am lucky enough to be able to honestly say that being a housedad is the best job I've ever had. Having said it, however, I have to admit that it's been a rough week.
We're back in our house but nothing much has been fixed. Despite moving us out for a week to a fancy apartment, the insurance company failed to authorise the contractors to actually do the work. The contractors agreed to get started as best they could anyway but weren't entirely sure what they were supposed to be doing. They decided the best thing to do was remove all the plumbing under the stairs. This allowed them to check more thoroughly for damp patches from the flood and to replace six floorboards which got destroyed during the many fruitless attempts to find the leak. Then they put the plumbing back.
Well, half of it.
The plumber broke something in the heating system and reckoned he needed to take it to a blacksmith for repairs. We got moved back because at least the cold water was on again and there was hot water from a ancient and very dubious immersion heater. Several days passed, however, and the plumber did not return. Then I noticed a bad smell from under the stairs.
Waste water was leaking liberally every time we flushed a toilet or emptied a sink. Gah!
I phoned the contractors and they sent round a different plumber. He fixed the leak but I've had to bail out my house again. As it happens, the first plumber had already been 'let go' before I phoned. The company had no idea our heating wasn't working. They should have a part by next week but, for crying out loud... And all for six floorboards. None of the plastering or redecorating's been done. We've missed our slot for the tradesmen now, so it will be a month before they can start but we've already cleared out the rooms involved.
Besides half the house falling apart and the other half being crammed full of stuff, the mice are taking up tap dancing behind the cooker. One did a double flip with twist past me down the stairs. I gave it an 8.5. I would have given it more but its landing was terrible. I just found another in the toaster. We've taken to shaking out our shoes before putting them on.
With all the disruption, Marie has gone from barely having a toilet accident to needing five pairs of pants a day. She also constantly refuses to do anything she's told.
All this, and Sarah's job uncertainty is getting to me too.
It's a little much.
I've had depression before. I know some of the warning signs. I haven't been sleeping well and I've been abnormally crotchety and lacking in energy. I started feeling drawn and just plain debilitated the other day. If you want to know what I mean, stand up, hold one arm straight out to the side and think happy thoughts for thirty seconds. Get someone to try and pull down your arm. Then do it again with the other arm but think about something which stresses you and gets you upset instead. You'll notice a difference. That's how I've been feeling for a couple of days.
Unexpectedly, the thing which really got to me was my dead Xbox 360. It was annoying it broke but Microsoft agreed to fix it for free and it should be back in a month or so. It shouldn't be a big deal. After all, I have other games machines to play and more games to play than I have time. It's an inconvenience, not a disaster.
But I found myself obsessing over it and ways to replace it. Could I borrow one? Hire one? Buy another one and trade it in later? Could I upgrade to an Elite version or find a really good deal on a Core? It was crazy. It wasn't even that I felt the need to play it. I just needed it to be in its normal place, ready to be played.
It was like I was going insane. I knew whatever plan I came up with was going to be a waste of money but I couldn't put the idea out of my head. According to any logical reasoning, buying another 360 was crazy. Somehow, though, I knew it would make me feel better in a way which went beyond fleeting retail therapy. Sarah saw a bargain in the window of a second-hand shop and I went and had a look, knowing full well I'd be unable to resist. My head swimming, I handed over my credit card, and then hurried home with my prize.
I've had the old one set up in a boxroom for over a year. I used to have a small table wedged in the corner next to the end of the changing unit (the head end, naturally) with a monitor on top and the Xbox underneath. The room has become the office more recently with a bit more space but everything's been cleared out of there for a couple of weeks to allow the repairs to be made.
As I moved the table back into place and started to set up the 'new' Xbox I began to feel happier and I realised what the problem had really been. I was missing my safe place. That little corner of the house is as far from everyone else as I can possibly get. It's cosy. It's always been free of mice. I've often gone there to play games and wind down late at night. It's my place to not worry. My place to hide. Putting it back together made me smile.
The weird thing is, I don't actually have to be in the safe place to feel better. I just need to know it's there. I got everything working, played a three minute game of Geometry Wars and then set about tidying the house. Everywhere is still in a state because of the water damage but it's tidier than it was. I can live with it and that's helped me feel better too.
Yep, it's been a rough week but I feel like I'm coping again. Sometimes the only way to stay sane is to admit you're a little crazy (whatever anyone else might think).
Yours in a woman's world,
PS One of the great things about this job is that, even in the worst weeks, there's bound to be something to make you smile:
As we went down the vegetable aisle in the supermarket, Marie suddenly screamed, "I want broccoli!"
"We have broccoli at home," I replied.
"I want MORE broccoli!" she yelled.
"Er, OK," I said, hastily grabbing some and giving it to her.
She hugged the bag to her chest like a favourite teddy, rocking it. Then she sank back in the buggy and relaxed. "That's better," she sighed in relief.
Other parents looked on in awe as their children clutched packets of sweets. How on earth, they wondered, had I managed to raise a two-year-old who had a tantrum when not given green vegetables? For a brief moment, I was Super Dad.
I didn't make such a good impression, however, when the Primary 1 class emerged from school the other day, proudly carrying their first pieces of artwork. Lewis had produced this nice elephant:
Except, as he marched out, holding it high above his head and waving it, he had it the other way up:
"Which one's yours?" asked another parent whom I'd only just met. The answer was most of the way out of my mouth before I could stop myself.
"The one with the enormous green... erm... thing."
It was all just a little unfortunate...