Dear Dave

Wednesday 23 July 2008

We all think we're in charge

Dear Dave,

Glad to hear you've managed to get out of the house more. Sounds like you've got a routine nailed down just in time for term to end and the holidays to start. By September, when Sam goes back to nursery, Daisy's eating, sleeping and nappy-filling patterns will have completely altered and you'll have to work the timetable out again from scratch.

(What? Would you really prefer it if I wasn't brutally honest in my letters?)

At least you'll all be in the habit of little trips and excursions now, so there's less chance of you being stuck at home for the whole summer. Sorry that Sam only ever wants to go to the soft play or feed the ducks and it's driving you spare but... you might want to make the most of it.

You see, at the moment, it's still possible for you to fairly easily organise a day out without a small child going into a sulk. By next summer, Daisy will be almost two and have an opinion of her own. You will be stuffed. She'll insist on going to the swing park while Sam will demand a visit to McDonald's. Keeping them both happy will involve a huge quantity of threats, bribes and negotiation.

You'll probably settle for keeping them both not entirely miserable.

The simplest way to do this is to not give them any say in the matter. Merely declare that you're all going out and tell them to put their shoes on. If my own kids are anything to go by, they'll grumble all the way down the street, have a great time once they reach your chosen destination and then complain they don't want to leave when the place closes.

Feel free to laugh at them.

I sometimes think I should consult the kids more on decisions but it seldom goes well. I always end up over-ruling someone's opinion anyway. I might as well dictate their lives as I see fit and cut down on arguing.

I do feel guilty about it, though. I think it has something to do with the science fiction I read as a teenager. It convinced me of all kinds of things. I thought medical breakthroughs would allow people to live to be really old. I thought true artificial intelligence was inevitable and close. I thought an astrophysics degree would be a good career move. I thought jumpsuits were the fashion of the future. I thought that one day monkeys would take over the world.

I also thought participatory democracy was a great idea.

This is where the people vote directly on issues rather than freely electing monkeys clever and knowledgeable representatives to debate and decide for them. Everything becomes a referendum. The people get exactly what they want.

Now I see that that might not be such a cunning plan.

Shockingly, when we had a local referendum on introducing London-style congestion charges to fund better public transport, the vast majority of people (i.e. those with cars) opposed them. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas. They need monkeys to do it for them.

The population in general doesn't have time to consider countless complex issues carefully. Participatory democracy on a national level is a non-starter. I do still sometimes imagine it might be an enlightened way to run a household, however.

It's not. I've tried it - it's rubbish. Rather than avoiding argument, it simply creates it.

We spent last week on holiday in St Andrews. One day, when it was nice weather, Sarah and I decided it would be an excellent afternoon to go to the beach. Rather than force our will upon the kids, I presented them with a choice. We could go to the beach or we could play tennis. It was a uncomplicated decision between two courses of action. With three children voting, the result couldn't possibly be inconclusive. It should have been a simple opportunity to make the kids feel included in planning our trip.

"Tennis!" said Fraser, quick as a flash.

"Beach! Beach! Beach!" shouted Marie, squirming on her seat and reaching both her hands high into the air.

Lewis was much slower to react. He screwed up his face in concentration, held his chin and thought. Then, very ponderously, he said, "Not tennis..."

It was hardly the electoral mandate I was looking for. One child was bound to be upset and another was clearly opting for the lesser of two evils. Fraser began vociferously talking Lewis round. Lewis was swayed. Marie started shouting. There were tears. Someone banged a shoe on the table. Wrestling appeared on the cards...

I had to step in and make the decision. We were going to the beach. Essentially, we'd had plenty of talking, a token vote and then everything had gone along as I'd intended to begin with. Democracy is dead in our household.

Fortunately, I'm a wise and benevolent ruler, unswayed by threats and bribes and bananas. I have the the kids' best interests at heart and would never think of forcing them to do stuff for my own benefit or amusement. Although, for practical purposes, I may make them all wear jumpsuits while strutting around gobbling like turkeys.

That is, if Sarah says it's OK...

You may not be master of your own destiny, Dave, but enjoy the ducks without politics while you can.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS To give you a taste of my real priorities, I should mention the dream I had the other night. The zombie invasion had finally happened, civilisation had fallen apart and it was every family for themselves. I ventured out into the mayhem in order to 'liberate' some supplies.

Where do you think I went?

The supermarket to stock up on canned goods? The hardware store to procure a couple of nail guns and a chainsaw? The corner shop to grab some loo roll and a stack of batteries?


I went to the local primary school and lifted a complete set of Magic Key books so I could easily teach Marie to read.

Then I woke up. I was truly scared.


Anonymous said...

I made the mistake last night of asking the girls to pick a book together. When they couldn't manage (OF COURSE), I told them we would read one tonight and one tomorrow night.

Instead, the girl-child with the book slotted for tomorrow got sent to bed in a fit of tears because her book wasn't chosen for tonight. grr...

Should have gone with my instincts and just picked a book randomly off the shelf. Democracy is dead in this household too. As it should be.

DadsDinner said...

Been there.

Getting the kids to decide on a book between themselves is a more useful tactic during the day, however. I can leave them to argue and free up half an hour to go have a lie down at the other end of the house...