Dear Dave

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

If only

Dear Dave,

Yep, glad to hear Sam's coped well with his first full days at school. Have you managed to coordinate Daisy's naps in such a way as to give yourself some rest? Play your cards right and you could now have several hours a week of extra time to sleep, catch up on the housework, read a book, play the PlayStation or lie around on the sofa in exhaustion, moaning quietly to yourself.

Well, maybe...

Chances are, most days, Daisy will happily demand your undivided attention from the moment the school bell rings until the middle of the afternoon. You'll spend all day crawling around on the floor with her, singing nursery rhymes. She'll doze off in the buggy on the way to collect Sam. Sam will stumble out of school, tired and crotchety, and demand your undivided attention until Daisy wakes up for tea. Then you'll have to deal with two children who have both become used to your undivided attention.

Good luck with that.

Anyway, it's got me to thinking that it's only a year now until Marie is at school the entire day. I'll have three children at school and none at home. I'll have my own undivided attention for six hours at a time. The possibilities are endless. I should begin making plans now.

Other people have certainly started to ask me what I'm going to do with my extra fifteen hours a week (during term-time, when the kids are all well, there isn't a random Monday holiday and, unlike today, the school isn't closed again because of strike action). Surely with a total of twenty-seven hours at my disposal, I must be considering getting a 'proper' job or at the very least have a major project ready to set in motion?

I try to be vague when questioned. I thought getting Marie into nursery would make life very different but the time that that has freed up is always quickly filled. I definitely don't have opportunity to spend my mornings sitting around eating biscuits. (That's what I used to do in the days when I went to parent and toddler, before Marie started nursery.)

Twenty-seven hours seems like a lot but I'll still need to eat lunch, buy groceries and clean the house - things I've previously done with Marie around. I might manage to get my chores done quicker without a small child 'helping' but possibly not. I'll be better able to dawdle. I'll be able to venture into intriguing shops on the way to the supermarket without a little girl tugging at me, complaining she wants to leave, demanding new pink possessions, needing the toilet or being admired by old ladies. When I get back, if the whim takes me, I'll be able to clean stuff that hasn't been cleaned since 1999. Time will fly past. I might even sit down to eat my lunch - that's bound to make it take twice as long.

Don't get me wrong, having them all at school is going to be great. I'm looking forward to it. Life will hopefully be much less rushed. I don't want to spend too much time thinking about it, though, partly because I don't want to set my expectations too high and partly because it will be the last big hurdle for a while.

We've had a constant succession of significant milestones up until now: conceptions, births, crawling, eating, walking, talking, first child out of nappies, first child to nursery, first child to school, final child out of nappies and final child to nursery, among others. We still have the retirement of the buggy to go and Marie needs to learn to wipe her own bottom but after that the pace of change will rapidly slow. Marie will start school and everything will continue on a steady course until Fraser leaves primary school.

Even then, reaching secondary school won't be as momentous as the point where the children are old enough to look after themselves or each other.

In another six years I can go out on my own and leave Fraser in charge... long enough for me to nip to the shops anyway.

Although, now I think about it, I'm not so sure. He can be quite contrary. I'd be nervous about what might happen. He has a tendency to subtly twist any instructions I issue. If I told him to make certain they didn't set fire to the house while I was out, there's a chance I'd return to discover they'd burned down the shed.

Maybe I should send him to the shops while I stay home.


Unfortunately, any time I actually need him to be flexible with orders, he will resolutely stick to the absolute letter of the law. He doesn't like getting things wrong. If I sent him for a dozen free-range eggs and they only had a single carton of six but plenty of battery-farmed eggs, he wouldn't be able to decide what to do. It would short-circuit his mind. He might explode.

OK, eight years until I can leave Lewis in charge.

Except I'd come home to find him sitting obliviously playing Nintendo, surrounded by a pile of rubble. When interrogated over why he hadn't prevented the other two from knocking the house down, he would doubtless argue that he hadn't realised I'd left yet.

So... ten years until Marie's in charge...

She'd enjoy it too much. I'd get back from the shops to find that Fraser had left home permanently in a huge hurry to escape. Lewis, meanwhile, would have been forced to wear a sparkly leotard and paint everything pink.

I could be wrong. Their personalities, interests and temperaments may alter and grow over time. Maybe there will come a point when I'll be able to leave the house with them inside and not feel slightly worried about what I'll encounter upon my return.



Nope. I can't imagine it. OK, fifteen years until they will all have moved out...

Of course, that will merely leave me plenty of free time to sit around in an empty house, worrying about what they're up to elsewhere...

As I said, I try to be vague when people ask what I'm going to do when Marie starts school. It would be all too easy to get sucked into a game of If only. 'If only Marie were at school, I could get so much more done!' 'If only Fraser were old enough to look after the others, I could go out more often!' 'If only they all left home, I could wander round the house naked the whole day, playing the harmonica!'

Wouldn't the world be great then?

Maybe; maybe not. Who knows? Marie starting school will be great but there's no point wishing their lives away. I'm happy with my couple of hours of peace while she's at nursery. And when she's home, that can be fun, too.

Enjoy the crawling and nursery rhymes. Next year will bring something different. It may well be better. Doesn't mean what you have now isn't good.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Being a housedad has its perks. How many other jobs provide you with a personal, trampoline-based fan club complete with flag and streamers?

Marie on a trampoline, holding pink streamers and a huge flag with the word 'JOY' on it.

Not many, that's my guess.

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