Dear Dave

Tuesday, 21 October 2008


Dear Dave,

You're right - it is amazing how many crumbs one breadstick can make. Somehow small children can turn a single snack the size of your little finger into an environmental disaster that requires three hoover bags, a nappy change and a haircut to entirely clean up. It's one of the unexpected joys of housedadhood.

Personally, I'm always surprised by how much of my life I spend clipping nails. By the time I've worked through all twenty digits on each of my three children, the first one has drunk four pints of milk and swallowed a piece of chalk, causing another complete set of claws to shoot out in need of pruning. It's never-ending. Oh, and as I've discovered, trimming the nails on a squirming little girl is made even harder when she's got sparkling pink varnish all over them, since it's difficult to know exactly how long they are. Trim then polish - that's my advice to you when Daisy's older.

Yep, when I signed up to be a housedad it really didn't cross my mind that I'd need manicure skills...

I suppose there have been plenty of other revelations along the way:
  • Babies can pee, poo, vomit and feed while asleep, thus freeing up their every waking moment to demand attention for no real reason at all.

  • Toddlers are quite happy to fall asleep face down in their food but...

  • ...they don't like waking up in the bath.

  • Teachers are nicer than I expected.

  • Then again, there's no school on Friday afternoons and there's a holiday every few weeks - no wonder they're smiling.

  • Braiding hair is as hard as it looks.

  • Learning to ride a bike is harder than I remember.

  • And, when whacked in my face, a Wii controller is just plain hard.
One lesson I keep forgetting, however, is that things don't always get easier as time goes on. It's natural to anticipate children becoming more able and independent as they get older. Babies lie around, then they learn to roll over, sit up, crawl, stand, walk, run, leap and cartwheel. There are always brief hiccups in the process as they fall on their nose but, in general, it feels like it should be a steady progression. Over a number of years, they go from being carried around to propelling themselves around at high speed.

Theoretically, anyway.

In reality, at some point in their development they discover sofas and return to lying around again, unwilling to move without large amounts of coercion. All they seem able to do is absent-mindedly roll over, fall off and land on their nose.

This lack of 'progress' has been recently brought to my attention once more with the issue of bedtimes. When the boys were babies, bedtime was whenever we could finally get them to sleep. Then, a little before Marie was born, we managed to train them both to go to bed at around 7:30. This was fantastic. We had the entire evening to ourselves. We had time to relax and get stuff done.

Lovely as she is, Marie scuppered that big time. It was another couple of years before we got them all in bed by eight o'clock. Except, of course, the boys weren't needing so much sleep by then. They were both lying awake for ages. We allowed Fraser to read in bed and Lewis got story tapes to listen to.

Eventually we ran out of story tapes. Lewis got to stay up and watch kid's TV instead. Depending on what he was watching, Fraser was keen to stay up too and then read afterwards. At some point during the summer, we got to the stage where Marie was having stories until 8:15, Lewis was wanting stories or TV until 8:30 and Fraser was lurking in the lounge with a book until 9:30.

We hoped they'd need more sleep once term started again but that's not the case. Lewis has been lying awake again. As of this week, both boys are now allowed to play until 8:30 and watch (suitable) TV until 9:00. Fraser can read for a bit after that but he has to go to his room.

Scarily, this feels like an improvement on how things were before. Nonetheless, in terms of space to ourselves, we apparently passed the peak four years ago and it's all downhill from here. There will come a point when the kids stay up later than me and then spend the whole weekend lying around in bed, only stirring to check their text messages, demand food and fall out onto their noses.

My role as a parent is changing. It used to be an on/off experience. The kids were either awake and demanding my full attention or they were asleep and I could totally ignore them. Now they're much better at entertaining and looking after themselves, so they don't need my full attention so much, but there's less opportunity to completely switch off. I'm 'on call' the whole day.

I might have enough time to sneak off and do something or I might be faced with a request to play a game or read a story at any moment. There's no way of knowing. It's almost a return to when Fraser was small and he used to dose off randomly for anywhere between ten minutes and three hours. Rather than looking forward to bedtime at the end of the day, it's a case of grabbing peace where I can. The trick is finding a balance between getting stuff done, having a rest and interacting with the kids.

I'm not used to it yet. Next year, when all three of them are at school, it will be easier.

At least, I'll be surprised if it isn't...

Yours in a woman's world,


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