Dear Dave

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Overtime isn't so bad

Dear Dave,

Has everyone given you sympathy yet?

I'm not talking about Sam's arm; I mean about Liz going away for the weekend. On the rare occasions Sarah leaves me with the kids and heads off to stay with friends for a couple of nights, all-and-sundry treat me like I'm about to spend forty-eight hours in the trenches. It's wacky.

The reality is that looking after the children for a weekend doesn't involve much more childcare from me than is normally required during two ordinary weekdays. Given that there isn't a strict timetable of school and clubs to adhere to, life can be easier. Not as easy as a weekend with Sarah around to help, obviously, but there's still a break from the early morning scramble and the traipsing back and forth. We can lounge about in our pyjamas. Once the kids are in bed, I can move the armchair out into the middle of the room, sit back and enjoy full control of the remote. (Sometimes I flick it purposefully at the TV and say, "Engage!")

Being left in charge of the kids for the weekend certainly phases me less than us all going away together. That requires a day of packing, lots of heavy luggage and having to endure the boys grumbling constantly. Often it also involves rain. When the children were smaller, there was the additional problem of having to get by in a strange place with limited baby equipment and, invariably, a high chair with rubbish straps.

Family holidays can be fun but they're also hard work. People don't tend to give me sympathy for those in quite the same way, though...

Nope, enjoy getting to stay home and be master of the house for a bit. Run things your way and eat whatever you happen to find lurking at the back of the freezer. Relax.

Then, once the novelty has warn off and you could do with some adult conversation again, get the kids to make a selection of 'Welcome Home' banners and prime them to give Liz big hugs as soon as she walks in the door. Also, remember to put the armchair back before she gets home - you don't want to give the impression things were too easy. She might go gallivanting every weekend...

Ho hum, at least these days I only receive the sympathy when Sarah heads off on a trip, not every time I leave the house. Most places I go regularly, people know I'm a housedad. After nearly nine years of me turning up in the middle of the working week with a selection of children in tow, the cashiers at my local supermarket have got the idea. Friends, neighbours, people who loiter around the swing-park with kids of their own - they're all aware. Even my barber has stopped asking me if it's my day off when I go for a haircut. I no longer have to explain myself very often.

Sarah isn't so lucky. When she's out and about on her own and she mentions the children, people immediately wonder what she's done with them. I'm sure if our roles were the normal way round, I wouldn't get the same treatment - it would simply be assumed that I'd left the kids with her and that it would all be fine. Discovering three small children have been abandoned with their dad for the day makes random punters nervous, however. They do a double-take and chuckle to themselves, as if imagining the chaos that Sarah is going to return to. For some reason, explaining that I've had plenty of practice can merely freak them out more...

This reaction is especially jarring when it comes from someone who actually knows me. There are certain places, such as church, where we usually go together as a family and so it's not clear from watching us how we organise our domestic arrangements the rest of the week. After all this time, we're still uncovering people who haven't quite grasped the extent of the social deviance in our household:

Sarah was at a Bible study the other night and glanced towards the clock at about five to nine. The woman sitting next to her leaned over and said, "Do you have to get home now to rescue your poor husband?"

Sarah was taken aback. "No, I'm sure he's doing fine!" she said.

The woman didn't look entirely convinced. "Oh, well, that's good if he can do that..."

These situations are like suddenly travelling back to a point in our lives about five years ago... except now, at least, we know to keep quiet and smile sweetly rather than to go into any further details. Anything else simply isn't worth the effort.

So much for the housedad revolution...

Yours in a woman's world,


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