Dear Dave

Monday 28 September 2009

Haven't they grown

Dear Dave,

Thank you for your congratulations on my survival. It does feel fantastic to have experienced my kids' pre-school lives at close quarters and yet to have come out the other side still sane enough to tell the tale in an almost coherent manner. Best wishes with the three more years of tribulation you have left yourself. Not long now and it should all start getting much easier. I know that's small consolation at the moment, what with Daisy's poor sleeping and Sam's stroppiness, but there's a great chance that the hardest physical trials are already behind you. The kids' demands on your time and energy should soon begin to decrease. Believe me, the light at the end of the tunnel is approaching and it's NOT an oncoming toddler intent on whacking you over the head with a illuminated fairy wand that makes a Diddly-ding! noise. (Although there could be the odd false alarm. If the light flashes and looks kind of pink, you might want to don protective headgear and prepare to dodge.)

Yep, just keep on plugging away. Sure, there'll still be plenty of difficult situations before your children finally leave the nest but, whatever ways they find to test your patience as teenagers, at least you won't be crazy from sleep deprivation nor exhausted from carrying them around on your shoulders for hours. That's got to be an improvement...

Having all three of my kids at school full-time hasn't really sunk in yet. I had a couple of restful days and then I cleaned the house. It was refreshing not having to do the housework late at night or at the weekend but I spent most of the time spotting all the crannies and high shelves that I haven't investigated in years. After much practice, I can get the whole house looking clean and tidy in four hours; to get the place actually clean and tidy, I'm going to need to put in a day or two per room.

I'm also going to have to hire a skip.

Strangely, this realisation was both demoralising and reassuring. Each potential chore I discovered booked up more of my new-found 'free' time over the coming months but also added a little extra justification for my continued housedad status. It's good to know there's plenty to keep me usefully occupied while the kids aren't sick, on holiday or out of school.

Of course, I've always known this. In any rational analysis, I've clearly got more than enough to be getting on with. That's not always sufficient, though - I've met too many people in my time who've wondered what I do all day apart from eat biscuits and sit around watching Tweenies. I'm used to explaining myself.

The problem is, the explanation I've been using for years is no longer true.

I still tend to describe myself as a housedad with three small children. This works a treat. It's short and simple and contains all the information anyone needs to know - if they don't immediately appreciate how busy I am, no amount of extra explaining would make them understand anyway. As a bonus, it's a particularly useful description when dealing with large companies that are messing me about. If I drop it into the conversation when reporting a heating fault, for instance, the person on the other end of the phone suddenly gets a mental image of a newspaper article headed with a photo of a bloke sitting on a sofa surrounded by adorable toddlers looking glum and covered in icicles. The only way the potential negative publicity could be worse is if we had a pet panda with us, huddled under a blanket and staring mournfully at the camera with its big round eyes. They usually dispatch a service engineer pretty sharpish. (If they don't, I shout to the kids to make sure Ling-Ling's woolly hat is on properly and then I chew loudly on some bamboo. That always does the trick.)

Unfortunately, the last repair bloke turned up to discover not only a lack of photogenic livestock but that Fraser was taller than he was. The other two children played so quietly upstairs, the guy didn't know they were there. When he learnt I'm a housedad, he smirked and commented on how he wouldn't mind doing that himself. I had to give the kids a sugary chocolate bar each, wait five minutes and then encourage them to all go say 'hello' at once, just to teach the guy a lesson...

Nonetheless, the incident brought home to me that although I'm a housedad, I don't have three small children. Let's face it, I don't even have one small child anymore. In a double-whammy for my status as a full-time carer, not only is Marie in school but she had her fifth birthday yesterday. She's learning to write, she can coordinate her fashion accessories and I now have to pay for her on the bus. She's no longer small.

Three years ago, when my kids chased each other round the aisles of Tesco, they were cute. When they did it three days ago, they were a danger to old ladies and displays of soft fruit. If they try it again in another few months, I'm liable to get a caution from the police.

They've long since moved on from being toddling bundles of need. As such, my role involves far less hands-on maintenance than it used to. Instead, there's plenty of supervision - during the holidays, the boys are up at 7:30 and don't go to bed until 9:30. That's little enough peace already and, before too long, a point will come when Fraser is always about while I'm awake. I'll need to have adjusted from commanding a gaggle of infants, to sharing the house with three adolescent people.

By then, it might be worth changing career merely to escape... For now, I'm going to have to come up with a new job description. I'm a little sad to let go of the old one but I think it's time.

I was asked recently which of Marie's toys is her favourite. "Whichever one she's just lost," I replied. There's a lesson there in appreciating what we have. Despite many happy memories of looking after small children, new challenges await.

I'm looking forward to them.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS First up is investigating the decade of accumulated junk beneath Fraser's bed. Goodness knows what's been shoved out of sight over the years - broken toys, odd socks, small aliens, chewed raisins, hankies. There could be anything lurking under there by now. I can barely imagine...



On second thoughts, maybe I'll leave that till next week...

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