Dear Dave

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Neither here nor there

Dear Dave,

I was away at the weekend.

This isn't that unusual. The odd part was that Sarah and the kids stayed home. I had two whole days where all the children I saw belonged to someone else.

My own children were somewhat bemused by the experience. Normally when I'm absent, such as when they're staying with their grandparents or taking a trip with Sarah, they know I'm not likely to get into trouble. They can picture me safely at home in the armchair, remote in one hand and beer in the other. They can phone and check up on me. No one's going to steal me and I'll be there to feed them when they get back. Everything is still somehow right with world.

They found the thought of me off unsupervised while they remained in the house more troubling. They'd forgotten the last time it happened.

That said, it took a little while to hit home:

I went into the lounge to tell them I was heading off and didn't get much response. Fraser grunted without looking up from his DS. Marie didn't respond, her eyes fixed on the TV. Lewis just looked puzzled and said, "Uh? Where are you going?"

He remembered eventually... then wrapped himself round my leg and made little whimpering noises. He didn't want me to go. He clung to me, preventing me from moving. This was flattering and touching until I recalled that it was probably as much to do with his aversion to change as to any direct fondness towards me. Heck, when we had the windows replaced recently, he wanted to keep the old ones and build a little shrine out of them in the back garden. I'm equally old and familiar and he wanted to keep me around. I suspected the back garden would have done for me too, if he'd been able to look out and wave at me on occasion.

I managed to prise Lewis off but then Marie decided to get in on the act. She gave me a quick cuddle and then went back to the TV. Fraser waited until I was out the door before running after me in a panic, looking for his hug. He hadn't realised I was going that moment and had just been finishing his level...

I imagined they'd hardly notice I was gone. Fraser certainly put a brave face on it if he did but apparently Lewis missed me quite a bit. I was also rather surprised to learn that Marie missed me a lot. Usually I feel like I'm constantly arguing with her.

It's not the same as when I argue with Fraser. He's a good kid but he doesn't take orders well. Tell him to do his homework in his room and he'll grumble. Then he'll say he'll do it later. Then he'll start doing it in the kitchen. The he'll explain at great length how, by doing something else, he is in fact doing exactly what he was told... and that it doesn't matter because the homework isn't due till the end of the week... and besides, it's all Lewis' fault anyway...

Fraser simply won't do what he's told without extended discussion. He can be reasoned with, though, and will give in eventually. Marie is more prone to taking exception to something simply because she feels like it. Persuading her is a battle of wills. She makes an unreasonable demand, I refuse to do what I'm told and she attempts to send me straight to bed. We're perpetually at war for control. I stick to my guns because I know that I'm the one in charge. She does exactly the same.

I thought she'd be glad to have a break. As it turned out, she was rather concerned by the whole business. I'd barely been gone a few hours before she was asking how come it was suddenly Daddy always going out to work? I think she was worried her world had changed and she was going to have to train a new slave. I got home and she sat on my lap and refused to let me move. A taste of something different had been all very well but she was relieved to have life back to normal.

My trip was a church training weekend. (Mike's idea.) We talked about a lot of things but one of the topics covered was liminal moments. Times that are neither one thing nor another - times of change or transition or overlap. These can be great spiritual moments like the one Jesus' disciples had when they saw him filled with the glory of God on the mountain or they can be more mundane, spent sitting on a bus or twiddling thumbs while wondering if a tradesman is going to turn up as promised.

One of the points made was that it's easy to let these moments slip past, waiting for what comes next or dwelling on what went before (or pining for a domesticated parent who's managed to escape for a couple of days). It's better to accept them and make the most of them.

To be honest, my life feels like one big liminal moment right now, filled with a whole load of little ones. I still haven't worked out what I'm going to do now the kids are at school and even when they're home, things are different. They don't need me every minute. In fact, they can entertain themselves for whole hours at a time. They come home from school, I help them with their homework, they run off to play and then I find myself standing around wondering what to do. They might not need me until tea-time. Then again, if I sit down to work on something it's almost guaranteed that they'll come running back wanting attention as soon as I'm settled. It's frustrating. I'm not spending time with the kids but I'm not free to accomplish much either. The result is that I end up feeling like neither a particularly great dad nor a particularly great anything else.

I've finally figured out why this happens. It used to be that I had to grab time for myself wherever I could. Those minutes when they were all entertaining themselves were my chance to relax or get stuff done. I guarded them jealously. Now the kids are at school, I need to get over it. I've got other time. I shouldn't be trying to turn these moments into something they're not. Although the kids might leave me alone, I'm really on call. I should accept it, not expect anything other than a game of Mouse Trap!, and take any peace I do happen to get as a bonus.

More than that, I should probably actively suggest fun activities for us to do together. My children may well argue and demand to be left alone but at least I'll have tried...

Yours in a woman's world,


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