These are the five articles about my experiences as a stay-at-home dad that appeared in the ’11 DAYS IN THE LIFE OF’ column in Trinity Mirror’s The New Day newspaper.
Although these all appeared on my Instagram account, the text I have included below the images is the original text that I submitted to the newspaper and thanks to the sub-editing process there are some slight differences between this and what ended up in print.
Day 6 (Monday 2nd May 2016)
I’m a big advocate of fathers sharing parental leave. Indeed I’ve put my money where my mouth is – quite literally given the not-to-be-sniffed-at financial sacrifice that our family has made to enable me to spend five months with our daughters.
While I understand not all fathers are as fortunate as I am and can take five months off work, I’m still inclined to plagiarise the marketing mavens at Nike and say ‘Just do it’.
When I discuss what I’m doing with male friends, colleagues and other assorted fathers, the majority claim to be envious.
“When my partner gets another promotion, then I’ll be able to do it,” is a response I’ve heard more than once.
You know what though, guys? If your partner gives birth right now, today, you don’t need to envy me. Take that time off. Your employer has to grant it. It’s the law.
No one stands in your way but you. And your partner perhaps, but that’s a chat you’ll need to have with them.
Women have demanded equal rights for a long time; well let them have them. Let the mums return to work while we dads take time to bond with the kids. We live in a golden epoch of equal opportunities. Our fathers didn’t have the option; we do.
You can spout prosaic excuses about how it’ll stymie your career or be financially disadvantageous yet these are just excuses. Shared Parental Leave is flexible and you don’t have to take five months off; if you can only afford five days, that’s possible too.
It’s not always a walk in the park (though there are lots of those). I’m looking forward to the day when my hands don’t look like Tutankhamen’s due to how often I have to wash them. Nor do I know yet whether my time off will blow a hole in the fuselage of my career.
You know what though, we’re talking about time with my kids. Were I to ask the girls what they’d prefer – a larger house, faster car and more exotic holidays, or the chance to spend more time with me – I have a strong hunch that they’d opt for the latter.
Where your children are concerned, every day you don’t spend with them is another day of their lives you’ve lost. What’s the point in having kids if you can’t make time to be with them?
Day 7 (Tuesday 3rd May 2016)
As part of my Shared Parental Leave, I can take ‘keeping in touch’ days. These snappily-named ‘KIT’ days allow me to drop back into the office now and again during my leave period to – you guessed it – keep in touch with my colleagues and the business.
I suspect these ‘KIT’ days may also be a ploy to ensure that I occasionally reacquaint myself with a razor. If so, it recently succeeded as I returned to work for the first time since my leave began sporting a chin as smooth as a cue ball.
Everyone was very decent, asking how I was getting on, how the girls were, requesting to see photos (I knew there was a reason that I’d uploaded all those pictures to Instagram). They even bought my lunch for me.
My comeback only lasted a day, yet it was strange being back. I’m so accustomed to being at home with Lola and Mina that this has become the norm. Work seemed like something from a past life. I felt like a guest at my own desk.
What’s more, though I was only away from the girls for a day I missed them both dearly. This yearning took me by surprise and set me wondering whether I’ve developed genuine maternal instincts or if what I felt was a mere shadow of what mothers feel when parted from their children.
Either way, it helped me understand what my wife Alix must have felt when she returned to work seven months after giving birth to Mina and what she must feel every day when she leaves her babies at home with their father.
After Lola was born, Alix was off work for nineteen months. She herself admits that this was too long. By the end, her cabin fever was mounting by the day and she was itching to get back to her career. Consequently she was very supportive of me sharing the leave after Mina was born. Even so she misses the girls every day she’s away from them. I now understand this feeling.
If I took one thing from my ‘keeping in touch’ day (besides the free sandwich), it’s that the hardest thing about going back to work won’t be getting up to speed on all that’s happened while I was off; it’ll be losing the company of my two favourite little people in the world.
Day 8 (Wednesday 4th May 2016)
Playdate. A horrendous expression, another of those Americanisms encroaching on our fair language. Like chillax. Or twerk.
In my day we called it going to play at a friend’s house. Look beyond the irritating term though and the event itself is hardly any better.
By inviting Lola’s friends to play after school, I’m essentially saying that I don’t have enough to do at the end of the day as it is, what with looking after two tired and emotional children, and what I really need is to drop another child into the mix to see if we can have all three of them in tears simultaneously.
Recently Lola had a friend over. Invariably the two girls wanted to do different things. Lola wanted to dress as a Disney Princess while her friend wanted to play with Sylvanian Families. I told Lola that as host she has to do what her friend wants, which she did for thirty seconds before going to dress up again.
While I’m running negotiations like a UN peacekeeper, Mina is generally crying because I’ve been so preoccupied by the big girls that I haven’t given her any dinner/milk/attention whatsoever.
Ah yes, dinnertime. You can cajole and threaten your own children into eating, but it’s frowned upon if you try that with someone else’s. My advice: pasta and pesto. I once tried to be creative and made cheese and black bean quesadillas for Lola and a friend, only for her friend to point blank refuse them. Lola ate both servings and I cooked pasta and pesto for her picky friend.
Even when the friend leaves the ordeal isn’t done. Then the clean-up operation begins. Lola has too many toys comprising too many small parts. I can only assume that the girls disassemble everything she owns then stand in the middle of her bedroom tossing it all around like plastic confetti. It looks like the aftermath of an inner city riot.
It’s rarely much better when Lola goes to her friends’ houses. Such as the time one of them punched her square in the face. Literally laid one on her like Floyd Mayweather.
Yet despite the uppercuts, Lola lives for these social occasions. She’s never more excited than when she has a friend coming to play. While it pains me to admit it, the hassle is worth it for that alone.
Day 9 (Thursday 5th May 2016)
When looking after a baby, ritual humiliation is as much a part of the daily routine as naps and nappy changes.
Occasionally, these indignities occur at home where the only witnesses are you and your baby.
Such as the time that I threw one of Mina’s saturated nappies down the stairs to be taken out to the dustbin only for it to burst upon impact with the floorboards and shower our hallway with the absorbent particles that constitute the major part of nappies.
Or the time that I was preparing Mina’s milk and didn’t place the lid on the bottle properly, an oversight that revealed itself when I shook the mixture and ended up covered in it.
Usually though the degradation plays out in public, presumably to cause maximum harm to my self-respect. Chief amongst these humiliations is song time at our local library, or, to give it its official title, baby bounce and rhyme.
Some people haven’t visited a public library for years. I’d wager that many people probably don’t even know where their local library is. When you’re looking after small children though, libraries become your second home.
In the last few days, Mina and I have visited three separate libraries. And some of these on several occasions. We’re there so regularly that it’s only a matter of time before people begin to approach me to ask where they can find the large print books or European travel guides.
Typically Mina starts yelling at the top of her voice as soon as we enter the building. No one’s ever been so excited about going to the library. People must think I keep her locked under the stairs the rest of the week.
Bounce and rhyme involves me sitting in a circle of mums in the kids’ section with Mina on my lap belting out the Wheels on the Bus or the Hokey Cokey. I now have the lyrics – and accompanying actions – to several dozen nursery rhymes etched into my psyche, including many I’d never heard before.
Mina loves it. I don’t. Often I’m the only dad and I think it’s fair to say that this sort of thing comes more naturally to women than men. In fact I find it positively toe-curling. On these mornings I just pray that nobody who knows me is passing.
The things I do for my children….
Day 10 (Friday 6th May 2106)
During my first week caring for Mina full-time I managed to train her to sit up unassisted. This, I thought, is easy. With a bit of encouragement, we’ll have her hitting all the baby milestones in no time.
She was seven months old then. Next on my list was crawling. I set a deadline for that of eight months. That proved less straightforward. We missed our target. She’s over nine months now and has only just mastered scrabbling about on her hands and knees. Seemingly my baby boot camp isn’t as effective as that one early success had led me to believe.
Many mums I spoke to about the crawling goal advised me to temper my enthusiasm.
“She’ll be into everything.”
“You won’t be able to let her out of your sight.”
“Once a kid learns to crawl, there’s no going back.”
I heard them out, barely able to conceal my disdain. Mums, oh, mums, worry not. I can keep my own daughter in check. It’ll be fine.
Well kind of. You might imagine that I’d have known what I was letting myself in for; after all Mina has an older sister. Surely I already had first-hand experience of handling a crawling baby.
Well no actually. Lola never crawled. Instead she relied upon the “bum-shuffle”. This involved her getting into a sitting position then dragging herself along the floor with her hands. As sedate a means of propulsion as exists. Never any danger of her beating us to her chosen destination. We never even needed to fit a stairgate.
Upon raising the topic of crawling with my mother, she reminded me that I also never crawled. She explained that I was so fat I was physically unable to crawl. Fortunately I’ve shed that excess weight now, but it still hurts to be reminded of it by your mother.
My conclusion is that crawling doesn’t run in our family. Apparently nobody told Mina this. She’s ridden roughshod over family tradition. She crawls. Boy, does she crawl. All over the place. And quickly.
She’s into everything. I can’t let her out of my sight. There’s no going back.
Eyes in the back of my head? I wish the wizards in Silicon Valley would hurry up and invent them because I could do with them right now.
Yes, I asked for this. Yes, I wanted it. Yes, I was warned.
I’ve learned my lesson.