I met my wife on 1 Oct 2005. Since then, she hasn’t taken a single holiday. That’s right, almost 10 years without a holiday. Imagine how that must feel? I kind of know, because I haven’t taken one in the same amount of time, unless you’re willing to count the year I lived in Spain working, or the 14 months I’ve spent in Afghanistan, or the seemingly endless number of weeks I’ve taken away from my kids; my wife calls them all holidays, even if I don’t. Add to that, my daughter was born almost 7 years ago and in that time my wife has spent a total of 4 nights away from her. That’s it, 4 nights. Needless to say, this week that she is spending in Turkey with her bingo buddies, is thoroughly deserved. As a result I, for the first time in almost 7 years, find myself parenting solo. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
The kids know the routine better than me – thank goodness. Those times I’ve been home I’ve casually observed the routine and admired the clinical precision with which my wife runs it. The problem is, that with casual observation comes apathy. I’ve never learned the routine because I’ve never needed to, my wife has always told me exactly what to do and when and I’ve never been foolish enough to question it. So far in the 48 hours that I’ve been parenting solo, my daughter has picked me up no less than 8 times for failing to meet the routine.
The kids lie about the routine to manipulate me in order to get what they want – oh bugger! That’s right, who’d have thought that a 3 year old and a 6 year old would manipulate the truth about the routine in order to take full advantage of my lack of awareness. “Of course daddy, on the first Monday of every month mummy lets us have Nutella on toast for breakfast.” The lying swine, I need to be on my guard!!
Kids do not know whether they need to wee or not. Fool me once shame on you, fool me 8 or 9 times shame on me. Yes I believed them on far too many occasions when they said no they did not need a wee. Much like your brain telling you that you have left something vital behind only when there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it, my kids decide to do a wee just as I’m pulling onto the M25 slip road.
Nursery teachers will defend their charges to the death. The Friday before my wife went away, I introduced myself to the kids’ school teachers to say that I would be dropping them off and collecting them all week. This was received well by all. I went to the nursery to pick George up and as he came running out squealing Daddy, Daddy, a great big shovel of a hand blocked him by the chest as his teacher (who wasn’t there on Friday) shouted for assistance in deciding whether George’s daddy was indeed allowed to collect him. I immediately felt like an estranged father who had come to kidnap his child from nursery, yet felt simultaneously reassured that the teachers were willing to behave so abruptly in the defence of my child (or to prevent litigation).
The rules of the road do not apply between 0830 and 0930 on a school day. Double yellow lines only seem to be advisory, those zig zag things outside of the school gate that I thought meant don’t park here seemed to only invite people in. There was no etiquette, everybody was out for themselves. It only worsened after the kids were dropped off. Who knows where everybody needed to get to, but they were getting there fast.
You have to give your children independence when flying solo. This isn’t some deep and meaningful point about the pros and cons of helicopter parenting. On two occasions I’ve had to leave at least one or both children unattended in order to sort something out. The more embarrassing situation was that I found myself needing a poo whilst shopping in Sainsbury’s. There wasn’t enough room for me in the cubicle, let alone the three of us and the disabled was being cleaned. The stomach ache and the clenching buttocks indicated I didn’t have enough time to wait for the cleaner to finish, so I chose to leave Olivia in charge of the shopping and her brother outside of the toilets whilst I answered nature’s call. Nothing bad happened, but the whole time it just seemed like the start to a crime drama so I rushed and didn’t complete the paperwork properly as a result. How on earth have solo parents been coping with this decision making process for so long??
The washing basket never seems to empty. I have never done so much washing. I saw the bottom of the basket once, but it only lasted a nanosecond before it had filled up once more.
It’s bloody lonely parenting solo. The day is so hectic and filled with activity, when the kids are tucked up in bed the resounding loneliness and stillness of being on your own hits you like a sledgehammer. You go from manic to nothing in no time flat and all you have to think about is how much you wish your other half were there. No wonder wine sales are so good.
I love my kids. I know I love my kids, but I never truly appreciated how much until now. As a military man I’m not at home that often, but in this one week I’ve seen more of my kids’ personalities than in all of their lives. Even when I am at home, I only saw them for a total of 3 hours a day: 1 before work; 2 before bed. I am usually tired, not really paying attention, or I’m preoccupied doing some admin for the next day. This week they have had my undivided attention for every second they have been with me. I’ve seen more emotion in their eyes and love in their heart than I am used to, and although I’ve paid lip service to it before I am truly devoted to those little bastards. To paraphrase a line from those great poets Atomic Kitten, my kids have made me whole again and I love them dearly.
I am so enlightened to how bloody difficult parenting solo can be. I deeply admired stay at home parents anyway, and I had a profound respect for single parents bringing up their children alone, but this past week has made it that little bit deeper, and that much more profound. Every working parent should do this, solo parent for at least a week, it will bring you closer to your kids than you thought possible and it will make you have a greater respect for everything your partner does.