My friends, forgive me if this column is all over the place like a toddlers Weet-Bix, but I’m writing at the dining table while four-year old Peanut and three-year old T-Bone eat yesterday’s cupcakes and watch Play School. Newborn baby Pudding is fast asleep. If I keep my eyes fixed straight ahead I can ignore the washing up to my left, the unfolded laundry to my right, and grab a moment of quiet while it lasts. This peaceful scene could descend into chaos at any moment.
I’ve been back in charge of domestic affairs for a month now. For the first four weeks after Pudding was born, my husband Keith took over the house and kids while I recovered from a tough pregnancy, a caesarean and a disrupted thyroid. I felt bad about it until Keith pointed out that - Pudding being our last baby - paternity leave would never happen again. Hmmm, I thought. I counted up the number of years I had ahead of me as chief cook and bottle washer, resolved to enjoy my housework holiday, and settled back to watch my own personal series of Man About The House.
It was fascinating. For starters, there was the Dad attitude to fashion. Children’s pants were pulled proudly high, and everything was tucked in – shirts into trousers, trousers into socks. Socks were sometimes paired with sandals. In fact, Keith dressed both kids like middle-aged maths teachers. As they left for the park one day I said ‘Are you going to change those t-shirts? They’re filthy.’ Keith laughed. ‘But that’s why I’m leaving them on’, he said. We gazed at each other for some time across the chasm between the sexes.
Keith took a similarly relaxed attitude towards washing. One day it occurred to me that it had been a while between shampoos. ‘Do you want me to give the kids a bath, honey?’ I asked. ‘Nope’, he replied with authority. ‘Bath night is Wednesday.’ Structured night-time routines went by the wayside too. After-dinner baths were replaced by wild sessions of goblin rumbles or T-Bone’s favourite game: climbing on Dads back and shouting, bizarrely but with intense pleasure, ‘You are pig! You are pig!’ Sometimes Keith played Creedence at full volume and taught the kids how to air-guitar. After shenanigans, the kids were dispatched to bed. Against all known parenting rules this crazed bedtime routine worked fine.
Overall Keith seemed to be much slower, gentler in his approach. He taught, played, read and deeply enjoyed his month in charge. The house stayed pretty tidy and dinner made it on the table every night, but without the Mum-energy of perpetual multi-tasking busywork. There was less craft, less cooking, but a lot more life lived outside, and the kids thrived during Keith’s term as governor. Four weeks later, this newly minted family-of-five is settled and happy in our new domestic shape, and I think paternity leave had much to do with that. I definitely learned a few valuable lessons watching Dad in action, but I’ll have to tell you about those next month. It’s Wednesday night, you see! Time to get the bath on.