I’m waiting for the green man

I’m the sort of person who likes a minute. I used to enjoy things like staring out the window, twiddling my hair waiting for the kettle. These days, preparing to go to the shops is more arduous then my mid-twenties self found moving house. Time for a shower is a luxury but not luxurious as some plastic thing is tapped against the door and a scratched record style commentary, “What you doing?” is in accompaniment. I can’t even take a wee in peace.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not surprised about this, it hasn’t come as a shock, “Toddler and baby are demanding” is not a headline. But it does mean that I seek the refuge of “having a minute” in any place I can find it. At the moment I find this solace on street corners. I’m waiting for the green man. We’re learning to cross roads. We’re not getting very far. “First thing you need to learn is that you’ve always got to wait.” I tell him.

I’m taking them to playgroup. Getting out the door has frazzled me. Getting them dressed can cause despair. It’s tricky with girls. I feel a pressure to get her clothes matching. Not that she notices. “Start by picking the dress.” My wife advised. I stand looking at all the dresses while holding a range of tights, “What would my wife pick?” I ask myself. I don’t know what goes. Anyway, why can’t girls wear Stone Roses jumpers and jeans? Are only boys Stone Roses fans? I don’t care if people think she’s a boy. While I furrow my brow over shades of girly colours, the boy is preparing to enter battle.

He doesn’t need a new nappy, despite the odour ruminating from his current sagging one. He doesn’t need to get dressed, “I’m warm and cosy.” He protests. He doesn’t want shoes, DEFINITELY not those shoes, or those shoes or those shoes, which coat, he wants to walk, he has to go in the buggy, he squirms, he’s not happy. I need to make sure I’ve got nappies, changes of clothes, snacks, a bottle of milk, is it cold out?. “We’ll be late for playgroup.” I warn him. He seems happy with that. Why am I stressed about being late for playgroup? I know if we don’t make it we’re staying in and I have to watch his energy explode in the confines of the house. Finally we get out, just about intact. My head is spinning. And then we get to the lights and we have to slow down. We have to stop. Actually stop. We don’t do that much. There is not even an inkling of a car within the vicinity. The joy of waiting for the green man.

I reach in my pocket and now I’ve got about 26 snotty tissues stuck to my hand. Do noses need a wipe? Turns out there is more snot on their faces than in my tissues. People rush on by and weave between the cars that race through the lights as they flick from amber to red. These people don’t have the time to wait. “LOOK DADDY. He’s crossing.” “That’s fine. He’s an adult. He can.” I’ve been up since 3.30am. My brain is more dead than alive. “When can you cross?” I ask. “When holding hands or when the green man.” He doesn’t mean it, left to his own accord he’d race into the middle of the road. We’ll run through the green man routine for the next 6 months. Could be worse, I could be trying to get them to do something.

She falls gently to sleep and he watches the world go by. I’ve got them strapped in to the buggy. They can’t run away. I can’t hear him argue back. There is nothing to pack or unpack or wipe or change or chase. I don’t need to hurry. I can take my time. I can think about things that aren’t babies. I’m feeling good, feeling fine, until 4am tomorrow, but that’s just some other time. I’m waiting for the green man.

Have a read of this: The 4am moment

The 4am moment

We strive to be a solid parental unit. It’s about teamwork. Empathy. Give and take. Dove tailing. All sorts of clichés that you can get in helpful books. But we’re not the marines, so it’s not really “one for all”. Quite often it’s a tricky calculation of one-upmanship. 4am is one of those times.

I’m awake. Quite wide awake. It’s still dark so it isn’t get up time. The house feels quiet. Why am I awake? I crane my neck to peer over Shell and squint my eyes in an attempt to give the digital clock some sharp focus, so that I can discern the time. ‘Why the fuck do we have a clock with such an annoyingly small time display. Whose idea was that?’ I think. It wasn’t my idea. It’s 4am. I rest my head on the pillow and nestle in to enjoy a couple more hours. Then I hear the splutter from next door.

‘Oh fuck. Please don’t.’ There are more splutters. Then a slight moan. Then silence. More silence. I strain my ears to listen for silence. ‘Please be going back to sleep. Please.’ I strain so hard I can hear the high pitch ring of tinnitus above the low hum of a silent house. My body is tense. I’m doing everything I can not to move. As if somehow any movement by me will disturb the baby in the room next door. The noises cease. I don’t move for a period of time. I refuse to let myself relax back in to sleep. I couldn’t take the crushing blow that is going from thinking all is calm and sleep awaits to prodding my toes around in some sort of sleep deprived Hokey-Cokey, trying to find my slippers in the dark. I don’t want to tempt fate. It’s difficult to judge time in the night but I finally feel able to relax my shoulders back into the bed. I can let myself float off.

Then a small whimper. “Oh fuck.” She isn’t going back to sleep. She might. I clutch tightly to that thought. ‘Come on girl. You can do it. It’s still night.’ When does late become early? She’s not listening to my thoughts. The whimpers slowly grow in frequency and volume. ‘Don’t wake up the boy.’ I couldn’t cope with that. I rest on my elbows for a minute. It’s a statement of intent. A few of the moans are that kind of “soothing” moan. I stay rested. It goes quite again. Yet still I lie there, ears strained, muscles clenched, eyes tightly shut, trying not to shatter the night, hoping that I can send vibes that get her back to sleep.

If I have to get out of bed I’ve got a whole load of other problems to contend with. I remain perched. In the silence I look over at the steady breathing duvet next to me, ‘How are you asleep?’ I think. ‘It always seems to be who wakes up these days. It’s not fair.’ I quickly conclude that somehow my wife is getting the better end of the deal. There is no way that I am getting enough sleep. She isn’t getting enough sleep but I’m pretty sure that I’m not even getting the sleep that I’m entitled to. I lie back down and roll onto my side. I start counting. If I get to thirty that means I can start the “getting back to sleep process.” I don’t make it to ten. It turns out this interlude was preparation for the all out assault. She is straight into full pelt crying mode and her screams are ripping the night apart. But before I react I hear a sigh next to me, a “for fuck’s sake.” And my wife is up. “You’re fucking snoring.” She says. It doesn’t mean she knows I’m awake. Turns out she was awake all along. She’s dealing with it. Get in. That is a result.

A flicker of guilt wells up inside me. ‘Shit. She has to work in the morning. I’m the home maker now. I should have sacrificed myself. But I did it yesterday, so it’s her turn. Tomorrow night she’s away with work so I’ll have to do the whole thing. I did tea. I cooked. She did the bath. Who has the right to feel aggrieved? It’s inevitable that one of us does. But shit, I’m at the football this weekend. That’s a whole day. I’ll be ropey on the Sunday. Should I have got one in the bag?’ It’s amazing how many calculations my otherwise lobotomised brain can make in this moment. But she would have been awake anyway so there is no point us both being awake, I decide. I can tell by her body language, as she throws her dressing gown on and silently stomps off, she’s annoyed with me. She must reckon I should have taken the hit for the team. Oh well. I’ll claim I was asleep all along. I pull the duvet up to my chin and return to sleep. It says 4:10am on the digital clock.

It’s 5.50am. A shout echoes through the house. “Mummy I want my milk. Mummy I WANT MY MILK.” “Your turn”, my wife says. He’s definitely not going back to sleep. ‘She knew this would happen.’ She wasn’t taking one for the team, she was outsmarting me. She curls up in the warm bed. The time starts with a 5. That’s no time to start your day. ‘It’s so unfair.’ I think.

The second coming: Week 1 back on the home making roller coaster

It’s simple really. Keep them clean, full, rested, interested and entertained and the hours will tick by into days and flow into months and in no more than a “that went quickly. You were off for how long?” I’ll be able to look back on a home making job well done. I’ll have two well adjusted children and no anecdotes for the pub. And even on a tough day, childcare is done by around 8pm.

As you might have guessed, I’m back on home making duties after a whirlwind of a year that has seen three new jobs between us, a three month stint for me as a part time hard working single dad, two months for Shell as a part time home making single mum, and we’ve skipped on from Cameronshire to God’s own Yorkshire. And on top of that the second coming has joined the family. Our new and exciting addition. For this stint, while I’ve got two of them to deal with, as it approached, I could wrap myself in the comfort blanket of being an experienced home maker.

So, this is week 1 and like starting any new job I’m trying to feel my way into it. There are two main strategic challenges to the role. The first is to work out what I’m supposed to do, the second is to get into the slower rhythms of the home making day. You’ve got to get to grips with the pace of life. Managing little people is like a 5 day test compared to the 20-20 of work. Sure, there is high drama – mostly accompanied by tears – and there is great tension but it’s slower and gentler, although both need endless cups of tea.

In the last couple of weeks of work I was flat out with meetings, away days, telecons, forums, 10pm presentations, 1am website launches and then I shut down my email and triumphantly prodded the off switch on my computer. I was done. After a not very relaxing weekend I found myself on day 1 of paternity leave. By not even 9.30 the Precious one is doing his melt down boy thing, including landing a kick to the balls because I had to change his nappy. The second coming is screaming. I couldn’t work out why. If I get a tricky email first thing on a Monday morning I can go and make a brew, mull it over, ask my colleagues how their weekends where, have a coffee, write a to do list, return to it at leisure. I can’t ignore a kick to the balls and two screaming children. If I can’t get him to put trousers on I can’t get him to nursery. Then I’m really in trouble. At that point, not quite 2 hours in, 6 months feels like a long time.

I’d forgotten how draining it is. It drags your energy from your body because it’s so seemingly irrational, yet there has to be a way to unlock the puzzle. There is an answer to how we get out the front door or get through lunch. I have to find it. For my own sanity. When you’ve only got a day or two you can haphazard your way through knowing that soon enough you’ll return to the sanctuary of the office, I’ve got six months. So when the confrontations are over, when peace has descended, and I’m enjoying a hot cup of tea and 6 music, as I was by 10am, the sense of achievement is way above what it should be for getting someone to sleep and someone else to put trousers on. All is well. For now.

On day 2, my first with both of them, I cheated and retreated to my mum’s. Three hours of tying them in a car seat was preferable to managing them by myself. Day 3 had been sold to me as the easy day. “She’s simple on her own.” The second coming woke up at 3.30am with a nasty cough, she didn’t go back to sleep. Her routine thrown for the day, she doesn’t know what’s going on and isn’t happy with any of the options. I run through my check list of nappy, food, bored, over stimulated, under stimulated or hopefully tired. I like it when it’s tired. But her naps don’t last as she wakes herself with coughs and she doesn’t perk up. The day has gotten away from me. The more I try, the further from where I want to be I get. By 6pm as the tears flowed I was asking a two year old if he had any idea why his 6 month old sister was crying. The worst bit being, I genuinely hoped he’d have some insight.

Day 4 is the second day of dual management. It’s like guerrilla warfare. There was no major set piece battle but we skirmished throughout the day. “Your feet will get wet if you stand in puddles in just socks.” “You knocked the den over yourself.” “You can’t have it until it beeps.” “You shouldn’t have dropped your tea on the floor then.” Insert pretty much everything I say or ask him to do. Sure, my power is arbitrary and random but I am, as far as the authorities are concerned, in charge. He knows that so that’s why he waits in ambush whenever he gets a whiff that I want to make something happen. When we;re not laughing at each other it’s a disaster.

So my week of being induced has been tricky. The main issue seems to be that I don’t know what I’m doing. Women build up to their leave by getting rounder and more waddly. Me, I’m parachuted in like a supply teacher without a lesson plan. The class knows it can take the piss. But it’s only week 1 and as I adjust to the rhythms and they adjust to my disorgainsed non-list based regime we’ll muddle through. Today is day 5 and we’ve all slept better. We’re all happier. We’ll be reet, as we all slowly work out what’s going on.

The second coming – The Yorkshire dash

For the second coming we wanted to try out a new style of birthing. Bored of the debate about hospitals v homes we thought we’d throw everything in the air by trying out our unique idea – I’ve christened it the Yorkshire dash. It’s got everything that modern birthers want – potentially limited medical intervention, the bloke can play a pivotal role, no chance of pain relief and depending on the vagaries of the British road network the opportunity to have your baby in a highly individual setting – in our case, the hard shoulder of the M40.

Shell (also known as wife and birthing vessel in this blog) was working away in Yorkshire and I was at home part time single parenting with the precious one. It was her final week of work before returning home to beach herself on the couch and get ready for the second coming – we needed to pack the bags, dig out the birthing plan and generally prepare ourselves. So when the baby decided to come three weeks early, and we were on opposite sides of the country, the Yorkshire dash ensued.

What she may have ended up like if born in Yorkshire

What she may have ended up like if born in Yorkshire

When the precious one was born, my role was really more cameo then central. For a start I was up the home end all the way through. I read my paper and listened to Germany v Italy when it was all quiet in the first bit, then I went for a walk, then I had a little nap, and made a few cups of tea, but besides that I was pretty solid when having my hand squeezed, back rubbing, flannelling and giving the odd “you’re doing really well. Keep going.” But I’ve always felt that the trained professionals have tried to make up stuff for the man to do. A bit like I do for the precious one when he wants to help put the washing out. The men are an appendix in the birthing process. “You do that bit and I’ll take over for the next few years,” I said to the midwife when she held the scissors in my direction for cord cutting. I’m not sure why I have strong feelings about this symbolic act of cutting the connection between child and mother. I think part of it is that I’ve always seen it a bit like a children’s school nativity play. There are only really a few central characters and then they have to make roles up for the others – “this year, Ian, you can be Shepherd number 5, or Wise Man number 7.” It’s a tacked on role. So with the second coming I got to be a major player and I found out that Shepherd number 5 is more where I’m at.

On this occasion the first step was for the child vessel’s waters to break over three weeks before the due date while in her office 172 miles away from where her partner (ie me) is residing with the precious one – this is 5.30pm. She must make the call to travel across the country – in this case from Dewsbury to Oxford via Holmfirth, a four hour trip. After a little cajoling it’s decided that it’s probably best not to drive herself. It could be argued that this would add an extra layer of fun, and that denying her this chance to have a literal and metaphoric journey with the impending child is merely highly gendered PC gone mad. I’ve not met anyone who thinks this but there are a lot of pretty crazy self indulgent ideas floating around about birth so it seems plausible.

Shell began the dash by approaching her reasonably new work colleague and making the awkward announcement. He kindly offered to give her a lift back to my sister’s. Some forty minutes away. I get a call to let me know that we’ve got a situation. Now, with the second coming we were a bit more laissez fair than our first birth. With him, we’d been to NCTIggle Piggle and read books about hippy-birthing with surges and the noise of dolphins relaxing. We’d discussed the idea of home birthing although this never really appealed to me. It turns out I’m somewhat of a traditionalist who thinks that when you have a procedure that can be loosely defined as medical then going to where the experts are with their expert equipment rather than messing about in the front room is the best solution. I guess I’ve always been more focussed on the end result then the journey. This made the Yorkshire dash a slightly ironic situation.

Once I got the call, as well as feeling a little numb with shock and trying to frantically pack bags for me, her, the new baby and the precious one, my main priority was to manage the precious one. This meant settling down to a calming session of In the Night Garden so that I could keep things fairly normal in order to get him to bed before I can start my leg of the dash. At the same time the child vessel heads south through the M1 roadworks ably supported by my sister’s fella. My heart rate is pounding, I’m wondering if I need to reproach myself for the fact that we’re at opposite ends of the country and I’m bricking it as my mind zooms through all the intriguing possibilities that might unfold in the hours ahead. I’m sat on the sofa feigning wonder at what that crazy Ninky-Nonk is getting up to. “Will Shell be safe? Will the baby be born safely? Will I see the birth? Will I deliver the birth? Have I got enough petrol in the car? Is Iggle Piggle in bed?”

Once I’ve read Bob the Builder and the Central Heating System to the precious one I put him down and then it’s all systems go. Reinforcements have arrived and I can start my role in this active birthing process – it’s 7.30pm. I get my foot down and surge up the fast lane of the M40. All the while hoping that we can either get back to the local hospital or that the baby will be born before I arrive at the Murco garage on the A46. I can’t change a plug let alone deliver a new entity into existence. We make the baton change at 8.30pm. Now as well as trying to get to the hospital as quickly and safely as I can – after all I’m now worrying that I’ll be having a go at delivering a baby on the hard shoulder of the M40 – I’m expected to be a birthing partner. “How are your contractions?” I ask. “All over the place. Some are a couple of minutes apart some a bit longer.” “Oh.” I apply pressure with my right foot and take a swig of caffeine. “Don’t pass me the Coke and expect me to put the lid on. I’m having a contraction.” She was riding shot gun, I didn’t say. I was feeling fairly calm but pretty sure that I wanted medical intervention.

We approach Junction 12 – the Banbury turn off, the last spot that has qualified medical assistance and medical type machines. Stick or twist onto the JR? “Do you think you can make it?” “I feel OK, we could go home and I could have a bath.” “Let’s go to the hospital shall we?” “You’re not being a very good birthing partner. You’re not very chatty.” “I’m trying to focus on my key tasks.” Not crashing and not delivering a baby. Finally we pull up into the car park – still just two of us and a third inside a tummy. It was 9.55pm. Just over two hours later the second coming arrives, 3 weeks and 2 days early at 12.13am, weighing in at 6lb 9oz. That was just under two weeks ago and now we’re all safely home and well.

I should sum up my learnings but we’re not having any more so it doesn’t matter.

There was an old lady who swallowed a spider – fair enough

I understand why the old lady concluded that swallowing the spider was the logical answer to the unforeseen consequences of the fly solution. I have my own spider, it has a jaunty tune and opens with these words, “How do you do, it’s so good to meet you, what do you do, when you meet somebody new smile and wave and then say how do you do.” I’ll explain.

I turn off my computer and look forlornly out the window at the clogged up arteries that are Oxford’s exit roads. I sigh. Pre-precious one I worked around rush hour so I could drive in experiencing all the A road ecstasy that those fellahs in posh car adverts get. Now there is no way out of it. I’ll have to take my place in the queue and slowly make my way back to Cameronshire. The precious one runs to the other side of the room when he sees me bound in to nursery with a smile on my face. He wedges himself in between a cupboard and the wall. The nursery staff have sympathetic smiles. “He’s had a great day. Been happily playing.” “Come on. Let’s go and see mummy.” It’s an attempt at a quick short term fix. He’s not buying it. “So he hasn’t arched his back and cried, like he is now?” I try and get his coat on, he doesn’t want to come and sit in the car, in the dark, as we crawl along behind the endless line of brake lights.

The first time, as all first times should, it seemed like a great idea. It was after a few nights were the minutes ticked by and more cars flooded the road. He screams as I try to negotiate him into his seat, holding him in place with my hand around his tummy. He flails his arms around. I plead. I’ve read that I need to indulge this emotion. It’s normal for them to have extreme feelings that they don’t know how to express. It drives them to meltdown. The adults that I share the road with on my commute are similar, we’ve just learned to curse each other from the safety of our cars. I accept my fate. He wriggles. In the book it said that I should sit it out while he rids himself of the anger before trying again. I want to get home and who knows how long that would take. So I do the only sane thing and wedge him in before bribing him with raisins. It worked and we were off.

“More.” He calls from the back. I try to An imagining of the A34keep him happy while not crashing into the car in front as I pass raisins backwards. “More.” Raisins are slippery little critters and he can knock them back without them touching the sides. I’m spending more time concentrating on trying to pass him the little pieces of dried fruit than I am on driving. It’s like a re-imagining of the Sistine Chapel Creation of Adam, with raisins and set in an Audi on the A34. “More.” He’s dropped another. I’m almost dislocating my arm to reach back while he gropes as far forward as his little arm will go.  After a few days and a few near misses the back of my car is covered. It’s dangerous. It won’t do.

So I move on to apricots. Easier to pass and they take longer to munch. “You use apricots to get him into the car.” Another parent concludes with a raised eyebrow and a superior look. “Yeah. So what. Not all the time.” At first I can mix it up. Make him think that he’ll get the treat and then sometimes give it and sometimes not. I’m in charge. After less than a week of this he won’t settle unless he’s chewing on some dried fruit. People jump lanes, beep horns and throw hand gestures at one another. We’re not allowed to cry. I can’t keep bribing him with food. He can get through four dried apricots before we’ve got navigated the first traffic jam of the journey. He’s started to not want his tea when we get in. I needed a non food based child calming solution.

He’s tired after a long day of playing in the sand, stealing toys off other kids and doing some great drawings that we can give to the grandparents. Over an hour it can take us to get the eleven miles from work to home. I put some of his CDs in the car. ‘For when it gets really bad.’ I told myself. When he is on a mission to shout over the top of Radio 4 and won’t contemplate me playing the Pixies. After all, he is one half of our team. He has a right to get his tunes played in the car. I can’t dictate that we listen to my music or my radio stations every day. It’s a fair and rational split. “Again.”  The problem is I’ve created a rod for my own back. I can’t reason with him that sometimes we have my stuff and sometimes we have his. He wants his all the time. “Again.” We listen to his and sing along to different nursery rhymes and make different animal noises. He settles on a medley of classic nursery rhymes played on a glockenspiel. It’s how I imagine James Blunt would deliver a nursery rhyme based album. Basically, I could block it out.

Then I made my error. It was on Boxing Day when me and the precious one where heading up north. It was my M6 solution. Hickory Dickory Dock wouldn’t get us through an M6 traffic jam. I needed the big guns. I bring Shoe Baby. A kind of happy-go-lucky indy album of child focused songs. It stays in the car post-Christmas. It’s now a feature of our commute. He’ll no longer even accept a different nursery rhyme CD. It’s traffic, dried fruit and the upbeat world of the Tea Party of the Year and all the cheery animals at the zoo. I want a peaceful life. The down side of his favourite CD is that it is only twenty minutes long, to accommodate his lack of concentration. We can get through it two or three times on a single journey. Before long I know all the words to all the songs.

His demands get worse over the weeks. He’s a back seat tyrant. Once his favourite song finishes he shouts, “How do.” “How do.” “How do.” I try not to crash.  His previous general sense of unhappiness has been given a focal point. If only his favourite song was playing then life would be all good. “Not how do.  We’ve already listened to it twice today.”  I negotiate. “There are other good tunes.” I skip to my favourite song, Magic Motor Shoe. I sing along and wave my arms to entice him. “Toot toot scoot scoot what a magic shoe can do.” I lower my rear view mirror so we can make eye contact. Thank god it’s dark so the people in the cars around me can’t see me dancing. Someone pulls out in front of me into what can’t be described as space in the road. “What a magic shoe can do.” He’s not having it, “How do. How do. How do.” He’s determined. I return to How do. “Say hello to your fingers. Say hello to your toes. Say how do you do to the end of your nose.” Again. And again. And again. And again.

It seemed like such a good idea. It was a way out of the impasse. At least he doesn’t cry for forty minutes. He sits happily in the back. I stare forward. The whimsical tune tapping at my head. The rush hour eating away at me. I’ll find myself singing “How Do” at some point when he’s fast asleep in bed. Maybe a DVD player attached to the back of my seat could be the solution – after all, a bit of Thomas might ease the precious one’s woes and relieve me of How do. The old lady ended up eating a horse (pre-scandal days). “Hello thank you kindly, for coming to the show and when you leave won’t you mind how you go.” At least it’s not One Direction.

He’s “that age” but he’d batter at dog at Countdown

I’ll start with a Scandinavian TV show style recap of the drama that is the precious one’s day to day travails since I fell off the blogging bandwagon. In short, he’s developed from baby to little boy, I’ve gone back to worker and we’ve outsourced care to the nursery. It turns out that his expanding brain has given him more options to demonstrate “no.”  We naively thought we were moving to easier street.

So he is a 3-day a week inmate at the nursery . For those who have never been to one, it’s like One Flew Over Cockoo’s Nest but with smaller tables and chairs.  I can once again drink hot cups of tea, eat hot lunches and have a wee when I need one without him tugging at my legs or trying to launch himself into the toilet bowl. It’s the simple things. It’s all good news as he loves it and in many ways he prefers it to being with us. He’s gutted on non-nursery days and he runs away from me when I go to pick him up. Apparently that’s an endorsement of our parenting skills.

the precious one and chums at nursery

the precious one and chums at nursery

He has also risen to a mental state that is far superior to that of a dog. When I wrote my last substantial post I’d have put him at around dog in terms of mental abilities. This is no insult, show me a new born baby anywhere that has more mental agility than your average mutt and I’ll show you the star character in a moody mind bending horror film. Now, in a metaphorical sense, he would batter a dog at Countdown. I’m not boasting but he’s so advanced that he points at every older woman of any race and shouts “nanna”. I’m nodding with pride.

This growing understanding of the world around him and the realisation that he can influence it has brought a change in our day-to-day lives. He’s raced beyond crawling and now toddles like he’s John Wayne navigating an icy pavement. Without any concept of self-preservation.  It was magical watching him master walking in the safety of our nothing sharp front room. We no longer go out. That is a partial lie as we’re quite able to head to places full of plastic toys and cushions. We’ve given up going out to do the things that adults like to do. We soldiered on for a while, unable to adjust to the new realities. After one meal too many where one of us followed him on his quest to bang his head on table corners while the other ate alone, swapping roles so the other could enjoy a cold meal and then heading home, we concluded that it just isn’t worth it.

His growing personality means we have to bribe him with raisins to get him into his car seat and now a big part of our role is as amateur interpreters. He points the direction he wants to go, he grabs his shoes when he wants to go out and he says “How do” when he wants his favourite CD put on. His tongue is still developing its dexterity for wrapping itself around the words that he is trying to say. Our interactions are like when I’m approached by a tourist asking for directions in stodgy English on the Underground. When he looks confused I repeat it louder and slower. He screams. I look apologetic. We’re both shorn of ideas and leave dissatisfied.

He feigns no understanding of what is being said, unless he confidently declares “no-no-no-no-no-no.” And, as is the prerogative of an eighteen month old, he doesn’t always know what he wants. In these situations he conveys his irritation/frustration/anger/rage by curling up on the floor, looking up at me and screaming with a bright red face and a piercing tone. I respond by standing with furrowed head unsure how to resolve the situation even if I wanted to. I stand, he curls and we’re both bemused. When I say “no” in my sternest tone – if he’s throwing a spoon full of yoghurt at me or rummaging through the bins – then he looks at me with a big smile and carries on with an angelic “I’m only 18 months I have no clue what you’re going on about” look.

At one stage of my leave I felt serene that I knew what I was doing but now I’m not so sure. I use the opportunity of dropping him at nursery to seek assurance from the trained experts in these shenanigans. I ask his care coordinator if other members of his peer group exhibit similar behaviour and if there is anything that I can do. She smiles in that reassuring way, “it’s his age”.

Extended paternity leave: is it a man’s world?

So I’ve somewhat fallen off the blogging bandwagon of late. But after literally two people begged me (well mentioned that they noticed I hadn’t written anything for a while) I’ve decided that it’s time to do my best Jesus impression and return to action after a short break.

This first post is breaking one of my main rules as it might contain something useful. A blogging buddy of mine – the excellent Lulastic and the Hippy Shake – asked me to don my thinking cap and see what I could learn the world with my thoughts on taking extended parental leave. The following are those thoughts……

What made you decide to share parental leave?
The precious one’s mum is quite organised so we were chatting about it before the first scan. I hadn’t really pondered what it would be like to spend so much time washing up pink garish plastic things in a sink, so I just thought “Yeah, sounds like fun. Why not?” Besides being up for a challenge we both know that we’re lucky to have been able to make the choice, but the main thing was that we see parenting as a partnership.  And I thought it’d be fun and different.

Was there a single moment that made you realise you wanted to do it?
Not really. As I say, I’d committed to it like you might respond when someone suggests a pint or two a week on Wednesday.  But I knew I wanted to do it as it just seemed like a fantastic chance to experience something that a few years ago I never thought I’d do.

My family as represented by our shoes

My family as represented by our shoes

How did Ian’s work respond to the request?
I was lucky. People have said to me that it would be career suicide where they work but for me my manager was especially supportive. He’d done something similar when his son was little as he’d been a free lancer and built his work around caring for his son. He  almost ushered me out the door. Weird.

How did you find it amongst the community baby activities? We hear horror stories of dads being made to feel alienated at Mums and Tots…
People ask this a lot. I hear stories but I haven’t experienced it. Before I went on leave I was adamant I wouldn’t be a joiner-inner but then whether it was for my sanity, for his development or just to stop being housebound, I went to stuff. Whether at baby college or music groups and the like and I never had a bad experience. Although I preferred structured play to a glorified toy room in the days before he was truly mobile. That’s not to say that people were always coming up to me and giving me hugs and firm handshakes as I strode through the door radiating modern man. They weren’t.

Lots of times I went to things and sat on the periphery but I never thought I was being picked on. Often I’d go to groups and people clearly knew each other. I never expected that I’d jump into the middle of a group and start telling them all about my travails with the precious one. In most situations people talk to the people they know. Often I wasn’t bothered about swapping stories about poo and sleep. Sometimes I would meet people and chat. I’m pretty relaxed about it when I go to things. Now he’s fully mobile I go to a play group most Friday’s and I know the odd person, sometimes people offer me a brew and sometimes they don’t. I’m not always trying to make friends so I’ve always concluded it’s about my attitude as well as other peoples.

PS – “mums and tots” how sexist. “parents groups” “primary carers and kids”

There is one particular group of people who suggest that under threes should never leave their mum, as even their dad doesn’t have the same instinctive response to a child. How would you respond to them? Did you feel any deep down instincts kicking in?

Ha – deep down instincts! I never met those people at play group (maybe they alienate the dads?). I had great fun with the precious one and I think that he did too. He seems to have survived as happy as he always was. I think that this touches on the most profound change that me taking over at the six months mark had on our family. At first neither of you know what you’re doing, then you start fumbling along and then the mother surges ahead as she is spending so much time with the baby. Then, and I think this is visible in 99% of parental couples – you kind of fall into a pattern where the woman becomes the project manager and the man the project officer. Sure, I was “hands on” and getting stuck in to the tasks but it’s the woman who knows when they need sleep, food or if they’re just a bit miffed about something. I don’t think that’s instinct as much as experience – especially from having that daily ongoing close contact. So, after we swapped it only took a few weeks (as they change all the time) for us to become much more equal and in many ways I started making the calls.

I don’t think we would have got to that point if I hadn’t taken the leave. I don’t think of it as a release of some ancient instinct, more I just really didn’t want anything bad to happen on my watch.

Men would say to me “I couldn’t do that.” And clearly some women think men are hampered by their penises but I just don’t see it. Anyone can do it – it’s not like a cryptic crossword.

What were you favourite bits about taking paternity leave?
I learned to be comfortable with an Orla Keely bag. I danced to the Spice girls with nine women that I’d never met (and babies!). As well as those self-perception changing memories, it was such a good chance to do something totally different and be challenged in a new way. I loved being in charge and the stuff I said above about what that meant.

Once the winter ended and he got mobile the two of us did lots of midweek road trips to friends and families – that was loads of fun. I think people were surprised to see me as a self-sufficient parent. I also think that without his mum being there friends felt more able to get involved with bathing and bottles and sleep.  The two of us loved it and I love seeing him hanging about with old friends.

Do you feel there might be any long term benefits from it?
Definitely – I think it’s changed my perspective about work and family. And I think the precious one is quite relaxed about spending time with both of us. It’s hard to say about specific things as its more that it’s totally changed our family dynamic. I would recommend it to anyone who can.

What is your situation now?
Now we’re both at work doing four days and he goes to nursery for three. So we both still get our time with him individually and our time together. Plus we get the break from the sterile sanity of office life. In truth, I was ready to go back so I like this balance. He also loves nursery and is gutted on the days when he doesn’t go.

Do you feel you have a totally equal parental partnership?
I think so. We both bring different things to it. I’m the strict one. I play a bit rougher but we’re both comfortable taking on the main role. If one of us goes away with work the other knows what they’re doing and he is fine with it.

I feel that policies like this could have an enormous impact on gender equality both in the workplace and the home. What do you reckon?
Absolutely. I think we’ve got so far to go – if you look at the low pick up – to change the culture but getting the policy in place is a starting point. Having a better balance in how we care for our children in a world where most couples need to both be in work is so important. It’ll be great for women who want careers but it will also help men claim their right to be involved with their family and I can’t see how it can do anything but good for the child.

What else do workplaces and government policies need to do to generate gender equality amongst parents?
It’ll take a while. It’s how you shift the culture and who will drive that shift. Most businesses are run by middle aged men who often have sacrificed their family for career, it’s unlikely they’ll push it. For women who might have sacrificed career for family they can easily resent it. It’s one of those areas where our generation is saying to our parents generation, we want to do it differently. That means  that shift will probably be clunky and take time.

One of the interesting reactions that I got from a lot of women before I went on leave was, “do you think she’ll still agree to it when the time comes.” And “I wouldn’t let my husband.” Which was symptomatic of a wider sense that is the woman’s leave and I was muscling in. That’s what has to change.

I was chatting with a friend of mine who has just gone back to work and we agreed that we were both surprised that how to manage family and work is so low down on public discourse. Essentially office life was designed in the days of Mad Men and despite all the changes over time we’re still confined to a largely 9-5 go to a certain place model. It’s not compatible with a young family. Change this and then (wo)men can have it all!

Would I do it again? I will be in a few short months time.