The presence of women in the workplace isn’t topical these days. My generation boasts such a high proportion of female veterinary surgeons that we no longer expect to find men at work at all. My current place employs three of them but that is rare.
What about the other side of the coin though: working women being absent from their families? And what about blokes staying home and doing the childcare?
‘It must be really hard, leaving Tiddler and Toddler every night’ says a woman at work.
‘Nah!’ I say. ‘It’s bloody great. Really peaceful, you know?’
I’m not sure if she finds that funny; she laughs a bit too much. I’m left feeling awkward because it wasn’t actually meant to be a joke.
Domesticity can be trying; I know we’re all supposed to love being home with the kids, but Toddler’s at the reciting stage and there are only so many “Goosey Goosey Gander”s you can take when you are trying to coax her to eat her dinner, before you pick up the plate and splat it on her face like a custard pie.
OK so I didn’t actually Piesplat Toddler: it was just a fleeting fantasy I had. What actually happened was that I took a deep breath and said something calm and constructive, like:
‘Shall I cut it up for you?’
and she broke off, put down the fork that she’d been waving around and regarded me with her head on one side. Then she uttered one of those immortal lines that makes you feel soooo rewarded:
‘No! Mummy go WAY! Daddy do it…’
Todder’s opinion is one thing (and it changes frequently enough not to take it to heart) but the neighbours rate hubby’s parenting skills too. They tell me that he is an outstanding parent – which is true, but how do they know? – They only ever see him go in and out of the house from behind their own net curtains.
I am suspicious that the goal posts are different for men. If I failed to replace Toddler’s shoes and socks the fifth time she threw them out of the buggy, I’d be guarenteed to walk past a woman who’d tell me – with traditional South Yorkshire tact –
‘it int’ Summer any more, duck. She could catch ‘er death o’ cold!’
If hubby walked by with a barefooted child in a buggy, would she say anything? Of course not.
‘Ah, bless, look at that! Dad’s ‘avin’ a go terday. Int ‘ee good?’
I’d prefer a level playing field now that breastfeeding is over. After all, hubby is naturally a damn sight better at Toddler-minding than I am. We are not all cut out to deliver unconditional patience with our unconditional love: calm is something I have to work at. And yet people assume that the woman is the instinctive child-rearing expert. If I do a good job juggling two kids and eight shopping bags out of the car, nobody looks twice. The neighbours see my husband doing it and the whole street is celebrating him.
Were I not feeling peevish I might be celebrating him too: but today is the last of my week off and today I am feeling peevish.
I am kneeling on the floor, trying to change a chicken korma of a Tiddler nappy. The Toddler is using my throat as a handhold for climbing up my back. Today’s nursery rhyme is ‘Baa Baa Back Deep’ and the self-pity is beginning to mount up.
‘I’m either working,’ I moan to hubby, ‘Or I’m looknig after the kids. I’m getting a bit resentful. I should have made some ME time this week. I haven’t even been out for a run….’
‘Why not? You could have, you know.’
I sigh my most theatrical sigh. ‘Women are naturally martyrs,’ I say. ‘It doesn’t feel ok to have me-time unless someone active encourages you to go. You feel-‘
‘So, why don’t you?’ says hubby, reasonably.
‘Why don’t I what?’
‘Why don’t you go for a run?’
I hadn’t thought of that. I blink.
‘Now,’ says hubby.
I look out of the window. There is ambient greyness. The cloud looks damp and grey; the pavement looks damp and grey; the road looks so damp and grey that the yellow leaves that are plastered to it look positively fluroescent.
‘You want me to go out in THAT? But it’s cold.’
‘It won’t be cold. You’ll be running.’
I make unenthusiastic noises in the back of my throat.
‘I would if I were you,’ says hubby. ‘It’ll be dark in a couple of hours. Or are you just gonig to sit there and whine for the rest of the afternoon?’
I’ll be honest now: I haven’t had a run for two weeks. Every morning the previous week it was either raining, or I was tired, or both. The week before that was the most depressing running yet: every time I went I seemed to get slower: the American accent of my training app called out less and less flattering times. I have been putting it off.
‘Fine!’ I say, aggressively. ‘I’ll go for a sodding run, then….’
And do you know what? I enjoyed it. I ran for 7K – not very fast – but felt vital and full of life at the end. I waltzed back through the door and was soon singing ‘Little Tea-Pot’ with Toddler, feeling good about the world again.
Talking of feeling good, this was supposed to be a positive post about my house husband. Positive posts, like childcare, don’t come naturally to me: I have to work at them.
So here goes: Hubby is great. I love it that someone who isn’t me understands how to assemble the modge-up of different brands of bottle-parts into fully functioning bottles when they come out of the steriliser. I get to work my anti-social hours and see the interesting cases, knowing that my kids are being well looked after. And any irritation that I feel at being unfavourably judged beside him can be offset by pleasedness that society here supports us: nobody in Yorkshire really says ‘You should be downt’ Pit,’ or ‘You should be a ‘ome, luv,’ (and they would if they meant it, this being South Yorkshire) even if they are a bit surprised.
In fact, they are less surprised than they used to be: Hubby reported three Dads with Toddlers at the climbing wall on Monday morning and our local Dad’s Group is terrific. If only there was somewhere that I too could take the kids on a Saturday morning, to eat sausage sandwiches and talk about the rugby while the kids ran riot in a room full of toys. Hubby says that the only rule at Dad’s group is, that if a big kid is upsetting a little kid then someone has to get up to intervene. I would be much more comfortable if all Toddler groups were run like that.
Where was I – oh yes, how lucky we are. I am only a part-time full-time working Mum: in a few months I will be the childcare while Hubby goes off and climbs. That is the compromise of Work and parenting that we have chosen: some choose more work, some choose more parenting. But I do feel that it’s important that there’s a choice – or at least, an agreed compromise.
There are always compromises. We do forgo a lot of potential income by working one at a time and we do spend too much time apart. I try to think of it as the price for doing our own child-care and for Toddler running to either one of us when she wants to read ‘Where’s Spot.’ And, just as importantly, for us both getting good, solid breaks from Chiddlerdom too.
Because Good Breaks are the best thing for any child-carer if they’ll admit it, whatever sex they happen to be.