Walking a mile in Mummy’s shoes

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Another parenting milestone for me today: the first time I have been left alone to look after the boys for an entire day.

It’s been a couple of months since Toby (now aged five months) stopped breast-feeding, so the opportunity has existed for a while. Pre-Toby, Isaac and I had spent plenty of ‘boys only’ days together, but I’ve never really had to fly solo with Toby for more than an hour, and I’ve not had both of them for any length of time (other than in the evening when they’re both asleep).

But today was the day. Heather had booked a day at the spa with friends for some much-needed (and deserved) R&R. and I got to hold the fort for once.

I remember the very first time I had Zac on my own was a huge deal in my head, and no stress at all afterwards. In truth, I’d made a hash of the day, but we both survived OK in spite of that. It was reassuring to realise that I didn’t have to be a perfect dad for the day, just one with his head vaguely screwed on – which those of you who know me well will know is no small achievement in itself. Since then, father/son days with Zac have been a joy rather than a chore: we have a range of boys’ stuff that we do together, from trips to B&Q – he loves gazing at the lights and fans – to simple rough-and-tumble.

So while Heather bustled around last night issuing a long list of helpful instructions and tips for my first three-way with the boys, I was feeling a little trepidation, but generally pretty chilled. After all, I figured that if I was going to get all stressed about it before the day itself, then I was probably going to blow a gasket within 15 minutes of her leaving the house. As long as I knew roughly where to find everything and had managed to get my ahead around the logistics of juggling two boys with very different routines, I couldn’t go so far wrong that social services would need to be called in.

Anyway, here’s how the day went.

7.45am: The day doesn’t get off to the greatest of starts, with Toby refusing to go down for his morning sleep. But after several attempts to coax him into a Zen-like state, the patient approach pays off and our little one nods off. Only for 40 minutes, mind you – he normally manages a couple of hours – but long enough for me to get both Zac and myself fed and watered.

8.30am: Once Toby is up again, I manage to keep both boys entertained for a while by building an impromptu car race track around our living room. Zac really likes it – for ten minutes, anyway, which is a good result in his book – but then somewhere along the line we miss his window of opportunity for the potty. (He still hasn’t quite worked out that he needs to ask for the potty before the stinky nappy action begins, not afterwards.) Still, no big deal. By this time Toby is hungry again, so after a bottle and a quick play he’s back up to bed again. This time I manage to get him to sleep at only the second time of asking which is just about as good as it gets.

10.00am: Bliss. Just one child – albeit a loud, impatient, demanding , ADD, OCD one – to contend with. Zac asks for an episode of Bits and Bobs, granting me a 15-minute reprieve to do some washing up and start writing this blog (the first three paragraphs of it, anyway).

10.30am: Toby still demonstrating that he inherited the snoring gene from me. Zac refuses three suggestions to play outside; he wants to play in his room instead. So we go upstairs and start talking about the pictures of Lily Allen and Kylie he has on his wall. I ask him if he would like another picture; he replies with the single word “pink”. Inspiration strikes. We head back downstairs and spend the next hour sitting side-by-side in the study in front of the PC putting together the montage to the right, and then playing on the CBeebies website. Sorted.

11.30am: Toby wakes up after an hour and a half’s sleep. Cue lunch preparations.

12.30pm: Miracles of miracles – all three of us sit down to lunch together. At the same time. Remarkable.

1.15pm: Both boys showing signs of tiredness, so Toby goes into his car seat. I put Zac’s sandals on. I take them off again to change the dirty nappy I’ve just discovered. Repeat. I finally manage to get them both into the car; Zac is asleep within two minutes, with Toby not far behind.

1.45pm: Back home again, with Zac asleep in the back of the car. Toby has a half-hour power nap and is raring to go again, but a bit grizzly. Diva. We settle down in front of the TV. He’s a big fan of V. Honest.

2.40pm: Zac wakes up, and it’s straight back to play-time.

4.30pm: After over an hour and a half’s trying, Toby finally nods off to sleep. Zac and I are soon back on the computer making him a new montage of cars. It beats pink!

5.30pm: Heather returns home, just as I have woken Toby up to get him dressed to go out this evening.

So there you have it. I have spent a day walking in Heather’s shoes and been solely responsible for looking after both Isaac and Toby. No fatalities. All limbs present and accounted for. And, actually, minimal stress. It helped that Zac was as good as gold today, playing the role of the caring, attentive big brother perfectly. And it probably helps that, with a couple of years’ worth of lessons and mistakes from time spent looking after Zac on my own, I wasn’t going to get too uptight about things not going to plan.

I like to think I’ve always been reasonably understanding of how tricky it is to juggle two young children with one pair of hands, and today has largely reinforced rather than changed my views on that. I’m still pretty unstressed by the whole thing, although I know that it’s a whole different ball game doing it once in a while versus doing it for the majority of the week every single week of the year, as Heather does. I do suspect my parenting style probably helps as well, insofar that I’m not a full-on, hands-on, right-on kind of dad who is driving something every minute of the day – I’m more likely to go with the flow and do things spontaneously, which lends itself more to a day here and there as a change of pace for the boys; it would be terrible for trying to drill them into a daily routine. Heather is far more organised than I am, and much better when it comes to maximising use of time and teaching opportunities, which is brilliant for Zac and Toby but has the downside of being more stressful and intrusive for her. I guess we complement each other quite well, though.

Anyhow, I think today turned out well. I don’t think for one minute I’m the best dad in the world, but I did fine. And it’s nice to know that Heather was able to enjoy her day out with enough confidence that I wasn’t making a pig’s ear of things. (I even had the house in a pretty decent state of tidiness for when she got back. What she doesn’t know (yet) is that I got Zac – who, on his day, is a bit of a neat freak – to do a lot of it himself while Toby was sleeping.)

So. yes, a positive result all round. I enjoyed having the day alone with my two boys, and I would happily do it again. But would I ever be a stay-at-home dad? Not a chance in hell. That sounds way too much like hard work.