Separate lives

Are we there yet, dad? Are we there yet, dad?

Apropos nothing in particular, I’ve been feeling my age recently. Some of it is the inevitable physical decline that is part and parcel of being in my 40s – aches and pains, not bouncing back from illness the way I used to, not being able to go to work with two hours’ sleep and a hangover any more – but some of it is also the enforced change in lifestyle brought about by having three children under the age of six. I was reminded of this the other day when I was flicking through some old photos of Heather and I all over the world on big holidays and city breaks, or Saturday nights spent partying with friends. Looking back at the person in those photos who is quite clearly me, it’s like I was living a separate life back then.

Part chuckling, part sighing, here are just five of the many ways my life has changed in ways I can barely recognise over the past few years.

1. Holidays (I)

Gone are the days when we used to hare around Washington or Rome or Prague trying to cram as much culture, food and beer into a three or four-day break as we could. Nowadays we stay in family-friendly hotels and cottages doing as much in a week as we used to do in a morning. Instead of running around from restaurant to monument to museum to another restaurant, now we stroll along the beach-front stopping for the occasional ice cream.

It’s rather nice, but I do miss the serendipity of popping into the Guggenheim in New York and randomly bumping into Keanu Reeves. The only celebrity we’ve happened upon recently is Peppa Pig – I don’t think the Hollywood set pitch up in Bideford very often.

Holidays have always revolved around food for us - but not in the way they used to do
Holidays have always revolved around food for us – but not in the way they used to do

2. Holidays (II)

Packing for holidays used to be much simpler too. Get two suitcases. Throw clothes into suitcases. Wish you’d ironed a few things beforehand. Rough Guide, check. Tickets, check. Passports, check. Throw bags into the back of my Audi TT. Drive to Heathrow.

With five family members, the process goes something like this. Get four suitcases. Pack various toddler and child paraphernalia: nappies, wipes, bedtime gear, other stuff we worry about not being able to get on holiday even though we know there’s a Tesco Extra two miles from our hotel. Repack suitcases so we can actually fit some clothes in. Pack separate bags with children’s entertainment for the car trip: iPad for Isaac, notebook for Toby, 517 toys for Kara. Allow boys to pack their shared Trunki with their favourite toys. Unpack Trunki when the inevitable fight breaks out. Repack Trunki, unpack Trunki, repeat ad nauseam. Squeeze bags into the back of our Ford S-Max people carrier and wonder whether we should have invested in a removals truck instead. Leave house. Return to house for forgotten toy. Leave again.

Are we there yet, dad?
Are we there yet, dad?

3. Weekends

“What shall we do this weekend?”

Then: go to the pub with friends, go out for dinner, go to weddings every other weekend between April and September, fall into bed at 2am.

Now: order takeaway or buy expensive steaks which inevitably set off the smoke alarm as I cook them, watch TV, go to kids’ birthday parties, christenings and (increasingly) funerals, consider 11pm ‘a late one’.

4. Shopping

I’m a great subscriber to the restorative powers of retail therapy. Heather and I used to pop into Oxford on a regular basis for a long afternoon of shopping. She would be after a new summer wardrobe, I was just tagging along for the ride. Inevitably she would end up buying one item while I would go home having spent £500 looking like I had been on a mission to collect carrier bags from as many shops as humanly possible.

These days shopping missions are rarer and more focussed. The last trip I did lasted 90 minutes and involved frantically running in and out of Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and John Lewis like a contestant on Total Wipeout. I was supposed to be buying new work clothes and shoes. Instead I spent half an hour in Paperchase (I like my stationery), half an hour staring at men’s watches – I was given money for a new watch two Christmases ago and still haven’t got round to justifying spending the GDP of a small African nation on one – and then half an hour seeking out what I was meant to be buying. (Even when I’m focussed, I’m easily distracted.)

Shopping used to be fun. It isn’t any more.

5. Cinema

We weren’t frequent cinemagoers before the kids arrived but we used to go five or six times a year. I remember that Heather and I went to see The Bourne Ultimatum at a random cinema in Gloucester while she was seven months pregnant with Isaac. The next film I went to the cinema to watch was Skyfall just before Christmas last year. That’s five years (and change) between multiplex visits.

We do occasionally go out for the evening – to dinner, to see friends, even the odd party (usually someone’s 40th birthday) – but in truth the cinema is pretty low on our priority list. If we want to sit quietly in a room for two hours not talking to each other, we can do that in front of a DVD at home. It doesn’t require a babysitter and the popcorn’s cheaper.

Oh my God, I really am old, aren’t I?

What about you, fellow parents? What has changed in your lives that you never really saw coming?