For the next nine days I am stepping out of my accustomed role as a father of three and assuming a temporary assignment as a single parent to my two sons. Heather and Kara will be literally half a world away in Perth, attending a family funeral and introducing the youngest member of our brood to her gran and granddad’s family. In the meantime, I’ll be holding down the fort and taking over as the shuttle bus service for Isaac and Toby.
Having taken the day off, this morning was spent ferrying Heather and Kara to the building site that is Terminal 3 at Heathrow. They checked in, Kara (who seemed the least traumatised of the three of us) had fun toddling around enjoying her last taste of freedom before being cooped up on a plane for the next several hours, we had an early lunch together and finally I waved them off through security.
And then I realised I was on my own. Since Kara was born you can count the number of nights I’ve been away from her in single digits, and never more than four nights in a row. The last time I was away from Heather for more than a week was nearly 16 years ago, immediately after our honeymoon. (A long and not very interesting story.) It was a lonely drive back home, and the weirdest feeling to step back inside an empty house. Miss you already, girls.
No going back now. Time to suck it up and get on with the job at hand.
Am I scared? Not really, although I will admit to a degree of trepidation at the thought of flying solo on the boys’ morning routine. Getting breakfast, getting dressed, getting to where they need to go when I need to get them there – which means dropping Isaac off in good time so that I can get to pre-school the moment it opens and propel Toby in the vague direction of the entrance. (I considered installing an ejector seat, but decided that might be taking things a little too far.)
Then, at the other end of the day, I’ll have to leave the office early to pick them up, sort out dinner – wishing I’d tidied up the breakfast stuff before I’d left in the morning – then wind-down time, bath, stories and bed. After that it’s down to me to whizz around the house tidying up, doing laundry and generally preparing for mayhem to recommence the next morning.
I do varying parts of this daily routine normally, so it’s not like any of this is new to me. But equally this is the first time I’ve had to cope on my own for more than a day or an overnighter at a time. It’s a bit like passing your driving test, taking off the L-plates for the first time and heading straight out on to a busy motorway. With two sadistic back-seat passengers who gleefully point out everything you do wrong. While demanding that you put on their favourite playlist, feed them sweets and prevent the outbreak of World War III at the same time. I know what I need to do – and I know I’m capable of doing it – but it feels weird doing it without my safety net by my side, ready to catch me when I fall.
I don’t know how single parents do it day after day. Heroes the lot of them, I say.
To be honest, I know everything will be okay. Isaac is a reliable and mature older brother, and while Toby is going through another mummy’s boy phase and can be so obstinate that he makes a bad-tempered mule look compliant, I understand him well enough to deal with the inevitable tantrums.
We’ll be fine. (Repeat over and over again until I actually believe it.)
Single parents or people with travelling spouses have to deal with this stuff all the time – there’s nothing new, unique or particularly noteworthy about my temporary situation – other than the fact it’s happening to me. In fact, while a part of me is a little nervous about the inevitable stumbling blocks I will encounter over the next week or so, a bigger part is looking forward to the opportunity to have some extended boy-time. One way or another, I’m sure I’ll come out of it a better (if slightly frazzled) parent, and hopefully with some new bonds formed with both my boys.
Just remind me of that in nine days’ time, okay?