As a father of three, I’m used to feeling like I’m perpetually starring in an episode of Outnumbered. Our children are even in the same order as the fictional Brockman family – boy, boy, girl. But at least I’m one of three males in our five-person household, so I’m used to being in the majority in that sense (although we all know that it’s 16-month-old Kara who really calls the shots). Not yesterday, though.
It’s not often I have an extended period of one-to-one time with Kara away from the boys. Even less so on a weekday, when I’m in the office and she’s either in nursery or with her mum, Yesterday, however, I was at home with her all day after she’d been red-carded from nursery with hand, foot and mouth.
I’ve done this a couple of times before when she’s been ill, so I know the drill. Cram as much work in as possible while she’s asleep, then resign myself to the rest of the day being a wash-out work-wise until Heather gets home. It’s just not worth the aggro of trying to do work and toddler care at the same time. I find it’s better to put the laptop to one side and enjoy some concentrated daddy/daughter time, rather than trying to check my email with a wailing – and, boy, can she wail with the volume turned up to 11 – toddler slobbering all over the keyboard, desperate for some parental attention.
With Kara not really eating – we think she’s teething at the same time – I hatched a cunning plan to get some calories into her by walking her into town and sitting her down in Costa with her latest new-found love: a Strawberries and Cream Creamy Cooler. If you’ve never encountered this magnificent concoction of a beverage, it’s basically cream, finely crushed ice, a bit more cream, strawberry flavouring and whipped cream on top – so, about six million calories. It’s a good job neither of us is dairy-intolerant.
Anyhow, that’s not the point. This is the point. I normally wander into our local Costa at the weekend, when it’s filled with a broad cross-section of humanity (or what passes for it in Thatcham): young and old, families and singles, men and women.
On a term-time Wednesday at 11am, though? Out of perhaps 30-35 customers I was the only male not wearing a nappy. Every other person was female. One large group, all with small babies, clustered around three pulled-together tables – perhaps an NCT mothers’ group. A couple of tables of ‘ladies who lunch’. Four separate women accompanied by pre-school children – mothers? Nannies? Child minders? A yummy mummy ensconced in the far corner sipping the dregs of a long-cold latte while typing furiously at a shiny new MacBook Air – a fellow blogger, perhaps?
Whoever they were, I felt like a stranger in a strange land, as if I had accidentally walked into the wrong bar in the wrong place at the wrong time and at any moment I was going to be turfed out for not possessing a second X-chromosome. It was a bit like one of those sci-fi parallel universe stories – thankfully I didn’t bump into my evil twin – or the Police Academy films where characters are forever stumbling into the Blue Oyster gay bar.
There’s a whole world that co-exists with the one I normally inhabit but so rarely get to see. The locations are the same, only slightly time-shifted – familiar and yet unfamiliar, not bad merely different.
I’ll tell you what was bad, though. While I was busy contemplating being outnumbered 30-to-1, Kara pretty much drained the entire drink herself, leaving hardly any for me. Like I said, she’s the boss – and she knows it.