I am pleased to report that I have survived a weekend without my spouse. Not only that, but I also managed to avoid misplacing any of the children left in my care. Who knew I had such skills? Certainly not my wife, who spent the last few weeks laying the groundwork for her bonding trip away with our daughter; incredibly detailed instructions on how to wash teeth or what constitutes breakfast were delivered as though I was being told how to defuse a nuclear bomb. Overall I felt like she saw me as someone who had been hired for the weekend via Tradesmen.ie to do a nixer minding her kids. I duly snapped that yes, of course I know that Euthymol toothpaste isn’t suitable for four year olds, before slipping into a quiet fury and refusing to take in any of the other instructions which, it turned out, I did kinda need.
My approach to parenting is based on the Lean process – I find waste, and eliminate it. Brushing hair, while a worthy pursuit, is a complete waste of time when you have three feral boys with the springy curls of Sideshow Bob. As long as there are no parasites living in the mess atop their toe-shaped heads, I presume the hair looks after itself and finds its own path. I also feel people in soft play areas are less likely to complain about my kids appalling behaviour if they look like they just escaped from a compound.
Being parents means we often operate like shift partners – I come home, I eat dinner standing up complaining about weather or traffic and then we split, one half takes laundry, post-dinner clean-up, floor washing, or paperwork, the other takes homework, bedtime prep, and hoovering. Usually we try to spare some time to watch TV together in total silence, or, if we are feeling energetic, have an argument about money. It’s only when you are left on your own with the kids for a couple of days that you realise how difficult life is for so many single parents. It’s not just the crushing workload, the emotional strain, but to just have someone to turn to at the end of the day and say, oh god I am so tired of being a parent.
The boys and I survived, apart from being caked in filth and in the early stages of scurvy. The ladies of the house, however, had slightly less fun. I’m not thick enough to claim that mother-daughter relations are always complicated – I’m sure that there are many of the ‘daughter-more-like-a-best-friend/mother-more-like-a-sister’ relationships out there, but in our house, it can be a tad tense from time to time. Sometimes I get dragged into it, a sort of Kofi Annan figure, when neither side can see eye to eye. I got phone calls from both parties over the weekend, informing me that the other was being unreasonable. I told them both that since the city they were in, Kilkenny, was famous for attempting to burn witches, maybe they should stop screeching in such a public fashion lest they get tethered to a pole and torched. I still have no idea what caused their fracas, but I know it had something to do with going shopping – one party wanted to consume without guilt, the other believes that all old people – ie, anyone over 30 – is killing the planet through willful ignorance. And so the weekend marked the start of the age of teen enlightenment. I remember it well, the moment when I first discovered the concept of mutually assured destruction, and that sudden shift from being a carefree child to an anxious teen, lying awake thinking about nuclear war. Of course, three decades on and we’re all still here, and it turns out now that it was never going to be something as ICBMs ripping through the skies that kills us all, but rather cars, plastic, petrochemicals, and according to my daughter, our relentless consumption and zombie capitalism. After their return home in complete silence, I tried to reassure my wife that while it may have ruined the weekend, our daughter and the rest of her generation are the only hope for a planet that my generation helped ruin. On the upside, I did conserve a lot of water by not bathing the kids for two days. Every little helps.