‘Ok here we go,’ I thought, as Learner Dad’s name flashed on to my phone.
I’d been waiting for this call.
“How did he go?” I asked nervously.
There was only silence.
And then a sniffle.
“Are you there? What happened?” I asked in a panic.
Then… “I can’t do it.”
It was Lil Fatty’s first day at childcare and it seemed it wasn’t Lil Fatty who was struggling with it.
“What do you mean?” I whispered, glancing around the office and covering the phone slightly.
“He just doesn’t suspect a thing,” Learner Dad said between sniffles. “I feel so mean leaving him here.”
After weeks of debate, Lil Fatty was enrolled for one day a week of childcare.
Learner Dad didn’t like the idea one bit.
I liked it a lot.
For a start, I’d been ready to take on another day of work a week.
And secondly, Master Nine had loved childcare.
He’d learned more about sharing and hygiene than I’d ever taught him.
And it filled the arts and crafts component of parenting I had always lacked.
“Do you want me to come and walk him in with you?” I asked my husband. “I’m sure Nathan would understand.”
Nathan was my boss.
And Learner Dad’s.
There was no way he was going to let me tell Nathan he was crying in the car outside Lil Fatty’s childcare centre.
“No, no, I’ll do it,” he said.
And, to his credit, he did.
Two hours later we were called to collect an inconsolable Lil Fatty.
Both flat out at work, we picked him up and took turns looking after him at the office.
Over the following weeks, things barely improved.
Learner Dad had the ugly job of dropping Lil Fatty off.
I was the hero who picked him up.
Learner Dad would leave him waving tearfully at the window.
And I’d find him in the same place seven hours later.
Of course he didn’t spend the whole day at the window.
A large portion of it was spent on the toddler room couch, clutching a rainbow abacus and screaming at any kid who came near him.
And so, by the time I was heading off on maternity leave for Fairy Floss, I was under the assumption Lil Fatty would be taking a crèche sabbatical too.
But the tables had turned.
Learner Dad was starting to see social improvements in Lil Fatty.
He no longer cried when his daddy dropped him off.
He’d begun venturing outside to play.
And he was, of course, a big fan of the hot lunch.
“If we take him out, we’ll have to go through this all over again,” Learner Dad said, referring to my inevitable return to work.
“You shouldn’t put him through all this again,” Lil Fatty’s carers reiterated.
And so he stayed.
I doubt I’ll ever feel comfortable watching Lil Fatty and his dad roll out of the driveway on a Friday morning.
But he waves cheerfully to me now as he leaves and he no longer cries when he gets there.
And nor does Lil Fatty.
Care Factor part 1 was written prior to my return to work in 2013
I walked into the kitchen.
The bench was littered with the remnants of dinner.
Li’l Fatty’s high chair was covered in globs of sweet mashed potato.
Master Seven’s school uniform was a crumpled mess nearby in the loungeroom.
Downstairs the bathroom floor was a chaotic mixture of used nappies and wet towels.
Among the chaos were my three men.
The littlest was perched on the lap of the biggest, arching his back and crying.
The middle one was doing a naked crab dance on the floor, mouth wide open and eyes bulging indicating a state of complete hyperactivity.
“You’re going to struggle next week,” I said to Learner Dad, referring to his upcoming first days of solo parenting.
“What do you mean?” he answered defensively. “They’ve had dinner, had their baths.”
I looked around and sighed.
I go back to work tomorrow.
And Learner Dad becomes house husband, for the two days a week I’m not home.
Make no mistake, he’s had plenty of time alone with his boys.
But the fact I’m the milk supplier has always guaranteed a time limit, a deadline for mummy to come home lest her boobs explode.
On this occasion I’d actually half cooked dinner and run the bath before I left for a one hour jog.
Usually, if I haven’t done this, I’ve at least left instructions – when to feed, what to feed, when to bath, who to bath etc.
So although not physically there, my presence is always felt.
“You’re on your own when I go back,” I said to Learner Dad.
Although it sounded menacing, I actually meant it in a nice way.
I wasn’t going to set out a structure for his time with the boys – he needed to establish his own routine, his own rules.
I knew that by lunchtime he’d be laughing at the simplicity of the job.
Master Seven at school, Li’l Fatty asleep all morning – plenty of time to sit back and relax and enjoy the perks of being an at-home dad.
But then Li’l Fatty would wake up.
He’d be hungry.
Then he’d poo.
As soon as he had a fresh nappy.
Then he’d do it again.
Only this time he’d put his hand in it.
Then it’d be time to hit the shops – because if you haven’t run out of toilet paper, you’ve run out of washing powder.
Then it’s time to pick up Master Seven, who’s always last to leave the classroom, even though you’re the only parent carrying an extremely heavy baby who’s trying to hurl himself out of your arms so he can crawl among the stampede of departing students.
Then, if there’s no after school activity planned, it’s home time.
Li’l Fatty smells again.
Is hungry again.
Fights sleep vigorously by standing up in the cot and screaming.
Poos just as he’s about to go to sleep.
Master Seven starts his hour on the Wii.
Time to start preparing dinner.
Fifteen minutes after he finally passes out, Li’l Fatty’s awake.
Crawling around your legs as you balance pots of boiling water, and eating any bits of raw onion you drop on the floor.
Master Seven’s hour is up.
He starts crying.
The six-year-old neighbour comes over.
He’s always hungry.
You send him home when the wrestling actually turns violent.
You shovel dinner into Li’l Fatty while Master Seven shovels most of his on to the floor.
Then it’s bath time.
“Can I hop in with Li’l Fatty?”
Sure, why not?
After twenty squealing-infused minutes of Li’l Fatty either pulling out the plug or pulling on his penis while Master Seven covers his baby brother’s face in bubbles, bath time’s over.
Then it’s dressing one (who poos the moment his clean and powdered bum is freshly nappied) while urging the other to dress himself (when all he wants to do is jump around giggling and parting his crack at you).
At about this time, Mummy will walk in the door.
Like a magnet, Li’l Fatty will be drawn to her breast.
Then Master Seven will insist Mummy read with him tonight.
And then, while Learner Dad scurries about cleaning up the mess in the bathroom and kitchen, Mummy will have to sit and quietly eat dinner alone, with only a magazine or the television for company…
Bring. It. On.