The building seems to be starting earlier every day. Today we’re woken by what sounds like machine-gunfire next door, punctuated by shrieking. I wonder if they’re using the work as a cover to reduce the pub’s staffing levels.
Life has taken an exciting turn: today we’ve been invited over for a ‘playdate’ by one of my daughter’s classmates. (Why playdate? I hadn’t heard of the word until a few months ago. Who felt it necessary to invent a description of two children playing together that included the word date? I mean it’s not as if I don’t already have enough difficulties camouflaging myself in a female world. I have to keep reminding myself not to call it a date by mistake. I can see it now. Police called. Husbands rung. Ignominy. Graffiti on my door.) The boy’s mum is the sort of eminently capable, cool and calm type that many mothers at nursery seem to be. Certainly not the flary-haired, beard-nested Worzel Gummidge that I am.
At lunchtime we walk from school together to their house, all holding hands (well the kids are holding hands and we’re either side holding our child’s hand - anything else would be weird, obviously) and eventually we get to their place overlooking one of London’s more exclusive garden squares. All very nice.
“A drink?” I’m asked. “Tea, coffee…?” “Err…” I usually find the longer you err, the more exciting the list gets. But in this case it stops after coffee. “...Tea please” I answer, finally, a gin & tonic suddenly appearing in my mind's eye. The mum is nine months pregnant with her third child and the hormones are really sluicing around - it takes her three attempts to make me a cuppa, what with putting coffee in first by mistake and then forgetting what I wanted and then asking about milk twice. I can’t help laughing (but sympathetically).
I never really know what to say in these situations. I feel like I have to reassure every mum I meet that I am actually doing it for love, I do know the basics of childcare and no, it’s not a ruse to go round to women’s houses when their husbands are out. I really need a certificate I can show them or something. Then the nanny comes in and it transpires that she’s pregnant too. They’re both grinning. Do they know something I don’t? I begin to feel slightly uncomfortable. I can handle my daughter, I can even handle her and my wife. But two pregnant women. At the same time.
I’m holding it together until the mum announces she needs her 40 minute pregnancy nap. I wonder how to respond “Would you like some help?” WRONG! “Have you got cable TV?” Mmm, perhaps. In the event it becomes obvious that she’d really rather I left, so I leave the kids chasing each other along the many corridors and dive home to do a bit of work.
When I get back they’re sitting happily watching the Wiggles, scoffing gingerbread. It’s been a lovely playdate, apparently. It was certainly good for me. But I feel guilty, and expect the kiddie police to be arriving any minute in a frenetic squeal of ABS, before leaping out and giving me a caution for lazy childcare. “End doo yoo mind telling us hixactly wot yoo ev been dooin for the larst hower… sir?”
We make our exit in a blitz of gratitude and head for home. My step is light on the pavement, until the terrible truth dawns. We’re going to have to have a return playdate.