I woke this morning full of worry. Was I late? I wondered as daylight rushed in at me, accompanied by the ching-clang-ching of scaffolding up the road. Where was my wife? What about school? As a revving circular saw around the corner and a rumbling rubbish truck joined the party I began to make out familiar shapes around the bedroom. Gradually I realised that it was in fact my morning off. One day a week my wife takes our daughter to school, leaving me to get up when I want, unless I have something better to do than sleep. It’s a glimpse of freedom; a rear view mirror into life before parenthood. For one morning I can leave the plastic crockery in the cupboard and pass over the pink-cup-with-cats-on-it in favour of the china cups.
The galling thing about childcare is how near to perfection it is. If you weren’t sitting at home watching Lazy Town you could be watching the Cricket World Cup, sipping on a beer. The bus taking you on the school run could instead be bringing you back from a long lunch with friends. And of course if you weren’t spending half your money on your children then you could be buying a lot of exciting stuff for yourself. And to cap it all, what did you do before all this freedom was lost? You spent your days in the confines of an office, surrounded by people you wouldn’t ordinarily have passed the time of day with in the kitchen at a party where you didn’t know anybody and you were reeling drunk.
As the result of a complex process of negotiation I arrived to pick up my daughter from nursery on foot today. It turned out to be a bad day to choose, since it was raining and I hadn’t brought an umbrella. Still, this was unlikely to be a disappointment to her, since it meant a chocolate lolly from Waitrose. As she emerged, laden with bags and coats I couldn’t help noticing a crumpled piece of paper in her swimming bag, nestled atop a damp towel. I unfolded it and discovered a picture of a pink sheep with blue legs. “Who’s this for?” I asked, expecting the worst. “It’s for … you daddy!” she said, beaming, before adding “I couldn’t do it with white. I very love you.” Not a victory for her in the short-term perhaps, but a perfectly judged long term strategy.