So I started on my ‘stay ay home Dad’ quest; with my noble dachshund steeds and my trusty companion Sancho Moo-za, back in September of 2015. I wasn’t nervous about having so many full time care responsibilities. Not at all. I wasn’t worried about how I would cope, or how I would keep us both fed and watered. I was only initially worried about the noise from our upstairs neighbours who were doing extensive building works at the time and so the banging and crashing was unbelievable! This meant it was impossible for any nap times to happen in the flat. Routine? HA! I laugh at the idea. Stay at home? I wish! I was very much a NEVER stay at home Dad. Oh for day time TV. Oh for time to prepare supper. OH FOR A MOMENT TO NOT WALK! Moo, the dogs and I embarked on more rainy walks than Bear Grylls. Except we didn’t have the luxury of sneaking off to some swanky hotel when it all got an ickle bit too much little Bear Bear*
One place we decided we could head to and that was dry, was one of the local Playgroups. The one we chose (because it happened to fall on a Tuesday and the day I thought about going was a Tuesday. Judicious use of planning as always Gavin), was connected to the local church – the Church that appears in the Omen no less. The bit when the spike falls off the roof and spears the Priest. Not foreboding at all. Not. At. All…
With hope in our hearts and a merry skip we made our way to the Playgroup; ever watchful up at the roof for any loose spikes that might impale us. With the mere crossing of palms with gold (£3 actually) with the door lady, and the filling out of forms, I de-clothed Moo of her winter garb and took a deep breath…
I was terrified of this whole adventure if I’m honest. Scared like a boy in shorts at his first day at school. I have danced in front of thousands. Sang and played guitar in front of audiences from London to Canada to Japan and back again. I’ve appeared on live TV, done stand up comedy and I’ve even taken my driving test three times (the first two were failures totally to do with the instructor. They had it in for me I tell you. IN FOR ME!), but entering into that room full of Mums and Nannies was the single most excruciating experience of my life.
Why so frightening you might ask. Well dear reader, because of 2 reasons I guess –
1. I truly believed there was some ‘club’ that only Mums are allowed into and they were going to treat me with hostility and contempt
2. I quickly realised my flies were partially undone and I daren’t put my hand down there but leaving them open was even worse and what if everyone thinks I’m a weirdo and… Oh God
I sat down on the rug and shrugged my shoulders at Moo who just looked at me with, I swear, pity, and I sneakily did up my fly. Moo crawled off to point and shout at inanimate objects and I was left alone. All alone. Alone as the deep blue sea. I’ve seen comedians die on stage. Actors corpse. Dancers fall (that last one was mainly me by the way). But I swear the intense spotlight that I felt on me right then made all those other terrifying instances look like fun. With a dozen pairs of eyes on me I felt I had to do something. So without a care for the environment I decided to change Moo even though she didn’t need it. Anything to give myself some distraction. Poor girl. How confusing. Sorry little one.
Back in the play room area I sat her down and found myself back to square one. Then. Out of nowhere, a lady Mum type person came up to me.
“Would you like a cup of coffee? We have fresh stuff over by the sink area” she said with a smile
“Oh, ye ye yess please. I’ll I’ll just go and make it” I stuttered
“No don’t worry” she continued, “How do you take it?”
After a cup of coffee and a biscuit I began chatting to this lady. She was so welcoming. She gave me a list of family activities to try out. Some handy advice about trying all the ‘free trial’ ones as there were many. Introduced me to some other people at the playgroup. Asked me lots of questions. Generally made me feel much more at ease.
“A stay at home Dad hey? Wow. What a lucky girl your daughter is!” she stated. I hadn’t considered that before.
“Listen. I have to go over and sort out something with my child who appears to be eating crayons. Just help yourself to anything you need.” she said. “Oh, and by the way; your flies are undone”
10 minutes later and my prejudices had evaporated. These ladies that I was speaking to were courageous, strong, funny people trying their very best to be parents and give their children the absolute best care and attention that they could. I was so moved by so many of them. Yes there were the more painful ones. The ones that like to compare kids. The ones that like to quote parenting books and tell you how wonderful everything is. But when you consider that, more than likely they are just as scared as the rest of us and just desperately trying to get it right; a concept so ever changing, a notion so frequently far beyond reach; when you understand that, then you realise they just need you to listen to them as much as you need someone to listen to you.
It can be so all consuming this parenting lark. So lonely. No matter how you find your sanctuary, your place to feel calm and breathe, you must let yourself be there. You don’t need dozens of friends and voices of advice. You just need a few good people around you, there to show you a friendly smile and to share part of your journey
Oh. One more thing. I found making sausage rolls and cakes and taking them along to playgroup really helps with making everything run a little.. err… easier. Especially if you lace the cake with calvados