When my children were younger I would sometimes volunteer to stay home and take care of them. We have six children and by the time my wife returned I would have an even healthier respect for her capacity to deal with the Carberry six. We chose to home educate all of them, three deaf children with a rare kidney complaint, four girls and two boys, who had an age range of around ten years. It was a monumental task, meaning that we had 5 teenagers all at once in our house as they got older. It was an experience! But I digress.
Whenever I had to be housefather to my children, I would begin courageously, for hair had to be plaited, food cooked, the house cleaned, the allotment tended, lessons conducted… However, I must admit that by the end my courage would give way, revealing a creature who just managed to limp along, akin to a wounded lion praying for his lioness to return to rescue him from the distinctive siege mentality that had now emerged. And by then I would look more like a wounded tomcat rather than the lion I believed myself to be.
Ladies would drop by to say hello, take one look at my daughters’ hair and, with the deft diplomacy of women, re-plait it after offering to take them out. They would have probably wished for the internet days when they could just WhatsApp or PM my wife with a list of complaints as long as my arm, but thankfully those days had not yet come and the children would have to settle for greeting their mother with their stories of their father’s ‘sterling’ care.
I developed from that experience an incredible respect for the superhuman capacity of women to multitask, keeping disparate and diverse threads of activity going with a grace that enthralls me. For I did manage, but without any grace whatsoever. I did however learn a few idle tricks that I would love to share.
- We would cook meals together and we would have to collectively eat whatsoever came out of the pots. We would enjoy the chaos of the kitchen and would remain there to clean up after ourselves. I would eat with a smile whatever it was and they would, too, after having had their say.
- We spent time in London’s parks playing together, as an idle dad I would just become one of the children. War games, pirates and hunting would often be the theme (I am after all a dad). We would roll around, get dirty and thoroughly enjoy ourselves.
- Another interesting activity was to choose a building on the London skyline and just navigate our way to it, and then we would find our way back home. The activities of 2 and 3 always ensured that we all slept like babies.
- I would go to the supermarket and collect a load of boxes, buy some sellotape and hand the living room over to the children, for a week. They would build turrets, tunnels, slides, houses and they could even sleep there. It allowed me to work, occasionally join in and enjoy the creativity.
- Sandwiches are a Godsend. They are such a blessing. Especially when children can put whatsoever they like into them, in whatever combination, from an array of fillings on a table-spread on the floor. Slice the bread, arrange the fillings and let the lions loose.
- We would get dirty and then commit the revolutionary act of putting the clothes into the washing machine. Dirty is fun!
- Bribery is a great tool. If the work got done we could get out and do the fun things earlier and for longer.
The key I discovered was to leave people alone as much as was possible, to be themselves, whilst maintaining clear and fair limits. I failed miserably a lot of times but I am not here to discuss that. My wish here is to inspire that movement of Idle Women.