Last September I took a break from my job of 21 years to look after my four kids on a full-time basis. Now I like to think I have been a fairly hands-on Dad since the arrival of our firstborn (Aaron) nearly 10 years ago but I have never been at home with the kids for an extended period of time. This task has been mainly fulfilled by my wife (Niki) with back-up from a mixture of various creches and child-minders. So it was with slight trepidation and a lot of excitement that I threw myself into the task or tasks!
Nearly five months later I can now look back and reveal what I would like to say to “day one” me.
- Routine is good but you must be flexible. When I was a child my parents had a very constant routine in terms of weekday meals which never waivered. When I began this adventure I decided to try something similar, alas my approach did not meet with universal acceptance from my family (scepticism from my wife and downright hostility from my kids). So I have had to roll with the punches and take a more relaxed approach to meal times and try to win the small battles around the sandwiches for the school lunchbox!
- Mothers will be very nice to you. The sheer novelty of having a man around who is willing to put his career on hold to look after his children means that mothers will be nice to you and very interested to find out how you are getting on. Some may be secretly hoping I fall flat on my face but they hide it very well!
- Grocery shopping on weekdays isn’t an unpleasant experience. First and foremost let me say I hate shopping of pretty much any variety. In particular I detest shopping on a Saturday when it feels like you have been thrown into a particularly vicious segment of The Hunger Games. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that wandering through Tesco / Dunnes / Super Valu on a Tuesday morning at 10am is quite a nice experience. No massive queues and plenty of staff around should I break the habit of a lifetime and ask where something is! It also helps that I have my toddler (Ella) with me so plenty of opportunities for fun and games in those product filled aisles.
- The constant availability of food and in particular bread is not a good thing. In work I was able to keep a lid on my impulse eating. A light breakfast would be followed by a cycle into work and lunch would usually comprise of a salad or a healthy wrap with treats only allowed on a Friday. However now that I work at home I have constant access to our well stocked kitchen and most importantly the bread bin! Sure what if I have six slices of toast in the morning while doing some ironing or if I demolish half a loaf of sourdough (my personal nemesis) for lunch. The weighing scales in 2019 have not been my friend!
- The house can always be tidier. This may seem obvious in a house with four young kids but I honestly thought I would be more on top of it. Instead the withering looks from my wife on her return from work as she steps through a pile of toys / clothes / dirty plates indicate that it is something I have yet to master (or come close to mastering)!
- An up-to-date calendar is vital. My kids are very active and love their sport, thank goodness for that. However it does mean that every week is pretty hectic so throw in a few play-dates or parties on top of that and it can be quite easy to lose track of where you and your various offspring are supposed to be. I haven’t lost anybody yet or left somebody waiting (touch wood) and the 15 minutes I spend every Sunday evening filling out the calendar are vital for that.
- Getting out and about in nature is always good. While the walk to and from school has its fair share of main roads to be crossed it also includes a trip through Griffith Park along the banks of the Tolka. If the weather is anyway decent this is a particularly nice part of the day especially the return leg. Indeed on one such journey I spotted two otters (my spirit animal!) swimming in the Tolka. I should really be posting a video but I got so excited about the experience that I tried to round-up everybody within shouting distance and the quality of the video suffered as a result!
- Libraries are great. It had been a long time since I had visited a library, in fact my last trip probably dates back to my own childhood and I remember the local library as being quite stuffy and run-down without many new or newer books, then again it was Ireland in the 80s! So I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality and selection of books in Drumcondra library for adults and kids alike. Many an hour has been spent there watching the kids colouring to their hearts’ content while I check recipes for meals the kids will never eat!
- Playgrounds are also great. On a similar theme, playgrounds weren’t the best in the 80s either. Nowadays the selection of equipment and the spongy ground makes playgrounds a much more fun-filled and safe experience. I have also had the good fortune in that the past five months have coincided with Ella starting to walk properly so I have discovered the playground alongside her. Her sheer excitement at going down slides (quite sedately compared to her brothers) and being pushed on the swings has overwhelmingly trumped the whole repetitive aspect, and it does get repetitive.
- The world of work continues to turn without you. Maybe it’s because I had become institutionalised after 21 years of work for the same bank, but somewhere in the back of my mind I suspected that everything (or at least that small part of the bank in which I worked) would fall apart once I left the place. But this has definitely has not been the case, all those balls which I was desperately trying to juggle have not come crashing down and work related emails and phone calls from colleagues have been minimal to non-existent. The big wheels of commerce just keep on turning.