Parenting tasks are multiplied by two, banana pulp is everywhere – but at least there’s TV murder
For the first time since my son was born, I am parenting alone. My wife’s trip to New York was planned months in advance, a chance to visit her aunt and get five days’ respite from the demands of motherhood before the end of her maternity leave. I was eager for her to go because a) she’s worked so hard and deserves a holiday, and b) I’ve been saving up loads of TV she won’t watch since our son was born.
For some reason, becoming a mother has rendered her incapable of watching the sort of gruesome crime dramas on which our marriage was once grounded. For our first nine years, we were happiest when watching grim but gorgeous Scandinavian cops finding beautifully lit corpses bobbing about in fjords.
Now, gifted with some silly new respect for human life, she finds these shows depressing and if she even suspects a character’s name has one of those Os with a line through it, we end up switching it off in favour of some Channel 4 series in which a succession of variably likable English couples buy a castle.
By the time she left, I was happier for her than she was. Five days in New York isn’t that long once you factor in the flights, but it’s quite long for her first stint away from our eight-month-old – and longer still for the parent left behind. She said goodbye through mild tears, as if en route to prison. She said it was because she was going to miss him, but I suspected she thought I might end up dropping him in the fire if she wasn’t around.
An early sign was the itemised list of his daily routine she’d written, along with labelled foodstuffs and eating utensils, as if leaving our son in my care was like locking him in an air raid bunker with a thick but handsome food-distribution robot. I tried to say it was unnecessary, but then I read the three-page handwritten instructions and realised there were lots of things I’d never thought of. Within an hour of her leaving, I was clinging to its every word like something between a holy text and the sports almanac in Back to the Future.
It’s been just 24 hours and he’s eaten, played with and read everything he’s supposed to, since I might as well have had that checklist tattooed to my body like the guy from Memento. He’s been bathed and changed, with just the right amount of play and cuddle time, too. It’s odd how much of a difference it makes when you multiply your parenting tasks by two, especially when it becomes clear how many of the hardest of those tasks have been performed, in dignified silence, by your partner.
With four whole days to go, tired and covered in pulped bananas, I realise I’ve been getting away with murder. The same can’t be said for dirty cop Bjørnus Malmquist, who’s just come on screen as I put my son to bed. His partner’s corpse has been found, eviscerated near some pickled herring. For him and me both, the hard part’s just begun.