One of my three jobs is to take in two children (4 and 2yo) for several hours a week and work with them at a child’s level in English – be it in structured play, reading, walks in the woods, etc. The family in question pays, if not very well per hour, enough hours per week to keep me in food shopping, which equates to quite a merry sum for them over the course of the month. So far, almost 3 months down the line, the husband has not even noticed the financial hit. They are, let’s say, reasonably well off.
He is a lawyer. He is never at home. When he is, he expects his food on the table and a clean, ironed shirt hanging up so he can do a quick change and hop off out again to some drinks meeting, evening meal with clients, or, as is all too often the case back to the office to return home again around 10pm. At weekends, he spends the mornings in the office both days. The two children see him rarely, but always, always defend his absence which means their mother never speaks ill of the fact that she is virtually raising them alone. Not in front of them anyway.
She is also a lawyer. She dreams of going back to her job one day and occasionally helps to grade student bar exams, just to keep her hand in. The only time she is able to do this are the hours when her children are with me. At her daughter’s birthday party for 12 kids earlier in the year, I turned up with my own son about half an hour early to find her exhausted and dashing around like a lunatic. It was Saturday, 3pm. When I asked her where her husband was, she said ‘he spent the morning in the office, came home, ate the food I had prepared and now he has taken the car to the car wash.’ When I raised my eye-brows in a polite ‘WTF?’ her answer was simply “He said it was dirty.”
The one night of the week she, A, is ‘allowed’ to go out, by the way, (including weekends as her husband is never home in the evenings), is Monday when she sings in a choir. Said choir has been preparing for a musical production in our local town and they performed in the school yesterday afternoon. As most people know, the final week prior to a production of any magnitude, especially involving children, is intense and demands rehearsals most nights of the week. This production was no different and for once, my friend put her foot down and, having compromised a few evenings prior to this at the last minute, she attended at least half of the final rehearsals over the period of five days. Each time, however, she made sure the kids had already eaten, the kitchen was cleared, her husband’s food was in the oven and that the children were bathed and ready for bed by the time he came home.
It still did not go down well. Not at all.
On Friday, she had asked me if I would take the children for a couple of hours on Saturday morning as she would be helping to set up and then added: and if you want to take them for pizza at lunchtime, I’ll happily throw yours in! She then hesitated and said, I’m not sure what W has planned though – it would be a great opportunity for him to do something with the kids for the whole day, but …. no, that’s ridiculous, he’ll be in the office in the morning … although, maybe he’d like to take them for pizza … I’ll ask him and call you back. She didn’t call.
At 10am on Saturday he arrived, dumped the kids and drove off to a Summer festival at a local production factory. I had read the blurb: By invite only, but families welcome. Bouncy castle, magician, craft tables for the kids and a Punch and Judy…
I took them for pizza.
At 1pm he came to collect them from the restaurant. A colleague of his was sitting with his family at the table behind us. The two men greeted each other and I learned that the colleague’s wife was also involved in the production. They spent a good five minutes exchanging expletives about the fact that their wives had been absent so often over the last week.
“It’s just been ridiculous!” said the Papa of my two small people, “Now I really know what it’s like to be a single father …”