<p class="body-dropcap”>This is an obscene boast, so please don’t hate me. But today I woke up at 7:30am. I slept the whole way through the night, and then woke up at 7:30am. Of my own accord, I might add. I woke up because my own body decided that it was time I should wake up. I mean, can you even imagine?
<p class="body-text”>And guess what I did yesterday? I went to the cinema. I wanted to go to the cinema, so I just went to the cinema, and I watched a film. All I had to do was pay for a ticket. I didn’t have to ring-fence the screening a fortnight in advance, then book a babysitter, then pay them £50. Oh, and I read a book! I sat down and actually read a book that wasn’t about an elephant or a ladybird or a horse in a fez, and nobody came along and slapped it out of my hands to tell me that they’d shat themselves. I am living the dream. Like I said, please don’t hate me.
<p class="body-text”>I’ve been in France for work all week, and it’s the longest that I’ve ever been away from my children. As a result, I’ve unwittingly entered into a sort of Sliding Doors scenario where I’ve been able to see what life would have been like if I’d never had kids. Normally I look after them a lot – it’s roughly a 50/50 split with my wife – so to suddenly not have around them bursts my days wide open.
<p class="body-text”>And, I have to say, it’s been pretty great. My clothes are all clean. I don’t have to sweep four million plastic animals out of the bath whenever I want a shower. I’ve actually been able to drink alcohol without worrying about having to juggle a hangover with the unending horrors of a 5am wakeup call.
<p class="body-text”>Parents don’t really talk about this very much; about the amazing parallel universe where they’d remained childless, and had loads more money, and tons more time, and didn’t just generally stagger about looking like desiccated husks. They’ve almost definitely imagined this universe, but to actually verbalise it is taboo. Discussing life without children singles you out as a bad parent. Or, worse, as ungrateful; being a parent is a privilege not afforded to everyone, so to complain about it is unsightly.
“Gwyneth Paltrow never had to carry around the weight of what she left behind”
<p class="body-text”>But it’s only natural to wonder, because parenting is a slog. It’s permanent exhaustion. It’s the world’s longest to-do list. It’s sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice. And parenting is such a relentless machine that you get used to it; you only realise how punishing it is on the rare occasions when you get to pop your head above the clouds for a few days, like I have.
<p class="body-text”>And this week I’ve behaved in exactly the same way that I would have done if I’d never had kids. I’ve been abroad, I’ve watched films, I’ve read books, I’ve gone on long walks and listened to podcasts. I’ve dressed smartly. I’ve been outside after 7pm. It’s been everything I could have asked for.
<p class="body-text”>But guess what happened on the way back from the cinema yesterday? I walked past a shop that had a tractor in the window, and I felt sad because I didn’t have anyone to show it to. And then guess what I did? I bought a packet of balloon animals, and took them back to my hotel and watched YouTube tutorials about how to make balloon elephants, because my four-year-old is currently obsessed with balloon elephants.
<p class="body-text”>And then guess what I did? I worried about being away from them for such a long time, and the effect that my absence was having on them. I worried that, when my wife handed them over to a babysitter two days ago, they looked at her and cried “Are you going away too?”. I worried about the picture my wife sent me of my four-year-old hugging an ice cream sundae that he called ‘Daddy’ because he wished I was still at home. And then I stared at pictures of my family, and then I just sat there and really, really missed them.
<p class="body-text”>That’s the trick. That’s how they get you. This hasn’t been Sliding Doors at all, because Gwyneth Paltrow never had to carry around the weight of what she left behind. This week has shown me what life would be like if I didn’t have kids, and it’s a bit crap. I cannot wait to see them again.