For most of the evening I have been staring at the screen of my elderly, budget laptop glazed and unable to pay attention. I have two babies, aged 9 months and 21 months and they have a virus. Nothing serious, you will be glad to know, but enough to make them needier, clingy and competitive for Mummy’s attention. I have learned that the only thing to do is to not allow the contest. Either hold both (which you can only do until your head starts to swim) or lovingly tuck each into their cot and shut the door behind you. If you are not careful they reach the point of hysterics. Once they have become hysterical, nothing short of a miracle (or the arrival of my friend Simon) will break the spell. I can do headstands while singing loudly and waggling my feet, it still won’t get a response. I really have tried it.
I feel beneath my own contempt walking out of that room, while they want me so much, but I cannot do what I cannot do. All medicines dosed, all little bodies bathed, all nappies (diapers) clean, all pyjamas on, all songs sung, all teddies found, all blankets tucked in. There is no more left. I was seeing stars again from the noise after a couple of hours close up to them. To be human is to have limits and babies can be far louder and far more persistant than you would credit. When they are ill and competing with each other they can push me to the brink of a breakdown near constantly for a week. Sometimes over it. The nights bring no relief either; sick kids regularly wake.
This is why their father left us.
He said I am lazy. He said he is sick of doing all the work. He said he has no idea what I do all day. I believe what he really feels, deep down, is that I, the woman, should do it all. He should do nothing. I suspect he viewed every demand that was made of him in terms of the housework or childcare as unreasonable. Who knows what he thinks, perhaps even he doesn’t know. I can’t ask him, he doesn’t take our calls. Whatever goes on in his mind, the bottom line was, he didn’t like his fatherly workload, so he walked away.
That workload, which was impossible for two now falls to me. I could make glib jokes at this point about how women can do a two-man job perfectly fine but I don’t feel funny. I feel tired. I feel pain in my head from the screaming. I feel heartbreak for my children, now finally exhausted and sleeping (for a while). I feel ashamed of my home, it has been so long since I had time to tidy it. I feel fear of what I must look like. I feel lonely, I have barely left the house in days and since I’m out of all my staple foods I feel hungry and cheated. However, above any other sentiment, what I feel right now is contempt for this man. This shirker who arrogantly rates the enormous workload of two demanding babies as beneath him.
How do men do it? As a mother I struggle to leave the room while my children need me. Even at the point of no longer being able to function and no longer having anything really to give I struggle to leave. And yet, as a father, he can leave them with nothing of himself. Not his affection. Not his time. Not his love, his guidance, his humour or even just his money. Save for his DNA he is entirely gone from their world.
I have no doubt there are women who leave too, I’m sure if I don’t mention them someone else soon will, but they are so much less common than men who do. In fact, they are so rare that they are notable. Men who leave are not notable. They are normal. Normal, average, unremarked-upon. Like redheads or electricians or Volvo-drivers, everyone either knows one, or knows someone who does. There are countless thousands of women out there tonight experiencing a very similar set of circumstances. Women who do this are outcasts for life. Men just go back to life as it was before.
Is it because with our hypocritical modern double standards, we let them?
Crying baby do not want to sleep image courtesy of Shutterstock