When my wife said she was returning to work fulltime, I silently celebrated. Now I'd finally have time to do all the things I wanted to do: write my Great British Novel; take in an afternoon screening of some arthouse movie, the kind she hates, at a cinema where popcorn isn't on the menu; sit outside a pub with my hard-earned pint (I just took a year off, for charity - no-one's impressed), or watching the complete box set of Seinfeld. Again. Possibly donning frilly apron to lightly dust the pelmets, whatever they are.
Sadly, it hasn't quite worked out like that. Each morning at half eight I walk my son up through the decrepit park, where we see the same man dangling from gym hoops he has hung between the swings. Little bags of poo-pourri (dog mess in bags) dangle from every bush. As we near the school gate I see all the other parents I've been seeing for almost ten years, and who have yet to forgive us for briefly leaving London having watched too many episodes of "Escape to the Country" ( I knew I should have published on Huffington Post under a pseudonym - I won't make that mistake again); usually I put my head down or pretend to look at my phone.
By the time I've gone to Sainsburys to get the daily essentials, gone home, had my daily dump (the fancy toilet roll holder snaps - again) and switched on the coffee machine it's almost 10. Theoretically, I now have five hours in which to work on my masterpiece: but it doesn't quite work out like that. After dealing with essential emails, non-essential social media posts, calling my 95-year-old nan, and checking to see how many copies of my latest book, a comedy about a lecturer who turns to crime, have sold (somehow less than zero), it's ten thirty.
Now I remember there are four baskets of laundry, all damp and moulding, and spend a not-inconsiderable amount of time trying to remember if white and black stripes socks can go in with the whites, and if leggings can go on a hot wash, and if the liquid detergent goes in the left or the right side of the slot.
Once the washing begins to rumble I remember I need to fold and put away all the dry washing before the cycle completes: it's impossible to tell which t-shirts belong to my wife or daughter, whether the black socks are mine or my son's, and every time I put the wrong item in the wrong basket there will be consequences. The long line of odd socks which lie waiting for their match grows longer, and still none of their partners turn up: if I had time, I'd use that as a metaphor, but I've just remembered the dishwasher needs emptying.
On emptying the dishwasher, I discover someone put a long, wooden spoon in the cutlery compartment. This has prevented the swishy fan thing from spinning: consequently nothing is clean. I remove all the dishes, glasses, cups and cutlery, wash them thoroughly in the sink, then put them back in the dish washer - we have a very small kitchen and even though it's only a halfsized dish-washer it makes a great cupboard.
Well - ish.
There's now the matter of lunch. Somehow, when it's just me, it hardly seems worth making a meal; I feel proud of myself if I manage to construct a toastie. Usually I make do with a Cupasoup and un-marged bread, which I slobber down as I watch Sky News, sobbing - and not even at the news.
I'm not at my best, post-lunch. We writers (me, Proust, Hemingway etc) are morning people, really. That's when we get our best stuff done. Besides, it's almost time to go get the kids so I may as well surf the net for a bit, all the while mentally chiding myself for not reading a book. I keep promising myself to read the complete Shakespeare, followed by In Search of Lost Time, but nowadays my main ambition really is just to be warm.
As I'm leaving the house my daughter rings to ask if I'm driving and gets cross when I say no, as she does every day. I walk through poo-pourri park, where the amateur trapeze artist has gone, head down, shades on, arriving at precisely the moment the caretaker opens the gate: my son runs towards me smiling, my daughter arrives, smiling too, and it's the best part of the day.
By the time we get home the dishwasher has finished: I unload, then re-stack with dirty plates from around the house. Now at least the kitchen looks tidy, like I've been doing something all day: that's kidology. When my wife gets home we have a long, involved conversation about buying a new toilet roll holder and what design is best for our purposes.
It never used to be like this. Before becoming parents we discussed the issues of the day, travel destinations, cherished ambitions. (I sometimes think of those times as the pre-cretinous era). Now we discuss toilet roll holders and their relative merits, dish-washers, stripy t-shirts. I read somewhere that women's brains shrink after becoming mums: how much has mine shrunk in these past 13 years? Our intellects have shrunk: like our social circle, like our ever-diminishing dreams.
But are we happy?
(Number one wife has just instructed me to add that she's the one who rises at 6.30 to prepare the children's lunches, daily rouses our daughter - the scariest job in the house - commutes by packed train to a busy school in East London, works all day, commutes home, and mostly makes dinner. Will that do darling?)
Kidology: the pre-cretinous era is available on Amazon.http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kidology-pre-cretinous-era-Mark-Piggott-ebook/dp/B06XTF8RV5/