"Nine whole days?" I reply in astonishment.
And immediately the thought of being left alone with the three kids for over a week while my wife goes frolicking around the beaches of Australia to see her brother's family sends me into a cold panic; two weekends and a week of school run on my own? A logistical nightmare; I've seen the family calendar, it's choc-a-block - and shame on me, I didn't listen when my wife was trying to grab my attention to run me through it all. Oh, how that was a mistake. 'Yes, darling' while playing the piano wasn't going to help me now. Not by a long shot.
Luckily, the first weekend went pretty much without a hitch. The kids all made it to where they needed to be; the older one made her art class, the younger one made his party; the middle one got a bike ride. We managed to get the shopping done, do some arts and crafts, sing a few songs, and have a dance around the coffee table. We even managed to make homemade fish fingers, followed by ANZAC biscuits for dessert. And at the end of it all, we folded the laundry, we each had a bed time story, we each had a smile. No one got yelled at. No one got cross, no one cried. The whole thing worked. Like clockwork. And as I began nominating myself for the Best Dad In The World award, I went to bed thinking what a good team the children and I made. In fact, it was so good, I dared asked myself the question one should probably never dare ask - is it actually easier on my own?
"How are you coping?" she phones at the end of the weekend..
"Not too bad actually," I reply, trying not to sound too chirpy. I didn't want her feeling redundant.
But that's the truth, isn't it? In so many ways, it is actually easier on your own. Because you just find your own routine. Adult conversations are out. There's no more shoehorning in moments together, no more attempted catch ups about each other's day at the office. You're not trying to snuggle up on the sofa to watch one more episode with a glass of wine. There is none of that. There is only the children and the chores. You just roll your sleeves up and dive in. There's no plans to run by anyone else. There's no coordinating schedules or debating what should be for dinner. There's no discussing parenting styles. The washing up can be left until whenever you want, and the laundry can be done in the morning. The rules can be redefined. You can let the children watch television in the morning before school, even though you've agreed that they should be doing homework; you can let them have a packet of crisps after swimming, even though you've agreed no more junk food until half term. There's no one to answer to. Just yourself. And when you're free to run the show as you like, yes, everything is easier.
Until you hit midweek, when the fatigue sets in. And there are no lie-ins. There is no later. Time ticks past, and there are places to be and things to be done. Breakfasts need to be made, dinners need to be prepared. Dirty clothes need to be cleaned, spellings to be learnt. And in this moment it becomes stark just how helpful it is having someone else around to ease the relentless pace at which the week zooms by. Without my wife around, there is no sharing school drop-offs or pick-ups. There is no divvying up the cooking - or even the deciding about what to cook! There is no sharing the washing up or taking the compost out for bin collection. No sharing the homework or getting the costumes ready for World Book Day or taking the older two swimming and picking the younger one up from football club. There's no sharing the laundry or cleaning the bathroom or changing the sheets after the little one has wet the bed. No 'can you do the stories tonight, darling, I'm shattered?'. None of it. DIY takes on a whole new meaning.
And at the end of the day, to make matters even worse, even after dealing with everything three kids and a kitchen sink has to throw at you, you're still alone. There's no sitting down and having that glass of wine on the sofa. There's no one to make you a cup of tea. There's no one to hear your funny stories from the day; no one to talk about tomorrow with. It's just you and the quietness of the house. For another night. And you realise, there's a reason why you like having the other person around. And it's not just because they help you captain the ship. It's not just because they help halve the load. No, it's because you actually enjoy spending time with them; you like having them around. It's that simple. That's the reason you fell in love in the first place. You miss their comfort, their familiarity, their warmth. You miss seeing them as the first person when you wake up and the last person before you go to bed. They have become part of who you are. That's why you miss them. That's why it's hard.
And perhaps there's nothing like a healthy nine days apart to help you remember that.