“Get me a hammer Mum”, my three-year-old-son calls from the back-garden. His flaming hair catching the last rays of sunlight. I know what he wants. I extract a ‘please’ and deliver a rubber-ended hammer. His shoulders droop. “Not that Mum. A real hammer, the one with the metal claw”. I sigh, when his Dad is home ‘real-tools’ transform into objects of play.
My head aches in anticipation of a battle. But this time I trust my son. After all, he knows more about tools than I do. Partly because they are his latest obsession. And because of the days he spends with his Dad.
In our home, ‘dad days’ are messy and playful. Sometimes hairy. Always adored. I try not to take it personally. I can be fun too, once their shoes are on, teeth cleaned and I’ve packed the morning-tea. Perhaps I need to let go a little more? Play chase down the supermarket isle and ruffle the edges of family-life. Playfulness and risk-taking provide the best opportunities for growth and happiness. But it’s a delicate balance and I still feel uneasy when our children shape the rosemary-hedge armed with garden-loppers and secateurs. Only on dad days.
On dad days the children bake scones enveloped in flour, mow the grass with kitchen scissors, and saw firewood wearing ‘ear-muffs’. Lunch is devoured in the green-house. Pyjamas worn all-day. They dissect fish-heads, muck out the chicken pen, and build dreams from spare-parts in the shed. Capabilities stretched, limitations illuminated. Children marvel at the possibilities of life.
The dad of our little tribe is a wondrous beast: strong and cuddly, playful and spontaneous, knowledgeable and generous. A man with the universe in his heart. He has a habit of ‘getting through’. Like the time he took the kids to the pool, without the swimming bag and got everyone in. Or when he forgot the sun-hats for a beach expedition and improvised with nappies.
I despair when I return home from work to a happily exhausted baby, who didn’t have a nap because, “they didn’t seem tired”. And wonder at the ease in which three small children are transported on their Dad’s electric bike to the library. I hope they ride safely. But I know the joys of dad days wouldn’t be possible without me: the ‘invisible mother’, providing fresh underpants and fuelled bellies. Or the ‘not now Mum’ brushing tangled hair and wrestling limbs into woollen-knits. Though you can’t measure parenting by the number of approvals you make.
I know I am lucky to share life and parenting with a man committed to love, family and adventure. Last week he washed the dishes while on a conference call. And granted me a three-nights-out in a row with friends, no fuss. I remember the evening that he took our youngest to work when they were just three weeks old and colicky, so I could rest. I love how he can escape the house for the day with nothing besides the children. And that he delights in family adventures: bushwalking with a baby, camper-van sojourns and long-haul flights with three small children.
But most importantly my husband inspires me. To take more risks and go for it. To have more patience and to parent in a way that feels ‘just right’. I think a good partnership encourages self-reflection, discovery and growth. And I am learning to let go and to worry less.
When we parent as a team, it feels easier. I plan and build the scaffolding for family adventures. Tend to wounds and worries. Their Dad’s energy and optimism makes our dreams ‘today’. And entertains ‘little-lions’ at dusk, when all I wish is for quiet. Complimentary and harmonious, except on those days when patience expires and everything spoils. I wonder how single parents manage. I think I will always be in awe of those raising children solo and I hope our community can give them the support that they need.
On Tuesday morning we visit our local cafe. My three-year-old son wears his favourite vest, knitted by his grandma, in bright colours with digger buttons. “Do you have a Phillips Head screw-driver?”, he asks the waitress as she arranges the hot chocolates with extra marshmallows. He wants to fix the table. And I feel so proud of my son. And grateful for those messy, ‘real-tools’ dad days. Together, my husband and I, are raising inquisitive, creative and resilient children.