About a year ago, I wrote a column for this website on the heartache that follows when your child prefers the other parent. Until that point, my husband and I had split parenting our son, who was then two years old, firmly down the middle. But I was heavily pregnant then and, as my due date neared and I grew almost entirely spherical, I became unable to romp around with my son or successfully conduct bedtimes on his floor-bed. So, the role of primary parent passed to my husband, while I seemed to spend my third trimester lolling on the sofa, writing self-pitying articles about how uncomfortable I was.
Things are different now. I am still, alas, that sort of writer, but my point is that I’ve had the baby now and that baby is happy in his father’s company (EVEN THOUGH his father does not possess my winning personality, by which I mean lactating breasts), so I’m now free to hang out with my older son again.
The problem is I don’t know how to do it any more. After a year of only spending time together as a family or with his baby brother in tow, I’m completely at sea for what to do with my son on our first “date”. When he was two, he could spend hours laughing at a funnily shaped bench in the park. But he’s three now. Should I take him for a macchiato?
“Well, then,” I say, tying his shoes. He seems ganglier and less puppy-fattish than I remember and I’m feeling so antsy that what comes next out of my mouth is clownishly formal: “Whither shall we wander this afternoon?”
What the hell?
“Fruit shop,” my son says immediately, then opens the front door. How long has he been able to do that? We take off into town, my son and me.
“Where is this fruit shop?” I ask him.
“I go there with Daddy. It’s got letters on it and windows and a step going up to it.”
Well, that makes sense. He’s always going off on his father’s shoulders somewhere, both of them giggling, their blonde heads stacked together like a totem pole. This fruit shop must be one of their haunts. Also, I notice, feeling like an estranged mother trying to pick up the threads after ducking out for cigarettes 20 years ago, the boy uses prepositions now.
I’m completely at sea for what to do with my son on our first 'date'. When he was two, he could spend hours laughing at a funnily shaped bench in the park. But he’s three now. Should I take him for a macchiato?
But we have fun. We have a lot of fun. I make him laugh with silly noises; we play hopscotch on a cobbled street; we throw pennies in the town fountain; and do giggly laps of the soft play area in the shopping centre. I still can’t find this sodding fruit shop, though, and I start, privately, to become upset. Over the last year, my older son and his father have become a tight little unit – a double act, complete with their own in-jokes, goofy impressions and even dance moves. Every evening, they jump around to the song Buddy Holly by Weezer and then my husband has to read him a bedtime story while pretending to be a Minion. I’m very happy to be with the baby and I’m aware of how ridiculous it is, but I am insanely jealous of all this. Our older son used to be my little sidekick. We used to co-sleep with his little hot feet curled into me and his head weighty on my arm. Now, he calls for his daddy at night. And apparently they have some fucking special secret father-and-son fruit shop they frequent that I can’t find for love nor money.
“Here it is!” trills my son. I almost don’t hear him because I’m trundling down the road beside him, lost in my mental rant. “Here is the fruit shop!”
I look up. Yep, there’s the fruit shop. It has a step going up to it and windows and letters on it. The letters read “TESCO EXPRESS”.
I’m afraid I have been rather a fool.
We wend our way back through the park, pretending to be aeroplanes, giggling at the funnily shaped bench and enjoying at least three unprompted hugs that almost cause me to break out in embarrassing hiccup-sobs. Then we get home, unpack our fruit spoils and share them among the family.
“I really enjoyed spending time with the baby,” my husband tells me.
“Yes, we should do this again,” I say.
“Perhaps,” my husband muses. “Perhaps we should set up arrangements, so that we don’t fall into the trap of you being the baby’s mum and me being his dad,” he jerks a head here at our older son, who has his face in a bowl of pomegranate.
“So, like, after work I take the older one on Mondays and both of them on Tuesdays. Then you can do the same for the next couple of days and we all hang out together at the weekend?”
“Perfect,” says my husband.
And there we have it. Splitting our time between the kids. The thrill of custody arrangements without the drag of the divorce. We’ll see how this goes.