Well, week 1 of my Shared Parental Leave proper is now complete. I’ve still not been fully unleashed into the sole parent at home camp as Karen has also been off for 4 of the 5 days (“fraud” I hear you cry!). She’s also off next week as we try to sort out a lengthy to do list of house jobs that we’ve been unable to get to since Toby was born back in May. But fear not, Karen will then be back in work, which will leave me 10 weeks flying solo after that.
Although Karen has been off most of this week, I have still been faced with school runs, nursery runs, Monday play group (at a lovely Salvation Army run group), Wednesday on my own when Karen had a day in work (when I had Tilly, Toby and cousin George in tow and a messy play session), and trying to get some jobs done on Thursday and Friday when the girls were in school/nursery. A lot of this is relatively new to me on a regular basis. Whilst I do breakfast club and after school club drop offs/pick ups when I am in work, I very rarely get chance to drop off/pick up at the school bell and do the nursery runs too. Even when I do that it’s generally just with one and not all three. It’s been interesting to see how I’ve managed in the first week on that basis and how I’m already starting to adapt my routine / planning to make sure I’m in the best shape to get everything done on time.
This leads me to this blog post – a look at how planning and preparation can go a long way to ensuring you have a smoother (NB – not smooth!) run at things and how it’s necessary, particularly when you have three kids and want to fit in time with your wife and for yourself as well. Of course, I largely knew this already, but my appreciation for the planning requirements of running a tight ship are already significantly heightened. Often analogies are drawn between military precision and being organised. Well, the parenting one for not doing the necessary planning and preparation is akin to me dressing up covered in Christmas Tree lights, holding a ghetto-blaster playing Geri Halliwell’s ‘Look at Me’ as loud as possible, with a giant target strapped to me, whilst a sniper looks on ready to take me out in the easiest shot he/she is ever likely to face! That is, it is not a good idea to be unprepared and will end in disaster.
I’m actually quite an organised chap and always have been. I’ve always been a keen rugby player and time management was always key to me doing well with my studies at school and Uni (and later at work) and on the rugby pitch. I had to fit in my rugby training and playing around my school/Uni work, which was particularly tough at exam time, but I was well organised, worked hard and did it relatively well and got good results along the way (in rugby and academically). At work now as a lawyer, my days are filled with balancing cases, deadlines and managing client expectations and I need to have my own systems in place to ensure everything operates properly and well and that I can deliver the client service I want to and that my clients and my firm expect of me. Whilst I am organised, Karen takes it to a whole new level and has spreadsheets about spreadsheets (she loves a spreadsheet that girl). I love a to do list and am forever writing them out and crossing tasks off. This is the approach I am now taking to fatherhood on my shared parental leave and in the words of The Body Coach, Joe Wicks, I like to ‘prep like a boss’.
The school run
I’ve finally now got it in my head that the first bell goes at 8:45am and the second at 8:55am (I think). So I know I need to deliver Tessa through the gates just before 8:45am if I am doing well. So my brain has already begun to think how I achieve this and what preparation I can undertake to make the job that bit easier each morning. This is factoring in the common obstacles that might impact that brief trip to the school gates (a few minutes by car or a 10 minute walk), including:
- out of bed the wrong-side-ness – mostly from Tessa acting like Kevin the Teenager even though she is not yet 7 (and occasionally from me, ahem). When each request is like the biggest demand in the history of mankind;
- Daddy error overload – such as forgetting to write in Tessa’s school reading book log, or remembering certain forms need to be taken in, or that it’s World Book Day and you have 30 minutes to come up with a suitable outfit;
- crying over spilt milk – literally. When Tilly or Tess spill their breakfast, or Toby grabs the bowl, or somehow some other kind of spillage happens which requires immediate attention (including down the school uniform);
- misplaced shoes (and school cardigans, coats, and schoolbags) – a common enemy of most parents, which ends up with you being required to undertake your own search having asked them to do likewise, only to find them neatly set by the front door or at the bottom on the stairs (oh my days this one is annoying);
- brushing of the teeth – particularly when the Tooth Fairy is high on the agenda. This always seems to be a last minute affair.
- “I need a wee Daddy”; and the most frequent of the lot at the moment
- The baby-faced nappy assassin who is Toby – guaranteed to freshly soil himself with a gigantic stinker minutes, if not seconds, before you are due to head through the door.
So what steps and tactics am I deploying to ensure prompt departure? Well, it starts the night before when the school uniform is left out in Tessa’s bedroom and clothes for Tilly and Toby too (whilst you may think I agonise over my own clothes for the day, to save time, I tend to pick out the first thing that comes to hand!). Reading books back in the school bag, Tessa’s water bottle filled up and a check of the calendar for anything else required (nursery bag check on the days Tilly is in nursery too and any bags for Toby ahead of a morning playgroups).Toby’s milk powder measured out, steriliser on and his dream feed/night feed bottles (he’s a big lad!) prepped. Breakfast bowls and cereal also pulled out ready for early morning divvying out, overnight oats with yoghurt prepped for me and berries chopped for those who want them:
The planning above allows for a semi-relaxed morning as my focus can just be on getting them through breakfast and out of the door (baby-faced nappy assassin poonamis dealt with as best as possible). When I am on my own as well I will also set my alarm to get up before the girls so I can get showered and dressed before the mayhem descends. Then it’s a case of pram out if walking, coats on and ready to go.
It’s also good to get the kids entertaining each other and helping out if possible – making things a game is always a good one – although we’ll see how long the novelty of me being off with them actually lasts!
So that’s the school run prep done and a system I am pretty pleased with at the moment, but one I’m open up to refining as the days and weeks pass by. On Thursday we were even first in the queue to go in for Tess to hand in her Science Club application form! And I was the best Daddy going for getting her there so!
Though contrast this with Tuesday when Karen and I were both off, both stayed in bed a little longer than we should, hadn’t done the night before prep, both had showers and, despite us both being off and planning to walk to school all together as a family, ended up with Karen rushing with Tess in the car and me being left behind with the other two – parenting fail indeed!
Playgroups and playtime
I always intended to throw myself into my shared parental leave, go to classes and push myself as much as I can. I want the full experience. So when I was on my own for the first time on Wednesday, I decided to take Toby to messy play at a lovely little local group called Little Mess Pots. Matters were complicated by the fact that my Mum, who usually has Tilly and her cousin George on a Wednesday, had injured herself in a fall from her horse and couldn’t have them. So I had all three, having picked up George on the school run (his big brother and my other nephew, Jack, going to the same school as Tessa). You might think that was challenge enough on my first lone day, but no, being affected by the unusually balmy February sunshine, I decided to take them for a park picnic after the playgroup session. Madness I hear you say? Yes, entirely so – sleep deprivation does the strangest things to your mind!
I’d had a playgroup run on Monday with Karen in attendance at the Salvation Army one that Tilly and Toby go to with their cousin Luna – that will prevent more challenges when I am on my own with the three of them in future weeks, but it was a nice group and one I will look forward to attending more in the coming weeks with the kids’ Grandma Anne, AKA ‘Granny Annie’. Anyhow, with the Wednesday group, I needed some more night before prep:
- change of clothes for the messy munchkins;
- towels for them all too (my one visit to Mess Pots before ended with me trying to dry Toby with a Muslin cloth);
- money to pay for the session;
- packed lunch all round – salad for me and sandwiches for the kids, with yoghurts, crisps, fruit, drinks – Toby’s food, bib and cutlery;
- picnic blanket.
Plenty to think about therefore and as I was prepping I was beginning to think I was crazy, but I would not be defeated and ploughed on. As it went, it worked out very well. The little ones took it in turns in the double buggy with Toby on the way home from school and walked the rest, Toby had a nap just before the play group and we had some fun and Tilly & George were well behaved at Messy Play:
We then walked round to the park and set up at a picnic table, had a lovely lunch in the sun and then a play on the playground.
I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, until I realised I’d brought no cutlery with me to eat my salad – baby spoon it was then (I can’t get all my planning right first up now, can I?!).
Going forwards with my time off, I also want to try and fit in some fun playtime and some craft stuff with the kids. I’m even planning on trying to bake my first ever cake (emergency services will be placed on standby at the appropriate time). For this to happen I will need to be on top of timings for things like gym class, Rainbows and all drop offs and pick ups and plan any activities in advance. All part of the planning experience. Otherwise I will have to revert to the tried and tested use of a toilet roll tube as a telescope (again!). Planning and preparation is going to continue to be a key focus going forwards!
My own time – fitness and time with Karen and friends
In my time off I’m also intending to work hard to get myself in better shape. The Dad-bod spare tyre must go. For this to happen, it also requires a degree of planning and preparation. I’m trying to plan a weekly menu for mine and Karen’s evening meals and will prep food in advance if I can – a Spag Bol I made this week has covered a meal for me when Karen was away and stuffed peppers for us both. I also want to try and plan the kids’ food a little better so the last minute stress of figuring out what to make them is removed (Pesto Pasta again kids?!), but only time will tell how I get on with all that.
Regarding my fitness stuff, I should be able to fit in a few runs each week at times when Karen is back from work, or even the occasional early morning one if I’m not too knackered. That will come down to my own self-discipline and being flexible to get out when I can and when works best for us as a family. Gym wise – I go to classes at a great gym in Stockport called Seven Movement, run by a fabulous couple, Dave and Kate. It’s not at all pretentious and has a lot of like-minded people, many who are parents and juggling the work-life family balance like I am. I’m going to try and fit in one Circuit class, one weights class and one ‘Burn’ HIIT class each week. To do this I do need to be organised and work with Karen to figure out when I can go. On occasion I may take one or more of the kids with me (they have a kids corner where they can sit and play), but I’ll have to see how Toby copes with that and whether it’s feasible or not. Karen recently had a trip to Malta to see a good friend and I took all three on a Saturday morning. I won’t say it wasn’t stressful, but with the help of a travel cot, careful snack planning, ipads and bribery of the girls to look after Toby, I managed it and it’s given me confidence going forwards that I should be able to keep up sessions if I am organised enough. We’ll see what shape I am in in 11 weeks’ time!
The kids even got a quick swing on the rings at the end and seem keen to come back again in the future …
By the end Toby was asleep and the girls had been great. The only issue then was engineering our exit from the third floor when the main lift stopped working (old school service lift to the rescue!).
I also want to try and build in some time seeing friends I’ve not caught up with for a while whilst I am off (including those abroad) and this will take some planning and prep on my part to fit a call or a lunch in. Then there’s Karen, and it’s always our time together that gets shunted to the back of the queue. But I hope with the planning at full tilt we can enjoy some special times together, both as a family (Friday afternoon slots look good at present) and just me and her (baby sitter list is compiled and dates being touted as I type). We’ll see how we go, but with a bit of planning and preparation, I may just get there.
Thanks for reading.
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