It’s Friday night, I am 41 years old, I am home alone, and I have temporarily forgotten who I am.
Just a few minutes earlier the front door had closed shut. The muffled sound of small, crackly and excited voices faded. I heard the car door shut. The engine was started up, the car pulled out of the drive
And now here I am, left standing in silence, like a forgotten old sock on a radiator.
My wife has taken the children away for the weekend and I don’t quite know how I feel, or who I am.
I turn and walk away from the door, a familiar paradox forming in my emotions – those uneasy bedfellows of joy and sadness jostle for primacy in my heart.
As soon as the family are out of the door I breathe a sigh of relief. But it is a sigh tinged too with the vestiges of regret. Regret that I am not going with them. Regret that I will miss all those little moments that have become so important.
That moment after dinner when we have a disco which always ends up with everyone collapsed on the floor in a panting pile of giggles.
That moment when my son puts his arm around his sister as she talks him through a book.
That moments when my daughter will whisper that she loves me in my ear.
That moments when my son fixes me with his gaze, stares into my eyes and somehow connects with my very being.
Moments when all the drudgery of the routine has been completed and we can glow in the precious embers of the day, nestled under the duvet sheets and cuddling close as the much loved and familiar bed time stories are told once again.
Moments when my wife and I look at each other and with one weary but happy expression, count our blessings that we have got them safely through yet another day.
They have been gone for a few seconds and I am already missing all of this and more. The house seems quiet. Too quiet. The toys are strewn across the floor, a multi-coloured legacy of what just was.
Children enter our lives in a whirlwind of noise, energy and emotion and from that moment on, there is no let up. As a father this is like a drug.
But it is moments like this, when the drug is taken away, that I miss it, need it, crave it back again. My personality has become so intrinsically linked to my children that it feels like my identity and character are collapsing without them. Again, I am home alone. I am 41 years old. And I have temporarily forgotten who I am.
But it doesn’t take long before I remember. The sadness begins to make way as a positive realisation dawns on me. I am home alone. I am home alone.
I walk over to the toys and start putting them away, one by one. And as I do so, a wave of nervous excitement passes over me. I start to think who of my friends I can call.
I can go for a pint. In a pub.
I can have dinner. In a restaurant.
I start to recall all the films I want to watch and make a mental note to check the listings of the nearby cinemas. I make a mental note to check the timings of the live football on TV. I start to think about the work that needs to be done in the garden and all the other things I find hard to do with children swarming around my ankles, pulling at my trousers and demanding attention.
I start to excitedly break the next two days down into units of time. Some units are about getting jobs done, but some units – in fact most units – are hedonistically and selfishly dedicated to me.
One and a half units will be spent on getting my hair cut. Two units I am budgeting for a lazy Saturday morning breakfast in our local Cafe and a read of the papers. Another two units will go on televised sport. I start to calculate how many units are left.
The weekend is shaping up. I am home alone. And already I am starting to feel like a man again. I am no longer a husband or a father. I am a man, it is just me, and it is starting to feel really good.
I catch myself and I feel guilty, but not so guilty to rein in the flights of fancy that are now coming in thick and fast. I could get the train to London and take in a show. Why not Liverpool? I’ve always fancied a night at the Cavern Club. Hell, why not get a last minute flight and check out Amsterdam…….?
I decide against these things. I am home alone. I have the weekend to myself and my primary goal is to wake up in my own bed, at my own pace, and to do those things that I don’t normally get a chance to do. This is “me” time with a capital ME. This is my one weekend where I can be selfish and hedonistic.
And I know that come Sunday evening the car will pull up the drive, I will hear the car doors open and the muffled sound of scratchy, excited little voices will get louder. My daughter will reach up and press the doorbell and run off screaming with excitement, my son will be jumping up and down on the spot, shouting unformed words, fingers coming in through the letter box.
Before I open the door and get bowled off my feet by a tidal wave of sticky hugs, noise and unbounded enthusiasm, I will breathe in the silence one last time.
And in that moment I know that there will be a tinge of disappointment. Disappointment that I didn’t get to do everything that I wanted to do during the 48 hours of me. Disappointment that my peace and quiet will be broken. Disappointment that Time will once again no longer be mine.
But there will also be joy as the old, selfish me makes way for the new improved me; the father, the husband, the carer, the anchor, the port in a storm.
I will be euphoric that they are back. I will acknowledge that being just me is great, but that actually my life has far greater meaning when my wife and children are around. They define me in ways that I never could on my own.
I will reflect and acknowledge that the only reason I can properly enjoy time alone, is by knowing that they are coming back. It is that, and ONLY that, which will make the next two days – the 48 hours of me – so precious.