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Growing into my job as a responsible adult

I HAVE a rather poor history when it comes to being left at home to my own devices. The expression, 'When the cat's away. . .' in my case, should finish: 'the mouse walks around in his dressing gown all day, plays music too loud, eats rubbish and gets dressed around lunchtime.

He then watches a succession of terrifying horror films until 4am when, too scared to go upstairs, he falls asleep in his clothes with the lights on, surrounded by empty beer bottles'.

The family's return is unfailingly preceded by a flurry of tidying, a mountain of washing up, the unmaking and remaking of the bed. Even then, I'm usually given away by a vast, Daddy-shaped crater in the couch.

SCHEDULE

The difference this time, is that I'm in charge. My wife is away for two nights with friends, meaning I must, for once, be the adult, the 'responsible' one – all on my own, which, frankly, terrifies me a bit.

We also now run an office in the town that needs looking after, where a certain schedule must be maintained and there's an amount of deskwork to be done in her absence.

So, not only do I have to keep three young adults and one preteen out of trouble for two days but, for the most part, I must do this by remote control.

I must issue blind instructions by phone, as I imagine a rave of Project X movie proportions, our house already a smouldering wreck encircled by helicopters as reporters grimly inform viewers that the sole parent in charge has yet to be tracked down.

I'm breathing into a paper bag, body a knot of anxiety, as I consider all this, when my wife appears next to the desk, making me jump. "Right, I'm off then," she says.

"Have a lovely time," I tell her. "And – don't worry about a thing."

She looks at me for a moment. "You're sure you'll be alright?"

"Pfft," I say, swiping the air with my hand. "We'll be fine," I tell her, my voice a tad too high.

The rear lights of the car are still winking in the distance when the preteen bounces in from school to the office with friends in tow, all of them giggling into their fists.

"Can we buy a load of sweets?" she chirrups.

I consider this in a mature and responsible way, the first challenge of my tenure. "Um," I say.

"Please?" she says, cocking her head and swaying on her heels.

"Sure," I say, digging in my pocket for change. "How much do you need?"

I watch as they skip off into the busy traffic together. This being-in-charge lark, I decide, is not so hard.

They return a short time later, cheeks bulging and stained blue. "Can we go back to the house?" she asks. Challenge number two.

dodgy

I clear my throat to sound suitably authoritative. "Do your friends' parents know there's no one home?"

"Sure," she says and they all nod vigorously.

"Well then," I tell her. "Try not to get killed crossing the road, do NOT make popcorn and, if anyone dodgy calls to the door, take a message."

Seriously, I think to myself as they sprint off. I should get into foster caring. I'm THAT good.

I arrive home just as the last of her friends is being collected. "Can we have a sleepover here?" the two of them plead. "Pleeeeease."

The other dad looks at me. I look at him. We both look around as though waiting for one of our wives to appear and make a decision.

"My wife's away," I say, "sooo. . . I was thinking of going out – but if you're cool with that. . ."

"They're welcome to have their sleepover at our place," he says.

"Cool," I say again, slapping my hands together and ushering them out the door. "Have a lovely time."

"Eh, I should probably get my pyjamas and a toothbrush," says my daughter.

"Great idea," I tell her. "Chop-chop. Time's a wastin'."

When they're gone, I rub my hands. Delegation, I think to myself. It's the key to responsibility.

I poke my head in to the middle teen's room, where he and his girlfriend appear to be readjusting each others' hairstyles, a favourite pastime. They jump apart.

"I hope you're studying," I say in my most grown-up voice.

"Yeah," he says.

"Good man," I say, then I leave the room, remember something important and go back in.

They jump apart again. "Leftovers for dinner tonight," I tell him. "In the fridge. Help yourself."

I go up to check on his younger brother, whose head appears attached to a laptop by a complex series of wires. There's a faint sound of computerised gunfire. I wave my hands. "I hope you're studying," I yell.

He pulls the headphones aside. "Yeah, whatever," he says and pulls the headphones back on.

I check in on the eldest, but his bed hasn't been slept in for several days.

My wife rings. "Everything okay?" she says.

"Like you need to ask," I gloat. "You're talking to Dad of the Year."

Of course, it's only Day One.


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