Sunday, April 29, 2007

Mr Mum, Not -- Mr Me

So the mother of my children has abandoned us this week. She went off today for a week at a spa. The kids asked me "why?" Going with the truth, I said that she wanted to get away from us. "Hopefully, she'll be back." We will just have to wait and see.

Others react to this in a common manner. "So you are Mr Mum this week?" I don't think so. They are talking as if I don't and never did anything; looking at me surely being unable to cope. Indeed, I'll tell you that I have been there before -- and for a four year stretch too.

You see we had our first two kids while their mother was studying part-time for her MBA. That took four long years. And during those years, I did everything (yes, including baby feeds but, no, not carrying to unborn children). But I did the cooking, washing, and other sundry activities on top of working. So I'll cope with this week just fine.

Now, I didn't expect any awards for this. It is what you should do. Although, I should also tell you that the day of her last exam for that MBA, I was fired. Yes, 'fired.' My services for most of these things were no longer required.

It turns out that I hadn't been doing a good enough job. It was adequate and by any normal standard exemplary. But, as I have blogged before, that isn't the standard of aspiration in our household. It is a higher standard. For four long years, she silently steamed at my poor performance, knowing full well that she didn't have the time or energy to wrest any tasks from me. But it was all over when that MBA was done.

So this week represents a move back to the past. Take, for example, the dishwasher. For the past four years, the philosophy has been that it can't handle the task itself. Instead, dishes need to be clean before they go in the washer. I have pointed out the environmental inefficiency of all this. I have also engaged in the two obvious errors: I have put 'dirty' dishes away and put clean dishes on another load. It is, quite frankly, hard to tell.

Indeed, sometimes I rush to get a load on, get it done and then put away before anyone finds out. But even then it is hard. I have to do more washing because there is always that one time in a thousand that some bit of food doesn't come off but gets baked on. Then the finger is pointed squarely at you know who and I have to apologise for thinking I could ever manage this task on my own.

Anyhow, this week, I can constrain the dish use and go through all this and cover for my own mistakes. And so that is what has been happening.

But things are not as unconstrained as when I did this the first time. A few weeks back, a hypothesis emerged that our son's, sometimes, poor behaviour might be the result of preservatives in his diet. I haven't read the science behind this. There currently is no point; he is on a diet. And let me tell you, there are lots of stuff with preservatives in it. I have no idea really. So the usual thing that might have occurred, some McDonald's to smooth the waters, isn't happening. Why, you might ask? She has converted our son this cause.

Our son knows that sometimes he doesn't listen and do what he is told. With everyone else around him doing that, it has also concerned him. The preservatives hypothesis has freed him from responsibility for his actions and he knows this. He happily tells me if he is not well behaved that perhaps there were some preservatives in his breakfast cereal or that someone at school gave him something he shouldn't have eaten.

Now, if he was more strategic, he might take this to another level and not keep me honest on his diet. Let me give him whatever and he would have some sort of free behavioural license. But no. He has a zealot to the cause and so we are constrained in our eating habits.

This fact is not lost on our eldest daughter who is strategic. Initially, she loved the diet because it satisfied her notion of fairness; "no one should get more than her." So she would still get the same food while her brother's meal changed to, let's face it, a less appetising variety. This was all to her liking and so she embraced the diet theory.

But that it all over. As the house was slowly cleared of food with preservatives, she realised that this was going to impact on her. In particular, she knew that when Mummy was away, there was a good chance of 'party time.' Now, with the writing on the wall, she is trying to move household opinion.

Here is what she has tried.
  • "It's unfair. Can't he just come to McDonald's and have a salad?" "Well, I don't know if those are sufficiently preservative free."
  • "Maybe we could go while he was somewhere else." "Well, that doesn't sound that fair."
  • "How do we know the preservatives were causing his bad behaviour? He is not that well behaved now." "Well, it may take a while to work."
  • "But still, to be sure, we should re-introduce preservatives to his diet and then see if his behaviour gets worse." "A randomised experiment, huh. Actually, that is pretty scientific."
That last one has the support of her brother who was also happy to test the theory more conclusively. It was pointed out to him that if we don't experiment then he will never have anything good to eat again. From this basis, an insurgency is brewing.

As I write this, I find their arguments compelling but the consequences of the several week's investing in a de-tox and reversing it with a single Happy Meal worry me. Sure, the theory might be wrong. But it could also be right. And the last thing I want is the responsibility for his poor behaviour to be shifted from everyone else to me. So for the moment, the regime is hold from afar; a stronghold Rome could have used.