I’m dicing onions in my kitchen to make a shepherd’s pie but I’m really dissecting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s latest appearance in the Dáil, the Irish parliament, berating that carefully enunciated delivery of something written by someone else.
I can just see our leader as a schoolboy, earnestly telling teacher that, no, he and his pals did not break that window . . . if there was glass on the ground, it was the other crowd, playing there before, who actually did the damage.
I slice faster and faster. Chop, chop, chop. I’ve noticed some household chores lend themselves to the flow of ideas, and even shape their expression. I find myself actually thinking faster as I do more energetic jobs, such as mopping the floor – or indeed chopping vegetables – words and rhythm building together.
I stop chopping Varadkar and the onions for a moment as I realise the whimsical selection of electrochemical sensory impulses that have gathered on the cold window of my right brain are coalescing into an idea for a feature article.
Welcome to the world of the stay-at-home dad and freelance journalist/writer.
I’m not sure what direction the piece is going to take. Should it be funny, serious, measured, coruscating? Where might I pitch it when it’s done? It’s shaping into a bit of a rant, so maybe it will be an opinion piece . . . when I drop the disdain and find a little balance.
Maybe when I move on to something less vigorous, such as peeling the potatoes.
My ruminations are interrupted by that dreaded shrill shout of “Daaaad” from my 11-year-old daughter in the livingroom. It’s actually less of a shout than a summons. No matter how many times I’ve said it, they never come to me; I have to drop everything and sort out the latest barney with her nine-year-old brother.
They’ve just started their homework in the same room (I know, I know, but neither was going to be the one to vacate when the after-school hot-dogs were eaten and it was time to open the schoolbags).
“He hit me . . . ”
He cuts in: “I just did that [miming the most effete of punches] . . . Anyway, she hit me first . . . She was singing too loud . . .”
Jesus, I don’t have time for this. Can’t you both be quiet? Daddy’s got an idea for a newspaper feature, I’m thinking. But I try to be as even-handed and measured as I can, in the shortest time possible, while trying to avoid wheedling, whining or red-faced threats that I will have to retract when I calm down.
No man is a hero to his own kids and I know, and they know, hostilities have been suspended only temporarily as I rush back to finish peeling the spuds, load them into the pot and flick on the gas.
The muse chooses her own time and this particular visit just happens to be at about 4pm on a school Monday. I’m just glad she did call. So before I cut up the parsley and thyme and put on the minced lamb, I dash upstairs to my computer to jot down a few ideas and observations before bounding downstairs again.
As I arrive in the hallway there is a quick judgment call to make: to my left, in the sittingroom, my son is calling me – something he doesn’t get in his Irish homework – to the right is the kitchen, and the boiling potatoes that need to be checked.
“With you in a minute, son,” I puff, as I dash to the hob. Not done yet. I’m running around like Basil Fawlty.
Just then the phone rings; it’s my wife.
“I’m in Aldi, in Finglas . . . the traffic on the M50 was brutal. What else do we need? Herbs?” she asks.
Parsley, sage, rosemary and basil, my mind throws up, before I remember we’re almost out of washing-up liquid.
“What’s for dinner?” she asks.
“I’m making a shepherd’s pie.”
“Oh, lovely. I’ll be home in about 40 minutes.”
Forty minutes! I look around to check the kitchen is in reasonable order and the floor has been swept. I’d better take the dog out for a pee and bring in the washing.
The guilt attached to being a man staying at home full-time is terrible. . . trying to keep on top of housework, the kids, and work. Justifying myself to myself, and whoever else, for taking that redundancy.
My wife, back working full-time, has been nothing but supportive, yet there is something deep in my male psyche: must work, bring home bacon.
There’s now no childcare to pay and I’ve never seen so much of my children – a mixed blessing – but there’s something there, nagging away, like a pebble in the corduroy slippers my daughter bought me for Christmas.
A few more thoughts to dash down on the computer; I’ll flesh them out tomorrow when the kids are at school and my wife is at work. Back downstairs – again – and I mash the potatoes, put them over the filling and, ding, ding, dinner is in the oven. Maybe you can have your Sheppard’s pie and eat it.
My son bellows: “Daddy …”