Monday, 19 February 2018
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June 2017

A ‘dazzle’. That’s what you call a large group of zebras. We have thirty of them, which I’m confident counts as a ‘Dazzle’, perched on the kitchen worktops, legs akimbo...

“What’s with the zebras in the kitchen?” I ask my husband as I come in the door from work-tired and wired, but, you know, ready to talk jungle projects. “Show and tell. Tomorrow. We got the zebra.”

I pick one up and hold it in my hand. It has four little holes in it, perfectly cut out the size of a 1p coin, so each child in the class can put their fingers through it and make it walk with little finger-legs, like a zebra puppet. Its googly eyes stare at me. I get glue on my hands from the individual tiny pieces of zebra-hair-wool they’ve spent all day sticking on, thread by thread. My eyes start to water. I’m pretty sure it’s not the fumes from the glue.

It’s one of the crazy things about becoming a parent. No matter how long you’ve been doing this gig or how much you think you know – it’s always the little things, unexpected moments, that catch you off guard and make you cry like a baby. And this was one of them. Zebras.

My husband’s paper zebras made me cry. More than any bouquet, love letter or mix tape (yes, we have been together THAT long!). Because knowing he sat and cut them all out, one by one, all different yet all the same, so our girl would have something fun to share with her classmates for Show and Tell (which of course was jungle themed and therefore completely compatible with everything the local petrol station sells...) that's love. And that dear reader, is why I married him.

It's the thing about parenthood isn't it? When it suddenly stops being about ‘you two’. When you know you love someone, this tiny person in a way that is big but unquantifiable, more than either of you can articulate or understand. More than yourself. Even when they're shouting for you to explain exactly why the Egyptians were wrapped in toilet roll, and while you’re skidding about on rogue Aquabeads, or hiding in the en suite scoffing Malteasers by stealth like something off Secret Eaters. You'd die for them (your kids, not the Malteasers). You live for them (again, the kids, not the sweets). And, brutal as it sounds, put them before either of you (okay, you get the idea).

Those zebras got me thinking about Father’s Day. It’s circled on the calendar in the kitchen (otherwise known as the ‘let’s get stuff done, chart’). So this is, I guess, an open letter to the dad in our house – a dazzling dad – my husband. I’ve never liked the phrase ‘other half’, because we’re different, and we don’t always add up – but on the important things we do. And when we don’t it really doesn’t matter. Because for the Two Most Important Things in our lives we’re a team, their team. And as Fathers’ Day approaches I started thinking about the things I’ve learned from the dad in our house:

1. It’s not a competition. Whether a stay-at-home dad/mum or working mum/dad – or any combination in between, to generalise about who has it easiest/hardest/who gets to drink more coffee is silly. There are many reasons why we've done it this way, but truth be told, I've forgotten some of them, and I've stopped explaining. Suffice to say, it works for us, for now, most of the time. Some days, being at home is a walk in the park. And some days those walks in the park drive you to distraction. Some days working is tough – and juggling – but other days it’s kinda cool. We all do the best we can within our (very) individual circumstances. And anyone who judges is, quite frankly, an idiot.

2. Stick to yer knitting. An old work colleague of mine used to say this. She meant, you keep doing what you’re good at and I’ll keep doing what I’m good at. It stuck with me. Being parents, where one of us is out at work and one of us is at home, has meant learning how to do it each other's way. Whether that means how you load the dishwasher, how to do plaits, how to juggle a video call when working from home (and not end up on the BBC) or how we offload our stresses (me: pilates; wine; eBay – in that order, him by an hour in the dark room (an actual dark room for actual photography, not some existentialist reference to retreating into one’s thoughts... I mean, some men do that apparently). Play to your strengths and be kind.

3. Smell the roses: We’ll never get these years back. Being ‘mum and dad’ not just K&A changed everything. Being parents tipped our lives upside down and yet somehow put them into an order that made sense more than before. They are our new best friends, our inspiration, our motivation and our loves. So (note to self) stop fussing about the hoovering. They are also, on occasion, tyrants who will trample over you for a fidget spinner and who have collectively slept for about 73 minutes since birth.

I guess what I’m trying to say, is I know it takes a lot of love, patience, and self-adhesive googly eyes to make 30 paper zebras. And this is a long-winded, not very subtle, thank you. To tell that zebra-making husband of mine that I love him. And you should probably tell yours too. In between texts to remind each other to get milk, competitive tiredness and mumbled ‘you toos’. This one is for the dads. Dazzling and doing their best. We love you.

Stock Photo: Zebra Toy
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