Petty domestic disputes no.8: Tidying

You want me to tidy what? (source: cartoon wallpapers.us)

You want me to tidy what? (source: cartoon wallpapers.us)

“Everytime a child says ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there’s a a little fairy somewhere that falls down dead.”
Peter Pan

My family believe in fairies. My wife and my two sons believe that not only do fairies exist but they live in our house. How do I know this? Every morning, after breakfast, they take their bowls and cups from the dining table and place them on a work surface in the kitchen, next to sink, ready to be cleaned. What is the problem with that, you may ask? Well, nothing, except that we own a dishwasher.

The dishwasher is in our utility room. It is only a few feet from this particular area of work surface to the dishwasher, but every day the cups and bowls are placed by the sink safe in the knowledge that the tidy fairy will put them into the dishwasher. It must be the tidy fairy, because they never put the bowls and cups into the dishwasher and yet the bowls and cups get cleaned. Sometimes they feel charitable and place the cups and bowls on the work surface directly above the dishwasher. The thought may occur to them to place the items into the dishwasher, but for some reason they ignore it. Perhaps they are worried the tidy fairy will be made redundant, yet another casualty of austerity Britain. In their heads they see a little queue of fairies filing into the job centre looking for opportunities under M for magic. Perhaps my boys think the tidy fairy will have words with the tooth fairy so that they only get half the usual amount per tooth, or even worse, talk to Santa and tell him exactly how badly behaved they can sometimes be. Whatever the reason, the tidy fairy has gainful employment in our house.

Now that's how to load a dishwasher (source: nrdc.org)

Now that’s how to load a dishwasher (source: nrdc.org)

Of course, it’s not really the tidy fairy that cleans up after the family (sorry kids), it’s me. And it does my head in. The problem is, when we agreed that I would look after the boys, we also agreed that I would do the lion’s share of the domestic chores. I don’t mind that. What I do have a problem with is doing unnecessary chores. It would only take another 5 seconds for the family to put their things in the dishwasher, yet it all seems too much bother. Not that they would do a very good job of maximising the load. You can tell whenever my wife loads the dishwasher because everything is jumbled up inside. I can get twice the crockery into the dishwasher than her, just by arranging things in a logical order. I even showed her how to do this once. Did she thank me? Did she hell.

Ah, I hear you say, you’re being too sensitive. It’s only just the dishwasher, it’s not like it takes you a long time to sort it out. If only. There’s all the post that gets dumped into my office to file, or the things to shred that not only get left in my office, but often on top of the shredder, as if flicking a switch and pushing a receipt into the ‘hole of lacerations’* was far too much work. Then there are the kitchen peelings that we save in a little container to go to the compost bin. I’m sure my wife believes this container grows legs and empties itself during the night like Twoflower’s Luggage. If only it had all the attributes of that magic box.

empty toilet rollWell I couldn’t let this go on. As is typical in our household I didn’t say anything directly (we tend to hold these things in until we explode irrationally at something inconsequential like a coffee stain or the wrong flavoured crisps). Instead I started a guerrilla action.

There is one thing my wife hates more than anything, and that is empty toilet roll tubes being left in a bathroom. I’m not talking about leaving the toilet roll holder empty (I may be vindictive sometimes but I’m not that mean) but leaving the empty tube on a window sill or a shelf, preferably in a prominent position, will have the desired effect.

I’ve even got my boys in on the act. I was asked by my oldest what to do with the empty tube once. “Just leave it on the side” I said, maniacally laughing inside like Machiavelli‘s slightly less cunning cousin**, and like good children they are happy to oblige. Now I get a small amount of pleasure watching my wife, face like thunder, taking yet another empty toilet tube into the utility room. I stand there, broom or duster in hand, chuckling to myself as I watch her walk through the kitchen to the utility room. And then my laughter stops. Because every time she walks past the dishwasher to and places the empty toilet roll onto an area of the work surface where we place the recyclables.

Ready for the recycle fairy to place them in the recycle bin outside.

* A friend of mine is a product manager responsible for shredders (plus laminators and other stuff) and I’ve been assured that this is the correct technical term.

**His name was Trevor, apparently.

Previous petty domestic dispute blogs in this series:

  1. Bed space
  2. The 6 a.m. watershed
  3. Food
  4. Houseplants
  5. Who changes the nappy
  6. Bed Linen
  7. Toys in the lounge
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Petty domestic disputes No.7: Toys in the lounge

I can feel the blood pressure rising (source: nieniedialogues.blogspot.com)

Welcome home Daddy! (source: nieniedialogues.blogspot.com)

Picture the scene. You’ve been away from home for a few days, possibly longer. You are tired. The journey back has been longer than expected and you are a bit jet-lagged as you have been abroad – and it’s not as if you can sleep well in a hotel bed at the best of times. You open the front door and your children rush up, shouting your name as they throw themselves into your arms. It’s a great feeling, up there with the best moments of being a parent. You walk into the lounge, ready to sit down for five minutes and hear about what the kids have to say. Instead you just stand there open-mouthed.

The lounge looks like an explosion at Toys R Us. It takes all your dexterity to get to a seat without twisting your ankle and when you arrive, you find even more toys taking up the sofa space. Your blood pressure rises and before you know it you’re telling your kids to have a clear up. They stare at you, disappointment in their eyes as they remember how grumpy Daddy can be.

Now you might say I’m being unreasonable; children like to play with toys and what sort of monster would stop them from doing so? And you would be right, if the lounge was the only place they could play. But one of the reasons for buying our house was that on the ground floor it had a kitchen, lounge, dining room and conservatory, enabling us to eat in the conservatory and convert the dining room into a kids play room.

This never happens in our house

This never happens in our house

Can you imagine that, a whole room full of toys and books, with the space to play and make as much noise as you want? I would have loved to have had a play room when I was a kid. As we decorated the room I could see the scene in my head; our two boys playing nicely together in the play room while my wife and I relaxed in the lounge, the adult room. I’m so naïve.

For the majority of the day, the children’s play room is like a big storage unit. It’s where the children go to collect whichever of their (many, many) toys they want to play with and bring them into our lounge to play. When this first started happening I would shoo the kids back into the playroom, which would bring on the inevitable bout of tears; “how dare you force me to go into a room full of my toys to play, it’s so unfair. ” But my wife said I was being mean so we compromised ,and we now have the basket.

The basket is small – around 2 feet by 2 feet wide and 6 inches high – made of wicker and sits at one end of our lounge. When we started with the basket, the rule was that the only toys allowed in the lounge were those in the basket. For every new toy in, one went out. This seemed like a fair compromise. The kids could play in the lounge with those toys, but if they wanted to play with any other toys they had to either play in the play room or tidy away toys already in the lounge, ensuring the lounge wouldn’t get overrun. As I said, I’m so naïve.

Now that's what I call value for money (source: huffingtonpost.co.uk)

Now that’s what I call value for money (source: huffingtonpost.co.uk)

Over time, the basket started to resemble a salad bowl you see at a serve your self salad buffet. You know the ones I mean, where the bowl is very small and the people with a “bit more storage capacity than others” build up salad walls using carrots and cucumbers, increasing the bowls capacity so they can fill the middle with potato salad, coleslaw and croutons; all to be smothered by honey and mustard dressing. You know, the healthy option.

Now our lounge is just an annex of the play room. Despite my heroics in trying to get the kids to tidy their toys away each evening, they always miss something, usually something small and hard, which gets trodden on as you come downstairs to get a bottle of milk for the little one at 4:00am.

And, of course, in order to allow our children this privilege, we end up eating our meals in a furnace during the summer and a freezer during the winter.

That was until everything changed. The basket still remains in the lounge and it is still overflowing with toys. There are always toys scattered across the lounge and sofas. The difference, though, is that I am the one at home with the children and my wife is the one that travels. Yes, there are times when I would love for the boys to play in the play room for a while to give me a break, but most of the time I enjoy playing with them in the lounge. I’ve also developed partial blindness to the fact that toys remain scattered around the place. I’ve even developed a sixth sense to identify which areas to avoid on the early hours milk collections.

My wife, on the other hand, had a sort out of both the toy room and the toy basket the other day. I didn’t say a word.

Previous petty domestic dispute blogs in this series:

  1. Bed space
  2. The 6 a.m. watershed
  3. Food
  4. Houseplants
  5. Who changes the nappy
  6. Bed Linen

Petty Domestic Disputes No. 6: Bed linen

English: Thermostat FLZ 541 Русский: Термостат...

There’s something wrong with the wiring (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t know what happened when my wife and I were born; we both come from the same part of the country which means we should have similar genes (not too similar before you all start smirking), and we grew up at roughly the same time, yet by some genetic quirk our bodies have very different thermostats.

My body thermostat is normal. I get cold in winter and hot in summer (or wet, as is the case for most English summers). It’s my wife that has the problem. Her thermostat seems to be set permanently on cold. Not freezing – it’s not like she’s blue in the mouth and shivering all the time – no, the difference between us is that it doesn’t matter what the weather, she always seems to need at least one more layer of clothing than me.

Water retention sufferers on the beach

Water retention sufferers on the beach

It’s not as if we are so different physically. We are both quite slim (although I’m a lot broader as discussed here), and don’t suffer from’water retention like a large and growing percentage of the population, so it’s not as if I’m carrying around extra lagging around the torso. We just appear to be wired up differently. So what’s the problem? I hear you ask. None, most of the time, it’s just…..

If there is one thing I hate, it is being too hot in bed. I, like most other people who like to retain their sanity, spend a third of my life in bed, yet ever since I’ve been married (OK, maybe for longer than that) I wake up each morning feeling like I’ve spent 7 hours at a Turkish bath. It’s not that I’m having nightmares, and I rarely suffer from a fever. No, the problems that I am forced to endure an inappropriately warm duvet.

Take our winter duvet. Its filling seems to be made from polar bear fur and hairs from the devil’s armpit. Even this winter, when the outside temperature was down below -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit), within moments of climbing into bed my pores would be shooting out sweat like old faithful on speed. My wife, on the other hand, was complaining about how cold it was and asking for an extra blanket on top.

The answer, to me, is obvious. My wife should wear pyjamas in bed. As I have explained (begged) in the past, it’s easier for her to wear something extra than for me to peel off a layer of skin. This, though, is not an option. The only way forward is for me to gently simmer in a bath of my own sweat.

Things came to a head the other night. We are having an unusually warm spell in the UK at the moment. Daytime temperatures have exceed 34 Celsius (93.2 Fahrenheit) and as usual the majority of the UK population is complaining. Earlier in the month I had finally managed to persuade my wife to swap our winter duvet to our summer duvet (filling: brown bear pelts with added mink) but on this night, despite the windows being open, it remained incredibly warm. In fact it was so warm I could even see a slight flush on my wife’s cheeks. I quickly realised that this could be the opportunity I had been looking for.

“Why don’t we take the duvet out and just use the cover?” I said with an innocent tone.
“OK,” she replied. She must have been baking.

Can we change the duvet, please? (source:www.healthtap.com)

Can we change the duvet, please? (source:www.healthtap.com)

Once removed, I lay under the thin cotton sheets of the cover. My wife, in the mean time, put on some pyjamas. It was heaven. For once I lay the without the familiar itch of sweat trickling down my neck before nestling in the hollow of my throat. Unused to such levels of comfort, I was soon fast asleep.

At 3:00 am I woke up freezing. A night mist had come in from the coast, cooling the air to a more Spring-like temperature. I turned to look at my wife but she was sound asleep, though I swore I could see a slight smile on her face. What should I do? I couldn’t get the duvet. That would have been tantamount to surrender. No, the was only one thing for it. For the rest of the night I watched the digital clock slowly tick off the minutes to dawn whilst shivering gently on the thin sliver of bed I call my own.

The next morning my wife had to go away for a couple of days for work, so I quietly put the summer duvet back in the duvet cover. Since she’s returned she hasn’t said a word. I’m hoping she hasn’t noticed.

Previous blogs in this series:

Who changes the nappy

Houseplants

Food

The 6 a.m. watershed

Bedspace

Petty domestic disputes no.5: Who changes the nappy (diaper)

Now if you hold still, I can wipe this crap off your elbow and we can continue (source: be.convdocs.org)

Now if you hold still, I can wipe this crap off your elbow and we can continue (source: be.convdocs.org)

We play a game in our household. It’s not an acknowledged game – I’ve never spoken to my wife about it – but if this game was an olympic sport, I’d like to think we would both be medal contenders (or at the very least, representing our country.) The players need to have the mental agility of Professor Stephen Hawking on red bull and the reflexes of a monkey in a banana storm, because the cost of losing can literally leave you in the brown stuff. The game I’m talking about is “who changes the nappy (or diaper to our American cousins.)

During the week our roles are fairly clear. As a stay at home Dad, I change our son’s nappy regularly and without complaint. In the evening my wife does the same. The real fun starts on the weekends.

I remember the first time I had to change a nappy. I was visiting my wife in hospital, taking every chance to hold my perfect son in my arms when a rumbling from below told me that something was amiss. I tried to hand him back to my wife but she just smiled and imposed the first rule of who changes the nappy.

Rule no.1: If you are in physical contact with the child at the time, you change the nappy

So very carefully, I laid my boy down and opened the nappy, only to quickly throw my head back to avoid the jet of pee heading towards my face. With a soaked shoulder, I looked back to the nappy to find that somebody had laid tarmac around his backside.

“Is it meant to be that colour?” I asked.

“It’s called meconium,” my wife replied. “They have that for the first few days. The nurse says we should just use cotton wool and water to clean him.”

The smile on her face should have given me a warning. I dipped a piece of cotton wool into some water and started to wipe my sons backside, only to find that the cotton wool stuck to the tar like substance. It was during the next couple of hours as I struggled manfully to clean my boy without leaving his backside looking like a one-eyed Santa, that I swore to get out of this whenever possible. I get the feeling my wife was already there.

Over the years a number of other rules have developed. For example, if you walk into a room to find your child standing stock still, brow furrowed, face bright red with strain as their eyes bulge out on stalks; the following rule applies:

Rule no.2: If you witness the event, you must change the nappy

This can lead to all sorts of examples of temporary blindness or amnesia. I find it’s good to have a smartphone in your pocket as you can quickly whip it out and wander past the child feigning ignorance. I might get into trouble for always playing with my phone, but I’ll probably avoid having to change the nappy.

Some families have the this rule:

That's the idea (source: onedad3girls.com)

That’s the idea (source: onedad3girls.com)

Rule no.3: The person who smelt it first must change the nappy

This rule doesn’t work in our household because during the summer my wife suffers from hay fever and often has a cold during winter. At least she says she does. I have a suspicion that she might be exaggerating things to get out of changing nappies, but as I don’t have any proof there is a danger that I could be accused of having a severe lack of empathy. Instead, the rule gets ignored.

Rule no.4: Outsource

I’ve tried this many times over the years but it never seems to work. You would think that part of the joy of spending time with your Grandchild / nephew / niece would include dealing with a dirty nappy. Apparently not. Wet nappies, yes; dirty nappies, and the child is handed straight back to it’s parent, usually supported by a massive grin. My father is very proud of the fact that he’s never changed a nappy. I don’t believe you’ve really experienced life until you’ve been up to your elbows in somebody else’s shit, desperately not gagging on a smell that can only come from the pit of hell whilst wrestling a baby that suddenly seems to have more arms and legs than an octopus. He’s not convinced.

Rule no.:5 Taking it in turns

This rule is used quite often at home. It is both fair and easy to police. I have found from experience, though, that it can be overruled by the following clauses: I’ve had a bad day at work; I’m cooking / cleaning / busy; it’s my birthday; and my least favourite – just change the bloody nappy.

There is one rule, however, that must not be ignored.

Rule no.5: The nappy must be dealt with quickly

There are a number of reasons for this, not least the happiness and well being of the child, but as I’ve touched on previously here, baby poo is sentient and it hates being kept in enclosed spaces. Left unattended, the poo will break free within minutes, leaving your child covered from the back of the neck down to the ankles (I’m surprised scientists haven’t made the most of these strange, anti-gravitational propertied to produce the next range of space craft.) If there is one thing worse than changing a nappy, it’s holding a screaming child as it’s showered down, then rinsing it’s poo covered clothes.

So how do you decide who changes the nappy in your home? Who wins and who loses? Feel free to leave a reply with your experiences.

Petty domestic disputes no.4: Houseplants

Houseplants

Houseplants. Are they really necessary? (Photo credit: NCReedplayer)

I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to our home, my wife and I agree on many things. We decide together on how the rooms should be decorated , choose items of furniture together, even agree on wall colours and soft furnishings. When it comes to our home we are almost in harmony. Almost. You see, there is a fly in the ointment (in reality there are two flies of which the other will be covered at a later date): houseplants.

In my opinion there is a perfect number of houseplants per room and that is zero. Houseplants clutter rooms, attract dust, moult leaves if you walk within six inches of them. They are completely unnecessary. When I mentioned to a friend that I hated houseplants, she replied in a horrified voice “But they provide oxygen and purify the air.” Being a reasonable person I decided to check whether this was true.

Any school child will be able to tell you that houseplants convert CO2 to oxygen, but the amounts produced per plant are negligible compared to how much oxygen we inhale per breath. A scientist once spent 48 hours in an airtight room using only plants to produce his oxygen needs, but in order not to suffocate in his 12 metre square room, he needed between 150 and 200 plants. That is not a floral display, that is a jungle.

I will concede that houseplants are effective in purifying the air in a room, but what hasn’t been taken into the equation is the horrible damp smell coming from the earth in each pot. On top of this is the smell from the mould that quite happily forms a crust on the earth’s surface. Many families use air fresheners (or scented candles for you new agers out there*)  to overcome this musty smell , cleverly negating the plant’s purifying effect on the atmosphere.

Orchid, close & personal

Orchid flowers, something rarely seen in our house  (Photo credit: Pierre J.)

My wife, on the other hand, loves houseplants. Our house is festooned with them. We have big, floor standing plants, small plants sitting on shelves; a hanging plant in the kitchen, and a number of pots sprouting orchid leaves. Many of these plants we have had for years, and you can tell. In the spring of their youth they may, once, have been attractive, but after ten years of service many are looking a quite sad. Wandering each room, you will find so many different levels of plant decay, that you could be fooled into thing that our house was the horticultural equivalent of the FBI’s body farm. The state of our houseplants is one of the reasons we don’t have a pet, and was my main worry before we had a family. Thank goodness children cry when they are hungry.**

But behind it all there is one reason, and one reason only, why we have so many pot plants in our house: mother’s day. Every year, just before the middle Sunday of Lent (yes, I know it’s May elsewhere), I find myself traipsing around our village with the boys, looking for a gift for my wife. As usual, I have left things to the last minute. The gift shops are closed and I know from experience not to buy anything to do with the kitchen, so we end up in the one place I am guaranteed to find something my wife likes: the florists.

I don’t know anything about cut flowers except that roses are a cliché on valentines day, lilies are mother nature’s air freshener, and if you buy a bunch for your wife on anything other than a special occasion, the first look you will receive is one of suspicion.***  So instead we head to our only other option and find ourselves staring at pot plants. And here lies the irony; a significant number of the pot plants in our house were bought by me.

So last Mothering Sunday, our two beaming boys  handed over the plant and my wife, who was delighted. She gave them both a kiss to say thank you and the put the plant in pride of place on the window sill. Then, a couple of weeks later, all the flowers drop off. At that point, it is moved alongside all the others, to become yet another set of orchid leaves.

*There are many people who refuse to use air fresheners because they release nasty “chemicals” into the atmosphere, but these same people are more than happy to burn scented candles.

** This is a joke. We love our children very much and we enjoy regular meals together each day, whether they want to or not.

***This is also a joke, at least in our household. At least I think it is; my memory is not as good as it once was.

Others in this series:

 Petty domestic disputes No.3: Food

Petty domestic disputes no.2: The 6 a.m. watershed

Petty domestic disputes no.1: Bed Space

Petty domestic disputes no.3: Food

A salad platter.

Call this a meal? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever since we first moved in together, my wife has been trying to change what I eat. It started fairly innocuously – she decided that three sugars in a cup of teas was three too many – so she reduced the amount of sugar in my tea first to two spoonfuls and then to one. This was quite nice, I thought, she’s looking after my best interests and I don’t really miss all that sugar. Little did I know what a dangerous precedent she had set.

You see, although I don’t believe in generalisations, every woman looks at their long-term partner as a work in progress. They do not marry us because they are happy with how we are, but view us as a rough piece of clay from which they hope to mould the perfect partner. I eventually realised what was happening and have successfully staged a small rebellion, refusing to move from one sugar to none. This is not because I don’t like the taste, but because it allows me to reassert my free will*. It’s the little things….

Over time I have learnt that there are two types of food: those that it is OK to dislike, and those I dislike. For example, I am not a great fan of most vegetables. Just a hint of carrot makes me feel sick and don’t even get me started on cabbage or broccoli, yet this, apparently is wrong. It’s not that these foods are disgusting/repulsive/put on this earth by the devil to torment me, apparently I am being fussy (and despite there being scientific evidence to support my position.) My wife, however, dislikes ice-cream and any form of beans,which is clearly normal. She used to dislike bananas and for years these were also on the list of foods to dislike. Then she tried one. Now they are on the approved list. There is no scientific evidence to back up my wife, other than the fact she has a scientific background and therefore her views are scientific evidence.

The one area where this battle of wills really comes to a head is the barbecue. Summers here in England can be relatively brief, so every chance I get I offer to cook a barbecue. There are two reasons for this.

  1. Burgers are my favourite food**
  2. I get to choose what we eat.
image source: www.food-e-matters.com

This is how a BBQ should look (photo credit food-e-matters.com)

When I think of a barbecue it consists mostly of platefuls of meat and the odd bread roll to mop up the juices. This is, apparently, also wrong. After coming home with the minced beef to make burgers, some sausages, ribs, burger buns, relishes, mustard and ketchup; the first I question I’m asked is: “What about the salad?” You see, when my wife thinks of a barbecue she sees bowls of fresh salad, coleslaw, potato salad, assorted breads, a variety of salad dressings, plus somethings barbecued, preferably kebabs that consist of large hunks of vegetables and the odd piece of chicken, which are impossible to cook without burning the vegetables and the stick whilst leaving the chicken hazardous to your health. So we compromise by me going back to the shop and buying salad stuff.

At the barbecue itself, timing is everything. I like to cook the food so everything is available at the same time. If I don’t, my wife will helpfully offer to get me a plate of something to eat while I cook. This a sausage, some coleslaw (don’t get me started on the evils of coleslaw) and lots of garnish.

I remember at one barbecue, having cooked everything on time and to perfection, my wife glanced over to my plate and said “you’ve forgotten your salad.” This was clearly unfair as I had a very large portion of potato salad alongside my two burgers, sausages and ribs. Undaunted by the logic of my argument (if it’s not salad, why does it have salad in its name?), my wife insisted on putting some extra salad on my plate.Now, I could refuse the salad as an infringement of my right to choose to eat what I damned well please, but I don’t because my wife has cunningly decided to have the whole conversation in front of the children.

She has out foxed me once again. I can’t show my hatred of vegetables in front of the children because then they would refuse to eat them. Therefore, every meal has to contain some form of vegetable or salad, otherwise the children would end up dying of scurvy, rickets or some other dietary disease I managed to avoid during my lifetime. It is OK, though, to pick the kidney beans out of a chilli in front of the kids, as nobody died of kidney bean failure.

Eventually, I’m full, but my wife hasn’t finished. “We’re all having some fruit. Would you like some?” I like fruit, but by now I feel as if I have a small baby in my stomach. My wife gives me that look, which means ‘think of the kids’. I look at my two beautiful boys and in my mind their hair and teeth starts to fall out of their future fat and bloated faces, so I give in and eat some fruit.

Later that night, I toss and turn on my side of the bed, unable to get to sleep due to indigestion. I should never have said yes to that fruit.

 

*OK, it is the taste really, I mean, tea without sugar, ugh!

** I know, call me a heathen, but they taste so good.

 

Petty domestic disputes no.2: The 6 a.m. watershed

Petty domestic disputes no.1: Bed Space

Petty domestic disputes no.2: The 6 a.m. watershed

The official start of morning

The official start of morning

For this second edition of petty domestic disputes, I will be staying in the bedroom. During the week my wife works and I look after the children (it’s a little more complicated than that but for the sake of this blog, that’s all you need to know). As my wife is the only wage earner, from Monday through to Thursday, if the children wake during the night, I deal with them. This is only fair. However, when it comes to the weekend, we enter into negotiations.

As any parent of young children knows, a lie in is the highlight of the week. It’s that little bit of indulgence that helps you get through the tantrums, whining, crying, hitting, throwing and screaming without resorting to infanticide. Deciding who gets a lie in when is a delicate negotiation. I will give you a classic example:

Wife: So who’s getting up in the night?

Me: I’ll get up in the night, you get up early.

Wife: But my exercise class is at 8:00 am the day after tomorrow so if I don’t have a lie in tomorrow, I won’t get a lie-in the whole weekend.

Me: But the little sod’s had me up every night this week. I really need a lie in.

Wife: I’ll get up in the night.

Me: Why did you ask me the question then?

Wife: Go to sleep.

You can see that my wife made the classic error of asking the question first, therefore handing me an advantage which she expertly recovered by ignoring anything I said and doing as she damn well pleased. So far, so normal. The real battle starts as the night progresses.

You see, in our household, getting up in the night means any time from when you go to sleep through to 6 a.m. the following morning. Not 6 ish, from around 6 a.m., close to six, but 06:00 hours on the dot. To many people this might sound unreasonable, inflexible even, but it’s through forming understandings like this that our marriage has been so successful.

Rabbit, the source of many sleepless nights

Rabbit, the source of many sleepless nights

Of course, this doesn’t mean the agreement is always honoured. Both of us, in certain circumstances, will do anything to get out of it. Let me give you an example. It is my turn to get up in the night. At 12:30 our youngest loses his toy Rabbit and starts to cry. I get up, find Rabbit, tuck him in and go back to bed. Perfect parenting and I’m quickly back asleep. At 2:30 am our oldest boy calls my name (it’s always my name no matter how many times I’ve told him to call for mummy). I go to him and find he’s had a nightmare. I give him a hug and tell him it’s only a dream. He lies back down and I go back to bed, tossing and turning until I eventually fall asleep.

It’s 4:30 in the morning and I’m woken by my youngest one’s breath on my face. He’s standing right next to my bed, holding his Rabbit, staring at me as if he’s trying to work out if I’m alive or dead. As I open my sleep filled eyes, he says “Milk.” I tell him to get back in bed,  go downstairs and warm up some milk. While I’m waiting for the milk I check my phone and get excited as I see somebody new is following my blog. Maybe this time they aren’t a spammer. I take the milk to my son, tuck him in,go back to bed where I lie for an age trying to get back to sleep.

Then comes the killer. It’s 5:45 a.m. I can’t remember falling asleep but I must have as I’m woken by my youngest son crying. It’s the “huh, huh, huuuuuh” type of cry that isn’t really crying, more a sign of boredom. I’m bone tired. I should go to him, but it’s 5:45 a.m. It’s nearly morning. All I have to do is hang on for 15 minutes and my wife has to deal with him. At this point my wife rolls over. Her eyes are closed she looks asleep, but she isn’t. She rolled over  so she could check the time. She’s had a long week, getting up early to catch a flight then working long hours before flying back a few days later. There is no way she’s getting up until 6 a.m. on the dot. So we both lie there, me hoping our son will settle down, my wife (back right along the centre of the bed), desperate for me to deal with the crying.

Finally, fed up with the lack of attention, our son walks into the bedroom. It’s 5:56 a.m. He walks first to my side of the bed. I refuse to open my eyes. There is a stand-off for a minute as he waits to see if I react. Nothing. He pats at my face but i refuse to budge. Realising he’s getting nowhere, he walks to my wife’s side of the bed. It’s 5:58 a.m. Surely she can’t ignore her youngest son, the little guy she’s missed so much while she’s been working away.

“Mummy, up.”

I smile. There is no way she can ignore that. I wait for her to get up out of bed but instead, she plays her trump card.

She lifts him into our bed.

“Give Daddy a cuddle,” she says, all innocence, “he’s been up all night,” and my annoyance at a lie in lost is swept away as our son wraps his arms around my neck. He squeezes me tight and I luxuriate in this act of unconditional love, doing my best to ignore the grin on my wife’s face.

To read the first in this series: Bed space, click here

Petty domestic disputes no.1: Bed space

Do you see how she is guarding the centre of the bed?

Do you see how she is guarding the centre of the bed?

My wife and I bicker a lot. We are world class bickerers. Along with love, mutual respect, openness and honesty, bickering is probably key to how our marriage is still going strong after 13 years. I feel bickering as entertainment has been overlooked by marriage counsellors (this statement is based on absolutely no facts whatsoever.) Bickering can be a release valve for the daily friction that occurs in every relationship. I’m tempted to write a book called ‘Love through Bickering.’ I think it could be the next international best seller. To test the waters, I’ll be running an irregular series of blog posts called petty domestic disputes.
Now I’m a very reasonable person whereas my wife can be quite stubborn. A good example of this is her opinion over bed space. We are both relatively slim people but I am much broader across the shoulders than my wife. The problem comes when we read in bed at night. I often find my wife creeping across to my side of the bed so that I end up pushed to the edge of the mattress. I hate this. The edge of the bed is also the edge of the duvet, which means I end up cold down my left side.
I’ve done my best to reason with her. I’ve tried to explain that the issue is all to do with proportion but my wife, in all her stubbornness, seems to believe the bed should be shared equally as with everything else in our marriage. This is clearly wrong. As I am broader than my wife, I should have proportionally more of the bed than her. This is the fair solution. Instead I was forced to spend weeks slyly moving her pillows right to the edge of her side of the bed and pushing mine right next to hers. This gave me the extra few inches of space I was entitled to and for a while I was happy. My wife said nothing but instead bought pillowcases with a border that were exactly half the width of the bed. In the end we bought a bigger bed.
Great, you might think. Situation solved. Not a chance. You see, you forgot about one thing: children. Our youngest has recently been waking up in the night and finding it difficult to settle. Quite often he ends up in our bed, but interestingly enough, not on my wife’s side. He stretches out on my side of the bed, pushing his feet into my back and wrapping the duvet around himself until I am left freezing on a sliver of mattress. My wife, in the mean time, is asleep, her back right along the line of the middle of the bed, the line as delineated by those bloody pillowcases. I have literally been given the cold should from the pair of them. And despite the fact she has her back to me, I know my wife has a smile on her face, and knowing what she has done makes me smile in return. That is what makes this marriage a success.