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Toby Young

What really happened when my wife left me in charge

What really happened when my wife left me in charge
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I’m currently standing at the top of Brownie Point Mountain, having spent the past two weeks looking after our three sons while Caroline has been sunning herself in Barbados. I’ve been cooking, cleaning, washing – you name it. As if that weren’t heroic enough, I spent the previous week with our 18-year-old daughter in Mexico City helping her find a flat and a job. In other words, I’ve had no help from Caroline for three straight weeks. I feel so virtuous, I’m almost tempted to throw myself off said mountain. A place in heaven would be guaranteed.

I daresay some women reading this will be thinking: ‘Why should you get any points for doing what your wife has been doing for almost 20 years? Typical bloody man.’ But Caroline hasn’t been operating as a single parent, even if she complains that it feels like that sometimes. Domestic drudgery in our household is divided into ‘blue’ and ‘pink’ jobs, with me being responsible for doing the rubbish, loading and emptying the dishwasher, hanging up the dirty towels, turning off all the lights, locking up and making sure the mortgage, utility bills and council tax are paid on time. And before you conclude that Caroline has to deal with absolutely everything else, which would be unfair, we have a cleaner who comes twice a week. OK, OK, she still does more than me, but I bring in the lion’s share of the household income so that’s a fair trade.

The reason my wife was in Barbados is because one of her best friends is a professional tennis coach and every year she’s invited to spend two weeks in a swanky resort with room and board taken care of in exchange for running a tennis clinic for two hours a day. Incredibly, she’s allowed to take a friend and this year she chose Caroline. So my better half has spent a fortnight lying on the beach while I’ve been struggling to cope with my three sons aged 13, 14 and 16.

Here’s something I didn’t know: teenage boys cannot be woken up by alarm clocks. I got back from Mexico on a Sunday afternoon, having not slept on the overnight flight, went to bed at 9 p.m., and when I got up 12 hours later all three boys were still in bed. Not good, considering they’re supposed to be at school by 8.25 a.m.

‘Didn’t you set your alarms?’ I asked.

‘That never works,’ said 13-year-old Charlie. ‘Mum always gets us up.’

That meant they all got a lateness mark and, as they explained, two in the course of a week results in a two-hour detention. Consequently, I had to get up at 7 a.m. on every subsequent morning to make sure they got to school on time – no fun when you’re a night owl like me.

I’ve also been doing a lot of cooking. The boys said they’d be perfectly happy to have takeaway pizza every night, but I knew Caroline would kill me if they just ate junk food, so I dusted off some old recipes from my bachelor days, such as mushroom risotto. Which they hated, obviously. Note to self: meals designed to impress vegetarian single women in their twenties don’t cut the mustard with teenage boys. By Saturday things had deteriorated in a predictable way. I bought four rib-eye steaks from the best butcher in the neighbourhood and 14-year-old Freddie and 16-year-old Ludo had a competition to see who could cook the best one. It took me the best part of an hour to clean the stove.

Needless to say, Caroline has been much more worried about Mali, our two-year-old cavapoochon, than our teenage sons. She didn’t trust me to look after her properly so arranged for a dog walker to come to the house every weekday. And Caroline was right to be concerned: on any given day, I’ve either forgotten to feed her, or fed her twice. That’s played havoc with her digestion – and picking up her poo is a ‘blue’ job.

Notwithstanding these failures, I regard myself as a stone-cold hero. I now have enough credit in the bank to go out with my old muckers every night and return home drunk at 4 a.m. for a month. Not that Caroline sees it like that. On the way back from the airport, after I’d picked her up – yes, I am a saint – she listened to me bragging about how well I’d coped, then said sweetly: ‘Who knew you were so good at all this stuff? From now on, I won’t accept incompetence as an excuse.’

Now for the soppy bit. Being a ‘mum’ for three weeks has its upsides. The day before Caroline came back, Ludo came to me with a cut finger and asked for help putting a plaster on. That hasn’t happened for at least ten years. I wouldn’t say I’m back in touch with my feminine side, but it was nice to feel needed again.