women

Before we got married, Mike and I talked about the children we would have in the hazy imagined future. “I’d love to be a full-time dad,” he said, dreamily. “Great,” I replied. “I’ll gestate the foetus and you can bring it up!” I was only half joking. I was maternal, but couldn’t imagine life without work. Financially it made sense: I’m a writer, he’s an actor, so neither of us exactly had stable wages, but my income was more reliable than his.

Description: Erin with her husband Mike, and their daughter Marnie

Erin with her husband Mike, and their daughter Marnie

When, in November 2008, our daughter Marnie was born, my priorities changed overnight. I wanted to be with her all the time. She slept with me. I wore her in a sling around the house. I didn’t even trust anyone else to push the pram. I took on the odd freelance commission and Mike went up for auditions, but the jobs he was offered would have taken him away from home for months. Then, when Marnie was nine months old, I landed a book deal for The Poison Tree, the novel I’d written when I was pregnant. The publishers wanted a second book – fast. Our options were either that Mike got a job to cover the nursery fees, or he became her carer. It took us about three seconds to decide.

The first day was difficult. I work from our attic and I developed the hearing of a bat, flinching at every stumble or cry from downstairs. I missed her like mad. I looked at her baby pictures on my computer and I didn’t write a word. Two hours in, Mike brought Marnie up to the office. “You have to take her,” he said. “I need a shower.” “I’m working,” I said, trying not to shout. “You’ll have to wait until she’s asleep.” Before long, they were back. “I need to go to the bank. Can you have her?” I thought of the times I’d dragged her to the bank and hairdresser, even holding her on my lap in the dentist’s chair. Marnie held her arms up to me. Every instinct told me to turn off my computer and take over, but I fought it. He’d have to learn just as I had, by cocking it up and losing his temper and having meltdowns in Waitrose, but slowly becoming the world expert on her.

Description: Interestingly, Mike’s friends are more jealous than   mine – of him not having to work and getting to spend so much time with his daughter

Interestingly, Mike’s friends are more jealous than   mine – of him not having to work and getting to spend so much time with his daughter

Marnie is three years old now, and our set-up is well and truly established. Mike has a small monthly allowance from the joint account. I try very hard not to think of it as ‘mine’ and almost always succeed. Interestingly, Mike’s friends are more jealous than   mine – of him not having to work and getting to spend so much time with his daughter. The flashpoints are not what people might imagine. Friends assume I shoulder the bulk of the housework but the opposite is true: Mike’s borderline obsessive-compulsive with his Dyson and the washing-up, and I sometimes feel like a guest in a show home. I do cook almost everything: it’s the one domestic arena over which I still exert control.

When I was the housewife and Mike was the breadwinner, we argued most days about who had or hadn’t done what around the house. Now we clash much less frequently. Our roles are more clearly defined and there is less to row about. Of course, it isn’t perfect: it drives me mad when Mike spoon-feeds Marnie in front of the TV; and there was the time I came back from a five-day work trip to find that he hadn’t brushed her hair the whole time and she had dreadlocks. He resents the way I sweep in and give orders at the end of a long day.

And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t break my heart when she falls over and calls for him, not me (although it’s always me she wants when she wakes in the night: thanks, kid). The truth is, this set-up plays to both of our strengths. I’m a solitary workaholic and, when I don’t have time to myself to write, I’m snappy and impatient. I love Mike, but he’s no Alpha Male; he’s never been motivated by money or defined himself by his earning power. Of course, he gets the odd pang when one of his friends gets a part in a TV show, or goes off on tour, but these are short-lived when weighed against what he has. I can hear them downstairs now, listening to The Velvet Underground and doing a jigsaw puzzle together. He pours love into her life every day. I know she will feel the weight of it for the rest of her life.

 

 

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