Difference between mums and dads

Lucy Mangan says: The difference between mums and dads 

What's the difference between mums and dads? Asks Lucy Mangan. A matter of about three feet as it turns out


I used to think that the difference between mothers and fathers was about three feet. That's the difference between where the former will choose to stand – right, RIGHT behind the child – when they're climbing up something in a playground, and where the latter will pick his spot.

Yes, about three feet away will do – near enough to see what happens and be able to describe it to any paramedics or priests who need to be called, but not close enough to be of any real death-avoiding use whatsoever.

But now I have a different measure.

Both my husband (father of our three-year-old son) and my best male friend (father of an eight-month-old) have independently told me how revivifying they find playing with their respective children.

'Like having a really good dog,' said one. 'Like going for a long walk,' said the other. The faces of each lit up as they remembered their last invigorating bout with their offspring-cumcanines-cum-brisk-country-strolls.

This, well, this is not how I feel – this is not how I have ever felt – about playing with my son. When he was a baby, it was all I could do to feed, change, feed, change, feed, change and feed him (and occasionally myself. Those were great days. I sometimes almost miss being able to take such happiness in something as simple as a shower and clean knickers). Playing with him never even crossed my mind.

Dim memories of other people grinning, pulling faces and waving brightly coloured things in front of him must suffice to assure me that someone, somewhere, was. But they may just have been trying to rouse me from my semicoma while he had one of his 402 feeds a day.

I thought the playing thing would get better as he got older, but no. Partly it's because I have never been imaginative. I grew up in a family that dealt purely in reality. We are
northern. Creativity, inventiveness, originality whimsy – these are things we mark as southern, fear deeply and reject completely.

But beyond that problem, which I suspect will be understood by a certain percentage of you, there is and remains another which may be more common. Which is that when I look at my child, I basically go mad. Just a little bit, just inside where no one can see – I'm not running around gibbering or anything – but mad, nevertheless.

I don't just see a smiling face and a little lad who'd like 20 minutes of Monster Robots and Backwards Digger Driver (both noisy, exhausting inventions of my husband, for either of which I would happily divorce him), I see something that detonates a cascade of love, worries, doubts, uncertainties, reminders of things done that shouldn't have been done (pasta for lunch AND dinner the other day, all the iPad concessions) and not done that should have been done (no sodding thing for show-and-tell all week, those two missed folic acids and a health visitor appointment back in 2011, not even any fruit on that pasta day), plus detailed plans for every potential disaster – all of which leaves little room for spontaneity, joy and wholehearted entry into LaLaPlayland.

'You're insane,' says my husband helpfully, in between RAAAAARGHS as Chief Monster Robot. So be it. At least I stand close enough to him in the playground.

I may not make him squeal, but at least I shall keep him alive.


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