It struck me today that I’ve shot myself in the foot a wee bit. If I’d done the stay-at-home dad thing back in the UK, I’d have been lauded with praise at every step, rewarded with gasps of amazement and awe every time I changed a nappy or negotiated the ceasefire of a tantrum. But here, it’s standard. Dull. Almost as though it’s totally unremarkable for a functional adult to keep a small person they had a hand in making alive during business hours.
I realised this when we arrived at the playpark this morning – because yes, I’ve played that trump card, already. I wrestled Alfie out the buggy and as he scampered across towards the climbing frame, I glanced around, subconsciously waiting for a round of applause or at least a chorus of awwws. But instead, I was faced with an entire park full of dads and toddlers.
A wee girl – at least, I think it was a girl, she had long hair but a green raincoat and wellies – chose that moment to chuck a tantrum. Her dad – man-bunned up, naturally – crouched beside her as she howled and spoke softly to her until the tantrum blew out, at which point she got up and gave him a hug. I was stunned. I wanted to applaud him. I wondered if it would be weird if I went over and joined in the hug, or asked if I could start a cult to worship him.
Alfie caught me staring and gave me a look as if to say keep dreaming, it will never be like that with us.
I looked back with a rueful yeah, I know son, shrug, and he lifted up his arms in the universal command of pick me up and put me where I wish to be.
Curiously though, as I sneaked a look around the park in the hopes of picking up more parenting tips, I noticed that none of the Dad-dudes were talking to each other. They chatted with their kids, certainly (when they weren’t giving them silent Jedi commands), but there didn’t appear to be any of the “how old’s yours, have you got any others?” chat I would have expected.
Maybe that’s a mum thing. Maybe Men parent in silence.
Or, now I think about it, maybe it’s a Swedish thing. My ex girlfriend’s new husband (followed that?) is Swedish, a kayak tour guide who makes a kale smoothie for Catriona every morning which she chucks out on her way to the office and pops into Greggs for an iced bun. When they heard we were moving to Sweden, they came down to London on the train, and Mattias – for that is is name – presented us with a neatly typed list of Swedish social dos and don’ts. As we haven’t met anyone yet I haven’t had the chance to be sure to remove my shoes when I enter their home, but I am ready and willing to toast a hostess before tucking in should I ever be invited to a dinner party.
Anyway, that was one of the things he explained: Swedes Do Not Talk to Strangers. Ever. You could be bleeding out on the streets of Stockholm and everyone will politely step around you lest they inadvertently invade your privacy. I laughed at the time, but now I’m seeing it, and it’s… odd.
I mean, not making best friends of every stranger you happen across is one thing (a walk to the corner shop to pick up a paper in Glasgow can be socially exhausting), but this is extreme. It’s almost as though we’re all in different dimensions: in the same park, but in different decades or something. And in my defence, given that we’ve clearly moved into hipster central, half their outfits would make more sense if they were actually in the sixties.
I pushed Alfie on the swings for a while, trying to ignore the wave of – panicky sadness, is the best I can describe it. Making pals by getting into conversation with randoms at places just like this was pretty much the beginning and end of my plan for building a social life here. It seems as though that plan needs more work. Don’t get me wrong, Alfie is great company and of course this time is primarily about me and him, but I suddenly saw this awning of days and months and years where my only social interactions would consist of what the Hungry Caterpillar ate or whether or not a pee-pee might be on the cards.
Last night, I tried talking to Tess about the baby that’s constantly crying. I’m starting to get a bit concerned about it. I know babies cry, but I’m sure Alfie didn’t quite so shrilly, quite so incessantly, not even in the Dark Days when he was teething. She could not have been less interested, and I ended up feeling daft. I got this memory of a link that was passed around Facebook once upon a time – it was advice to 50s housewives, and one of the points was for them not to bother their husbands with the petty concerns of their day, because the husband needs to unwind from work. That’s exactly what I was doing – she’s barely got the energy to hear about Alfie’s day, never mind some random kid.