With a leap and a bound he was free

And, with a leap and a bound, he was free

Speed dating for dads

My wife’s laughing at me. I know, I can see she doesn’t understand. 
“For God’s sake, it’s just a playgroup!”
Easy for her to say.
“Take the buggy and don’t forget Alice. The other mums will tell you what to do.”
“That’s what you said before.”
"Last week wasn’t so bad. You’re behaving like a child.”
The first time was terrifying – a room full of women bonding over breastfeeding and birth-trauma, I didn’t have much to offer.
“My breasts hurt too.”
Did I just say that? No-one’s looking at me or smiling, they not even talking amongst themselves. 
“I meant my wife. She had terrible pain but we massaged her breasts with cabbage leaves and …” 
“Last week …”
“Not that again, please.”
Sorry to go on but I was late, seems to happen often these days. Before all this, the office seemed so boring. What a dream. My desk, a computer, pictures of my little girl.
“Everyone’s watching to see if I can manage.”
“This sounds a little paranoid. Should I be worried?”
“No, but … I thought there’d be lots of dads.”
It wasn’t my fault, Alice threw up on her nice new jumper and I couldn’t walk into the room.
“Did you? Oh well, that’s what everybody says. I can’t see why you’re making such a fuss.”
“Their babies were clean, they know exactly what to do.”
“You should have thought about it before. They won’t take you back at the bank, anyway, it will take time to find a nanny.”
She’s right.
“I’ll be fine.”
“Sure? I’ve got an early meeting but I’ll cancel if you need help.”
What’s she trying to say? I’m not coping because I’m a man?
“I’m fine already.”
“It’s not you I’m worried about. It’s Alice who’s going to suffer.”
“She’s a baby, she doesn’t know what’s going on.”
“Not now, but if you carry on like this in a few months everyone will think of her as the kid with the weird father. Nobody will want to sit with her when they eat their snacks …”
The pressure’s mounting.
“… they’ll avoid us at the swings.”
I think she’s realised this has gone too far, I must be looking green.
“You’ll be alright, darling. Just try to get there early, before everybody settles in.”
“Okay, so … in the corner, with the other babies?”
“That’s right. Be friendly and people will talk to you.”
I’m going to do my best. 

“One other thing …”
She looks at me, I can see she’s wondering how I’ll react.
“Don’t make personal observations.”
“About the babies?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, it's a toddler group.”
“What then?”
“Remember what happened with Melissa?”
“Is she the one expecting twins?”
“Please, concentrate. How can I help if you won’t listen?”
I’m trying. Introduce yourself, be friendly, that’s what she tells me all the time.
“Hi, what a cute kid.”
This mum’s beaming, I’m really doing well.
“How old is he?”
“8 and ¾ months and 1 day … He’s been crawling for ages and I think he’s getting ready to talk.”
If he’s anything like his mother, I’m only thinking, I’m pretty sure the words didn’t slip out.
“Nine months, wow! And you’re expecting another so soon …”

“I can’t understand why she was upset. I told her the kid was beautiful, I listened to her stories.”
“She isn’t pregnant.”
“I think you might be wrong. Of course, you didn’t see her bulging stomach. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be twins.”
“I know her!”
“Maybe she didn’t want to say anything. It was the first time we’d ever met.”
“For God’s sake, listen! I heard the whole story from Jane.”
Jane? Old gossip machine is still going strong.
“She wasn’t even there.”
“Her nanny was.”
“Oh yes, I wanted to ask … The whole thing is supposed to be for the children so why can’t nannies and mothers sit together? It’s like they’re two completely different species.”
“Don’t change the subject. You need to hear this so it doesn’t happen again.
“No problem, I’m all ears.”
“Don’t comment on anybody’s figure, try not to think about these mothers as if they’re women.”
“There are breasts hanging out all over the place. It’s pretty hard to ignore.”
“You’re like some bloody dinosaur, breastfeeding is …”
“It’s not the feeding. Even I can see it’s normal in a roomful of screaming kids.”
“What then?”
Time to get back on the programme, otherwise everybody will be late.
“Never mind. What did I say to upset the heffalump?”
See that? Casually dropping the name into conversation to establish my credentials.
“I give up. You’re on your own but I’m telling you, she isn’t pregnant.