I was a father for two weeks.
Every day for a fortnight I looked into those adorable little eyes and held those adorable little hands and found some comfort and unconditional affection in a terrible, loveless world. I loved them and they loved me and everything felt like it had a purpose and a meaning. I hadn’t felt that way since I’d unwrapped my last Milky Bar.
But it was all over far too quickly. Fate took them away and my heart was left cold and empty once more.
…No, the kids didn’t die. They weren’t babies either, if that’s what you’re thinking. And they definitely weren’t a product of my man juice. They were three kids in France, two twins, girl and boy, aged 5, and their older brother, 9. The English parents had divorced and the mum was raising the kids alone in Brittany. I’m not sure why she chose Brittany – the place has the same terrible weather as England and everyone speaks French. It’s like hell on earth.
I was there as a way of extending my summer trip without paying anything, thanks to a site called workaway.info. It’s a website that connects travellers who are willing to work in exchange for meals and shelter to hosts who need a helping hand with something. I found an English mum in need of help looking after the kids while they were on summer vacation. I was following in the footsteps of two Australian girls who’d been there the previous week and had proven popular with the kids. The pressure was on.
I arrived at Carhaix train station from Paris at about 2.30 p.m. where the mum, Trish, picked me up in her white van. She drove us to school to pick up the kids. Today was Thursday; their last day was Friday. That’s when all hell would break loose, Trish assured me. I wasn’t sure I even liked kids at this point, and I certainly didn’t know how to handle them. Trish’s words weren’t a comfort and the belated “you’ll be fine” did little to assuage my early fears of shit-smeared walls and the incessant kicks to the balls I would surely suffer. I didn’t really know anything about dealing with kids.
I needn’t have worried. Like pets, children love unconditionally. They don’t care what your political, religious or sexual preferences are. You could be a right-wing lesbian hunchbacked Buddhist for all they care. That said, if you bought a bag of nutritious dried fruit mix instead of their favourite flavour of crisps, you’d suffer a few slammed doors and tears and a stubborn refusal to do anything you said for a few hours.
It was a win-win situation for me. I didn’t have to deal with the kids when they didn’t want to change their fairy shoes for outdoor boots or when it was time for bed. I wasn’t responsible for them, I was just there to provide entertainment, to have my shoulders used for rides and my eternal patience used to line up a set of dominoes for a 63rd time, that kind of thing.
At the end of each day I’d go to my caravan in the garden and not have to worry about late-night shenanigans. I got a full night’s sleep every night. I was exhausted enough with the activities of the day so I was glad to have uninterrupted me-time each evening. I did occasionally hear tramping of feet and a few teary screams from inside the house, but I curled up with my book or my iPod and shut it out.
I loved those kids, exhausting as they were. The twins at five years old were the perfect age: demanding and relentless in their enthusiasm but cuter than a puppy with a missing leg shivering in the rain. And it’s always great to feel wanted when you know there’s no ulterior motive – they didn’t want a ride anywhere, they didn’t want to borrow fifty bucks, they weren’t blackmailing me over a sextape they knew I had, but sometimes, just sometimes, they did come to me with a guilty smile and say, “I did a bad thing,” to which I’d reply, “let’s go tell mum!”
Note: I apologise to those readers who clicked on a blog with ‘travel’ in the title and in the URL and ended up with a post about parenting. And if you came for the parenting, I’m not sure there’s much else around here for you, but feel free to reminisce about the single life here.