I saw my girls today for the first time in three weeks. In the world of business, 21 days is nothing – invoices frequently take four times that long to clear – but when your daughters are two and five, three weeks is an aeon. How long three weeks is in toddler years, I don’t know. All I do know is that three weeks is too long. When you live 100 miles away from your children, it’s not far enough as to make the distance an excuse for a lack of contact. It is far enough however so as to render popping in to see them on the spur of the moment impracticable. It takes me four hours and two buses to reach the girls, slightly less when I can afford the train. Lil E has already changed so much since I last saw her. Two years old and she’s bigger, more loquacious and more like me than ever.
‘Daddy!’ says Big K, holding out her arms to greet me as the front door swings open. ‘I thought you weren’t coming. I was just asking mummy where you were.’ I hug her before crouching to lift up Lil E, who’s waddled through clutching her dolly. It’s good to be back.
Within a minute of my arrival, K has excitedly broken the big news to me: they’re going to be moving into a new house. Big K, Lil E, mummy and her boyfriend. I ask their mother if it’s true that they’ll be moving. She nods. XP and her boyfriend of 18 months are indeed going to buy a house and move in together. I’m informed that they’re currently looking for a place. Soon my daughters will live even further away. Not too much further, admittedly, but still a few miles the wrong way of the 100 that it currently stands at. Soon they’ll have a man living in the house with them again 24/7. Another dad – a de facto dad. Does it bother me, that XP and the girls are moving on? Do I feel marginalised or usurped in some way by this unexpected development? No, not really. Perhaps if I had cause to dislike XP’s boyfriend, I might feel slighted, but I’m not particularly bothered. He’s fine; she’s fine; I’m fine. We’re all pretty damn fine.
XP heads out for the night, to enjoy an unbroken sleep at her mum’s house, leaving me with the girls. ‘I’m hungry,’ says Big K opening the freezer and pulling out a tub of ice cream. I tell her she’s not having ice cream before bed but offer to make her a sandwich instead. K throws a tantrum and bursts into tears, informing me in no uncertain terms how mummy wouldn’t let this happen on her watch. I stand my ground. She demands the phone so she can inform her mother about this travesty of justice. ‘You’re not the boss of me!’ stomps K. ‘Only mummy is. You can’t tell me what to do – you’re just my friend!’ I wearily swipe a finger across my smartphone and pass it to K. Three weeks is too long.