Mind the Gap
First published March 2018, Issue 10 of Lunch Lady.
People are always talking about political and religious differences, but there’s really no divide like the one between parents and non-parents. I know, because I worked in an office for a while where I was the only person with kids.
There weren’t any issues at first. Some of the team were my age, and even though they’d stayed single, we managed to find some common ground, mostly around music and movies from the ’90s. The rest of the crew was a fair bit younger (and nauseatingly carefree) but we all got along, partly because of how alien our lifestyles seemed to one another.
The Gen Y girl at the desk next to me would ask the same thing every morning: “Soooooo, what did you get up to last night?” The first time she said it, I actually laughed out loud. It’d been so long since anyone had asked me that. A fellow parent wouldn’t bother, because they’d already know the answer, but this girl genuinely seemed to have no idea. So I explained how I’d spent the evening wrangling two exhausted toddlers and a baby, getting them fed, bathed and into bed. And how by the time I cleaned up and sat down to decompress with a lonely beer and some mindless scrolling on the internet it was already 9.30pm. I’ll never forget the look on her face–equal parts sympathy and revulsion.
What had she been up to? Well, Monday night was French lessons, Tuesday was sewing class, Wednesday was dinner at home with her flatmates, Thursday was a pub meal with friends, and Friday to Sunday were generally left open, so anything could happen. One weekend she’d drive three hours to watch a band play, the next she’d spend forty-eight hours on the lounge, binging on Netflix and ice-cream.
Despite her trolling me every day, right to my face, I felt like her curiosity was coming from a place of hope (surely he’ll do something one of these nights), so we had a good relationship. I was a living reminder of how quickly life changes and why she should say yes to every social invitation and follow her every whim and in return she reported on life as a kid-free adult without any responsibilities and money to burn. The life I used to live.
The gap did start widening after a few months, though.
Like when one of the guys said he was going to start telling people he had a kid, just so he could leave work early to pick “him” up from school. “It’ll be awesome,” he said. “I can say he’s sick and use it as an excuse not to come into work.”
An obvious jab at me–there was no way I was taking the bait. If this dude imagined that rushing to pick your kids up from school on time was enjoyable, or having to stay home and clean three backsides (plus your own) was some sort of refuge from work, I was happy to keep that fantasy alive, if only so his collision with reality would be even heavier the day he had a real-life child of his own.
After a while, I had to drop back to four days, because my wife needed more hours for her job, and we didn’t have any extra childcare options. Sure enough, every week someone would say, “How was your day off?” and while I hate people who grumble about being a parent, I felt compelled to explain that it wasn’t a holiday and how sitting in an air-conditioned office with other adults is the day off. How having the luxury to eat lunch by yourself is the day off. How not yelling at a little person and instantly feeling ashamed of yourself is the day off.
There was one chance where the gap could have been closed a little, after I made it to the office Christmas party and ended up staying out all night and crashing on someone’s lounge. Just like a non-parent! But even then, by Monday morning it was all, “What did your wife say?” and, “You must have been in big trouble, huh?”
I’m married with children, not living in a death cult, but I guess to some people without kids it’s impossible to tell the difference. ///