Simon Hooper and his wife Clemmie – midwife and author of Gas and Air blog – have four daughters, including baby twins. In an honest, funny and tear-jerker of an interview he shares the good, the bad and the HOW TO COPE as a dad of four…
Simon Hooper, 33, lives in Crystal Palace, south London, with his wife Clemmie (@midwifeyhooper) and their four girls: Anya, eight, Marnie, five, and three-month-old twins Ottilie and Delilah. He talks dad life with The Early Hour…
What’s your home like?
My home is like the proverbial swan on the water. From the outside it looks calm, elegant and refined. Once inside, it’s loud (why do girls have to do everything at maximum volume?) and fairly hectic. That said, it’s regimented in our household – it has to be or we’d never get out of the door in the morning. It’s all too easy to curl up into a ball, close your eyes and hope that it will all go away, but in reality you have to get on with it.
Herding everyone to achieve the smallest of tasks, like brushing teeth and getting hair done, is no small feat. Clemmie is amazing. She is definitely on the OCD spectrum and as a result of this, our home is almost always clean and beautifully presented even though it drives the girls and I a little nuts as real people can’t live in a perfect world – despite her best efforts. She’s in charge, there’s no doubt about that.
Mornings for a dad-of-four
What time are you up in the mornings?
Depends on what you mean by ‘up in the mornings’. The day and night is a bit blurred most of the time. Mornings tend to start around 6am.
What wakes you up?
Usually one of two things: either the babies crying meaning it’s time for them to be filled with milk again or Clemmie kneeing me in the back to tell me the babies need to be filled with milk again.
I actually don’t sleep much. I don’t know if I’ve just become used to it or I just don’t need much but I get by on five to six hours a night of fairly broken sleep and have done for the last eight years (which coincides with when my first daughter was born… strange that, isn’t it?).
How do you feel first thing in the morning?
Like I haven’t slept. My eyes and brain take time to adjust to the fact that is it in fact a new day and that I need to move. There’s nothing like a crying baby and the sound of dance routines being conducted in the girls’ bedroom directly above me to know it’s time to snap out of it and start the day.
Aside from being a dad, I…
Where do you work and what’s your role?
I’m the global operations director for a big consultancy firm. My job might sound mundane but it takes me all over the world (I was in the Philippines last month and I’m in New York next week). Working as part of a global team with people all over the world means my working hours aren’t what you’d call normal. Calls start at 6am and go through to 11pm depending on who’s in the meetings.
Balancing this with a full on home life can be challenging and I’m sure Clemmie hates the fact I’m working sometimes when I can hear her having to deal with two girls fighting, while trying to bath the babies, and make dinner and finish off her book.
How long did you take for paternity leave after the twins were born?
I took the two full weeks on offer straight after the birth. I tried to convince work that I should be allowed double the amount of time as it was twins, but I didn’t get much traction with that. I think we were both worried we’d be overwhelmed with two new little humans, but they’ve been relatively easy to manage. It helps that they’re in sync in terms of feeding and sleeping.
How many children did you originally plan on having?
There wasn’t really a plan; it’s something that’s developed over time. Clemmie and I started our family relatively early on in our relationship. One day we were moving in together after graduating from uni, the next I had my head in my hands after Clemmie having told me she was pregnant. It wasn’t exactly what we’d planned. The visions of travelling and enjoying our mid-to-late twenties together was replaced with trips to Mothercare and antenatal classes.
That said, once we started our family we both agreed that three children would be the target (we’re both from three and liked the dynamic of how it worked). Then of course, when we went for the third, biology stepped in and changed our plans for us. Clemmie must have given her ovaries a really good squeeze that month and my guys had obviously been doing their swimming practice because before we knew it, we were expecting twins. And what do you know? More girls.
There’s obviously something in the water I’m drinking (this actually isn’t too far from the truth, as the levels of oestrogen in London water is higher than most places in the UK due to discarded contraceptive pills, or that’s what I’ve heard on the dad grapevine!)
What were the early days like with your first?
The day we got our first home, we plonked her down in the car seat in the middle of the room, turned to each other and just laughed. What the hell were we supposed to do now?! That said, Clemmie is a midwife so she knew enough to get her into a routine of sorts. The first night I remember having a beer, watching Terminator 2 on our little TV with a baby next to me in a clothes basket. It was surreal, to say the least.
The next couple of weeks involved way too many visitors, shepherd’s pie and lasagne coming out of our ears and cabin fever. But the most important part was that we were a family and we got to know our newest member. It was a shock to the system, that’s for sure, but the kind of shock that you adapt to quickly.
Fatherhood has taught me…
And what have you learnt, as you’ve had subsequent children, about fatherhood?
That it’s important to be kind and be calm. We’ve always been fairly chilled about parenting. No point in worrying about things that may never happen or trying to put rules in place that we can’t enforce.
Do you help with nightshifts with the twins?
My main role is the ‘dream feed’ at around midnight. It’s the equivalent of waking a really drunk guy at a party who’s slumped on the sofa to pour more alcohol down their throat so they properly pass out. The 3am feed is a whole other ball game. I try to help, but while Clemmie is breastfeeding there isn’t much I can do other that pass a baby from my side of the bed to her.
When I have to be in the office early the next day, I tend to sleep in the spare room. I know it’s a cop out, but without some kind of sleep, it’s hard to be effective in my job. That said, I still make sure the older kids are dressed, fed and watered in the morning so that Clemmie has a fighting chance of getting to school on time and avoiding ‘the look’ from the teacher on the gate as they tap their watch.
What are you enjoying and what is the greatest challenge with twin babies?
The most enjoyable thing is watching our two older girls bond with their new sisters. They truly are amazing. It could have gone really wrong with them resenting the new ones as they felt sidelined, but they help out with every aspect. It’s like having some miniature parents in the house we can rely on to run and get things or hold them while we make dinner etc.
The most challenging thing for me is telling them apart. I know that sounds terrible but I struggle with this and although I’ve got a 50 per cent chance of getting their names right, I seem to get it wrong almost 100 per cent of the time.
How does it feel to be living with five females?
I wouldn’t change it for the world. Of course, at the start I wanted to have a boy to carry on the family name and to play rugby with, but in the end girls are everything I could have wished for and more. Sure, it’s loud and emotions run high a lot of the time, but my place in all this is to keep the peace, be calm, caring and to support them all (Clemmie included) and I love that role. People still keep asking me even after four children “so are you going for the boy?” My response – “Honestly, no. I’ve got everything I need”.
How evenly are chores and childcare divided between you and Clemmie?
As I mentioned, Clemmie is a clean freak (but in a good way). That means that she likes things done in a specific way. I can clean and tidy until it’s good enough in my mind for the queen to eat off my floors, but I will have done it wrong which results in Clemmie redoing everything. I can’t win that one.
When it comes to childcare it’s fairly simple. For the most part I distract the older two so that Clemmie can look after the little ones. This means I play games with them, read with them, help with homework and take them to dance and swimming classes. I get to be ‘fun dad’. Clemmie will say that I’m too soft on them and perhaps I am.
Do you ever get a break and if yes, how do you spend your time off?
I spend my ‘time off’ either playing with bikes (rebuilding them, upgrading them and riding them), seeing friends (those without kids, as they still have some partying left in them) or working my way through the list of things to do around the house. I love DIY and making things with my hands. Give me a pile of wood and some power tools and I can make you anything. I’m currently remodeling the garden – it’s labour-intensive but I’m outside doing what I love so I can’t complain. In the end, everything I do is for my girls in a round-about way.
Advice for new dads
What advice would you give to a new dad or dad-to-be?
Don’t go into fatherhood with too many preconceptions or plans about what your new life will be like. Every child and family is unique. As soon as you hold that little one in your arms your life changes, you just need to do the best you can adapt to those changes and you’ll be fine. Oh, and do a bit more to help out around the house. Your wife or partner will be going through those changes too so to alleviate a bit of the stress and strain for her will go a long way to having a happy home. You may even earn some brownie points, which you can trade in for a pass to actually go out and see friends in the evening (but don’t hold me to that).
What’s your secret tool; what is it that helps you to cope when the going gets tough?
Simple. It’s not a tool and it sounds corny as hell but the answer is my wife. Without Clemmie to share my hopes and fears with, life would be a lonely place. We support each other in the good times and the bad and whatever life throws our way in the future, we’ll face it together and do more than cope; we’ll embrace it and thrive.
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