I’ve been reflecting lately, on how different life is now that all THREE of my children are in school. It’s not like I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on anything much over the last eight-ish years. I almost can’t believe I managed it. These days, the thought of trying to get the biggest one ready and out to preschool/nursery whilst trying to supervise a toddler on a scooter and put a baby into a sling leaves me in a cold sweat. And yet I did it. And all of us are still alive. (Which I’ll take as a win, thank you.)
There were many, many fun, happy days. There were lots of darker times too, but now when I look back on those few, mad years I mostly focus on the good stuff. This might be a survival instinct, it might be denial or rose-tinted glasses, but mostly I think it is because it is a privilege to spend those years with your children, even if during those times you might not be the best of friends. (And they might throw lego bricks at your head in anger at being told that yes, they really do have to put their shoes on and go to the shop for milk.)
I was thinking about it the other day, and decided that I could always tell how well or badly a day was doing by the results of my 4pm ‘what the hell am I going to cook for tea?’ look in the fridge. If it had been a relatively good day, I was able to put something vaguely (and I do mean vaguely) reasonable and nutritious together from the assorted contents. If it had been a bad day, I would usually have a brief glance, shut the door, mutter something terrible under my breath, open the fridge door again, stare at the contents for a very long time, shut the door again and cry. On a really bad day I would call Rich at work, pretending not to be a mad woman who needed help with a ready-steady-cook challenge with his offspring wailing at her feet.
I’m not saying that the fridge door scenario doesn’t happen now. (It does.) But now they are older, and have spent the day at school, when it does happen I don’t feel quite that same weight of responsibility and hopelessness. A six year old hungry child, although persistent and grumpy, is not the same as a hungry 8 month old; irrational, overtired and screaming. And anyway, the six year old helps himself to fruit and yoghurt if he is hungry now (which is nearly always.)
For ages when they were tiny, they would say ‘Mummy, draw me a car!’ Or ‘Mummy! Dinosaur!’ or ‘Mummy, draw a cat on a hill with a field of cows below!’ – depending on which one it was asking. My drawing is truly, truly terrible. And so I would draw something that in no way resembled the requested thing, but that was fine. A month or so ago, Tilly asked me to draw a grasshopper. I was reluctant to, but gave it a go anyway; Tilly can be quite persuasive. Halfway through, I paused. It looked like a tall, misshapen sea creature. Tilly examined it carefully and said ‘don’t worry mummy. I’ll get Polly to do it.’ And off she went to commission her seven year old sister to draw a better one. It was a turning point in the way of things: I half expected to feel sad that I was no longer number one artist. Instead, I was nearly overcome with relief.
They still love me to read to them, they still need me to tell them where their lunchbox/PE bag/favourite My Little Pony/ Star Wars gun is; they still tell me their secrets at bedtime. But they no longer need me for absolutely everything. I quite like that.
And pretty soon, I’ll teach them how to cook a proper meal magicked up from the contents of a fridge at 4.30pm.