I bumped into my friend in 5a coffee shop the other day as I recovered from a run along the towpath. “I’m away in here to sit down,” she said. “I’m exhausted.” She did actually look plain done-in. Her husband often works away and she has two small children. It turns out she’s also been promoted to a post which will mean increased hours and more travel. She’s excited, but also daunted at the prospect. I explained the joy of the au pair, which is how I came to be sitting, latte in hand in 5a of a Wednesday morning. “I don’t want someone all the time though” she reasoned. “If they could just lift the shite off the floor and clean up after dinner while I bathe the kids and get them to bed.” That’s one of the grimmest bits I recall when I used to work. The kids would throw themselves at me with glee when I picked them up at 5, but by the time I got into the house and tried to get them their dinner they were past themselves with fatigue. I wasn’t one of those organised mums who defrosted a lovingly made Annabel Karmel sweet potato stew, (primarily because my children wouldn’t have eaten it). So I would have been grimly draining spaghetti with them both hanging off my leg, trying to avoid a trip to the Royal with a small scalded child. Then there were the dishes, the laundry, the baths and the bedtime (always a moveable feast in our house anyway, we wouldn’t have been getting prizes from Gina Ford with our routine). These delights were followed by marking and lesson prep for the next day. Purgatory.
Anyway, back to the pal again. “What about a student?” I suggested. “Someone just to do a couple of hours each evening just to cut you some slack?” She looked unconvinced and frankly I don’t blame her. Students are famous for lacking in gumption, and often there’s an inverse correlation between intellect and common sense (dopey bastards). The last thing you need when you’re stressed is someone standing looking gormless in your kitchen. “I know exactly what I need,” she sighed. “I need a mammy.” Don’t we all?
Grandparents can be indispensable. My folks just come in, roll up their sleeves and get to it. They’re usually not through the door five minutes until they’re unloading Asda bags in to the fridge and making a pot of tea which they promptly forget to drink because they’re too busy hoovering and playing hide and seek with the kids. There will, inevitably, be some criticism of my housekeeping skills, but I can live with that when they’re ironing LSB’s shirts. I usually just point to the wall, where some art work by the girls has been blu-tacked, and really, wasn’t that a better way to spend the afternoon, as opposed to cleaning? The parents acquiesce that indeed it’s brilliant and isn’t it all just great and we finally sit down to that nice cup of tea and a biscuit.
And the great thing is, even if they do make a horrible caustic remark you can a) make one back, b) seethe inwardly then write about it in your blog, or c) let it wash over you and open the wine. I’ve been known to do all three. And the thing is, generally with parents and siblings, you can get away with this. I know fine rightly I don’t realise how lucky I am. That’s what Lemn Sissay said when I saw him back in January in the Black Box. For him, the most magical thing about family is that you can be at your most dreadful you don’t even have to say sorry.
Sure, it’s nice, indeed proper if you do, but I know my parents have seen me at my vilest and they’ll still come and put a wash on for me. A bit of appreciation goes a long way but isn’t it reassuring to know in this ever transient word that someone’s about when you need them? So yes, we all need a mammy. And a papa and the in-laws. And the gin. Then we all rub along just fine.