I’ve been feeling like a great and terrible disappointment to myself over the holidays. I had, you see, hoped that I might set time aside to write a bit more. This has, inevitably, not occurred. But upon reflection, this was a ridiculous notion from the get-go. For a start, the words ‘Christmas’ and ‘break’ don’t belong in the same sentence together. Even if you don’t go berserk at Christmas, which we don’t, it’s still a busy, frenetic sort of a time. And the children. God, the children. In the absence of any sort of camp, they’ve been at home, with us, all day. Unless a friend or neighbour (of which, thank fuck, I have many) has carted them off somewhere, it’s up to us to amuse them, and this is a taxing sort of a task.
I feel as though I have simply swapped teaching for the less lucrative job of being my children’s PA.
The problem is, of course, that they have become institutionalised. In the primary school classroom every slot is accounted for, all nicely displaced on the wall so they know exactly what they are doing and when.
I think I need to do a little holiday timetable of my own and display it prominently. It won’t be as rigid as school, nor as polite. It may, for example read:
7am- 8am: Don’t even think about it.
8am-9am: Television Time, AKA leave Mum and Dad the fuck alone.
9am- 10am- House based activity AKA we are NOT trailing you around the countryside.
As I putting them to bed the other night the Older Child had a face on her like a well-scalped arse. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ I asked.
‘We only did three things today,’ she replied. ‘And one of those was going to Forestside.’
Imagine! Third rate parenting indeed.
For the last 3 weeks (because it began even before the holidays) the children have been desperately hard to please. They ricochet between abject misery and elation, depending on where I’m sending them or who’s coming to play.
It’s exhausting, nerve-wrecking, and encourages great dependence on Sauvignon Blanc. Take yesterday, as an example. (Also, remember that it was New Year’s Day and after a party my head and innards were feeling as tender as the finest Japanese Kobe steak.)
‘So if we’re going out on Friday afternoon,’ ruminates the Older Child, ‘what are we doing on Friday morning?’
‘Well let me just get to it,’ I said, ‘You couldn’t possibly be sitting at home, without a plan.’
She either didn’t get the sarcasm or chose to ignore it, handing me my mobile. ‘Just put a message on WhatsApp and see who’s free please,’ she said, firmly. At least she asked this time. She swiped my phone once to text my friend Brenda and enquired if her son could come and play. Very convincing she was too, as the little chap arrived shortly afterwards, much to my surprise. (Fortunately, we are very fond of him.)
They are strong-willed, opinionated children that I have raised. Yes, their wills of steel may prove useful should they ever come up against the Harvey Weinsteins of this world, but I have spent the last while feeling as though I live under a tyranny.
Even if they could just tidy the house before inviting people in: that would appease me slightly. I have seen children’s mouths DROP open upon seeing the state of the living room floor. ‘My mum would KILL ME if I did this,’ said a wee girl the other day, looking stunned at the piles of shite everywhere.
And God FORBID you ask them to rectify the chaos they created in the house.
‘Are you going to do what I’ve asked or just keep sitting there?’ I seethed earlier to the Small Child, who was watching ‘Spongebob Squarepants’, cross-legged upon the sofa. ‘Hmmm,’ she replied, ‘I prefer Option 2.’
I remember reading ‘French Children Don’t Throw Food’ in which the author advocated that ‘frustration is a life skill,’ and therefore it was quite ok for children to be bored sometimes. I thought this was marvellous. I was bored quite a lot as a child, and it does build up a certain self-reliance. Philip Larkin, one of my most favourite poets, (miserable auld bastard that was), claimed that his childhood in Coventry was very dull indeed. A great poet it made of him too.
My children don’t do bored and I feel I may be doing them a disservice by arranging playdates and organising bracing walks for their edification. Maybe they will never reach their true potential because they haven’t experienced to the true humdrum nature of life.
I’ve been in such a state of agitation that even three yoga classes over the holidays haven’t helped. I keep uttering, ‘I’m not going to drink,’ before necking a glass of Prosecco at six o’clock. (Except Christmas day of course: I started at 11 then, for the day that was in it.)
I keep saying I’ll have a night off, before sending LSB to the fridge to pour me something nice. I like how he swirls the ice around the glass to make it extra special, until I remind myself that these shenanigans may bring on renal failure.
So, I’ve decided, (and hear me out on this because it might sound all a bit wanky and New Age,) but I’m going to adopt Anne Lamott’s theory on self-improvement as my New Year resolution. Over January I’m going to make lovely soothing soups; chuck out the clutter that’s making me unhappy and try to be a bit less frantic and a bit more sane. It annoys me when I don’t practice my yoga or set an hour aside to write. I get narky at the kids when I don’t manage my time better and need to learn that it’s not unreasonable to tell them to piss off and leave me in peace. I’m going to go to bed earlier and bank some sleep in these long nights. I don’t want to spend this year coming up with ways to escape from my life; I would like to attempt living in the present. (I warned you that this could be wanky).
The nice thing about this is that it’s not a hard and fast resolution, it’s a way of thinking how I can live a better life and keep this more at the front of my mind. On Christmas night I went to bed at half 8 and read a book my friend Grace gave me and listened to 6 Music. It was blissful. More of that sort of thing this month, I hope.