Even though I’m constantly aware of what’s coming if E keeps withholding child maintenance, it doesn’t actually dominate my life – there’s no room for it to. Generally, my life is not just ‘carrying on’, most days it’s enjoyable, funny and rewarding – although nothing ever goes quite to plan.
Whilst I’d love to live a Zen like, Instagram-able life, my day-to-day life is full of chaos and mess. I start every morning hoping that I’ll do today “right”, but usually within ten seconds of setting foot out of bed and greeting whatever awaits me in the kitchen (it’s like being in CSI – I can work out which child was up, what they ate and drank and, if there are crumbs, where they ate it), I realise that the dream of meditating and exercising before enjoying a green smoothie and waking the children calmly and kindly, then feeding them home-made granola and freshly squeezed fruit juice and sending them out to school and work pink-of-cheek and glowing-of eye just isn’t going to happen.
For a start, waking my little cherubs up is a far from kind and calm experience. Actually, to be fair, Youngest Son is still at the quite sweet stage of letting me wake him up with a hug and watch him rub the sleep out of his eyes. He’ll then get dressed and make his own Nutella on toast, whilst ignoring my pleas to have a piece of fruit or something with a vitamin in it. Oldest Son, on the other hand, has now entered Full Teen Mode, and has usually tightly wrapped his over-long body into a duvet burrito with only his hair poking out of the top and his feet poking out of the bottom. If I’m lucky, I get a grunt when I tell him it’s time to get up. I then have to shout, increasingly threateningly, up the stairs every ten minutes until he eventually stomps out of bed with seconds to spare, and appears blinking and disgruntled in the kitchen to eat a handful of dry cereal and dash out of the door to school. Youngest Daughter keeps mysterious hours (she works part time, and does morning or evening shifts and I never know which, so I don’t venture into the Health & Safety Hazard Zone that is her room at all in the mornings). She also only eats processed carbohydrates at the moment, so the chance of getting a nutritious breakfast down her is impossible. In between shouting at Oldest Son, I get ready for work, put yesterday’s school uniforms on to wash, make Youngest Son and my packed lunches, do the dishes, feed the pets, text Oldest Daughter back for the first time that day (there will be an ongoing conversation for the rest of the day) and clear the debris from the night before away, so I’ve got a chance of getting home to a reasonably tidy house. Every now and then, on what seem like randomly generated occasions, Youngest Son will throw a cookery lesson that day at me, which leads to a frantic search for ingredients and a note to self to ‘put it in the fucking diary next time’.
Before leaving for work, I usually tell the kids to do whatever task I’ve assigned to them when they get in from school, and try to plan what I’m going to feed everyone in the evening. If I’m super organised I even prepare stuff before I leave and then spend a good ten minutes feeling smug and like I’m totally winning at life.
My job generally provides a few hours of sanity (although, as it involves finding work experience placement for teenagers, the ever-contrary Teen Factor weighs heavily on my life here too). Fortunately, the women I work with are strong, funny and intelligent and have provided the most incredible support network. They also make me laugh every day. We’re almost all ‘ladies of a certain age’, which means that, at any one time, at least one of us is likely to be having a hot flush (it’s like a rota system). We therefore have a Menopause Window that is opened or closed according to need. I’m not sure Playschool ever thought of that one, but I reckon Jemima and Hamble are about the same age as me now and would definitely appreciate one, no matter what Big Ted, Little Ted and Humpty had to say about it. I’m pretty sure Floella Benjamin would approve too.
My job isn’t the most demanding of jobs, but I enjoy it most days. It’s busy enough to keep me occupied, but it’s not so intellectually demanding or responsible that I feel weighed down by it (in my Previous Life BC – before children – I used to have a very demanding job, and I loved it, but with everything that’s happening at the moment, I think doing a job like that would probably kill me). We were all momentarily thrown this week by the introduction of a new, all singing all dancing, email system. The system is brilliant in theory, but, whilst I hate to use the words ‘old’, ‘dog’, ‘new’ and ‘tricks’, regarding myself and my colleagues, introducing it to our team must have been quite the task for our (really, really patient) IT Guy. We had a briefing about it on Tuesday morning, and all emerged smiling and blithely confident that we knew what we were doing. Within ten minutes of it being installed the anguished cries for help began, and our IT Guy probably began to lose the will to live. I was generally ok with the new system – I’d love to say that this is because I’m super clever and IT literate, but I suspect it’s probably because I’m doing it wrong. I spent most of Tuesday winging it – sending emails into the void and hoping I was doing it right. By the time work that day finished, the phrase “too old for this shit” had been uttered at least a dozen times and I think we were all planning on going home and having a drink.
And here’s where my Zen-like good intentions fail again. In my Instagram-vision of life, I’d get home and drink a glass of chilled, filtered, water, whilst cheerfully preparing a multi-coloured salad (with avocado) and some sort of delicately flavoured chicken or fish (with quinoa of course), that I’d serve in the dining room and the kids and I would joyfully sit together and discuss our day. What actually happens is I get in, and the kids are all in their rooms, and don’t even say hello. I then think “fuck this shit” and throw my coat and handbag onto the kitchen table, kick my boots off and if there is wine in the fridge (there currently is thanks to a lovely friend), I pour myself a glass (telling myself that I’ll only have the one). If I haven’t prepared something in the morning, I’ll then scour the cupboards for food and, instead of an Instagram-able feast, I chuck some pasta in a pan and open a tin of tomatoes, hoping that by adding a few herbs, a bit of bacon and a handful of cheese, it will taste ok and fill the boys up. Youngest Daughter is a ‘vegetarian’ – by which she means she eats Yorkshire puddings, potatoes, plain pasta, cheese and chocolate (I’m constantly alert for signs of scurvy and beriberi), so she normally sorts her own food out. By the time I’ve negotiated the evening meal, I’m frequently on glass of wine number two and have started swearing about the fact that no-one’s hung the washing out to dry, or put the dishes from this morning away.
When everyone’s been fed, and everything’s been cleared up, I’ve often poured glass no three (if I haven’t had a drink by now, I’m smugly congratulating myself and feeling almost Zen-like) and I head to the sofa for some Netflix, all thoughts of meditating, or spending some ‘me’ time writing, or planning for the future, forgotten. This is the best bit of the day though – Youngest Son always comes down to hug me and tell me about his day, and if she’s home Youngest Daughter usually appears with a bizarre tale about a YouTube account she follows or what’s happened at work (there appear to be flirtations there… this makes me nervous). Most evenings I’m also graced by a visit from Oldest Son, who folds his lanky body into a sofa and proceeds to talk about something profound. After our rough start to the morning, I love this quiet, peaceful, time with him. Throughout all of this I’m getting texts and messages (and pictures of cats, dogs and alpacas) from Oldest Daughter and replying with cat, dog and alpaca pictures of my own, sympathy if needed and (hopefully) sage advice as required.
I usually end up heading to bed before the kids – knocking on their bedroom doors to say goodnight to their little screen-lit faces, telling them to go to bed by whatever time we’ve agreed, whilst thinking “Shit – have any of them done their bloody homework, why didn’t I ask about homework? And books – why are they never reading books? You can Instagram books. Maybe I’ll give them some books tomorrow.”
As I curl up in bed (usually with at least one cat settling down on my feet), I tell myself that I’ll do tomorrow right. I’ll change the beds, I’ll do the ironing, I’ll mop the kitchen floor, I’ll make a nutritious meal, I’ll make time to go for a run, and, as I finally drift off to sleep, I think; “I’ll totally have a green smoothie for breakfast”.