I’m writing this down because if I try to say it to you in person, I’ll cry (I cry very easily) and I’ll mortify myself and mortify you, and my child will never speak to me again for all the mortification, and with all that going on, I won’t get to say what I really want to say.
So, here goes:
I want to say that I hope you know you’ve changed a life – or at least, you’ve changed a life for the duration of this school year. I hope you have some idea of the good you do, of the impact you have. Because all most of us really want for our kids is kindness and fairness. It sounds like a low bar, but some times, some years, it feels utterly unattainable.
And sure, it’s great if they learn to read and write and do long division. It’s fantastic if they learn about social history and science and nature. But realistically, most kids, regardless of what kind of teachers they have, will graduate sixth class able to read and write.
The tougher nut to crack is how they feel about themselves and how they see themselves in the world – are they confident, resilient, happy, and kind? For that, first and foremost, of course they need parents who get things right at least some of the time. But they also need teachers who are kind and fair.
So this is to you, and to all the teachers who are kind and fair:
To the teachers who don’t choose favourites, or are very good at hiding it when they do.
To the teachers who don’t pick on kids or take against particular children.
To the teachers who are firm but don’t shout and roar.
To the teachers who can keep the peace but never resort to humiliating.
To the teachers who can manage a class without creating a state of fear.
To the teachers who discipline but never shame.
To the teachers who have empathy.
To the teachers who get that not all children are the same, and that that’s a good thing.
To the teachers (and happily, there are many, many out there) who understand that children need fun as well as books. That they sometimes make mistakes. That school can be overwhelming. That yard-time might be amazing but it might be hard too. That school day plus too much homework is like an adult workday. That kids need to move and run and climb. To be kids, while they are still kids.
Lastly, to the teachers who understand that honey trumps vinegar, that carrots always beat sticks, and that above all, kindness and fairness win everything. Thank you.
It was eleven o’clock on Sunday morning, and we’d been chatting to and entertained by our hosts, Jean and Dónal, for about an hour at that stage. We’d only met Dónal that morning but we’d meet Jean two days earlier when we’d arrived in her Airbnb in Ballybunion. She had welcomed us like old friends, although having said that, even old friends don’t get homemade scones with cream and jam in my house (sorry, old friends). And by the time we headed out for a walk on beautiful Ballybunion beach, my friend Sadhbh and I were grinning like the cats who got the cream (and jam) – we’d somehow found the best B&B in Ireland.
The following morning, over an amazing cooked breakfast and more lovely chats, Jean suggested we leave the car – she’d drop us from Ballybunion to Listowel so we could have glass of wine that night and get a taxi home. “I know what it’s like,” she said, “when you’ve small kids and you don’t get away often.”
In true Irish style, and because it’s a good 15 km, we said not-at-all and oh-no-we-couldn’t for at least ten minutes before giving in to her extraordinarily kind offer. And by the time we got to Listowel, we both knew we wanted Jean to adopt us.
The Kerry hospitality continued right through the weekend at Listowel Writers’ Week – from the woman in the boutique who called us both darling in her gorgeous Kerry lilt, to the staff in the Listowel Arms hotel who ferried coffee and chips and gin with never-faltering smiles no matter how busy it got. The hospitality and inclusiveness was infectious – every time we walked past any writer or festival attendee we even half knew, they invited us to join them. Our seats changed more often than the weather, as we gathered our ever-growing armfuls of books and, erm, dresses (well, she called us darling and after all, we were on our holidays).
Late that night, as we wondered where to get a taxi, hotel staff ushered us towards another taxi-to-Ballybunion seeker, and a couple I’ll call Mary and Des. “Des will drive you,” said Mary, “as long as you don’t mind a farmer’s car – watch out for cow syringes.” And just like that, we found ourselves on the road home to Ballybunion, thanks to these people we’d never met. Mary told us she has a ninety-minute commute to work every day because of her re-location to Kerry. “See what I gave up to marry you, Des,” she grinned at her husband. “Well, I could hardly move to you, I couldn’t lift the animals,” said Des, deadpan. In the back, we marvelled at luck and the kindness of strangers.
And suddenly it was 11am Sunday morning and we were eating (AGAIN) and listening to stories of American tourists, and the priest who used to make sure the ladies stayed on the ladies’ beach, and the minefield of Airbnb reviews, and local tourism (if you’re looking for somewhere to go in Ireland, I can highly recommend the beautiful beaches of Ballybunion.) “Tell them the one about the fish,” Jean said to Dónal and he did and we laughed our heads off and I can’t tell you the story, but if you’re ever in Lartigue Lodge in Ballybunion, I bet Dónal will tell it again. And since Sadhbh and I are still hoping they’ll adopt us, you might see us there too.
After 18 months of searching, fourteen thousand buckets of tears when we walked away from our old house, seven nail-biting weeks from “sale agreed” to “here are the keys”, and a month of almost-done refurbishment, we’re finally in our new house. And it’s bliss. Except for all the things that aren’t working yet, like the oven, the extractor fan, the microwave, the washing machine, the dryer, and the freezer. But it doesn’t matter, because we’re in! So here’s a snapshot of where we’re at:
What they’re eating
Well, they’re still eating the sugary cereals we were only going to have while living in my dad’s, because the youngest negotiated an extension. “We should be allowed have them until the house is finished,” he said, and at the rate things are going, he might be 25, living in a flat-share in town, and buying all the sugary cereals he wants by the time that happens.
What we’re cooking
Anything you can make on a hob, but which must be heatable-up without a microwave, for people who come in at different times. I have a repertoire of about two dinners. Today we’re going to McDonalds.
What I’m wearing
Runners (I still say runners, except when I’m with people I think might say trainers, then I say trainers) because our new walk to school is 25 minutes and shoes aren’t going to cut it. The kids haven’t complained yet, but I imagine they’re going to notice soon that it’s a bit longer than the “little over 10 or 15 minutes” I breezily anticipated.
And then, because I’ve had a Dundrum voucher burning a hole in my pocket since Christmas, and my longer school run gives me an excuse, I got some new runners. I mean trainers.
What we’re watching
Netflix! We got broadband recently, so although we don’t have “normal” TV yet, we do have Netflix. But, now I can’t figure out what to watch. We’re currently plodding through a fairly appalling Dutch-Belgian dubbed series called Undercover. It’s a crime show (partly) set in a campsite like the ones we go to each year, which is what reeled me in, and now I need to see what happens. But don’t watch it, it’s awful. Any recommendations, preferably crime/ mystery/ thriller/ twisty?
Edited to add: I’ve discovered why people rave about Schitt’s Creek – not remotely crimey or thrillery, but so much fun, and five full series to get through.
What I’m reading
The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan (Irish crime writer living in Australia, this is her second book, and it’s great so far). Prior to that, I read and loved Daisy Jones & The Six – completely different to any book I’ve read recently, and I loved it.
What I’m listening to
I am still obsessed with the Cormoran Strike books by JK Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith. I’m on the fourth one now, Lethal White, and in my head, I’m best pals with Cormoran and Robin – they’re my constant companions on the (new, longer) school run.
What I’m drinking
Prosecco, at the school’s big summer night out! Hard won prosecco at that – one of my responsibilities was to buy six bottles in Lidl, and as it’s on our walk home from school, I figured I’d chance picking it up on the school run. All I was worried about was whether or not I could carry them (just about, with a few rest breaks) – what I didn’t factor in was how it would look – me walking home with six bottles of prosecco in my arms, the kids trotting along beside me carrying the bread and fruit we’d originally gone in to buy. Having said that, it tasted all the better for the epic journey, tired arms, and dodgy looks.
What I’m buying
Wall to wall Ikea. There is nothing left in Ikea, it’s all in my house.
What I’m smiling about
The new paperback edition of One Click – copies arrived here last week, and I’m biased, but I love the new cover. And I love the gin flavoured chocolate that came with the books. In fairness, when there’s no oven, and the kids are still eating the sugary cereals, you have to eat a lot of chocolate.
Six o’clock. Hazy sunshine. A nippy evening chill creeping in, but these hardy soccer players don’t care. Shin guards on, socks pulled high, shorts and proud club jerseys. Running to the pitch, racing for the first kick of the ball. Eight, nine, ten years old, one thing in common – a love of the beautiful game. Oh, and they’re all girls.
Every week when I drop her at soccer training, my heart sings. When I see her pick up her pace as we get nearer, dashing to get on the pitch. When I see her team mates do the same, eager to get started. A team that just a few short years ago had precious few members. A club that made an active decision to build up its female membership. A recruiting drive to get local girls trying out – which they did, in their droves, and they stayed. Now I drop her at training and see thirty or forty girls out on the pitch and sometimes I get a lump in my throat.
Back when my middle child first showed an interest in soccer, she took part in a mini-world-cup with a local club. Thrilled with the experience and eager to continue playing, she asked to join the club the following September. But they couldn’t take her, they said. There wasn’t enough interest from girls, and as a result, they were no longer able to offer training for a girls’ team at all. Game over.
My daughter was disappointed, I was cross. It wasn’t anybody’s fault – it wasn’t the club’s fault that they couldn’t get the numbers, but still it irked. My daughter liked football, but because she was a girl, she might not get to play.
Then a flyer at the school gate told us about another club, a club looking for new girl players. She tried it, she loved, and now it’s her favourite thing in the world. She runs out on cold January nights, she races out on early weekend mornings. She’s even got her dad roped in as coach, and she’s started watching games with him on TV.
Why isn’t there more women’s football on television? she asks, and I tell her it’s changing, and that her generation will change it further.
Why do all the trophies show boys? asks one of her wise nine-year-old teammates, in a letter to the club. Good question, fair point, they reply, and immediately change the trophies. Now the trophies show girls.
Are we watching evolution of the beautiful game? Revolution? I don’t know. But I do know I’m watching pure joy, as my daughter runs onto the pitch. And for now, that’s more than enough. Game on.
This Easter holidays, along with some very nice things (like getting keys to our new house – hurrah!) the kids and I did the following:
Went to a tile shop and picked tiles
Bought a towel rail
Went to a kitchen shop and picked cupboards
Went to the new house to meet the painter
Went to the new house to meet the wardrobe fitter
Sat in the garden reading books
Played football (more them than me)
Built an insect orphanage (definitely more them than me)
Went to the library
Went for coffee and cake *a number* of times
Went to see Dumbo
Bought a soap dispenser we’ll probably never actually fill with soap, but it’s pretty
Time taken off work: An unprecedented two weeks
Number of daytrips: That’d be a big roundy zero
My kids, understandably, asked occasionally if we’d be doing anything exciting (though in their defence, not as often as I expected). I, too, did begin to wonder – I mean, I could see Facebook. I could see the mini-breaks and the sunshiney holidays and the day trips. And though we don’t usually go away at Easter, we do usually fit in a few day trips – zero is a pretty low number, especially for my first time taking the full two weeks off work.
Here’s the thing – the thing that struck me on the second-last day of the holidays, as I queued up to speak to a man in a kitchen shop, and the kids ambled around looking at cupboards – I am officially now a parent who can bring my kids places without getting in a blind sweaty bribe-yielding panic.
My kids have reached that magical age – I can finally take them all to a tile shop or a kitchen showroom and nothing goes wrong. Nobody has a tantrum, nobody needs food. Yeah, they play hide and seek and I have to tell them to stop running every now and then (they’ve perfected a Rob Heffernan style “walk” that facilitates hot denials of any kind of running) but I’m free to talk to whatever person is charging me hundreds of euro for plain cream tiles in a modest-sized kitchen.
Today’s cake. Funny, they’re always well-behaved in the cake shop.
And I think back to all the other times – times I was out of bread or milk, and concocted all sorts of plan to avoid bringing three children to the shop. Like when they were four, two, and zero, and I used to consider driving over to my dad’s to pick him up so he could sit in the car with the kids while I went into the shop. Because that extra round trip and inconvenience genuinely seemed easier than bringing them all into the shop. I never did it – I just did without the bread or the milk (and still drink black tea to this day).
The fear that they’d cry, fight, scatter, disappear. The work involved to lift, buckle, remove, repeat. The trolleys. The tears. The tantrums. The terror. Back-to-work FEAR had nothing on shops-with-three-kids-under-five FEAR for my former self.
And somehow, while I wasn’t looking, we came out the other side. I can bring the three of them to the cinema and I don’t have to tell anyone to stop talking. I can bring the three of them for something to eat, and it’s okay if I forget to bring the colouring. I can bring them to the shop and leave again without anyone begging for treats or running away or lying in the middle of the aisle crying about mayonnaise (true story).
So if you have two-under-four or three-under-five, and you’re drinking black tea because you just can’t bear going to the shop, don’t worry. You’ll get there (literally and metaphorically). You might not notice it happening, but some day you’ll bring them to a tile shop without worrying they’ll destroy it in front of your eyes. And even better, you won’t even realise it till you’re home with a cup of any-way-you-like-it tea.
I can’t think straight. I can’t breathe. I feel like someone has poured glue inside my head. And the thing is, it’s not “someone” who did it, it’s me. My own dumbass system, over-reacting to pollen – producing histamine because it thinks it’s under attack. “You’re not under attack, dumbass,” I tell my insides every day, but they can’t hear me, because they’re covered in glue. (As you can see, I’m cross.)
I’ve been getting hayfver since I was twenty-five – before that I thought it was something people on TV got. I also thought it meant slightly itchy eyes and the odd sneeze. But here I am, four days into the most debilitating bout of hayfever I’ve ever had, and it’s definitely not just the odd sneeze. My whole head has been stuffed up since Friday, and I haven’t been able to breathe through my nose, apart from sporadic moments of temporary relief (see below). I’ve spent the GDP of a medium-sized county in pharmacies: I go in every day to beg for help, and come out armed with bags of products and a new sense of hope: surely, this time it will work.
Here are a few things I’ve tried in the last four days:
Hay Max – to prevent the pollen getting in (who knows if it’s doing anything but it can’t hurt)
Eye drops – good for itchy eyes, and can be used year-round as needed, but my nose is so bad, I don’t care about my itchy eyes any more
Coffee – because it momentarily cuts through the stuffiness
Nasal spray barrier – to prevent pollen going in
Sterimar nasal spray – to reduce stuffiness. People swear by this but it didn’t work for me
Vicks – the gel stuff, I put it under my nose, and sometimes it works
Olbas Oil – I love this, I put drops on tissues, and go to sleep at night, holding it to my nose. The bits of fragmented sleep I get are all thanks to Olbas Oil
Claritin Non-Drowsy tablets – hmmm, the jury’s out on effectiveness
Spicy curry – it genuinely gives me temporary relief
Flexinase nasal spray with anti-histamine – this is what I got during today’s trip the pharmacy, when I threw myself at their mercy and asked for the strongest thing you can get without prescription
Gin and tonic – because I read an article that said it doesn’t make hayfever any worse and if I’m going to grasp at straws, they may as well be Tanqueray-and-Fever-Tree flavoured straws
One annoying feature of hayfever is that it sounds, well, a bit lame. Like the guy on TV who’s always complaining about his “allergies”, burying his nose in a handkerchief. The reality – headaches, fatigue, sore throat, streaming eyes, and a sometimes scary inability to breathe comfortably – feels like a heavy head-cold. Except it lasts for weeks.
And you can’t help feeling like a moan if you moan about it, but when it’s literally affecting your ability to have a conversation or think straight, it’s hard to avoid bringing it up – apologising as you clutch a tissue to your nose and mentally run through how many you have left in the pack (there’s no fear quite like that of the hayfever sufferer who’s run out of tissues and is relying on her diminishing stash of kitchen roll).
So the point of this post? Mostly, I needed to moan to someone other than my long-suffering husband. Also, fellow sufferers may find some tips within the list above. And lastly, if you’ve never had hayfever but know someone who does, know that while they may sound like they’re complaining over nothing, they are actually in bits – because someone’s poured glue in their heads.
There’s no such thing as a perfect parent – even the kindest, most calm parents have off days (and I suspect it’s a good thing for kids to know parents aren’t perfect) but apparently more than half of Irish parents feel they’re failing, and this feeling is amplified by the internet and social media. So from my tiny corner of the internet, here’s the story of yesterday – a perfectly (so to speak) normal day: not a particularly amazing day, not a terrible day. Just a normal day, of imperfect parenting.
My youngest came in at the crack of dawn, because he closely follows the Children’s Guide to Being a Kid handbook – rule 67 states that it’s imperative to get up earlier during school holidays than you’d ever consider on a school day.
And because my dial is firmly set to CRANKY unless I’ve had coffee and some time to adjust to being awake (this adjustment time comes in the form of reading Twitter on my phone) I sent him downstairs to have some of the sugary cereal they’ve been allowed since we moved in with my dad (an ill-thought out bribe to stop the flow of tears as we moved out of our house).
The first argument of the day came when I was rushing them all out to the car to bring one child to camp – some seriously time-consuming deliberation over what to bring in the car was making us late. My kids operate in first gear only when it’s time to go somewhere – no amount of telling them we’re late has any impact ever, but still, I try, and still, I snap.
The next argument was in the new house we don’t own yet – as I’ve told the kids, we’re 98% there: the bank transfer is making its impossibly slow journey to where it’s meant to be, but the keys-in-hand moment is still tantalizingly out of reach. “If we’re 98% can we park in the driveway this time?” one child asked. “Nope,” I told him as we step inside to meet a painter.
Where the door to the den might go, in the house we don’t own
The discussion with the painter was interrupted 400 times by something “very important” (you know exactly how important that was) and there was an argument about someone calling someone something, then we hit the library and the supermarket, because that’s how exciting things get when it’s a rainy, freezing cold, grey Easter holiday Tuesday.
Oh wait, things got even more exciting in the afternoon, when we went to Carrickmines retail park – it’s not even a shopping centre, it’s a retail park, and we went there to buy – wait for it – a towel rail. That was the extent of our activities yesterday – much function, zero craic.
“Mum, no offence, but could we do something a bit more fun tomorrow?” asked the eldest as we sat down for dinner yesterday evening. A fair request, all things considered.
The day was peppered with rain, arguments over elbow room, eye-rolls, and snapping. Sometimes from me, sometimes from them. Not even entirely unreasonable eye-rolling and snapping, because what else was going to happen on a grey, wet Tuesday when we’re tied to camp pick-up and painter meetings?
When mine were smaller, I worried more about parenting fails – I wrote about sleep problems and dinner table dramas and mornings going badly wrong. These days, although I still mess up regularly, I’ve accepted that it’s normal, that it’s not the end of the world. They argue, I snap. They roll their eyes, I shake my head. They give out, I throw up my hands. They moan, I give up. And then we start over.
Last night, at bedtime, I put a plaster on my youngest’s knee and listened while he read a funny part of his book for me. I brushed my middle-child’s hair and listened to her tell me how much she loves soccer camp. I sat on the bed with my eldest, her head on my lap, chatting about the house that’s 98% ours, making plans.
It wasn’t a great day, it wasn’t a bad day, it was just a day. No pictures for Facebook, no medals for parenting – imperfect, but in my humble opinion, that’s truly perfectly fine.
I’m bracing myself, gearing up to make the call. Not an important call, not a life-changing call, just a call. To a plumber. On my mobile. To his mobile. From the room where the coverage is usually (but not always) okay. Where the call is least likely to drop, or result in “Sorry. . . sorry, you’re breaking up there – sorry, I missed that, hello? hello? Hi, yes, no, I’m still here. I think I missed that bit in the middle, hello? Hi? He’s gone. Oh hi, you’re still there” kind of thing.
I should have made the call last night, but it got too late. And I should have made it this morning but then I was writing and editing and, eh, making cups of coffee. But now the kids are home from school and the writing is done till tonight and the shower needs fixing and there are no more excuses. I need to make the call.
I read somewhere recently that Millennials are afraid of the phone. That they’re not used to making calls, having grown up with a world of communication options we didn’t have when we were growing up – text, WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter – basically writing instead talking. I’m far, far, (far) from being a Millennial, and I can’t blame texting for giving me a fear of phone-calls – I’ve been like this since at least my early twenties at least.
As a kid and as a teen, I loved using the house phone, calling friends after school to talk about all the things we’d just spent all day discussing in class. But somewhere along the line that changed – maybe it was the advent of mobile phones and bad connections – I found I was less enthusiastic generally about picking up the handset and dialling.
And now if at all possible, I avoid using the phone. I make my husband call when we need a takeaway, and if a restaurant doesn’t have an online reservation facility, I’m probably less likely to book. I love “chat” options on websites, email addresses, or any means of making contact that doesn’t involve speaking by phone.
This isn’t an anti-people thing – I love talking to people face to face. I love coffee with friends, and I even love coffee with people I don’t know – a new group of school mums or women at a networking event.
In fact if you’re a woman of about my age, and I’m buying something from you or sitting in your dentist’s chair, we’ve probably already swapped notes on everything from our kids’ ages to what we watched on Netflix last night – even if we only met five minutes ago.
Speaking is good – face to face is my all-time favourite way to communicate – just don’t make me speak by phone. Now, I wonder if I could fix this shower by myself.
I’ve posted snapshots on the cusp, on the verge, and on the couch, but now I’m very firmly on the hunt – I need a house. It’s almost three months now since we sold our house and moved in with my dad, and the whole “the property market picks up in February” morphed into “March – that’s when it really picks up. We’ll be grand.” The kids are asking where we’ll be living for Easter, and I’m answering with, “Oh look at the robin on the windowsill!”
But living back in my teen-hood home has lots of upsides too, and when I temporarily put my head in the sand and pretend we’re here for a holiday, it can actually be quite lovely.
What they’re eating
All the cereals they’re not normally allowed to have, because in a fit of “oh God how can I stop them crying about selling our house” I agreed that for as long as we’re living in my dad’s, they can have the banned cereals for breakfast. I don’t even mean the ones that are up front and relatively honest about being effectively a chocolate breakfast – I mean the ones that are marketed as healthy but are full to the brim with sugar. (An expert I interviewed for an article on food once told me that if your kids are putting their hands into the cereal box to eat it dry, it’s not a good cereal – I’m witnessing the truth of that statement daily.) But whatever gets us through.
What I’m eating
This amazing nut butter. By the spoonful. Straight from the jar. (Please never tell me how many calories are in each of those spoonfuls.)
What I’m wearing
Most of my clothes are in storage – I was ruthless about what I brought here to my dad’s. I have three pairs of jeans that I rotate, and a bunch of sweatshirts. I have one warm parka for school runs, and all my other jackets are in a box. Somewhere. I spent ages finding my parka, and now that I live in it (sometimes indoors too). I’m glad I took the time (read: three trips to Dundrum) to find one that’s warm and goes with everything.
Other than that, I have a really long, really cosy grey-beige cardigan I got in New Look for €20 that I wear all the time, because you can’t really be putting the heat on in someone else’s house every time you’re a bit cold. My sixteen-year-old self could learn a lot from me.
What I’m listening to
I signed up for Audible’s free 30-day trial so I could listen to West Cork, and as my husband predicted, I forgot to unsubscribe. But actually, it’s well worth it I reckon. I’m listening to and really enjoying The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – I listen when I’m making dinner, when I’m going for a run, when I’m walking to the school, and even in the shower and in my head, I’m now friends with Cormoran Strike and Robin.
I also signed up to Borrowbox (a free app that allows you borrow ebooks and audiobooks from the library) – the choice isn’t great when you first go in, but you can reserve items and they filter through then over the weeks – all free of charge.
What I’m reading
I’m reading more than usual in my dad’s because when he’s home in the evening, we don’t tend to put on whatever Netflix show we’re watching. So recent reads include Red Snow by Will Dean, which I recommend if you like Scandi-Noir ( but it’s a sequel, so read Dark Pines first). I also read The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup – the guy who wrote the Danish TV series The Killing. It reads like a TV show, in a good way.
After that I read A Keeper by Graham Norton which is a dark story and a very quick, easy read – loved it. Now I’m reading The Lost Man by Jane Harper. Atmospheric and mysterious, so far, so good.
What they’re reading
We are library-pirates. We have 39 books out at the moment, and I’m getting itchy just thinking about how to find them all again and bring them back. Sorry to anyone looking for Tom Gates books in Cabinteely library, Big Nate in dlr Lexicon or Harry Potter in Deansgrange – they’re all in my house.
What we’re watching
Dirty John – the dramatisation, after mistakenly watching an hour of the documentary (“I don’t get it, where’s Eric Bana?”). Russian Doll, which was great (I somehow thought it was a documentary, it’s definitely not), also Narcos Mexico (the narrator warns at the start that it doesn’t end well – oh how I wish I’d paid attention to that warning). We’ve just started Bodyguard and it’s great so far. And two film recommendations on Netflix: Source Code (if you like mind-bendy stuff) and The Next Three Days.
What they’re playing
Go Fish (with made up rules), Old Maid (possibly the real rules but who knows) and chess with my dad.
What we’re hoping
That the house we think is “the one” will really be the one, and we can stop buying the damn cereals. Though we will definitely miss the games of chess.
We were talking about Mother’s Day recently (I suspect I was reminding my kids how much I like lie-ins, breakfast in bed, and lunch in nice restaurants, or just anywhere that doesn’t involve cooking it myself) and one of the kids asked when Children’s Day is. “Every day is Children’s Day!” I said.
How so, they wondered. And I launched into how lovely their everyday lives are – the warm clothes, the food on the table, the good friends at school, the lovely holidays. (Yes, we turn into our parents.)
“And you get a hug from me every day after school – doesn’t that make every day Children’s Day?” I said.
“Well, when you’re not too distracted by your phone and your laptop,” said one, out of the side of her mouth.
Ordinarily this kind of blog post, this would be the epiphany. The moment I’d say, “And you know, they’re right. I do spend too much time on my phone and my laptop.” Except, they’re not and I don’t.
At the risk of sounding defensive, let me explain. When I first switched from office work to self-employment, the lines were very blurred. There were times when I was supervising homework while chasing experts for articles. Times when I was very distracted by deadlines. Times when I did phone interviews with my back to the bedroom door – trying desperately to hide the sound of the knocking child, as he or she tried desperately to gain entry.
And last year, I decided it was enough. I couldn’t keep writing articles, writing books, and minding my children. One of those things had to go, and (kids, if you’re reading this when you’re pretending to do *project research*, you’ll be glad to hear this) it wasn’t likely to be the offspring. Writing books is new and fabulous and exhausting and exhilarating and what I want to do for the foreseeable future, so I decided to scale back on writing freelance articles. Slowly over the year I cut down, and now I write very few, and none with quick turnarounds. And it feels good. I can write books when the kids are at school, and be there for them in the afternoons.
The trouble is, the memory of the distracted mother with her head in the laptop is strong. It doesn’t matter that she’s been effectively gone for at least a year now, her spectre is ever-present. And humans have a tendency to remember the first thing they believed even if they discover afterwards it is no longer true. Or the thing that stands out most. It reminds me of what my kids say each year in the run-up to Halloween: “I love the way Dad always dresses up at Halloween, it’s so much fun.” This happened precisely once. Most years, their dad, like most working parents, is stuck at work during the getting-dressed-up to go out stage. But the memory sticks – and in this case, my own well-bitten lip notwithstanding, it’s a good memory.
So what to do about the perception that this new, more chilled-out me is still chained to her laptop every afternoon? Other than ploughing on, and throwing in a few pointed comments every now and then (“Kids, pay attention to me paying you attention”) there’s not a whole lot I can do. So I write this post for two reasons. Firstly, to anyone who is working full-time and worrying about not being there for homework, don’t. Apparently kids don’t notice our presence, you are off the hook. Secondly, to my child who is pretending to google Polar Bears/ Vikings/ Mexico for a project, but is actually reading this – now who’s the one with the head in the laptop?
Sidenote: if you’d like to be in with a chance to win one of two signed copies of One Click, click here to comment on Facebook, and I’ll include you in the draw on Mother’s Day