Friday, 22 February 2013

Have a break. Have a breakdown.

What the hell just happened?

Oh I know, it was Half Term.

Somehow I quite often seem to blog about holidays when they are about to be over, when I am at an ebb so low you can see the the mid-Atlantic ridge of my soul.

What is it about these energy-sapping, will-defying, hope-unplugging weeks?

On paper I was good to go. My military precision planning had ensured:

  • food supplies in the house
  • a diary neatly stocked with things to do
  • a weekend at my mother's (always a good way to use up several days, while knowing that there will be a soothing caress and a gin at the end of each one — did my mother bargain on having to mother me until her mid-seventies?)
  • playdates
  • library
  • cinema
  • cultural exploration
  • shopping
  • a sleepover
  • special time with each child
  • menus planned for the week
  • a night out pour la mère
  • packed lunch goodies
  • and I was even able to do a bit of teaching and dance. 

What a domestic goddess, I hear you cry, cheering me on in my maternal triumph.

Hmmm. The actual lived experience of the last seven days has been somewhat different from its planned version. Let me count the ways.

1. Husband working from home

Now, my lovely husband appears in these chronicles from time to time, and I observe that it is usually when I am cross with him. What's he done this time, poor man? Nothing much. He worked from home this week. He actually made the majority of the dinners. He quite often made me a cup of coffee in the mornings. He cleaned the bathroom last weekend when I was at my mother's, drinking gin and moaning. What more could I ask for?

It's hard to put my finger on it, when put on the spot in this way by my own conscience. My feeling, however (supported by diary evidence), is that I did everything else. I planned the wondrous exploits the children and I embarked on; I made all those packed lunches; I kept the heroic washing cycle turning (why is wash day now every day, instead of Monday, as it was before the invention of the washing machine?); I cheered on, told off, picked up, dusted down, listened to, organized, played with (to a certain extent, let's not exaggerate), shouted at, read to, smiled at and photographed the children.

Perhaps it's what I did not do that makes me even crosser. I did not do my own work. I did not read. I did not phone a friend. I did not ask husband to share the childcare load.

Now, whose fault is that?

2. Exhaustion

I feel so old whenever the kids are on holiday. During term time, I feel pretty fit these days. But when those surging beasts are running around me, screeching, from 8am until 9.30pm, demanding, showing, begging, accusing, hitting, jumping, oblivious, eating, refusing… I realize that being an Older Mother is a truth rather than an insult. Gosh, we really do get older.

3. The Gift Shop

We loved HMS Belfast. It was thrilling, but sobering, to stand in Y Turret, with the smell of cordite and smoke filling our lungs. The tour of the ship is moving and thought-provoking. It's spooky to be on a ship that has participated in wartime battles.

But the tour ended, predictably enough, in a gift shop. Selling a bunch of tut with pretty much nothing to do with the ship. My son fastened onto a £6 plastic aeroplane. When I said that I wasn't going to buy anything, and made him go outside, he threw the world's biggest tantrum, running away, screaming, hitting me, sobbing uncontrollably, excoriating my meanness. I held fast. The day, for me, was wrecked. For him, a yoghurt and some TV cured all ill.

Don't guilt me into paying over the odds to go and see stuff, and then pressurize me into paying even more money for rubbish.

 4. My worsening mental state

Now, I know that holidays are tough. I know that I need breaks. I thought I had sorted all that stuff, and made sure I wasn't doing too much (after all, the happiness of my dear children depends on my own happiness). 

Yet despite all my forethought, I have still come to the end of the week thinking that my own children are spoilt, demanding brats. Yes, I know this sounds terribly harsh. Yes, I realize that their brains are simply physically not mature enough for them to hold commands in their heads without endless repetition. Yes, I know that kindness and patience get better results than shouting. Yes, I can see I'm "just tired". 

When, however, you watch your flesh and blood pushing, hitting, turning their noses up, moaning at having to tidy up their rooms, refusing to do even a few minutes of writing homework, never offering to lay the table, etc etc, you are, as a mother (or at least I am), assailed with a double whammy: (a) why are they so selfish? (b) it must be my fault. 

N.B. Ask me in three days time when they are back at school, and I will tell you that my children are beautiful, considerate, largely well-mannered, hardworking and well-organized. 

Just get me to the finish line. 


Charlotte C-S said...

How I chuckled over this piece - spot on, Ingrid. I am 'bad cop' all day long, until lovely husband returns, noisily opening the door, clumping up the stairs at 9pm towards almost-asleep children, shouting 'Are they still awake?'. I sympathise with him, and his need to see them, but how to convey the manic-ness of the previous three hours, which involved baking with one child, internet research with another, and answering endless questions from the smallest. All while cooking a meal and texting other mums about arrangements with the one clean hand. And then my hard-won peace finally comes, and lovely husband arrives just as I slump on the sofa. I don't bother conveying any of this, of course. It's between me and the kids.

Kirkegaard said...

Except it doesn't sound as though you play bad cop at all, Charlotte, it sounds as if you're totally there with your children; you make it sound funny, and it's also a gorgeous picture. Xx

Kirkegaard said...
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