I’ve been a parent for over 18 years so I can barely remember life pre-kids (pk).
I say I barely remember, but that doesn’t stop me reminiscing about that pk life with tremendous passion – about all that free time, all that wine, all those times you got to start a day without having to plan that night’s dinner. They really were the glory days, when I was young and fit and worked 100 hours a week, to get ahead. I even remember my ex-husband and I having a pact that we would use all the dishes up through the week and finally wash up on weekends. I remember endless takeaways because I was too late home to cook, and a fabulous cleaning woman who came around and vacuumed and tidied the towels in the linen cupboard. On reflection, perhaps I should have just married her?
But time marches on, and before long with the kids around – all three – no time was my own. I forgot that some people hold dinner parties during the week, and others religiously visit the gym every single night. In my new world, of couples and kids, the week was sacrosanct. Week nights were for collapsing into the arms of your hassled husband as he came through the door from work, in an unseemly display of gratitude.. for just being there long enough to hold the baby or bath the toddler or scrap spaghetti off the kitchen ceiling. I lost track of the warp and weft of other people’s DINKy lives.
Kids grow, as you know, and before long they are no longer dependent on you every minute of the day. They grow legs and they use them. Their minds develop and they use them too, and oh, oh, oh, how they learn to express themselves and their opinions. About home, about life, about the girls at school and the crushing weight of homework and how you are possibly the most unfair parents in the universe because 10pm is not a reasonable time for a 16 year old to go to bed.
Despite these changes there still lies underneath it all a strong rythym of family life. A drum of constancy that reassures as much as it restricts. A rythym made up of family ways and thoughts and understandings. It didn’t go away when I left the kids’ father, it was still there when it was just me and them. And it still remains now, despite the new family arrangements – the addition of a stepfather and a new world in the UK.
I’m grateful for it. I think our family’s rythym is what has got us through the challenge of things crashing down around us, and changing beyond recognition. I think it’s got us through moving and new schools, and new friends and new relationships as well as all the complications of hormones (mine as well as theirs!) and step-parenting. I often think of this rythym as my ‘mothering moments’. They’re not at all grand. I’m pretty useless when it comes to enforcing homework is done every single day between 4-6pm at the kitchen table, or nagging about tidying rooms. I even forget (God forbid!) when their exams are or when Miss Fliss has cooking at school and I need to buy up a supply of obscure ingredients – like candlenuts and ketjap manis.
But the point is, I am there. I am up early, despite hating mornings, because I know that they need me to be up. I sit at my control station (the couch) with a cup of java and elicit instructions. I’m no bloody good to anyone in the mornings, but at least I’m there. In the afternoons, I’m hunched over my laptop at my miniscule desk in the corner of my bedroom, when the kids get home from school and college. I don’t greet them with homemade biscuits. I wave in the direction of ravaged cupboards, and nod as I’m regaled with stories of ‘she said, and he did and they said’ from the playground or the cafe. I’m not one to get involved with demanding they do their homework – I’ve done mine – instead I growl ‘turn the TV off and get on with it’. But at least I’m there. And they know where I am.
Then I get on and make dinner and maybe fling clothes into the washing machine and try to welcome the husband home and we all sit around squeezed together on the old shabby leather couch and talk in front of TV. I know we should be sitting at a dinner table with polished cutlery and napkins, and the TV should be off, but at least we are all there – together. After dinner there’ll be a bit of TV watching, showering, arguing about bedtimes, or about whose turn it is to do the dishes, maybe some work for both them and us and eventually everyone will get to bed more-or-less on time, for it all to begin again the following day.
It doesn’t sound glam and if you’re not married with kids as I am, I’m sure you’re sitting there thinking ‘what a drab life lacking in colour and fun and spirit’. You probably don’t get why I’m not enthusiastically jumping on every opportunity you’ve given me to go down to the pub and have a pint, or go bike riding or conga dancing or flame throwing on a school night. You probably don’t get why I’m protective of the time with my family and husband on the weekend and why I’m such a party pooper about playing.You probably mock my insistence that invitations are given out in advance so that I can make arrangements – for child care, or household work or late night work, or just time to chill and connect with those dearest to me.
Let me tell you why I can’t spontaneously play on a school night.
It’s the rythym. I am a mother and I need to keep that rythym constant. I may not need to change nappies or bath babies anymore, I may not even need to drive around town dropping kids to football and dance practises anymore, but I still need to make the dinner, be around to hear their concerns, ensure they get into bed – safe, sound and on time – or the whole household will start to fall apart and us with it. It’s true that my husband can help by being my 2IC if I want to go to book club or choir or the gym. It’s true too that he can help get up and get them up and at em in the morning with me also and he can help to negotiate the weekend round of drop offs and pick ups to part time jobs, parties and activities. But we need to organise it together, and ensure there’s time to connect and keep our marriage strong too. And if that seems that we are closed off to the rest of the world, or somehow not generous with my time (or even friendship) then I guess that’s how it has to be.
As for me, I’m going to keep the rythym going, after all it’s got us this far, despite everything.
Are there things you would never do on a school night? How do you juggle your family responsibilities with the calls to ‘come out and play?’ And do you agree with me that being a good mum is all about how you beat your drum, and keep the rythym?