Divide and conquer

18 Feb

This half term sets a new record for me. I have not had a near nervous breakdown; I have not looked up “good divorce lawyers in south London” on Google; I have not phoned up my mother overseas and asked her if it’s OK if I send all of my children over to live with her.

Last week my heart sank when my husband said he was taking a few days off for the break to ‘help me out’. This usually involves him sitting on his laptop in the corner of the kitchen, furiously sending work-related emails and tweets. Every little ‘ding’ from his iPad prompts a scurry to the screen, for fear that the whole of Wapping will collapse if he is not available. Meanwhile the kids are throwing large pieces of crockery at each other and the baby’s picked up a new one sylabble swearword from me and is trying it out on the cleaner (who incidentally smiles politely at the whole scene).

Like I said though, this half term has been different. I think for once I did not look back with the false memory of somebody else’s good experiences of school holidays. Instead I remembered the many times in the past when holidays have not gone to plan – perhaps my wilful forgetfulness is due to the fact that they have been so embarrassing or painful that they are best buried deep underground.

I could reel off countless ‘bad’ times: when I cried in front of my inlaws at the dinner table on a summer holiday because they asked if I was OK. They were being genuinely kind and concerned and were very sweet about my pre-starter collapse, but facing them at breakfast the next morning was awful. Then there was the holiday where my husband flew home from France a week early because he felt the family dynamic wasn’t right. I wouldn’t have minded so much had he told the couple who were housesitting for us back at home that he was returning. He opened the bathroom door to find them showering together. I was more furious about this (imagining their embarrassment) than his hasty exit.  Or perhaps last Christmas makes me nervous of family time altogether. I had to call a good friend to ask if I was going mad. “Should I feel so fucking miserable at Christmas?” Her sane answer was “Well yes. It’s just that. Fucking Christmas, and while some may be good, others will be disastrous.” Sane words indeed, and my misery ended on Boxing Day when my husband went back to work and business resumed as normal.

Last Sunday, instead of conjuring up instagram images of us prancing along Brighton pier in our warm coats, licking icecreams in the winter sun, I remembered. I remembered that we have never been a picture postcard family. The atmosphere, when we’re all in the room together, is rarely great and is sometimes toxic. It’s about time I learnt to deal with this fact and live with it. So my husband suggested that I went to Brighton with one of the children instead, and he would stay at home with the other two. A few hours later, book in hand and daughter hooked up to her iPod, we were on the train on the way to Brighton, just the two of us. My husband had made a very sensible suggestion and we were all happy.

My daughter and I have a tempestuous relationship, but in our 24 hours together we managed dinner at a restaurant, a windy morning walk along the seafront where she recognised some of the landmarks from a Rizzle Kicks video, and finished off with some window-shopping where we both agreed that mustard-coloured jeans should be renamed baby shit denim. When back in London, I made a mental note about the success of our trip and wondered if the whole week could unfold in the same manner. My husband’s presence at home meant that we could share the children between us and do totally different things. Such a simple solution, and yet I treated it as a divine revelation when I realised the possible benefits.

Of course, at times one of us got the bum deal but that was fine. That allowed an evening’s free pass for the one who picked the short straw, such as the time I went to softplay with the boys. When my husband asked how it had gone I answered “Oh, it was fine until Elwood picked up a poo in the ball pool and tried to eat it.” He looked horrified. This never happened but it earned me a childless walk around the block at teatime.

Before it sounds like my husband and I can’t be in the same room together – and prompts suspicion that we may, in fact, be one and the same person – we managed a trip out together yesterday. The bigger boy was farmed out to a friend and we went to the Kusama exhibition with the eldest and the baby. My daughter lived for an afternoon in a fantasy world “I almost feel like an only child!” and as parents we were able to deal with one child each: three is sometimes one too many.

Evenings have been amazingly enjoyable too. The incredible thing about having two adults in the house at teatime are the possibilities. On normal nights as the only old person in the house, I’m eyeing up the fridge door at 5.58pm and counting down the final moments before ‘acceptable’ drinking time. With my husband taking over all teatime duties, I became an idle mistress of the home: this would be fabulous if I had a pool to dive into or a tennis court on which to practice my serve. But in my world this means swanning around my sitting room rubbing out the smudgy fingerprints on the paintwork, drinking nothing more potent than a cup of tea. Time alone at family rush-hour is an absolute rarity though. I even kid myself that with another adult’s help, I could be teetotal.

(I have already rehearsed my AA share in years to come: “My children drove me to drink. It was the six o’clock thing. The sight of another piece of fish finger trodden into the floor and the sound of my kids demanding pudding, on top of the fact that they needed bathing and a bedtime story EVERY night most definitely drove me to the bottle.” I wonder how much sympathy I’d get for that? Probably not so much as a free custard cream.)

I won’t end on too smug a note. I’ll still approach all school holidays with due caution. But we’ve managed a week of relative harmony, and it seems that from now on, rather than stand together united, my husband and I will be dividing the children and the chores.


4 Responses to “Divide and conquer”

  1. Rosie Lovell February 18, 2012 at 8:26 am #

    But wasn’t KUSAMA good?! i spent most of the exhibition cursing children though in a very un pc way!

    • mothersruined February 18, 2012 at 10:28 am #

      So good. I want the infinity mirror room to be my bedroom. Regarding annoying children, there were a few, but more annoying were some of the parents who were using the whole exhibition as a baby sensory experience.

  2. Mallika February 18, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    Hilarious and hugely insightful. I survived half term, by sodding off to work and leaving the nanny to man playdates with local kids… pure bliss! In my (brief) experience I have learnt that public places (before 8pm) are best avoided during half term and it’s wise to keep the kitchen stocked with quality wine at all times!

    • mothersruined February 19, 2012 at 9:32 pm #

      Thank you Mallika. Just had a quick look at your blog and it’s great… really keen to show my daughter because she loves cooking and your recipes look fab. Agree totally about quality wine – a lifesaver.

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