Friday, 24 September 2010

If I had a job I'd have been sacked by now.

It’s the middle of the night and we can hear vomiting noises coming from one of the boys’ bedrooms. Lovely. It’s still only September and they’ve started being ill again. If I had a job I’d have been sacked by now for taking too many days off. I mean a real job, not this larking around on a keyboard with mothering and domestic duties thrown in.

We have to get up to tend to Eldest. I say we, but I only go the first time, I don’t hear the other two occasions - honest - so husband deals with it. It's all a bit nasty when I realise the sick hasn't been washed out of the cream carpet three days later.

Eldest has two days off to recover. Of course there’s no way husband can help with that because he earns the money. And then Youngest fell ill. Ditto. When I went to get him in the morning he looked exceptionally tired, (he always looks tired) had a rasping cough and what sounded like a wheeze, so it was a tricky call: to school, or not to school. Always hard and I’ve got it wrong, both ways, often. Either they’re bouncing off the walls by lunchtime or I get rang up by some horrified teacher. Or, the child comes home ashen because nobody noticed and then has to have double time off to recover.

What would a working mum do? Take him to school probably, because she has to. I often wonder if our three really are ill more than everybody else’s children, as they seem to be, or whether it’s because I’m at home and indulge every ailment. Obviously, I don’t actually want my children at home with me messing up my plans; it’s just so hard to tell, with Youngest in particular. He screams in agony if there’s a stone in his shoe.

On this occasion I decide to take him back to school at lunchtime after the Doctor said it was just a cough. It was either that or he was coming with me for my haircut. Thankfully, he chose school.

It’s a funny thing having a child off ill when you don’t have a job to go to. On the one hand, it doesn’t really matter, as I say, no one’s going to sack me and I’m at home anyway. So far there’ve only been a couple of days when I’ve really had to work and at a push I can get on with writing with a child around, even with more than one child. On one occasion I put a mattress next to me on the office floor, for Youngest, and typed as he intermittently vomited into a bucket. On another, I wrote 500 words for a column in The Times, for a five o’clock same-day deadline, with one child in bed and the other two back from school with a friend apiece: five boys. I was proud of that.

But even without a deadline I do have my own life, of sorts, and having a child suddenly at home seriously hampers it. Day one is usually okay because, as long as it’s the right child, it means I don’t have to get up to go to school. I might slob about in my dressing gown all morning, make a large cafetiere of hot coffee and slope back to bed with a mug of it to read the papers leaving said child slumped in front of the telly. It also heralds a welcome chance to get on top of the washing, tick a few phone calls off the list and tackle something from the admin-pile. So, one day with a child off school can be a welcome reprieve, two days is another matter.

By then I want to go out in the fresh air again and do some exercise and I want to meet my mum friends for coffee (that might be the wrong way around). I may also want to nip out to get my hair/nails/face done, or jump in the car and run an errand. I do not want to make endless rounds of toast, or crackers and cheese, or pasta/pizza lunches (the menu depends upon how ill they are). Nor do I want to fetch dozens of cups of juice/water/flat coke, administer spoonfuls of Calpol, nor - and this is something I especially do not want to do - play schools upstairs with Youngest in his bedroom.

This is one of the many paradoxes when you are a stay-at-home mum: on the one hand it’s handy to be around for them when they’re ill, and on the other hand, it isn’t.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Mount Washmore

I’m drowning in washing: Mount Washmore a friend of mine calls it. Foolishly, I thought the end of the holidays, with all the to-ing and fro-ing (Yorkshire, Spain, and camping in Dorset), would mean an end to piles of washing, but of course it doesn’t, it merely signals an end to shorts and t-shirt washing and the beginning of school uniform washing.

As I hang some of it out on the line I think about taking a series of photographs: here’s some of it blowing in the wind, here’s some in the washing machine, here’s some more in the dryer and here are two piles on the floor waiting to be put away, and, wait a minute, yet another pile waiting to be ironed. I’ll call it, ‘five ages of washing,’ my very own Klimt. No wonder I never get on with my book.

I heard a marvellous story about Mel Gibson’s mother, of all people, who had a brood of eleven. As her husband worked in his study one afternoon, she slowly and calmly took every item of soiled clothing out into the garden, in front of his window, made an enormous pile on the lawn, poured petrol on it, lit it with a match and stood back to admire the pyre as her horrified family looked on. Hats off to the woman.

Of course now I have even more uniform to wash than before because Middle One has joined his big brother at secondary school. There are five white shirts and three pairs of black trousers drying on the line, and that’s not all of it.

It was sad to see all that sun-kissed summer skin disappearing beneath itchy white shirts and unforgiving collars. I looked on, on the first morning, as both Eldest and Middle One trussed themselves up and weighed themselves down in regulation ties and blazers topped off with ridiculously oversized rucksacks. It was the first time Middle One had ever worn a tie and he struggled a bit. “Try putting your collar up and folding it down afterwards.” I suggested, as I watched the tie going on over the collar with the seam showing. But he wasn’t going to listen to me. What do I, his mere mother, know about ties! And he’s got a point.

So I just watched, and thought about how lovely it had been to see the three of them revive during the holidays after all that end-of-term madness; hair began to shimmer with streaks of blonde, bodies slowly basted in the warmth, cheeks plumped a bit from all the holiday ice cream and chips (not just ice cream and chips, you understand). And how depressing to come home and have to start dashing around replacing out-grown items of uniform and school shoes they could no longer stuff their feet into.

On the plus side, there had been a very pleasant trip to Westfield with Eldest and Youngest a few days before the new term began. Middle One was out of the way, invited, for the whole day, on an educational trip with his ex-tutor (perhaps there really is a God) and his uniform has been sorted so I thought shopping with two might be manageable, and so it proved. In fact, it was a joy because Eldest has a very similar shopping style to my own, that is: see it, like it, buy it.

Something of a contrast to girls the same age, many of whom we saw at Westfield dragging exasperated mothers from shop to shop. Outside Office there was a stand off: daughter, looking up at the glass ceiling (no pun intended), hands on hips, her poor mother, both her hands jammed into her own hair, exclaiming, “For God’s sake, Sophie/Ella/Maddy!” (I can’t remember which.) “Does it really matter, you just need some practical school shoes, like the ones we bought last year!”

For once I felt just a little bit smug to have boys. Youngest was looking cute and obedient holding my hand as he chatted to himself (in character as a tortoise) as Eldest remarked, reasonably, that he wasn’t bothered what he got for school. We bought a pair of school shoes and some trainers in under an hour. I was so grateful that I treated them and we had a lovely time grabbing yummy things to eat off the conveyor belt at Yo! Suchi.

Youngest doesn’t have to wear a uniform at his primary school, so it was ironic that on Monday morning, his first day back, he spent ages looking for something in his wardrobe that would resemble his brothers’ “suits” as he calls them. He found a monogrammed white P.E. top and a blue jacket and insisted on wearing the same ensemble all week - which considerably cut down on my washing.