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.

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