All by myself

2014-10-15 00:00

IF I’ve been unusually grumpy of late, it’s because for the past few months I have been mother and father as my husband continent trots for weeks at a time. I’m not very good at being a single parent, and it’s honestly not much fun. If I thought I was chief cook, dishwasher and general dog’s body before, that was luxury compared to having no one to share the general drudge of child rearing with.

When I’m on my own, my day begins at 5 am. I get up and make sure that I’m dressed and ready for work before the children are awake. Once they are up, it barely takes five minutes before the name-calling starts and the house is ringing with yells of “Muuum, she’s hogging the bathroom”; “Muuum, he’s used all the milk”; “Muuum, it’s her turn to feed the dogs — why must I do it again?”

Usually, depending on how much sleep I’ve had, my first interaction with them is a warning that if they even so much as look at each other, I will inflict severe bodily harm, perhaps even death.

The remaining time passes in a whirl of breakfast, lunchboxes and constant chivvying of my daughter, who’s taken the art of dawdling to new heights. Finally, we head off to school, and I arrive at work a full hour before I need to.

So, you might be thinking, what’s the problem? That’s what goes on in many households. Well, when my husband is home, I get up half an hour later, we prepare lunchboxes together, then I escape the mayhem as quickly as I can and go for a lovely early-morning run. When I get back, they’ve left for school and I have the house to myself for about 45 minutes, during which time I leisurely get ready for work. Now you see the problem.

The evenings are not much better. After a full day of work, I rush out of the office to fetch the children from different schools. Often I will arrive at my daughter’s school to find that she’s the last child in the playground. While I feel terrible, because to me she always looks very forlorn and abandoned, to her credit she never complains. My son, on the other hand, greets me with: “What’s for supper?”, which usually illicits a comment from me such as: “Well, I don’t know. What are you cooking?” This causes rolled eyes and a you’re-so-lame look from the teenager, followed by a lecture from me on being cheeky and “show some damned respect”, which results in arms thrown in the air and an incredulous “What did I do?”, and on it goes all the way home. I never learn just to smile and wave.

But my day hasn’t ended — I still have to cook supper, accompanied at 10-minute intervals by “When’s supper going to be ready?” until I want to bash one of them over the head with my wine bottle.

Hours later, it seems, supper is eaten, bodies are bathed and children are asleep. Finally, I have my much-longed-for peace and quiet — except, after about the third night, it gets lonely and boring, and I end up falling asleep by myslelf on the couch in front of some forgettable TV programme. I drag myself to bed and then don’t sleep because I’m imagining all sorts of noises and shadows outside, and planning escape routes should we have an invasion.

Yes, I know, what’s the problem? Well, usually, on the days that they finish early, the children are fetched by their father, and so are able to enjoy a few hours of R&R before the night-time routine starts — hence, no mother’s guilt.

On the days that I fetch them, my husband has already started supper by the time we get home, and we either go to gym or sit outside watching the sky darken as we discuss our day or make plans for the weekend. I may still fall asleep on the couch, but at least I’m not on my own and I sleep better knowing that if the baddies come, we can fight them off together.

So to all the single parents out there, who don’t get a break and no one to say “Don’t speak to your mother like that”, I understand a tiny bit of what you go through. You have my respect and admiration, and if you give me a ring I can give you the phone number of a fabulous little business that provides delicious meals which you just pop into the oven. Supper? Check!

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