After work, I settle on the sofa with the wine I’ve been promising myself all day. The house is quiet, clean and tidy, the children are in bed, the husband is on his laptop, headphones in. No need to talk. I relax into my book, losing myself in imagined worlds.
I am exhausted. Since coming home from work, I’ve not stopped. I am a multi-tasking queen. In an attempt to be healthy, I cooked something that was not designed to go from freezer to oven to plate. I picked the peas out for one child and made sure that no food items touched for another. Both boys looked at their plates and then at me like they had caught me trying to poison them. After much cajoling and bribery, some food passed their lips. It was not worth the effort.
I’ve put on two loads of washing and attempted to couple the odd socks from the dryer. I swear socks go into the machine happily married and come out bitterly divorced. I’ve battled through my nine-year old’s homework, finally deciphering what a ‘fronted adverbial’ is, thanks to Google. I’ve persuaded the youngest child to write down three sentences, including one which I am confident contains a ‘fronted adverbial’. It was the example sentence on Google. I don’t stop to wonder why my nine-year old needs to know what a ‘fronted adverbial’ is when I have survived forty-five years not knowing. His tears about this homework are the reason I deserve this wine. It’s all I can do not to put a straw in the bottle.
I’ve woken up on the sofa in the dark three times in the past fortnight, so I decide to crawl into bed. After a while, I’m unable to recall what I’m reading. I am just about to succumb to sleep when, in the periphery of my eyeline, I catch sight of my eldest child lurking at my door. My heart sinks.
‘Can’t you sleep, darling?’
‘Mummy, don’t be cross.’
Nothing good ever follows that line.
‘Have you remembered that my science project is due?’
I channel inner calm. I am Gwyneth Paltrow. ‘Which science project and when is it due darling?’
‘The one you said you’d help me with and … tomorrow.’
A glance at the clock: Nine-thirty.
I am an organised mum. I’ve joined the Facebook groups, read Twitter threads and followed the Instagram pages. I’ve scrolled through perfection and wondered at the ideals summed up in a filtered photograph with a motivational message.
I spend happy Saturday afternoons with my kids. We create masterpieces with craft materials without making a mess. My child takes pride as he carries his winning project into school accompanied by audible gasps from the other mums, the ones who have spent hours on Pinterest only to have their moment eclipsed by my winning, original take on the project.
‘It’s all his own work. I never need to help him,’ I say.
There is nothing more chilling than hearing the words ‘Mum, I forgot to do my homework’ when you think that you have reached the end of your to-do list for the day. Or that nonchalant, ‘Oh, I need an Egyptian god costume by Friday’ or ‘I’ve got class assembly tomorrow and I’ve got a main part. You are coming, aren’t you?’ Always said in a tone that implies you have never, ever attended anything and scarred your child for life with your obvious lack of care. Even though the last assembly you attended required you to work late for two weeks and the hall was so packed you had to stand at the back behind a dad with a rather strong odour that required you to breathe through your mouth so you didn’t throw up.
My favourite nightmare, however, is: ‘Mrs Teacher said I need a costume for World Book Day and it has to be from (‘insert obscure book name here)’.
World Book Day is once a year, but I’m sure they are getting more frequent than they used to be. Don’t get me started on whether or not it encourages reading. My eldest has refused to take part since birth, preferring to wear his own clothes and invent a character from a made-up book. His teacher has yet to catch on to his ruse, which adds to my exasperation. Don’t teachers read? Never mind, a small part of me is proud that I have a child creative enough to fool his teacher.
The youngest enjoys taking part – until the costumes are judged. Usually, I thank the god that is Amazon Prime for last minute costumes. That is until I see the school newsletter which has the winning homemade costumes on the front page. Whizzed up by someone with an imagination. The perpetual guilt of being a working mum! At this point, I feel my child’s pain and resolve to try harder.
I am the mum who, when the pings of reminders come through on the infamous school WhatsApp group, smiles a smug smile because, of course, we have done the homework and want to make sure that all the other mums remember too.
I read Smug Mum’s reminder on my phone, but at that moment I had more urgent demands on my attention: ‘Where are my Pokémon cards? Can I go online? Any chance you could make me a cup of tea?’ Plus, the message was buried in the weekly onslaught of texts, all along the lines of: ‘Have you seen my son/daughter’s (insert any item of uniform)? They lost it after PE. It’s brand new and named.’ With every mum gleefully answering, ‘Sorry not here’. I may have responded to one of the lost kit messages, but only because I spent hours sewing on name tags last summer and my fingers are still scarred from needle-puncture wounds. Which is, of course, nothing to do with the year my son came home with bobbly supermarket trousers after I had spent my last pennies on a Marks and Spencer uniform. I didn’t get any joy or sympathy from the WhatsApp group then.
Two little bookworms who read for pleasure and amaze my friends with their diverse book choices. I did once manage to get them to abandon their screens by turning the internet off and pretending it was broken. After an hour of bickering during which I almost resorted to ‘fixing it’, all went quiet and I discovered the boys playing LEGO together. I have attempted to recreate this joyous day many times since, but the eldest child is now a tween. Have you ever had a tween mansplain how to turn on a server?
I want to post that family-walk-selfie that my Facebook feed is always full of on a Sunday night. The four of us grinning at the camera with bright eyes and flushed cheeks. How I would love to go on family walks on a Sunday morning, followed by a delicious roast in a country pub where my children eat everything on their plates, including vegetables.
Of course after that long walk and big lunch we would spend a cosy Sunday afternoon snuggling up to watch a film together. No arguments about film choice. I would not end up having long blinks and missing the film while my children sneak back onto their tablets to watch YouTube.
Weekends are for family.
White faced child still stands by my bed.
‘Don’t worry darling. I’ll sort it. Go to bed,’ I coo in my best Mary Poppins voice.
‘But that would be cheating!’ he protests.
‘Just leave it,’ shouts husband from the lounge. (He can hear then).
Child looks horrified.
‘We won’t, will we Mummy? I HAVE to do it. I’d be in so much trouble and I told Jack mine would be better than his.’
Many emotions flitter through me. He called me ‘Mummy’. He needs me. I let out a long breath. Summoning up every last vestige of energy, I pick up my weapon of choice, iPhone, and click on Pinterest. Something good, but quick and not too difficult. I take a large gulp of my mummy medicine (wine).
‘Let’s do this.’ I say, gung-ho.
My eldest child eyerolls. Then, on seeing my face, frantically hugs me.
The finished project perfectly resembles the photo I’d aimed to recreate. Like my cooking, the end result always looks better than the recipe book illustration. My child and I work in happy silence as we pass the exact items we need at the apt time. My husband joins us and suggests a fantastic, but easy alteration to make the project even better. We epitomise ‘many hands make light work’.
After many questions at every stage being another version of, ‘Are you sure that’s what you are meant to do?’, I send my child to bed. This time there is no backwards glance. At ten, husband enters the room and asks if I am coming to bed. I laugh maniacally. He surveys my project and suggests an alteration. I give him a full death stare and he backs away. After imagining several nasty accidents that can happen to husbands in the home, I concede his idea is a good one, but there is no way that this can be admitted out loud. I’m alone at midnight trying not to think about how many hours it is before I have to get up again. I sink into bed at a quarter to three.
Eldest child manages to be up, dressed and washed in plenty of time without me having to physically un-velcro him out of bed and herd him into the shower. He uses deodorant voluntarily and doesn’t ‘forget’ to brush his teeth. He surveys the project on the kitchen table and gasps in wonder at my masterpiece, promptly declaring me the best mummy in the world. Youngest child is speechless with excitement and asks if he can make something with me after school.
I drag eldest child out of bed and chuck him toast. He looks at the project (version three) placed precariously on the small space I managed to clear off the kitchen table last night. There is a long pause.
‘You tried your best, Mum.’
Husband guffaws then transforms it into a sudden coughing fit.
‘I did,’ I reply.
‘I’m proud of you for trying.’ He squeezes me into a bearhug. ‘Thank you! You’re the best!’
I hear these few simple words come out of my offspring, knowing that he loves me unconditionally.
‘And next time, I won’t leave it to the last minute.’
Dreams are dreams, but in that moment I realise my reality is perfection.
Kayte Genders is a wife, mother and teacher by day and a writer in all the times between. After taking a Curtis Brown Creative writing course, she is currently editing the first draft of her novel.
Find her on Twitter @KayteWriteDream