It’s getting colder, and darker, and no one wants to get up in the morning. Not even the dogs. The only time it’s fun to get out of bed in the dark is if you are going on an exciting holiday. There is nothing exciting about a wet Wednesday.
My children moan and grumble all week, refusing to rise, but come Saturday morning, are up with the lark. Isn’t life funny like that?
I’m writing this on a train that is going to be delayed and won’t be stopping at any of the normal stops. Isn’t life funny like that too? This morning, after carefully selecting a clean, ironed shirt, I went downstairs to make my morning cup of tea. When I rinsed the teaspoon, the water from the tap rebounded off it and soaked me. Life is full of these small annoyances. There isn’t much you can do about it. That didn’t stop me from calling the tap some very salty names.
I get cross and annoyed by things I can’t change. Bags of dog poo hanging from trees. People with no children parking in the spaces for people with children. People who litter. That rainy wind that blows in your face. People who tread on the edge of a homeless person’s blanket. Trainers with a hidden wedged heel. People who say, ‘winner winner, chicken dinner’. Leaking teapots, bags with holes in, snapped shoelaces, umbrellas with a bent spoke. Umbrellas in general actually.
I imagine this anger like a small internal wood burner, keeping me warm. We all need a little fire inside us. One of my children has rather a large log burner inside her. It’s more of a steam engine actually.
She lets rip often, and though it’s awful and always ends in tears, I almost envy her. How I’d love to stamp my feet, throw myself on the floor and beat it with my fists. How wonderful it would be to trash the house and not have to clear it up after. To kick over the clean washing, smash eggs on the side, tip the cutlery drawer upside down. An orchestra of chaos, a symphony of sound. I’d love to proudly sit upon a pile of destruction, only to be patted and told ‘poor poppet. You didn’t sleep well last night, did you?’
So, to be really cool and unique parents, we took our children to LEGO LAND. I wasn’t mad for it, but my mates were coming, and everything is always funny when they are there. We woke up late. The car didn’t work. We got stuck in traffic for two hours. I was in charge of the map, so took us the scenic route and we arrived at 12pm, hungry, cold and cross.
We were sent to park in a field in a different county, so it took another 45 minutes to get to the queue. The theme for this week’s column is the letter ‘Q’. It’s all we did, literally. We queued to get in. We queued for the loo. We queued to get my bag checked. Then we found our friends, who were in a queue. They waited for sixty-minutes for a ride that took sixty seconds.
It was the kind of cold that make you want to keep your hands in your pockets and your hood up. The kind of cold my children called ‘hot’, so I walked round clutching coats and hats and scarves like the abominable snowman and was still cold. We queued to get hot chocolate, to find they had sold out. We queued for rides that weren’t open. We queued half an hour for the free lunch included in our ticket and then gave up, sucking on humbugs for sustenance. Bah.
We queued two hours for the Ninjago ride. Lines of irritated parents and kids needing wees, snaking round and round. Every time we turned a corner we thought we were going to be at the beginning of the ride. More queue awaited us. The people in front of us has the right idea. They were in all mountain climbing gear and had bananas in their pockets, which they ate approximately an hour in. Their planning was admirable, but their lack of children was slightly disturbing.
By the time we finally got to the front of the ‘ride of your life’ some of our party were in tears. They’d peaked at the bottom of the third staircase, became frightened and wanted to go back. We got into two carriages and spent two minutes going past giant TV screens. The aim of the game was to ‘kung fu’ chop the baddies with your hands. No one told me you had to use a forward motion. I waved my arms around like a 16-year-old who’d dropped his first pill at a rave. I scored 16 points and got nothing but cramp.
I was supposed to be a 4D experience. The carriage moved slightly but that was it. I could have saved myself hundreds of pounds by staying at home and spinning my kids round on the office chair while they played Nintendo Wii.
The eldest is home from her school trip. Some of her class came off the bus and cried as soon as they saw their mums. Mine dropped her suitcase at my feet and began walking home. She didn’t say anything, just answered all my questions with ‘fine’. I tried to be cool about it, but I felt dismissed and discarded. I made her a pot of tea and opened the biscuit jar. She slumped on the sofa and fell asleep.
Later, when I went to unpack her bag, I discovered she’d written to me every night in her diary. What she’d eaten, what she wore, how she missed me. She’d bought me a pen with the last of her pocket money. I will treasure that diary forever.
The fact she took the time to write it means so much to me. She didn’t have to. She could’ve just chatted to her friends and eaten strawberry laces. She thought of me. Of all the kindnesses I’ve known, the little ones always mean the most.
I tell my husband this when he buys me a birthday present, but never a card. He doesn’t get it. He also doesn’t get why I don’t like being woken up at 2am by him cheering ‘DE-FENCE’ as he cheers along to NBA Basketball on the tv in the bedroom.
I’ve started a writing course in London which I can’t find the way to. The husband came with me for the first session to show me the way. He walked at 100 miles an hour saying, ‘left here, right here, round here, up here, left, keep up, have you remembered all this?’
Obviously, I got lost on the way home and on the way there the next week. I face-timed him to help me and he called me an idiot. I hung up on him and then sat on the pavement (right next to where I was supposed to be but didn’t know it) and cried. I’m rubbish with directions. I can’t work out which way the blue dot on my phone is going when I use the map app. I end up off the page.
If the Chinese girl from my course, (who’s only been in England for two weeks, and has no problem navigating her way round High Holborn) hadn’t noticed me I wouldn’t have found it at all. I would have gotten a taxi back to the station, given up and gone home. Some role model eh?
When you find something easy, it’s hard to understand why others struggle. I find it easy to spot things that are right in front of me. The husband doesn’t. He finds it easy to not notice the dishwasher needs loading and the dogs are barking for dinner. I don’t. I find it easy to always put my keys and phone in the same place, so I can find them again. He doesn’t.
We have a family roast every Sunday. We are never allowed to switch it up or get creative. It’s always the same thing with the same sides. Hours of cooking and piles of grease, but for half-another, the happy sound of chewing and gravy sploshing over Yorkshires puddings as big as baker’s hats.
We don’t eat together as family often. Friday nights is fish and chips or pizza, but we tend to lurk round the table and eat with our hands. Awful, but that’s how it happens. Ice cream is devoured from the tub, spoons wrestling and clanging to get the cookie dough bits. The odd elbow jab.
When we do sit together it’s all ‘sit properly, don’t just make yourself a drink, offer everyone. Oh look, you’ve spiled it’. It’s chaotic and messy and unwanted broccoli is slung under the table. It’s my favourite part of the week. All those years of pureed food and worrying they might choke. Now we sit and scoff and wipe sauce off our chins with the backs of our hands. We’ve no one we need to impress.
Food is what keeps our family together. The children only come to me to ask for something to eat. The daily texts from the husband are (him) ‘What’s for dinner’ (me) ‘I don’t know. What are you making?
We cluster in the kitchen by the fridge or the cupboard that houses the crisps and biscuits. There are always smears of Nutella on the work surface, half-drunk cups of tea, or glasses full of sticky Ribena.
The dishwasher always needs emptying or filling up. I give myself a daily facial by opening it while it’s mid-cycle to get the cheese grater.
Our Sunday roast is still being washed up three days later, because who tidies up after all those carbs? Post-roast we slump on the sofa and argue over what to watch on the TV. We never agree on anything, so spend a happy wasted hour flicking through the ‘view next’ screen on Netflix and then give up.
This is family life. It’s not like the Bisto advert from the 80’s where the mum brings in something new and exotic and says ‘Michael, remember Preston?’ and they all tuck in and enjoy the stir fry. It’s loud and we can never find the oven gloves, so dishes are dropped on the table with a ‘*** that’s hot!’. I don’t wear a pinny. Knives and forks are tossed in a pile, abandoned for spoons.
I went to France with my brother to surprise my parents and left the husband to host a sleepover with eight excited girls. I was hoping for a phone call to tell me I was a hero, a legend, a queen. He said it was a breeze and ‘more fun without me’. I spent Friday trying to get to my parents’ tiny village in the middle of nowhere with my brother, who is so scared of flying he has to get so drunk he almost can’t get on the plane. His ears pop when in flight so he shouts loudly, and it’s normally swear-words and comments about the people in front.
I wanted to sit quietly and read my book. He stopped me by plucking out the leg hairs poking through the holes in my jeans. ‘Urgh, you are disgusting, why don’t you shave?’
I had to explain to everyone he was my brother, not my husband. The fact he looks like a ‘stretched on a rack’ version of me, except annoyingly better looking, should have made it obvious.
We almost missed the flight because of him. I made us miss the stop to my parent’s village because I thought I’d lost my phone. We ended up miles away with no trains and no taxi’s in sight.
My other brother, Dora the explorer was on an interrail trip round Europe and couldn’t understand how we could have messed up our itinerary in such a spectacular fashion. He had all his boarding passes printed and saved in a laminate folder.
We finally arrived at 11pm and hid in the garden to surprise everyone. My dad was so shocked the first thing he asked was ‘when are you going home’. I then spent two days wedged in the back of the car with my brother’s ‘manspreading’ their legs, so my knees knocked together. Dora played Iron Maiden as loudly as he did on car trips when I was a kid, while my other brother threatened to spew from his hangover.
How can three children be so different? Dora loves wine so much he has an app on his phone that tells him all about the bottle he is drinking. ‘Mum, did you know this wine is in the top 2% for the region?’ I was like ‘How interesting, please tell me more, and can I see the photos from your four-hour red bus tour of Paris again?’.
My other brother drank anything that would get him blotto quickly and then jumped in the freezing cold pool. The most annoying thing about him is the fact that even when drunk he is better than everyone at everything. He won at bowling, he won at pool, he even won at shooting targets. He doesn’t even look once he has the ball or shot lined up, he just smirks at you instead.
Dora cooked pork fillets that were so tough you could use them to kill a man. He claimed they were lovely but fell asleep with a mouthful of the leathery stuff, proving how exhausting it was to chew. Mum kept marvelling at how ‘all her children were together’ while I marvelled at how we all managed to function and lead relatively normal lives.