My longtime buddy Jill has three kids aged from 4 to 9. As a stay-at-home Mum she considers that she's on duty as soon as any of them wake up (from 6am onwards) and can only clock off when the last one's comfortably in bed and not planning to go anywhere.
Ideally, this clocking off time for parenting is around 8pm. With three kids however, it is more likely that 8pm is a rough guideline and that 10pm is the reality. Poor Jill faces a nightly game of Russian roulette in that at least one of her children will pop out of bed again with one of the following excuses:
- Mum I'm just going to the toilet
- Can I have a drink of water please?
- I'm still hungry
- I can't find my _________(favourite soft toy here)
- Mum, _____'s (insert name of sibling here) annoying me
- There's a mossie in my bedroom and it's bitten me ten times.
Over her cup of coffee yesterday, she told me, "After eight o'clock, I hate them." I didn't feel shock or concern over that statement, just understanding. I know that by 8pm Jill has already worked a 14 hour day that - especially in the school holidays - has involved her feeding, dressing/grooming, transporting, educating, entertaining, disciplining and reading to her kids. In addition she's had three 'helpers' crowd her at the kitchen bench whilst she's mixing up the mince pies and shortbread stars that she'll be giving out as gifts; she's cajoled them into eating the healthy lunch she's made; filled up the wading pool so they can cool down and set out the paints, brushes, papers and smocks for them to create a few masterpieces.
During all of this she has also found the time and energy to hang out four loads of washing, stack the dishwasher, wrap up the shortbreads and mince pies in decorative cellophane, make the pudding for Christmas day, pick up Coco's dog turds, sweep the floor, pack up any stray toys and organise the rubbish bins for recycling. "I live for eight o'clock, I pray for eight o'clock. Eight o'clock is my time, mine." Who can blame her?
"By that magic time of 8pm, I realise that I haven't even had time to sit down." When she does get to sit down, it's with a glass of wine and a magazine and the TV off. No noise, no demands, no squabbles to split up. Her husband is likely to be in their room, studying for his masters and she hopes that the kids are in their rooms too, for the entire night. "If I see one of their faces peer around the hallway door, I feel such hatred for the little s***s that I have to go outside to calm down."
The funny thing is, our kids don't even know how tired and annoyed we are, do they? I've been home with Sapphire for just one week of the holidays so far and nearly wrung her neck when she started whining, "But M-u-u-u-u-m, I want you to make stuff out of the salt dough with me." Bugger it, I'd waded through the kiddie craft books with her, found the recipe, made the stupid salt dough and now wanted to sit down and have a few minutes' break from the happy - but incessant - chatter.
"Oh fer gods' sake, I'll make ONE but one only, understand?" and I ungraciously galumphed back into the kitchen with a deliberately put-out look on my face. Who was the six year old now?
Ten minutes later, she announced that she was bored with the salt dough and wanted to do something else. "Well, before that, how about you help me to clean up this me--" but she was off outside and up bouncing on the trampoline before my request had been completed. After I wiped down the counter, floor, cupboard doors and washed up the mixing bowls, spatulas, play dough equipment and grease proof paper she tugged at the bag of my leg.
"Mum, what are we going to do now?"
"WE? Well I have just finished cleaning up without YOU helping me. I am now going to iron three weeks worth of ironing. What are YOU going to do?" Sulk, it looked like. At least she tried to - Sapphire can only sulk for about twenty seconds before her brain thinks of better things to do. "I know - I'll practise my dancing to Kylie Minogue", as she sped off to her bedroom.
I felt churlish and already kinda missed her chit chat whilst the stereo went 'thud thud' in her room. "Hey, why don't you bring it out here and put it on the big stereo?" No answer. I knew that she'd heard me, but it was clear that I was still a mean old mother.
The rest of the day was spent saying "No" to pretty much every single one of her suggestions.
"Can I invite X, Y and Z over today?"
"No because X is in Queensland, Y is at her father's place and Z, um, well Z is (someone I totally loathe) busy. Really busy."
"Can I blow bubbles inside the house?" "No."
"Is it alright if I put some glitter glue on the dog's head to make her look nice for Christmas?"
"Mum can you get out your face paints so that I can practice on you?"
The poor little kid. Somehow she managed to make through the only day in the entire school holidays not devoted to parties, silly season festivities, play dates, birthdays or VacSwim without any observable psychological trauma. Bless her, she soldiered on with just her trampoline, dog, dolls' house, CD collection, DVD movies, art supplies and Christmas decorations until Love Chunks was home from work. "Hi there Sapphire," he said, hugging her. "How was your day?" "Oh, it was OK," she replied, in that I've-got-such-a-hard-life-kind-of-voice. "But Mum wouldn't let me paint our front fence red and green for Christmas."
That night as I was reaching for my nightie under my pillow, I found a little note. Sapphire had drawn a big red love heart with the words, "I like you being my Mummy." Bless her. And she's never popped out of bed to give us grief after eight once. Ok, maybe just the once a few months ago to let us know that she's thrown up......