Monday, 14 July 2014

All by myself

It is not until you share your home with four young boys that you realise how precious being alone is. Solitude is something I crave in the same way an alcoholic surely yearns for the crystal clear hit of vodka or a smoker aches to draw that first puff of nicotine into their lungs. To be by myself with no demands made on my time is the stuff of dreams. An hour or two without the word 'Mummy' being drilled into my skull with all the persistence and volume as a pneumatic drill, without anyone wanting a drink, a snack or to tell me some interminable fact about Minecraft. This is the drug I crave.

I know working mothers whose main reason for returning to work was to enjoy the peace and adult time afforded by a commute. To sit huddled on a hot, overcrowded train, crammed into close proximity with all manner of human kind, with wildly varying interpretations of the concept of cleanliness was preferable to the unceasing chatter and needs of their young brood.

Oh how I empathise. Forget the smells, the heat, the delays, the fact is onboard London Underground no one will bother you. There is an unwritten rule that no matter how closely you are squeezed into someone's armpit, no matter if their groin continually nudges the pages of your newspaper, you do not speak to one another. What utter bliss.  I wish I could institute such a rule at home.

I would insist on a vow of silence from the moment I pick them up from school to the moment I have finished depositing all their crap back into the hall at home. No voices could vie for my attention to tell me how disappointing my choice of after school snack was, or to demand why had I forgotten to bring a drink, or to insist that I was more than capable of juggling a cello, four school bags and my youngest son's latest cardboard creation, whilst also holding the hands of both my twins. No one could cry, or get upset because I failed to stop the world so I could give them my undivided attention the instant they required it.

I suspect that if I were able to create this regime I would not feel anxiety rising like a hot tide within me the moment I reached their classroom door. It's not that I don't want to hear about their day, it's just I don't want to hear about all four of their days simultaneously, whilst listening to them each ramp up the volume to ensure that I am listening to their story most closely. I don't want to endure another argument about who gets to sit in the front of the car, or debate about how old you should be before you start carrying your own school bag. I don't want to unravel the mysteries of how my eldest son managed to lose his shoes, or to hear about how so and so was mean to the middle boy.

I want silence. I want to switch them all off and transport them in a monastically quiet car until we reach home, at which point they all peel off to amuse themselves leaving me to perhaps have a proper chat with just one son, or to cook their supper in peace once again.

The only way I keep a slippery grip on sanity is to regularly escape family life and revel in relative isolation of a walk or run by myself. In fact a year or so ago I joined a running group in the hope that it would improve my performance. But, while I met some truly lovely people, I discovered that I hated running in company and rather than boosting my running I all but gave up.

It dawned on me that it was not the fitness that running gave me that I loved, but the chance to get away. To cover miles of city streets and green fields all by myself. To slip through mud, sweat through sunshine and discover my little corner of London alone. Friends would ask to run with me, but I will admit that for me that defeated the object. Chatting and company shattered that precious isolation running gave to me.

Since then I have had my ups and downs with running, but despite having lost my marathon fitness, I am still addicted to the seclusion of a good run, even if now it might be more of a waddle and a walk than a swift jog. The main upside of this is that now all my friends are far better runners than me and no longer want to accompany me as I wobble and puff around the streets three times a week. Instead I sometimes invite Messrs Kermode and Mayo to chat to me about films, but other than that it's just me, myself and I and that's the way I like it.

So while a bunch of flowers is always welcome, I never say no to a box of chocolates or a jorum of fizz, the most deliciously decadent gift anyone could bestow upon me is an hour of uninterrupted peace. Not to do the washing, or cook dinner or tidy the house, but to just be me. Not a mother or wife, a worker bee or housekeeper, just to be alone with my thoughts and take the pressure off.

I wonder how many other mothers are shouting snap as they read what comes top of my wish list?

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