Sunday, 24 January 2016

Quality time - just what does that mean?

When I was at home with my children they took me for granted. Mummy was in no way special. I was the one who remembered their PE kit, who washed their pants, who grumbled at them about the state of their rooms and nagged them to do their homework. Mummy was someone who was always on tap and their response to this availability was to abuse this seemingly infinite resource. 

When I turned up at the school gate with the wrong snack, I was in for a severe tongue lashing from my disgruntled children. They were quick to point out any lapse in the high standard of care they expected from me. Should a school project be forgotten, guess who's fault it was? If there were no clean socks in their cupboard.....well you just can't get the staff nowadays. 

In short I was a general dogsbody who had the status in the family of a particularly well worn doormat. Never once did anyone thank me for packing all those swimming kits, for filling out all those slips for school, for giving up my free time to wrap myself in a sheet and pretend to be a Roman woman, for baking endless cakes to flog at the school fair. Nope, this was all part of the basic package when it comes to being a stay at home mum. 

So the concept of spending 'quality time' with my children never crossed my mind. My idea of quality time was time spent away from these tiny tyrants. Quality time was being able to read a whole chapter of a book without interruption, being able to watch what I wanted on TV, being able to go to the loo without someone banging not he door within moments of my bum hitting the seat demanding to know when I would be finished. 

Since going back to work though, everything has changed. Yes I can go to the toilet in peace, I can read my book on my commute, I can pass out in front of the television within moments of sitting down on the sofa, but what I can't do is spend time with my children. 

One of my favourite times of the day used to be around 4pm, when I would hear my eldest's key in the door. He would come in, his skin fresh with the cold autumn air, his tie askew after a long day at school. He would dump his inordinately heavy school bag down, chuck his blazer on the banister and wander into the kitchen demanding food with all the urgency of someone nearing starvation. 

On the kettle would go, out the biscuits would come and soon we would be sitting at the breakfast bar  going over his school day. He would tell me what he had learned in his lessons, we would have impassioned discussions inspired by the topic of his debate club, he would bitterly moan about the indignities of being forced to do a cross country run in PE, I would discover all the funny things he and his pals had got up to at school. If I was lucky I would get a big kiss and a cuddle before he went up to do his homework. 

In short, I was a part of his life. A fleeting one, but one that he took for granted as simply being there, with tea on tap ready to listen to his joys and sorrows. 

When I think about that time now it makes my stomach clench in dismay, as now I miss it every single day. Sometimes he might call me on his walk home from the bus, but invariably I am in a meeting, can't pick up and by the time I phone back he has left his phone somewhere he can't hear it and I have missed my chance to get that tiny window into his world. 

By the time I get home it is dinner time in the mad house and all four boys talk simultaneously at me. I am so exhausted it all washes over me and the last thing I want to do is spend quality time with any of them. A large glass of wine and the sofa are far more appealing, than the chattering company of small boys. 

My eldest will be plugged into Minecraft or upstairs sawing away at his cello or doing his homework. My queries about his day will be met with the monosyllabic grunts of a pre-teen and I soon give up. 

So going back to work has changed my concept of quality time forever. Where once it was five minutes peace, now I can hardly believe I would crave time away from the boys, rather than greedily guzzling all those moments spent with them. The moments that give you a little insight into how things are going, how they are changing, how your little boys are becoming, gradually, yet oh so fast, men are moments of the purest quality. 

Now quality time is me and two of my boys, eldest and youngest, reading an old favourite children's book that transports me back to when my 12-year-old could fit into the crook of my arm and I would read to his uncomprehending baby ears tales of bears tucked up by their loving mums, or of dragons terrified of mice, or of fantastical beasties who roamed the deep, dark woods. 

In short, what I miss most about being a stay at home mum is the humdrum nature of just being around. Of picking up those sparkling nuggets of information your children casually drop in between demands for biscuits or whines about curtailment of screen time. 

I miss being boring old mum who was always there. Now I am a rare treat my boys don't take me for granted, but they don't let me in with the ease that they once did and that is the most heartbreaking sacrifice a working mum is force to make. 

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