Life isn’t exactly carefree at the moment, that’s for sure. I leave home in the dark, at 7.23 each morning, before the kids are up. I get home in the dark, any time between 7.45 and 8.15 each evening, just as the kids are going to bed. Well, actually, just as the kids are successfully avoiding going to bed by joining forces (for once) to create as much noise, naughtiness and general chaos as possible.
Work is fine. Giving up a high-powered career in law (ahem) to become a legal assistant is probably not the most ambitious professional choice I’ve ever made, but it’s quite nice in a ‘don’t-have-to-think-about-anything-except-what-colour-folder-to-put-these-documents-in’ kind of way. And I get to leave work at 6.00, on the dot (usually), and not think about work again until 9.00 the next morning, a luxury not afforded to Blackberry-wielding, client-pleasing, hard-working lawyers.
But I do miss my kids. A lot. (Especially on Fridays when I go to orchestra practice and so don’t even get home much before midnight. Because I’m sensible like that.) I have to keep reminding myself that being a stay-at-home mummy wasn’t always carefree either, and that spending the day conflict-managing a bunch of kids in fact is often a damn sight harder than spending the day conflict-managing someone else’s diary.
The weeks before I started work passed in our usual chaotic stumble through life but, in my memory, those days have now taken on a serene, utopic, Photoshopped sheen. I nostalgically remember flitting from one social engagement to the next – posh afternoon tea with my close girlfriend (without kids!), strolls and picnics by the lake, play date after play date, epic cycle rides, dinner parties and face-painting (not all at once).
I forget the general organisational chaos and sheer noise-levels that actually accompanied those days.
I forget the four weeks (FOUR WEEKS!) I spent having to manage the household and ensure my kids didn’t starve or kill themselves/each other whilst struck down with the worst cold/flu I have ever had (there was a LOT of DVD-babysitting during this period. Even more than usual).
I forget the stress of getting three kids ready for a Halloween party starting at 5.30, when Alpine Boy didn’t return from his holiday club outing until 5.25. (Extensive face-painting disguises had already been carefully researched, chosen and practiced, and neither Alpine Boy nor Alpine Girl would be happy with anything less than what had been planned. Alpine Baby lost out though – she got half-hearted painted-on wonky eyebrows and moustache instead of the more complicated but probably entirely inappropriate Chucky Doll costume I had my sights set on…).
I forget Alpine Girl fighting viciously with her bestest buddies whenever we went to a playdate. “Sharing” is not a word she understands. Screaming loudly and hitting her friends over the head with whatever toy they’re competing for is unfortunately something she understands very well.
I even forget the predictable Alpine Mummy-style disaster, returning from one such play date, exhausted and suffering terribly from my never-ending bout of nasopharyngitis:
It was dinner time for the kids, and cuppa time for me: the bewitching hour, when my kids become even bigger monsters than usual. But I ignored this fact (first error), and stopped off at the pharmacy on the way home to tell them my woes and to fill a carrier bag with drugs galore (you can rely on French pharmacists to sell you your body-weight in medicines as soon as you have a sniffle).
As I was juggling a grizzly Alpine Baby in one arm, and trying to get my credit card out of my fiddly wallet without dropping my coins all over the floor with the other, Alpine Girl came up to me and said “wee Mummy, wee”. I absentmindedly told her to “hold it in” and go and play with Alpine Boy (French pharmacies know how to keep you in the shop for long enough to spend a month’s wages on several types of drugs – keep your kids entertained by providing better toys than they get at home).
There was my second error.
As I was just about to enter my PIN (astounded at the amount of money I was spending on painkillers, vitamins, and homeopathic rubbish that probably wouldn’t even work anyway, but desperate to try anything that might stop me producing quite so much snot each day), I heard a high-pitched wail from one sprog, and a high-pitched giggle from the other. Everyone in the shop turned to the source of the noise – my children, both standing in a pool of liquid (why both?! I will never work that one out), Alpine Boy giggling and shouting “Muuuuuumy, Alpine Girl has done a weeeeeeeeee on the FLOOOOOOOR!” and Alpine Girl (supposedly toilet-trained for at least a month) jumping up and down in her home-made puddle like that bloody Peppa Pig.
Any chance of me pretending not to know these feral children was soon dashed by Alpine Girl running towards me, arms outstretched, crying loudly and trailing wet wee-wee footprints behind her. This would have been a good time to grab all children and run quickly out of the shop, never to be seen in there again, but the credit card machine was still persistently asking for my PIN, the shop-assistant was looking at me distastefully, and there was no hope of an inconspicuous escape.
So I paid up and headed out, head low, glad it was a pharmacy we were in (they must see wee and poo and blood and stuff all the time, right?) and not some posh handbag shop (yeah right, as if).
The nightmare didn’t end there though, as Alpine Girl somehow managed to escape, literally, as I was bundling the kids into the car. It was dark, we were in a busy car park, the car next to me was starting to leave, and I couldn’t see her, couldn’t find her, she was gone, gone, gone…
“Ma fille! Ma fille!” I was shouting, running around like a headless chicken, getting looks of sympathy from passers-by, but not much help, it has to be said. I flagged down the car that was about to leave, terrified it was going to squash Alpine Girl flat, and the woman got out and tried to calm me down.
“Alpine Giiiiiiirl!” Alpine Boy and I shouted, he panicking as much as I.
And, as the echoes of our distressed yells faded away, and images flashed through my head of kidnappers and of car crashes and of my tiny little independent woman wandering down the middle of a busy road on her own (leaving a trail of wet footprints behind her…), a giggle escaped from my car tyre. Or rather, from the little pixie hiding behind the enormous wheel, proudly sniggering at the chaos she had caused.
So with a hug and a sob and a rather stern telling off the last sprog was finally bundled into the car, and we headed home for the usual pandemonium that is dinner and bed time. A quick text to my friend (“I hate my life. Alpine Girl has just peed on the floor in the pharmacy”) is now saved on my phone for me to look at whenever I mistakenly start to reminisce about quite how carefree my life was as a stay-at-home-mum. (Incidentally, my friend’s heartfelt reply – “Sorry. I am laughing so hard.” – is also saved on my phone, to roll out when her son one day does the inevitable and pees on the floor of a supermarket…)
Anyway, I thinking I might have found a solution to missing my kids so much while at work – there’s someone in the office who brings her Chihuahua to work and keeps it under her desk. I’m sure no-one would notice if I kept a few kids under mine.
As long as they didn’t wet themselves…