Postcards From A Temporary Single Mother
15th August 2016
I wrote the column below for Practical Parenting Magazine nearly six months ago, just after Grandpa was diagnosed with lung cancer. The disease felled him swiftly after that, each week grimmer than the one before, although Grandpa, famously, uttered no expletives stronger than ‘oh, boy.’
It’s been a season of illness, stress, worry and sadness, and we are now preparing for Alan’s funeral this week. I will write more about him when the dust settles around us a little. For now, this esteemed mathematician and loving grandfather is now only present in our memories and anecdotes, and a particular cheeky sparkle in the eyes of his grandchildren.
We will miss him very much.
For Practical Parenting, July 2016
Lately, all three of my children have been sleeping in my bed, which is both lovely and terrible. It’s lovely, because their arms and legs are strong and small and cling so tight; and I know that the pure, fierce affection of childhood will shift and change into something else someday, and I will miss it. But it’s terrible, because the children squeeze up so tight to me that I can’t breathe, and feel that I am in some sort of medieval dungeon-prison with no room for all the occupants, where we must turn over in unison on a given signal. Also: wee.
There’s a little more room in the big bed at the minute because Keith is in Europe for two weeks. Sometimes we tick along fine when the big Daddy is away. This is not one of those times. The system starts crumbling on Day 2, when the fridge coughs and dies. Then, school problems begin with one of the kids, which, over the next fortnight will grow increasingly difficult to manage, and finally, most distressingly, there is a diagnosis of cancer in our extended family.
I find myself swapping between worries, mulling over each in my mind, one at a time. Who’s up next? Move it along Cancer, you’ve had your time. Bullying, where are you? That’s enough out of you. Next worry please! Form an orderly queue!
The carnage in the kitchen is epic as I try to salvage food from the deceased freezer in an Esky while I wait for the new fridge. Young Pudding, obsessed with craft in the manner of all four-year-olds, takes to glittering and redistributing the contents of the recycling box everywhere.
I’m trying to stay cool but I realise I’m struggling when I accidentally bum-dial myself and record a shameful voicemail where I rant at the kids in the voice we call The Fishwife.
I really miss my partner in crime. There’s nobody here to help turn the small dramas of the day into comedy after bedtime, and most critically, take on some of the kid-energy, so that I have some restorative, necessary privacy with my own thoughts. Without it, bit by bit, I start to go slightly nuts.
Last night I did the full-service final shift of the day, fighting the strong urge to collapse on the couch and watch Wife Swap. Public speaking talks were prepped, homework completed, lunches made and sports equipment set out for the morning. The kitchen was cleaned, the laundry hung. Children were scrubbed, read to, tucked up, and happily asleep. That final shift of the day required a Coke and two mini Wagon Wheels. But I got there.
This morning though, after a night crammed into the medieval prison bed in which one child wet their pants and another had a nightmare (there is lava on my nose!), I just could not get up. ‘Five more minutes’ begged Peanut as she wrapped her little legs around mine. ‘Five more minutes,’ begged T-Bone as he clung to the other side. ‘Jus’ five more minutes, Mama’ chimed in Pudding, lying with her dead weight fully on top of me.
I gave in. Five more minutes. Ten, even. We were a bit late to school. In the single-mum zone, with so many tasks to stay on top of, it can feel like there’s not a lot of room for those quiet moments. But in fact, those sweet ten minutes in bed, cuddling all three kids – that was probably the most important job of the day. Certainly it was the best one. And, to be honest, I could not do any more.