MotherÕs day this year will still mean sloppy cereal, burnt toast, a tea bag swimming in the bottom of a cup, home made cards and overpriced daffodils - sadly, by the time kids learn how to cook properly they are not making you breakfast in bed but having it in someone elseÕs.  But this year is the first of the lasts Š the last time IÕll have four children living at home on MotherÕs Day.  In truth, I havenÕt had children for a long time.  I just didnÕt notice they had turned into three teenagers and one trainee.  There are whole weekends when instead of quilty time en famille my husband and I are at home alone looking for conversation under the sofa cushions.  But IÕm in denial Š still buying family videos that we watch alone, and ordering gargantuan refectory tables for the non-existent family to eat their non-existent family meals on.  But itÕs time to move on.  Family life as I knew it, the long ordeal I complained, whined and agonised about is finished, soon to be replaced by the once a month duty phone call and an annual visit at Christmas. After A levels my baby, my firstborn, my miracle of perfect daughterhood will be disappearing out the door leaving me bereft, longing for her unwashed laundry and desperate to cook the vegetarian meals that have irritated me since she was ten.  Although she's been ostensibly living in her bedroom for the last five years at least there's been the fiction that she is still living at home.  As for the rest of her siblings, adult life is already pulling at them like a topless hooker in an Amsterdam window.  After she leaves for university theyÕll fall into college like dominos. Bye bye babies. IÕm being made redundant.


The way some women go on youÕd think that parenting was a life sentence of hard labour.  Yes, doing your time and paying your debt to the society that you hope is going to support, nurse and run the country for you in your old age is a long hard slog - but sometimes it feels as though we might as well be stuck in 1959, surgically attached to the bakelite stove.  Bringing up kids while trying to have anything laughably approaching Ōit allÕ is about as much fun as DIY dentistry, however the big truth that wise old women tell you but to which no-one listens Š deafened no doubt by the wails of crying babies - is that it doesnÕt last for ever. It just seems like it at the time.


I have been the thirty-something sleep deprived mother of four children under seven who, like several of my similarly afflicted friends, looks into your eyes like a starlet caught in a flashlight and says I hate my life.  I hated at Olympic level.  I loved the children but hated the pushchairs, play-groups, the part-time pointless, low paid jobs that fitted in around the kids schedules, and most of all other working womenÕs assumptions that I must be brain dead because I stayed home and looked after my kids Š not least because I secretly worried that they were right.  I never planned to be a career mother Š I just inadvertently walked by the non-planned parenting recruitment office and signed up for life.  But whether itÕs prison or the armed forces - life doesnÕt really mean life.  You might get twenty years, but you do get time off for good behaviour and yes, you can even by your way out if you can afford a nanny.


So you manage.  Juggling just doesnÕt come into it Š itÕs like plate spinning while knowing that it isnÕt crockery that hits the floor if you donÕt keep it all going, itÕs your childrenÕs happiness, your job security, the love of your partner.  It gets easier Š you get in tune with the bipolar rhythms of your chaotic life.  Then one day the landscape changes and you realise that youÕre no longer documenting the first steps, the first day at school, the first party, the first exams, the first boyfriend even Š itÕs the last day of school, the last time they want to be seen with you in public, the last time they ever climbed into your bed in the middle of the night after a nightmare.  Separation is a necessary part of a successful adolescence Š a difficult and trying rite of passage for children Š but itÕs like a full body wax for parents who donÕt want to smell the Clearasil and let go.


Of course Š I am taking an early redundancy.  There is still time, theoretically, to have a second bite at the cherry by joining all the other late onset biological clock watchers.  Many of my contemporaries are patting proud bulges or walking round like zombies, punch drunk with joy and exhaustion, dreaming about how much easier it will all be when the new born babies sleep through the night, when they donÕt need the childminder and the kids go to school.  It wonÕt.  But all this does pass. I promise you. Much too quickly.