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 administer to you in your old age is a long hard slog - but despite (or perhaps because of) our careers, credit cards, enough luxury white goods to set up an electrical showroom 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 everyone tells 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 aged seven and under who, like several of my currently afflicted thirty-something 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 play-groups, the nappies, the part-time pointless, low paid jobs that fitted in around the kids schedules, the childcare nightmares, 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 not-so secretly worried that they were right. I never planned to be a career mother Š I felt as though IÕd inadvertently walked by the parenting recruitment office and signed up for life Š but whether itÕs prison or the armed forces - life doesnÕt really mean life. You might get twenty years, but you get time of for good behaviour and yes, you can even by your way out if you can afford a nanny.
So you manage. You struggle through a day at time when 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, the chnce of ever having sex in the next decade. It gets easier Š you get in tune of the bipolar rhythms of your chaotic life. You relearn how to convert decimals into fractions and conjugate Latin verbs; you resuscitate your Grade 3 piano skills and know every public lavatory within a ten-mile radius of your home. This, oh superwoman, is your life and suddenly it isnÕt half bad. Then one day 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 junior school, the last time they take their teddy bear when they go on a sleep-over, 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, the last time they even told you they had a nightmare. Separation is a necessary part of a successful adolescence Š a difficult and trying time for children Š but itÕs like a full body wax for parents who donÕt want to smell the Clearasil and move on with their lives.
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 another of those lasts Š the last time IÕll have four children living at home on MotherÕs Day. In truth, I havenÕt had the four children for a long time. I have three teenagers and one trainee. There are whole weekends when instead of spending hours in a park watching grubby small boys running round kicking a football my husband and I are at home alone looking for conversation under the sofa cushions. 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 meals on. But itÕs over. 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. If IÕm lucky. 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 IÕve complained about for since she was ten. After she goes the rest will fall into college like dominos - and though they will always be our children, adult life is already pulling at them like a topless hooker in an Amsterdam window. Bye babies. The teddies have already been retired to a box in the attic and now itÕs my turn. IÕm being made redundant.
Of course Š itÕs an early redundancy. Having started a family with third world haste there is still time, theoretically, to have a second bite at the cherry with all the other late onset biological clock watchers. My eldest may be leaving but some of my now fortysomething friends 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.