I’ve been having an unusual time lately. First, I had a minor surgical procedure which meant I had to rest and not pick up my kids or do housework for at least 2 weeks. Now, this week, my “day job” sent me to work at a conference. I’m on the train home now after spending 3 days in a resort hotel. I’m not sure if you missed me, but as a result I also haven’t blogged all week. I have had a proper holiday from parenting and from my normal life.
The conference was actually hard work. I was watching and taking notes at one session after another, and in the breaks I was working at an exhibition stand. There were evening events too, with which came an obligation to “network”, even if such events were pleasantly abundant with good food and booze. So I found myself waking up at 6am and going to sleep after midnight every night – it was hardly a chance to catch up on sleep.
But it wasn’t as difficult or exhausting as parenting.
It got me thinking about how rarely most parents – especially mums – get any sort of holiday from the work of parenting. Stay-at-home parents must experience this particularly intensely. Those of us who work outside the home greatly value our quiet commutes, civilised lunches with colleagues, and hot cups of tea.
While I recovered from my surgery, I was at home but was officially required to rest. I didn’t have to jump up when somebody needed to be fed or changed. I didn’t have to wrestle the 2yo into the bath. I didn’t have to cook or clean or even do the school run. It was pretty amazing to be honest, and I caught up on some neglected Netflix series.
But there were difficult moments as well. I was at home with my children, but not able to pick them up when they cried. I saw my husband struggle with not having enough hands, and wasn’t able to offer him any help (yes it was hard, even if it was also funny). I was not even able to get on the floor to play with my children when they asked me to.
When I recovered from the surgery and was able to do these things again, I was incredibly grateful. I found that even though it can feel like drudgery when you’re doing it every day, I enjoy doing things for my family. I revel in the critical role I play in their lives. My children in particular need me intensely, and I am aware that that is something that will not last forever.
Now that I’ve subsequently been away from my family completely for a few days, I find that there are other things that I take for granted when I’m at home.
For example, at home, I often feel “touched out” at the end of a day after constantly cuddling my children and being climbed on, poked and prodded by them. I am so tired of being touched by others at the end of the day that I just want to be left alone. However at this conference, I have had the opposite situation. I haven’t really touched another human being (beyond the odd handshake) for 3 days!
I am suffering from touch withdrawal. I can’t wait to go home and feel that close connection to other humans again. The more I think about it, the more I actually can’t bear the thought that some humans live all the time without anyone else to touch.
Also, I have had 3 days of completely uninterrupted adult conversation. And most of it was to do with work, so it was also either extremely intellectual or just awkward small talk. Luckily, there were some friendly people there too with whom I could talk utter rubbish, otherwise I might have felt a bit lonely.
That sort of adult conversation is what I normally crave. But having an abundance of it for a longer period of time has made me grateful for the simple and real interactions I have with my family.
Tomorrow morning, I will start my day with cuddles and Paw Patrol. I will deal with poo. I will have protracted conversations about what to make for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I will break up fights. I will calm down tantrums. I will kiss it better. I will repeatedly pretend to eat plastic food, lovingly prepared by my children in their toy kitchen. I will explain for the 5 millionth time why the radiator makes a funny noise. And I’m looking forward to it.
When I tell you that I had a real parenting holiday, and that I found it hard sometimes, I’m sure you’ll be getting out the world’s smallest violin to play me a tune. And I know it’s popular to point out all the hardest parts of parenting. It’s important too – so that people know they’re not alone. But it’s also good to remember that in exchange for all the sleepless nights, the times we’re covered in poop, the endless washing and cleaning, and the downright boredom, we are getting something pretty wonderful in exchange.
I think it was John Lennon who said “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”. So I will try to remember, when I start to get frustrated or bored, that these simple moments are the cornerstone of family life. And importantly, the hard times that we go through as parents are the price we pay to live a life filled with love.