They came on Saturday afternoon – my almost-last round of edits. This is the time to make final tweaks and find typos. (Typos are so hard to find, but I know they’re there, lurking, grinning slyly, hoping to make the final cut.) And for me, the only way to do this is to read it out loud. All 400 pages. Each one of the 100,00 words.
On Saturday and Sunday, I hid upstairs while my husband took care of the kids, and did just that. But on Monday morning he went to work (what was he thinking?) and after chasing his car down the street (in my head anyway) I turned and faced three kids, smiled feverishly at them, and said, “So, anyone for TV?”
And (in hindsight, unsurprisingly) they were more than happy to watch TV, and didn’t mind at all that I was upstairs working. After 40 minutes or so, I went down for coffee and offered them food. I found them surrounded by yogurt pots and toast crumbs – they’d helped themselves. “We’re fine, we don’t need anything, we’ll tell you if we do, now can you close the door cos we can’t hear the TV properly?”
I continued to go up and down, and they continued to watch TV, and nobody called at the door and found all of us in pyjamas at midday, and all was good in our world.
We broke for lunch, and I broke the news that TV time was over. I braced myself for an afternoon without my electronic childminder, and no chance to continue proof-reading. But then I noticed something. One child was reading in her bedroom, and the other two were setting up a gymnasium in the garden. As I stood in the kitchen waiting for someone to need me, nobody needed me at all.
So I brought my laptop downstairs, and got on with proof-reading. After a while, the two girls came in to listen, and I became a human audio-book, but it spurred me on – it was good to have an audience, even if it meant skipping the swear words.
And on Tuesday, we did the same – morning TV, and afternoon playing, while I worked. At one point, close to the end, but about to collapse (reading out loud and concentrating is hard!) I told my eldest I needed sugar. She arrived up a few minutes later with a cup of camomile tea and a bar of chocolate for me. (There was a French Fancy on the plate too, but they ate it.)
Then she baked biscuits, and her sister coloured, and her brother played in the garden. And still I read, and I got to the end, and the house didn’t fall down. It seems like maybe we’ve found our groove – after ten years of parenting, and three years of working from home, all the pieces fell into place. They’re older now – older than they were last Easter holidays when this didn’t happen. But more than that – we’ve found ways to do our things (colouring, baking, playing, reading 100,00 words out loud) around each other in a peaceful coexistence I’d never have thought possible until I experienced it for myself.
And lest it sound as though I’ve come out of the baby-daze and found myself in Utopia – there were arguments at dinner (the wrong noodles) and tears at bedtime (the wrong everything). But we were good again the following morning – they watched a little TV, I did some work, and then went out into the world to celebrate the (almost) end of the book edits.
And I quietly celebrated the start of a new phase – when trying to mix work and home isn’t the tough, uphill struggle it’s been to date. For anyone who is at an earlier stage, with younger kids – take heart, your time will come. And there’s always the electronic babysitter.