Date: September 1st 2015
Mood: Wild elation
Source of mood: Three kids in school and preschool for the first time, meaning I could start working mornings instead of only nights.
Guilt levels about feelings of elation: Surprisingly mild.
Date: September 5th 2015
Mood: Spirit utterly broken
Source of mood: Realisation that 45 car journeys a week might just kill me
Guilt levels about broken spirit: Too tired to care.
And it wasn’t just about damage to my psychological wellbeing – I was in physical pain too, caused by carrying the small boy up and down to the school each day. And I wondered how on earth I’d keep going all year, when I couldn’t even make it through the first week?
There was no outright fix, but I stuck some plasters on the problem. I took the buggy back out, signed the girls up to some after-school activities, and did some carpooling. My 45 journeys became a slightly more manageable 37. And as a good friend of mine once said about working a three-day week; you can do anything for three days. Or in my case, you can do anything for one year. So I hoped.
I made it through a bright, golden autumn, and on into a dreary November, followed by a surprisingly relaxing first Christmas as a self-employed person. Happily, unlike summer, at Christmas-time everything in the writing-world winds down for the last couple of weeks of the year, so taking time out was unexpectedly easy, and guilt-free, and wonderful.
Then a new year, and a new… well, nothing. Back to the same old school-runs, the never-ending cycle. The same journeys every morning, the same race against the clock. The same plan to get out on time without saying “Guys, come on!” and the same daily failure. The unpredictable Irish weather that had us over- or under-dressed almost every day. The heel dragging. The arguments over seatbelts and space. The missing shoes. The always, always missing shoes.
Spring (or what is euphemistically referred to as spring) was dotted with school holidays and mini-mid-terms and random days that go unnoticed when you have a childminder but stand stark against the sameness when you’re in charge yourself.
And every time I realised there was another mini-mid-term around the corner, my first reaction to have a little panic about losing a day or a week of work-time. But it was always swiftly followed by utter glee – a day or a week without school runs. Totally, totally worth the trade-off.
And then came summer. Our feet were really dragging. And for the small boy, it’s been literal and figurative. Some days he just sits on the ground and says he can’t walk up to the school. There are tears and fights, and the school run became the worst part of every day. Three times a day.
I see the sympathetic looks he gets and the sympathetic looks I get – it’s not easy being the mum propelling the boy up the path but it’s also not easy being the boy who just can’t do it anymore. Our last day yesterday ended very much as the year began back in September – he cried most of the way to the school and had to be carried. I almost felt like he understood my love of symmetry and decided to oblige. Almost.
But finally, we’re at the end.
Date: July 1st 2016
Mood: Wild elation – similar to start of year, but for opposite reasons
Source of mood: No more school runs for two months, and never, ever again so many as I had this year.
Guilt levels: Ha! Zero. I got here, and that’s all that matters. Today I’m letting out a long-held breath and celebrating, because you have to celebrate everything. And despite crawling for the last mile or so, I got here.
Speaking of summer – for many parents around the country, the school holidays are an expensive logistical challenge – calling in favours from family, paying for extra hours in creche, and signing up for camps that end mid-afternoon. For this Irish Examiner feature, I spoke to four parents about how they’ll manage this summer:
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