As I picked up my middle-child from football training tonight, she said, as is her wont when it’s just the two of us, “So how was your day?”
“A day of two halves,” I said, thinking back. It went something like this:
My eldest decided to make pancakes yesterday morning, but at 8.05 she was still trying to convert cups to grammes, and we had to abandon and go to school. So she made batter last night, and tried again this morning – she and I both confident that the preparation was key. Half an hour later, she was muttering about never making pancakes again – it takes far too long standing at the pan, she said, and nobody even seemed that grateful. Oh the irony – welcome to my world I thought, telling her we’d stick to weekends from now on.
After the school run, as I cleaned maple syrup residue from every single door handle in the house, I thought back to a brief chat I’d had with another mum at the school. She was trying to get her preschooler to walk, and I’d said I remembered those days only too well.
“Precious times,” she’d said with a grin, air quotes heavily implied. Precious times indeed, I thought, as I scrubbed maple syrup off yet another door handle.
It wasn’t the only tale of culinary residue today – when I picked up my youngest, I asked how he got on with his flask of pasta at school.”Oh I forgot!” he said, and decided to eat it in the car. He pulled out the flask, along with a half-full carton of milk in a half-locked zip-lock bag – which is why I had to wash his pencil-case and his school bag smells of stale milk.
Meanwhile, I was rushing dinner, so we could get to football training. I turned the pan up to boil, just for a second or two, but right at that moment, my smallest realised I’d inadvertently thrown out parts of his new Halloween torch when I disposed of the packaging. Tears flowed as we pulled everything out of the green bin, looking for two tiny plastic discs. Eventually we found them, and the tears stopped. But by then, the chicken was more of a “blackened chicken” and the sauce had disappeared.
With the clock ticking towards time-to-leave, I threw in more cream and more stock, told the kids it was a kind of char-grilled version of pan-friend chicken, and got everything into bowls and children just in time to go.
Then I opened the door of the car to hoosh them in, and out tumbled the open flask, spilling cooked pasta all over the driveway.
“Oh no!” said the kids.
“We just have to go!” I replied, wondering what the neighbours would think, and hoping my husband would arrive home and clean it up, before settling down to his chargrilled dinner.
Precious times indeed.
The other half:
“How did you get on with your pasta?” I asked when I picked up my youngest.
“Oh I forgot!” he said, and decided to eat it in the car. “But I did good on my hobby talk!
They’d been asked to bring in something representing a hobby and talk about it. Without asking my for my input or advice (this is not an advice-asking kid) he decided to bring in his copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Last Straw. He discovered reading for pleasure about three weeks ago, and hasn’t been seen without a book in his hand since. He’s a very, ahem, active, busy child (parents of active, busy kids know what I mean!) and books have calmed him in a way I didn’t think possible. A month ago, I couldn’t imagine us having this conversation – my only concern now is what to do when he’s read all the Wimpy Kid books. (Come on Jeff Kinney!)
His good mood continued right up to dinner-time (Halloween torch debacle notwithstanding) – “Mum, this is the best dinner you’ve ever made – why haven’t we had it before?” he said as he ate.
“Um, we have it every week . . .” I told him.
“Yeah but not the burnt version,” said the eldest. “I think he likes the burnt version. It’s pretty nice actually.”
The girls weren’t quite as hungry as he was – what he didn’t know is that while he was at his after-school activity, his sisters were at their granddad’s house with me. Their granddad is a lot more free and easy with the biscuits than he was back in the 80’s when I was a kid so they spent most of their time eating Hobnobs, drinking milk, and chatting to my dad.
As I watched the intense conversations between the three of them, I took a mental photo and stored it away. I’m keenly aware that not every child has a grandparent nearby, and not every child has any grandparent at all. We are lucky. Our secret biscuit-eating-hour once a week is precious time, air quotes not required.
It was a day exactly like any other day with kids – good bits and bad bits, stresses and smiles. A day of two halves, the two sides so closely interwoven that they are often indistinguishable. The bad bits are diluted, perhaps to stop us running away. But the good bits are often diluted too, and sometimes lost entirely. At least until you stop to think – until someone asks the question: How was your day?