It’s 8.30. The kids are finally in bed. Emmie will be down in a few minutes, to say her water glass isn’t full enough or she had a bad dream while she was awake, or her nose is itchy. I’ll kiss her again and in the same breath, I’ll ask her to promise to stay upstairs this time.
There’ll be some thundering noises from two girls who fail to realise we can here every footstep on the wooden floors above.Then finally, silence.
I’ll finish wiping counters and checking lunch boxes and signing homework. And then the niggling thought will slip in uninvited.
The one about how I didn’t really see them today.
Sure, I saw them this morning. For twenty minutes, before I rushed out to work. Emmie waving me off at the front door. Clara upstairs, still half-asleep, too tired to register my goodbye kiss. Sam telling me to go back to bed for morning cuddles. But I can’t, because of work.
And sure, I saw them this evening. I’m lucky – I’m home by 5 every day. First there’s the handover chat with the childminder. Then an attempt to catch up with the kids, who usually all talk at once – and why wouldn’t they, I’ve been gone all day. Or sometimes nobody talks – they’re all engrossed in their own activities and want to keep going – and why wouldn’t they, I’ve been gone all day.
Then we do homework, and I try to find out what happened at school today. Sometimes I’m good at this, sometimes I’m not.
Then there’s TV while I clean up and make lunches, then bedtime, which starts slowly and inevitably ends up rushed.
It’s 8 o’clock, quick brush your teeth, it’s time to lie down now, where’s your uniform, stay in bed, I’ll get it, yes I’ll bring you a drink of water, I’ll do it right now, only don’t get out of bed again, please go to bed. Please. Go. To. Bed.
And then I’m wiping down counters, and wondering where the time went. And feeling guilty that another whole day went by, and I didn’t really see them.
Well, I did sit at the kitchen table with Clara for a five minutes while she read her book out loud – I took a break from making dinner, and just sat, and listened (It’s called “School for Stars” – I think it’s giving her notions)
I did sit on the bed upstairs for two minutes to watch Emmie to her daily recital of Let It Go, then applauded wildly (if she’s an X-Factor auditionee in the future, it will be my fault for giving her false hope)
And I did give Sam a bath – not because he needed one, but because it’s a way of keeping him out of trouble for ten minutes. And he loves baths.
It’s not amazing – ten minutes here, five minutes there, but I do feel relieved that I can pinpoint a little bit of one-on-one time with each of them.
And it gave me the idea to start saying it to them when I kiss them goodnight. Because it forces me to make sure I really did have some time with each of them, and I hope it sends them to sleep feeling like they had time with me.
So I kiss Clara goodnight, and say, “Thank you for reading to me earlier – I love listening to you read.” I kiss Emmie goodnight, and say, “Thank you for singing for me earlier – I love listening to you sing.” And I kiss Sam goodnight, saying, “Thank you for not drenching me when you had your bath earlier – I love watching you have fun there.”
Maybe I’m being manipulative – nudging them towards thinking we had more time together than we did, but if I am, so be it. I feel better, and maybe they do too. It’s never enough, but I’ll take it.
And I suspect that if I can push the guilt aside, push the theory away, and see clearly for a moment, I can see that they’re a happy little bunch. They don’t over-think it or over-analyse it the way I do. They have school and homework and playtime and bedtime, and they do it all again the next day. They’re happy. For them, it’s entirely enough.
On the subject of manipulation: fans of House of Cards will know that Frank Underwood is the master. Would his tactics work in parenting? I realised recently that they already do… (for Scary Mommy): How House of Cards Inspires My Parenting