For Will, the master of time, with love and envy in equal measure
Yesterday was one of those days.
A friend said to me a couple of years ago “You’re spinning too many plates, you know. You need to drop a plate.” She was right, and a few months ago I did. I quit my Monday job. Being a fair old commute from home it was the obvious choice. It wasn’t easy for me, being a people-pleaser, but once it was done I had a few hours per week to myself and I thought, This was the change I needed to make. Now I’ll be able to get organised.
I am somebody who is habitually late or almost late. It is an extremely stressful way of being. I don’t choose to be that way and it has nothing whatsoever to do with disrespecting people: the amount of time I spend zooming around in my car* swearing and cursing (at myself as often as not), gripping the wheel like a vice, brow furrowed and every muscle in my body tense is, I’m fairly certain, bound to knock years off my life in the long term. If I reach ‘long term’, of course. Who would choose that!? Not to mention how unpleasant it must be for my kids, and my sinking feeling of despair and failure whenever I make them late. But never mind, because with this new free time, all would be sorted: I would be able to get ahead.
My cluttered, crazy house has been a source of tension, dismay and bewilderment to me for as long I can remember. How I envy friends with excellent, ingrained housekeeping skills who appear not to have to try; those with homes that seem to function smoothly and easily with just “a quick wipe round” and a vacuum. But no longer would this be the case: I had time now, and my home would soon be decluttered, efficiently organised and sparkling.
Needless to say, neither situation has significantly improved. This is because the problem was not merely the lack of time; the problem was also me simply being me, and that’s not going to change no matter how many plates come clattering down. On a good day, I tell myself “It’s fine – I have other skills and qualities”. On a bad day, like yesterday, it’s difficult to pick out the positives, so it’s best just to laugh (with myself, you understand, not at myself).
It started with me getting the date of my son’s GCSE options interview wrong. Usually I volunteer at Little Daughter’s school on Tuesday mornings, but had cancelled this week thinking it was the interview. Turns out that was the following week, so I flapped around for a bit feeling cross with myself and texting my husband saying please could he attend instead as I didn’t want to miss another morning volunteering.
At least that freed up a couple of unexpected hours, I thought, sitting down at the computer to catch up with a bit of admin and suddenly realising that I hadn’t timetabled any of this half term’s piano lessons at one of my schools – the one I was due at that afternoon, in fact. So I swore a bit and cracked on with the timetables, pinging them round apologetically to parents and promising to collect all the children from lessons that day.
Having a mind that flits around and won’t sit still is exhausting, but at least it reminds me to do things, albeit sporadically, randomly and at inopportune moments. Half way through the first timetable my mind shouted out “School milk!”, reminding me I’d forgotten all about Little Daughter’s request to have milk at school again now that she has turned five and it is no longer free. I signed her up, cursing myself that she’d have to wait another week, whereas if I’d got on to it at the beginning of the half term week she would have received it from today.
After that the mental memos started pinging with increasing frequency and urgency:
Where’s the number for that Hunts Post woman who hasn’t got back to me about Toby’s paper round? I need to ring her right now.
Where can I find a backing track for Havana suitable for a group of five-year-olds? I’d better get on YouTube.
How I am going to find time to make a costume for book week? Is a Disney Princess dress acceptable at a pinch?
What are we having for dinner? Have I got time to stick something in the slow cooker now? I’ll just go and put that joint of pork on …
What time is Francesca’s sixth form interview this evening? Can I bring Nancy? If not, can I leave Toby in charge?
I haven’t paid for Toby’s music school this term. Oops, oh dear, I’m over a month late. Better do that now.
The house is being valued tonight: what if there’s an ear plug on the floor or some pants on a radiator? Do I have time to check before work?
That wet washing is still in the machine. When did it go in …? Yesterday morning. Bollocks, I’d better hang it out now or it will start to smell.
Is Alex away tonight? Does he need me to collect him from the station? What if I’m at my French lesson? What if I’m driving Toby to or from boxing? Have I got money for boxing?
Ahh, I love French. My one little bit of ‘me’ time every week.
Oh crap – French – will I have time to do my homework? No. Crap.
I still haven’t written that letter to Nan, and she might die really soon. I’m a dreadful human being and the worst granddaughter in the world.
I really want some noodles. I’m going to make some noodles.
Rather than leaving early for work, as I was sure I’d be able to do having these unexpected bonus hours, I ended up driving like a maniac again and arriving barely on time as usual.
After work things did not improve. Little Daughter was delightful when I collected her from school, transitioning instantly to devil-child as soon as the car door was closed (what is that about? Is it hunger? Tiredness? General disappointment at having me for a mother?), and I was in no temper to ‘meet her feelings’ and be a good parent, so all in all it was an unpleasant journey home.
After a piano lesson with a lovely little boy (the highlight of my day – there! Some good can always be found!), my estate agent friend came round to value the house. Once again, I blithely underestimated the time required, thinking it quite possible to have a cuppa and a catch-up, value the house, make comparisons with other houses and discuss where to go next all within the space of 40 minutes. Most embarrassingly, my friend, who had come round on his day off (and is suffering from new parent sleep deprivation), ended up being practically bustled out of the front door with his tea undrunk.
Two minutes later I shoved a protesting Nancy in Toby’s direction, yelling “We’ll be back in half an hour – call if you need me”, locked the door in case she tried to follow me out and sped off with a stressed Francesca to her sixth form interview, swearing at the traffic lights and arriving one minute late. I spoke very little during the interview, interjecting at just one point to mention that Francesca had expressed an interest in a subject which, post-interview, it turned out she no longer wished to study but hadn’t been able to say so after I’d raised it because the teacher had been so enthused … and no, it wouldn’t help for me to email the teacher because it was done now, it was ‘a thing’, and that was on me, so thanks a lot.
It was around this point that I remembered I had not booked Nancy in for breakfast club the next day, and it was now too late, so I rang a friend who willingly agreed to give her breakfast and take her to school. Another good moment. Relief. And breathe. Just for a moment, breathe.
After a dinner of overcooked slow cooker pulled pork I got Nancy ready for bed and headed off to my French lesson, leaving my phone on charge because it had suddenly run out of battery, and uneasily telling Francesca that she’d have to ring Alex if there were any problems. When I pulled into the drive just over an hour later at 9.45 pm she met me at the door.
“What’s wrong?” I gasped, panic rising.
“Dad says his train is just pulling in and can you pick him up?” she replied.
Barely registered relief, and off I set once again, swearing at the red lights and craving my bed.
All’s well that ends well; it was just a day of far too many plates. I would love to be able to say it was a one-off.
*I never exceed 30 in a 30 zone. I just felt the need to clarify that.