Parents spend half their lives planning how to get everyone through the week intact and vaguely on time for stuff. It is a skill, but why does it have to be so frequently exercised?
I’d like to begin by stating that I have nothing against cyclists per se. Ever since the Tour de France came to the UK, they have been racing through our village at the weekends in their stretch lycra, looking like they are having a whale of a time. There are young people and old people and everything in between. Good for them. But this weekend they are taking over the whole area for three whole days and creating a logistics nightmare.
Daughter three is working all day on Saturday and no buses are running from our village. Every road is closed and all at different times. I’ve looked at the booklet and the online map and am no clearer about what is going to be open, if anything. Different stretches of road have different timings on them, which I guess are estimates for how long the cyclists will take to clear them. One road is closed for what looks like an hour, but the road next to it seems to be closed all day. On Sunday daughter two is working in another nearby town. There the main road seems to be closed from dawn until late afternoon. She has to be at work by 11. She is looking at a long hike to work or she might want to pump up her bike tyres and join the race.
On Friday, I face the traditional parental challenge of being in two places at once. Daughter three needs to be picked up from school at 3.30pm and taken to work. She could go by train into London and then out again, but she would be about an hour late for work. Normally I would be able to take her, but only son is on a school trip and the estimated time of arrival back at school is 4pm. I have been in this parenting game for a while now and I know that estimated arrival times are often wildly optimistic. He could arrive at any point between 3.30pm and 6.30pm. My mum offered to get him. The only slight problem is that she lives in a part of the county which is affected by the cycle race on Friday. All roads out of her village are closed for much of the afternoon.
It would all have been okay if my partner was here, but he’s away, and if daughter two had continued learning how to drive, but she gave up in the early part of the lockdown after a few interesting sessions with me on a bumpy back road.
Earlier today she said she had been overhearing parents at work complaining about the summer holidays. “They don’t seem to like their children,” she said. We agreed that some parents may give that impression, but I stressed that for many it is not so much about the children as about the logistics. The UK is not built to make parents’ lives easy. Take the low level of statutory parental leave, the exorbitant cost of childcare, the lack of after school activities that cater to different aged children or schools who ban toddlers from school performances thinking that parents are able to draw on an inexhaustible supply of babysitters.
“I, for one, absolutely adore every fibre of your being,” I told daughter two as we passed all the road closure signs lying in wait for the weekend. “It’s the constant mental contortions required to get everyone from A to B on time [or the traditional three minutes late] that I am not so fond of.”
It is probably our fault for not living in a town, but how many people in the UK don’t live in a town? Sometimes I fantasise about how easy it would be to live within walking distance of the secondary school, friends and jobs. The good news is that daughter three is applying for a provisional licence, feels she has driving down pat having witnessed her sisters’ attempts and seems willing to share pick-up duties. The only slight snag is that I think there is a ginormous Covid backlog to get through to sit the test.