Q & A

laptop keyboard with Q&A spelled out in wooden blocks


I am in the midst of multiple birthday preparations. Daughter three is 11 soon and only son is six two weeks later. In the summer my partner hits 50. Daughter three wants a Bake-Off sleepover, but her preferred date coincides with a mud race daughter two has volunteered her for. Daughter two loves things like mud races. Daughter three, who has never got over being selected for cross country, is less keen on anything that combines racing and mud.

Meanwhile, only son has somehow volunteered his mother to lead an arts and crafts party where we will apparently design t-shirts in the garden. Only son thinks this will be hugely exciting. His whole body lit up at the mere thought of it so I caved and said yes. I now have to find t-shirts and fabric paint. At the same time I have been secretly planning something for my partner. My partner does not like surprises. He has been moaning ever since I told him that there was a surprise event coming up – and trying to find out anything about it. He clearly does not understand the concept of surprise. “Do I need to book time off work?” he asked hopefully. “Nope,” said I. “Are the kids involved?” he said. “I really don’t like surprises.” I told him that snakes might be involved [they aren’t]. He hates snakes. I have warned all the kids that he may try to probe them for information. I have not told only son anything, except about snakes. I know who can’t keep a secret.

I was just in the middle of birthday planning the other evening when I heard a howl of pain from the direction of daughter one’s room. “Noooooooooo,” it went. Apparently her laptop on which she has all GCSE revision notes had closed down and was refusing to recharge. There was a look of panic in her eyes, a panic I can well empathise with given that homeworkers like me tend to provide their own IT support, with all that that entails. I wiggled the battery cable around a bit in IT expert fashion and hey presto the computer came back to life. “Back up all files now,” I said, imagining it happening at 8pm on the Sunday before exams begin when PC World is closed.

This week I have been introduced to another technical wonder: an online Q & A forum. The dress rehearsal began well. I was able to log in, something that is not always guaranteed in my experience. I could see other people commenting, but I didn’t seem to be receiving any questions. I instant messaged a colleague. “Where are my questions?” I asked. “Do you see the balloon?” came the reply. What balloon? There were no balloons in sight or indeed other party decorations. The questions and answers kept coming. “It’ll be because no-one has asked you anything,” said another colleague via IM. Yet the messages seemed to be about things I could answer. I started commenting on the comments. “You’re not doing it right,” came an IM. “You need to click on the hyperlink”. All of a sudden a balloon loomed. There followed a bit of an avalanche of questions and nothing simple. “Do you think gender pay equality has improved in the last 10 years?” asked one. It needed a pithy response because there were about 10 other questions lining up. “Yes, but”. By the end of the half hour rehearsal I was ready for a lie-down.

The thing is lie-downs seem to be more and more difficult to achieve these days. With every year that passes life seems to get busier and there are more things to fit into the day: school disco drop-offs and pick-ups, vets, SATs test dry runs and marking, pirate ship building, 2D junk food landscape painting encouragement [daughter one has one week to finish a GCSE art project that seems to have lasted a lifetime]…We’re often still doing stuff at midnight. I have the feeling that one day I will just run out of minutes. That will mean carrying stuff over to the next day. As any mathematician knows, that is a recipe for disaster. It will mean I am constantly 10 paces behind myself, drowning under a sea of email with unfed children and half-baked birthdays lying in my wake.

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.

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