It’s a bit of a packed schedule with four kids and if you are going somewhere with children, particularly teenagers, you have to add at least 10 minutes per journey to the schedule for unforeseen circumstances. That is 10 minutes that you usually haven’t got. On Friday only son had an afternoon class assembly. Daughter three had finished her exams and was ready to go out; daughter one was preparing for an evening out, but decided she would come. I had an interview to do just before. I decided the class assembly could be my lunch break. “I will be finished the interview at 2.25, giving us 5.5 minutes to get to the class assembly,” I said. “Be ready.”
Of course at 2.25 no-one was totally ready. And daughter three had put some sun cream in her eye and was complaining vociferously that her eye hurt. I gave her a bottle of water and told her to flush it out en route. We arrived 30 seconds before the class assembly began. School – like parents – knows children and builds in an extra 10 minutes to get the kids into the hall. Daughter three had refused to flush her eye out so was sitting in the assembly with her eye watering and wincing. Only son, however, was looking very happy to see the family and was belting out “This is the greatest class”. I told daughter three to go to the toilet and put her head under the faucet. Part of me was thinking that maybe she had permanently damaged her eye – who knows? – and that my ‘get on with it’ attitude was evidence of parental neglect. Twenty minutes later, after the assembly had finished, she emerged ‘cured’.
The following day was a bit of a marathon. Only son had had a sleepover and his friend was up around 6am. My partner was going away for the weekend. Daughter one was somewhere in Essex with zero cash and needed a lift home after a party. Daughter three had a sewing lesson and only son and his friend wanted to go to the cinema. It was a tight timetable, but I like a challenge and time and me have become love-hate friends since I have become a parent.
We picked up daughter one, returned to drop her off to find one of the kittens sitting on the sofa watching the football, with his paw on the remote. We made it to the shopping centre with about two minutes to spare for the sewing lesson. Daughter three announced that she had not had breakfast. Her lesson was three hours long. I was running low on cash because children eat cash for breakfast – rather than actual breakfast. As soon as I get some out it disappears. I got daughter three some provisions and rushed to the cinema. We slipped in just as the film started. I’d smuggled in some homemade popcorn and a couple of drinks. Two hours passed in relative calm with just a few toilet breaks. We dashed back to the sewing class to pick up daughter three who was making a white skirt and had just learned how to insert a hidden zip. Daughter three wants to be a fashion designer. At that precise moment only son’s friend developed a very heavy nosebleed. He was standing precariously near the white skirt and started trying to rub the blood away, making even more of a mess. We made an emergency exit in the direction of the nearest toilet. I couldn’t remember what you are supposed to do with nosebleeds, but only son had helpfully watched a first aid video on Youtube.
Family life is a team effort and you need to make the most of the skills each individual child has. Only son is a fount of random knowledge and a self-proclaimed “maths god” [he is particularly good at anything involving the 13 times table]. Daughter one is good at philosophical questioning of all things, technology, arch comments and is our leading role model. Daughter two is an expert on nutrition and morality and very good if you need someone to do something dramatic. Daughter three is ace at list-making, general organisation, cake making and research. Knowing your team ensures you can play to its collective strengths.
We returned home and daughter three made a rainbow cake for the school fete while daughter two whipped up some vegan chocolate brownies for her sister, who was on her period and therefore in need of a sugar rush. Only son built a Minecraft superdome. I did the washing.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.