Maddy likes a noisy, shrieking kind of party. So this year we squished a giant inflatable slide into our postage stamp garden, and she invited seventeen adult-averse teenagers to share our living space and ignore us for twenty-four hours, throwing themselves down the slide (‘AAAH!!!’), spilling sticky drinks, chucking cake about (‘HA!’), squirting writing icing at each other at midnight (‘EEEEE!!!’), and even consuming modest amounts of alcohol (what?) You want your fourteen year old to have friends who know how to party, don’t you?
It was OK; if I kept my head down and charged across the kitchen only when absolutely necessary, I could still make ice-cream in the middle of it all, and churn, label, pot, store, deliver...and keep the little ones happy (MUM! ALFIE’S GOT THE UNIT AND HE WON’T GIVE IT TO ME! MUM! DO SOMETHING! DON’T JUST SIT THERE! MUM!!’).
I didn’t have to make pancakes for the eight that slept over – but I wanted Maddy’s friends to think I was totally the coolest, nicest Mum in the world, so I was there with the double frying pans the next morning, even letting them have the maple syrup! ‘It’s fine darling – it’s your birthday’ I said, sickly-sweet, bracing myself for the drips down the bottle.
But later I began to fray around the edges, shunting children in and out of the house to do their Crouch End Fun Runs, slide still there, (‘OOOH! AAAH!’), sucking shoe laces three minutes before the start-gun to thread the blasted race-tags on (‘What are you doing Mummy – I’m going to miss my race!’ ‘Just stay still!’), running down to see the races (big smile – hurrah! – come on, whatsyername in Class thingy!!), and chatting normally with other folk as if my head was not going AWOL.
Finally the slide was gone, the races run, the guests had said ‘Thank you for having me’ Thankyou for coming!’ (first time that girl has looked at me), the dust had settled, and it was time for the children to lie down in front of the telly and relax (‘I’m tired Mum’ ‘Tired? You don’t know the meaning of the word’). But the shadowy figure in the corner (me) was still moving up and down at eight o’clock in the evening, picking up soggy socks out of the flower beds, scrubbing icing off the kitchen floor, hanging up washing, packaging up food, hoovering crisps out of the stereo, stressing about homework, making and delivering ice-cream, washing hair, spending poor quality time with children who were moody because it wasn’t their birthday weekend and with children who were moody because it was... Martyre Mum began to decompose, as she does, slowly but irreversibly, into that highly flammable bundle of anger and self-pity that is Monster Mum. ’Will someone please GET OFF THEIR ARSE and do something helpful, I have asked you to come up to have your hair washed SEVEN times now AND PICK YOUR PANTS OFF THE FLOOR, I AM CRAWLING AROUND LIKE EVERYONE’S SLAVE....’ BANG BANG BANG-BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! Pathetic. Always the same.
Still stressed on the Monday, when I hit a jam on the North Circular, I thought I’d have to do a U turn through the central reservation or I would explode. And when I took Alfie to have his third blood-test-because-we-don’t-know-what-else-to-suggest at the Whittington and ran straight into the glass of the revolving door, because my mind was so many elsewheres it couldn’t figure out how to enter a building without denting my head, I thought – you know what? I quit. Things have got to change.
So Tuesday was the first day of the rest of my life, guidelines as follows:
Thou shalt not rush. (You are not the Prime Minister, none of this really matters)
Thou shalt not stress. (Choose to be calm, man. Breathe.)
Thou shalt not shout. (You are vile. The children will leave home and never come back. All their lives they will recall their mum as a raging bull)
Three simple steps to a changed existence - easy!