Dear Dave

Wednesday 8 August 2007

One beer too many...

Dear Dave,

I had a drink during the day last week.

I don't normally do that unless it's some kind of special occasion or a family get-together. Still, there were exceptional circumstances:

For starters, we were all staying at my parents, so there were three other adults around to help look after the children. Granted, one of those adults was napping, one was reading Harry Potter and the other was napping while reading Harry Potter and somewhat deaf, but there was unlikely to be any emergency we couldn't deal with between us.

The reason I felt the need for a beer, however, was a very taxing phone call I'd just had. I was returning a call from the contractors the insurance people hired to fix the damage caused to our house by the leak from next door's central heating. Everything is now dry at last, the air blowers are gone and we're being moved out soon so all the plumbing under our stairs can be ripped out and the walls around it re-plastered.

I arranged the dates with the insurers while we were still on holiday and the contractors were simply supposed to call me back on my mobile to confirm it all. Except they phoned my home number, of course. Luckily, I picked the message up remotely from the answering machine and phoned them back. They denied all knowledge. Then they remembered who I was... but couldn't find my file. They also thought they were removing the boiler rather than the hot water tank.

None of this was very reassuring.

They did, however, agree they were coming on the day the insurers had said and they took down my mobile number. Since they had already lost my file, I can only imagine what they then did with this information. I suspect they scribbled it on the back of an envelope and then posted it.

Somewhat stressed after that conversation, I decided to sit down with a beer and relax for a few minutes. It was nearly teatime anyway. The grandparents were dozing, Sarah was reading and the kids were amusing themselves. It was the perfect opportunity to flop in an armchair and catch up on the news. I took a swig of my beer, opened the paper and was confronted by the headline story that the summer holidays are driving mums to drink.

I nearly spilled my beer.

Apparently, the stress of having to entertain children for weeks on end causes a spike in the number of mums being admitted for alcoholism treatment.

(At least, that's what some private chain of rehab clinics was saying. Since the story gave them front page publicity and the chance to hand out a list of the tell-tale signs of an alcoholic primary carer, it could be argued that there was a certain amount of touting for business going on. I'd lay off the cooking sherry for a couple of weeks, in case anyone tries to shop you...)

One of the common signs of a problem is the evening glass of wine turning into a bottle. Certainly, I can see the temptation of that slippery slope - it's much easier resisting a second can of beer after a difficult day than holding back on another helping from a bottle that's already uncorked.

Still, there's no harm in looking forward to a little drink at the end of a day spent chasing children. I can see, however, how the holidays might cause problems and lead to a not-so-little drink at lunchtime. Obviously, if parents are struggling to maintain a balance between family life and their careers, then suddenly having the little blighters out of educational daycare for several weeks is bound to add extra pressure.

Am I the only parent, however, who actually looks forward to the holidays? I'm already in charge of Marie all the time as it is. Lewis only spends two and a half hours a day at nursery. Fraser is old enough to entertain himself and he's relatively low maintenance even when he's not at school. The holidays mean I have more children around more of the day but they also mean that I don't have all the hassle of getting those children out the door in time for school or of needing to be back in time to collect them. There's no racing to swimming lessons or hanging about in the rain waiting for drama class to end. More than that, the summer holidays mean lazing about and then heading to the swing-park. They're an opportunity for Sarah to take some vacation and for us all to visit the grandparents.

When else do I get the chance to sit down with a beer and look at the paper?

I sipped guiltily on my beer and continued to read. Inside was an opinion piece written by a mum who did, indeed, find the summer holidays quite hard work. Her three children were being very demanding. They were needing lots of attention. Entertaining them was very expensive. They hadn't really enjoyed their basket-weaving class. They were complaining because she'd hidden their PlayStation. Being teenagers, they were...

Eh? What?

I checked more closely. Yep, her kids were all teenagers and she'd hidden their PlayStation. My sympathy waned somewhat. Last summer, Marie was going to bed at eleven o'clock at night, she was waking to cry for two hours at about three in the morning and then the boys were getting up at seven thirty. That was three children being demanding. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure having teenagers will be difficult in its own way but, honestly...

Once Fraser reaches adolescence I'm expecting him to lose the power of speech and spend all his time in his room. Our conversations will be conducted through the closed door and I imagine the scene will run something like this:

Me (hammering on the door): Are you up?
Fraser: Ungh.
Me: Was that a 'yes'?
Fraser: Uuungh.
Me: Have you cleaned your room?
Fraser: Ungh-ungh.
Me: Well, have you got any laundry to be done? You haven't put any in the tub for a week.
Fraser: Ungh. (The door opens slightly and a single pair of underpants are dropped on my feet. The door is quickly closed again).
Me: Thanks. Want to go on an exciting trip to see an historic collection of belt buckles?
Fraser: Nurghhh!
Me: Well, just remember if you can't think of anything to do then...
Fraser: Ugh wah!
Me: OK, see you at feeding time. (I kick the underpants out an open window into the waiting wheelie-bin below and then walk away, whistling to myself).

Certainly, if any of my kids claim to be bored as teenagers I will send them to live with my parents in rural Norfolk and let them watch corn grow for a fortnight. That'll teach them. If all else fails, and they still complain there's nothing to do, they can learn to clean the bathroom. That way, at least, they will really have something to moan about and I'll have more time to sit around drinking beer.

Oh no, hang on...

Well, one beer the other day didn't hurt.

Not much, anyway:

I ended up playing a game with Marie soon afterwards which mostly consisted of us wandering around the house jumping off steps in interesting and varied ways. After a few jumps, however, she started holding her bottom with both hands. I asked why she was doing it. She told me and insisted I do the same.

We continued the game, waddling through the kitchen and into the dining room. I felt a small hand on my buttock. "Are you holding my bottom now?" I said loudly. "In case it falls off?"

Marie nodded happily.

We were passing granny at this point. She was on the phone to the minister. She suddenly looked a mixture of embarrassed and cross.

"Waddle for your life!" I whispered to Marie. We made a break for it, leaving a trail of giggling behind us but, fortunately, not our bottoms.

With hindsight, I think I'll hold off on the beer till the evening in future...

Yours in a woman's world,


PS The contractors phoned my home number again a couple of days later, still wanting to confirm the date to come and remove the plumbing.

I wasn't entirely surprised.

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