Every July as far back as I can remember, my parents have packed up their motor home, taken the ferry over to Calais and driven down to Spain. There, they set up home for the Summer, bask in the glorious sunshine, relax by the pool and my Dad drinks his body weight in San Miguel, although he claims that this is absolutely not true.
And every year I miss them, of course I do, but this year has possibly been the longest, hardest Summer without them yet. Perhaps more so as I have been so unwell, perhaps the different ages of the children, the many nursery drop offs, school runs, after school clubs that have suddenly become a part of our lives and perhaps, if I am completely honest, because I have well and truly taken it forgranted that they are always there, at the end of the phone, on the front door step, at the drop of a hat.
Of course we have had help over the Summer when we really needed it but its the little things that have been hard. The times my parents will pop over so that I can nip to Tesco without it becoming a mammoth task that takes three hours, sit with the children while I attend my fourth doctors appointment of the week, drive Lewis to football so I don’t have to load all three babies in and out of their car seats, do the washing up or Hoover round while I feed the children so that life doesn’t feel so completely overwhelming at times.
But this week, life DID feel overwhelming, topped with a bad day in a chain of bad days over the last eight weeks.
On Friday, as I woke up to the sound of torrential rain and the wail of, “I can’t walk to school in this!!” coming from Lewis’s bedroom, I knew that this was not a good start to the day. For a start, we had overslept and it was 8.15am and Lewis has to be in school for 8.40am. All three babies were still fast asleep, Eva and Megan both due in nursery for 9.15 at opposite ends of our village. And although I have previously got the children ready in a hurry before, never have I had to get myself, four children, two packed lunches, three bags and a PE kit sorted in fifteen minutes.
There is something about the phrase, “Be quick!” that causes my children to slow down. The phrase, “We’re going to be late!” simply seems to escalate their reluctance to co-operate, causes essential items (mainly shoes!) to disappear off the face of the earth, and my blood pressure to rise to the point where I could hear my own heart beat pulsing in my ears. At the point where Eva insisted that she wanted Rice Krispies with no milk and informed me that she was going to eat them ONE AT A TIME I very nearly lost the plot but was distracted by the fact that Megan, who HAD wanted milk with her Rice Krispies, had of course spilled them all over the kitchen floor. Torn between cleaning them up or the ever ticking clock, I resorted to forcing the dog to lap them up and a mental note to spray some Dettol on the floor when I got home.
“Where’s the hairbrush?? I need the hairbrush??!” I screeched like a mad woman as Lewis looked at me in fear, knowing that any minute now I was about to launch into a rant about the fact that he should have made an alternate plan with his friends for days when it was raining. “Will this do?” he asked, holding out Princess Elsas plastic comb which to be fair, and not for the first time, did the job of four pigtails and a Weetabix splattered comb over for Harry.
I dressed Megan as Lewis dressed Eva, which admittedly would have been highly amusing had I not been so stressed. “These knickers are too small!” Lewis moaned as he yanked Evas knickers, sideways on up her chubby thighs. “I want Mummy to dress meeeeee!!” Eva wailed as I wrestled with Megans dungarees whilst images of Chucky flashed before me. “Me want toast!!!” she screeched and smashed me around the side of my face with a plastic Brontosaurus.
Deciding that dressing Harry would waste precious time, and as he was only coming back home with me anyway, I stuffed him into his car seat, still wearing his pyjamas…and his sleeping bag…..and bundled him into the car, getting soaked in the meantime. “Next!” I shouted to Lewis, who was restraining the girls at the door. As he pushed Megan out to me, like a solider being thrust out from behind a bunker, she ran across to me, screaming as the rain pelted down on her, sending her into a full on meltdown. Getting Megan into her car seat is hard enough at the best of times but when she is going completely rigid with rage, it is full on impossible. By this point I was drenched and as I called for Lewis to send out Eva, I could see her clinging on to the door frame, “BUT I DONT WANT TO GO TO NURSERY!!!”. As I got her in the car, kicking and screaming, and admittedly quite snotty and hot, and Lewis sheepishly skulked in beside her, he said what we had all been thinking.
“I wish Nana and Grandad were here”.
As we sat in silence, in the middle of a traffic jam, watching the minutes tick by on the clock, I could feel my stress levels reaching an all time high. “It looks well if you’re late on your third week of school Lewis!” I couldn’t help but snap, ignoring his little face in the back, the fact that he too would be worrying about being late, that he too would be scared of getting into trouble. And as he jumped out of the car and sprinted up to the entrance I felt like a terrible parent that there had been no time to kiss him goodbye, to tell him to have a nice day, to say I’m sorry that I’ve been so stressed lately, that things have been hard.
And as I dropped Megan at nursery, juggling all three of them whilst trying to hide the fact that there was toothpaste down the front of my top and my hair hadn’t seen a brush in days, Megan turned to me and said, completely matter of fact, “I don’t like you!” and again, I felt like the worst parent in the whole world.
By this point Eva was very much spiking a temperature and I agreed that she didn’t have to go to nursery and could come home with me but first we had to detour to Tesco for more Calpol. “Please can I stay in the car?” she asked me as we parked up, “Sometimes I just like being on my own.” And as I heaved her into the trolley, thrashing in resistance, I wanted to tell her, me too!
As we arrived back home and I took in last nights pots still in the sink, the pile of washing waiting to be done, the rug in good need of a Hoover, Harry screaming because he still hadn’t had his milk and Eva crying because she thought that chocolate would be much better for her than medicine, I stood in the kitchen, and all I could think was.
I want my Mum.
When Megan came home from nursery in the worst mood ever, cried for two hours solid because her gingerbread man had the wrong colour buttons and spilled her juice cup for the third time that afternoon, I had fought back tears. When after an hour baking my first gluten-free loaf I had finally cut myself a slice and realised that it tasted of cardboard, I had snivelled pathetically. But when Harrys nappy exploded up his front and his back, smeared across my couch and subsequently on to my jeans, I had admitted defeat and bathed him whilst crying big, fat, miserable tears.
And when Lewis came home from school, gave me a big hug and apologised for the stress of the morning, he told me,
“It will all be okay when Nana and Grandad are home, wont it?”.
Because the truth is, it has been so hard without them, harder than I ever imagined. Of course I don’t begrudge them their holiday, they are enjoying their retirement and rightly so, but right now, after eight long weeks, I have finally crumbled.
And the children have missed them terribly. Despite speaking to them on Skype most nights, they have missed their kisses, their cuddles, their presence in our home. Eva has been so angry with them for leaving us, refused to speak to them at all for the first few weeks and even now will only speak to them for long enough to tell them, “COME HOME!!!”.
But for me, I have realised that without them, without their support and their help, I have really struggled. And not just that, but I miss them. I miss the daily phone calls where my Mum will ring simply to ask me, “What did you have for tea?” or now, since she discovered the world of Imessage, the ten thousand messages a night she will send me telling me useless information or a running commentary on her favourite TV shows.
“Hi, its me Mum” she will write, just incase I think that somebody has broken into her house and stolen her iPad, “Are you watching Big Brother?”.
“Watching it on delay, so don’t tell me who’s evicted!!” I will tell her.
“Okay, I wont tell you who went. Will just say, it wasn’t John….”
And I miss all of that, miss knowing that they are just two minutes away, that if I need them they can be there to help. I miss laughing at the ridiculous things that they come out with, mentally storing it so I can tell Gaz later that night and we can laugh about how stupid they can be. I miss feeling irritated, rolling my eyes at all of their annoyances and the little things that rile me on a day-to-day basis. I miss the sight of my dad letting himself in with his key first thing in the morning so that I can take Eva to nursery without having to get Meggy and Harry ready, or the days when he is up there on our roof pottering about with loose tiles or unleashing his sealant gun on the conservatory.
But most of all I miss the parent I am when they are here. Because I’ll be honest with you, as the last eight weeks have passed, I have become more stressed and less patient with the children, and I think that they have totally picked up on it. I love being a Mummy, of course I do, but being with them 24-7 without a break is physically, and mentally draining. Its hard not to lose my patience when I am feeling ill and I am having to drag all four of them along to the doctors with me or miss out on my CBT appointments because I can’t get a sitter. It’s hard to find the energy to smile and play games when I feel drained, when my back is screwed from lugging them all in and out of the car, when my last shred of sanity is hanging by a thread.
I speak to friends who tell me, “You are so lucky to have your parents.” and I agree whole heartedly. I have complete respect for those people who don’t have the support of their own families, whose parents are perhaps no longer with us, too sick to help out or live too far away. I genuinely have no idea how those people cope every single day knowing that at no point will your parents pop over and help lessen the load. It terrifies me that one day, that could well be me.
Because being a parent is hard full stop, but with four? It’s a constant battle! Can we cope without their help? Of course we can, we have managed eight long weeks without any kind of catastrophe, but is it easier when they are around?? Hell yes!!!
So on Wednesday when they finally return, laden down with as much duty-free as you can possibly imagine, again completely not for their own consumption, I will be waiting with open arms, far more gratitude, and the news that if they book again for next year…..I’m coming too!!!!!!