So, here I am. Three nights in London, with my husband and without my kids. I’m here for both business and pleasure: a Bloomsbury party for authors with publications coming out in 2013, a meeting with my publicist and lots of coffees with long-lost friends.
The obvious question when I first received the Bloomsbury invitation was ‘Oh my goodness… what shall I wear?’ Living knee-deep in Devon mud does not endow you with a wardrobe fit for drinks and canapés in Bedford Square.
Once I’d resolved that one (I would wear the same outfit I wore to a Bloomsbury bash last year, and from now on that can be my writer’s signature ‘trendy top’), the next obvious question was ‘If I’m off to London, who’s looking after the boys?’
A phone call to the in-laws later and that too was resolved. And so on Wednesday I put my suitcase in the car, revved up the engine and set off for the ‘Big Smoke’ without a backward glance. Only I didn’t, did I?
As a mother (and I can only imagine a father too) leaving your children ‘behind’, albeit in the extremely capable and loving hands of their grandparents, goes against the maternal grain. Even though some days my sons drive me literally up the wall, being away from them, and their lives, feels somehow… well, wrong. I know what they do when, and what they need in their bags to do it. I know every nook and cranny of their little boy lives. How will they cope without their mum?
The other day I was sorting out an old photo album and I found the ‘instructions’ which I’d written for the Grandparents of Boys (GOBs) on our inaugural ‘away from firstborn’ weekend. I started reading, got half way down the first page and stopped. I cringed.
11.00 Put baby in cot on back (black out blinds down, baby monitor on, door slightly ajar). Do not talk to him – leave him to settle himself.
11.30 Wake baby up. Change nappy (environmentally-friendly nappies in cupboard to the left of door – beware ‘willy wash’ – muslin provided for this purpose)
11.40 Play. If he gets upset, sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ and ‘Wind the bobbin up.’ He doesn’t like ‘Incy Wincy’…
And on, and on. Four pages of five-a-day stipulations, strategies for entertaining, minute by minute schedules of every hour of the day. Four pages of rules and recommendations for the loco parentis Grandparents, who have, between them, safely and successfully reared five children of their own. Four pages of literally teaching grandmother how to suck (and probably boil) eggs.
And as the kids grew up, I continued to pen my missives of maternal wisdom – advocating strict bedtime routines and reminding them to remind them to wash. Fish pie on a Friday was always a must. Looking back, I am quite surprised the GOBs continued to be happy to look after the boys. With hindsight however, and based on the odd little snippet our sons have occasionally ‘let slip’, I realise that, entirely understandably, they took my well-meant advice with an extra-large pinch of salt. ‘Yes, it’s all good,’ they’d say on the phone when I’d call in the evening after the official boy-bed-time. ‘They’re all tucked up in bed – everything’s going to plan.’ I was sure I could hear laughter and shrieking in the background, but at the time I put it down to interference on the line.
On Wednesday I left a solitary page on the kitchen table. It read:
School drop off: 08.40; pick up 3.10.
Feisty Fellow has football on Thursday – his kit is in the bag in the hall.
Thanks and have fun. Hannah
So tomorrow when I get home and am greeted by slightly tired boys with chocolate-smudged smiles, when I get back to find all the cake eaten and the fridge still full of veg, I too will smile. Because I know that what’s important is that the boys have had fun. And amazingly they (and the GOBs) have had it, without any instruction from their mum.