This week was hard.
On Monday, Flea’s school was closed for an annual holiday. Talking to Flea on Sunday evening, I promised Flea I’d do an hour of work in the morning, and then we’d do something fun for the rest of the day.
I worked into the small hours to get everything done before Monday dawned. But with ten client projects on the go and a phone that just would NOT stop ringing, it still got to 1pm on Monday before I was able to leave my desk. We went to the local soft play, where Flea played while I managed to fall asleep. We raced back home so I could drop her at cubs, after a quick dinner of cheese on toast, because there was no other food in the house.
Tuesday, Flea was at her Dad’s, so I should have had a clear day in the office. Only I ended up having car problems and spent most of the day walking back and forth to the local garage before ending up at the car dealership getting a new tyre – which took over two hours, during which I also managed to fall asleep. I got home late, missed a weekly commitment I have to help with the local Beaver scout group, and spent the evening doing all the work I should have done during the day.
Wednesday, I was on the train to London for 8am, which gave me the chance to grab a couple of hours sleep. I had a full day of meetings, and because I wasn’t home until almost 10pm, Flea’s Dad collected her from school, took her swimming and then she slept at his place.
On Thursday, I had a dentist appointment, then a full day of work, followed by a two hour training session in the evening – another evening out meant I couldn’t look after Flea, so my parents collected her from school and took her to their place for the night. The training session was important but it did mean I didn’t sit down for dinner until 10pm, and I ate at my desk, while I finished up some urgent website copy.
Friday was a full day in the office and I did my best to catch up. My Mum rang to tell me she thought Flea was coming down with a cold, so I told her I’d pick her up Flea early so we could spend some time together. But I couldn’t get away from my desk until 5pm, which meant Flea staying in late room almost until closing time.
As I drove up to the school and saw the signs outside, my heart sank – the Christmas fair had completely passed me by. I’m sure paying attention to that stuff is part of the Mothering Contract, isn’t it?
I arrived at school at Flea raced out with her best excited face on and croaked, Can we go the fair, Mummy? Please? Or have you got to work?”
“Of course we can go,” I said, before realising I’d left home without my wallet, so Flea wouldn’t be able to play any games at the fair, or visit Father Christmas. I think at that point both of us were quite close to tears.
Flea took it with such good grace, I was shamed into popping round to my brother’s house (he lives a minute away from Flea’s school) to borrow a fiver. And we spent a lovely 20 minutes at the fair, even if most of the best stuff was gone by the time we got there. Then we came home, played board games for an hour, ordered dinner (the fridge is completely empty) and watched a movie, which I fell asleep 20 minutes into.
I woke up just before 10pm to find Flea mid-way through a second viewing of Despicable Me 2, and I took her off to bed.
I know in the scheme of things what I do doesn’t REALLY count as a hard week. There were no coal mines, everybody was warm and healthy and had enough to eat.
But oh, it feels like a hard week when you’re not doing your child justice. When she barely sees you. When you miss her. When it’s the sort of week that ends with you hiding in the car, in the dark, because it’s quiet there and the phone won’t ring, and you can take a breath and promise that next week, next month, next year, you’ll do a better job because she deserves better.
My mothering-guilt-complex is never helped at this time of year by all those amazing parents who are busy crafting and cooking and making home-made lovely things and finding time to blog about them. I’m not judging you if that’s your bag. I’m really not. I’m judging me because I wouldn’t even know where to find a bag. I can’t find time to remember where I put the council tax bill, much less get round to paying it.
I’ve long thought life’s a bit like an impossible triangle – there are friends at one corner; then there’s your child; and then there’s your job. And at any given time you can do a good job at two things, but it’s pretty much impossible to do all three well. And for all the well-meaning friends who tell me to take it easy, and take a day off, they’re not single parents, they aren’t self-employed and life’s just not always that simple.
This year has flashed past so fast I can hardly take it in – and if I have a promise to myself it’s to get balance in 2014. This year I almost lost touch with one of the most important friends in my life, simply because I didn’t devote enough time or attention to that relationship.
I don’t want 2014 to be like that. Because I look at Flea, and I remember how her face lights up when she asks me when I might be finished with work so we can play, and I say, “I’ll turn the computer off now”, and it just makes my heart hurt.
Is it just me?