When my husband walks through the door this evening, he’ll probably find me slumped on the sofa, staring at the TV through glazed eyes. There will almost certainly be toys dotted about the living room and plastic coins lurking in the corners of the dining room. In the kitchen, the draining board will be piled high with mugs and plastic plates and there may or may not be something cooking for us to eat tonight. At this point, he’ll probably be wondering what on earth I’ve been doing all day.
It’s something I’m asked a lot, and not just by him: what do you actually do all day? Friends and family who haven’t had the, ahem, pleasure of looking after children all day, every day seem genuinely perplexed by how I might fill the hours. Whether they suspect that I pass the time in front of daytime TV while the kids poke each other in the eye, I’ll never know. What I do know is that it’s all-consuming, from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to sleep. It’s hard to understand unless you’ve been there and done it. Before I had children, I was fairly sceptical about those women who claimed that they never had time to have a shower/paint their nails/see their friends because of their children, but now I get it (and I apologise).
In case I ever look back at these years and wonder why I never wrote a novel/had my roots done very often/embarked on a new and life-changing career, I decided to record a typical day. So last Thursday – Valentine’s Day, as it happens – I wrote down most of what I did, from midnight to midnight. It was an ordinary day looking after the children at home (the angelic but teething 7-month-old and the occasionally stroppy and very full-on 3 year-old). We had no plans for the day other than my brother dropping around at some point. Although I’d planned to write down everything, I just didn’t have time. So I’ll leave you to imagine the numerous nappy changes and toddler loo breaks, nose wipes and discussions about being gentle with the baby, that I have left out. Welcome to my world.
00.50: Woken up by the baby (who still sleeps in our bedroom for the time being). Try to ignore her for a minute or so and hope she goes back to sleep, but she doesn’t. Conscious of bothering the neighbours, I pick her up and feed her. Use my phone to catch up with the news, have a look at Twitter and generally try to stay awake until she’s finished.
1.25am: The baby finishes feeding so I put her back into her cot and go back to sleep.
5.30am: Awoken by a creaking door and footsteps on the stairs, followed by the boy clambering into our bed. He’s got into this habit lately and we haven’t managed to break it. In an authoritative whisper I implore him to be quiet, not wake the baby and go straight back to sleep. Thankfully he does.
6.30am: Everyone’s awake. While OH gets himself ready for work, I change the baby’s nappy and get her dressed. Put her back in her cot with a toy to play with while I get myself dressed. The boy plays in our bed with the pillows and refuses to get put his clothes on. I try to get him to get dressed, but he won’t. Give up and take them downstairs for breakfast.
7.00am: Put baby in playpen with toys and the boy watches cartoons while I unload the dishwasher, make breakfast for three of us (the baby – water, porridge and banana; the boy – apple juice, Shreddies, banana and toast; me – muesli and a cup of tea). Feed the baby breakfast while encouraging the boy to eat his and having mouthfuls of my own. Toast is rejected but everything else pretty much eaten. Clear the table of crockery, put all the cereal boxes etc away, wipe down the table and highchair, load up the dishwasher. Draw the living room curtains and tidy it up a bit in there (folding the blankets from the night before, re-homing the cushions, moving old newspapers out and into the recycling pile in the kitchen).
8.00am: Breastfeed the baby while the boy plays.
8.30am: Change the baby’s nappy while encouraging the boy to get his clothes on. He’s still refusing and my various well-worn threats/encouragements are having no effect. Tidy up the study, sorting through piles of clothes that have been left around. Sort out the clean washing into piles for each person and another pile to go downstairs (tea towels etc). Reluctantly start an ironing pile (I am very bad at ironing and avoid it at all costs, but some things I can’t avoid doing). Put a load of washing on.
9.00am: Brush my teeth and ask the boy to brush his. Give the baby her brush to play with, too. Finish off the boy’s teeth as he just sucked the toothpaste and didn’t actually brush. Still trying to get him to get his clothes on but he continues to mess about. Let him keep playing because I need to get some stuff done and can’t be bothered to argue with him about it anymore. While he makes houses out of pillows on our bed, the baby sits with me and plays with toys while I do the ironing. Sort out some baby clothes and other bits for my brother and sister-in-law.
9.45am: The boy has an excessive amount of energy, running around like mad. Normally I’d take them both out at this point but I’m not sure when my brother is arriving so we stay in and read instead. The baby just wants to chew the books and/or rip off any lift-the-flap features, while the boy really wants to listen. Eventually give up and do a jigsaw instead. Again, the baby just wants to chew the pieces while the boy wants to play with it properly. Act as referee.
10.30am: Change the baby’s nappy and tidy up the pillow mountain in our bedroom. Empty nappy, bathroom and bedroom bins. Hang out washing. Put the baby down for a nap as she’s exhausted.
11.00am: Make a snack for the boy who’s finally fully dressed: chopped up apple, dates and an oatcake. Sit with him at the table while he eats, then tidy away the plate, wipe down kitchen surfaces and sweep up mud brought in by buggy the day before. Sort out the recycling in the kitchen and take it outside.
11.30am: Make a batch of cheese scones and a weaning-friendly tomato soup while intermittently pretending to be a knight in the boy’s fantasy game. Try to get him interested in cooking with me but he’s more interested in playing. Put potatoes in the oven for lunch, clear up kitchen and load up the dishwasher.
12.40pm: Brother gone and baby awake. The boy forces me to to sit down on a beanbag and pretend to be on a pirate ship.
1pm: Put together lunch for all of us (one-handed as the baby is refusing to be put down). Do simple plates of baked sweet potatoes, grated cheese, beans, dried apricots etc. Tidy up in the kitchen as I go along.
1.15pm: Give the children their lunch (feed the baby hers and encourage the boy to eat his). Clear the table, put dishes in dishwasher and tidy up the kitchen a bit.
1.40pm: Breastfeed the baby and change her nappy.
2pm: Eat my lunch while chatting to the baby who’s in her highchair.
2.10pm: The boy is tetchy and needs to go out so we get ready to leave the house. I need to go to town to get a birthday present, so decide that’s what we’ll do. Pack changing bag, find hats, coats, shoes etc, check nappy and wee status and get them both into the buggy. Put a load of ‘handwash’ washing in the washing machine and cross my fingers (life’s too short to wash clothes by hand).
2.30pm: Leave the house for town, a short walk away. Buy a present and do some other bits and pieces. The baby is asleep and the boy looks tired, so in a fit of optimism I decide to walk home and hope he’ll be asleep by the time I get back so I can have a quiet cup of tea. He does fall asleep but wakes up as we turn onto our road. Typical. Rejuvenated from his power nap, he nags for us to go to the park.
3.45pm: Head to the park (a minute’s walk from the house, thankfully). Like a puppy, he needs a run around or he’ll go crazy later on. He scooters while I chase him with the buggy.
4.10pm: Head home. Sweep up all the mud we’ve brought into the house. Put coats, hats and boots away. Give the boy a snack and get a cup of tea for myself. Unload the washing machine and hang out the washing.
4.40pm: Bath for both of them. The boy wallows in the big bath with a million toys while I bathe the baby in the safety of her little bath. Have the usual conversation with the boy about washing his hair but he’s adamant he wants daddy to do it another time. Can’t be bothered with the trauma of it on my own (he goes absolutely wild when he has his hair washed for some reason) so decide to leave it until I’ve got back-up. Wash the baby’s hair, which she positively enjoys. Get both of them dressed for bed.
5.30pm: Make tea for both of them – soup and cheese scones, yoghurts and so on. I feed the baby while the boy feeds himself. Try to read him a comic at the same time, but easier said than done.
6pm: Clear the table, make an attempt at tidying the kitchen and then take them upstairs to brush their teeth. Tidy up from bath time – hang up towels, tidy toys up a bit.
6.30pm: Head up with them both to the boy’s bedroom and read him a few books before bed while the baby gets increasingly tetchy.
7pm: With the boy in bed, I feed the baby on our bed while listening to the radio. The most peaceful time of the day.
7.30pm: Put the baby in her cot and then have a shower and wash my hair, as no time this morning. OH comes back with a welcome bottle of prosecco (well it is Valentine’s Day after all – can’t you tell?).
8pm: Make supper for us (a simple pasta and artichoke dish with salad and then a rare homemade pudding). Eat, tidy up the kitchen, clear the table and put the dishwasher on. Watch a bit of TV.
10.30pm: Bed, hoping the baby won’t wake up too soon.
~ Repeat until the weekend ~
Writing it all down made me realise just how full-on life is, and that even on those days when I’d say that we did nothing much because we didn’t go anywhere or do anything special, the reality is that I’ve done loads. And I’m sure it will get far more hectic as we have to factor in school runs, homework, packed lunches and all that. Stay-at-home parents everywhere, I salute you. And to their partners, show that you’re grateful and give them a lie-in or a day off from time to time. They deserve it.