You know those times when you actually feel, despite everything, quite organised? When the house seems reasonably tidy - old sandwiches do not fall out of jigsaw boxes etc - babysitters have been booked in advance for important events, everyone has enough clothes of the right size, one's phone is charged and you know what everyone is having for tea tonight. That feeling?
I am having the opposite of that feeling. I feel like I am in a vortex of vague, a fog of ummmmm. I look at the clock and I am baffled as to how it's that time already, or Oh Fucking Christ it's only 8.20am. I look in the freezer for food for Sam and realise it's all gone. But didn't I only just cook up a massive batch of thingy to put in here? I sit down to do an Ocado order and realise I didn't bring my shopping list to the computer. So I get up to go and find it but then the doorbell rings, and I deal with whoever it is and then I shut the door and turn and I find myself in the hallway wondering what to do next.
So I stand about humming a bit, eyeing some cobwebs in high, far corners and then remember "The Ocado!" and dash to my computer and sit down… now *pat pat pat* where is my little list…. it's like this all the time. I feel drunk, unsteady on my feet - what is that bloody pile of junk doing there, still? - I feel like I am slurring my words but I'm not. I can't describe where things are, I forget what month we are in, what day it is. I'm like Johnny 5, but not alive. Show me a rorschach and I will say "Who's going to clean up that fucking mess, then? Me?!"
Meanwhile Kitty, on holiday from nursery, sits in a corner with no pants on "doing stickers" with a painless nosebleed that has gone unnoticed by everyone including her and she has smeared a scarlet streak across her face from nose to ear. My stomach lurches as I pluck out wet wipes to dab at her face while she claws me away. Tiny sticky ballerinas, flowers, bumblebees are scrunched in the crevices of her tense restless grubby hands; a pirate swings crazily about, scaling the rigging of some strands of hair - a bear holding a briefcase is plastered to her vest.
I smell, again, that faint but unholy stink in the air that everyone has decided is a dead mouse under the floorboards. They look at me accusingly. Why have I allowed the mouse to die and decompose under the floorboards? What am I doing to rectify this situation?
What have I been doing? What it feels like I have been doing for the last three years is tidying up the kitchen only for it to be a total fucking dump the next time I look at it. WHO IS MAKING ALL THIS MESS???? Is it me? Is it Sam who now wants to feed himself with a spoon and is actually quite good at it but also dumps a reasonable amount on the floor, too? Is it my husband, who is back from America briefly before he goes again on some day in the future, the distance away from now a thing I cannot possibly compute? Who is it? WHAT IS HAPPENING???
I think it is a combination of my husband being back from America and Kitty being at home from nursery. Neither of them are particularly troublesome on their own but I am the lightning rod, the buck stops with me. The tiny cogs that turn and make up their lives - that's me, too. Loo roll, toothpaste, lunch, clean pyjamas, clean pants, shoes in the right place, a rucksack with water, snacks and spare pants to take to the zoo. Me. Enough detergent to wash the pants. Me. Dinner tonight, me. So one extra person around during the day, let alone two, means about 4,000 more cogs to attend to.
I don't want to sound like a martyr, it's fine, I don't mind doing it, but I don't seem to be able to do it properly. The thing is that when you spend your life dealing in tiny details, ("are there anymore bulldog clips so I can close this just-opened packet of pasta?", "mum can I have another sticker page?", "could you post these letters if you're going up the road?", "can I have some water?", "we need a babysitter for Thursday"), you live your life in five minute chunks. And when you do have an hour alone, you so expect to be interrupted any second now with a request, an emergency, a doorbell, a phonecall, that you cannot settle to anything. You rack your brains to think of what you ought to be doing right now and you cannot think. You just cannot think. You stare out of the window at the sunshine and then turn back to the clock and it is fifteen minutes later. Fuck!
Then just as your husband walks in the door with your three year old a cold hand squeezes your heart as you remember that you forgot, on your little sally up the road for a few things, to get anything for lunch.
My husband comes off worst at times like this, as husbands tend to, and while he was back briefly from America I have him a series of panicked dinners that were so terrible that I really felt quite sorry for him and guilty, even though my husband will eat anything.
Then he went away again and Kitty went back to nursery and Sam, sensing that it was his role, now, as man of the house, to shake things up a bit, decided to go from slurping down any sort of puree you danced in front of his nose to eating only an assortment of exciting and complex finger food, the catch being that he is not especially brilliant at eating it.
I have ended up making for him the sort of dainty dinners that Giles would fall and weep with gratitude to receive from my cirrhotic hand. The other catch is that Sam will only eat it if I have fucking chewed it once first. Yes you heard me. Any challenging mouthful he points at me like "fucking chew it you mother then give it to me". He looks at me intently, flaring his nostrils, the tips of his fingers quivering in anticipation, high on power, while I chew his bloody food and then hand it to him.
Anyway I don't care. It goes against my entire parenting facade to do this, but there's no-one to see.
The other thing that I have been doing while my husband is away again is trying to get both kids to eat the same bloody thing, which is harder than it sounds. But tonight they had ham and cheese croquettes with broccoli on the side, which went down really well and I recommend them to you.
I am grateful to Becky B for suggesting this to me.
Ham and cheese croquettas
makes about 6
(I've got no idea how echt a recipe this is, I just made it up. It works fine but the croquettes come out quite fragile - there might be a trick to making them a bit more solid but I don't care what it is so don't tell me.)
here we go
2 potatoes smaller than your closed fist
a handful of cheddar, grated
2 slices cheap ham, diced
garlic granules (if you like) or a very tiny amount of freshly squeezed garlic
about 25g butter
fresh breadcrumbs or medium Matzoh meal
1 egg, beaten
oil for frying
1 Chop, boil and drain your potatoes for 20 mins. Pass through a masher or a potato ricer. My husband got me a potato ricer for Christmas but I only used it for the first time yesterday and it's AMAZING.
2 Mix the potato immediately with the butter, cheese and ham, season with the garlic and salt and pepper (depending on how you feel about giving this to kids) and then leave to cool down a bit.
3 When cool enough to handle, shape into sausage shapes, roll in the beaten egg, then in the breadcrumbs then fry for a bit each side until golden brown. There is nothing raw here that needs to be cooked, except the egg but, really, come on, so just until they're brown will do.
Give them to your kids and watch them VANISH like a magic trick. No pre-chewing required. Then stop starting every sentence with "Has anyone seen my….?" because it's annoying.