Having our own business and working on it full time has never made this ‘work life’ balance thing easy, particularly with our Little Miss and Big Lad. The Big Lad may be old enough and capable of seeing to himself most the time but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be there to do it for him. That’s what Mums are for, right?
Work has been crazy these last few weeks. We were offered a potential business opportunity that could possibly be life changing for our future. That has brought with it more work, pressure and stress than we have ever known. It’s been like being back at university again, pulling all nighters to meet deadlines. We’ve worked more, slept less, stressed more and relaxed less, and all of this is not exactly conducive to family life. I am justifying this because if we manage to pull this opportunity off, it will change our lives and our kids are, of course, part of that.
Whether it’s been snapping at the Big Lad for not tidying his room (when I’ve already asked him 1037 times) or opting for episodes of ‘The Wiggles’ on Netflix as a means of entertaining the Little Miss instead of the usual interactive play, messy play and story reading we usually do together, I’ve not been the best Mum in recent weeks. More time has been focused on work and less time on the kids and whilst I can justify why we are doing it until I am blue in the face, it doesn’t feel very good. It feels bloody awful, in fact.
Despite having a whole boat load of work to do over the bank holiday weekend, we ditched it in favour of some family time. That sort of time is good for the soul. And our souls could do with some goodness. Whilst out at a farm, the 4 of us, we got to talking about the Big Lad’s plans for after he leaves school. Whilst university feels miles away, he’s already doing his GCSEs and it scares the shit out of me how quickly time is flying by. University has always been part of the grand plan for the Big Lad. I didn’t take the conventional route to university and ended up doing my degree long distance whilst working full time and raising my baby boy (many moons ago!); it was tough going. Like really tough. I don’t believe that a degree is essential to get where you want to be in life, but he has a clear idea of where his future lies (which is more than I can say for me at his age – I think I still believed I was going to be a Radio DJ at that point….) and in order to break in to that sort of career, he does need a degree.
My Big Lad is quiet and sensitive, thoughtful and loving. He still holds my hand when we are out and about ( and I absolutely cherish those moments. Every single one of them.) and becoming a big brother has seen him flourish in to a mature, caring, kind and compassionate young man. He’s a home bird. He loves to hang out at home, he loves family days (he prefers the xbox but he definitely does like the occasional family day!) and he likes to stay close. When letters come out from school about skiing trips to France or trips to New York (I know! New York! New bloody York! Beats the glamorous outdoor pursuits residential weekend in the Lake District (in the torrential rain, no doubt…)that we were offered at school!) and we ask him if he wants to go, he answers instantly with a firm and clear ‘No thanks’ (or maybe minus the ‘thanks’ bit if he’s being particularly teenage angsty…). He isn’t interested in trips away, he’s quite happy remaining at home, in a familiar place with familiar people.
We’ve talked about university before. We have four fantastic universities within a 30-40 minute drive away so moving away to a university further away has never even been something we have contemplated in a conversation. Until Saturday. There we were, casually strolling around the worst smelling farm my nostrils have ever experienced, and the words ‘I think I’d quite like to move away when I go to university’ left his mouth. They left his mouth so carelessly. But with every new syllable my heart dropped further and further in to my stomach. I laughed it off. I used the, you know, ‘I’m smiling and I’m sort of laughing but on the inside I’m literally dying. Dying I tell you!’ laugh. I started off casual, with the, you know, old ‘Who’s going to make you a sunday dinner on a Sunday?’ ‘Who’s going to wash your clothes?’ ‘Who’s going to make sure there’s food in your cupboards?’ but when he answered (a little too promptly for my liking) ‘A local carvery, a local launderette and Tesco’ I needed to ramp it up a little. The conversation gradually built up and up until I was metaphorically clinging on to the backs of his trousers screaming whilst sobbing ‘Pleeeeease don’t leeeavvve meeeee.’
It shouldn’t have hurt as much as it did. But I think because I know I’ve been the shittest mother ever to walk the planet these past few weeks, I instantly laid the blame at my door. He wants to leave home because I’ve not been home enough. He wants to leave because I’ve been nagging him about his room. He’s leaving because he’s sick of me questioning him on whether he’s brushed his teeth, changed his boxers and used deodorant every morning. He’s leaving, well, because he’d rather live alone than live with his Mum. The guilt. Oh the guilt. It washed over me like a wave. Actually, sod that, it washed over me like a fecking Tsunami.
I couldn’t even count on my husband for moral support. He made a comment like ‘Good for you, son. Get yourself out there’ or something of that nature. I couldn’t hear the exact words for the deafening sound of my heart breaking. I know what you’re probably thinking right now, you’re thinking I’m being dramatic, aren’t you? Well, there is nothing more dramatic than your son telling you that he actually wants to leave home at an undetermined point in the future. That’s just not okay with me. Jokes aside, I’m not ready to let go of his coat tails just yet. And a couple of years isn’t going to make me feel any better, I am certain. I’m being selfish. I know I’m being selfish because what if him leaving home is the making of him? What if this is his chance to make his mark on the world? And I want all that for him. I want his life to be limitless. I want him to have it all. Because he deserves it so much. But I just want him to come back to me afterwards. I love him so much.
This one conversation sent my hormones haywire for the rest of the weekend. The following day we set out on a day trip just the hubby, Little Miss and I (despite my best attempts at persuasion, the Big Lad decided that the Xbox had more appeal on this occasion) and we were travelling in the car when I glanced back at Little Miss. I glanced at her like I glance at her a million times a day, every time we are in the car together, only this time something got me. She was asleep, her little head resting against the side of the car seat. Her eyes closed tight with her long, day eyelashes so still. Her tiny, puffy little hand laid gently on top of the other. Her little feet swaying with the motion of the car. She looked so beautiful. So fragile. I felt something. Like the biggest pounding to my stomach. It was the realisation that in no time at all, she would be having the very same conversation with me too. Because I can’t even begin to emphasis how quick those years have flown over. Time is so precious when you are raising children. You can’t get time back. Every day we spend is a day that we lose. Every moment we share with our children is gone in an instant. I have never been surer of the need to cherish every single moment with my two children. Even the moments where you’re frazzled, drained of all energy and surrounded by poo and vomit. Because these moments are time limited. We will spend a lifetime afterwards trying to recall the every detail of these precious moments as we create a lifetime of memories in our minds.
That realisation flooded me with emotion and I instantly began to cry. I think some of those tears was about the fact that I feel like my time with the Big Lad is running out and the guilt of wasting some of the time during his childhood being wrapped up in work; and some of them were about me becoming overwhelmed with the fact that I have another childhood to enjoy, treasure and cherish with the Little Miss. I wished I hadn’t bothered spending so much time on precision eye liner because within seconds I looked like someone out of Kiss. Thanks goodness it was sunny enough for me to realistically justify wearing sunglasses, avoiding the ‘I’m wearing sunglasses in the dark like a Z-Lister’ look.
They may be 15 years and 18 months old but I want to protect them until my dying day. I want to see to their needs every single day of their lives. I want to protect them from heart break. I want to protect them from disappointment, upset, feeling sick, scared – the lot. I know that they have to get big and grown up one day. I’m not daft, I know they can’t stay with me forever (although that won’t stop me trying to come up with reasons why they should….) but I don’t want to think about that right now. I’m not ready to think about that right now. This weekend has served as a reminder that being Mum to my two children is a privilege. It’s a privilege that not all people get. Whilst life will invariably place a strain on me being Mum of the Year from time to time, I want to be the best Mum I possibly can be because when I wave them both off to enter in to the big wide world on their own (when they’re like aged 62 or something….) I want to know that I did the best I can and made the most of every single precious moment of their childhood. I don’t want to think ‘I wish I put my mobile phone down more’ or ‘I wish I put the laptop away on an evening and spent it with the kids instead’ or ‘I wish I’d taken more time as a family’ because I can only imagine how difficult it would be to live with those thoughts. As mums we feel guilt as a default emotion; most of the time it is misplaced and it is certainly a pointless emotion as no good can come of it. I don’t want to feel guilt. I just want to know, in my own mind, that I’ve done the very best I can. Because, then, I can live with that.