I’m on holiday at the moment. When I say ‘holiday’ – what I mean is I am off of work. It is not a holiday, in the sense of taking recreation and leisure. I am sure that I am not alone as a parent, and certainly as a home-educating parent with children always at home – in seeing work as a kind of respite. I love having my kids around all the time, but parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world. There are no right or easy answers – despite what the childless, or people whose children have long grown up, think. It’s amazing how easily many days slip into unproductive chaos, so that at the end as I survey the mess through the tattered remnants of good intentions and patience, I feel that nothing has been achieved other than that time has creaked inexorably on .
Work, however, is different. I am a sub-editor. It is my job to package copy into a designated space, check it all makes sense, write a headline and picture caption and send it on its way. This is done to a deadline, which gives the work a beginning and a very satisfying definite end – at which point it is gone, yesterday’s news. It’s about as opposite from parenting as it is possible to be. No loose ends, no half-finished jobs, no sense of a hundred things left undone. It’s neat – and I like it very much, as I do my colleagues who are generally highly intelligent, witty and fun and don’t usually tell me they hate me, or that I am ruining their life merely because I suggest they should eat their mashed potato if they want any apple crumble.
I work part-time so I can be at home with my kids, which means that money is tight and time off work is spent at home, as opposed to say, horse riding in Patagonia. Therefore, I don’t view time off work with particular pleasure and sometimes actively wish I wasn’t on holiday at all.
This was most memorably demonstrated about a year ago. We had just got a new kitten who was being bullied by our older kitten – her brother from a previous litter. It turned out that all he wanted to do was pin her down and wash her ears, but at the time we didn’t know that and thought he wanted to rip her head off. Anyway, we had to keep them separated and the new kitten inside. I left the house one Friday off work to take my daughter to her dancing lesson. When I came back an hour later, the front door was wide open with no sign of the kitten. It was cold and there was already a heavy frost – and I had visions that the older cat had driven her away into the night where she would surely die of cold and starvation. I spent half an hour checking the busy road near the house for mangled bodies and then went off across the fields in the dark, looking for a black blob little bigger than my hand. It was after I stumbled over for the fifth time that the thought occurred to me that I would, all things considered, far rather be at work. For those who like a happy ending, the kitten turned out to be asleep in a drawer and is now a very contented cat.
So, time off work is not always successful – and this is no exception. I had originally booked the time because we should have now been planting trees. But there are no trees to plant as we are awaiting news about a possible woodlands grant, so instead we are carrying on with the trailer, which is being converted into living quarters. I, therefore, hastily convened a trip to friends in Bristol, which was a roaring success – too much so, in fact. My friends live in a warm, comfortable house in one of the city’s more salubrious suburbs. The children filled their boots with new friends and lots of screen time and I spent two days in a happy haze with good food, decent showers and people that I love. Then we returned home to our small, cold, electricity-less caravan that smells of damp in a village where we can’t help but feel a little unloved. ‘I want to go back to Bri-hi-hi-stol,’ sobbed Zena. ‘I want to live next door to Noah and Barney,’ she wailed.
I knew exactly how she felt.