Driving back down the motorway after a rare weekend away with some girlfriends, we became more subdued the nearer we got to home. Bleary-eyed from lack of sleep and heads still sore from the night before, we knew we were all thinking the same thing: What will I come home to? And was our weekend away worth it?
It's a tricky one. Certainly when the children are small, we've all craved some respite from the dull monotony and sheer hard work of bringing up little ones. Please don't get me wrong – I would walk on burning hot coals for my brood (naked if need be and that's not a pretty sight) – but when they were little, and I was a (lucky) full-time mum, I would still be desperate for a break from them on occasions.
Going for a weekend away with my ante-natal friends – all in the same boat – was always a terrific treat. But actually, the price you paid for that brief interlude from chaos was always incredibly high.The first time I went away I was in bed by 10pm on the first night,' says my friend Sally. 'I was so exhausted from trying to make things as easy as I could for my partner Joe, right down to leaving freshly-prepared food in the fridge and a long list of who needed to be where over the next two days, that I was worn out when I arrived.'
I know where she's coming from. Over the years I've drawn up copious lists for my husband about party drop-offs (having bought and wrapped the present), sporting fixtures, antibiotic requirements for an ear-ache sufferer and the like, that my brain was fried to mash with the sheer enormity of the task in hand.
And over those same years – and yes I know I was lucky to get away – I have come home on numerous occasions to a scene which I think is pretty much described in the Book of Apocalypse.
'Yes,' muses Sally, now able to look back and laugh. 'I once came home on a Sunday afternoon to a note saying they'd gone out to lunch. Clearly the lasagne I had made near to midnight the night before leaving hadn't been up to their expectations. I felt like dishing it up on Monday morning.'
My own low point was arriving home after a (yes, totally indulgent) weekend of pampering, complete with beautifully manicured nails. The beautiful nails came in terrifically handy as in a frothing bad temper I cleaned out the lunch boxes, which had lain strewn in the hall all weekend. There's nothing like the remains of Friday's ham sandwich to bring you back to reality with a bang.
Still, you too may feel the high price to be paid is still worth it if you know you are going to get possibly two nights of uninterrupted sleep, and meals which you have chosen, not ones you know the children will eat. So, if you're still contemplating leaving them all for a weekend with the girls, read on.
Don't aim high – expect to come home to complete carnage and signs that your other half studiously ignored your list of helpful tips. If the children are alive – that's all you can really hope for.
Hence don't pull a face as you walk in the door to be confronted with a weekend's worth of clearing up to be done. That was always going to be the price to pay.
Do get the children's school clothes ready for the following Monday before you go away. And whilst on the subject of clothes, do not expect your children to be in many, and if they are, they surely won't match or fit.
Do get home in plenty of time to feed and bathe the kids – it will definitely be you on duty – and get them into bed in good time. They are bound to have been sleep-deprived as routine will have gone out the window.
Do remember to thank your husband. At the end of the day, his being there has made it possible for you to go away. Be grateful. Even if it's hard to be.
Don't be surprised if your husband runs out of the door as soon as your feet hit the welcome mat. He'll have gone into shock – and will perhaps understand just a little of the life you lead.
Does this sound familiar?
Or do you dream of a weekend away, whatever the mess that meets you once you're home?