Is it wrong that what makes the perfect day for me is often one spent without my children?
It's not that I don't love them, I do, dearly, but our interests are rarely shared. While they love nothing more than tearing around a windswept playground, watching inane cartoons, playing Lego Star Wars on the Xbox and devising ever more bloodthirsty games involving sticks. I can't say any of the above appeals.
What floats my boat is perhaps a civilised stroll around an exhibition, a genteel afternoon tea, films with no 3D effects or animated characters or a dedicated afternoon of clothes shopping – none of which is enhanced by the company of small boys.
What brought this to a head was my birthday party. It was meant to be an adults only affair. It is on a Saturday evening, there will be alcohol, dads dancing and food skewered on cocktail sticks, which surely constitutes a choking hazard. But the moment I mentioned the idea of the party my sons were begging and using their most beseeching eyes to wangle an invite.
You would think it was an A list premiere so desperate were they to come along. In the end I gave in, but inside I was seething. Now my big moment would not be spent teetering on vertiginous heels, a glass of bubbly in hand amidst the chatter of like minded grown ups. Instead I would have my children swarming around my ankles, demanding my attention, laddering my tights and messing up my make up.
I think my generation of parents might have missed a trick in allowing our lives to become quite so child centric. Maybe our own parents had it right as they had no qualms at locking the kids up in the car while they enjoyed several pints in the pub and woe betide any 70s child who attempted to gatecrash one of my parents' home made wine parties, the sights you would see there could haunt your dreams for decades.
The problem is that no matter how much you love your children, while they are small their company is best spent in the pursuit of their own interests. While sometimes at the weekend my husband and I flop, defeated, onto the sofa literally begging to spend the rest of the day in its cushioned embrace dozing off the excesses of the working week, we know this is little but a fantasy while our children are all pre-teens.
A lazy day is always ruined as the children's pent up energy gradually ramps up to fever pitch and we realise that we will pay for our sloth with four uncontrollable savages rampaging around the house until well after bedtime. It is better to bite the bullet and drag ourselves to the park or playground where they can run around until exhausted and therefore somewhat more manageable.
On the average weekend this is a deal we reluctantly make, but when it is a special day like an anniversary or birthday, I begin to resent their tyranny.
To quote the sensibly child-free, Greta Garbo, I want to be alone. I want to amble, rather than scramble after a careening child. I want to look at pretty shoes, not at their latest trick on the monkey bars.
I want to be the centre of attention, rather than constantly having mine attracted by a child repeating the word mummy ad infinitum.
Perhaps this makes me selfish, but I am sure I am not the only parent for whom the ultimate gift is a few hours to myself.
I never used to appreciate being alone until I gave birth and suddenly I never was any more.
I look back on those days off work where I would wander aimlessly pondering how to amuse myself without the distractions of the office and wonder how I could have squandered those precious hours.
Now I luxuriate in the few scant hours when my house is empty, when I know that if I put the cushions straight on the sofa they will stay that way. When I won't find a room that was once tidy reduced to a chaos of toys, spilled cups and dropped biscuits the moment my back is turned. When no one will need me for anything. Bliss.
At least now I know what to put at the top of next year's birthday list. Forget the party, just let me have a few hours to myself and it will be the happiest birthday any busy mum can have.
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