Mama Said: "Picture me as a freed hostage. . ."
Emily Martin is home alone for the first time in seven years and, to be honest, doesn’t know what to do
I couldn’t possibly have imagined, as I lazed around my house that very last time, that I’d not be alone again for seven years. Being alone is something I must have taken for granted pre-motherhood because I didn’t even notice it. I don’t think I even especially liked it back then.
Never being alone is just one of the strange and unexpected consequences of having children. If you’re lucky enough to ever get a “night off” courtesy of the grandma-hotel, then that’s called a date-night and you have to spend the evening with someone else, eating takeaway or at the movies. And I didn’t know it, but what my soul was truly yearning for was a night off from the whole entire lot of them.
Seven years and two children later, most unexpectedly, the stars aligned and I had 48 straight hours by myself in my house. Unplanned. A shock. Picture me as a freed hostage who’s suddenly been put on a plane home and then there I am on the 6 o’clock news, walking down the aeroplane steps like a ghost.
One of the common themes I’ve detected from the knackered-mum community over the years is GUILT. And specifically guilt at wanting some time off.
I overheard an especially knackered-looking mum-hostage at the park say, “Is it really bad that I’ve literally got no patience for this today?” She was sort of stoop-walking along behind her child, holding the back of his cardigan as he attempted to climb up a mound and plunge head first down to whatever invisible peril awaited on the other side. “No, it’s not bad,” replied the friend, “I mean, this is 90 per cent of our lives isn’t it?”
90 per cent of our lives. It's not that children necessarily need you to do something for them 90 per cent of the time, it’s just that you have to be sort of ready in case they do. It’s like being a flight attendant on a long-haul flight that never lands. Just dozing in your little aeroplane chair, wearing your lipstick and your neck scarf, in the middle of the night, just ready in case your child presses the call button and asks for a gin and tonic and small bag of nuts. Or more realistically to ask for your help because they’ve knocked their dinner into their lap and broken the TV.
It’s a permanent state of “ON” and so, when I was switched off last Friday afternoon with kisses and “bye, Mums!” my ears were ringing as I stood there suddenly alone in my clean and quiet house. No dishes. My bed was all made. I lit a candle and allowed myself to feel literally zero anxiety that anyone was going to run into it and catch fire. And then of course I got my phone out and told people. My own little group of knackered mums. “I’m alone here. No one is here. They’re not back until SUNDAY.” Replies trickled throughout the weekend. “WHAT? WHY?”, “What’s it like?”, “What are going to DO?”
And honestly, I didn’t know what to do. Like when Tom Hanks gets off the island in Castaway and he’s in that nice hotel but prefers to sleep on the hard floor with a torch because that’s what he’s used to. I started stripping beds so I could get them washed and dried for when they all got back. Bed changing, as we know, is the most labour-intensive work you can do in a house. I did a bit of hoovering. All the while my mind was going “don’t waste it, don’t be an idiot, step away from the hoover”.
But what is there to do? When you can do anything at all, like a spoiled, greedy KING? Eat food? Watch TV? I had some wine and put a facemask on my face and also one on my feet which I believe is called a foot mask. I watched TV, made some dinner and washed it up. I was in bed by 10pm both nights. Well, the second night I stayed up a bit later, watching videos of the kids.
By Sunday morning I had gone a bit crazy and started talking to myself. With no chores and no plans, I just scrolled endlessly through social media. I always imagined if I were alone I’d sit in the garden drinking white wine and read a whole book in a single, sunny afternoon, but I couldn’t concentrate and I just kind of missed them all and wanted them to come home.
On Sunday evening they finally bounced in, full of stories. I unpacked all their stuff, made their dinners, stuck them in the bath and then me and Tom sat and watched TV together, occasionally saying something to each other about what was on, like “Fiona Bruce looks nice doesn’t she? Nice jacket, although that material looks a bit like sofa upholstery”. Straight back to it. My strange 48 hours as a different person was over. I did enjoy the quiet and tidy. But it was *so* quiet. Is this what it’s like when they grow up and leave?
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