I was, I had been, waving… bobbing around on the sea in the choppy water. Waving for help. Here! Over here! Help me.
And then about a fortnight ago I surrendered. I gave up and stopped treading water. Goodbye world, hello to my watery Other Life. I slipped under the surface, silently. Hands up, pale fingertips the last you would see of me, leaving only a few bubbles, like the prow of a slowly sinking boat.
I find myself not caring if the schools go back or not. I find myself, in fact, reluctant for them to go back. The children, my children belong here. Here with me: forever! I am Gollum-like, hissing, crabbed and jealous of my two preciouses.
This is not me, this is not the me that I know. I am embarrassed to confess this. Usually I am first in line on Day 1 of term, shouting See Ya! And then Woohoo H&M Oxford Circus, here I come! Ray Bans on, chewing gum, WhatsApping everyone GIFS of Eddie Murphy doing the PERFECT! sign.
I am generally suspicious of women who declare they don’t want their children to return to school. Back in September I spoke to a woman I hadn’t seen for a while. She has three school-age children. Or is it four…
“How was lockdown?” she said.
“Oh my god, awful,” I replied.
“Oh no!” she said. “Why?”
I didn’t know what to do with my face. Why? WHY? This thing, this I Love My Children, Just Not All The Time thing, it’s a shibboleth and a complicated one at that.
But now I’m confused. My lizard brain strongly doesn’t want to release my little lizards back into the world, any world, let alone the un-mappable and unknowable expanse of… school. Anything could happen, anyone could say anything to them! Their peers might not understand the Validation Of Feelings process to be applied when they have a Bad Feeling. Their teacher might not understand that they’re a bit sensitive about that thing.
The only reasonable course of action is to set fire to my house with all my family trapped inside. TOGETHER FOREVER.
There’s more: children can be such a brilliant excuse. For loads of things. For anything petty that you don’t want to do or want to wriggle out of. But they can also be a ginormous get-out-of-jail-free card for larger commitments, too.
For example, why am I not Helena Morrissey or the new presenter of Woman’s Hour or nominated for Best Director at the Golden Globes or the Editor of The Sunday Times? Despite being totally unqualified for and not even interested in any of those jobs, at the back of my mind, there is a nagging question. Why aren’t you more? And a convenient and true answer even at the best of times is: my children. Right now, they are the answer to every question.
And I have this wonderful excuse, also, to eat what I want and drink what I want and buy myself whatever I want because IT’S AN EMERGENCY and the thought that we will be cracked out of this bubble and have to do the school run and find the right uniform and deal with the mean thing that Jeremiah Bumbrain said in the playground is unappealing.
I will have to deal with other things, too – other big questions I don’t want to look directly in the face. And it’s so much easier just to clean the kitchen and do the cooking and make the beds and charge up the juiceboxes and print out the resources and offer hot chocolate and just be. Not try to do anything else, just this. It is, in its own way, peaceful.
I feel like a traitor. I don’t want to make you feel bad if you’re semi-hysterical every minute of every day, a gin zombie from 6pm onwards and the need to get your children back to school feels like the need to breathe. I have mostly felt like that, too.
But now something has changed. Perhaps I am peri-menopausal. Maybe this is a sign of my own poor mental health. Maybe it’s the weather.
I don’t know, whatever.
As you were.