I’m going to be honest here, when Oli and I first discussed the possibility of him doing the entire run of the Edinburgh Festival this year (he usually does one or two weeks at most), leaving me alone to look after Daphne (4), I thought I would be Absolutely Fine. He’s done it twice before since she was born – for shorter periods – and although it was hard work, it wasn’t that bad.
I even relished the opportunity of some more one-on-one time with her. We have a slightly unusual set up in that Oli looks after her more than I do (he’s a professional singer so he mostly works in the evenings).
Before he went off to Edinburgh our parenting set up looked like this:
Monday – I work at my part-time job, Daphne does half a day at nursery, then Oli picks her up at lunchtime and they do the supermarket shop together/go to the park
Tuesday – Daphne is at nursery 9-5, Oli and I work from home
Wednesday – I work at my part-time job, Oli looks after Daphne all day while I’m at the office
Thursday – Daphne is at nursery 9-5, Oli and I work from home
Friday – Daphne is at nursery 8-1, I pick her up and usually do something with her in the afternoon while Oli works if necessary
As you can see from this schedule, Oli has done significantly more parenting than me over the past year (we are usually both around at weekends, and if Oli is working, it will be in the evening). It made sense, because his work is much more flexible and irregular, and my part-time job is fixed office hours. Also, Oli is just Much Better at looking after and entertaining Daphne than I am.
But… I used to get so jealous. I really did. Every now and then I’d feel so sad that I wasn’t getting to spend as much time with her, just the two of us. I felt like Oli and she had so many little in-jokes and bonds (their obsessive paper aeroplane habit for one) that I wasn’t involved in. And I really thought, if Oli goes away for a month, then I can just spend more time with her, and maybe we’ll get some of our own girly in-jokes too.
I was also aware that this was the last real chance for us to spend some decent time alone together before she started school. Honestly, I was practically forcing Oli to go, even when friends and family were giving me the side-eye and saying ‘oh, nearly a month looking after her on your own though? That’ll be tough’.
Ha. I reached rock bottom (or so I’m hoping) at 5am on Sunday morning after she had been awake for an hour talking about giraffes and, bereft of energy and ideas for getting her back to sleep, burst into tears in front of her.
I’m not a crier. But through my sobs I said something like:
‘I’m… just… so….tired. So tired Daphne. Please. Mummy’s…. I…. just need some space! Can’t you give me some space!!? Please!’
To which she replied:
‘Mummy, stop crying, that’s enough now. That’s enough now Mummy’.
In this imperious voice, which I swear is nothing like mine.
All was well in the end – she came into my bed and thankfully we both went back to sleep until 8.30am. But my god.
Three weeks looking after my daughter alone has nearly finished me off.
First of all, there’s the sleep issue. I keep thinking if she slept better it would be easier, but maybe I’m kidding myself. As it is, she will fall asleep really easily at night (between 6.30 and 7pm), but the price you pay for this is the 5am start. Pretty much most days she will wake around 5am – 5.30am if I’m lucky. Yes, we have tried a Gro clock. Yes she has triple blackout blinds. Yes we’ve done white noise, putting her to bed later, reward charts, giving her a nap, not giving her a nap, everything, everything, everything that people recommend.
I HAVE READ EVERY ARTICLE ABOUT EARLY RISERS EVER WRITTEN.
None of it makes any difference. For her fourth birthday, we bought her a proper digital clock, and told her that unless the first number she saw was a ‘6’ she was not to get out of bed.
It didn’t work.
Instead the new routine created by this was her shouting out: ‘Mummy, it’s a 5 first, so I’m staying in bed. I think it’s a 5, but actually maybe it’s a 2. Mummy is it a 2? These are funny numbers, they’re not right. Not like the numbers we do in nursery. It’s not a real 5. What is that last number mummy? What does that mean? There’s blinking dots in the middle, are they numbers too mummy? Mummy, mummy, can I get up now? Mummy please? Please come? Please can you come and look at my clock and tell me what time it is?’
You cannot reason with her. She has an answer for everything – and it’s invariably another question.
I have removed the clock.
So instead, I put some toys in her room and told her that she could get up whenever she felt like it and play, so long as she didn’t shout for me. That kind of worked, except that she has the loudest voice on the planet and her version of playing probably wakes the whole street. This morning it was explaining to her Lego figures how giraffes need to be transported to the other side of the Nile in special trucks with trees on – bloody David Attenborough.
I gave up on getting a lie-in on day 3 of solo parenting, and started going to bed at 9pm.
(I should add here that Oli usually gets up with her so I can go back to sleep every morning until a more civilised hour, like 7 bloody thirty).
So, the lack of sleep hasn’t helped. But then there are the chores. Constant chores. There’s so much To Do to keep a small house/family ticking over. Cleaning, washing, shopping, cooking. Watering the flipping garden in the heatwave. Bottom wiping and handwashing. Doing the bins. Tidying away the endless toys. Don’t even mention the allotment. No really, don’t. The guilt that I have only managed to make it down there once is killing me.
All those tomatoes! And blackberries! Wasted!
I don’t mind doing chores, but how do you do chores when there’s a small, bored person, tugging on your trouser leg every five minutes saying ‘mummy can you play with me now?’ and getting excited if she hears you moving about upstairs after you’ve gone to put laundry away – ‘are you coming down now to play with me mummy? Are you finished with your chores? Can you play with me nooow? Just a leeetttle bit?!’
The guilt! The number of times I’ve said ‘just five more minutes sweetie, mummy’s got to clear this up / have a wee / put some bloody clothes on’.
It’s the guilt that’s the worst thing. I had these grand ideas that we’d be doing Fun Stuff together all the time, when instead all I’ve been doing is batting her away and trying to get her to play on her own, poor thing. A particular lowlight was when I dropped our handheld hoover and the whole thing burst open, sending showers of dust and hair and bits of old food all over me and the newly hovered floor, and she appeared with a slice of plastic pizza and proudly placed it on top of the mound of dust.
‘For you, mummy’.
And I said:
‘For god’s sake Daphne don’t put it there!!! Can’t you see mummy’s covered in [insert-really-bad-swear-word-oh-god-I’m-going-to-hell] dust?!’
And then she stared down at the floor and slinked away and I hated myself and that bloody hoover more than anything I have ever hated in my life.
I know I have it lucky – this is not single parenting. I have moaned at Oli every evening after he’s come off stage (but not much – been too exhausted to remember most of it) and I even managed to go up to Edinburgh for two nights to see him, leaving Daphne with my parents. I know this is nothing, compared to what single parents deal with day-in, day-out. It has been a humbling lesson.
I read somewhere that apologising to your kids is a good idea. It lets them know you’re human, that you’re fallible too. It’s respectful.
I have done a lot of apologising over these past three weeks.
Thankfully, I think she still loves me.
As we lay facing each other on our pillows in bed this morning she whispered ‘I just want you mummy,’ and I tried not to burst into tears again.
Oli’s home tomorrow. Sorry about the allotment babe, but at least I kept our daughter alive?!