There is very little I miss about life pre-kids, but the freedom to be spontaneous is one of the few things I look back on slightly wistfully.
Before we had children, when it was a sunny evening, G and I might get back from work and decide on the spur of the moment to go for a pre-dinner drink in one of the bars near our house; which might turn into dinner; which might turn into texting our friends who lived on the same street and meeting up for some more fun. On a school night, no less.
Or there was that time when the two of us went for an afternoon coffee with my sister. A few bottles of wine, a pile of cheesy nachos and seven hours later, we literally fell through the door of our flat, me dripping chilli sauce from my kebab all the way down my coat and up the stairs.
(Am now having the uncomfortable realisation that ‘spontaneity’ for me seems to equate to ‘spontaneous drinking’… But bear with me)
Spontaneity doesn’t have to mean actually doing anything. It can be a spur of the moment decision to spend most of Saturday reading the papers; to sit under a blanket with a visiting friend and take literally four days to complete a cryptic crossword; to turn over and go back to sleep, all spontaneous-like.
Post-children, the end of a working day is a feat of logistics and child-ferrying and food-shovelling and dispatching to bed. And the weekends are times that I absolutely adore, but which now march to a strict and repetitive beat of two little people’s drums.
Now, I realise that some people are able and happy to throw the baby into a sling, pack some snacks (but still, you see: planning) and achieve that elusive goal of ‘going with the flow’. Children are not necessarily a barrier to last-minute adventures and decisions.
Except, my children sort of are; or maybe it’s the way we parent. Or both. There’s nothing Leila loves more than a party, but keep her up after 7.30pm, and sister gets a little crazy. She is the routine queen. When I was writing a ‘Leila Manual’ to give to my Dad, who was going to look after her when I went into hospital to have Asher, I realised the extent to which All The Things Must Be The Same, for my little girl. An extract:
2. Into bedroom (note: she must put towel on the hall floor outside her bedroom BEFORE you enter the room)
6. You kiss her
7. She kisses you
8. She squashes your face
9. Leave the room and shut the door
10. Open the door again
11. She says goodnight FIRST
12. You say goodnight’
And with that, she’d be out like a light, instantly. At any given time she has some variation on this bedtime routine (thankfully it is now a little less long-winded). If a stage is skipped, it pains her.
It’s a rider of demands that Beyonce would be proud of. As for Asher- being a tiny baby, it’s hard to tell whether he’ll be as fond of routine as his sister. But I’ve got to know him pretty well over the last 17 weeks, and I know that he’s a sweet and easy little butterbean, provided he is not awake for longer than 90 minutes or so. For real. He needs to sleep almost all of the time. And his favourite place to do this is in his pram in the porch or garden, wedged in with a thousand blankets, his face a fat pink thumbprint somewhere deep within the layers.
So you see, these two children aren’t really compatible with spur-of-the-moment meals out and road trips. And I don’t think any small child is compatible with a relaxing day reading the newspapers.
But you know, I think it is as much to do with me as it is with them. I am the woman who writes a list for everything, on dated pages in many notebooks. Sometimes I write an itinerary of how I am going to leave the house (‘10.15 Feed Baby 10.45 Have a cup of tea 11.00 Leave house’) . Going with the flow makes me anxious. So it’s either little wonder that my daughter is the same; or I have made her that way; or I have the mentality of a three-year-old child. One of the above.
Like most things on which one looks back nostalgically, all that spontaneity may not have been as good as I remember. And actually, having kids is itself perhaps the biggest (and for many, the last) act of madcap oh-sod-it decision making. For all that you can plan the perfect time, and how it’s going to be, and how you are going to ensure that they sleep twelve hours straight a night (ha. ha.), in the end, when you decide to procreate, you’re basically throwing caution, and your entire life, finances etc, to the wind. And for now, that’s enough spontaneity for me.
Now where’s my notebook?