I once heard the ‘hour’ (a term used fairly loosely, I’m sure) between teatime and bedtime described as ‘arsenic hour’. I like this term. It kind of does what it says on the tin. It is the time when mums have had enough and want to kill themselves.
My arsenic hour comes slightly earlier in the day. It is the time between picking up the kids from school and teatime.
As most parents, particularly working parents, will appreciate, due to the complex nature of childcare arrangements and kid’s activities, every day is not the same. For us, every day has its own particular characteristic. So, as far as an arsenic hour can be average, this is what a normal arsenic hour is like in our house.
I have one child whose default setting is happy, one whose default setting is negative and miserable and one whose is in-between. Regular readers will probably know which is which, but I will give you a clue – B2, B1, LG in that order.
So they come out of school – one smiling, the other two on a continuum somewhere between slightly grumpy and very grumpy.
We ‘walk’ home, another term used fairly loosely. It is a very short walk. It takes a long time. Usually one or more of them will disappear in the playground, then one will leave the gate on his own without telling us and one will be hanging back for his friend, whose mum is talkative, popular and very slow to leave the school grounds.
We will make it out of the gate. I will be weighed down with lunch bags, water bottles, book bags, coats and jumpers. Well, apart from the water bottles the boys are using to squirt each other with.
Someone will walk very fast, probably even run and someone will drag their feet. The two boys will grab at each other’s arms and have a bit of a fight. Someone may run off and hide with a friend. They will all ask for the keys – the person who asked first gets them when we get round the first corner, the others will declare this unfair and run after this person and grab them.
We make it home. There are requests for telly, Wii and milk. They know the rules, no telly or Wii until the homework is completed, preferably by everyone. But just in case I am prepared to relax the rules, they all start fighting to read first.
Two of them read, one of them has forgotten his book, so I send him to practice his violin (yes, it’s always the same one who forgets his book!). Sometimes I get him to read a different book to make up for it.
Have they get any spellings? Yes, they have. Did they bring them home? No, they didn’t. Will I look like a really bad mum because they haven’t done their spellings? Probably. Do they care about my reputation as a mother and school governor? No they don’t.
Reading done, I administer them with fruit and drinks – all different, of course. Olives, occasionally banana, and milk for my girl. Water and apple for my eldest and apple juice and one of a number of different fruits for my younger son.
While I do this, there will be an argument about whether to put on the telly or the Wii. And then if it’s television, there will be a further argument about what programme to put on. There will always be a loser – either the eldest or the youngest – who will come to me, sometimes in tears, saying ‘What can I do?’ I give them the play outside/ you’ve got lots of toys/ you’re very lucky/ wish I had time to go and play/ only used to be one programme on the telly when I was your age/ look at all these jobs I’ve got to do lecture.
Then I set to work on the lunch boxes. My daughter’s is a delight – clean and tidy. My eldest son’s is a mess – mushed up banana skin and crusts wrapped up in his foil. Being obsessively green, all of this has to be separated and recycled correctly, however disgusting a job. My younger son has school dinners (hooray!).
The washing machine will be going round. I don’t have time to empty it, let alone hang stuff up. The kitchen surfaces (there aren’t many of them) are covered in apple peel and school water bottles. There is no space to make the tea, but the time is ticking.
Someone needs to be somewhere – maybe it’s Beavers, maybe it’s Rainbows. In our house, it seems someone always needs to be somewhere and the clock is against me.
Oven on, clear surfaces, what to cook? Sometimes I am moving so quickly around the kitchen and stressing so much that I am actually shaking.
Food in oven. More mess and more recycling created. Lay table, make drinks. Retrieve cups and plates from earlier from lounge.
Just when it all seems to be going OK, maybe I might even manage to get the washing out of the machine, the tales start. ‘He won’t let me watch..’ ‘He kicked me’ ‘Well she punched me’.
Finally the tea makes it to the table. Not very healthy, probably a little bit burnt.
‘Oh no, what have we got fish for? We normally have pizza on these days!’
Arsenic hour. It happens every day. Lucky me.