We’re breaking the Official Secrets Act by sharing another page from the Forbidden Secrets of Parenthood book. Every new mother gets a copy, delivered just after her baby. She’s then forced to swear on the life of her newborn that she’ll never divulge anything within to a child-free woman. Even a pregnant woman. Especially a pregnant woman.
This week, it’s the Lost Hours of Small Children.
Once you’ve got kids, you can say goodbye to many things; non-jiggly bits, hot drinks drunk to the last drop, ignorance of what ‘meconium’ might be. And you can also bid farewell to the twilight part of the day.
Maybe you once knew it as Happy Hour. That time somewhere between 5ish and 8ish, when you’d wander out of work for a few drinks, catch a Zumba class before heading into town, even sing along in the car as you crawled home in traffic. But once you’ve got small kids, you’d kill for the chance to sit in deadlock on the M50 for a couple of hours with only a scratched copy of Now Dance 77 for company. The bliss of it!
One of the many, many design defects in small children is that they only run until 5pm. (They’re working on it. We’re promised that the next generation will have significantly improved battery life). After 5pm, you can forget it. First it’s the hitting – each other, the floor, the walls – then there’s the weeping. Generally this is about the injustices and cruelties perpetrated on your poor offspring (consumer electronics denied, sweets unbought, walls that are too wally.) Grievances from the past and mysterious riddles confound their small brains.
Now, say it was 4pm, you’d have a chance. Songs could be sung or a final crafting project could be endured. But 5pm and you’re probably juggling saucepans of boiling water, or wielding sharp blades in the name of dinner. And all the while trying to shake a small relative off your ankle, revisiting the reason why Nana can’t come down from heaven, even to watch Octonauts, or causing untold anguish by not singing the right “Twinkle, Twinkle”, by which you eventually decipher through the tears that they mean “Papa Don’t Preach”, your ringtone.
5.20pm. Finally, you can wrestle them to the table, hoping that life-giving nourishment will have an immediate effect. The food is scrutinised and found wanting, but partially, grudgingly consumed. Most of it will end up used as ammunition in a food fight which he started, but some of it will end up on the face of the youngest who will have collapsed in miserable tearful fury into her fish fingers as you unreasonably limit the ketchup to a quarter of the surface area of her plate. There’ll be a nice little bit of food left mushed into the kitchen floor for you to pick up later too.
Before they leave the table, you will need to ambush them like an Afghani hill fighter, and wipe the worst of the detritus off them. Shake them down like rats and marvel at the amount of rice that can be concealed in a Peppa Pig top.
It’s 5.45pm. This is the ideal time for your boss/ bereaved relative/ friend in Australia to call you, as you’ll be able to give your full attention to the conversation. Apart from the 15-second intervals where you try to press the mute button in order to threaten your children with ‘braining’ unless they stop destroying the bedroom that you’ve managed to tidy up in a wishful attempt to make a restful and sleep-inducing environment for them.
By the time it’s 6pm, you will have managed to blast “Papa Don’t Preach” down the ear of your boss seven times and now need to brain your children for sundry transgressions. This is best achieved by shouting at them to get into the bath, then screeching at the amount of rice on the staircase as you stomp up the stairs picking up odd socks, Peppa Pig vests and worryingly damp trousers.
Bathtime is the pièce de résistance of the Lost Hours. Think of hand-to-hand underwater combat with an eel. A hairy eel, in need of a hairwash. As the Angelus finishes, the anguished shrieks of children rend the night when miniscule droplets of shampoo come into contact with their optic nerve. You think of the lucky, lucky bitches humming along in their cars on the M50, and press on grimly with the teeth-brushing. A grim skirmish in a watery battle, in the last days of a war.
Jenny Coyle @missmitford is a London-based writer. She makes up stuff in her head and turns it into books, tweets pedantically about misappropriated commas and knows a lot of David Bowie lyrics. She helps big companies sound more human when they talk to their customers too. Her first book ‘Big in Japan’ is published by Lilliput Press.