I shouldn’t be here right now.
By which I mean, I shouldn’t be on the sofa, with my 10-year-old, watching TV.
I should be in London, having dinner with a friend, after spending the day at YouTube, learning how to make better vlogs.
The hotel was booked, the train seats reserved, the workshop place confirmed.
It was tantalisingly close.
But here’s the thing: being a single parent means your plans are always just a little bit more delicate than tissue paper. One thing goes wrong, and the entire plan collapses into one big old soggy mess.
As a single Mum, spending two long days in London means I need childcare to cover three days.
I was due to catch a 6am train, which means Flea gets picked up from school the day before I leave by her Dad, then she gets dropped off with my brother to spend the night, and my niece walks her to school.
After school, my Mum collects her and takes her back to her place for the night, then back to school the next day. After school, my parents collect Flea and bring her back to our house, until I get home around 8pm.
This patchwork of care means bags that need to be packed with school kit, swimming kit, spare clothes for evenings, toothbrushes… not to mention the dual arrangements for the dog involving the dog-sitter and my parents and multiple drop-offs, which obviously don’t co-ordinate with school pick-up times. Obviously.
I always feel more than a touch of guilt about this. I wonder if Flea feels like luggage when she gets packed off here and there, with overnight bags and spare this and that.
And the thing that’s guaranteed to make it worse? That call from school at 2pm, telling me Flea’s ill, can I come and collect her?
I’d already achieved Parent Fail Level 5 earlier in the morning when Flea announced her head hurt as I dropped her off at school, and I gratefully accepted the office’s bottle of emergency Calpol and the offer to ‘keep me posted’ on how she was doing. Bad Mummy.
Then I ratched it up to Level 6 in the car on the way home, when Flea overheard me cancelling dinner plans and mentioning that if I couldn’t cancel my train and hotel, I’d be £500 out of pocket (thanks, Virgin Trains) and she started to cry.
By the time I’d ordered pizza for dinner and told Flea that if she didn’t go to school today, she’d need to sit on a bean bag in the corner of our office and watch Netflix, I was on Parent Fail Level 10 and accepting my Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bad Parent Club.
I have no great lesson learned from all of this. Except that when you squeeze another person out of your body, for 20 years, maybe more, we’re basically powerless against teary, big eyes and croaky voices that say, “It’s okay if you need to go to work in London, but it would just be nice if you could stay with me for a little while if it’s alright…”
I mean, what are you supposed to say to that?
Other than, “Darling, it isn’t important, and you are. I don’t want you to give it a second thought, and I’d like a binding contract stating that you’ll do the same for me when I’m old and can’t tie my own shoes any more.”