Yesterday was one of Those Days with kids. I couldn't work out why it was so bad; were they testing me even more? Well, yes, one was. My youngest has decided that the way to eat is to shove everything into her mouth until her cheeks are bulging, squirrel-like, then slip down from her chair and run around. I believe this method poses an unacceptable health and safety risk; also, it's rude. And so at breakfast we spent half an hour as follows: I put her on her chair, she slipped off, I removed her food, she screamed. And so on.
At snack time, she grabbed a handful of walnuts, and then we spent 45 minutes arguing over whether she could wander around the house with them in her mouth, or whether she was to remain in her chair. After that time, I forcibly removed the walnuts from her mouth, the walnuts she had refused to chew and swallow while she sat in a chair, and set her free. What an ordeal; and how humiliating to be so shredded by a 20 month old. I was so exhausted I rinsed off the walnuts and ate them myself.
Was her behaviour enough to make it a bad day? Somehow, I felt worse than I usually do at the testing of a toddler. It was one of those days when it seemed like everything was slipping out of control, and I wondered whether, like my daughter, I had bitten off more than I could chew. Only my problem wasn't walnuts. It was kids.
I wondered too whether the problem was Monday's public holiday. As pathetic as this sounds, public holidays throw me. I do all my weekly housework on a Monday, to get it out of the way and set the house up for the week. But this week, I went on a picnic instead. Lovely, of course, but now the house is a bombsite, and that always depresses me.
Even worse, my birthday loomed. This is, after all, my annual opportunity to review all my failures and the things I've never done (run for more than ten minutes, let alone climb Mt Everest; get a job I enjoy; deal with the leak in the roof...) – and as I steadily move through my thirties, I find myself realising that if I haven't done these things by now, I probably never will. Perhaps I don't really want to – but I'd like to cross them off the list.
For whatever reason, it was a bad day. And bad days get worse at twilight. The light grows dim, the kids get ratty, I still have an hour before my partner gets home – and during that hour I somehow have to bathe three children and cook a nutritious and delicious meal for five. Getting dinner onto the table by 6.30, while my kids argue and my youngest wants to turn the light switches on and off and everyone argues over who can help and maybe one throws a tantrum or punches the others and someone else keeps rolling a wheeled toy into the kitchen – it's a daily miracle that can be witnessed six times a week at our house. (On the seventh day, she rests.)
And on this bad day, when the dreaded twilight came my four year old was wrapped round my legs and I was shouting at her to just leave me alone for a minute. And then I heard myself saying, I can't do this anymore. I stopped shouting, carried her into the hallway, then ignoring her wails shut her out of my bedroom. Mercifully, the wails cut short and she ran off and squabbled with her sisters instead, while I spent fifteen minutes in blessed peace sorting two enormous loads of washing.
After that respite, everything went well. Baths, dinner, bedtime: all calm. There's a lot to be said for a little time out, however difficult it is to achieve – and even if it involves sorting washing.
This morning was my birthday. The plan was that I would sleep in, then get up late and have croissants for breakfast, supplied by my husband and daughters.
The reality: for the first time in weeks, no child disturbed my rest. Instead, at 6.15, I was woken by a grinding pain in my lower abdomen. Half asleep and wondering if I was sick, I staggered to the toilet and discovered I now had my period. What a gift.
And now I know why yesterday was hell. It wasn't really the anticipation of my birthday, or the fact that I'm incompetent, or my kids. They might have exacerbated how I felt, but mostly it was hormones. I'm not sure if I'm relieved that my mood has a chemical explanation, or whether I'm utterly depressed that, after 22 years as a menstruating woman, I still cannot recognise the havoc my period plays on my sense of wellbeing. Month after month, I have a day where I sit in a grey cabbage-scented funk, sure that life is passing me by, I have no friends, I'm completely incompetent and I cannot manage my children. One would think that, by this age, I might come to recognise the signs and be a little more gentle on myself, but no.
I dealt with the mess, then lay on the gritty grotty lounge room rug, full of self-pity. Sadly, everyone had heard my movements, and within minutes they were climbing on me.
But "Morning Mama" said my youngest, as she does first thing every morning, and, as always, it broke my heart.
And then I dealt with what I can only think of as the Birthday Bed Wet. Thank you darling, I muttered, grimly shoving the sodden waterproof sheet, other sheets (it was expansive) and pyjamas into the washing machine.
I'm glad to say the day improved drastically from there. Chocolate croissants, a husband home for the day, an art book, and a story about a horse and a fox written and illustrated by my six-year-old just for me. What else could a mummy want? Well, I got them too: no cooking, no cleaning, no dishes, no sweeping. Lunch at a cafe, and takeaway for dinner. Choir and a bottle of wine with other mums at night. And a party to look forward to on the weekend.
I'm not pregnant, my kids are lovely, my friends make me laugh, and I'm a reasonable enough mother who even manages to write a little. Life is good. Many happy returns.