Andrea Mara

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Wash, rinse, repeat – the truth about afternoons

As anyone who works mornings and looks after kids in the afternoon knows, it’s a day of two distinct halves. The morning is busy-busy, trying to cram in every last drop before the imaginary school-run klaxon sounds, and tools must be downed. Like the no-nonsense bell in a TV game show, ignoring the unsent email, the uneaten lunch, and the unpressed coffee capsule waiting patiently in the machine. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go.

The afternoon is busy in a different way – snacks, homework, lunch boxes, dinner, and the random weather-driven/ school-driven/ mood-driven unpredictably that makes routine a challenge.

And we all know that one – whether you work full-time and have an occasional day at home, or part-time, or you’re not working outside the home – we all know the wash, rinse, repeat cycle of mid-week afternoons.

And I feel extremely fortunate that I can collect my kids from school and that I can be their sounding board when they’re decompressing at home. I’m lucky that my job allows me to do it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Even if you offered me free childcare. (Okay, well just three days a week then, if you’re offering free childcare.)

So this is not a moan – I don’t resent it in any way, ever. But every afternoon when I ask them what they want to eat, and they say “What is there?” as though there’ll be something different today, and I clean the lunch boxes and wonder if everyone really, really needs dinner again – I sigh a little inside. And I grit my teeth and brace myself for the groundhog day ahead. And I feel bad that I can’t enjoy the work of dishwasher-emptying and sandwich-making, and I wish I could find it therapeutic the way some people do ironing and others do cooking, but I can’t. They are the afternoon chores that must be done to keep the house ticking over, and no matter how I dress it up, they’re no more special than that.

This time next week, I’m three years freelancing, so that’s three years worth of dishwasher-and-sandwich afternoons, and I still haven’t found a better approach. It’s endurance rather than enjoyment, and maybe it’s time to accept that that’s all it will ever be. To accept that for the privilege of spending afternoons with my kids, this is the tiny tradeoff, and I may never get it just right.

Today as I drove home from school, listening to chatter in the back, I was thinking about the work I didn’t finish, and the inevitable afternoon chores ahead. But for the first time in a long time, the sun was out and the sky was blue, and it was warm enough to be out without a jacket. And suddenly everything was lifted – I thought about the kids rushing through homework to play outside, about throwing washing on the line instead of on radiators, and I thought about the unpressed coffee capsule waiting for me, and how good that coffee might taste in the garden. And for all the grey-dishwasher-afternoons, there will always be the drop-everything sunshine ones. Days like this.

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