I was reminded today of my previous life, the one where I was happy and carefree, and struggled with basic things like shopping for food, and keeping children fed and happy. And dusting. I didn't work for over two years, and as anyone will tell you, not needing to work is completely amazing. The freedom, the deep breath and exhalation of air in the knowledge that the world (within 20 miles) was your oyster and that you could do anything you wanted (after you'd picked up all the Lego from the floor and done four loads of washing). We had to tighten our belts a bit, but I stretched it out for a good long time, a time that was in retrospect perfect in terms of where the kids were at. Obviously all good things have to come to an end, and when my youngest started school, that was my cue, as I couldn't be allowed to slob around with just a couple of school runs to do. I had a job within a month - in hindsight I should have attempted to fail the interview in order to eke out a bit more time. That was now over two years ago, how time flies, and I am well and truly back in the thick of it, and believe me when I say that it's like I never left.
Occasionally though, just occasionally, I hark back to that magical time and remember not only how utterly incompetent I was, but how pleasant it was. Plenty of people in this country are stay at home parents, and whilst it isn't all plain sailing, it is extremely worthwhile and rewarding. The flip side is a certain degree of poverty, for instance not shopping at Waitrose, and holidays lacking in Caribbean flavour, but I survived these minor inconveniences before getting back into the job market. Some time after I went back to work, Tony B also got the heave-ho and a cardboard box with his things in it. Having been through it myself, I knew that it wouldn't be easy - a dent in confidence, a blow to the ego, and then the worries that come with being unemployed - but I also knew that like me, he would cope admirably. He too had small children, and they would see him through it. And he enjoyed himself thoroughly, including poaching many birds on the Flats while I was at work. You will note the use of the past tense. Yup, sadly for Tony it's all over, and he's back to work as well. I'm disappointed that he hasn't been able to spin it out for as long as I did, but I guess he probably isn't quite as feckless and lazy as I am. I hope he finds it easy to transition back into it, back into the relentless world of working to other peoples' deadlines. But that's life, that's work for you. We all know there's no such thing as a free lunch.
I'd get up relatively early, and potter in the kitchen. I'd help the kids out with breakfast, and then turn into a Sergeant-Major in order to ensure we got to school on time. And then, well at least until three or so, the day was MINE! I had Pudding, and mostly we did very little, but on occasion we did some outrageous trips - she has a great little list of rare birds - seeing Great Spotted Cuckoo on her second birthday will presumably always remain a highlight for her. We spent a lot of time in the garden, and a fair amount of time on Wanstead Flats, where the reward of a playground was never too far away. In between times I learned a great deal about cleaning products, washing, shopping, even a little cooking. Nobody died. Let no man say it isn't hard work, certainly not until they've tried it. I even had to take on potty training, something I never thought would come my way. And come my way it frequently did.....
I'm back at work now, and this idyllic period seems a very long time ago. It was bloody brilliant and I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially if you have young kids. But actually, even if you don't have kids it would still be amazing. Free time. Nothing to do. Just imagine that. Wonderful.