Ever wondered how a 1-year-old can take up more space in a king-size bed than their parents combined? If so, you probably have not had a 1-year-old in your bed (yet). Every parent I have asked agreed: their children effortlessly manage to fill all available space and then some.
In my job I often work with families who want more living space (I am a residential building consultant, mostly working on extensions and loft conversions). Now, I might be talking against myself here, but please know that no matter how much space there is in your home, your children will find a way to fill it; their presence is evident even when they themselves are not there. The teddy left on the sofa in the living room, their favourite sippy cup next to yours on the kitchen table and their blankie in your bedroom… and the muddy footprints, the chocolate smeared all over the carpet and the drawings on the wall (in felt tip pen) are constant reminders that you have little people in your life.
Toys strewn all over every conceivable surface in every room (loo included) are a given. No parent in my acquaintance has ever managed to confine their presence to the kids’ room or playroom—I certainly cannot. Apart from the need for Lego-proof socks (and if anybody has invented them, I want to know about it!); now that the 2D are a little older, there is a chess game set up on the floor in front of the sofa. I am under strict orders not to touch it as the game is to be continued after school. Why not in their room, you ask? Because that floorspace is dedicated to football cards, sticker books and seated volleyball, of course.
The boys are adept at filling space when physically present, too: our house doubles as a gym at weekends and after school, especially when it’s too cold or dark to go outside. I hardly wince when I hear thuds from upstairs, and have become quite nimble on my feet in the kitchen to avoid volleyballoons (balls are not allowed in the house; I need to limit the potential for damage somehow).
Whether physically present or not, children seem equally adept at occupying our mental and emotional space. Now I am a mother, I seem to have a ringfenced corner in my mind, reserved just for my children. No matter what I am doing or where I am, or how much brain power I would need for it, this corner is impervious to anything non-child related.
My every decision includes a consideration of how it will affect them: from the everyday (Do I have time for another phone call before the school run?) to the life-changing (If we move to a different country, how will they adapt?); from the personal (I really like this house, but is it in the catchment of any good schools?) to the political (Does this party/MP/councillor support building new schools in the area/educational reform/child benefit/apprenticeships/etc.?).
In addition, children seem to have a knack for spotting any sign suggesting our minds are not constantly occupied by their lovely selves. Fellow work-from-home parents confirm that working while the kids are around is next to impossible. Apparently, the 2D are not the only ones who always ask for a snack just when their mum starts working on something that really needs to be done by the end of the day.
In our house, the days the 2D’s dad works from home are in a sense harder than the ones he is out of town. Just because the boys get home from school at 4 pm, their dad’s working day is not over. On the other hand, the human mind is wired in a way that if someone is physically present we expect them to be present and available in the mental and emotional sense as well. (Just think about situations when children, computer games and parents asking questions are in the mix.) It is difficult to understand that although dad is physically here, mentally he is not really here; he is ‘at work.’ I am torn: I love that he is around and I can totally understand why he wants to forgo the hour-long commute if he can; on the other hand, I do not relish the hassle of having to keep the boys away from him when all they want is to play with daddy. I myself have long since given up trying to work when the boys are around; my working hours are strictly 9 am to 3 pm (and after 9 pm, of course).
All in all, I have to say that while I have no objection to chess games on the floor or American ninja-style escapades on the sofa, and while I have (grudgingly) accepted that for everyone’s sanity I am better off dropping work at 3 o’clock, I have to draw the line at the 2D occupying my bed. They are significantly older than one, after all. Now I only have to find a way of ringfencing said bed. Locking the door for the night is not an option, and we haven’t been able to come up with anything else that would work. Suggestions?
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