It’s the third day of the summer holidays so by now, like most parents, I should probably be posting pictures on Instagram of me and the kids doing some fun activity or moaning on Facebook about how they’re bored already and I can’t believe there are still 6 weeks to go. But I’m not doing either, because on Saturday I drove my boys 140 miles, dropped them in a KFC car park, and haven’t seen them since.
Obviously there was a good reason for this. For me, like many single parents, the start of the holidays signals the handover of the kids to the other parent. In my case, I live in Cornwall while my ex husband lives in London, so instead of regular Saturday afternoons or every Thursday after school, carving up of time with our kids tends to happen in larger chunks of whole weeks or a full weekend every month or so. They live with me so for most of the time they’re my responsibility 24/7. But when the summer holidays come they go to their dad for anything up to 3 or 4 weeks, and I’m thrown into this odd life of being a single parent with no kids to look after.
I usually can’t leave the house without either taking the kids with me or arranging childcare. Even though they’re now at school, most days I’m home all day because that’s where I work. I’ve got used to living like that, which is why when I’m suddenly given the freedom of being able to do whatever I want, whenever I want, and with whoever I want, I’m more likely to stay home and watch Poldark than go out drinking with my mates.
Saturday night was the worst. The first night always is. The house felt empty. I’m used to the sound of little people’s gentle snores and night time movements, but on Saturday there was no one here except me – which meant that I had a slight panic every time the house made a creak or noise. I’ve never been comfortable at home alone at night, but since I’ve had children it hasn’t really bothered me. But when they’re away and the house is empty, the fears tend to resurface. Still, I’d spent 7 hours in the car that day, driving through some pretty extreme rain showers, so I was tired and slept easily.
On Sunday, my first full day completely alone and free, I decided not to leave the house at all. Instead, I caught up with all the washing and read an entire chick lit paperback from beginning to end. I know it’s not very rock and roll, but it’s so rare these days that I read fiction at all, let alone devour a whole book in one sitting, so it felt pretty good. It also took my mind off the fact that I miss my boys terribly when they’re away.
Today I ventured out to get a bit of shopping in, but as it’s a Monday and I have stuff to do, I’ve mostly been in my office working. The thing is, the kids are away and so in some sense I’m freer than usual, in that I don’t have to fit in all my work between 9am and 3pm, but at the same time I’m a freelance writer and I have to do some writing. It’s an odd time where it feels like a kind of holiday because I don’t have any parenting duties which usually take up a lot of my time, but at the same time, I’m not really on holiday. Take last year, for instance, the boys went to Algeria with their father for 3 weeks, and I used the time they were away to write the bulk of my book. It was due in to the publisher at the beginning of October, and I was starting a Masters at university in late September, so August while the kids were away was the perfect time to get my head down and write. This year I don’t have any specific projects like that, but I also can’t waste the time not doing anything workwise.
As well as writing my book last year I also spent a lot of time swimming. I love swimming but if I’m going to do it, it needs to be the first thing I do when I get up. Years ago, I got into a great routine of swimming half a mile every day before work. Unfortunately that’s a habit that’s long since fallen away, and the logistics now are too difficult, but for a few weeks last year I settled into a nice routine of swim, write, write some more, rest, interspersed with a few trips to the cinema and dates with friends.
The thing is, I don’t really feel much like swimming at the moment. But I do feel the need to get more active. I’ve known for ages that I don’t get enough exercise, and since giving up sugar again I’m definitely feeling more energetic. So I’ve decided that this year I’m going to dust off my hiking boots and get out walking. I’m fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful areas of the country, which I’m reminded of weekly when I watch Ross Poldark riding his horse along those windy clifftops. The South West Coast Path runs the entire coast of Cornwall, so it’s not even like I have to do much in the way of planning or preparation – the SWCP website has loads of circular walks graded by difficulty and listed with maps and information. So I’ve picked three to start with – one Easy and two Moderate and I plan to start this week with my first one at Porthluney Cove on Friday.
Walking and swimming are activities I like to do alone, and they seem to clear my head whilst still allowing me to think, if that makes sense. They also force me to get out the house. I’m a real homebody and I love being at home, but I don’t enjoy it so much when I don’t have the boys coming home from school each day. I’m comfortable in my identities as a woman, a writer, a student, and all those other roles I play in addition to being a mum, and yet when my children are not with me, I feel a tad bit lost and directionless. So whilst I want to enjoy my child-freedom when I have it, I also spend a good deal of time wanting it to be over and them to be home again.
It’s a bit like the ‘mummy guilt’ that comes with either working or not working. There is no right answer to the question of whether to work or stay home with the kids, but if you constantly think about the one you’re not doing, you’ll feel guilty or resentful. So you have to be present and committed to whatever you’re doing at the time. And the same with separate parenting. I’m lucky that my boys have got a father who wants to see them and spend time with them – it’s good for them and I get some much needed time off.
The best thing I can do is to be a good mum when I’m parenting and when I’m not ‘on duty’ then I can try to do all those things that I find logistically difficult as a single parent. Whether it’s swimming at 6am, solo hiking 10 miles of the Cornish coast, reading a book cover to cover, or going out on the razz with my friends.
Three whole weeks of me time up ahead, and I plan to enjoy it.
P.S. Finding time and space to write can be challenging, but finding time and space to *think* about what you’re going to write is the far greater challenge.
Thinking Time is my regular(ish) letter about productivity, positivity, and (ugh) procrastination, and is dedicated to writers and students who want to get more (thoughtful) writing done.