You can always spot parents on a night out. They tend to have their phones perched precariously on the table, somewhere between the glasses of wine, bottles of beer or plates of food that they haven’t had to make themselves. Softly muttered apologies can be heard as a parent arrives at the table to meet another adult, offering reassurances that the phone is just being placed on the table in case the babysitter needs to contact them. Lest anyone might view it otherwise as a potential safety net in case the conversation proves boring.
Still, it’s just a phone right? A constant connection to life at home, whether we’ve popped out for 30 minutes or three hours. And it affords us that opportunity to get out with some peace of mind. In the early days of parenthood, during those first few times we left our beloved babies and toddlers with trusted (though you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise) babysitters, it was there for check-ins every five minutes.
And as the years pass by, and your babysitter doubles as one of your older children (payback for the stitches you needed after birthing them), the phone is there to make contact with you in the event of an emergency. Though, let’s be honest, emergencies are carefully graded when you’ve been in this game a while – anything less than amputation or loss of consciousness really doesn’t merit a text.
So it came to pass that I was out the other night and the phone took its rightful place on the table. There was no expectation that it would ring but the volume was up in case it did, because venues are noisy on a Friday night. I was out because although January is almost behind us, I am still making new plans (no longer resolutions) to make up for the ones I keep breaking. And the latest sees me on a mission to have some regular down time.
None of this normal-requirements-dressed-up-as-self-care-me-time-luxury stuff, you understand. “Take a shower or a bath”, they tell us run-ragged mams, in “because-you’re-worth-it” tones, as if washing regularly isn’t part of societal expectations. “Have a cup of hot coffee or tea”, they suggest, in subtle tones of “with these drinks at the correct temperature, you’re really spoiling us”.
No, I’m going full-on having the craic, disconnecting from the stress, escaping the house me time and throwing in the shower too, because, you know, I’m worth it.
[ Should children be allowed to consume disturbing news? ]
I was never someone who preferred Friday nights snuggled up on the couch. And yet I am someone who spends most of her Friday nights snuggled up on the couch. Because that’s what happens when you have kids. It’s par for the course, but I didn’t stop suddenly wanting to go out, nor did I have a personality transplant because I grew some humans. It’s just a habit that formed like any other. So, I’m going to break it – sporadically.
It’s my carpe diem attitude to 2023. There are few things like a pandemic to focus the mind. They are the years we’re never getting back. The time we didn’t anticipate life being put on hold for so long. The days that all felt the same but the clock kept ticking, and at the end of it we found ourselves older and our children at different stages. They were the opportunities for firsts and lasts that passed us by, without us realising.
Or so I thought until talk turned to going away for a family holiday this year. Travelling abroad isn’t something we’ve done often as a family. With one child in sixth year and another finished college, the idea of all nine of us getting away together seemed unrealistic. Unappealing even to the older ones, probably. That moment had passed, surely.
[ Homework: ‘If educators saw the stress it causes, they would be horrified’ ]
But, as I explained to my friend that Friday night, while my phone rested on the table in front of us, it was happening. The bigger kids were coming too. It would involve taking them out of school during term time – for affordability purposes – but “seize the day” and all that jazz. All nine of us are heading away together, and I’m more excited by that prospect than the actual holiday itself.
We chatted and laughed lots more. It was worth the battle to get out of the house, we agreed.
The phone on the table began to ring. The babysitter’s name (my eldest child’s name) flashed up.
“Are you okay? It’s very late”, said the voice on the other end of the phone, in quite the role reversal.
And just like that I was transported back to a time when no one expected me to sit on the couch on a Friday night, but I couldn’t be contacted quite so easily. And it felt good.