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Redster: Six and a half
Cutester: Three

My friend's three-year-old mucks in with the housework

I had a friend to stay with her two small children this week. She was as much refugee as guest, escaping life at home where the husband is doing long shifts at work and she is doing 12 hour childcare shifts, days at a time, on her own.

She turned up in a whirlwind of nappies and snot and physical exhuastion, and it suddenly became clear to me just how much easier my life has got lately. My life probably never was quite that hard, to be fair, as her children are closer together, but seeing her brought a lot of it back.

She told me (this conversation was made possible by the fact that the three year old was at that moment playing quietly with the Cutester, and I was holding/restraining the one-year-old): she had to think hard to remember the last time she had a shower. She has a permanent fog in her head from not enough sleep. She is always either hungry, because she was too busy feeding the kids to remember to feed herself, or thirsty, or too cold, or too hot, because she is pushing the buggy and holding the three year old’s hand and it is not possible to take off her jacket, and where would she put it anyway? On top of that she has to try to deal with her three year old getting emotional and difficult and refusing to do as she’s told, without losing her rag, although this interaction might be interrupted at any time by some urgent need of the one-year-old’s. And all this for up to a week at a time without any respite because of her husband’s shifts.

It’s like giving birth (which was the easy part) – you forget the pain very quickly after it’s subsided. I can remember being at a church event where a single woman told me she’s been up til three at a party, so she slept in til after noon, and feeling totally furious with her. How could she so glibly take for granted the privilege of staying in bed all morning? I remember comparing my day to a military routine – starting early, something always demanded of you at short intervals all day long, all of it very physcial and strenuous, early night mandatory for survival, and if you are woken for demanding night-time manoeuvres you are still expected to give your best the next day as usual. Without a single day off.

To some extent it’s still like that – this morning I was woken three times from 4.30am onwards, and I’m only able to write this now because I have a chest infection and get to stay in bed while babyfather does the childcare. But I was able to tell my friend that it does get so much easier. Once the Cutester turned 18 months she got much less demanding, then she was out of nappies, then her ability to play for long periods with her sister got better and better. The other Saturday we suggested they help themselves to breakfast while we had a lie-in. It cost us a whole bottle of squeezy honey and half an hour’s cleaning up (in the kitchen, not our bedroom), but boy, was it worth it.