It’s the holidays and the kids are off school. I like having them around, even though it means a constant stream interruptions in the vein of; “Mum, where’re my black jeans?” or “Mum, will you make me some toast?” or “Mum, can you drive me to the shops?”
Distracting though this is, I enjoy being in the midst of a bustling, noisy household. Although we’ve only got two kids, when they’re off school, the chances are one or half a dozen their friends will be round at our house. My son in particular has a tendency to invite his friends over, usually with the minimum of notice – ie I’m lucky if I get a phone call ten minutes in advance.
On occasion this can be trying – especially if I’ve just spent half the day tidying up. Last week, I’d barely stowed the vacuum back in its cupboard and sat down with a well-earned cuppa, when the dear boy arrived unannounced with a whole bunch of mates, and promptly took occupancy of my newly immaculate front room. (OK, I concede that “immaculate” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but at least it was dust-free and the cushions were plumped up and placed neatly on the sofa.) By the time they left, it was back to its usual shabby state, and I and the spouse spent the rest of the evening retrieving sweet-wrappers, empty coke bottles and miscellaneous socks from the deeper recesses of the three-piece suite.
Of course, I could tell the children not to invite their friends over; I’d certainly have a tidier house, and there’d be less risk of finding the biscuit tin empty. But in the truth is, I like having an open house, and the sense that we’ve created a home our children can share. It’s their home too, after all, not just mine.
I confess it gladdens my heart that my children both have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, because surely it’s this, more than anything else, that makes life meaningful and fun? Of course it’s important for the kids to do well at school and be successful academically, but in all the focus we give to the relatively narrow set of skills developed through the traditional school syllabus, it’s easy to overlook the life-skills that come with building successful relationships in the playground and beyond.
It’s just as important to be able to negotiate, persuade, compromise, empathise and give and receive support, as it is to learn geometry or how to conjugate French verbs. Similarly, what I miss from the time when I worked in an office, aren’t the day-to-day tasks but the relationships with colleagues – the gossip, laughter and making common cause against rivals in another team or department. In many ways, an office is like a village; it’s not uncommon for people to end up having closer, more enduring relationships with their colleagues than with anybody else, including their spouses.
It’s a truism that writing’s a lonely business. At one level it has to be, since the aim is to articulate one person’s unique vision of the world. But at the same time, writers have to be firmly rooted in the community in order to be able to reflect it truthfully and to be relevant to it. You have to be connected. Some people like to write in cafes or other places where there’s a sense of bustle and people around. Personally, I find it easier to write in solitude, with only the washing machine churning away for company. The kids are a great reminder that there’s a real world out there, and for that, I’m truly grateful.