Yawning, Theo snuggled under his blanket on the sofa, as Immy slurped lazily on her milk.
‘Mammy, do we have to go out today?’ he asked sleepily. I opened my mouth, about to explain that: yes, we were going to go to a local petting farm to see the huge pig that they both loved – before going to the children’s museum next door.
Then I looked at their tired faces and how comfortable they looked, cuddled up together. I took a minute to think about how I felt, and realised that I was also exhausted.
It was the Friday of half term and I’d stuffed the five days full of exciting plans for Theo, who, now five, had only started reception last September, to make the most of his week off school.
I didn’t want him to feel like he’d missed out, or wasted his days off.
On Sunday night, he and Immy, now three, had a sleepover at my parent’s house while my husband Tom and I worked the next day.
On Tuesday, while Immy went to nursery, I’d taken Theo on the ‘big train’ to Durham with a friend and her little girl, where we’d explored the city, had pizza, and went to the cinema.
On Wednesday, Theo went bowling with his cousins while I had to work again; and on Thursday, I’d kept Immy off nursery and we went to the seaside with my mam, sister, niece and nephew, to eat fish and chips, go on rides in the funfair and play in the arcades.
I wasn’t working that Friday, so I’d wanted to do something else with them, before Theo had two birthday parties over the weekend and went back to school, but impulsively, I changed my mind.
‘No,’ I said. ‘We don’t have to go out. In fact, why don’t we have a pyjama day?’ Theo beamed and Immy leapt up and started bouncing around on the sofa, singing ‘Pyjama day, pyjama day!’
Rather than racing off to the shower to get dressed and bringing down ‘options’ of clothes for them, I made myself another cup of tea, squeezed myself in between them and we all watched an episode of Bluey together.
The thing is, during annual leave, school holidays and sometimes even weekends, there is a certain pressure on parents to make the most of your time together as a family.
For one thing, I don’t want Theo to go back to school, hear about everyone else’s wonderful weeks and feeling left out if we’d just slobbed around. He can’t be feeling FOMO at the age of five!
On a more serious note, personally, I often feel guilty about the amount I work and how little quality we seem to get to spend with one another. So having nearly a full week off together seemed like an incredible luxury. I want to fill every moment with making memories, having fun, seeing new places, doing new things.
For the most part, it was wonderful. I loved seeing Theo’s face when he saw the castle in Durham, and hearing his and Immy’s excited squeals as I gave them a pound to play air hockey in the arcade.
And days like these have only become more important after lockdown. After being cooped up in a two-bed flat with no outside space, trying to entertain two-and-a-half year old Theo, while mothering five-month-old Immy, I couldn’t wait to see the world again – and show my children it, too.
Except, I’d soon come to realise that I actually panicked at the thought of having a whole day indoors with them on my own, so I’d pack it full with plans.
On a Friday, my day off from work, I’d take them to the park, the soft play, or the library. I’d invite their friends round, and make play dates, or arrange to meet other parents at cafes.
Anything to avoid being stuck indoors and being reminded of those incredibly dark pandemic days.
As any parent will tell you, being a working mum or dad means dealing with the guilt of trying to balance work vs play but, with the enthusiasm of the recently-released, I threw myself into it.
Of course, nearly three years on, Theo and Immy can entertain themselves, and each other, in a way they couldn’t before, and those feelings are thankfully becoming a thing of the past.
But, on that last day of half term, I realised that staying in would be the real treat. Screw FOMO, we knew what quality time looked like in our house, and it was pyjama time.
I brought down a box of Theo’s superhero toys, they each picked a Spiderman and the pair of them played, while I checked the cupboards. ‘We’ve got the ingredients to make cupcakes and brownies if you want?’ I called from the kitchen.
It would be messy and sticky and there would be melted chocolate – of course they wanted!
They put on their mini aprons and chef’s hats a friend had bought them and, as I allowed them to pour the sugar and flour into their bowls, then mix in the eggs and the butter and purple food colouring (a new one for us), it didn’t matter how much they spilled or that it was taking three times as long with their ‘help’. We had all day, after all.
Once our sweet treats were safely in the oven, we did a couple of jigsaws – Immy’s favourite – before I made lunch, which we followed with a slightly-singed purple cupcake.
In the afternoon, we made superhero masks, read stories, and by the time Tom finished work, we were half way through Inside Out.
‘Were you disappointed that the kids didn’t want to go out?’ Tom asked that night. I shook my head. ‘Not at all,’ I said honestly. ‘It’s been a really lovely day.’
I think that, just maybe, I’ve discovered the joy of missing out…
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