‘Mum! There’s someone at the door!’ Lucy sat half dressed at the bottom of the stairs dressing her Barbie doll in a sparkly off the shoulder number.
Tracey ran a hand through her uncombed hair, tightened the belt on her dressing-gown and stepped over her toddler who was sitting in a pool of cereal. ‘Lucy, get dressed please,’ she said as she opened the door. ‘Oh, hi, Clare.’
‘Hiya.’ Clare Coleman, shifted her baby in her arms and followed Tracey into the kitchen. ‘Nathan still won’t eat his brekkie I see.’’
Tracey went to put the kettle on. ‘He has my heart broke, Clare. He begs me for crispies and then he won’t even taste them. If he’s with my mother, of course he scoffs the lot. I swear to God, the child just hates me.’
Nathan chose that moment to smile angelically up at his mother.
Clare sat baby Louise on the floor, moved Nathan over beside her and went to fetch a cloth. ‘You need a break,’ she told Tracey as she cleaned up the mess.
‘Fat chance.’ Tracey said as she made two strong coffees. ‘I have to finish an article today, the beds need changing, the fridge is almost empty and I promised Lucy I’d take her and Nathan to the park after school.’
Clare stood up and threw the cloth into the sink before accepting her mug. ‘Stop trying to be Wonderwoman,’ she said kindly.
Tracey’s eyes filled up. ‘Why can’t I cope, Clare? Everyone else seems to. Look at you. You have everything under control, Louise is a little angel and you’re always so,’ Tracey searched for the right word, ‘clean!’
Clare hooted with laughter. ‘Don’t be silly, I’ve have my rough times too It will pass, though, try to remember that. I wish I could stay for the morning and help but I’m due at the surgery in an hour, Louise is getting her MMR.’
‘Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,’ Tracey said, trying to hide her disappointment. Things never seemed quite so bad when Clare was around.
‘I tell you what, I’ll mind this lot while you go and have a shower.’
‘I’ve no time, I have to get Lucy dressed and I haven’t made her lunch yet.’
‘I’ll take care of it, you go on.’
Tracey hugged her friend tightly. ‘Thanks, Clare.’
Clare went to the fridge to see if there was anything she could put in a sandwich. ‘Lucy?’ she called as she pulled out some cheese, ‘let’s have a race.’
Immediately the little girl was at her side, eyes twinkling. ‘What kind of race?’
‘I bet you that I’ll have your lunch made and in your schoolbag before you’re dressed.’
‘Hah,’ Lucy crowed, ‘that’s easy, I’m nearly dressed already!’
‘You have to have your hair brushed, and your socks and shoes on too,’ Clare warned and chuckled as the six-year-old sped upstairs.
‘Want crispies,’ Nathan said tugging on her skirt.
Clare crouched down. ‘Tell you what, little man, why don’t I give you a biscuit?’
Nathan’s eyes lit up with delight. ‘Bikkie!’
Clare fetched two plain biscuits, one for Nathan and one for her daughter, finished making Lucy’s lunch and was just tidying up the kitchen when the little girl arrived back, fully dressed.
‘Did I win, did I win?’ she cried.
Clare looked at the lunchbox she’d left sitting on the table next to Lucy’s schoolbag. ‘You just beat me,’ she admitted and the little girl danced around the kitchen.
‘I’m the winner, I’m the winner! I beat Clare again, Mum,’ she bragged as Tracey came back into the kitchen dressed in jeans and t-shirt, her damp hair tied back in a ponytail.
‘You can dry your hair, I still have some time,’ Clare assured her.
‘Can’t, Lucy has to be in early today, she’s going on a trip to the farm.’
‘Then I’ll walk with you and if we’ve time we can have another cuppa in the coffee shop beside the surgery.’
‘I don’t know what I’d do without you,’ Tracey said as they pushed their buggies down the street, Lucy skipping ahead, singing.
‘You’d do the same for me.’
‘I would, anytime, but you never need help. You’re always on top of things. I wish I could be like that. “Loosen up”, Dave is always saying but it’s easier said than done.’
‘You need to stand back and see the bigger picture,’ Clare counselled. ‘I mean, is the world going to come to an end if you don’t get the beds changed today? Do you really need to do the shopping or could you pick up the basics in the shop at the filling station on the way home?’
Tracey nodded slowly. ‘I see what you’re saying.’
‘Sometimes you just have to stop and say “enough”. Sometimes you really just have to put yourself first.’
‘Nathan doesn’t see it that way,’ Tracey said, looking down at her child’s dark mop of hair. ‘I love him to bits but sometimes, Clare, he drives me around the bend. He’s so demanding, so strong-willed. If I sit on the floor and play with him all day he’s fine but once he sees me even look sideways at my laptop he starts to act up.’
‘Can you work in the evenings when Dave gets home?’
‘Between homework and bedtime and dinner it isn’t easy. I try to do a bit after the children are in bed but I’m usually half asleep myself by then.’
‘Wonderwoman,’ Clare chuckled.
‘Listen to yourself! Homework, dinner, bedtime; why do you have to do it all?’
‘Well, Dave’s been at work all day-’
‘And so have you! Besides, the children must want to spend some time with him when he gets home.’
‘He reads to Lucy,’ Tracey said, feeling disloyal.
‘Hey, I’m not having a go at Dave but you do need to prioritise your day and your work shouldn’t always come last on the lists. It’s not a hobby, Tracey, you bring in money with your writing and you have to allow yourself the time to do the job properly.’
Tracey nodded slowly. ‘I suppose.’
They stopped as they reached the school and Lucy hugged her mother quickly before racing inside.
‘Start today,’ Clare continued as they walked on towards the coffee shop. ‘You said you have to finish this article today so do it and let everything else wait.’
‘You’ll think of something.’
When Tracey got back to the house, she stripped Nathan down to his nappy, filled a basin with water and brought the child and basin out to the small back garden. Throwing a few plastic toys into the water, and covering Nathan liberally with sunscreen, she left him squealing with delight as she went to fetch her notepad and pencil.
The toddler played happily for nearly an hour and when he started to show signs of boredom, Tracey scooped him up and brought him inside for a snack. Then she set him in front of the television and put on a Barney video. As Nathan warbled along to ‘I love you, you love me,’ she scribbled frantically, only pausing to make herself yet another coffee. After Barney, she sat Nathan at the table with play dough and continued to scribble as he played. When he mashed the dough into the grooves under the table, she didn’t say a word and when he screamed for a biscuit, she gave it to him. She was amazed at how much calmer she felt simply because she was going with the flow. Clare was right. The world wouldn’t come to an end if she relaxed her standards occasionally
Realising that it was almost time to collect Lucy, Tracey took Nathan upstairs to change and dress him and sitting him in his buggy with his favourite book, she quickly tidied the kitchen.
As she walked down to the school her heart felt lighter. She still wasn’t finished her article but she wasn’t far off and hopefully if Nathan slept for a couple of hours she’d get it done.
Lucy was hyper after her trip and more than a little bit tired and whiney. ‘Mum, I’m hungry.’
‘I’ll make dinner when we go home,’ Tracey promised.
‘I’m too tired to walk,’ Lucy complained.
Tracey felt the irritation bubbling to the surface and forced herself to count to ten. As she approached the turn for the mall, she caught sight of a yellow M and made a decision. ‘Okay, Lucy, if you promise to be a good girl, I’ll take you for Happy Meal.’
‘Cool! Thanks, Mum!’ Lucy danced around in delight, her tiredness forgotten. An hour later, they were on their way home and Nathan’s eyes were heavy. Tracey took him straight upstairs to his cot and then went back to settle her daughter in front of the television.
Her daughter stared at her in shock. ‘I can watch television?’
‘Just for a little while,’ Tracey warned, ‘as you’ve been such a good girl today.’
When Dave returned from work that evening it was to find his wife and children playing happily in the lounge. ‘You look relaxed,’ he said, kissing his wife.
‘I wouldn’t go that far,’ she laughed, ‘but it’s been quite a good day.’
‘Oh? Tell me more.’
‘Later,’ she said, standing up. ‘I have to go out now.’
He frowned. ‘Out? Out where?’
‘To the coffee shop so I can finish my article in peace. You’re on bedtime duty and I’ll pick up dinner on my way home.’
‘Oh, okay, then,’ he said looking slightly bemused. ‘So what time should I put them down? Do I have to wash Lucy’s hair? What about pyjamas?’
Tracey paused, thinking that it would only take five minutes for her to go up and leave everything ready for Dave and talk him through their usual routine but then she remembered her friend’s wise words. ‘Do whatever you think best, Dave,’ she said smiling. ‘I’m sure it will be fine.’ And she took her bag, her notebook and pencil and walked out the door.
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