Family life, in my view, is completely mis-sold – a bit like a bad insurance policy, but with much further-reaching consequences.
When visualising my future self during my teens and twenties, I had pictured myself eventually ending up with a brood of cherubs, with whom I’d commune briskly, yet serenely, in the style of a modern-day Mary Poppins. And in truth, my imaginings hadn’t really extended much beyond the babies being super-cute and going to bed at 7.30 p.m.
Now, as parents of a 10 and 8-year-old, my husband and I are often heard darkly muttering “we should have got a dog.” Last night was fairly typical family fare. Alone with them while Daddy was at work, I barely tolerated constant, low-level bickering, one explosive fit of temper (older child) and deloused, for the umpteenth time, the younger child. Incredibly, in between all of this I cooked dinner, served dinner and facilitated bath time. All par for the course in a typical evening “chez nous”.
Later, my husband commented in bewilderment: “I was meant to live with a posh actress in Monaco”, to which I replied: “I should be living in a cottage in Wiltshire with beautifully behaved children and a spaniel.” At least I’d been on the right track with the dog idea.
And this episode encapsulates everything perfectly; none of it is quite what we expected and as we have often lamented, we didn’t sign up for this.
Despite having it on good authority (mainly my husband’s) that he was quite the Romeo back in the day, I find this difficult to reconcile with the man I live with on a day-to-day basis. This is especially so because during the winter months his at-home leisure wear consists mainly of what I affectionately call his tramp outfit (consisting of various pyjama separates that have seen better days and a pair of slipper-socks that I suspect any self-respecting down-and-out would decline to wear). A Monaco casino scenario in this get-up is unlikely.
Equally, my high summer wardrobe has morphed into sub-Donatella Versace territory (lurid-coloured garments and many and various sparkly accessories), which in my opinion look fabulous in the context of the hot southern European sun. Attired in this way at an English village fete in June, I’d feel faintly ridiculous. More I don’t fit in than bling-a-ding-ding. I clearly was not destined to be a pillar of the community in the shires.
I suppose if we’d really put our minds to it, we could have become some version of what we thought we wanted be. The point is, we didn’t and having actively constructed our life in the way we have, this is the life we lead. So, along with our questionable dress-sense, we have a home and a family and all the trials and tribulations that these entail.
Would we change any of it? None of it. Obviously. It brings us contentment and security. Amidst the humdrum of family life, it’s easy to forget how lucky we are. Because it’s not easy, we don’t always appreciate that we have a home, two happy, healthy children and we all have each other. I really do consider ourselves to be extremely fortunate. Despite everything.
Meanwhile, I’m constructing a vision of my post-retirement self. It largely involves ramping up the glitter factor, possibly with the introduction of iridescent eye shadow. There will also be a dog. And whether my debonair suitor, with less emphasis on tramp chic, will make himself known to me again, remains to be seen.