Every home has a witching hour. That hour when everyone in the house is tired, hungry and fractious. When you have a newborn, it usually falls between six and seven in the evening, when you have Had Enough of the constant baby-wrangling and are desperate to hand your precious bundle over to someone else. When you have school-age children, the morning rush tends to be the time when tempers fray and eventually snap.
For us, the witching hour occurs between getting home from the afternoon school run and the children’s teatime, at 5pm.
At this time of day, The Baby is at her most needy. She’s just spent an hour strapped into her pushchair. She is desperate for attention, from both me and her brother. She’s getting hungry. She is seriously high maintenance.
Take this evening. We get home from school, via the park, at 4.15pm. The Boy needs to make his dad a Fathers’ Day card, so I set him up at the kitchen table with card and pens. Of course, The Baby wants to join in, so I sit her in her highchair and give her a piece of paper and some crayons.
This is Not Good Enough. She doesn’t want me to give her some crayons. She wants to choose her own drawing implements from the art box, just like her brother, and then use them to tattoo herself.
Cards finished, The Boy disappears upstairs to play Lego, while I get on with cooking dinner while simultaneously unpacking The Boy’s lunch box, searching his book bag for vital correspondence, checking emails on my phone, and cutting out cardboard Moses figures for my Sunday School group. All while The Baby hangs off my leg, swinging on my hem and shoving her head up my skirt.
I look out of the window, and realise it’s raining. On my dry washing. Marvellous. My multi-tasking does not extend as far as being in two places at one time. I either have to sacrifice the spag bol or the laundry. The spag bol makes the cut.
I finally detach The Baby from my leg by dumping her in the hall with DH’s civil engineering magazine. Five minutes later, I hear the distinctive sound of a packet of baby wipes being emptied, one by one. For a split second, I consider intervening – but promptly decide to leave The Baby to it. If it buys me a few minutes of peace, I can live with wasting a few wipes.
The peace is short lived. Within minutes, The Baby is back hanging off my leg. I have a fleeting ‘what would the health visitor think?’ moment as I shuffle over to the sink to drain the spaghetti, dragging The Baby with me and holding the boiling pan aloft over her head, but I’m a pro at this manoeuvre by now.
Finally, tea is on the table, and both children are eating happily. I breathe a sigh of relief, already thinking of the glass of wine I’ll pour as soon as they’re in bed.
At times like these, I could really do with an extra pair of hands. And quite often, I have one, in the shape of The Boy. He’s brilliant with his baby sister, and is a proper little mother’s help, keeping an eye on her while I hang the washing out, push the vacuum cleaner around or answer a pressing email. But after school – particularly on a Friday, when he’s been working hard all week – it feels mean to use him as my au pair when all he wants is some downtime with his toys.
Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling irritated when he disappears upstairs and slams the door in The Baby’s face, leaving her forlornly whimpering outside. After all, it’s not easy on her, either; she misses her brother when he’s at school and wants to play with him when he gets home. This balancing act – between his need to have time alone, and hers to hang out with her brother – is one of the hardest things about a larger than average age gap.
Thankfully, the witching hour ends with the serving of dinner. As tummies are filled and blood sugar levels stabilise, calm descends on the house again. And with plates cleared, the children chill out in front of the TV, happy in each other’s company, and I get five minutes to myself.
Thank goodness for CBeebies.