Illustration: Kelsey Davenport

DESPATCHES FROM THE SCHOOL GATE

A week with just the two of us was blissfully straightforward and simple

Initially, Liz Dashwood was put out that her husband was off to New York for work. She soon changed her mind

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At first, I was livid.

“You’re going to New York? My favourite place on earth, bar none? My spiritual home? Without me?”

“It’s for work,” said my husband. “I have to go.”

“And in half term?! The worst of all the holidays! Too short to go away, too long to park him in front of the television with sandwiches.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You will be,” I promise him. “You will be.”

But once he’s gone and the resentment has faded, it turns out to be a week of utter bliss.

Peace descends.

At first, just the superficial kind – the natural result of there being one person fewer in a small flat, and of that person, despite being an adult, habitually creating very much more noise than his six-year-old child. Even Thomas notices, looking up from his Enid Blyton one morning at breakfast.

“Isn’t it quiet?” he sighs with satisfaction.

I look up from The Essex Serpent. “It is,” I agree.

“Daddy coughs a lot,” he says.

“He has a lot of phlegm,” I say.

“Why?”

“Because I did something wrong in a former life and God is punishing me.”

“And Daddy’s always moving things around.”

“He is.”

“And he breaks things quite a lot.”

“By accident.”

“And gets annoyed.”

“Yes.”

“And he sighs a lot.”

“That’s him.”

I don’t have to cook without onions because I foolishly married a man who won’t eat them (do you know what an onion-free culinary existence is like? I haven’t experienced depth of flavour since 2002)

“You just always know he’s around,” says Thomas, and I reflect not for the first time on the underacknowledged perspicacity of the young.

“Totally,” I say. And we return, peaceably, to our books.

The deeper peace comes as the week wears on. During the day, there is no one I have to explain decisions to or consult on any matter. No one to interfere with my timetable or put a spoke in the wheels of my plans (not to leave before the washing is put out, mostly). Just me. A single, unbroken line of authority. I give Thomas an array of options that suit me and my ongoing work and domestic commitments, he chooses between them and we carry them out. It’s simple. It’s streamlined. It’s elegant and it’s beautiful.

I don’t have to cook without onions because I foolishly married a man who won’t eat them (do you know what an onion-free culinary existence is like? I haven’t experienced depth of flavour since 2002). I don’t have to go to bed early to make sure I’m fully asleep before the snoring starts (see phlegm, above. If asked my marital status, I have to fight the urge to reply, “Mucosal”). And, above all, I do not have listen to all the ways in which people in the office, on public transport or in the news have depredated upon my husband’s – possibly all men’s – vision of a world that bends entirely to his will. I am, in effect, living that dream.

It ends with a swearing at the front door, a furious jangling of keys and the crash of it being flung open hard enough to dent the wall again.

“I’m back!” he says. “Did you miss me?”

“Of course,” I say.

Thomas looks questioningly at me. I frown back at him. This is not the time for more perspicacity from the young. Silence, for a few fleeting minutes more, is what we need.

@LizDashwood

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Illustration: Kelsey Davenport
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despatches from the school gate
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