When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves
The week had been tiring and stressful. The heat, the post-holiday come down, the lots of other things; multiple tiny plates being spun, endless to-do lists, a dearth of childcare. Much of having small children is spending your time chivvying another person from one thing to another. It felt like that had been the sum of our interactions all week. “Don’t do that,” “stop doing this,” “put that on,” “put that down,”. Stop, start, please, come on.
When they’re tired and you’re tired, it’s exhausting. When you’re a single parent, it can at times feel a bit one-note. Your voice, endlessly nagging your child. It had been that kind of week.
The best friend rang from Galway, where she is holidaying. She lives in a bigger city than us, and has two, younger children, and is also working, so she gets the chivvying. She has been swimming in the sea every night, she tells me, her tone somewhat awed. People here focus on being, rather than always just doing.
As we sign off our call, she’s heading to a yoga class.
I go back to the chivvying and the juggling.
That weekend, the Work Wife has been invited to the launch weekend of Center Parcs and has invited myself and Herself, along with her two boys. I know nothing about the place bar that anyone I tell about our impending trip drops their jaw, and drawls something along the lines of “it’s meant to be amaaaaaazing.”
We get there, and I am in charge of the three children for an hour. When we’re tired, our tics amplify. I, to my own annoyance, am that mother who hovers behind her child shouting things like "be careful", "slow down", "stop running".
Mostly, I try as much as possible to say it in my head, so as not to give her a complex, but there it is. When I’m tired, it comes out. I take the three children for a walk through the forest behind our house, which becomes a fairy hunt; they holler down every little hole “are you in there?”
Wound up from the last few days, my nerves feel stretched to the point of breaking; strung out with end-of-week tiredness. I make the youngest two hold my hands at all times. Tell them to get down off logs because they are shaky. Stop them from clambering down the tiniest of stone covered slopes.
In the end, I can’t take the stress of it anymore, and turn them back with the promise of biscuits. Later, I watch from the bedroom window as the neighbour’s child, smaller than our three, clambers around the forest behind the houses. Up the slope. Over the logs. Through the spikey branches.
And I decide to let go.
"She's a mermaid"
It’s not hard as it happens. I have taken the trip off from work; left my laptop at home, something I have done on any holiday since Herself was born five years ago. The three children are high on excitement, and it is infectious. It’s a media launch weekend, so everywhere are people I know through work, totally out of context; sitting on the sand by a lake, swimming in the pool, cycling. Everyone is smiling, relaxed; it’s like when you went on a school tour and saw the teachers in a different light; in their civvies and not really giving a damn.
We go to the pool, and Herself swims off down the deep end right into the wave machine. All those hours in the pool with her grandmother have paid off. “She’s a mermaid,” her little friend shouts as we all float down the lazy river, my girl leading the way. She smiles complacently, taking this as her due; I could burst with pride at her swimming skills. I do not think about telling her to be careful, slow down. I half-heartedly call at her to not go deep, she turns and grins, spitting out a faceful of water, unbothered.
We go to the water slide tunnel thing. I hate them, but pretend huge excitement. We go down together once, then I spend the next half hour sitting in a chair, watching her go down, and down, and down again. “This is amaaaaazing,” she screams. I am not checking emails, chasing replies, thinking of deadlines.
We rent a bike and a trailer, and go on a fairy hunt, just the two of us; speeding down hills, hunting clues, chatting as we cycle through the woods in the sun.
We stay in the pool until nine o'clock. I take the older two for a last bike spin around the lake on our last night. “You’re not doing a very good job,” they shout as we struggle uphill, and then we all scream as we fly downwards.
Usually, you return from a holiday with children needing a holiday yourself. We were there for two nights, one full day. It felt like a week.