For the past 3 years, the time between 4pm and 6pm has been a time of pain, optimistically referred to as Witching Hour. The children have varied their programme a little depending on their age and whether it was just one or two of them, but it always includes at least non-stop crying and wailing, and there are usually some completely avoidable injuries, arguments and tantrums. Anything, in short, to stop you getting on with bringing about the natural end to this time, which is dinner and bed.
I don’t know if it ever stops. I’m hoping around the teenage years dinner time might no longer be preceded by screams and wailing, possibly because loud and non-inter-generationally-transferable music translates these feelings for your children and provides some catharsis. (Parents of teens feel free to set me straight)
But in gloomy moments I suspect that it just carries on and on, with different age-appropriate flavours. The truth of the matter is that 4pm is a long way from lunch and a long way from dinner, a natural dip in the day when we’d all quite like a nap but either can’t have one because we have stuff to do or because we would rather die than admit it because sleep is clearly a weakness. In fact, I myself wouldn’t mind rolling around on the floor crying and tearing my hair out around this time of day.
Actually, yesterday I kind of did.
Wound up from trying to chop vegetables and wash dishes with two children clinging to my legs singing a piercing chorus of “we are sad”, I gave up and went into the dining room and sat down on the floor. They followed me. Propelled by a tiny flicker of mother’s instinct, I opened my arms and they promptly ran into them. There we sat for about ten minutes, rocking in a strange sort of see-sawing hug. They were in seventh heaven. They laughed and giggled and clung to me.
It suddenly occurred to me that I had got it all wrong. It wasn’t Witching Hour at all. It was Cuddle Hour. They had been playing all day, going about their own projects, and now they were tired and hungry and all they wanted was to come and crawl onto Mummy’s lap and be close.
My daughter sucked her favourite fingers and leaned her head against my knee. My son clutched me close and giggled that infuriating over-tired giggle as he rocked us all back and forth. There was peace.
I held on to that moment for a few more minutes and then extricated myself to rescue dinner and the crying and wailing resumed. It wasn’t long before I got more and more annoyed and started getting angry and shouting, making everything worse in the process until I practically slammed the bowls of pasta on the table, put them in their seats and had to take a moment alone in the kitchen to cool down.
A training course I did once taught me the cause of anger: blocked goals. You have plans, people get in the way of your plans and so you get angry at them. My goal: wash up, make dinner, get the kids to bed as soon as humanly possible, sneakily eat some crisps in the kitchen while they’re not looking, squeeze in some marking while the sauce is bubbling. The cooking is blocked by a loudly wailing Girl clinging to my leg, demanding to be picked up. Washing up is impossible while holding a toddler and fielding demands for snacks from a little boy. You can’t do marking when someone is constantly trying to invent new circus tricks involving balancing across your legs. Doing any sneaky eating in the kitchen is pretty much out when you are being followed around absolutely everywhere by adoring fans/supplicants.
So what do you do? How can this ever be a happy time of day?
I thought of our little moment earlier. There is a glimmer of hope, I thought. Peace is possible.
As I can’t change anyone other than myself and I have no right to try and control anyone else, the only thing I can do is change my goals.
I can accept that 4-6pm is not Haute Cuisine Time. It is not Work Time. It is not Internet Time. It is not Housework Time. It is not even Witching Hour. It is Cuddle Hour. Time to give the kids maximum attention, endless hugs, join in their jokes, let them help with setting the table. Then heat up previously cooked food – the microwave can be operated with one hand after all. Magnificent meals should be cooked earlier in the day or after the kids have gone to bed – this is not the time.
The thing is: I need Cuddle Hour. All I want by 4pm is to curl up on the sofa under a blanket with my favourite people and have a little snooze while the Girl laughs and pokes me in the face to wake me up again. Maybe they know and that is why they chase after me, arms outstretched.
“Uh oh, it’s Witching Hour. We have to do something,” the Boy might say to the Girl. “We need to catch Mummy and give her hugs.”
“Yeah,” the Girl probably replies. “Dop. Ah! Ooooo.” Meaning: perhaps it will stop all the screaming and shouting at this time of day. It is really getting on my nerves.