A LIFE IN THE DAY OF JANE IONS
Jane Ions, 33, taught English at King Edward VI school in Morpeth for four years before giving up work to look after Peter, aged six, and Alison, three. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, and has been married to her husband Keith a senior registrar in orthopaedic surgery, for 10 years. Here she describes her daily routine day as a housewife.
If I got up 15 minutes earlier I would probably lead a much more useful life.
However, I get up at eight instead of quarter to and spend the whole morning paying for it. By this time Peter and Alison are hopping around the landing with both legs down the same hole of their pants.
Breakfast is a no-nonsense affair. No bacon and eggs or fruit juice and croissants or any of that sort of nonsense. I have breakfast standing up and the kids have breakfast complaining that this isn't what they wanted. My husband is always appalled at how late it is - so much so that Peter never notes the time without first exclaiming in horror.
He chats briefly with the kids 'Daddy, what does God eat for breakfast? 'Boiled eggs.' 'Are you sure?' then leaves for work. He is a senior registrar in orthopaedic surgery. He heals the sick while I wash the dishes.
At quarter to nine we take Peter to school. The house always looks a lot worse when I get back. I swear the entire contents hurl themselves from room to room in my absence. The need to do some housework never seems so pressing as on first entering the house. Alison and I finish our breakfast, wash up and then make sure nothing too nasty is happening in the bedrooms.
At around 10.30 we may postpone washing the kitchen floor in favour of visiting a friend for coffee. By 'friend' I mean anyone with children under five. The hope is that the children will play while the mothers talk. But in six years I have never known this happen. The children, if they take any notice of each other at all, concentrate their combined energies on wanting the same thing. Either that, or they will never leave the space just behind your left elbow and say 'Mummy' 24 times a minute. After about one and a half hours the strain of smiling indulgently at each other's obnoxious children becomes too great. and I take Alison away, after inviting my friend for a return session of potentially fascinating conversation the following week.
We have lunch. I have a sandwich and Alison spreads her beans around the kitchen. She is never hungry after coffee mornings, having been given too many placatory biscuits.
In the afternoon we may postpone washing the kitchen floor and do some shopping. I used to be a great believer in shopping lists and couldn't shop without one. I'm more flexible now. If I get stuck I just pick an old one out of the bottom of my bag and use that. The general result is the same.
If we don't shop we may do some gardening or, rather, do whatever is necessary to stop the garden coming into the house. My gardening is entirely destructive. By the time I have hacked down the weeds, briars and saplings and could possibly attempt to plant something, it is time to feed someone. The necessity to provide four meals a day stifles a lot of female creativity. This may be a good thing.
At just after three it is time to collect Peter from school. We mums gather in the playground, smiling brightly at each other while prising our infants off railings or each other. Sometimes it is difficult to know which imposes the greater strain coping with the children or exchanging the obligatory sympathetic and jocular remarks with their mothers.
We get home at about four. Half a packet of biscuits later it is time for Playschool on television and I can turn my full attention to the evening meal although sometimes even my full attention is not enough. We don't eat together as a family during the week as Keith is not usually home until after the children's bedtime. Whatever I cook can be adapted to suit both us and the children; they have it chopped up small and we have it in large lumps.
I try to communicate with my children at meal times. I always ask Peter what he did at school. He can never remember. I ask him what he had for lunch and it was always beans and some sort of pie. The abiding impression of his first year at school is of a series of blank days punctuated by beans and pie.
After tea the children devote themselves to creating as much mayhem as is possible between the hours of 5.30 and bedtime at 7.30. Sometimes I watch them playing, their happy, sticky little faces laughing as they mix together wet newspaper and talcum powder and push it down the front of each other's vests, and I think, how nice to see them enjoying themselves, playing together. At other times I think, bloody hell. I suppose it must be confusing for the children. They will grow into adults uncertain about the social acceptability of pushing a wet newspaper down someone's vest.
At seven I put Peter and Alison in the bath where they discuss who has the most impressive bottom (that vexed question). While they fight it out in the bath I clear up the mess. It doesn't take too long providing I don't come across anything too sticky. Like an Eskimo recognising 20 different types of snow, I am tuned to as many variations of stickiness.
If he isn't on call Keith gets home around now and chats to the children in the bathroom. 'Dad, what's the biggest thing in the world?' ' Mount Everest.' 'What's the next biggest thing?'
He helps me with the clearing up; his threshold for intolerable stickiness is lower than mine. He asks me what's for dinner and I show him. He disturbs it with a spoon, trying to encourage it.
After the children are in bed we eat and discuss the events of Keith's day. I'm always interested in what he has to say it is so far removed from my experience it could be science fiction. Eventually he will ask me what I've been doing all day. I think back. I know I have been doing it all day but I can't think what it is.
My evenings are given over entirely to sloth. I like sloth, it is so restful. I haven't joined any of those earnestly informative groups designed to educate one of an evening, like the Housewives' Register. One feels one ought to but one is lazy.
I did express a mild interest in the PTA at Peter's school and found myself immediately elected on to the committee and honoured with the office of secretary.
As I suspected, I am not a good secretary. In my dealings with paperwork I have discovered a law in action which states that the information you particularly need is on the only piece of paper you cannot find. Even when you get down to the bottom of the drawer among the miscellaneous plankton of neglect, it will not be there. The frustrating part is that you have seen that piece of paper every day for the last four months, and when all possible use for it has passed it will turn up two inches away from where you last saw it. People who experience this phenomenon should never be secretaries.
I try to compensate for my inefficiency by smiling pleasantly throughout our committee meetings in cheerful bewilderment. They are beginning to raise their voices when they speak to me. I'm safe from overt criticism, though, because nobody else wants the job.
Some evenings I make a list of achievements to be done the following day. Having listed what I have to do the need to actually do anything is not so depressingly imminent. If I then pin it up somewhere I feel I have made so much progress I deserve a rest.
At around midnight we go to bed. Tomorrow is another day. If I stick to the kitchen floor with both feet tomorrow, I'll wash it then.
Published in the Sunday Times Magazine's 'Life in the Day' page some time ago!