Monday, 21 January 2013

Les Miserables.

There are four miserable people sitting dejectedly around a circular table in the back of a pub. One is busy on his father’s iPhone, the other has his headphones jammed in his ears, the third looks catatonic with boredom and the fourth, Husband, looks exhausted. As usual.

I have already received four text messages apprising me of the situation before I arrive. The first, from Husband, says: “Eldest is driving me mad,” the next three, also from Husband but I’m guessing not by Husband, say: “Mummy I hate it here, I want to go home.” In three different ways.

It is my fault they are here - and it shows. They hate going out, anywhere, and I was the one who suggested we go out for a meal this weekend because I am fed up of being stuck in the house.

“Right!” I said on Thursday evening at the dinner table, because I wanted to warm them up (warming them up is key). “I do NOT want a repeat of the last few weekends when we all stayed in ALL the time and Daddy and I cooked, and then cooked again, and then we washed up and then washed up some more. I want us to go out as a family.” They groaned collectively.

How do other families do it? I am agog at all the pictures on Facebook of happy family outings: cycling, walking, theatre or cinema going and, of late, sledging. I am minded to post something along the lines: 'what the hell!' or, 'please stop showing me your happy family snaps,' or, 'bog off the lot of you'. 

I have this theory that the more children you have, and especially the more male children you have, the harder it is to go anywhere. Not when they’re little, of course, when it’s endless trips to the playground, where you stand around and freeze to death, but once they get big enough to object then you’ve pretty much had it because then they object. All the time.

“We will go to the cinema on Saturday,” I say, because I love going to the cinema and never have anyone to go with. “And we will go for a walk on Saturday or Sunday,” I say, because I love a nice walk, especially in the snow. “And we will also go out for a meal,” I say, “I will book the pub down the road. Everyone says it’s great and you won’t have to go very far.” 

This is also key because of all the things they hate (and there are so many) they particularly hate going on the tube, or for a bus ride, or a long walk, or even in the car sometimes, although this is their favourite option because it involves no effort on their part. 

Youngest says okay to the cinema but no way to the meal. Middle One says no way to the cinema but maybe to the meal, especially if it’s steak and chips. Husband says nothing. Eldest is out. Ah yes, out is different if you are out with your friends, then it is acceptable-out, not family-out, which is unacceptable. Obviously.

On Saturday I try to book Life of Pi at the local arty cinema but it’s not on, it’s only on at the multiplex, which is not so uplifting and will involve driving. So I suggest going to the Odeon on a high street not that far from here (and not that long ago voted the worst high street in Britain), I say we could walk across the common or get a bus. Middle One says it smells of pee there and that the floor is sticky, which is true, I think, or certainly was true the last time I went, which admittedly was a very long time ago. So I abandon the cinema.

“A walk instead!” I say, “in the snow!” But Middle One has only just got home from his morning sport session and needs to relax and Youngest is: "doing something important on the computer," my computer, and Eldest has homework and is going out later, acceptable-out, obviously, with friends. So Husband and I go for a walk. Just us.

But the next day, Sunday, I have something booked. Aha! the pub down the road, for lunch. But then I get a text from a friend: would I like to accompany her to see Les Mis? She has a spare ticket. Would I! So, I shunt the lunch booking on a bit, to later in the afternoon, and go to the arty cinema and sob all through the French revolution (bloody hell it's grim) and meet up with my beloved family at the pub afterwards, which is where you joined me.

And do you know what? I'd love to tell you we had a great time in the end, that they all warmed up and we chatted and smiled and had a laugh together; and it is true that once they had a huge plateful of roast dinner inside them they lightened-up noticeably, even Youngest, who had moaned his socks off for the first ten minutes, but that's not what happened. This is what happened. 

The music was incredibly loud, so we could hardly hear ourselves speak, so we ate without talking and then I shouted across to Husband to order another drink, please, because I'd only had a half, while he had a pint and I was gasping after all that death and destruction in a boiling hot cinema, and the children wanted more coke, and he told me I should get the waitress's attention myself, even though I was still eating, while he had long ago finished, which annoyed me immensely, and Middle One continued to listen to his music and Youngest continued to moan, on and off, and Eldest continued to say not to one word and so I abandoned the idea of a second drink and got up from the table, when the bill arrived, and said I was totally fed up of the lot of them and I was going to walk home by myself, and I left. Yes I did.

I walked home on my own, not with my family, and when I got there I made a nice cup of tea and sat down in front of the fire and thought: right, it's really nice here in our house, I will NEVER, EVER try and get them out of it at the weekend again.

But I bet I will.

Our local common in the snow, where we did not go with our children for a walk.


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  1. The key to happy family sledging outings is to position yourself at the top of the hill whilst your child hurtles repeatedly down said incline. That way you can't hear the whining (I'm cold / I can't do it / I can't feel my fingers / I'm hungry / I want a drink / why do I have to walk up the hill) and you can boost your sagging spirits by drinking their hot chocolate whilst they're not looking. This also works for children's films (I sleep during particularly nauseating cinema trips knowing the boys can't escape)...

  2. Love it. Problem with the sledging - it's very flat round our way. Will try your napping at the cinema tip tho if it's a crap film, and if I ever get them there in the first place. E x

  3. Why not have a snowball fight on the Common?

    Worst High Street in Britain? Did no one mention Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey? A day out there might engineer expectations of the locality on a positive trajectory.

  4. The didn't want to go to the Common. They did venture out into the garden briefly. Where can they get this stubborn streak from? Bit of a mystery. E x

  5. Here is a comment about this blog post that a friend posted on Facebook -

    Elizabeth, thank you. Made me cry with laughter, recognition and relief. Relief that we are not the only ones with miserable recalcitrant sons (apart from the eldest when he has cycling training or trips organised - never a whole family pursuit of course) and relief that I have a little girl who is unfailingly enthusiastic and upbeat and who is always keen on a trip out (quick flick thru my Facebook photos will show its largely her that features with the sunny disposition - the boys are usually scowling in the background somewhere). Mind you, she is only 7. Goodness know what hormones & the teenage years has in store for us there. X

  6. Thank the lord, we're not the only family then!! I think of weekends that are the most harmonious in our household and they most definitely are the ones where 11 yr old son is playing on computer/xbox/tv and we sit, drinking coffee and reading the papers. If we dare to suggest doing something, the first thing my son asks is what time we will be coming home. I often refer to the saying pinned strategically on our kitchen wall 'Remember, as far as anyone knows, we're a nice normal family'. Claire x