After four-and-a-half years of near constant cacophony my house is quiet. Silent, in fact. I know I should be listening to Radio 4 and reading something meaningful, but I am slumped on the sofa digesting the fact that all three of my boys are now at school.
And just as my twins, Alec and Kit, four, knocked us sideways with their chaotic arrival, so their double departure this week has packed a similarly painful punch.
“Yay! Freedom!” I warbled unconvincingly as they trooped into their classrooms for the first time, weighed down by lunchboxes the size of suitcases. I watched proudly (darting from window to window) as they took their seats on the carpet, looked up expectantly at their teachers and moved seamlessly into their new roles as schoolboys.
We parents gawped through the panes and, after being ignored for a few minutes, drifted off feeling redundant and, in my case, inexplicably disappointed. After a leisurely coffee and lots of jolly comments about how I ‘won’t know what to do with my time,’ I return home and, guess what, I don’t. Not for a day or two anyway.
I start scrolling through my mental list of things to do. It is so long and dates so far back that even getting to the top feels like too much to think about. Somewhere on that list contains the ambition of having an uninterrupted cup of tea. As a life goal I admit I may be setting the bar a little low.
Even though the boys have been at school for less than three hours I am already feeling unaccountably nostalgic about all those playgroups, music classes and mid-week park café lunches that we’ll never have again. Of course, I never actually took the twins to a music class (too stressful/expensive) and we last attended a playgroup more than a year ago. But the point is, we could have. And now we can’t.
With the start of term comes another realisation: I am no longer the mother of very young children. I admit that having three children under three is not something I could wholeheartedly recommend, but it did provide an identity of sorts. My harassed demeanour and double pram with buggy board set me apart from other parents. Now my children are just like anyone else’s – no cause for admiration, pity or any other form of attention. I shall miss not being able to get cross about it.
So now that the two main excuses for my general inaction and, ahem, undercleaned house, have left the building, it is probably time to smarten up my act a bit.
I have to confront the fact that I do now have time to look in the mirror so probably can spare a minute to drag a comb through my hair and, regrettably, may now be able to tackle the health hazards that are our toilets. I probably could sort through the jumble of summer clothes on the spare bed too.
But just as seven years ago, I never imagined being a stay at home mum, today I don’t really hanker after being a mum-who-lunches either. Not every day, anyway, although no doubt it is a role I could quickly warm to. So the question of What Are You Going To Do Now looms constantly, if not in my own head, then on the lips of others.
In the meantime, though, I have accrued a lot of unpaid leave in my extended role of childcare-provider-in-chief and refuse to spend it soul searching. Instead, I shall pine.
I wander into Alec and Kit’s bedroom and fluff up their pillows (I know they will appreciate this later when they hit each other with them). I imagine them having lunch and hope they can get their yogurts open. I am the first parent pacing outside the classroom at 3.15pm.
Kit bursts through the door, smiling, clutching at least five drawings of monsters. “They’ve got lots of books!” he shouts. Alec emerges, looking dazed but pleased with himself, happy because he had lunch with big brother Harry in the canteen.
And we totter home, all talking at once, pausing only to run into people’s driveways, snatch a school bag and chuck it into the road and climb any unstable-looking walls.
I am back on familiar territory. It feels good.