I truly, truly do not know how single mothers manage more than one child on their own for any length of time. Same goes for women with husbands frequently travelling. The ones doing a good job of it - and that's probably many, if not most - need the heartiest slap on the back possible, in my opinion.
My admiration for single mothers who don't go mad grew exponentially recently when my husband went overseas for seven days, leaving me alone with the three kids (six, four and 10-months). My usual babysitter had also naffed off to the Middle East for three weeks on holiday, leaving me to cope not just with my husband's absence but the school holidays all alone.
It was every bit as daunting as it sounds. Consequently, I approached it by burying my head in the sand. I distinctly recall taking my husband to the airport on the Friday night with the kids, and as they darted between trollies and whined about not getting any lollies and generally acted like the tired young children they were, it was all I could do not to prise open his suitcase, move aside his underdaks and checkered shirts and snuggle in for a 14-hour ride in the luggage hold. I notice he looked distinctly relieved to be the one getting on the plane rather than taking the three loinfruit home, and his cheerful "have fun!" as he nigh-on sprinted through Customs provoked dark, homicidal thoughts.
The hardest day was the next day, Saturday. I looked ahead and saw six days to follow - six long, lonely, tiring days. The weather turned frosty and we all had colds. We headed out to relieve the boredom (and find a warmer location, as both heat pumps had clapped out) and ended up at the toy hirage warehouse, where I quickly loaded up the car with as many large toys as we could afford and high-tailed it back home.
Unfortunately, in my urgency to get them all in the car they were jammed up against each other; each one's buttons were being pushed and there was therefore about five inane kiddie tunes on the go simultaneously. As I unloaded everyone from the car back home, my daughter accidentally smacked me upside the head with a Barbie laptop. For a moment I wanted to clear out the seven seater family van, pile everything on the porch - including the children - and drive, drive, drive away without a second look back.
Strangely - and thankfully - the week got better after that dismal first day. It was something that my sister used to tell me about when her husband went on one of his many overseas trips: sometimes, just relying on yourself without having to factor in your partner can be almost easier. Expectations become so low that pressure is removed. I simply didn't have time to play much with the older kids, so they largely amused themselves (within earshot). The baby, who is just starting to pull himself up and crawl like a rocket to every nook and cranny of the house, required constant supervision and I just planned my days around his two naps (and 5.30am wakeups).
There was some TV but considerably less than I feared there would be. It was a case of getting through, and we got through, and I couldn't but be a little proud of myself for what I considered to be a considerable feat of endurance.
My husband, walking through the door a week later, remarked that I looked a lot better than he thought I would. The house was still standing, the children still alive; routine had been maintained. But while all appeared hunky-dory, that's not to say I'm champing at the bit to repeat the experience. Which my husband quickly discovered when he made the mistake of joking that he should be going away more often!