As inevitable as the incoming tide, tomorrow will come, bringing both April and the school holidays to a close. Bringing relief up, down, around the country and yet, in our house, at least, bringing dread, too.
Because while my children's return to school signals a house again mercifully empty but for me and the dog, a refuge in which to work undisturbed between the hours of 9 and 3, to lunch if I so wish on porridge while in my dressing gown, it signals, also, something rather less welcome: homework.
When asked to spell "distinctive" or how many lines of symmetry there are in a parallelogram, my daughter is plenty enthusiastic. However, although my son will do what he must, his homework has become our battleground.
We lock horns across the kitchen bench, altercate at the dining table, draw swords in front of the computer. Oh I've read the literature: keep it light, parents. Remember to have fun! What tosh. What bunk. There is no fun to be had. Not with an almost adolescent keen to flex his budding might.
Not with a just-about young adult, game for a meltdown, but not the hard yards. I try my best to respect his efforts, to leave him to it, but when I strike an error, when I sense a sloppy, lazy attitude, I cannot help myself.
Last term he worked for several weeks long on a math's project. "Done," he announced the night before it was due. "It looks great," I said, standing over his shoulder, "but I can see a few problems."
"I'm happy with it," he said. "Really," I asked, pointing out the mistakes. "You're happy to hand in something you know isn't right? Because, quite frankly, I didn't bring you up to think good enough was good enough." He turned to me then, a fury on his face I had never before seen there, and in that moment something between us shifted. "Quite frankly," he said, "You might be a bloody perfectionist, but I'm not."
He was right. I am. And he is not the first to call me so either, but while previously I might have tittered nervously, unsure whether the intention was to compliment, this time, I knew, it most definitely was not.
The thing is I struggle to understand why anyone would opt for less. Sometimes time or money do not allow for perfection, and you can but do the best you can with what you have. But surely when offered the choice of two peaches, only a fool picks the bruised fruit over the lushly ripe.
Surely only a fool picks the room facing the car park over the room with a view of the sea. Of course one person's ideal is not necessarily another's. Perhaps you want to make a pie with your peach. Perhaps you wish to keep an eye on your collectable car. But even so, when given the opportunity to get it right, wouldn't any sensible person grab at it with both hands?
A friend sent me an essay recently about shitty first drafts by the writer Anne Lamott. It was supposed to spur me on with my own writing, but I found myself fixating instead on the process she described. "The first draft," she says, "is the child's draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later."
This, I know, is how most people write. But I don't. I write a sentence, and then I ponder it, and when I am happy I write the next one. And when I am satisfied with that sentence I return to the first and I read them together, repeating my
system again and again, until, finally, I reach the end.
I was telling my mother this, and how I suspected my method was hindering me, but how I couldn't see fit to work any differently. And she said, in the incisive way of mothers, "Of course you can't. It's exactly how you clean." She was right. If I can't do a chore properly, I'd just as rather not do it at all.