Keep Serving the Fricking Peanuts… and other tips to help children deal with separation

Published by Sarah Hughes on

parenting a middle child

We made it, parents. Another six (it’s always nearer seven) weeks holiday is over. I imagine most of you reading this are as skint, exhausted and drained of energy as I am right now.

I had a friend today say to me; “Our summer’s been great actually. I guess after having the lockdowns, six weeks of having to entertain them seems easy.”
I didn’t punch her. But that’s only because she said it over the phone from London.
Whilst I take her point; for me, this school holiday, hot on the heels of the breakdown of our marriage has been a time like no other.
I think I’ve used the expression ‘hanging by a thread’ before. In fact I know I have. But I really had no idea what it meant to be hanging by a thread.
To have to keep three expectant (demanding) little faces smiling. To have to keep three personalities who are always on the verge of boredom entertained (spoilt rotten). To have to watch for every tiny little change in their demeanour, in case this huge change they’re experiencing is churning them up inside (spoiler: it’s not. Kids are resilient as fuck. As long as they have two parents who love and them of course, which mine do).
It’s been relentless.
But to do all of that with what feels like only 10% of a functioning brain, the other 90% being a washing machine cycle of panic, anxiety and stress over this new, unknown future… well it’s been hard. But as my bestie Siri tells me all the time; we can do hard things. We must do hard things, to have a better, truer more beautiful life in the end.
I read this bloody brilliant book this summer. Siri sent it to me. Obvs.
God! You know one of those books that shakes you by the shoulders so hard you feel like it was written only for you?
It’s called ‘Untamed’ by Glennon Doyle. Seriously, if you’re a woman, you should probably read it. If you’re a woman in a long term partnership you should definitely read it. And if you’re a woman who knows deep down your life needs a serious rethink… you have got to read it. No excuses.
Doyle writes a lot about the time her marriage to her husband was ending, and the effect it had on her children. One piece of advice she was given by a friend at the time, which I’ve recited to myself over and over again, is to ‘just keep serving the freaking peanuts’.
I’m the flight attendant right? My kids are the passengers on their very first trip and our plane is undergoing some severe turbulence. Like those terrified passengers, my kids will look to me for reassurance. No matter how insanely hard it is; I simply have to smile serenely and just keep serving the fricking peanuts.
There have been a couple of times this summer, I’m not going to lie, where I have absolutely neglected my flight attendant duties. I’ve dropped all the peanuts and have been found locked in the plane toilet sobbing “We’re all going to dieeee” (I hope you’re following this metaphor my loves). And for that I am truly sorry. My kids deserve my strength and my reassurance. Always.
But I’m a human being. A work in progress… they get the very professional flight attendant 9 times out of 10, all the while I’m striving for a clean sheet.
Because as Doyle says, I know in my heart of hearts that turbulence doesn’t bring down a plane. It’s scary, it’s unsettling, but the passengers get out alive.
Whilst I know that, my kids don’t. This is their first flight you see?
It’s our job as the adults to convince them that the plane will land safely. That we’ll all step onto the tarmac and head into arrivals muttering “Well that was fucking awful for a while wasn’t it? Anyway, shall we get a curry on the way home?”
Similarly we as a family of five, will, because we must, emerge happy and whole after the turbulence of this summer and the weeks and months that lie ahead.
There are already little wins, little moments where the plane rises above the clouds and I see the sun. Like this morning when Jonah told me he feels like he sees more of me and his Dad now, not less. The experience on the plane has I feel, sharpened my focus, made me more present when I’m with them.
My beautiful boys. I know sometimes it feels like your whole life has been upended. I know that sometimes Mam’s mask slips. Because, you know, these summer holidays have been a round the fucking world flight with the worst turbulence this here attendant has ever experienced in her 40 year career.
And at the moment, it feels like there is no available runway on which to touch down.
All I can do is promise every day that your calm, your confidence, your complete peace is all I strive for. Your needs will drive my every decision and action.
I promise to keep serving you the fricking peanuts, my treasures.
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