herald

Monday 18 December 2017

New routines, they're habit-forming

FINALLY, we seem to be settling into some semblance of new routine, something which I feel should be viewed with deep suspicion. I'm also not convinced that anything we are doing now is actually 'new'. More likely, I can't help thinking, our family life is just a continuous chaos of intersecting cycles.

We don't do 'routine'. Sometimes we're all on the same page, most often we're not.

Meanwhile, with the eldest abroad for a year and the second eldest spending so much time commuting across the city that often the only sign he still lives here is a trail of dead teabags across the back of the kitchen sink; the remaining two youngest siblings are quite under the microscope.

There's simply less activity in the house to hide behind and so they frequently find themselves the subject of our unwelcome . In some cases, it's like we're seeing them for the first time.

The youngest, I notice, has started drinking tea. "Since when?" I ask her.

"I like tea," she grumbles.

She's perched on a stool, curled around a ukulele so that her hair hangs straight down over her face as she laboriously plucks out what appears to be a rather heavy riff from a White Stripes song.

"What happened to 'I'm Yours' by Jason Mraz?" I say. She looks at me darkly and takes a noisy slurp of tea.

I put my face in front of hers so our eyes are level. "What have you done with my daughter?" I say.

She moans and stomps off.

"It'll be mascara and vampire clothes next, you'll see," I tell her mother. "And not just for Halloween."

"She's trying new things," says my wife.

"New things are overrated," I mutter, making a pile of all the teabags; our daughter's and those of her absentee older sibling, who my wife has just dropped to the train.

"Funny," she says suddenly. "When I pulled in to let him out, I recognised a lot of the other mothers who are doing the exact same."

"Do tell," I say.

"I know them from mother and toddler group, fifteen years ago," she says. "We're all still dropping the same kids off every day, only now they're tall and skinny with bits of beards."

"How terrifying," I tell her.

The younger middle teen appears, six-foot tall if he's an inch. "I need a fiver," he says. "For school."

"School that starts in. . . about ten minutes?" I say, checking the time.

"Seriously," says my wife, "you couldn't have remembered this last night?"

"I'm sure I mentioned it," he mutters.

"I'm sure you didn't," she says.

This deadlock doesn't last. "Can you just drop it off at the school then," he says. It isn't a question this time.

He grabs his bag and exits with a exasperated sigh, slamming the door so that something hanging from it on the other side clangs and then falls to the floor with a clatter.

"Is this his 'new thing'?" I say after he's gone.

"They've all done it," says my wife, "left something or other to the very last minute, then expect you to magic it out of thin air the second before they leave for school."

"Why change the habit of a lifetime, eh?" I chuckle.

"Hmm," she says, unconvinced.

normal

We decide to break with normal routine and have dinner out, just the two of us. The kids can forage in the fridge for something for themselves for a change.

"I bought extra teabags," I tell the youngest before we leave. She look at me like I'm crazy.

At the restaurant, we're perusing our menus when someone sends over a bottle of wine. It's a business acquaintance, as it turns out, someone we don't know terribly well, so we're not sure what to do."

"No one ever sends us over a bottle of wine," I say, examining it.

"You should thank her," says my wife.

I crane my neck in the gloom to see. "I can't make out where they're sitting," I say. "You go."

"Go. Now," glares my wife.

In the end, I stumble over awkwardly to where I'm clearly interrupting a family dinner. "Hi," I grin, then I freeze, lips sticking to my teeth. I'm not even sure I have the right table, when suddenly - for the life of me I have no idea why - I seize the woman's hand and kiss it, like some sort of Count at a waltz. I follow this up by turning to her husband and giving a little bow, then I flee.

Safely back around the corner at our table, I tell my wife as she clutches her face. "What did you do for the rest of them, curtsey?" she says.

"Possibly," I moan.

"You realise," says my wife, "there's only one way to get away with it. You'll just have to make a habit of greeting everyone that way from now on; pretend that's just what you do."

"So to cover up my being a plonker," I say, "I have to pretend that's just how I am, all the time."

"A plonker," she says, nodding. "We could get you a top hat," she says. "It could be your new thing."

"I've a better idea," I tell her: "How about I never leave the house again."

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