I am almost obsessional about the time between seven in the evening and bedtime. It’s mine. All of it. I revel in the peace which comes when the children are asleep, and the utter selfishness of an evening spent doing what I want to do. When the babies were all under two, and the witching hour began at three pm and stretched through till bedtime, I would take a deep breath (and a large slug of Pinot) and tell myself I could get through it. I could get through anything as long as I could knew that, come seven, the night was my own.
Often I will work – I don’t have the concentration required for television – and occasionally I’ll read. Sometimes I’ll write. Rarely do I go out, except for committee meetings, which happen all too frequently. But never do I spend the evening doing chores. I flatly refuse. There is nothing more soul-destroying than spending the evening ironing or sorting socks, so instead I race feverishly about the house from 6pm, tidying away toys and loading the dishwasher so that at precisely seven o’clock I may down tools.
When the children don’t settle, or the chores are misjudged; when supper runs late, or the phone rings at bath-time, I begin to twitch. I feel the minutes seeping out of my evening, and it stresses me more than you can imagine. This is my time.
I know that the children will not be children for long. I know that seven o’clock will not always be their bedtime; that I will share my evenings with teenage angst and reality TV shows. But for now this is my time. And I guard it fiercely.