PLAYTIME • by Rachel Allen

I swish the curtains open, and the sunlight nearly blinds me. Typical — on the day it matters, it pours with rain, but on the day after it matters, it’s bright and sunny. Just my luck. I shuffle towards the kitchen, pulling my old dressing gown around me. It’s a bit tatty now, but I’ve had it since the boys were born, and it reminds me of those precious baby snuggles. Everyone said I was making a rod for my own back, letting them sleep on me, but I didn’t care — people have been telling me I’m doing things wrong my whole life.

The kettle takes ages to boil. Yesterday was good, the boys had fun. I know they weren’t faking it — mother’s instinct. I planned it all out, made a list to make sure I wouldn’t forget anything for the picnic. I even went to the big Asda to get the crisps they like, the teddy bear ones. Dad laughed when he saw the size of my bag. “Think you forgot the kitchen sink, Bec!” he said. I shrugged — nothing was going to rain on my parade, not even the actual, torrential rain.

Liam texted me first thing, asking if I wanted to rearrange because of the weather. I replied straight away — No way. The forecast was heavy rain all day, but you never know, they get it wrong all the time. And a bit of rain never did anyone any harm.

The boys were a bit nervous when we got there — this is still new to them, too. I see other families out and about, having fun and laughing together, and it hurts. One day we’ll be like that too. The hello hugs by the car were a bit awkward, but then Dad started cracking jokes and being silly, and we loosened up a bit. They waved goodbye to Liam and we had a race to the park. Kayden won, he’s such a fast runner. We had the whole park to ourselves — a plus side of the miserable weather.

I’d brought a towel with me to dry the swings and the seesaw so the boys wouldn’t get wet bums, but they wouldn’t let me near the slide — they insisted on leaving it wet so they could go faster. Jamie never used to like the slide much when they were little, he was always so much more shy and timid than Kayden. You shouldn’t compare them really, but you can’t help it.

I’ve still got a bit of the good bread I bought for their sandwiches left, so I put a couple of slices in the toaster. There’s no jam, so it’ll have to be marmite, but I don’t mind. Both the boys love it, so I put it in their sandwiches yesterday. I think Dad would have preferred corned beef, but in all the excitement and planning I clean forgot to make any sandwiches for him, and for me. The boys shared theirs with us, bless them. They’re good kids. It was all about them, anyway. They thought a picnic under the slide was great fun — it was the only place in the park that had any shelter, and they didn’t mind getting a bit damp.

That’s how it should be, too — all fun and adventures. Children shouldn’t have to worry about boring grown up things, that’s what the grown ups are for, after all. Speaking of which, I need to get my outfit sorted for later. There’s a meeting to decide if we keep things as they are now, or if I can have more time with the boys. Whole days, maybe. Dad says it’s just like playing a game, you have to keep playing to get to the next level, and then the next, until you win. I try to remember that when it gets too much – it’s just a game to win. Liam certainly treats it that way. He’ll be there today, all suited and booted. I’ll need to look as smart as I can — I know how important appearances are.

Not to the boys, though. They didn’t care that I forgot my coat yesterday, and looked like a drowned rat within five minutes. That didn’t matter to them — it’s about being together and having fun. That’s all that counts. Funny how kids understand what’s really important in life, but we forget about that as we get older.

I made sure we were right on time for meeting back up with Liam yesterday. It went by so fast — I could have stayed and played at the park all day, and I think they could too, from the way they were dragging their feet. But we have to do everything by the book. Play the game, like Dad says. He’s picking me up in an hour, so I take my interview outfit out of the wardrobe — knee length black skirt, sky blue blouse and smart black jacket — and hope that today, I get to move up to the next level.

Rachel Allen lives and writes in North Wales with her husband and two young sons. She is rarely without a hot cup of tea, and when she’s not writing, she can be found walking her geriatric dog in the big beautiful outdoors, crocheting little bits and bobs, and playing endless games with her boys and their toy cars (not necessarily all at the same time).

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