When the cat’s away, the mice will play
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London - Mr Candy’s away - and I’ll watch rubbish TV on a loop and stack the dishwasher as crazily as I want!
My husband and I share an underwear drawer. It is a disappointing situation for two adults, but due to poor planning, lack of space and the distraction of more important stuff, we’re stuck with it.
As you know from previous columns, Mr Candy is something of a neat freak, so this arrangement doesn’t float his boat, as they say.
If we were characters from The Muppet Show, it would be like scientist Beaker sharing with drummer Animal. Whenever my husband of 16 years needs to add emphasis to a description of a giant mess one of the children has made, he’ll say: “It was worse than your mother’s side of our underwear drawer!”
Every time I open this drawer, I am alarmed by my chaotic pile encroaching on his ever-so-organised pile, his thoughtfully paired socks and neatly folded pants being led astray by my tangled tights and lazily crumpled cottons.
I don’t feel guilty enough about it to change the habit of a lifetime, though, because my guilt reserves are already used up on the ongoing “work versus motherhood” experiment.
This week, however, I can view our little shared space without shame or blame because Mr Candy is away. The children - aged 13, 12, nine and four - and I are home alone and the dynamic of family life is completely different.
We’ve become more and more reckless with the usual house rules, meaning that now all our underwear drawers are in disarray.
But sometimes you notice what your other half does only when he’s not there, and frankly the joy of a no-shame pants drawer is short-lived when you consider the sudden lack of discipline that has ensued since he left.
I’ve long held the belief I am the disciplinarian of our duo, but that might be because I shout the loudest.
It turns out, it’s his withering-but-silent stare that actually gets results when it comes to good behaviour from the miniatures. Bellowing, as any child expert will smugly tell you, is notoriously ineffective.
While he’s been working abroad, they’ve more or less ignored every instruction from me and “gone dark” as they say in spy movies. I have no idea what they are doing half the time, and take refuge in the bathroom with pint-sized Mabel, the only child who still listens to me.
On Tuesday, in order to persuade them all to go to bed at a reasonable hour on a school night, I had to go to bed early with them. Once you turn out all the lights, everyone has to vacate the lounge, don’t they?
And I am not proud to admit this, but I have resorted to a divide-and-rule strategy to get the children to do what I say during their father’s absence.
They seem to enjoy breaking the Dad-rules, so I have started to do this, too, in order to curry favour and win support.
I have briefly joined their gang in a bid to not-so-subtly manipulate them into leaving the house on time for school, or to do their homework - and it seems to be working.
Basically, we are doing everything we aren’t normally allowed to do when Mr C is here. For example, we’ve been watching rubbish TV on a loop. On Saturday night, I saw a woman on the dating show Take Me Out clap a round of applause with her buttocks (something for my daughters to aspire to) and we are addicted to Channel 4’s racy First Dates. Neither of these shows is on Mr C’s viewing list.
We aren’t washing anything before we recycle it, and I have stacked the dishwasher in the manner of a visiting alien with no eyes, all week.
“Don’t tell Dad,” we say, as we merrily eat dessert first at meal times and neglect to detangle any of the phone charging cables. We have left lights on in rooms that are empty, and filled the kettle to the top, regardless of how much boiled water we need.
Yet when he calls, the children can’t wait to blurt out all the illegal things I have been doing. Nothing gives children more glee than telling on someone they are related to, and I am milking this co-operative joyful glow for all it’s worth to get the necessary domestic stuff done.
It’s a dangerous tactic, and I’ve only got 24 hours of rebellion left.
Who knows what will happen when Dad’s back, because I have become so indoctrinated into their cult, I may start rolling my eyes if he asks me to do something unreasonable - like putting the lid back on the jam!
Lorraine Candy is editor-in-chief of Elle magazine.