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Why isn't it like it is in the ads?

Let's get one thing straight. I love my children. They're my heart and soul. I adore them with every fibre of my being. But they also exasperate me, make me feel as if I'm about to go nuts, and make me want to shut myself in a dark room for hours.

I used to wonder why we can't do the running through a meadow, laughing, enjoying each others' company and larking about with our hair blowing in the wind, like they do in the perfume ads. The grim reality is that whenever we try to lark about in a meadow (or rather the park, meadows being in short supply in London), one of the children is whining, the other is having a tantrum, and I am shouting at them to be quiet and stop screaming / whingeing/ rolling about on the floor in a rage because we are here to have FUN for goodness sake and by God that is what we are going to do if it kills me.

I also used to wonder why looking after children left me feeling shattered at the end of each day. Am I incompetent? Am I not cut out to be a mother? Why can't I supply a full daily schedule of worthy activities, such as baking oatmeal cookies and not minding that the kitchen looks like a candidate for industrial steam cleaning, without going insane? Why is it that when I finally get to sit down at the end of the day I don't feel normal until I've thrown at least one glass of wine down my throat?

My answer is this: looking after young children is the most physically demanding and emotionally draining job on the planet. Put it this way, if you worked in an office and your boss screamed at you, physically assaulted you when you're not quick enough to produce a pack of raisins, and demanded that you wiped his bottom twenty times a day, you'd be on the phone to your lawyer while drafting a pithy letter of resignation.

My older child is three years old and my youngest is seventeen months. I've been working on a freelance basis from my home office from when I was pregnant with my second daughter, but only recently have I ventured back into the world of full-time office-based work.

I was nervous for about the first three seconds after walking through the office door, and then I became ecstatic. The pleasure of speaking to other adults! The joy of being able to go to the loo on your own! The luxury of being able to eat lunch without anyone trying to steal your food! The peace! The quiet! Wearing high heels! The sheer bliss of feeling like an adult again...

I came home every night from work refreshed, full of energy and excited to see the children after a day of missing them (absence makes the heart grow fonder appears to be true). The pleasure of being pounced on by two small bodies as I came through the front door was immense. And get this, because I hadn't been with them all day, nagging for them to remove their fingers from their noses, say please, say thank you, stop pulling your sister's hair, they were so grateful for my presence that they behaved beautifully and turned into the sweetest children in the world.

Being at work was like being on holiday. I've never felt so relaxed.

Unfortunately, the job was a short-term contract and now I'm back home again. After three days of me being at home the honeymoon was over; the kids are once again wiping their noses on me, bellowing at me for thwarting their desires, trashing the house and all the other little things that drive me crazy. And I am, once again, shattered.

I think I need another holiday.

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