(hous­esit­ting)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Barry Wheeler Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

We had for­got­ten how fran­tic life was with young chil­dren — ours are now mid­dle-aged and gen­er­ally no longer de­mand­ing.

That was un­til a call from our el­dest son, which shat­tered our or­dered ex­is­tence. “We have to go away on a busi­ness trip, could you hous­esit for a week?” he said. It sounded ur­gent and al­though it was framed as a re­quest, a “yes” was clearly ex­pected — and, with­out due thought on our part or an at­tempt to gather more in­for­ma­tion, a “yes” was given.

What he didn’t men­tion was that the house would come with two grand­chil­dren (aged 10 and 12), one dog, and a Ja­panese stu­dent who re­quired din­ner ev­ery night — and, oh yes, we would have to do the usual school de­liv­er­ies, pick-ups and af­ter-school ac­tiv­i­ties.

My daugh­ter-in-law took me on a brief train­ing course, which in­volved drop­ping the kids off on op­po­site sides of town — the schools have the same start­ing time, of course — and then re­turn­ing home for a brief in­ter­lude to do es­sen­tial shop­ping, laun­dry and home main­te­nance, and walk­ing the dog.

Then it is time to pick up the kids from their re­spec­tive schools — which end at the same time, of course, on op­po­site sides of town — and on­wards to soc­cer train­ing, swim­ming train­ing, touch foot­ball or maths tu­tor­ing, de­pend­ing on what day it is (an itemised daily itinerary is es­sen­tial, par­tic­u­larly for those of us who are fre­quently un­sure what day it ac­tu­ally is).

By the end of my fa­mil­iari­sa­tion course I had worked out that our daugh­ter-in-law spends 4½ hours on the road each day, a fact that had not gone un­no­ticed by the kids, who had re­cently told their dad: “Mum needs a faster car.” We found that we could just about man­age with two cars and two driv­ers.

At the end of the high-speed driv­ing for the day we fi­nally got home to feed two grow­ing grand­chil­dren, one dog and univer­sity stu­dent who of­ten home un­til 8pm.

Then came homework mon­i­tor­ing, check­ing to­mor­row’s itinerary, pre­par­ing lunch and af­ter­noon tea boxes, re­mind­ing the kids what they would need to­mor­row, and fi­nally to bed. (But we dis­cov­ered there was lit­tle point in go­ing to bed, be­cause in al­most no time you had to get up and do it all again.)

How on earth did our daugh­ter-in-law man­age all this and also run her busi­ness from home? The mind bog­gles. Per­haps, long ago, we were also ca­pa­ble of these su­per­hu­man feats.

All I can re­mem­ber is for­get­ting to pick my sons up from var­i­ous places on my way home, and my wife be­ing con­fronted with my va­cant ex­pres­sion in re­sponse to her ques­tion: “Where are the boys?” a rav­en­ous didn’t re­turn

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