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As soon as it became British law that you could ask for flexible working, I was beating on my boss’ door asking to change my hours. My children were in primary school, and though I had more or less managed to cobble together solutions until then, finding childcare was a huge ongoing problem, especially during the holidays. We had been forced to move out of the city by the cost of housing, and though we loved (and still love) living in the countryside, rural areas provide far fewer options when it comes to childcare.

I knew it was a luxury to be able to negotiate my hours down, but it has never been really satisfactory for me: it has always been a pragmatic solution, not one I liked. Over the years I tried out all sorts of combinations, but in the end I settled down with a shorter working day, and term-time working. It was never a good fit for my workload, but gradually I became used to this rhythm of six or seven intensive weeks of work, followed by a week or two off.

It was only meant to be a short term fix for the few years until the children were old enough to be left at home on their own. How I would have laughed if someone had said I would still be working short hours when my eldest was eighteen! But then Julie got sick, I ended up clinging on to my job by my fingernails, and for a long time I was struggling to do the reduced hours I had, let alone increase them.

But suddenly things have changed. “Why are you taking the Easter holidays off work?” asks Duncan. “So I can look after you guys as usual.” I say, surprised. He pulls an incredulous face. “But we don’t need looking after.” And suddenly I realise it is almost true. Finally, I can say, after eighteen long years, that they are both just about able to cope alone. I’m sure I can be useful – making sure they eat properly and take a break from revising for their exams – but my presence is no longer essential.

Julie has just come back from spending a weekend on her own: an amazing feat (for her). I have written a bit more about that and how it feels over on my JuliesMum blog. She does still need me, but I no longer have to look forward in dread to exhausting days protecting her from herself, and trying to occupy her. She is – I hardly dare say it aloud – slowly getting better. Duncan, too, is gradually throwing off his depression, bouncing back, spikily shrugging off his mum’s attempts to cosset him.

Hallelujah!

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I can try all I like, but I can’t publish this lilac tree in full bloom! It is not the look of these flowers alone that is powerful, but the experience of standing underneath that lilac tree, on the tarmac road, drinking in its heavenly scent. And part of that experience is that it is so brief, barely a week or two before it will have gone again.

The problem of having such a complex multi-facetted life – working, parenting, loving – is that stress flows from one part of your life into another, without hindrance. If two or more areas come under stress at once, the whole system threatens to collapse. It only takes some prolonged extra pressure at work, and a child taking an overdose again, and suddenly there is a problem. Suddenly you’re not sleeping, not enjoying that book you were reading, forgetting to go out for a walk. Suddenly you find yourself worrying even about the parts of your life that are not in crisis: your elderly father, the sickly tree in the garden. Tired, you function less well, and other parts of your life are less successful: you shout at your husband, your bread doesn’t rise, and you forget the password to your bank account.

You have to beat that stress: that way depression lies. You have to find a lilac tree and stand underneath it, drinking in the scent of summer.

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These pansies have already been burning brightly for several weeks, but at last they have been joined by a cacophony of daffodils, violets, cowslips and anemones.

Suddenly, my garden has awoken from sleep, and my beds are a mass of chick weeds and goose grass. After such a long winter it is almost a relief to see them! But though they are so easy to pull out, that very ease of managing these early weeds often lulls me into a false sense of security: and a mat of goose grass and chick weed later on in the year is much harder to deal with. I have lost whole plants smothered by a sticky bright green web.

I am still shuttling between my “real” office and my home office, depending on who needs me at home. And with exams looming up in a month’s time, both my darling but hopelessly fragile children need a great deal of me.

Today, however, I had a little moment of rebellion. I came home from work after lunch, ready to finish off a couple of pieces of work at home, and be on hand for whoever made it home from school in one piece. I drove up to my door, the sun was shining brightly, the chick weed was waving at me cheerfully by the front door, a friendly mass of tiny yellow and blue flowers, each one ready to seed baby chick weed all over the garden.

Sod it, I said. I stowed my laptop upstairs, pulled on my wellies, picked up my hoe and dug that chick weed right out. Just in time too: along with the chick weed and goose grass, I had missed a whole twist of nettle root at the back of the bed which had sprung back to life, Rasputin-like.

What was more important in that precious hour before my children came home from school? Filing that monthly report? Or hoeing out the chick weed and goose grass?

At the end of every working week I like to try to make a rough guess at what the shape of my next week will be like. Which days will I make it into the office, and which ones will I work from home? I think this is only fair on my staff – and there is the little matter of booking a parking space!

Until a few months ago, there was no variation from week to week – I worked from home four days out of the five, and I had a brief visit to the office once a week, which was necessarily jammed full of (catch up) meetings. It was not a great way to work.

But over the last few months, my daughter’s recovery has finally reached the point where she is going to school most days. I now visit the office three, and sometimes four, days a week. I love this! I get to pick up a coffee from my favourite coffee shop to drink at my desk, I get to speak to my staff face to face, and I get to leave it all behind me when I trundle home again. Who would believe how much you could look forward to working in my shabby rundown office in the centre of town!

Next week is a bit of a gamble, though. My daughter’s recovery has experienced a bit of a set back – she is struggling to get through the days. The staff at school have suggested she spends more time at home for a couple of weeks. Does she need me to cancel my plans and work from home again? We tentatively agree that she will try staying at home alone,and we will monitor how this goes. This has proved a failure in the very recent past – with me having to abandon everything at work and rush home – but overall she is improving, and we will only know if we try.

It is, I know, completely impossible to explain to my colleagues at work why next week I will be a little jumpy, and sometimes a little short tempered.

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