Do you ever wonder what if? What if I'd not come home from inter-railing and got a job in a bar in Florence? What if I'd stayed in London after Law School rather than going to Leeds? What if my husband hadn't been in the Trav that night? ( Apologies to all my readers who do not live in Ilkley and for whom that reference will mean nothing.)
On Sunday morning, I was flicking through the colour supplements when out slipped a Kuoni brochure. Unable to resist, I had a sneaky look. It was filled with fabulous holiday destinations in far flung places now all beyond our means, totally impractical and relegated to the realm of dreams alone.
And then the heinous thought crossed my mind. What if we hadn't had the children? I can hear you tutting from here. How could I think that? How could I even let the merest shadow of such a thought flicker across my consciousness? I know. It's appalling - but actually I do it quite often.
Life BC (Before Children) was very different. At least I think it was. I can't actually remember. I had a thriving career and was talking to the powers that be about promotion before my waistline expanded in a tell-tale manner. So without children, with two incomes and no dance school bill, we would have had considerably more disposable income. We could have lived in a house with fewer bedrooms and far less lawn. I could have had matt white walls and impractical carpeting. I imagine us taking weekend breaks to interesting destinations off the beaten track and holidays to places that don't serve chips with everything. If something whetted our appetite, we could spontaneously explore it.
"I fancy the theatre tonight darling."
"Oh, do you really. Let's see what's on."
"Or perhaps that new restaurant in town? I'll meet you there when I've just closed this deal."
But it's no good. No matter how hard I try, I can't imagine my life without the planning and complication that the children bring. I can't remember making decisions that just impacted on me. I have forgotten what it's like to not worry about the ramifications of every yea and nay.
What I can imagine though is how life might have been if we had stopped at two children. That is easy because all I have to do is scrub the little two away, erase them from my day to day life. If we just had the big ones, we could be enjoying meals where everyone sits still, trips out to see grown up films without the guilt of leaving two behind and great tranches of time when there were no children here at all. But it would be so quiet and dare I say it, a bit dull by comparison.
If I can't properly remember the minutia of life BC, I can remember being far too exhausted after the working week to go to the theatre on a whim. I recall quite clearly plans regularly being cancelled at the last minute because a deal had gone pear shaped and there would be no getting away from the office. As in all walks of life, the sudden removal of the rose coloured spectacles brings the reality into sharp focus and it's not always quite what you'd hoped.
As it is my life is noisy, chaotic and very organised. The children and their constantly changing requirements mean that there can rarely be a spontaneous excursion either for them or us and the simplest of arrangements takes forever to achieve. But would I swap? Of course not. My life without children might have an attractive gloss but my life with them is rich and deep. I am still exhausted but in a rewarding and satisfying way.
And maybe one day, when they have all gone to make their own way in the world, we can dig out those Kuoni brochures and pick somewhere with the most spectacular infinity pool and the whitest beach. But until then it'll be Centre Parcs and pantos for me and, do you know, that's just fine.