This morning I was watching Postman Pat. Not because I’m a particular fan of the bespectacled man in blue, but rather because it is easier to wrestle my children out of pyjamas and into clothes when they are distracted by Cbeebies.
According to the chirpy theme tune, everybody smiles at Pat; today, however, that didn’t include me. As I watched, I realised how similar I was to Pat. In fact, I recognised a pattern of behaviour that was all too familiar.
In this morning’s instalment, the Clifton family were off to the beach for the day. Yes – Pat was having a day off! Wonders will never cease – a character, who is named and defined by his career choice, opting to spend the day with his family and not fulfilling his professional obligations.
‘Well done, Pat!’ I thought, ‘Good for you!’…
I wondered at him still wearing his uniform, but felt sure that beneath it all he was beach-ready, and he would somehow deal with a seagull-type-postcard emergency from the sandy dunes of his family day out… I should have known better.
Julian (Pat Junior for anyone lucky enough not to know) was particularly excited; they were going by train, and he couldn’t wait.
And then Pat’s phone rang. His work phone. And that’s where it all went wrong.
Of course he answered it; of course he agreed to complete the last minute task his disorganised boss hadn’t sorted out sooner or considered the logistics of before agreeing to the job; of course he did both of these things knowing he would jeopardise the family time they had packed and planned for. Of course he did. He’s Postman Pat, what else would he do – afterall, Pat thinks he’s a really happy man. And it rang too true for me.
How many times had I done the exact same thing? How often did I put time with my family – who I love more than anything else in this world – behind fulfilling professional commitments? In fact, I was doing it right in that moment: putting on Cbeebies so we got dressed faster, ate faster, got out faster… and had less actual time together.
And I felt so sad. Not just because I judged Pat (what type of momster does that?!). And not just because I realised that I do exactly what was depicted in the episode. But because it would seem this is such a wide spread phenomenon that it has wormed its way into childrens’ TV.
We can now condition our kids to expect us to let them down; they know that mummy or daddy may well have to drop out of the most looked forward to family time, no matter how rare it is. Of course they do. They’re being taught to expect it, it’s normal, it happens to everyone as they watch their favourite programme. Even Postman Pat does it.
And surely enough, despite his best promises, Pat’s day proved just too hectic and stressful: he didn’t meet his family at the station as promised. Instead, he chased around after old Mrs Goggins and her handbag – a task I’m not sure was worth the sacrifice.
Of course, in Cbeebies land there must always be a happy ending. Somewhere along the line, Pat managed to fly in his helicopter to meet the train at another station, proudly handing over the hand bag to Mrs Goggins who sat in the same carriage as the rest of his family. And the episode finished with its predictable happy ending. Sitting behind the beaming Pat, looking out of the window on his own with none of the adults acknowledging him, sat poor little Julian.
For me, Pat’s final flourish of professional success was over shadowed by that. The unhappy ending was complete. Because even now he was there in body, he wasn’t there in mind.
He’s not ‘dad’ afterall; he’s Postman Pat. And it scared me how close to home this felt.
The really sad thing is, most of us fall into this trap without a helicopter to help us fly to the rescue at the last minute. And even if we had one at our disposal, we’d probably get the sack for a misuse of company resource. So we don’t even get the attempt at an unhappy ending. We just put work first. Because everyone does, because we have to, because we have no choice, because we want to make a good impression, because we don’t want to let anyone down.
But then, the sad thing is we do.