Friday, January 9, 2009

The idea of home

I have an image of my house, an image of home, which is not how my house looks at all. In my mind's eye, I see a soft blue board-lined hall, with pegs for coats and boots. A wide staircase rises out of the hall to comfortable rooms above. The light is dappled, and I sit on the stairs and look through the bannisters to the floor below. Patches of sun warm the floor.

In my imaginary house, a flywire door bangs shut on a hot afternoon. Kids fly through the hall, but they are not mine. I am a grandmother showing them how to make jam, or fetching out the box of old toys from under the stairs.

Other times I just sit in my imaginary house, listening to the grandfather clock ticking. My rocking chair creaks, and some small task lies idle in my hands.

My house is spare, cool, inviting, quiet. Dust motes drift through a shaft of sunlight. I am alone in the house, sufficient, content.

In this house, I drink tea not coffee. There is a tin full of biscuits. There are no toys on the floor, no piles of washing, and so few dishes that I do them by hand. Pots of geraniums brighten my window sill.

Some say the image of a house is the image of a person. If this is true, then I am a granny. I am cool, spare, and self sufficient. I don't need much except a bit of quiet. I like geraniums.

In contrast, my real house is full. We have three kids and lots of visitors and piles of washing and scattered blocks and nappies to be folded and toddler art which falls off the fridge in a great drift every time the wind blows through the back door. I make dozens of jars of jam and tomato sauce and cook mountains of food and load the dishwasher and sterilize bottles and buy bread and wipe faces. I eat in a rush before feeding the baby; dinner conversations are dominated by children's chatter and adult admonitions. Sit up straight. Eat your dinner. Keep your feet off the table. Leave that on the floor. Don't pick your nose! Yes, you may go to the toilet. Did you wash your hands? It's messy and noisy and joyful and cranky and intimate and oh! so alive.

But when it all gets too much, I think of my imaginary house, my idea of home. It reminds me that this is all just one stage of life. And while I enjoy the chaos of now, there is also a part of me that anticipates with pleasure a time of quiet, seclusion, solitude. This part of me needs some time to herself, time to reflect, muse, and even write a little. So I dream my imaginary house, and fill my real house with flowers. As my kids squabble and riot, I listen for that ticking clock, and keep an eye out for a few silvery dust motes dancing in the sun.

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