Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Humiliations galore

Crawled out of bed at 6.30am. Pulled on my dressing gown, felt for my ugg boots, headed to breakfast. Except that, as I staggered out of the dark bedroom, I skidded on a turd.

Yes. Some drowsy child pooed in their night nappy, forgot, and took their nappy off. They rehitched their pajamas, and the turd, not completely adhered to their bottom, slid down their pajama trousers and onto the floor in my doorway, where said child had stood deciding if anyone was up yet. Unnoticed, it lay there until I, last one out of bed, found it.

Nothing like scrubbing poo off an ugg boot at 6.33 in the morning. Or cleaning the bedroom floor at 6.37. Or running a shower for a child at 6.41. Or scrubbing their pajama pants out at 6.47.

Sometimes, I get a little up myself. I think of myself as intelligent, composed, dignified, adult. I feel like I'm managing the family fairly well. Daily life is a wholesome mix of craft activities, healthy and nutritious meals, clean clothes, playing in the garden, and almost no tv. I'm doing okay, I think. I'm getting good at this. Ain't I fine!

And then I step in a turd.

And of course it changes nothing. It's just life, everything else is going along quite swimmingly, and we know how to manage bodily discharges round here. And yet it also changes everything. I'm no longer dignified. I ain't fine. I am literally hopping mad as I instantly flip from withdrawn sleepy adult to person jolted awake by the shocking realisation that here, in this house, this lovely airy and above all CLEAN house, some other human has deposited a turd on the floor. And I've skidded on it. And it's on my shoe.

Someone once told me it was good to be humiliated at least once a day to stay humble. These days, I'm feeling very humble. My shoulder is perpetually smeared by baby snot; my self-righteous five year old knows all the rules and just rebuked a tattooed man on a train for standing in the doorway; my three year old still requires urgent toilet stops in strange places, including at a tree in the service road off Queens Parade on Sunday evening. I'm taking it all in my stride - even this morning, all was calm bar the initial shouting.

But there are times when I could use a little less humiliation, a little more building up. Perhaps someone saying, Good job! Here's a pay rise! We're going to promote you! except there is no pay rise, no promotion for this job. No holidays, no sick leave, no super. The best you get is a small satisfaction when someone remembers to say 'please'. Or, better, a spontaneous cuddle on the floor of the hallway, or a special drawing to stick on the fridge. It's just that some mornings it feels like the poo outweighs the cuddles.

It's not all bad, of course. The cuddles are lovely. And as my partner pointed out, at least I was wearing my ugg boots today. I'm often barefoot in the morning.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The new normal

I have this idea of 'normal'. I think of the kitchen bench as clean and bare; the hall bench, the same. In fact, I think of the whole house as clean, tidy, put away.

Yesterday was the Monday Project.* As I swept under the kitchen table for the third time (three kids plus small visitors drop a mountain of crusts - and we have a mouse), I thought of myself as getting it back to rights. I put away loads of washing off the clothes horses plural so my back room no longer looked like a Chinese laundry. In the bathroom, I cleaned off the grunge and wiped down the benches to get it back to its 'normal' state of pristine cleanliness. I picked up the 30 books that the baby had pulled off one bookcase, and put away dozens of other small objects scattered around the house. I scrubbed the toilet and mopped the floors and cleaned off the benches. Everything looked great, for an hour.

Then the baby had a snack. She dropped great blobs of hommos and smeared kiwifruit absolutely everywhere. After reading on the trampoline, the older kids dumped a cushion, a rug, a book, a hanky, a toy cat, two pairs of grubby socks and a pair of shoes on the clean dining table. Dusk fell. I brought in the damp nappies and a sheet from the clothesline, retrieved one clotheshorse, and re-established the laundry inside. As we sat down to eat, we ignored the washing, and the maelstrom of food preparation on the kitchen bench: vegetable ends, pasta packets, cheese rinds and damp circles where pot lids had rested. The kids brushed their teeth, leaving soft lumps of toothpaste and water all over the sink. Someone dripped a little pee on the toilet floor in their urgency. Someone else forgot to flush.

And at some point I had a minor revelation: THIS is normal. This mess, and these drops of wee, and this hard lump of unidentifiable foodstuff adhering to the table leg. These lines of laundry in our eating place, these chopped up vegetable ends, these dirty dishes - this is it. Any ideas I have of a clean, pristine, perhaps fully adult house, are not normal. They are a momentary graciousness, a Monday Project, but nothing more. Sure, I have to cook and clean and wash every day, but any expectation that the house will feel consistently clean as three kids and small visitors roar through the house, tumbling books and toys from their shelves, eating with clumsy fingers and no sense of mess, is idiotic. It's not just naive: it misses the whole point.

For a neat clean house probably doesn't have children in it. It won't breathe and laugh and yell. The chaos is the sign of life, of hope, of reckless joy that young children bring. The snips of paper littering the floor, the drips of paint, the sticky patches of glue; the small envelopes with 'To my family' lovingly written in wobbly capitals; the daisies and geraniums and random leaves carefully picked and arranged in an old glass jar; the crusts carefully hidden under the rim of a plate... these are all signs of the creativity, thoughtfulness and intelligence my children bring to the household. And I value these gifts, above all.

So it's time to get with the new normal. Stop being annoyed at the smears of peanut butter, the blotches of purple paint. See them for what they are: three young children exploring the world, learning to feed themselves, starting to express themselves. Developing children learning fine motor skills, and when to use the toilet, and did I remember to flush? Healthy children eating juicy drippy fruit. Strong children digging in the garden and getting their hands and clothes and shoes all dirty.

One day, they'll all move out and the house might feel neat for a week. And then I'll yearn for these days, when the house feels warm and full and generous, and I'll find myself inviting some young friends over. I'll feed them juicy kiwifruit, and dig with them in the sandpit, and give them dripping paintbrushes to swirl around. We'll cook something sticky, empty out all the blocks onto the floor, and have a grand old time. The house will get messy, and we'll all relax. And by then, of course, if anyone drips wee on the floor, it will probably be me.

*I mostly clean the house on Mondays.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Apple cake and chocolate cake

As she was having her hair brushed this morning, my daughter sighed and said, Sometimes I wish I'd never been born.

Casually I asked her, What makes you say that?

Oh, she said, having to walk to school... having to wait for birthdays... Sigh.

But if you'd never been born, you'd never get to eat chocolate cake, I said.

Or apple cake! she replied, It's delicious! I never thought of that!

And she perked right up.

I wish every case of ennui was so simple to fix.

For years, I moped around. Never relaxed in what I was doing, never sure of what I had chosen, I ended up doing little and choosing less - and second-guessing even those. I didn't enjoy much, and felt guilty about just about everything else. Guilty for not achieving, guilty for hating work, guilty for having fun when others in the world struggle and starve. And I was bored, bored with my city, my life, my self.

Things change. I risked marriage. I risked having kids. I left my boring job, and stayed home. Now no-one in the world would find my life exciting. I spend it doing the small tasks that keep a family of five running, interspersed with dribs and drabs of writing here and there. Life is an interplay of washing and words, heavy on the washing. Yet somehow, in the smallness of my doing, I am finding an expansiveness of being. An expansiveness that is no longer demolished when a five year old plays around with words and feelings, a sturdiness that knows what makes life good.

After all, these days, I'm delighted that I was born. I, too, love apple cake and chocolate cake, curling up with a book, playing hide and seek with my kids, and hanging out with my husband. I have a garden to grow things, opportunities for reflection, friends that are true. Who wouldn't want to be alive? I wonder. Who wouldn't sing aloud with joy as they ride through the streets at night?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Home alone

I'm home alone for exactly one hour. Then my partner and two children will explode through the door, and I'll grab my things and run. I have an hour to dream, think, write in silence. All those ideas I want to explore, all those things I've noted, all those scribbles to decipher. Which to do? Which way to go? They jostle and compete, and I spin on my chair. Play a scrabble move, look out the window, think about another cup of coffee. Reflect on the book I'm reading*. Beat myself up a little for not being productive. But how I need to gaze out that window, watch the sky, feel the air. How I need to feel the house settle into silence around me. In a few years, the kids will all be at school. Then the house will be quiet for hours each day. Until then, I will seize these moments of solitude, savour the silence, sit still and play with words. Ignoring the dust, ignoring the urge to do something quantifiable, to be productive, I seek restoration and re-creation alone.

*The Wine-Dark Sea by Patrick O'Brian. If you want to know what I think about his novels, click here.
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