Sunday, February 23, 2014

The things they never tell you

One afternoon, when Big One was still Only One, my husband and I were walking through the Sainsbury's car park, amazed that Only One had managed to chew off her shoes and socks three times while in the supermarket.  'The things they never tell you,' he laughed.

I had a flash of genuine insight.  They don't happen often, but oh, when they do... 'They do tell us,' I replied.  'We just ignore it because never think it will happen to us.'  Our little angels won't throw temper tantrums.  We would never bribe our children with sweets.  I would never leave the house without extra nappies or with a spit-up stain on my shoulder.  We are logical, reasonable and organized people – beyond such travails.   


I will now reveal my top six truths about life with kids that, if you have children, you will recognize.  If you have yet to take the plunge, you will (as I did) assert that these things will never, ever happen to you.  And I will laugh like Dr. Evil when they do.  Because they will. 

If you are expecting, or hoping to be expecting, buy a washer, dryer and stock in Procter & Gamble (Ariel and Fairy), Unilever (Persil) or whichever company markets your favourite detergent.  And whichever companies provide your water and electricity.  When I was single, I did laundry once a week.  Or so.  Now it’s once day.  At least.  It is amazing how much washing such little people can create.

It will take you, on average, a half-hour to leave the house.  And that’s on a super-efficient day.  The nappy bag must be packed, the baby fed, burped, changed and clothed.  The day that you are in a hurry and decide to risk it by only taking one change of clothes will be the day that your baby spits up three times.  You will then have to either buy something new if you are near a shop that sells baby clothes; if not you must decide which outfit is the least vile and smelly or let them hang out in just their nappy.

BC (before children) I would see parents out with their offspring at restaurants, in supermarkets, on airplanes.  If the children went into tantrum mode, I would get annoyed, shake my head and wonder why these parents couldn't make their children behave.  Now when my children act up, I get annoyed at the people who shake their heads and wonder why I can’t make my children behave.

There will be at least one woman in your circle of friends, perhaps one who had their baby at the same time as you did, with a flat stomach.  They will swear it’s breastfeeding and nothing else.  You will look down at your own belly pudge and decide that the stomach in question is flat due to a combination of 1. Never eating, 2. Impossible amounts of exercise, 3. Santeria voodoo and offerings to Oblia the goddess of tight abdomens, 4. Surrogacy.

From the time your first little miracle comes home from the hospital until your last little one becomes a teenager (I hope), you will have a maximum of 88 seconds alone in the toilet.  They will pounce like pygmy owls around a helpless mouse if they sense that you want, or need, to be alone.

You will rarely raise your voice to your children.  On one of the very few occasions that you express frustration you will turn around to see your boss standing right behind you.  And his wife.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sisyphus cleans the house

When Big One was first born, we were invited to a barbecue at the home of one of the mums in my antenatal class. She and her husband were lovely people and we looked forward to attending. It was a gorgeous sunny day in June and all sorts of lovely meats and snacks were on offer as well as booze for the dads and juice for the breast-feeding mums.

Amazing as the spread was, what struck me was the house. It was spotless. I went into the kitchen to get a paper towel and gazed in awe. Surfaces gleamed. Hobs shone. There was not one extraneous item on the countertops. I thought about what awaited me at home. Milky bottles dripping in the sink. Dust and cobwebs in the corners. A dining table covered in old magazines, greeting cards and stuffed toys. Pawprints on the lino. Unidentifiable and tenacious stains on the sofa. Once I got over my amazement and nearly-crippling jealousy, I arrived at a few possibilities:

1. This was not actually their real house. This was a show home rented for the day – not to make us feel inadequate, rather so they could enjoy the barbecue without worrying about the leaky espresso machine or the weird stain on the carpet.

2. The family employed a cleaner, hidden in the basement when guests arrived, and whenever a spill or mishap of any kind occurred she would clean it up instantly, like a ballboy at Centre Court.

3. The couple were very neat and tidy and it was a real priority to keep the house looking good. So much so that they were willing to give up other time-consuming activities like reading, watching films, sleeping, using the toilet.

I am not particularly houseproud but I do get riled when people see the house on one of its bad days. Or worse, when you have cleaned up only for a visitor to run a finger up the stair banister and remark, ‘I guess you don’t really have time to clean.’

Housecleaning is one of those frustrating tasks where the moment you have finished, everything starts to get messy again. There is a brilliant episode of The Simpsons (one of many) where Marge demands that the family skip their Saturday morning fun and tidy up the house. They grudgingly go about doing it and the house is finally clean. Marge then tells the family that they can do whatever you want as long as they don't mess up the house. As the kitchen door swings closed and then open, the room goes from spotless to a total mess yet again.

The whole process reminds me of Sisyphus. He had angered the gods somehow and was condemned to repeatedly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. The punishment, then, was futile and hopeless labour because no matter how many times he rolled the rock up, it would always roll right back down again. But Albert Camus pointed out that all is well with this situation, ‘One always finds one's burden again,’ and the task itself is enough to provide Sisyphus with a purpose. There is, I suppose, that brief moment when the surfaces gleam, the hobs shine, the dog hair is nestled inside the hoover, the rock rests on top of the mountain. One must imagine the Housewife is happy.