How to be a Domestic Disaster

I couldn’t sleep the other night. I was thinking about housework, and deciding that Something Had to be Done, before one of our friends called Kim and Aggie on us. Or Social Services.  So the next day I drew up an ambitious schedule for the week and got going. I managed to tidy the living room, reorganise it so my nappy-storage-location was no longer the space between the sofa and the French windows and did some long overdue filing. I decided I absolutely had to hoover every day, no excuses, and got going straight away – I even hoovered under things. Yes, well you might gasp.

I couldn’t sleep any of the subsequent nights either. It was as if I had flicked a switch that was normally set to ‘Rest’ and ‘Twitter’, to an unfamiliar setting named ‘Feverish Activity’. Even while lying in bed, I was still planning which load of laundry needed to be done next and how I might occupy the Toddler while I hoovered the stairs and tidied the dining room table.

Three days into my personality make-over, I found myself sitting at the breakfast table, bleary eyed and drained, staring at my schedule. I’d only managed half of what I’d planned, but I’d planned for that, too. Aim for the stars and you might land on the moon. The Toddler’s chatter broke into my thoughts.

“Mummy, biscuits?” he said.

Junior baker at the ready

Junior baker at the ready

I suddenly had a vision. I was Nigella Lawson, in a spotless house, looking gorgeous, baking immaculately beautiful biscuits with my Toddler, teaching him about cooking, measuring, enjoying food and keeping him away from the TV at the same time. Somehow, in my sleep deprived state, this seemed completely within reach.

“How would you like to make your own biscuits?” I asked.

The suggestion was met with pleasing enthusiasm. We went into the lovely, recently cleaned kitchen with an optimistic spring in our step.

Fast forward half an hour.

There are dirty dishes absolutely everywhere and the floors and surfaces are covered in flour, sugar and butter. The baby is crying in the high chair which I put in the kitchen to keep her close, bits of rice cake stuck in her hair. The Toddler is standing on a little chair, wearing an apron, crying because I told him off for licking the spoon that was meant for stirring and then took the spoon away. The first attempt at creaming sugar is in the compost bin (butter too hard). I am in a corner of the kitchen doing all the mixing myself, because the Toddler was doing it wrong, too slowly, and trying to stick his fingers in the mixture. In between the crying, the Toddler keeps asking me if we can bake biscuits now.

“We ARE baking biscuits!” I snap. “Now the dough has to sit in the fridge for an hour. We can finish making the biscuits after your nap.”

Only had one biscuit cutter. We made the other shapes with tupperware.

Only had one biscuit cutter. We made the other shapes with tupperware.

The crying goes up another notch. “No! Not nap!”

I bury my face in my hands, getting dough in my hair as I do so. Through my fingers I look at Nigella’s book, the one with the biscuit recipe I am using. It is called How to be a Domestic Goddess. 

Lies, all lies. It just tells you how to mix ingredients for biscuits. Nothing about managing two small children while doing so, as well as keeping the kitchen clean and your sanity in tact.

We finished the biscuits after nap time. They tasted a bit salty, and I had to chuck away half the icing as the ‘pink’ food colouring came out brown. I tried to remember how long I’d had the bottle but when I’d narrowed it down to ‘definitely since before I got married’ I thought it best to throw it straight in the bin.

The whole thing, I decided, had been a disaster.

Left: definitely green. Right: erm, no. Bin.

Left: definitely green. Right: erm, no. Bin.

But the next day, the Toddler proudly took his biscuits to a play date and shared them with his friend. Today he wanted to eat more of them, and do more baking. It occurred to me that perhaps I had been a domestic goddess after all. There are, when I think about it, very few activities the Toddler can get through without crying or having a tantrum at least once. He is two and does not need a reason. So he cried. So we made a mess. So I lost my rag and ended up doing most of it myself. So it was all done to a soundtrack of ear-splitting screaming from the Baby. He seems to have come away from the episode with positive memories, a sense of pride in his achievement and tasty biscuits.  Job done.

You want to know what happened to the housework schedule? I decided that putting in lots of extra effort is great and definitely worth it, but one also needs to know when to quit. While the biscuit dough rested in the fridge, I followed its example in my bed.

Iced and ready for sharing.

Iced and ready for sharing.

15 responses

  1. Judith, I constantly beat myself up about scenarios like this. I do the same thing entirely, often. To read your tale and know that your little one got so much more out of it than you initially would have thought, is wonderful. I take comfort and will remember this the next time my kitchen time goes the same way and I end up losing it with Esme. Incidently, my pancake post may make you smile! http://1grace1faith.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/pancake-day-saving-best-til-last.html

    • It did, that is so funny! I do struggle to manage his expectations and usually don’t realise until half way through that it is always best to outline what is going to happen beforehand. (Again, a lesson from teaching: put your objectives on the board before the start of the lesson)

  2. I have absolutely no idea how mums keep on top of anything. There’s always just SO much to juggle. Our house is a constant mess that I usually blitz as soon as I know someone is coming! I was thinking about baking with my 2 year old soon….hnmmmm🙂

    • I never have anyone over as there is no way I can blitz the level of mess – but I am actually contemplating it now. If all else fails I can lead them into the garden via the side gate…

  3. great post.. and one which happens often here, cleaning is all well and good, but there are otherthings to do too.. baking.. well we do that sometimes and it makes a mess, and ends in strops abotu who can and can’t mix the dough, who has or hasn’t ate the last bit of chocolate, who is or isn’t allowed to put things in the oven… but the kids do love it…

    • Oh dear, I hadn’t even looked that far ahead yet: once the baby is no longer a baby we have all that to look forward to as well!

  4. What a fantastic post! Don’t forget: Nigella has an army of staff to do everything for her. I always think it would be much easier if there was a daily cleaner, au pair, nanny, gardener, to pick up our mess and wipe ALL our noses…..sounds as though you’re making some great memories for your children.

  5. Oh I did giggle at this, it was like reading about myself. I go to bed every night and lie for ages contemplating what I’m going to achieve the next day. The little people generally turn my plans right around and normal chaos resumes. I’ve decided that Nigella is really just a myth put on television to taunt us women and make men interested in cookery!

  6. You made me smile – my house looks like a tip no matter what I do/don’t do – so I’ve decided that hoovering is not my priority. Life’s too short to spend it bent over a hoover/mop…x

  7. I’m sure that being a domestic goddess is an urban myth – I’ve never managed to achieve it here and to be honest I’ve given up trying. I could spend all day tidying up after other members of the family and still the house would look like a tip!

    • That’s what’s so depressing, isn’t it? I hoover and mop, feel proud of myself for five minutes, then it’s dinner time and the sink is full of dirty dishes again and the floor covered in rice and yoghurt.

  8. Oh, this could so be me! The only thing I have in my favour at the moment is that most of my stuff is in my house in Edinburgh, we didn’t ship any ‘clutter’ to the States. Although, I seem to be collecting/replacing it very efficiently now🙂 A friend put me on to a great tip – you can do anything for 15 mins – set a timer, focus on one thing, blitz, then stop! It actually works! I’ve also ’embraced the mess’ when it comes to things like baking – the kids enjoy it so much, it makes the mess worthwhile🙂 Having said all that… I would give anything to live in a tidy, organised house!! When the kids leave home, maybe🙂 Great post! #PoCoLo

  9. What a great post! One I experience a lot of here with two toddlers. One wants to throw things while the other wants to just eat everything, raw or not! I generally split the mix into 3. One to eat, one to throw and one for me to make edible cookies!!

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