When I was offered my new teaching job, I was asked to consider how many hours I could do, and when. I was initially just going for evenings, but I thought how nice it would be to do a bit more, perhaps a morning or two as the Boy will be starting pre-school after Christmas.
“Oh,” said a friend of mine with 6 children, “I’ll have your kids for a morning.”
It would never in a million years have occurred to me to ask her – her plate already seemed quite full. But, well, she offered. So I said “great” and now the Boy and the Girl have a wonderful time with her and whichever of her kids are at home on Friday mornings.
I pick them up after lunch and if time allows, linger for a cup of tea.
And I watch and study and try to learn.
How does she do this? How does she have six children who are fed and clothed and in school on time and happy AND have a clean house AND all her marbles? How come she is so calm?
And she is. Like all of us, she can get cross or impatient with bad behaviour, she has busy and stressful days, but generally she is very calm, laid back and most importantly: in control.
“We hide all the mess upstairs” she says. This is one of her secrets, but doesn’t quite seem to cover it.
She has everything organised, has shopping delivered on regular days, plans all the week’s meals ahead in her diary. “I have to,” she says, “you can’t just whip up a meal for 8 people from what you find in the cupboards”.
When I arrive at her house to pick up the kids I usually find her wearing some fetching marigolds. “I was just cleaning up after lunch,” she smiles. “Come in.” I guiltily think back to my own house, where breakfast is still congealing in bowls on the table – that is, if the cats haven’t licked up all the milk by now.
She hoovers regularly throughout the day, the washing machine is always on, her kids don’t sit in front of the TV all day but play together and have fun, she takes them on outings and meets friends. She plans full weeks but also knows her limits and says no if she needs to.
I could pick up her good habits (or try to) and that would improve my life, but they are all things that I try and give up on after a few days or weeks.
Why? What is her secret?
I worked it out the other day while watching her make lunch for five children and two adults while putting away the shopping and checking on the dinner arrangements:
My friend has accepted that motherhood is what she does. When you are a stay at home mum, you clear up each meal after it is eaten. You make sure that there is food in the house to cook dinner every day. You make sure the floor is free of tiny icky things for your one year old to find. You clean your bathroom and fix things that are broken and make sure the kids are happy and healthy and educated. This is what you do, and you get on with it. It is the baseline.
The reason I consistently fall off the wagon with my good intentions is because I haven’t accepted the reality of motherhood. I hate cleaning anyway, so perhaps I have a little further to come in this regard, but I am still resisting the inevitability of it now that I have two small children. My head says: hygiene. The rest of me sticks two fingers up at hygiene and says: I want to have a cup of tea and write poetry and chat to friends on Facebook. I’ll do it later.
Cleaning aside, now that life is very busy with work as well as motherhood, planning and organising has become even more essential than before. I need to plan meals, and then make sure I have the ingredients in the house for us to cook them. When I do, my life is so much better, but still I loiter and linger and prevaricate. Do I really have to?
I do notice that my head-in-the-sand technique just seems to result in more mess and less food in the house, but that doesn’t seem to spur me into action by itself.
Clearly, I need to look at my life and accept it as it is. More than that, perhaps there is some enjoyment to be found in the little details: a clean table after a meal, ready to do craft on; a lovely clean carpet, just for half an hour; the smell of fabric softener on children’s clothes; roast dinner, everything ready at the same time, on the table before the kids get so hungry they start to eat the sofa; toys, tidied away in boxes and hidden upstairs; toys, chosen by excited children and brought downstairs in the morning; post-nap cuddles; middle of the night cuddles that won’t be available in a few years’ time.
It’s a pretty great job, really. Have you accepted that you are a parent? Or is that something you are still working on?