He rushes up to me, eyes shining. “Look what I did today!” he cries, full of joy and excitement. I look at the piles of laundry, the unswept floor, the dirty cups stacking up on the table and I squash it all down. I try to smile and muster up a modicum of enthusiasm for his endeavours. But I can’t. All I can think is “On my lunch break I tidy the house, I clean the kid’s clothes, I care for us. Why do you get to play the fucking guitar on your lunch break?" Yup, for once it’s not my kids causing me to gnaw my way through a throw pillow in frustration, its the other one. The biggest one. Big Adult we’ll call him.
You see, I took time off work for a year or so because I was finding the whole 'having it all' thing was making me want to cry all the time and also drink and maybe huff laughing gas. During my self imposed sabbatical, as I am not entirely unreasonable, I shouldered the brunt of the household management. In my time off I subsumed myself to family needs - the endless grind of fetching and carrying kids and groceries, booking and attending after school classes, meetings with other mums and the occasional dad, volunteering at the local children’s centre and (to ensure I didn’t entirely lose my mind) I started doing stand up comedy. I loved it. I loved all of it. I had the time and space to do things my own way, I could keep the house as it should be kept, nurture my kids and whatever weird interests they were dabbling in, eat well and do exercise. There was a simple flow and rhythm to our lives and it was remarkably stress free, overall.
One throwaway comment from big kid forced a minor change in perspective; he casually wandered into the kitchen one day and said ‘Why are you cooking, dad? Mum looks after us.’ So, the next morning we started a regime where Big Adult makes their breakfast. Every. Single. Day. (Unless he’s hungover or massively sleep deprived - I’m not a monster). I felt it was important for the kids to know that both their parents were there to look after them, not just the one who used to make her own milk. We are also teaching them how to make their own breakfast and to make us cups of tea - the dream is that one day they will serve us. (*laughs hollowly at the fantasy). But that 'mum looks after us' niggled and the niggle grew into a worry. I started to want my kids to see me working, and thereby to place value on being part of a broader world and to understand the value of offering your skills to others.
Once small kid started school I began to feel really guilty about not working - my family may have given me financial security but they also instilled a pretty strong work ethic and I couldn’t countenance sitting around in an empty house for 6 hours a day. Also money is nice. So, I returned to work. But this time there were conditions. I was not going to allow myself to become worn and drab and sad from the burden of caring for my family. I demanded equal shares of care and housework between us. This has taken quite a bit of getting used to. I have had to stop expecting everything to be done my way (even though my way is patently the best).
I have had to learn that the children will not die if they forget their reading books or turn up in uniform on mufti day. I swan out of the house at seven thirty in the morning, leaving a maelstrom of shoes, bags and passive aggression in my wake. It’s Big Adult’s job. This has led to a pretty galling development - if I’m not there, running around like a blue arsed fly, everything still gets done. It took 2 weeks of forgetting his sports kit for big kid to wise up and start making sure he had it himself. All that running around I have been doing for the last 4 years, I do now wonder how much of it the kids needed and how much was my need to do it. I have a new mantra now: It doesn’t matter how it gets done, it just matters that I’m not doing it. I still do the evenings, so don’t worry, there is still plenty of weirdness and enough fury to fuel at least another year of blog posts.
All in all things have been going pretty well, but it is beginning to slip. I have found myself flamboyantly moving the baked beans from one shelf to another, just so Big Adult can see where they should go. I have started muttering homicidal monologues as I try to chip off the weetabix that has spot welded itself to the new crockery. I have started asking questions I already know the answers to like ‘Have you put your bike cleaning kit away yet?.. No… oh. I thought I’d asked you to do it. Oh, I had.’ the idiot part of my brain likes to think I won this exchange.
I have started to receive text messages asking me to weigh in on vital issues, like the 12:30pm text asking ‘Should I feed them?’. The nice lady sitting next to me was treated to a string of expletives delivered at almost Daveed Digs rapidity. I almost responded with ‘No, set them loose in the garden, they can forage for worms.’ But I didn’t. I decided to do some thinking instead. I have realised that this stuff is all about control. As I slip back into demanding that things are done my way, Big Adult will back off and let me take over. It’s mora acceptable to listen to someone muttering darkly about your inability to do things than to get a shafting because you did something wrong. Its much easier to accept criticism when you’re not trying than when you are. And that’s when the guitar playing starts.
So we talked, actual proper talk with eye contact and everything. If Big Adult is willing to go back into the kitchen and tidy it after the kids have gone to bed then he has every bloody right to play guitar on his lunch break. If the kids need feeding they will let him know, and they’re so bloody awful when they’re hungry that Big Adult will learn the joys of a consistent routine all on his own. We also realised that there are four people in this family and that little arms and legs can shoulder some of the burden too. The shocking thing is they actually seem to enjoy it. Putting plates in the dishwasher is a grown up’s job and therefore exciting. I will bask in this glorious positivity for as long as humanly possible.
Therefore I am resolved that, in the words of Elsa Greystoke I will let it go. I will accept that my way is not always the best, and even if it is - who bloody cares? There are no awards for this, every other family I know is too busy dealing with their own dynamics to care about mine. I just need to keep repeating ‘It doesn’t matter how the job gets done, it just matters that I’m not doing it. ‘