The squalid bomb-site

Excerpt from “OH BABY…Birth, Babies & Motherhood Uncensored”

You trawl the house for washing the whole time and feel like your life is being sucked up by the hoover.

Kate Figes — Life After Birth

 I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes — and six months later you have to start all over again.

Joan Rivers, comedian

My mother tells the story of one unforgettable winter’s day she spent indoors with her first-born — my sister Helen — as a nine-month-old. Mum decided, with typical mothering ingenuity, to tie the playpen to the hinges of the kitchen cupboards to safely keep it in one place, while she got on with baking, dressmaking and drying the cloth nappies over a heater.

Later that evening, when my father walked into that 3 x 5 metre kitchen-dining room after a stressful day and working late at the office, he was not only greeted by my mother’s smile — but also by the kitchen bench covered in unwashed baking dishes, a vast pile of unfolded nappies, dressmaking material scraps and pattern paper covering most of the floor, toys scattered everywhere thanks to my sister throwing them out of the play-pen after mum would throw them in, and the play-pen still tied to the kitchen cupboard. Collectively, not a pretty picture. Mum recalls to this day the pained look on Dad’s face, and vowed to herself to never inflict such a homecoming on him again.

Even while writing this book, for some time I relaxed from my normally level 6–7 (quite tidy) house, down to a deteriorated level 3–4 (chaotic mess throughout the entire house), when I made the conscious decision to ignore the mess to get on with writing. And my dear sweet husband finally got the courage up to, ever so delicately, broach the subject by asking, ‘Hun, are you OK at the moment?’ To which I replied, ‘Sure, what do you mean, have I been cranky or something?’ ‘No, no, it’s nothing, you’ve been fine.’ ‘Well what is it then? Come on, tell me, what’s concerning you?’ ‘It’s just, well, it’s just . . . the house!’ I laughed so hard. The poor sweetie had thought he might be on thin ice.

You know our menfolk don’t like too much chaos. Even though we can work around it, because we’re focusing on something else, but those guys do look forward to coming home to their refuge. They yearn to come home to a happy contented wife, who loves her role, and enjoys putting a nice simple dinner on the table. It’s their soul food.

I remember a friend, Sandra, telling me once that she decided to not put anything away for a whole day — not one toy or dish or towel — and not to make any beds or fold any washing or wipe up any mess. Instead, she just had fun enjoying her kids all day. When her husband returned home that night, of course the reaction was, ‘Wow what happened here today?’ to which she replied something like, ‘Nothing unusual — I just didn’t tidy up today.’ It proved a point, and he no longer wondered what she did!

But of course there is another side to this coin, and that is the mum who becomes so territorial and fastidious with her domain that when her caveman arrives home, he and his belongings can be made to feel more like pieces of clutter that are creating unwanted mess — that’s not welcoming.

Lets face it, if mums aren’t able to maintain a house in a reasonable state of relative tidiness, their menfolk can really find it depressing. But if we do maintain the house in a reasonable state of relative tidiness, then we can feel unappreciated and that’s depressing.

So one answer to the riddle . . . try to tidy things up a bit before your caveman comes in from his hard day of hunting; but every so often let things run amuck. Take a break from gathering up the mess, so he doesn’t forget what it is that you do. Then both the Hunter and the Gatherer are happy!

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