It’s a half-hour to lunch time. The meal is ready, prepared yesterday evening and needing only to be re-heated before being served. The children are playing quietly (really!) in the kitchen, Duplo scattered from one end of the room to the other. Rory, Grace and Jazz build towers. Poppy gnaws on a block, meditatively. Daniel fills a large coffee tin with blocks, then dumps it out. Over and over. The children are happily occupied, all in the same room, and I … am at loose ends.
What to do?
Well, according to Flylady, I need to clean my fridge today. Though a full half-hour is more than enough time for the task, I doubt the peace will last long enough to allow me the whole fridge. However, I’ll bet I can manage one of the shelves in the door before
all hell breaks loose they require more active supervision.
An open fridge, however, means FOOD, so I am soon surrounded by “help”. Poppy and Daniel remain oblivious, but Rory decides he will hold the door open for me. Grace, the original Echo Girl, thinks that’s a great idea, so she holds it too!!! That door? It’s not going ANYWHERE.
(Jazz? Jazz is NOT a food girl. She is still building the World’s Longest Duplo Snake, a project far, far more interesting than the possibility of (ugh, boring, you’re not going to make me eat that are you???) food.)
Within a minute, a miscellany of pots, jars and bottles sits on the floor as I wipe the shelf with a damp cloth. Less than a minute after that, I’m putting stuff back. (See? NO TIME AT ALL.) The children comment on each item as it’s returned. Jam — “I yike booberry jam!”– marmalade — “Dat is yukky, but my daddy yikes it.” — salad dressing — oops, that’s expired! “Can you throw this bottle in the blue box, please, Grace?”
While Grace toddles across the kitchen, Rory peruses the contents of the next shelf up.
“I have that at my fridge!” he says, tapping a can. A can of Bud Light. A can which has sat on that same shelf since Halloween. Since the daycare Halloween party, to be accurate, when it was brought to my house by … Rory’s father. Brought, and sat, unloved, unwanted, ignored. For over two months. (By all members of our household, even the 18-year-old, an age at which one is more driven by opportunism than taste, at least in matters alcoholic.)
“You have that at your house?”
“Yes. That is my daddy’s beer. He yikes a drink it.”
I grin. “Your daddy is a lightweight. You can tell him I said that.” (I know this is safe, because I already did tell him that. At the Halloween party. This, I must make clear, is totally, absolutely, completely, unequivocally the pot calling the kettle black. I enjoy my single glass of wine at the end of a day because, to all intents and purposes, that is my limit. Sad, I know.)
Because what’s a good caregiver for, if not to expand their wee vocabularies?
It’s a lovely Friday, too, nicely cool, sunny, no humidity (thank GOD) to speak of.
I love Fridays.
I love Fridays because it’s the end of my work week, true. Even though I love all my little charges, they are indeed work, and the break at the end of the week is always welcome.
I love Fridays because I can get up exactly when I want the next morning. (Which, morning person that I am, is exactly the same time as I always get up, but somehow the feeling of freedom persists.)
I love Fridays because two of my part-time children don’t come, so it makes for a lighter workday at the end of a busy week.
I love Fridays because my Wonderful Husband always brings me a chiller at the end of the work day.
Those are all good reasons to love Friday (and that last is one of the very many I love my Wonderful Husband so much), but there is another reason I love Fridays.
See, this is a busy house during the week, and I am a woman of moderate energy levels. Some people have indicated they believe I spend my day in a vibrant whirlwind of singing and dancing and playing and clapping and jumping and just general all-round giddiness. Because that’s what good caregivers do, right? Nope. That’s what children do. Good caregivers encourage and supervise/monitor all that good stuff, but we partake when we feel like it, not out of obligation. Because play is the child’s work, not mine. Mine is more over-arching than that.
Besides, my energy levels, those admittedly moderate energy levels? Some weeks they are taxed to the max just being in the same room with all that singing and dancing and playing and clapping and jumping. Partaking, full-time partaking, is pretty much beyond me.
Which is fine.
On Monday I start out with tons of energy, fresh with ideas and enthusiasm. The ideas and enthusiasm usually carry me through — I genuinely love my job — but the energy? I start out sparking with the stuff (by my standards, anyway) on Monday, and then, as the week progresses, I go into conservation mode. It’s called “pacing yourself”.
And where does that show?
Not in the childcare. (Not usually, anyway. Maybe on the odd particularly bad week. A confluence of fretful children, behavioural challenges and some slight illness on my part, perhaps. Then I slack off. Yes, I do. And you know what? So long as that’s only an occasional thing, I don’t feel guilty about that. I am human. And even slacking off, even cutting a few corners, I am still tending to the children in a way that enables their parents to go to work without worry.)
It shows in the housework. I will never have a showpiece home. Better Homes and Gardens I ain’t, and that’s just fine with me. I grew up in a family culture in which being “house-proud” was an insult, not a compliment. It was used to describe people who valued the appearance and accoutrements of their home to a point which cause discomfort to its inhabitants. What was the point of a nice house if you were so busy cleaning it you could never enjoy it? If everyone in it is constantly being harangued: feet off the couch! don’t eat that here! don’t put that there! walk on the mat! put a coaster under that! If furnishing were chosen for appearance rather than comfort and usefulness. All that was ‘house-proud’ and all that was foolish.
There’s a balance, of course, a happy medium. The inhabitants are more important the the house they inhabit, but certain standards of cleanliness also contribute to comfort. While you may never be able to eat off my floors — which is not to say it doesn’t happen pretty much daily around here — you won’t stick to them, either. So it’s good. Or at least, good enough for me.
When my own children were young, it was the third child who pushed me over the housework brink. I managed just fine with two; three was the challenge. (Not that she was a difficult baby, anything but. It was simply the logistics.) That’s when the older two really got drawn into helping out (and at 7 and 4, it was none too soon – I could have, should have, started them earlier). With their help, it was good again. But with five? None of them older than four and a half? And me, I’m twenty years older (twenty years tireder) than I was when my own were that young.
I don’t like clutter. I don’t like things piled on things. I like it when light can bounce off surfaces. I feel claustrophobic when there are heaps of things here and there.
And every Friday, I start to feel that claustrophobia. Nah, I start to feel it Thursday. On a bad week, Wednesday afternoon.
Because I have only so much energy, see, and if I’m not conserving it with the children, the next most energy-consuming arena in my life is housework. That’s where I ease off. And so, as the week progresses, the clutter gradually, steadily, inexorably creeps in from the corners, and by Friday lunch, I find myself having to shift a pile of books from a high chair tray before I can put the child into it. Where does that pile go? Well, were it Monday, it would go on the bookshelf in the kitchen, of course! But by Friday, those few extra steps just seem too much work, and so the books are deposited on the floor under the high chair. “For now.” (“For now”, that self-defeating concept, the bane of people who yearn for ‘tidy’ … I know better, but by Friday I generally can’t do better.)
Do “for now” ten times in a day, and you can see where I end up: a pile of books on a high chair tray, a pile of mail on the mantel, a pile of miscellania on the front hall table, a pile of clean cutlery on the shelf by the sink, a pile of fruit (washed, but not stored) tumbling around the other counter, a pile of laundry sitting on the bottom step, waiting to be taken to the bedrooms upstairs, a pile of glasses on my bedside table.
You can also see that not a great deal of this is daycare-related. Because, as I say, I don’t tend to slack with the daycare, and cleaning up after ourselves is one of the things we learn in daycare. Except I’m usually too involved with helping the tots clean up after themselves to do such a good job of it, myself.
But, though that modelling would probably be a good thing, there’s only so much one woman can do, I know that, I accept that, I don’t beat myself up over it. But I do say,
Because it means I get to CLEAN HOUSE!
Really. This makes me happy, honestly and sincerely happy.
Knowing that after the children leave I will have a whole weekend to use my energy differently… well, that gives me an energy rush. I can focus on my household and not the kid-clutter! Fifteen minutes after they leave, I will set my timer and fly through the house, sorting, organizing, storing… and in less than an hour, the house will be clutter-free once more.
I get all inspired, just thinking about it. I’m less than ten hours away from a tidy, de-cluttered home.