The hedgehog house
9.43 am (in the studio)
I have been awake since 5am. I am worried and anxious. I cannot rest. I am going around and around in circles. I hope that I get some interviews from the jobs I applied for. I need some hope, I need a door and a way through.
I know that I am not the only woman struggling. I know that plenty others must find it hard to get back into paid work after looking after children at home. Seven years spent caring for the children. I am frustrated with just being at home, especially now that Naoise is at school. I feel like I need a place to go to as well.
Here is work. This room of my own, when I can get to it, it does offer me some structure, a place to order thoughts. To reflect. To create. To imagine.
I need to make, I need to realise some of my ideas, not just type words. The words are hungry. Has the written language beaten the visual?. I want it to be a marriage not a conflict.
Make the tea towels, make the apron, make the book, make the drawings, make the performance, listen to others stories of mothering.
Question the role of care. Question the role of gender specific tasks and roles. Value the role of parenting. Value your children. Don’t forget the joy in-between the sludge. Change. Make small changes. Help the children to be capable and independent. Teach them to love even the most lowliest of tasks. Teach them to be kind to others by mucking in. Try to change how you feel about domestic work. Try to change how you feel about mothering. Care and chores are two very different things. Stop moaning and complaining yourself, get on with it. Stop being a cinderella and get the princes to help too.
Day one of getting the children to help with chores around the house was a challenge. When I asked the boys to help me with the washing up, they winced and squirmed and tried to wriggle and run away. I want my boys to help, I want my boys to grow up into men that are caring and responsible around the home, that don’t see housework as women’s work.
Domestic work is boring and tedious, but if the work is shared its less of a burden. I don’t want to carry the weight of this domestic work, I don’t want to resent my children. I don’t want to forget that it is my job to encourage them to be responsible for their lives, their mess, to help clear up afterwards.
Living in a mess is depressing. There are limits to how much mess and higgle piggle caos I can ignore. Cleaning, ordering, clearing space…….if this can be done, if it can be managed then it would enable more time for love and fun and play. Time to stop and breathe and just be still a while.
Play can happen whilst helping with household chores. Its not perfect, I am no Mary Poppins, my children did squeal, they did complain. At first, Syd refused. He said that I would write about him, complain about him here. I said he could change the narrative, he could make a different story. I said that I wanted to write about how helpful and kind a boy he is. I insisted that he helped. I explained that it was our families work, not a mothers work. That we share a home together so we share the tasks together.
The dishes were washed, and dried and cleared away. Little Naoise did help, when he saw his brother helping me, he wanted to play house too, he stood on a stool and dried up pots and pans and plates and even cleaned down the work surfaces.
I have to thank my friend who is a mother of three for her help and advice and motivation regarding this. She sent me a list of age appropriate tasks that children can manage around the home. I need to print it out stick it on the kitchen door, lest I forget to insist that they help.
Syd not only helped with the dishes, he also put on a load of washing, went to do the shopping with me and this morning he packed his own lunch.
I was horrified to discover that he hadn’t touched any of the food that I had packed for his lunch the day before. It was a beautiful lunch, french baguette rolls, clementines, crisps, home made chocolate and banana cake. I felt irritated and angry. Patrick was right, I should have remained calm. I hate food waste. I should have tried to at least hide my anger.
I need to deal with the anger and frustration. Its not good. I struggled with eating food as a teenager, I don’t want him to develop any issues around food. The fact that he hadn’t eaten explained his difficult behaviour. I do worry. Anyway I am sure he is managing to eat today, as he took control of his lunch, he made it himself. This is progress.
Its hard to always think positively, I struggle with that. Do all parents struggle?
Teenagers are definitely challenging. Pushing. pushing, pushing away. I had wanted to watch a television programme with Syd, he rebuffed me. He pushed my hand away from the controls, he wanted to watch something, I wanted to watch another thing. We couldn’t agree, we couldn’t compromise.
We were probably both over tired.He refused me. He finds me irritating. Its hard to be rejected. Have I taught him rejection? Do I need to show more love. Love. Patience. Understanding. Do I love enough. Have I lost sight of love. Oh I am having a Virgin Mary moment. Must not be a Mary. Must not fall into stereotypes.
On the way home from school yesterday Naoise came to a halt on his scooter. He looked at all the leaves by the side of the pavement, and he turned to me. Mummy can we make a hedgehog house ? Its sweet that he turns to me for permission to play. Of cause, I say. I am delighted that he is playing in the leaves. Making an imaginary home for a prickly hedgehog.
I love watching him, scooping up leaves with his hand, pushing leaves along the tarmac with his feet. Gathering, forming, building out of the wet ochre of the sycamore leaves. Help me mummy, help me make the roof, he demands. I help a little, but I am also a little lost in recording the moment. I am glad though, I am glad to stand back and watch. He pokes his hand deep inside the pile to form space for the hedgehog to get in. He creates a roof, a door and a porch.
Syd and his friend are walking up the road. They stop and admire his handy work. Syd says no hedgehog will go and live there. I tell him he is cruel. Why can’t he play along. Play along with the fantasy.
Me and Naoise scoot on home, we set some distance between us and Syd, lest we are an embarrassment. Even Naoise picks up on Syds attitude. Have I misread him? I will never be a cool mum. Parents just are embarrassing. I need to try not to overcompensate.
Later when I questioned him about this incident, he said that he did want to walk down the road with me and Naoise, but in truth, I don’t think he really did. When I was his age, occasionally my mum got on the same bus as me and my sister when we were travelling home from school, and if she did, we would glow red with embarrassment and hide at the back.
This avoidance, this shame, I guess its normal.
Doors and walls and houses provide a safe space to hang out with parents. Its ok to show love where others can’t see.
Find love and understanding.
Lost within these words. Lost within this project. Lost trying to find some meaning, I turn to others, to their words, thoughts, ideas, art. Their work inspires me to continue and helps me to make sense of my own.
As I chopped onions, garlic, courgettes, as I opened a can of chickpeas, as I poured a jar of curry sauce in the pot, as I stirred and fried and watched the food sizzle and bubble, I watched documentary videos from The Mothernists conference. Shira Richter, and Courtney Kessel were there with me in my kitchen, keeping me company with stories about their life and art and work.
We are connected. We are not alone.
Each morning, their is a mountain to climb. Mount everest. Mothering is a mountain to climb. Mothering is a mountain of washing. Mothering is a pile of conflict, dispute, and resistance to try to iron out. Mothering is not always gentle, and easy. There is nothing to concur or win. There is no trophy. There is only love, deep, resilient, worked for love.
I get Naoise dressed in his sleep in bed. I lift him from bed to sofa downstairs. I try to wake him, once, twice, three times. I sit him at the table, and he slowly picks off small chunks of french baguette. I become distracted and he is back on the sofa again. Sleeping, snoozing, not wanting to scoot.
When it is time for the off, he settles on my suggestion of going to school in the car.
There is the usual teeth brushing struggle. I put a small pea of toothpaste on the brush, he wipes it off again in the glass of water. I reapply the toothpaste, he wipes a little more off. There is also the battle of the sock. The sock has to be absolutely perfectly placed and positioned on his foot for him to be satisfied, else he pulls it back off again.
The battle of the waking, the battle of the sock and the battle of brushing teeth.
I want to stop battling.
The tooth fairy did remember to come last night, only a week late.