The well runneth dry. Clearly this is the case, because I have in mind that I would like to write a blog about cleaning; but how boring would that be? I have theories about cleaning (these are highly mutable and vary wildly), but, honestly, do these need to be shared? Yet I find myself mentally blogging on and on about cleaning. Likely because it’s something I spend way too much time doing.
Or laundry. Every time I hang the clothes out to dry, I think, I should blog about this. Heh. Blog about what exactly? About how often I’ve managed to line-dry laundry even though it’s been such a rainy summer and I’ve got a new baby and … As my son A would say, “Mommy, are you bragging?” Pause. “Uh, yes, maybe I am.” “Why are you bragging?” “Uh, hmmm, good question little analyst, and now I’ll stop.” “Mommy, I think you’re doing it again.” “Oh dear heavens, you’re right, I am!”
The above is a (mostly) accurate exchange that occurred over puzzle-making together.
Anyway, my cleaning theories go something like this: Get used to the mess and you’ll be a happier person. It’s just going to happen. Let it happen. Make the kids clean up their own rooms.
And then morph into this: Good grief, this place is a freaking disaster zone. I can’t stand looking at those breakfast crumbs even one minute longer. At which point I drop everything in order to clean said floor. And the kids “organize” the games cupboard.
So theory number one is clearly hypocritical.
Another good theory: It’s possible to clean whilst doing other things. Such as, scrubbing the toilet while the children take a bath. Not the baby, though. That would be going just slightly too far for the sake of cleanliness. Don’t use theory if drowning is a risk. I do put this theory into practice quite often, though. Whilst removing dirty towel from bathroom floor, simultaneously use towel to clean the floor and cupboard faces. For example. But my life is a series of boxes opening inside other boxes, so that when one enters a room to do something particular, one is faced by a second and often more pressing problem, the solution for which leads into a third even more urgent disaster, and on and on till the original item of duty is utterly lost. Not to worry; one will stumble over it later.
And that is a brief overview of Carrie’s cleaning theories. Are they even theories? They’re probably more like administrative memoes for the homemaking pataphysician. “Uh, Mommy …”
Yah, yah, I hear ya kid. Must. Stop.
Always leaves me foggy. Today I was pleased by what got written, but almost felt distressed when I was done–not by the fact that my time was up, but because I hadn’t spent that “lost” time with the kids instead. It almost seems like a waste to spend these hours in an imaginary world when my actual family is actually doing and being and experiencing their youngest years. It’s funny, but the story I like best that I wrote this spring is about the passage of time. Sometimes it feels like that’s all I’m really writing about. About time past, and passing, hurrying us along and away from where we are this moment. And here I am, missing out on what’s hurrying past because I’m so busy writing about it.
And now I’m writing more, instead of responding to the game the kids have started playing spontaneously: something to do with cleaning the house??? Is this possible? AB: “Whoa, your house is really dirty!”
Then again, by writing about it, I also get to keep it, at least a few shreds …
AB to her brother: “Do you think this is the dirtiest house we’ve gone through?”
Good grief–I know it’s messy in here, but has it gotten that bad?
The problem is that once I get going writing, it’s so hard to turn it off. I need a little switch in my brain that can be flipped … ok, done thinking, now just BE. Writing is intensely private and requires such interior concentration that it takes time, maybe even hours, to crawl back out again and be properly engaged with this house and the needs of these little people populating it.
Will now turn away from the glowing screen and attempt re-entrance into the afternoon.
Saturday morning and it’s time to clean up. The more children you add to a household, the more opportunities for instant disasters and chronic mess. This morning, for example, I came downstairs to discover the kids were “cleaning” the puzzle and games cupboard; translation: they were taking out every single puzzle and game and opening the boxes to inspect for missing or broken pieces and parts, and dumping some into plastic baggies, and … well, you can imagine this was not the kind of cleaning project I had planned for the morning.
To their credit, everything got stuffed back into the cupboard.
I am now sipping a cup of coffee and pondering all the things that need doing … and feeling weak and wishing I could instead read the paper. But the truth is that I like a clean and tidy house. I like to walk into rooms that are organized and free of spilt crumbs and feel airy and uncluttered. A place for everything and everything in its place, is something that runs through my mind on these mornings. Which is not the scene right now. I’m wading through diapers that need folding and laundry that needs doing and a dining-room table still plagued with loose garlic bulbs, not to mention a multitude of other neglected areas (toilets, anyone?). During the week there isn’t time to do this work, just barely time to keep head above water and say hello to Kevin.
I did have a writing morning yesterday, and in fact used it to write. I started another story in the Nicaragua collection. It’s slow going and feels personal rather than political. This project has changed so much over time, and undergone such a variety of incarnations that I no longer believe automatically that I’ve landed on the shape in which this story belongs; but I’m comfortable with this form and take great pleasure from it: stories rather than chapters. Whether or not it’s the form this story belongs in, it is the form that I most enjoy exploring–to read, and to write.
We’re not a church-going family. Coming from a Mennonite background, I’ve tried my best to make us so, and we may attempt Sunday school again this fall (AB enjoys it), but we don’t find ourselves naturally drawn, on Sunday mornings, to our church. Other religious rituals have found a comfortable place in our home, including singing a prayer before our family meals (led forcefully by F, age 3), and, for me personally, humming hymns. I’ve had the first line of a hymn in my head these past couple of days: “My life goes on in endless song, above earth’s lamentations.” So yesterday afternoon, while the children were splashing outside in the wading pool, I sat nearby with the hymnal on my knee and sang the whole of that song. F came and sat in a chair beside me, cuddled in her towel. She wanted to know why I was singing, and I said it was because it made me feel happy and comfortable and peaceful. She said it made her feel the same way. Baby CJ was nursing, and it was a really joyful and calm moment for the three of us, in our beautiful shaded backyard, in the humidity of an August afternoon in Ontario, the leafy canopy overhead, the big kids splashing gleefully (the neighbours love us, I am sure!).
We have managed to give our kitchen and dining-room that just-moved-in feeling. Everything’s cleared out for painting purposes, and it echoes. I picked up take-out pizza for supper last night, and as we sat eating together, it felt exactly like it feels when you’ve just moved in somewhere new, that very first meal in a brand-new house. I like that feeling, actually. I’m glad to discover it’s as easy to replicate as ordering take-out and taking the pictures off the walls. The smell of fresh paint added to it too.
Did I suggest in my last post that I’d actually finished all my (house)work the other night? Yah, that didn’t happen. Literally, by the time I came down the next morning, the kids had replicated the disaster in the living-room. I shall either have to ban all creative play (art projects, puzzles, games, and Playmobil), or live with the consequences of having fostered such fabulous creativity in my chiildren. Hmm. The latter, I think. If only I were just slightly more slovenly. How’s that for a personality trait to work on.
Some good adventures in local food today, including Nina’s buying club. I took pictures, but haven’t figured out how to post those easily yet, so will put off doing that till later. She’s also got a chicken coop in her backyard, the cutest coop you’ve ever seen, but my kids weren’t interested in posing. Too busy playing. And begging for apricots. And squabbling over the fact that we hadn’t brought enough money to buy a giant pretzel (or, better yet, an almond horn) for each. Lessons in sharing. Not necessarily lessons learned, but lessons nevertheless.
While I was cooking supper, Kevin came in with apples and pears from the trees in our backyard we’d written off as dying. They haven’t produced since we moved in five years ago, but this spring Kevin did some pruning (Google-guided), and … pears and apples!! A said: “Quick, take them to Mom so she can cook them!” Since they didn’t go in my beef stir-fry, I thought I’d whip up a cobbler. Ah, yes, whip up a cobbler. The kitchen was at this point in a state beyond disarray, the dishes having not been done all day, supper in progress. But with help from Kevin and AB, the apples and pears were getting chopped while I cut butter into flour (local and local). AB wanted to cut an apple. They were small and hard, and I said, better not, but she is very determined, and next thing … blood!
It was one of those moments that makes me blog in my head, if you know what I mean. I’ve been doing this for years, long before blogging existed, and it helps cut through the crazy moments (at least, for me): I mentally narrate as we go, imagine dressing up the moment in fabulous or funny or tragicomic or whatever style best suits. It never flows quite as fabulously out of the moment, but oh well.
The Scene: Utterly disastrous kitchen, sink piled with pots and plates, vegetable debris on counter, flour on floor, baby sleeping, A unloading a 1/2 bushel of apricots into the fridge for me, radio on, F playing on her own, AB and Kevin happily chopping, rice steaming and wok bubbling, and me measuring, when ack! “I cut my finger!” Shrieking and howling because this child is nothing if not melodramatic, I race her to the bathroom, door partially blocked by apricots and A, run nasty gash under water, bandage, all the while assuring her she won’t bleed to death. “If only I’d listened to you Mommy,” she actually says. Am I a terrible mother for finding some pleasure in that rarest of statements? Adding to the moment, F immediately dashes upon hearing shrieks and begins wailing that she herself is mortally wounded too, coincidentally also on her hand, clutches my leg, look look Mommy (on close inspection it appears to be a well-scratched bug bite). Of course, the moment is soothed and conquered, and we move right on, finish the cobbler crust, lay it over sugared fruit, set the table, et cetera.
Can I also say that I did so many dishes tonight the accomplishment was medal-worthy? Funny story: The other morning, after Kevin had gone to work, the kids kept regaling me with: “Daddy did so many dishes this morning!” and “You wouldn’t believe how many dishes Daddy did this morning!” and “Did you know Daddy did a huge pile of dishes this morning?” It was true. He’d washed the dishes I hadn’t gotten to the previous night because he’d been at soccer and I just couldn’t manage them (this never happened before the birth of #4; somehow, I always always managed to wash the dishes at the end of the day, kind of a personal policy for me, clean kitchen, happy house, or something like that). So, yes. He’d done a day’s worth of dishes first thing in the morning. I was grateful. But clearly I’m not selling my own dishwashing very well. When I asked, the kids had no idea that I regularly (ie. EVERY DAY) washed the same huge pile of dishes ALL BY MYSELF! They weren’t impressed, though. There’s some fundamental difference between the things Mommy does and the things Daddy does. What is it??? I don’t know. It’s not Kevin’s fault. He pitches in always and spends a lot of very very hands-on time parenting and keeping this house going. But still.