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Thursday, 19 January 2017

#29 On Trying to Have a Home That's Not a Total Sh*thole, With Children

It’s funny, tidying, isn’t it. Like the painting of the Golden Gate Bridge, it is a Sisyphean task, started all over again the moment we have finished it and so never really finished at all. Yet unlike the Golden Gate Bridge, you see, where the painters get to stop every so often to eat a sandwich or arse about on their iPhones, for us parents there are children that hear us finally ripping off the rubber gloves or putting down the hoover and, to stop us feeling redundant, fling some food somewhere or push over a basket of something.

You become more efficient at dealing with all this, of course. You develop streamlined systems within your own house. Years of waitressing taught me never to walk around empty-handed; never simply to stroll idly (heaven forbid) from one room to the next but always to use that journey to take bits of mess from one room back to that from whence they came. Ever arrived in a room forgetting what you came in there for? Why, you can at least use it as an opportunity to tidy. No trip is wasted ever again. Genius, continuous efficiency.

So the result of all this? As I stride from room to room, always transporting and delivering goods to their rightful places, always cleaning up before the kids’ arrival and after, stooping here, wiping there and scrubbing smears endlessly, I would like to feel like a hero, a god of systems-down-pat. And yet I don’t. Actually, I realise I’ve spent a whole morning sweating in rubbber gloves, of rolling a very heavy stone up a steep hill and I sometimes muse that if the point of a task is usually linked with its completion, why I should even start this at all (I often take the same attitude to my appearance these days).  

And it’s not with hopelessness or gloom that I think this - thank God - more like a bemusement. In fact it’s the same feeling that overcame me just yesterday; here, mindlessly chiselling away, in my rubber gloves and dressing gown, at some Weetabix cemented onto the high chair, I felt a sense of detached comedy at the glamour of it all, at the fact I’m sure I went to university once.

So it’s now that I understand why parents love hotels. Back in the day I used to turn my nose up at them, preferring a grittier experience. Even these days family holidays in an Air BnB can be great fun: love my kids, never a dull moment, etc etc. But all this is missing the point: I would bloody love a dull moment. Very occasionally. A true, true holiday for me would entail many such pointless moments of wandering aimlessly from one room to the next with nothing in my hands, just because I could. Wiping and clearing away food or anything would be the job of staff, goddammit. It’s not just as you get older that holidays mean different things- it’s as you have kids. What staying in a hotel means is not just a holiday from tasks, it’s a holiday from your (usual) self.

There is a quicker, cheaper fix, Husband would argue.

‘Why don’t you just not care about tidiness so much. Who do you think is judging you?’
‘No-one, I just like it clean.’ I answer.
‘But if it’s going to be so stressful, shall we just not have people over? You’re being a maniac.’
‘I’m not!’ I shout, repeatedly bashing the moaning hoover into the skirting boards as I see we have T minus ten minutes until Guest Arrival. Please God, don’t let them be early.

It’s not true, of course, when I say no-one is judging me. I am judging me. I have always been a bit of a neat freak but it’s not worn as a badge of honour, it’s a curse which I think comes from my mum’s side of the family. And truthfully, before anyone reading this decides never to invite me over again, I do not measure my friends’ houses in the same way. I really don’t. Like some sort of house dysmorphic disorder, I only see the flaws in my own efforts, be they specks of dust or child-height smears.

There is a conundrum here as well.  As I frantically Mrs Doubtfire my way around the house I also have flashbacks to school days where there was always a Dick Mum of one of your friends who wanted their house kept like a show home at all times. You know, the ones where you had to slip off your shoes on arrival then perch on the edge of the sofa the whole visit.  In fairness my own mum did not treat our house like this. I think she managed to do what I am currently working on: being realistic with having kids around. Oh, and actually enjoying your friends’ company rather than worrying about rings on the coffee table.

Because if you’re not careful you create another ironic circle: the tidier you are, the fewer friends you have to impress with your tidiness. And the quicker your kids will leave home to go and relax / make mess elsewhere.  Before you know it, you’re like a character from Desperate Housewives and the clue to their level of happiness is in the title.

I’d best follow the lead of my looks and get lowering those standards, then.


Seen the book? Take a look!
Twitter:  @ericajbarlow
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Thursday, 5 January 2017

#28 On Being Drunk and/or Hungover With Children. Especially at Christmas.

Tots, tinsel and Aldi. Pretty much sums my Xmas up.  Oh, and the boozing.

Drinking, drinking, drinking. God, it’s great. Every time I do it, for the first few drinks I think ‘why don’t I do this more often? Why do I deny myself this so regularly?’ I’m cleverer and funnier. You’re cleverer and funnier. Everyone has a lovely time.

What’s more, your kids love you more. On Christmas Day - a shining example of day drinking at its best, beginning at, ooh, I reckon 10am with a bucks fizz - you may have awoken tired and even hungover, but this morning it’s all very different from normal. Yes, you have that queasy little feeling of exhaustion+booze sloshing around an empty stomach as you unwrap presents with the kids. Somehow, though, with all the general festive atmos and hearing little ones squeal with glee with each RRRRRIIIP of wrapping paper, it all turns into one big fog of joy. Normal, knackered you is nowhere to be seen.

But it gets better still. As the day goes on and guests arrive, more drinks of various types and strengths are consumed and you feel even fuzzier and happier. Your toddler responds to you better because you’re so cheerful and pretty much let him do what he likes as long as he doesn’t a) die b) kill his baby sister or c) interrupt your mass consumption of cheese or roast potatoes. Or your conversation. In fact, you may even get to ‘drunken-show-off’ stage and try and get him to do a merry jig for everyone, or that funny thing he does, even if he doesn’t feel like doing it. You laugh at some of his other idiocy instead of scowling at it. You are Fun Parent in the extreme. Hell, you are Christmas.

When night falls, your tots (or at least your toddler) will no doubt have been allowed to stay up later than usual, sprawling slack-jawed on the sofa and eating crisps, teenager-like. When finally you do a single bit of responsible parenting by putting them to bed, you simply chuckle once again at any misbehaviour as you are truly battered. You are now not just fun, or Christmas, you are invincible.

Eventually, your own bedtime rolls around. Or rather, you and your husband can no longer remain in denial that you both keep rolling in and out of consciousness on the sofa. All good things must come to an end, and so you sway up the stairs. But as you do, you remember that you are still invincible and so you do that thing that you daren’t ever do: you pop into Sleeping Baby Daughter’s room to remind yourself of how lovely she is. And with a heart full of booze and emotion you coo and point at her sleeping caterpillar body with her bum in the air. You have totally forgotten why you never do this. You have missed the fact that she is twitching like a rattlesnake.

All good things must come to an end.

And so, having slumped into bed, you wake up seemingly moments later. It may well be just moments if Daughter has fully awoken soon after you disturbed her. It may well be hours since it is now morning and time to get up. In any case, the amount of sleep you have had feels the same either way: paltry. Utterly.

All good things have come to an end.

Coming to to the sound of her cries, you lift your concrete head. Sunlight stabs your eyes. You hear Son, also awake somewhere, shuffling about cheerfully on his way to you.  There is no way out now. You must get up as between you and Husband it is Your Turn. You look at your phone, desperately trying to calculate in your fat, woolly brain when Daughter can be put back for her nap and thus so can you.

Just a couple of hours to see out.

You can do this.

With eyes that burn and skin that aches stretched over your body, you thump down the stairs to get them some breakfast then seek to be horizontal as soon as possible. Your pathetic form on the couch does not go unnoticed by the children, perceptive little scamps that they are, as they seek to squabble, cry and climb on your stomach. Each time you check your phone only three minutes have passed. It is no good: chaos and all hell have come again.

Or so I’ve been told by some parents who drink. Me? It just makes me invincible.

Happy New Year.


Seen the book? Take a look!
Twitter:  @ericajbarlow
Instagram: @ericajane_20   #lookingatyoubabydotcom
Facebook: Here's Looking At You, Baby