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As You Were

He had a fresh cup of tea, I stood in my PJs holding a steaming bowl of oatmeal.  “Come and sit with me,” I said, as I walked to the dining table.  And then turning back, I added, “I like your company.”

Since I realised the change that’s come from M being home, I’ve been trying to capitalise on it, to solidify it.  I want to do whatever it is that it takes to make this change stick, even after he goes back to work.  We’d gotten out of the habit of sitting down together and being social over a bite of food, just the two of us.  We’d gotten out of the habit of talking.

“I like your company too,” he replied.  And then looking at the spoonful I was about to put in my mouth, he smiled cheekily and continued,  “Especially when you’re not talking.”

Nice to have my husband back.

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Three times in the last five weeks…  Three times!  And that’s a lot really — I’m exhausted.  Am I talking about sex? No.  Dates with my husband? No.  Attempts to start weight lifting again? Nope.  Trips to the Emergency Room, that’s what I’m talking about.  And those were just the (dubious) highlights — in between all that fun and excitement were days and days and days of dragging everyone from doctor appointment to doctor appointment, seeing the pharmacist so often that he now greets us like old friends, and spending hours on end stuck on the couch comforting one miserable, clingy child or the other.  Absolutely everything else has had to fall by the wayside — the house is an utter tip and we’re probably overdrawn.  I’ve been so snowed under, I never even got the chance to write about the second trip to ER…  I started, but never got finished.  For now, I’ll just tell you that it involved a really frightening amount of blood.  E2’s blood — who else?

And there we are, the source of all the commotion — always the source of all the commotion.  I really don’t want to be this way, but I am now completely glass-half-empty about my younger daughter — she’s been training me in it since the day that was born.  If there’s something she can catch, some food that can set her off, some way something can go terribly wrong, it will happen for her.  Even the allergist said, she was just destined for this, all this medical hassle…  Some kids are.

But if that’s true, then I am so glad I could be her mother.  Because that kid — the kid with all the allergies, the horribly restricted diet, the terrifying undernourishment, the (now almost confirmed) asthma, the utterly out-of-control immune system — that kid needs a really support system; that kid needs someone always watching over her; that kid needs an advocate.  And I am lucky enough to be able to be just that for my daughter.

Sometimes I really regret becoming a stay-at-home mum.  I’ve been out of the workforce for nearly five years now, and I know my career prospects are pretty much shot.  When M starts on about me bringing in some money, I think of applying to Starbucks or something… and then I get nervous that they wouldn’t have me.  And other mothers I know are starting to go back to their careers — or, indeed, have never really left — and they have kept continuity and are going back to jobs they are excited about and feel empowered by.  I look at them and can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy…  and a bit of guilt for having thrown so much a way.

But the other day, I looked at my daughter’s smiling face — she now finally truly well for the first time in nearly two months — and I realised that all this time, I’ve been free to be fully there for her.  Day after day, I’d been able to wake up (or indeed, not sleep all night) and just be able to do whatever was needed of me that day.  I never once had to make a choice between my daughter’s needs and some other obligation, never once felt that conflict that so many other parents have to deal with.   I had some very hard judgment calls to make in those two months — is she breathing well? do I risk waking her to check? do we go to hospital now or wait…? — but I never had to look down at her and choose between risking my job to stay home again or sending her to childcare while she was still sick.

If I have sacrificed all — and I believe I have — then it has been worth it, because she has needed that level of dedication…  not just to thrive, but simply to survive.  It took love to get through those first fourteen months — nothing less than real love would have sustained someone through the days of nonstop screaming and the endless nights of no sleep until dawn.  If she’d been in daycare, I honestly believe there would have come a point where the hired help would have lost patience, or lost faith, and just put her in a corner to cry through her pain alone.  Because I nearly did.  I did leave her to cry, for a while, now and again, and I love her.  If I couldn’t handle it, how could anyone else have?

So, when I hear about my contemporaries going back to work, or talk to my friends who have flourishing careers, I can’t help the jealousy that immediately flares up, or stop the self-doubt that creeps along afterward.  And when M asks about the money, I can’t help but feel guilty that we are always so skint.  But, when I look at my daughter, I realise that being a stay-at-home mother — for all that sometimes feels so wrong about it — is absolutely right for us, for her.  And I know how very privileged I am that I’ve been able to do it, and I am deeply, deeply grateful.

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Two

“This house!” M muttered under his breath as he kicked a tangled pile of laundry out of his way. “This bloody house!”  And then he turned and stormed back upstairs without even looking at me.

I sighed.  But I understand why he’s frustrated — this house, indeed.  It’s always on the edge of mess, always verging into chaos.  I feel as though I fight all day just to maintain it, just to ensure that the mess is no worse at the end of the day than it was at the beginning.  But it never gets any better than it was.

The worst of it is the laundry.  We are perpetually buried in the piles of clean laundry — washed and dried quickly enough, but rarely folded and almost never put away.  Folding laundry with the girls is an exercise in pure crazy-making.  I have not made sorting piles — I have made fall-breakers!  I have built obstacle courses!  I have amassed fascinating collections of dressing-up clothes!  When I do manage to fold a couple of baskets’ full, I am so exhausted at the end that I can’t be bothered to haul those baskets upstairs and put them away.  Not right now… maybe later… maybe tomorrow.   But instead, we raid those same baskets daily, still sitting in the corner of the family room, for knickers and socks and today’s outfit, until the whole thing is such a mess that it couldn’t possibly be put away without being dumped out and refolded.  And that does not happen.

And there are always dishes clogging the kitchen — from breakfast, or the snack, or lunch, or the snack, or dinner…  And a pile of papers that needs filing over there, and stacks of magazines half-read.  There are still boxes to be unpacked from the move.  And certainly, oh certainly, this place does not yet feel like a home — it still feels like we just moved in… or are just about to move out.

“What was that?!?” I prodded angrily at M, as he disappeared up the stairs.  I couldn’t help myself — I just can’t let a muttering go.

He paused and turned, casting an eye across the chaos, and said hotly, “Well, I just think this place should be… tidier.  It should be getting tidier!”

I was defensive now.  “You could help, you know.  I only have two hands!  You could pick things up when you see them instead of stepping over them!”  It’s true — he’s as likely to step over a mess the girls have made as clean it up.  He’ll clear dishes but leave the mess all over the table.  And he opens his mail, and then drops it back on the table for me discover,  and deal with, later.

“You’re home all day!” He countered.  “You should be dealing with this place!  It should be…”  he glanced around the room, his eyes lighting on any number sins, “It should be getting better.”  Ah, of course, I’m home all day.  I should be spending all that time getting the place sorted.

Plus two

As every weekend approaches, we have conflicting expectations that cause… well… regular conflicts.  I see the weekends as a chance for me to get a break from the intensity of full-time care for a four-year-old and a two-year-old.  I’d like to wake peacefully, rather than be yelled from my bed at whatever hour the girls awaken, to take a shower alone without interruption, and then to slow everything down a bit and spend time as a family.  M sees the weekends as his chance to catch up on the myriad projects that need doing about the house and to quietly recover from a tough week at work.  In both cases, the three of us just get in the way of his plans — hinder rather than help — and, understandably, he spends most of his weekends trying to escape us.

I was on my own in the kitchen, drinking a cup of tea and contemplating the pile of dishes in the sink, when I heard it all begin to fall apart in the other room.  The girls’ voices rose and quickly became shrill, both of them screeching over some great injustice.  M’s voice started quiet and weary, but soon followed their lead and, within moments, he was bellowing at them.  And then for me.  When I walked in the room, I found him standing by the front door, holding a cordless drill in one hand and with two little girls practically hanging off his other arm.  A mess of his tools and their toys were strewn in equal measure at his feet.

“I can’t get anything done with them here!” he roared. “You have to take them.”  And then with a little less volume, “If I’m supposed to make any progress with this,” — he waved the drill in the general direction of the door he’d been working on — “then you can’t expect me to be looking after them as well!”  I ushered the girls and their screeching away into the kitchen, and smiled to myself.

He’s quite right — it’s impossible for him to get his projects done with them underfoot.  I know that.  They are wonderful little girls, but it is the nature of their ages to create mischief and mayhem where-ever they go.  And keeping that under control brings everything else to a complete halt.

Unless, of course, that everything is folding laundry, and filing the paperwork, and unpacking boxes.  And you are home all day.

Equals three

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There are days when I wonder how other people do it.  Really.  They keep blogs — multiple blogs sometimes — they do 365 photo things, they make, they sell on Etsy or their own shops, they design, they Twitter, they Facebook, they work out, they…  they… they…

I am so impressed by them, and jealous, and… I beat myself up a bit.  And then I remember: generally speaking, these people I am admiring so much don’t have toddlers.  Plural toddlers.  And toddlerdom is a whole different world — much more so than I ever realised it would be.  And multiple toddlerdom…  you know, M warned me that two is actually exponentially more difficult than one, and I refused to believe him.  Twice as hard, yeah… sure… but exponentially?  Surely he exaggerated!  Turns out, he was telling the truth.

And I take some comfort in that, because I want to do all these things that I see others doing.  I really want to.  But I am all go from the moment I wake until…  oh, about 10pm — and it’s none of it about me.  It’s making food, and giving baths, and wiping bums, and wiping noses, and breastfeeding, and changing clothes, and chasing, and tidying, and cleaning spills, and stopping fights, and teaching patience, and teaching speaking quietly, and more food, and more bums, and more noses, and more tidying — always more tidying…

And then it’s 10pm.  M is asleep on the couch, the telly is flickering away in front of him, and I have seen to E1 for the last time and I think — I think — she is finally going off.

Make?  Do?  Design?  Photos?  At 10pm?  No, tooooo tired.  Sit and have a cup of tea.  Watch some rubbish on telly.  Maybe blog, a bit.  And collapse.

But someday, I will be busy making and doing.  I will be productive.  I will be fantastically productive, slicing through my days  in straight lines, with drive and purpose.  And I know that when I do, I will look back at this crazy, chaotic, toddler-driven time… and wish it all back again.

Quite right too.

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Pssst… Hey, listen…  I need your opinion on something.  Can you come and have a look?

Cheers.

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It’s my birthday next month and I was putting together my wishlist for my mum and sister (my sister, especially, always really wants us to do wishlists to for her).  Since reading a blog is really all about voyeurism, I thought you might enjoy a look-see…

In no particular order, except for the first one which is the most important one to me..

  1. A renewal of my subscription to the Economist
  2. An MP3 player — nothing fancy but hopefully one that has a good amount of memory and can be plugged into accessories such as our car and/or have (cheap) speakers plugged into it.  A friend clued me into NewEgg as being the place that has the very best prices for electronics and good customer service too.  These are their MP3 players.
  3. A digital SLR — either the Nikon D series or the Canon Rebel series
  4. A haircut — it’s been since the end of November and, with short hair, that is a bad, bad thing!
  5. Time…  just time…  to sew, spin, knit, dye, read, and sleep…
  6. Wireless computer speakers, such as these
  7. Lifting gloves
  8. Tickets to La Boheme
  9. a computer desk like this one or this one
  10. a room divider like this one

I know nothing about MP3 players (or digital SLRs, for that matter, but that’s a major long shot), so I would be grateful for any suggestions or recommendations from readers.  On the speakers as well.

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I have been really down lately — really really struggling with a dark funk that has me in tears most days and which I just cannot lift myself out of (hence, the lack of posting this past week) — and I decided that a little productivity might be just what I needed.  So I told M this morning that I wanted to get at least one box from the garage unpacked.  Just one…  maybe more if we could, but one would do, one would make me feel like life was moving forward.

It was the wrong thing to do.

M, with the help of that strange burst of positivity he always takes on whenever I plunge into the same darkness where he usually resides, pulled no less than three boxes from the garage and began emptying them with gusto.  And there, amongst the books and CDs that I’ve been missing and was so glad to have possession of again, were a thousand memories that I hadn’t been prepared for at all.  There were the photos of my babies with our old house as background.  There was the last local paper that I quickly shoved in a box as we left.  There were photos of M’s long dead father, standing in familiar rooms that have not changed in all that time.  And the bulletin from our lovely little church, so full of people that I love and miss…  and other bits and pieces that simply belong in that house, so far away…   Even the air as we opened the boxes was a memory, tinged as it was with the smell of home — and the smell took me straight back, so vividly…  so vividly that I closed my eyes and saw it all in an instant — as perfectly as being there — and then opened them again to a reality blurred by tears.

But more than that, I wasn’t ready for the wave of expectation that came rushing out of those boxes and swirled around me.  “Did you do it?” it asked.  “Did you find a place for us?  Have you settled?  Are we home?”  All these things I had packed into these boxes had been wrapped not only in paper and bubble wrap, but in hopes and expectation of a new beginning on the other side of the world.  The yarn dreamt of a craft room of its own, the books wanted to be placed on lovely white shelves, the photos hoped to be framed proudly and to become happy reminders of the past amid the comfort a new home.  All these things I had promised them, as I wrapped them gently and placed them in their boxes.  “Did you do it?” they asked.  “Are we home?”  Yes, I said, …and no.  This is home, but I will be packing you all back up again one day soon. And as I looked about, I spotted a dozen things I never would have brought over — never really should have brought over — if I knew then what I know now.  They wouldn’t be making that second journey with us at all when the time comes.

Eventually, I moved past all that and got on with the job at hand.  M and I sat and looked at the photos — and got sad and melancholy and then a little happy and sometimes laughed.  And we emptied the boxes and put the books and CDs away.  The hardest things — the newspaper, old letters, the photos — I packed back up in a box and pushed to one side to be dealt with on another day, a stronger day.  And when it was all done, and the floor had been cleared and the room was tidy again, I felt good that we had achieved something, that we were a bit more moved in than we were before — but the journey had been difficult, and I was exhausted.  And I have now surrounded myself with stuff that makes me feel, more than ever before, that I am in the wrong place — a long way from home.

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