This post originally published in Practical Parenting Magazine, December 2010
In a recent burst of creativity, I set up a ‘shop’ in the corner of the lounge room for Peanut and T-Bone. It’s full of scrubbed, empty items from the recycling, and we use it to play wonderfully educational games about counting and shopping manners.
That takes approximately seven minutes. The rest of the day the cereal boxes, egg cartons and milk bottles are strewn all over the house after three-year-old Peanut has used them to build a complicated tower in the bathroom which two-year-old T-Bone then razes violently to the ground.
To recap: seven minutes of educational, creative activity. Twenty three hours and 53 minutes of living in a construction zone. Welcome to the world of a stay-at-home mum.
Every day, I tackle a standard loop of laundry, tidying, bed-making and clutter-management. Then I turn to the shopping, cooking and washing-up tasks related to the endless stream of meals and snacks that are demanded of my short-order kitchen. But the kicker is the random chaos. Tiny people need to be entertained, it turns out, or they cry. So they have blocks, and puzzles, and cars, and play food, all of which contain tiny little pieces that mate and meld together into one giant disordered toy casserole by the end of every day.
The kids make new mess faster than I can clean up the old stuff. On a typical morning, I’ll just move the breakfast dishes out of the way so I can make morning tea. T-Bone will tip over a bucket of hand-washing in the bathroom in a mad haste to get to the window he has suddenly decided to smear with banana. Meanwhile, Peanut takes her bed apart to make it into a spaceship. And so the day rolls on.
T-Bone is part boy, part tornado. He empties drawers, topples washing piles and relieves shelves of their contents with a steady, determined approach. Meanwhile, Peanut’s creative vision is inexhaustible. She is constantly setting up a market stall, making a craft project, constructing an animal theatre or – her absolute favourite - packing for her honeymoon.
At nearly four, she should really be doing more chores, but she’s not interested. ‘Help me do this bed, Peanut,’ I’ll request. ‘Well, the bones in my arms don’t want me to, Mummy,’ she’ll answer. Her expression is always rueful and apologetic. ‘If it was up to me,’ she implies, ‘I would help in a heartbeat! But the bones in my arms… you know how they get.’
It’s true, I could get on top of the mess, if I put in another two hours of hard labour after getting the kids off to bed and having dinner with Keith. But by that stage it’s all I can do to stay awake on the lounge through an entire episode of Ladette to Lady. So the key, I’ve decided, is to embrace the mess and never invite anybody over who would turn up their nose at the state of my bathroom – that’s if they can find it in the chaos.