Monday, November 12, 2007

elf help

“Mum, come and play with my train track,” he whinges.
“Sorry, sweetheart, but I’m folding this washing right now,” I say, not feeling the slightest bit guilty because it’s the end of a long day of playing with him and he’s certainly had no shortage of my attention. “It's book time in a minute, as soon as I fold this pile of clothes on the couch, okay?”
“But I want you to play with my train track now!”
I stop folding clothes.
“Honestly,” I mutter to myself. “It’s like living with a three year old sometimes." I find this thought usually has the desired effect of putting things into perspective. Sometimes you forget they are only three, compared to your thirty-six.
I decide to try a different approach.
“Okay, here‘s an idea...I'll play trains if you fold these clothes.”
Uncertain look. He’s not sure it’s such a good deal after all.
“Well, someone’s got to do the housework, eh?” I say. “What, you think we have elves or something? That do all the cleaning when we‘re asleep, hmmn?”
I fancy I sense something dimly dawning on him. I know he routinely observes me doing the housework, but I suspect it has not occurred to him yet that I might not be doing it all just for fun.
“Don’t worry, soon enough you’ll be helping me with the housework,” I assure him. “In the meantime, maybe we should think about getting an elf. A couple of elves.”
Of course, he does help me with some things already--sweeping and raking and mopping, or sorting clothes into piles, or taking the boxes and bottles to the recycling bin. But while all this is a wonderful form of educational play, I’m sure, ‘helping mum with the housework’ often means mum ends up redoing it after them anyway.
He goes back to playing with his trains and I go back to folding clothes.
I think I have made my point.
After a moment, very sweetly he comes to give me a hug, and he astounds me by saying, “Mum, I’m in love with you.”
In love with me! It fairly made me melt. Where has he heard this phrase? I only say “I love you“ to him. Maybe the kids at his preschool are already saying it to each other? I remember ‘getting married’ to a boy once in kindy, so I guess kids are well aware of the idea of romantic love by that age. But he's so young.
“I’m in love with you too,” I say dreamily. I realise I am, actually, in love with him too.
Then he runs his hand run up my spiky unshaven calf and says, “Mum, you’re an echidna."
But I've digressed.
When my boy and I are alone at home, he wants me to play with him every waking second. He resents it when I attempt to do housework around him. Paradoxically, on particularly trying days, I sometimes almost take refuge in housework. If your child is tired and whingy and you‘re straying close to ‘meltdown’ territory, there’s nothing like the din of a vacuum cleaner to drown everything out for five minutes. That may sound terrible but I’m sure other parents will know what I mean.
In your attempts to be an adequate parent, you try as much as possible to engage directly with your child. Most of your days together are spent out and about, at playgrounds or playdates, and housework is often left til after bedtime. But unless you have a maid, or elves, it is inevitable that you’ll have to spend at least some of the time that you are caring for and “nurturing” your child, rushing around muttering to yourself under your breath about how you’re nothing but a slave.
All of which I guess is sort of a tangent to my post at Surfdom. As much as looking after small children is a wonderful and important job, it seems to me that we shouldn’t gloss over the sheer amount of mundane domestic drudgery involved. And ‘staying at home with your child’ isn’t all just making robots out of recycled lids and toilet roll tubes, making glitter playdough or building train tracks together. As much as you are nurturer-educator, you are also janitor.
Of course, when they say they’re in love with you, all your frustrations disappear, and you’re a happy slave once more.