I have said that so many times in my life. Variations include: I will play with you in five minutes, I just need to wash the dishes/load the washing machine/tidy up/put away (insert name of one of hundreds of objects I put away each day)/cook dinner/feed (insert name of one of four or all children)/ wipe dinner off the floor/bathe (insert name of one of four or all children)/change the nappy of (insert name of one of two babies)/scrape vomit out of the carpet with my fingernails/crawl around on all fours looking for (insert name of small object that has become the most important toy in the world and is now lost, causing the world to end shortly, dear God please kill me first)/any number of mindless tasks that I have performed repetitively over the course of any given day for the last six years and am likely to perform for eternity.
The problem is that by the time I finish my task and get “there” the children have gone, moved on to some other activity that no longer needs my help and the moment in which we could have done something together, the moment in which they wanted to be with me has gone too.
I used to wonder about Carol Brady, that paragon of a mother. Mike Brady would come home from a hard day at the office and there, waiting to greet him was Carol. A fulfilled stay-at-home mum, she was always ready for Mike with a kiss, an easy smile and a pre-dinner drink. I greet my husband with a kiss (if I’m sure I have brushed my teeth in the last 48 hours), a difficult child to hold and a pre-dinner list of things to do.
During the course of the day, one to six of the Brady Bunch children would come running up to Carol. They needed problems solved, fights mediated and homework checked. Carol would stop what she was doing immediately and attend to the needs of her children. I hate you Carol Brady, you had Alice the happy housekeeper. Alice may have looked like a shot-putter (probably not a bad thing, in case Mike Brady turned out to be a Jude Law) but she took care of the domestic drudgery with efficiency and happy acceptance of her station in life – thus freeing Carol Brady to be, well Carol Brady, the wife and mother who was never ground down by the relentlessness of mothering. Of course she did have Alice and she was fictitious.
My husband, when interrupted by the children, always stops what he is doing and attends to their needs. This is not because he loves them more than I do, but because (a) his mother never indoctrinated him with the idea that once a task is identified, it should be started and once started, it should be finished; (b) his task that was interrupted usually involves football scores on the internet; and (c) the life sustaining tasks such as cooking, feeding and finding the toy that will stop the world from ending are usually done by me.
When Tercero was born in London, my husband took the bold, innovative and expensive step of buying us an Alice (or at least three quarters of one). Our Alice did not start working for us when I returned to work – she started working for us when I went on maternity leave. For the first time in my life, I had help at home whilst I was at home. It was a present, and an enormous privilege.
I still had to fight my instinct and behave counter indoctrination. I fight this urge to do chores daily. “Hi, my name is duckformation and I’m a chore-aholic. It’s been 9 minutes since my last chore.” Since moving to Canberra and having Newborn, my husband has again insisted we buy an Alice. He jokes that I am much nicer to him when we have help. This is probably true. I am much nicer to him, the children and myself. I still say “I will play with you in five minutes, right after I ….” but I catch myself. On the days when our Alice is around, I stomp on my indoctrination and walk away from the task towards the children. On the days when it is just me and the children, no Alice, I try hard. Sometimes I put the laundry basket down and play their own inter-galactic version of Pet Rescue with them (“Mummy, pretend you are an ewok and you’re injured. I’ll be Diego….). Sometimes I finish the laundry first, the moment passes, and I swear I will never do it again.