For three days last week my son B (3) was ill. Nothing serious, he was bright in himself, but enough to keep him from his mornings at nursery. Apart from the school runs that top and tail the day, I didn’t leave the house. I didn’t go outside the village boundary. That might sound limiting, but it was great.
One of the benefits of being a stay at home mum is that when a child is ill it doesn’t cause huge logistical problems, you can just go with it – and actually enjoy it. I lit the fire, made the house cosy, and enjoyed being at home. It was good to be forced to stop chasing around, to drop out of the world for a while. I noticed the autumn colours in the garden and brought some inside, putting berries in a jar. B, a great independent player, created fantastic wooden train tracks across the floor. J loved having a brother at home. They rolled a ball around the floor, giggling with each other. At 18 months J is interacting wonderfully with B; their relationship is a joy as they communicate through smiles and giggles.
I’m creating a picture of domestic bliss, but there was a problem: I couldn’t stop working. B said “mummy, will you play with me” and I answered “when I’ve finished these jobs”. But the jobs never seemed to end. What was I doing? Putting washing in the machine, hanging it out, folding it, ironing. Cooking meals and clearing them up. Cleaning the fire and laying it. Tidying up and sorting out. All the usual housework. Why couldn’t I just stop and enjoy playing with them?
The problem is that normally my day is segmented, carved up by deadlines and routine. I have to slot my chores into the increments of time available between school runs, nursery runs, J’s sleep and mealtimes. It was so tempting to grab the opportunity of clear hours between the school runs to catch up with all those jobs which don’t fit into my normal units of time.
Some things can be done together – I’ve been trying to tidy the garden ready for winter and B was been great at sweeping up leaves. But some things took me away from them, leaving them clamouring for my attention. On day two, aware of my absence, I sat and did puzzles with them. J leant across my lap and smiled up at me and B chatted and chatted about what he was doing, the pieces he was searching for, delighting in my attention. It was an important reminder of what being a mother can be about.
Blogging too can be a distraction, although I try to reserve that for the evenings when they are asleep. I feel many conflicting emotions about my writing-blogging-communicating obsession, but I do believe there are advantages. Reflecting on events and developing ideas is important mental therapy for me and thinking about and writing this post has made me focus on certain facts: That T is now 6, B soon 4 and J no longer a baby at 18 months. That they will grow out of these precious first years too quickly. That if I am not careful those unique opportunities will be lost in the endless round of chores. So I need to put a note on my “to do” list to stop and enjoy my family before they are all at school and there’s no daytime chatter left in the house to distract me from all those tasks (blogging included) which seem so endlessly important. It’s not realistic to play all the time – the washing has to be done and it’s my job to do it – but I don’t want to look back and think I processed my children through the years rather than properly appreciating them.