The unexpected downside to staying at home with a baby: endless ruddy cleaning
I read the other day that Britney Spears is close to realising her life’s ambition—becoming a stay-at-home mum. According to NW magazine, which I adore in all its trashtastic glory, she will soon marry her manager Jason Trawick and give up the career to keep house. While I in no way compare myself to Britney (her career is worth megamillions and requires her to dash around in fishnets and corsets, mine is worth five dollars and I wore fishnets to a work function just once) I found myself pondering her choice this morning while cleaning my shower, not something Miss Britney probably does all that often.
I don’t intend to wade into the whole stay-at-home mum versus working mum debate; I think you should do whatever works best for you and your family. But I have found my first (nearly) three months of staying at home a bit of a revelation. Not only is it lonely and exhausting but you spend your day cleaning surfaces over and over until your hands dry up and your cuticles bleed. Sleepless nights I expected, this not so much.
I have always been a clean person if not a tidy one. My mother tells me I was a snap to toilet train because I didn’t want to mess up my frilly undies. While I hate food shopping I enjoy choosing cleaning products, with scent being a major selling point. It pleases me to see pristine sponges and unopened bottles of dish-washing liquid in the cupboard under the sink. But when you work outside the home you can keep a certain distance between yourself and your Ajax. One good clean once a week does the business.
When you’re at home every day you can’t ignore the sticky residue on the stove top or the soap scum on the bathroom vanity. And if you’re like me you find that it plagues you, that you feel compelled to do something about it and the next thing you know you’re slathering the richest L’Occitane moisturiser into your hands every night to counteract the effects of orange-scented spray and wipe—and they still feel like parchment paper.
While that’s fairly dispiriting, even worse is the fact that despite your efforts the house doesn’t actually look that good. I am told that while you have children you can just forget your home ever looking like what you imagined in your head when you moved in. My kid is months off being able to move independently, and yet his presence is felt throughout the house. We have a makeshift changing station on the dining table, his play gym is folded and leaning against the wall next to the telly, his bath sits inside our bath, his bouncy chair and pram are accorded the status of pieces of furniture. Detritus moves around the house, seemingly at will—dummies, muslins, hats and socks—attaching itself to shelving units and sideboards and tables, which drives me absolutely bonkers. Unwilling to give in to the mess, I shuffle sleepily from room to room with a chux in hand like one of the undead.
Turns out I aspire to have a home worthy of a spread in Your Home and Garden, to which I recently subscribed. You know the family homes of which I speak: warm and inviting, casual yet polished, funky without being try-hard, rich in New Zealand art and good literature and European electronics. The children who inhabit these homes have names like Maximillian and Cheyenne and play with cool wooden toys that are as stylish as they are educational. The family dogs, and there is always at least one, do not shed or bring mud into the house. Spending the day in one of those homes would be an absolute pleasure, a mini-vacation, and not a jot like a day at ours.
I have a housework-averse friend whose personal philosophy is “Get out, stay out.” If she’s not at home to see the mess, she can’t be expected to clean it, she says. Nor can she add to it. With a tiny baby, I am not as mobile as my friend, though I have given it my best shot. The problem is, when I come home after an hour or two trudging round the mall or drinking coffee with other mums, as I always must, the mess reaches out and smacks me on the nose. It won’t be ignored and I can’t relax until I’ve whizzed round the kitchen with my squirt bottle. Which makes me as much of a nutbag as Britney is alleged to be.
I am trying to get over myself. I am re-reading The 'I Hate to Housekeep' Book by Peg Bracken, a wonderful woman who died about 18 months ago aged 89. She made a name for herself in the 60s and 70s for her laidback approach to 'homemaking'. I Hate to Housekeep, published in 1963, contains chapters called 'Dinner Will Be Ready As Soon as I Decide What We're Having', 'How to be Happy When You're Absolutely Miserable' and 'The Hostess With the Leastest', which I aspire to one day be.
The chapter titled 'Don't Just Do Something, Sit There' ends thusly: "If you put your mind to it, and play your cards right, there are a great many things you don't have to do. Things could be worse, much worse, and let us all remember that, and count our blessings."