Tuesday, August 07, 2012

And the think that he thunk...


I have a guilty confession to make - I've just purchased one of those wooden board signs that has a little message or mantra on it. You know, the kind that says 'You are the milk in my coffee, the shoelace in my sneaker, the sick bucket when I read this schmaltz.' OK, so mine isn't of that particular ilk, something my high school art teacher would call a definitive example of kitsch. But the one I happened upon has a message on it I liked, and I thought I might get away with putting it in a house by the sea. The message is one I keep coming back to in my own interior musings - the need to simplify. And I like the idea of cooking, or sitting on the loo (I've yet to decide where I'm going to put it), and meditating on those words.

There's something about being on holiday or indeed sleeping on a friend's sofa in a time of need that teaches you an important lesson: You do not need a bunch of stuff to live, and I'd go further and say you do not need a bunch of stuff to be happy. It's often the simplest things that make us happiest, and indeed simplifying the way we live and the way we approach things is fundamental to finding some sort of centerdness or peace I think. At least this is true for me. 

Back in London and keeping with the theme of simplifying, I'm seriously considering getting one of those home organiser people in ahead of our house move next year. You know, the kind you see on Oprah, only less irritating. I want someone to help me organise my house because I feel overwhelmed by all the stuff I have to sort through. I remind myself that the clutter is a direct result of not actually having time on my hands to sort through it regularly, because I have two small children, one of which is a toddler that is not in nursery and who has recently dropped his daytime nap. And then there is the small matter of me having an unhealthy need to accumulate that I don't quite understand. We also have a garage full of things that was previously in storage that my husband is threatening to get rid of en masse. Some of the boxes contain my diaries (a lifelong compulsion to document long before blogs were invented), and there's the usual old household stuff from both my husband and my previous lives etc. But an hour here and there is not going to cut it, I genuinely need a week to deal with it, and then probably some more on top to eBay some things. That's why maybe it might just be easier to get some help - someone who is not going to spend an hour musing over the nostalgia of a pile of old dusty stuff, but just sort it out matter of factly, and hopefully, quickly.

To my credit, I have began to put some things onto a website called Freegle - which allows people to give away or ask for things but without any money involved. Basically a recycling system. If you need a baby stair gate or a table for your garage etc, someone on there is bound to have one they are getting rid of. I imagine there is the odd reprobate that gets free stuff only to go and sell it on eBay, but as with most situations in life I think the majority of people are inherently honest and it's only a handful by comparison, that aren't. I also figure that if someone is really hard up and takes something from me only to sell it and use the money to say, stave off the menacing advances of a muscled debt collector, then who am I to judge right? It all comes down to the same thing in the end - helping people out.

In the last month, my children have started to play together. Not parallel play, but interactive play. My son turned two in May, and come to think of it I remember my daughter moving from parallel to interactive play around that time too. It's a joy, genuinely. For the most part they get on really well - and their play involves her dictating some overly complicated rules which he ignores. But mostly he is just happy to be a part of whatever she is doing. Sounds a bit like the modern relationship between men and women right? Sometimes their play is more wrestle mania than happy families, but they are playing and interacting and I can really see their relationship taking shape. She recently told me that one day she will pay him to be the father of her children. I considered launching into a discussion detailing the downside of doing business with family, but opted instead for an 'Oh really? Well that sounds interesting,' response. I have to confess this is fast becoming my rote response to a lot of the quirkier things she comes up with these days.

I recently watched the film Cinema Vertite - a film about the first reality TV show following a family in 1970's America. A true story. None of the staged rubbish you see today that bills itself as 'reality TV', but genuine documentary stuff, warts and all. And they weren't paid, which I think makes all the difference on both sides of the arrangement. 

Overridingly it's about the breakdown of a marriage and breakup of the family, which was purely coincidental. I.e. at the outset the producer wanted to make a documentary about a typical (albeit middle class) family, and while they are making it, the wife finds out about her husband's numerous infidelities and the marriage unravels in front of the cameras. So it's not exactly cheerful stuff, although there are definitely some lovely moments. What I took away from it was the closeness of the family, especially the children - of which there were four. Whenever I see big families I think to myself, 'Ah, it would be nice to have a big(ger) family.' But (and there's always a but with me when it comes to this), I think I'm done with having babies. Perhaps if my husband and I had met earlier and started having our children earlier, then maybe, but not now.

We are just over the hump of that really tough baby and teetering injury prone toddler stage, and while my son cannot yet be trusted on his own (he has the knack of a bloodhound for sniffing out electrical wires or carefully hidden bottles of bleach), I can now put the children into my bedroom with a bunch of toys or Diego on my iPad and steal a quick shower. Make that a very quick shower. And with them playing together it's even easier. They also now play together while I cook, which is a heaven send.

There are moments I look at the two of them and wish I could bottle this time. A time, while exhausting, where my children are so incredibly loving and cute and in need of me. And while there are days I'd love to just sit and read a copy of Vanity Fair with my feet up instead of managing WW III between them, I remind myself that this time when your children think you are everything, and are desperate for your touch and to be in your company, and to please you, and for you to acknowledge how special they are, and where they ask you to sing for them and sing along with you, and they run around naked, and think it's uproariously funny when you tell them they have smelly bottoms, and well I could go on. All of this, in the broader scheme of things, constitutes a very small window in your life and theirs. And it's wise to acknowledge this, slow down, be present, and enjoy it. The other stuff - the vacuming, the laundry, the magazine reading, the sorting out of boxes - all of that crap can wait. It will be there tomorrow and it will always be there. Whereas this time, this right now, will not.

I struggle even to remember, in a tangible physical sense, my daughter as a baby. I have photos and films I've made, but even those are somehow fleeting and transient, as the moments themselves. It reminds me of a couple of years ago sitting in an airline lounge - my husband and I each with a child on our laps either reading to them or playing dollies. And another family with older children at the opposite table - every family member on a device of sorts - the iPad, the iPhone, the Nintendo - everyone absorbed in his or her activity and not really communicating. The mother and I looked at each other with what felt like a mutual thought: 'That looks like bliss'.

I hear the thoughts of the mothers and fathers reading this who say, 'Yes, that's all very well and fine, but we still need the time outside of our children to do things; work, run a house, study, have an uninterrupted thought etc' and I agree. My son will start nursery come September - three hours in the morning. And you bet your bottom dollar I will be having a coffee with my friends on ocassion, one I will get to finish without raisins being dropped in it, and without having to stop my son from struggling out of his high chair in an attempt to run wild. I will start sorting through my cluttered house. I will start getting my book together and start sourcing potential publishing houses (and anticipate the inevitable rejection letters). I will call friends I have long since deserted. I will reply to emails. I might even sneak in the occasional cookery class. Oh yes, and I will probably get on with work I have promised people and failed to deliver, months, years ago. 

And in and amongst all of this I am also going to try and find a moment to just, you know, breathe. I think that might be interesting.

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