As I write, the early evening sunshine pours into my living room. It warms my feet and cheers my heart. It has been a long winter. It also illuminates the handprints on each window and makes the dust smotes dance. On the floor, alongside toys, books, ousted cushions from the sofa and an abundance of stationary, is a small pile of sand that a child has emptied, with cheerful insouciance, from a bucket. There is a liberal smattering of cat hair on most surfaces. This week, people, I have lived in even greater squalor than normal.
Should anyone call at the door, my first instinct would be to feel aghast as they witnessed the mess within. ‘Sorree!’ I would say, frantically lifting items in a futile attempt to cover up the chaos.
As if they cared. My friends know of my disdain for housework, and they still call to see me, and are (I think) judgement free. (I’d like to add that I up my game in the kitchen and pride myself on good hygiene there. I don’t think any guests who’ve dined here have fallen victim to food-poisoning. Yet.)
But I think we’re all far too hard on ourselves. Self-deprecation is inbuilt into our psyche here in Northern Ireland. I spend my life worrying if I’ve possibly offended someone, and apologise about everything.
When I was a trainee teacher I sometimes got a lift to school with other teachers, many of whom were the age I am now, with small children. ‘Sorree!’ they’d yelp as I climbed into their car, stepping over juice cartons and sitting on bits of squashed apple. They would apologise for their choice of radio station; the fact they were two minutes late, and the litany would continue almost by way of a greeting for the first part of the journey. And I never cared about any of it; I was just super grateful I didn’t have to take two buses to get to school.
I mean, I know there’s limits, but I think a messy house and a slightly unkempt look suggest that we’re getting some things right. The muddy boots show that my kids can frolic at the park the way kids are supposed to of an afternoon, rather than sit hypnotised before a screen. The floor littered with toys shows that they can play creatively. Cluttered surfaces may not be aesthetically pleasing, but they prove that I’ve been writing or running, not cleaning and tidying.
And I know cats love to wreck the place: leaving hair over everything and sharpening their claws on the suite and Izzy’s personal favourite, ripping up the carpet; but they do add a homeliness which I think a feline-free house lacks.
Homes which are exceptionally tidy trigger a deep unease in me, especially if said home belongs to a family with children. Years ago I heard a story which I hope to God was exaggerated. Midwives at a local clinic were concerned about a baby which hadn’t shown much animation or development at any of its routine checks. When a nurse called unexpectedly one afternoon, she soon discovered why. The house was spotless and the mother was busy hoovering when the nurse called. When she enquired as to where the baby was, she saw the carrycot….. under a coffee table. The baby lie inside, awake but mute. This was where it spent its day, while the mother kept the house pristine around it.
That tale still gives me the shivers.
While I wish I could get my pair to their confine their artistic endeavours to paper and not furniture, and to stop taking my things so I feel I’m being gas-lighted, some of their mischievous antics make me smile. Slightly. So to steal the line from the current breast-feeding campaign: ‘Sorry, not sorry.’ Maybe we need to stop apologising and get on with living.