It is a well-known fact amongst my friends that much more often than I’d like, the actual, physical chaos of our house (i.e. mess and filth) requires a closed-door policy. By this, I mean that if I didn’t enforce a, “you seriously can’t come in” greeting, Environmental Health would. I spend 90% of my time cleaning and tidying and the remaining 10% panic tidying. I’m on the go pretty much all day, but never seem to crack the issue. Our house is a bombsite 99% of the time, with the remaining 1% coming when we’re on holiday and I’ve spent a fortnight panic-tidying in preparation for not being there. I’ve got an irrational fear of something awful happening when we’re away and then other people having to come in and see how we live. I would love to say that I can always embrace the chaos, but often it’s just overwhelming.
There aren’t enough hours in the day to get the compulsory mundane drudgery done, let alone anything fun. That’s even taking small people out of the equation. I’d like to think that we’re in this situation because I prioritise things I deem more important, especially when it comes to looking after the children, but in reality, it bothers me. The very fact that I have an unhealthy obsession with zooming in on people’s Facebook photos to marvel at how clean their carpets are is testament to that. However, I like to think that I at least attempt to inspire my children with my quick-thinking and resourcefulness. A demonstration of this arose last winter when sheer house-filth and post-Christmas domestic bedlam came into its own.
My youngest son was invited to a local pantomime by a school friend whose parents kindly offered to drop him back home once it had finished. Not a problem at all until the prospect of “the drop off” dawned on me. This particular classmate is an only child and although I have never been inside his house, I would imagine it to be a pristine vision of Farrow and Ball beauty with not a trace of a finger smudge throughout. The boy’s Mum is lovely and although I don’t know her very well, I certainly wouldn’t have her down as the judgemental type. Nevertheless, the thought that they might get an insight to our ransacked, grubby home sent me into overdrive. How I would love to invite them in for a cup of tea (aspirationally, I’m thinking Earl Grey in Orla Kiely mugs) to discuss the merits of the local theatrical production. Sadly, the reality was finding a corner of sticky leather sofa once you’d made it, Indiana Jones style, across the living room for a builders brew in a mug that probably came with an Easter egg in it.
Decision made, I would panic tidy the porch to try and create the impression that there was an inkling of calm, control and cleanliness going on. Light a scented candle, a spray of Dettol and boom, job done. Now all I had to do was make some excuses about not being able to invite them in, poke my son to make his politest thank you and we might be able to get away with this façade. Unfortunately, what I hadn’t taken into consideration was that it was Winter and daylight hours were still at their shortest. Darkness was setting in and and whilst this could have worked to my advantage, the fact that the living room curtains has fallen down (along with a section of ceiling – the joys of living in an old, crumbling house) combined with the full glare of various lighting left us more than a little exposed. As our house is down a long drive, we can usually get away from the prying eyes of neighbours, but any visitors are greeted with a full panoramic view of our messy mayhem. I then had the genius idea of telling the remaining three children that the evening’s entertainment involved an in-house cinema experience, complete with popcorn and total darkness. Under no circumstance were they to turn on the lights or the whole atmosphere would be ruined. If anyone needed a toilet break, they should call me, the usherette, and I would guide them to the nearest facilities by torchlight. Sorted! Everything would be hidden and unlikely to be lit from the glow of the TV screen whilst my son’s chauffeurs would only see the subtle glow of the scented candle in the porch.
In reality, I had spent most of the afternoon feeling sick at the prospect of the revelation of how out-of-control my life and domestic capabilities can be, whilst panic tidying as best I could. When the time came and I saw the car come down the drive, I ran out to the front of the house in the eery darkness to greet them, #3 said thank you and they did a 60-point turn due to the lack of any light source and bade a swift and friendly farewell. The whole exchange was done and dusted in a matter of minutes. It was then that the ridiculousness of the situation dawned on me. It’s so easy as a parent to totally fail to practise what you preach. My children are by and large, well-adjusted, polite and happy kids. I encourage them not to be judgemental. Don’t waste time worrying what other people think or what other people are doing. Be your own person. Only concern yourself with the opinion of those you value and respect and if you value and respect these people, they hopefully won’t be judging you. A wasted afternoon of worry made me realise that I need to take a leaf out of my own book. Take us as you find us. Or failing that, ALWAYS insist on collecting my offspring whenever they’re out.