The stuff of families

My husband’s brother dropped in
this morning, too early for my liking. 
I find myself trying to work off my resentment as I offer him a cup of
tea.  
My husband has gone for a
shower while I make small talk.  My brother in law sits at the table.  his boots scuff at the floor.
My husband supports my wish to
write uninterrupted in the morning. 
He cannot help that his brother arrives early before he, my husband, has even had a
chance to dress.  
My brother in law
knows the drill.  He knows that
after I have said my hellos and poured him a cup of black and sugar free tea, I
will leave the kitchen and escape to my writing room. 
He knows this and seems
sanguine about it but I am troubled by what seems to me like rudeness. 
You do not leave guests
unattended.  
My husband will join
his brother in a few minutes and then I can close the door on them both and get into my
own world, but for a moment I am riddled with the guilt that comes of not being
hospitable.
 
How would it be today had my
husband’s brother not suffered trauma at birth all those years ago?  Had he not been starved of oxygen as he
first entered the world?  Had he
not been born with a mild form of cerebral palsy?
My husband’s brother grew up
the oldest of six children but the responsibilities of first born fell to my
husband who came next.  These
responsibilities continue to this day.  
My brother in law passes all his correspondence onto my husband who
sifts through, sorts out and fills out forms as necessary, ever since their
parents died nearly twenty years ago.
My husband and I laughed when a
bowel cancer test kit arrived earlier week, redirected to my husband by his
brother.
 
‘I can fill out the forms,’ my
husband told his brother on the phone, ‘but I can’t take the test for you.’
‘You’ll have to tell me what to
do then,’ my brother in law said, and my husband groaned at the
thought.
This is the stuff of
families.  The stuff we do without
question even as we might sometimes resent it.

That beast called housework

I missed my opportunity to write first thing this morning and I am out of kilter. The last two days have not been easy. The house seems dirtier then usual and more of a mess given my cleaning lady’s absence these past two weeks, given the difficulties we have of keeping the dog outside, and given the three cats. Given that I’m not interested in keeping up with the housework – I could do it but it would take most of my spare time and I would resent it as countless generations of women have resented it before me – not a lot gets done these days and we live in perpetual clutter.

Mothers are meant to do everything – to cook and to clean, to nurture children, to keep order, to contain pain, to assuage anxiety, to bake cakes and to weed gardens, to paint walls and to set tables, to serve drinks and to hear homework, to nag adolescents and to be flexible at the same time in our approach to them.

The list is endless and after nearly thirty years of being a mother, I am beginning to flag in the housework stakes. I am happy to be the mother of adult and adolescent children, and a grandmother to boot, but I cannot keep a tidy house anymore. Not when I work full time, struggle to complete a PhD part time and want desperately to write in my spare time.

I cannot keep it up. I cannot meet everyone’s needs and expectations. I cannot keep peace between my husband and his daughters when they clash, as well as deal with my own clashes with my daughters and husband, which happen equally often. I cannot be a good and cooperative helpful and deeply intimate wife and mother when I have so much to do, when I have no longer the desire of my pre-children self, when my husband and I used to chat each night for hours and hours, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine till late.

We do not smoke anymore and I cannot drink as I used to drink. I must limit my intake. I no longer enjoy nor can I manage huge feasts of three or four courses. I simply cannot hold it in. My stomach has shrunk. My appetite exists only for writing and blogging and working as a therapist and relating to people, those close to me and those further afield, but I cannot provide my children with a spic and span house, not that my husband expects it, though he’d love it if I tried harder and he thinks that I should have trained my/our daughters to do more housework themselves, instead they expect me to take on the entire load.

All this of course is my own fault. I determined when they were little that I would not impose upon them the same demands imposed upon me and my siblings especially the girls in terms of housework. I especially determined that I would not expect any of my children to grow up like my older sister who had to do all the housework, cook most of the meals and raise the small children in the absence of our mother who was away at work and both unable and perhaps a little unwilling to take up the load herself.

My older sister did it all or so it seemed to me. She was like a substitute wife. I determined I would not put my children in such a position. But in matters such as these we tend to go to the opposite extreme.

Someone has to do the housework. It will not go away. It is a relentless beast and one that will not succumb to wishing.

In recent weeks I have been watching the old TV series, Upstairs Downstairs. They had it worked out in those days it seems, the housework, that is, not the class relations. They were a disaster.