A tide of children and of mess

It’s hard not to be repulsed when the puppy eats poo, as though something disgusting is happening and I’m powerless to stop it.

When I first saw it happening, I googled –  as you do –  and Mr Google says ‘Don’t worry. It’s normal.’ 

If it persists it could be a sign of not enough nourishment in your puppy’s diet, or a bad habit the puppy develops because you were too strict in stopping said puppy from eating poo in the first place.

It becomes a way for the puppy of getting attention. 

Best therefore to make sure there’s no poo around to act as a temptation.

All of this sits alongside my dis-ease given today we have some people visiting to sign their wills, which my lawyer husband prepared, and I will need to be present as an impartial witness. 

I’m happy to be here. Happy to engage but not in this house, this messy house in which we have lived for the past forty years, this cluttered house whose skirting boards were never finished, with paint chipped at the back door and cracks in the ceilings.

This house which we have stopped maintaining as rigorously as we might ever since we completed a second renovation twenty-five years ago. 

A beautiful house but a tired one. And it shows. A house with wrinkles like an elderly person.

The people coming to have their wills signed live in Vogue living comfort and order and it troubles me that they might judge us as slobs.

It’s not as bad as the house where I lived as a child. Here the dishes are not piled high on the sink. The floors are vacuumed. But the stuff on almost every surface gives it a cluttered feel. 

Years ago, I worked with a woman who worried about hoarding. She’s dead now and I wonder whether her fears of hoarding have made any difference to her in the long run. They did not keep her alive.

I try to think this way about my anxiety over what I imagine to be these judgmental visitors.

I like to welcome people into my house free of the fear that they will find me lacking for something as trivial as a messy house. I prefer people to judge me for my mind.

But my mind is well hidden behind my eyes and face. So, they can’t see it. They can only get hints of what’s in there. Whereas my messy house is obvious. So many things out of place. So many things not put away. 

Speaking of mess, my mother kept a slab of Nulax on top of the fridge in our kitchen which she took out of its orange and brown box daily and broke off a piece. She chewed it for her bowels.

Sluggish bowels she told me, and all I could think of was the word sluggish, like slugs, black and slimy and somehow repulsive to think of down there in her bowels. 

I tried the Nulax once. Revolting stuff, dense dried fruit jam packed with fig and seeds from some non identifiable fruit that stuck in the holes in my teeth. 

Then there’s the absence of emotional mess.

I have a good friend. I shall call her Mary. A good name for a woman with a heart of gold. A woman whom everyone loves. And the fact that everyone loves her – including me – makes me want to hate her. Makes me want to take her place in the beloved states. 

How does she do it? Make it so that people love her and admire her and trust her and offer her their loyalty and trust.

Why do I distrust such goodness? I recognize it as authentic and yet…

Whenever I hear stories about the importance of love and the need to put aside our grievances, to let them slide away, not harbor any resentment or hatred, a part of me rails against the order.

For one thing it seems boring. A life without any acrimony seems saccharin sweet, fake. I enjoy a burst of hatred sometimes, a sense of anger and outrage and feeling of being wounded and nursing my grievance like a comfortable old doll.

I want to hold onto it for a while.

My friend Mary works hard not to hold such grievances. She reckons they foster splitting. She reckons we need to recognize the good in others and not see them simply as the enemy.

She’s right of course. 

I think of a talk I once heard in which the academic talked about the poet John Keats and his ideas on ‘negative capability’. How much Keates despised the absolutist certainties of a certain bigot named Dodds.

Keats wrote letters about this man whom he despised for his certainty and yet in despising him Keats became almost as certain as the man whose certainties Keats despised. 

Such is the paradox of having ideas and inflicting them on others. We get stuck in the same mode. We put these people we hate into some separate category and become hateful ourselves.

How would it be if we were Dalai-like and filled with nothing but love.

Boring, I say. 

Besides, I suspect it’s impossible to be so without any unkindness towards another that you can only see good in everyone.

My mother tried this. It never worked. She hated one of my aunts, one who had married one of her several brothers. My mother could never admit as much. Instead she pointed out my aunt’s flaws behind a wall of concern for her brother that his wife could be so irreligious as to no longer attend Mass on Sundays. 

This aunt had suffered during the war in Indonesia. She had seen her brother shot dead by Japanese soldiers hence her foibles could be forgiven. And my mother tried to give an impression of tolerance. 

I sensed the dislike was mutual. My aunt disproved of my mother in equal measure. For different reasons.

My mother had so many children but was useless at keeping them clean and well fed. My aunt was a nurse. She knew about order. Whereas my mother read books to escape the mess. She found order in the written word and ignored the mess of her kitchen, dishes piled on the sink. Washing squashed down flat in a basket in the corner waiting to be folded. My older sister’s job.

Maybe my mother and I have more in common than I’d like to admit.

We lived in squalor as children and I blamed my mother.

And then years later when we were grown up and had left home, my mother remarried. After my father’s death and she moved into her new husband’s home not far from where we lived on Warringal Road in Cheltenham. My mother kept this new house clean and tidy. 

I could not understand it. How did he do it? And why?

Why didn’t she stretch her lazy habits into her sixties and seventies? 

Only lately it occurs to me, anyone with nine children is going to have a messy house, unless they run it like a military operation, like Captain Van Trapp in The Sound of Music.

No, my mother was doing her best against a tide of children and mess.

Maybe I can likewise forgive myself my clutter.

I too do not live alone, and I will not dedicate my entire life to the stuff of picking up after others, including the puppy. Though once a week I find myself in the back yard collecting her poo. 

8 thoughts on “A tide of children and of mess”

  1. Very nice that you have a close friend who may be called Mary. I have a pretty good idea of where you live and what kind of house. You shouldn’t sweat about living in faded grandeur in such a good area.

  2. If you ever do decide to tidy up, do it because you want to, not because of what your husband’s clients may think. If you don’t that’s fine as well. It’s your house.

  3. I like your blog Elisabeth. I like the way you return to the puppy poo at the end and how you find yourself picking it up. It’s like the inner drive is powerful in your life and that’s why fear of judgement is not enough to make you get too into tidy up mode. When it’s time you’ll do it…

  4. I, also, do not like to be judged. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people I’ve welcomed into my flat who aren’t family or co-habiting with family. Discounting tradesmen and the police the sum total is one on two separate occasions, my next-door neighbour and I think we’d been here about ten years before that initial visit. Then, of course, there was the guy I didn’t invite in but the less said about him the better.

    By nature I’m a tidy person, orderly. I’m not a big cleaner but everything gets a wipe-down eventually. My refuge is my office which is by far the tidiest room in the flat although it’s hard to keep straight due to lack of space. After nearly twenty years of buying stuff and not throwing anything much away space is at a premium and that’s the problem elsewhere: cupboards are full, drawers are full, rooms are full. It’s high time we had a good clear-out but we don’t; we somehow squeeze more in.

    My wife has a high tolerance level for clutter and seems to even relish it at times. I find this odd because I’ve always thought of men as the messy ones leaving everything at their backsides. I certainly used to be like that. Not sure when it all changed but now I find I can’t work if there too much mess around me. I recently re-jigged my desk space and now I have three monitors linked to two PCs which I can work as a single unit thanks to a handy piece of software I stumbled across only. It feels nice, calming. I still have the laptop in the living room of course and the tablet and drift between the three setups all day long: horses for courses.

    ‘Goodness’ isn’t a word I use much. I tend to use ‘nice’ as the go-to standard, the thing to be. I aim to be nice. I aim to be kind and decent too and all the rest but the pinnacle seems to be to be nice. And, yes, nice is usually pretty boring too; nice doesn’t rock the boat. I don’t mind boring actually or if not boring per se then predictable, reliable. The bin men didn’t come on Friday. That disruption to my routine bothered me but what rankled me more was my neighbours being my neighbours and insisting on cramming more black bags into the already-overflowing bins at the front of the flat. I went out on Saturday and did what I could to force them down and stop the magpies ripping them to shreds but there’s nothing more to be done bar wait to see what happens on Monday. I want to berate them but I won’t; you have to get on with people. But, yes, sometimes I think it might be nice (in a very different sense) to vent my spleen only the embarrassment I’d feel for months or even years afterwards wouldn’t be worth it.

  5. A friend suggested fo me the other day, Jim, you can measure the value of a person’s work by the consequences of they’re going on strike. The work of those who collect our garbage would have to be high on the list, however much underpaid, as opposed to some of the people who make the most money. It’s a very unbalanced world and if that doesn’t make you want to rant then nothing will. Thanks, Jim.

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