I have always been pretty houseproud. It is an unshakable throwback to my upbringing. Obviously when I first moved away from home, I lived in a complete slummy shit pit for a year or two out of a combination of sheer laziness and late teenage rebellion, but after that, I settled down.
The values instilled in me through an Irish childhood were firm and unfaltering. Your house should be kept so that if anyone dropped by unexpectedly, you were never embarrassed to show them in. There was always a packet of “posh” biscuits in cupboard for visitors, and any laundry hanging where it could be seen should be in no way compromising. As my husband and I set up home together, I reckoned I was doing rather well at the whole ‘homekeeping’ thing (obvs just copying my Mum). I set the rules, and hubby and I followed them.
The only blip was when my mother in law came to stay. I returned once from a shopping trip to find that she had kindly hung out the washing on the line. This included my underwear. As we lived in a garden flat, this left open the possibility that at least 4 separate households may have seen my undies. Much to the bemusement of my husband and his mother, I screamed, wailed, and vowed to leave the county, so impossible would it be to live down the shame.
We moved (not, I hasten to add as a result of the undies issue), and I had my first child. Aside from some initial difficulties relating to working our how to remove vomit and pooh stains without shrinkage, the home was kept passable, and we were generally presentable. Then my second child arrived. Obviously I had to juggle even harder, but the house was presentable, biscuits were usually in stock, and visitors could always safely be ushered in.
Then, I had twins. When I gave birth to the twins, my other children were aged 3 and 1. No longer were my days spent working part time, keeping the house tidy, cooking meals, and hosting well catered play dates. Instead the house seemed to spiral into some kind of home from hell.
The twins arrived, and my days thereafter were spent slouched on the sofa, boobs hanging out, and twins latched (or not!) in various ridiculous positions in a desperate on my part to attempt to tandem breastfeed. There was no part of my person the baby vom missed. Even if they tandem fed, they did not tandem pooh. They did that in relay, just to keep me on my toes. Meanwhile, the 1 and 3 year old tested the limits of their new found freedom. Favourite games included tossing the entire contents of their bedrooms over the banisters, climbing in and out through the kitchen window using a variety of climbing materials, and drawing on the walls with whatever came to hand. The cereals were re-located in an easy toddler reach cupboard, and the kids just helped themselves, obviously decorating the house in shreddies as they went. Toys were strewn high and low, and laundry piled up in every corner of the house. Microwave meals were the primary food source, and tears were frequent. The antics of the older two gained momentum as they fought harder to gain attention, positive or negative.
I dreaded the doorbell ringing, even though what I wanted most was some company and understanding. When the doorbell did start ringing, I was horrified. Opening it a crack, I would peer out, twin under each arm, boobs a dangling, hoping that the caller would not insist upon coming in. They did insist upon coming in. All of them.
I confess that I was entirely taken by surprise. I was not immediately labelled a social pariah due to the squalid conditions, mountains of laundry and lack of any biscuits, let alone “posh” ones. No-one even mentioned the boob thing. Instead, my friends set about working out where everything was kept, making tea and coffee, sticking on loads of laundry and tidying toys. So great was my exhaustion, and relief at the help, that I just let it happen, while quietly telling myself that I had probably irreparably failed on some deep social level.
As the children grew, it got gradually easier. Play dates were arranged, although the house was always far from pristine. It turns out no-one cared that much, or in fact at all. Most friends brought their own biscuits as they knew that even if I had made it to the shops, the kids would probably have long since eaten any snacks I had bought. One day, during a particularly difficult time, a friend dropped by to hand me a bag. In it was a pizza, garlic bread, bottle of wine, chocolate, and some baby food puréed for the twins. Never has a gift been so gratefully received, and frankly, never will it be forgotten. That night, I cried at the fact that I had such bloody wonderful friends.
Another friend realised my struggle in getting all 4 dressed and out for the school run, so kindly collected Patch and delivered him to school every day. This saved me literally around an hour a day getting everyone up, dressed, coated, booted, prammed and to school.
The older kids are 6 and 4, and the twins are now 2 1/2. I am now able to help others out. I take friends kids after school and at weekends (frankly, once you have 4 very small people, a few extra don’t make much difference). I insist on making my friends meals at any given opportunity, often much to their bemusement. If I can help them out, I will, although it feels like I will never be able to repay the loyalty I was shown.
What I can’t do is keep the house clean and tidy, and the laundry under control. The thing is, although it does cause me some stress, it is nothing like it used to be. I have learned that true friends do not judge you by the state of your home, or even your “posh” biscuits (although they apparently help!) They are your friend because you are yourself.
Last week, my husband and I were off work with the kids, and decided to undertake a major gardening project with the help of a mini digger, stump grinder, and some friends (gluttons for punishment and all that!). It was fun, but fucking hell was it messy. Obviously it rained for the first 3 days. The kids fell in mud, we fell in mud, there was more mud than I have ever seen, and most of it seemed to be inside my house. The kids went through at least 10 changes of clothes each per day, and helped themselves to food if I didn’t meet their demands quickly enough. The result was a scene of complete devastation. As I surveyed the damage late one afternoon, concluding that it was probably easier just to move house than to try and tackle the mess, I saw a brush whizzing past me round the kitchen with one of my friends attached. Next I saw the dishwasher open, and dishes start clinking into it at a rate of knots. Momentarily, it was like a scene from a Disney movie. Then I realised that my friends, despite having given up their day to help work in my garden, were not just going home. They were cleaning.
This gave me the impetus I needed to join in. It did take a good hour and a half, but between us, we got the place looking clean and tidy before crashing on the sofa with a bottle of wine (or 2, or 3!). As we did so, I felt so truly blessed to have such amazing friends. Of course I am still houseproud, but I have come to accept that I cannot do it all. I have 4 small children and work part time. My house is a bit of a shambles, but I know that my real friends will not judge me by that.
The moral of this little tale? Parenting is really tough. Some people will have nice clean houses, nice clean kids, and look like they are in control. Good for them. If you are not one of them, so what?!? No-one is going to refuse a cup of coffee and a playdate because you have a backlog of laundry or your floor is not swept. They will probably be thinking “Thank fuck someone else finds it as hard as me!”.