Tales of a 21st Century Housewife… (Or, Dobby the House Elf wants her sock back.)

‘Work’

Noun Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result

Verb Being engaged in activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result, esp in one’s job; do work

‘Job’

Noun A paid position of regular employment

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This is the first ‘proper’ blog that I have written in a few weeks. Reason being that I have simply been far too busy to find time to sit down and write anything. The busyness has led to tiredness and the tiredness has led to a distinct sense of collapsation (a little word I’ve made up there) in the general direction of the sofa in the evening. This is followed by a similar collapsation into the land of Bedfordshire not long after, and then a stumble back out of said land approximately eight hours later.

“What can Lushnessblog do that tires her out so?” I hear you ask. Well, Lushnessblog is a stay-at-home mummy, who tutors part-time, but is nonetheless – for want of a more contemporary term – a ‘housewife’. I have been trying to decide if I think that this is ‘work’, and I most definitely, very conclusively, do. I am sure there are many who would disagree (perhaps many males or females who perform the ‘traditional’ role of main wage earner?) and that is fine. But based on the above definition of work, I maintain that what I do, day to day, constitutes work. It’s physical, it’s mental, it’s often tedious, and it’s frequently knackering. It is also unpaid of course – unless you constitute my husband’s majority financial provision for our family as ‘payment’.

When I had my first daughter I went back to work full-time as a teacher in secondary school. I was a head of department and was writing a book at the time having already contributed to a series of textbooks. I also worked 40 miles away from home so had quite a drive. This was especially tiring on days when we had meetings or evening events at school, generally meaning I could get home as late as 10pm, having left the house at 6.30am, but that was my choice and I loved it. I like being busy and I like working hard. I thrive on busyness and a healthy level of stress. I can’t bear to be bored and, if I’m completely honest, there were aspects to being a first-time mother that I found to be unspeakably dull. I don’t feel bad saying that – doing housework whilst a newborn sleeps is something that I refuse to think of as scintillating. So back to work I went. Even now the afternoon stretch between 3pm and 6pm seems as though it lasts for eons. The witching hours of motherhood. Perhaps it’s different if you didn’t work before you had children, or if you weren’t keen on what you did do? Everyone has different goals in life and different ideas of what constitutes family and home-life and priorities. But I missed teaching, and so back I went. There is also a certain Groundhog Day element to raising children: you can predict and pre-empt what they are going to ask/pester for, when they’re going to do it, and their reaction to your response. This can test the patience of a saint, and I am far from saintly.

After our youngest daughter was born (and the eldest was more interesting by virtue of being able to speak etc) my husband and I decided that I would stay at home. Or rather, I decided it and he supported it. He seems to enjoy knowing that he’ll come home to a household that’s run like a smoothly oiled machine and he does his part around the house. Basically, I facilitate their lives: work, school, social and home. When he and the kids get the place in a total state at the weekends, I am not adverse to pointing out that I suspect it would piss him off were I to go outside and trash the garden the next time he’s spent five hours sorting and tidying it. Same with the house. I make zero mess as I constantly tidy up after myself (and my family). If they make a mess, I expect some tidying to occur in return. I am not Dobby the House Elf – and if I were, I’d want my bloody sock back.

Essentially, I have given up a very successful career in education (and my pension thus far) to perform menial tasks around the house. I have many friends with husbands who certainly think that being at home is easier and is not work, but that depends on your personal preferences and your definition of ‘work’. I don’t know many men who would wish to give up the career they’ve toiled away at so they could wipe arses and clean floors all day, whilst acting as a social secretary, occasionally having their brains bored out, and barely finding a minute to urinate alone in amongst it all. If my husband thinks my being at home is easy then a.) he wouldn’t admit it, b.) his occasional lack of patience with the kids at the weekend (“I don’t know how mummy copes with this day in, day out!”) suggests not, and c.) he adores his job and has worked/does work his backside off to get where he is – he wouldn’t want to give it up to stay at home. We did discuss the possibility, years ago, but both agreed he’d hate it.

I can imagine how it must seem. After all, I’ve done the rise at 5.30am, leave at 6.30am, return at 6.30pm, work at home in the evening, do it all again tomorrow. But that does have benefits. Progression for example, satisfaction, a wage, escaping the undeniable irritation of your own children, a sense of purpose and meaning, being thought of as worthwhile and feeling worthwhile, and so on. Perhaps it seems, to the partner who is leaving in the morning, that the grass is greener on the stay-at-home side of the fence. And this in itself creates an issue – because many couples appear to think of it as a competition of ‘who has it harder’ or ‘who is more tired’. That’s not my point at all: I simply think housewifery needs appreciation, just as appreciation is given to those who go out to work.

In fact, I would categorically and happily state that my husband has it harder. Absolutely. Because at least I am in control of what I’m doing, and I don’t have the occasionally sickening and stressful sense of responsibility that comes with a successful career. Nor do I have the paperwork, deadlines or the targets to meet that I once did. But it’s not to say that I don’t miss all that. In fact, I used to thrive on it. But as far as I am concerned my children will only ever be this little once. And I want to be there dropping them at the school door and making their lunches and watching their nativity plays with ease, and without having to juggle a thousand other tasks, ones that I am paid for, around this. Because one day of course I shall go back to ‘work’, yet I’ll still have to do all of the household tasks that I do now. My husband won’t suddenly start doing them because he’ll still be going to work: the only difference is that I will be going to work as well as running the household. Similar of course to the weekends; for if you’re the stay-at-home one then there is no break at the weekend… it’s same old, same old.

I do gain a sense of satisfaction by running our home and am happy to admit it. I love caring for and nurturing my family. Indeed, I love them more than I ever dreamt it was possible to love anyone or anything when I was younger. I enjoy making the home nice for them, I try to ensure that they eat healthy(ish) foods and that they have a safe environment in which to grow up. I like the busyness (I’d go bonkers without it) and I also run the Pass It On Book Club, write the Lushnessblog, gym/run/spin my ass off, work on my novel when there’s time etc, because I want to retain a sense of self throughout it all.

And so, with all of this in mind, here is a typical day as a stay-at-home mummy:

5.45am: Wake up with husband’s alarm.

6.20/30am: Get up. Lovely husband will have provided breakfast to girls and unloaded dishwasher. These are his designated tasks. Small but actually surprisingly helpful to the running of the day.

6.30am til 8am: Clean downstairs (clean kitchen and oven top, put washing on, wash-up anything left over from night before, sweep and mop floors, clear breakfast things away, disinfect loo seats and handles, wash up pets’ bowls, empty litter trays and so on) make packed lunches, let chickens out if husband has not done so, break up fights between daughters, fight with daughters myself to get them to tidy up the toys they’ll have scattered around the house in the morning, keep beady eye on puppy who is being house-trained, go upstairs at 8am.

8am – 8.35am: Shower, clean shower, dress self, order children back and forth and ask them to dress themselves. Congratulate eldest on getting dressed on time, repeat to youngest that she is old enough to dress herself. Tell girls to brush their teeth as begin to brush own teeth. Tell youngest to stop trailing around upstairs semi-undressed weeping “Get me dreeeeeeeessed” and encourage her to “Dress your (in my head “bloody”) self, you’re a big girl now” on a repeated loop until she gives in and does so. Tell eldest not to be smug re: already being dressed and having brushed her teeth before youngest is even sporting pants. Clean sink which is already smeared with blue toothpaste and spit. Attempt to unblock toilet which is not flushing properly after eldest tries to put entire loo roll down it. Do so using the toilet brush (only implement to hand other than toothbrushes) and bleach – may as well multi-task. Call girls in to my room to do their hair. Send girls back out to their rooms to choose hairbands. Call them back in. Get shoved aside in youngest’s bid to be “me first, me first”. Tell eldest to stop singing to herself in mirror and preening and get over to me to have her hair done. Prevent youngest from taking eldest’s hairband of choice and putting it slyly in her pocket to wind eldest up. Breathe sigh of relief as final hairband goes in and send both girls downstairs to put shoes on and collect bags etc.

8.35-8.40am: Get downstairs myself, girls not in shoes but tussling over book bags. Attempt, repeatedly, to leave house. Practise deep breathing exercises taught at yoga to no avail. Battle way out of door after trying to persuade youngest not to take her giant buggy on school run (with foul and creepy china doll sat in it) and fail miserably. Side-step dog shit all the way to school and deposit eldest. Patiently try to stop daughters fighting at classroom door over whether eldest has kissed youngest goodbye (she has) and try to get youngest to share her buggy with my good friend’s little girl (she does, intermittently).

8.45am: Try to discuss day’s plans with said good friend outside gate of house. Prevented from doing so by our respective youngest offspring, both of whom conspire mercilessly against us. I am ordered by mine (who is behind the gate on sentry duty) to either “Say the password mummy. SAY IT”, (usually ‘squishy poo’) or to jump on demand. Up and down. In front of passersby. Find myself doing it for an ‘easy’ life. Ha.

8.50am-9.10am: Complete household tasks by putting more washing on, putting other washing into tumble dryer, all the while fending off youngest who is begging for a snack despite having left her breakfast mostly untouched. Shove a breadstick in her general direction whilst cleaning up encrusted porridge from tablecloth. Leave for pre-school.

9.15am: Deliver youngest to pre-school (depending on what day of the week it is. She attends for two and a half days).

9.20am: Arrive at gym. Workout (whether run/spin class/general workout/body balance class) until approx 11am. If in spin class I am accompanied by-proxy by my children as the remnants of baby-belly bounce off my upper thighs whilst leaning forwards and low in hand position 2.

11am: Return home. Put washing in tumble drier after emptying it. Put new washing from gym session in to wash. Possibly begin to strip bedding etc to wash and change. Put away previous two loads of washing at some stage and sweep floors again as cats/dog bring all kinds of crap (occasionally literal) in with them. Often begin to make costumes for endless fancy dress days at school: recent highlights include a papier mache eyeball for Space Day that I mounted onto a stick with a spring in it on the top of a hairband. No easy task I can tell you! Hoover upstairs quickly and damp dust surfaces. Make various phone calls (eg: hairdresser to get appointment for husband, drama club arrangements for eldest etc). Catch up with emails and book club admin.

Midday: Leave house by either car or bicycle and pedal/drive off to shops in search of either food items or to get cash out for various school payments that are required, eg: eldest daughter’s French Club, return library books, pick up treats for kids if we have girls’ friends over for tea, pay bills in bank etc etc – general household/admin tasks.

2pm: Return home. Make swift lunch eg: avocado on spelt crackers. Guzzle lunch. Complete putting washing away. Wash-up bits and bobs from lunch, or unload dishwasher if second load has been done. Sort admin bits and ensure house ready to brave after-school assault from children. Get ready to collect youngest from pre-school.

2.45pm: Collect youngest. Get given an inch high stack of ‘art’ that she has created. Take her home, all the while practising deep breathing again in face of over-tired four year old. Go indoors, get asked for snack, say the same as I say every day, “We’re collecting your sister in a minute, you can have something after”, whilst simultaneously opening recycling bin for surrepticious disposable of some of the ‘art’ and cleaning out lunch bag number one. Repulsive task; offensive to all senses. Yoghurt, cheese, blackened banana, all scraped from crevices and disinfected. Leave house to get eldest.

3.15pm: Collect eldest. Break up fights all the way home. Try to hurry youngest and giant buggy out of the way of stream of hundreds of rushing parents and children with equally unsuitable-for-the-school-run toys. Lose an ankle to wheels of giant buggy. Question why I allow her to take it, knowing I am a fool. Go through gate rigmarol at home – password, jumping, poo (say it, not do one) etc. Get indoors, repeat lunch bag horror, empty book bags, refill with cash and school paperwork, get snacks for hungry girls, ensure things ready to start tea. Suggest girls play nicely. Leave room to make drink and urinate. Return before completion of either task to break up fighting and practise diplomacy skills. Try to back out of room. Return to cries of hair-pulling/punching/pinching/sitting in front of TV and I CAN’T SEEEE IT MUMMEEEEE. Finally leave successfully, have wee, never manage drink. Girls finally lose selves in make believe games for blissful fight-free play. Begin to cook tea, clean floors again, dish up tea, get bossed about “I need a drink”, “SAY PLEASE”, “I need more milk”, “SAY PLEASE”, “I’m finished”, “ASK NICELY TO GET DOWN FROM THE TABLE”, “What’s for afters?”, “GET BACK UP AT THE TABLE”, and so on. Clean table down – industrial hose needed depending on meal – pray for husband to return. Check time. Only 5pm. Up for baths. Run bath, break up fights, get girls in, wash their hair, listen them to weep about the water being “TOO HOT/COLD/WET”, drag combs through hair as youngest whimpers despite entire truckload of conditioner being used. Remove children, help them to get dry, brush their teeth, dress them, dry their hair, break up fights, take them downstairs, wait for husband. Adore the sleepy little snuggly children in jammies. Experience joy at hearing front door and all charge to daddeeeeeeeee joyously (all for different reasons hahaha). Rugby pass children to husband, drag exhausted self upstairs, get back in now clean gym clothing and head back to evening spin class or body balance class – or go to work and teach Maths and English depending on the day of the week.

7.30pm/8.30pm (depending on class): Return from class and shower. Make dinner. Tidy up from dinner. COLLAPSE.

The best part is that this is a quiet day – the ones when my youngest is not in pre-school, or things such as hospital/dentist/smear tests/car MOT etc take place with a four year old in tow are chaos.

‘Work’

Noun Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result


Yep, sounds like work to me.