I am new to this and I started late.
I gave birth for the first time (a prima gravida no less) at 43. Before that I was a ‘career woman’, of sorts, though I didn’t know it then, and had lived a largely independent, self-sufficient life.
Now I am a housewife. A housewife! What an odd thing to be in the 21st century. This is now my job, wife to the Engineer and charged with 'running the house'. It occurs to me, with a shudder, that perhaps this means I should wash the cushion covers. But I justify my apparent lack of productivity with the notion that I am here primarily to bring up our baby son – Snooks - who has just turned 10 months old, a turning point at which most of the mothers of his cohort are returning to work.
This leaves me in a rather freakish groove. Staying at home to bring up baby is not de rigueur these days and I am viewed by my peers with some pity and suspicion for my choice.
Not rich by any means (in fact the Engineer’s employment, like many others, has been somewhat precarious of late) we decided together that this would be my new job.
I am asked if I get bored and have often borne in grim silence, the remark that it would be ‘good to use your brain occasionally’. I do wonder how these other apparently brain-dead mothers manage the daily circus without engaging theirs. One can only guess.
The truth is, each day seems to offer some new mental challenge requiring gymnastics of the organisational kind, and sometimes even physical, to perform the simplest of tasks while caring for a frantic minor.
Here is a for-instance. While bathing Snooks the other night, I noticed he had the toenails of a small koala having never had them trimmed since his birth. The fingernails are hard enough to tackle. I had not contemplated the feet. Covered in shame, a familiar garment since motherhood among the supermums arrived, I set to it the next day. All dressed and washed the following morning, (Snooks that is; I now have to wait my turn) my son sat for a second watching curiously as I drew his feet onto my lap. He then made for the toy box, managing a 180-degree revolution while I still held his foot in my lap. Clipping those tiny toenails is hard enough, but with the near sight of a post 40 year old, it is a dangerously hit and miss affair.
Just at the point that I growled at him and saw his face freeze in confusion, I remembered how difficult it is to entrust one’s toes to another person armed with a sharp instrument. I know this because I reluctantly hand over my feet once in a while to the Engineer who cuts my toenails with a pair of small side-cutters, which he insists are more accurate and of course much sharper than nail scissors. I have to practise some kind of meditation and prayer to leave my foot in his capable hands for the duration of the operation. The urge to withdraw it is overwhelming.
So, I did what all good stay-at-home mums do: I put the telly on. Perched on the settee, entranced by what seemed to be some kind of stuffed horse who had the job of keeping the donkeys in order on the beach (I wasn’t really watching), Snooks sat in still serenity while I pedicured away. I hugged and kissed him with relief and gratitude when it was all over, provoking a puzzled, patient smile from the child.
Inconsistency, I thought to myself. Inconsistent parenting. This is what produces the criminal, the violent, the withdrawn-suddenly-burst-out-one-day-psychopathic adult. I am bad at this, I thought.
Dragging my poor dulled brain out of its lethargy, I turned to a book I have been reading recently about how my child’s brain is actually physically shaped by these very early experiences – shaped in a way which will determine his ability to cope emotionally for the rest of his life, and was relieved to find the word ‘chronic’. I have to be consistently inconsistent to really fuck him up.
It is not like, as one friend put it, I am sitting him in front of the television each day while I lean out of the window smoking and texting my boyfriend.
I resolve never ever to be cross with him again, pull him onto my knee to cuddle and kiss him and realise I have only done one foot. It is 11.30am and I am still wearing pyjamas.