Let me paint you a picture. A picture of parenting. Of working from home. Of being a mum. Of never living such a full life. Of being utterly lost.
As I work at my computer, this is what I see.
I’m sitting at what used to be the dining room table. Now, it’s a smorgasbord of unfinished business. To my right is a pair of my pants, folded and hoping desperately to one day be put into a drawer. Nestling on top of them are some papers I need to send to someone, urgently, two weeks ago. These are lying on top of my husband’s trousers, also folded and wishing that they could join their fellow folded trousers in the wardrobe. Reducing their chances of ever being noticed by my husband is my laptop case lying on top of them.
To my left is a big expanse of what should be wood, but is barely visible. There are two picture frames taking up most of the space. They’re filled with tiny photos of me and family, grinning at me, made by my mum for a significant birthday. The birthday which has affected me more than I could have realised. I see me as a chubby baby, a carefree girl, a chubby teenager, a confident woman, an elated wife, a tired mother, a confused daughter. I marvel at the different mes that can fit in two picture frames. Some created, some not. Some content, some not. Some outgoing, some not. Some sure, some not. I wonder which me I am right now.
All that’s needed is to hammer two nails into a wall. Two nails. In a wall.
Moving on, there is a tower of papers and folders that need to be filed and put away. There is tax to sort out, car ownership, health insurance. It gets started and never finished, always waiting for the angry letter to provide motivation.
There are candlesticks big and small, chunky and waiflike, their candles burned down to the stubs, once flickering nightly, now never refreshed. Candlelight needs time, and a non-practical mind.
There are two ceramic bunnies chosen by child number one for Easter. It’s now August. The bunnies sit there smugly though, knowing that right beside them sits a santa hat, made out of card and cotton wool at kita, last Christmas. It’s August.
An open lipstick has rolled under the papers but pokes out a little, crying out for a reentry into the glamorous world of after 8pm. It had one outing this year. From the bedroom to the living room. Once it was spotted in the living room, it caused such excitement and consternation, it was removed. Shortly afterwards, it was smeared on a little boy’s little red lips, then wiped off with haste as it rapidly approached the cream sofa. Naked lips went to the party.
Poking out of some papers is a box full of thank you cards designed with love for baby number two, born 19 months ago. Stamped and addressed.
Then there are the toys. A piece of Duplo. A piece of small Lego, a pinwheel with a tube full of sweets that I bought in Japan 16 years ago, when I thought I would give it to my own children, and how beautiful my life would be then.
There’s a painting made by boy number one. Left there to dry five months ago. Tubes of Ikea paint, squeezed onto a big piece of paper. Pleas from me not to squeeze too much paint out. Small hands kept squeezing. Bright streaks of neon, in circles and lines and thick, thick blobs. Gold and orange and yellow and blue and green. It was named ‘fire and snakes’. It took a long time to dry.
To my immediate left sits a cup of lemon and ginger tea and a plate with the remnants of a chocolate croissant, which, this morning I thought would be good plate fellows with some wasabi peas. I eat them, wincing each time, barely letting them touch my tongue before swallowing, but keep going back for more. I never mean to, but I always finish them.
In contrast to the chaos, there is a vase, an old enamel milk jug, bought with optimism when we first moved to Berlin, bursting with gladioli, bought in the morning to give a small dose of pleasure to a roving, often disappointed eye.
Jutting onto the table is the clothes rack, full as always. One side for one child, one side for the other. Any space in between hogged by impossibly big mama and papa trousers, tops and pants. It screams at me, telling me the clothes are dry now, and to please clear it and fold it and put it away where it belongs. I know and it knows, its cries are futile.
Looking around me now. A small table to my left, salvaged from a Winchester dump 12 years ago, holds another folder. On top of that is a hardback book about Oscar Wilde, rescued from a zu verschenken box. On top of that is a sheaf of loose paper, on it a printed a short story, trying to make sense of this mad new world, entered into a competition, rejected.
An upturned plastic bowl from the kitchen, that last night was an amusing hat, is upturned on the floor at the foot of the table.
Behind me on the couch I see a pair of pyjamas, lying there looking like its inhabitant evaporated out of them like the witch in the wizard of Oz. On the floor in front of the couch is a big cheap red spotty ball, bought to appease one child. Another was bought for the other child. Exactly the same, after many lessons learned. They still fight about which one is theirs.
Beside the ball: a small plastic Chase from Paw Patrol, a plush fox keyring, a floppy bunny, an owl keyring. All of these are in and out of favour at an alarming and unpredictable rate.
The armchair, once useful for sitting in, is full of folded clothes that can’t be put away late at night as the children are sleeping, nor early in the morning as there’s money-earning work to be done.
There’s a lot more. Piles of plastic pots, once full of little pretzels, unread books, remote controls, one that doesn’t work, one that had to be replaced when the original was placed in an unknown location in the house. One day we’ll find it again. A drinks cabinet that was filled with souvenirs of travel, gifts from friends, that used to be the centre of attention at parties, that was shared with friends. Now it takes up valuable space that could be used to store toys, clothes, coats, papers, and probably knows that its days are numbered. On top of it is a dusty ukulele, full of good intentions.
God forbid I have to get up and go make some coffee. If I did this, I would have to trip over Duplo cranes, made at 7.30am to stop a post-breakfast tantrum. I would have to notice that the sheets are drying on the bike trailer, the bed is unmade, last weeks’ clothes are all falling off our bedroom chair, the curtains are unopened, that bedtime stories line the couch, teddies lay like a murder scene all over the carpet, dishes lie in the sinking, crusted with muesli. It’s not a big house, but it just doesn’t end.
And somehow, this is the environment in which I have to work. Where I can do nothing but look on. It’s a mess I helped create, but I can’t clear up. Time spent cleaning is money lost.
It’s a world of extreme silence and shrill internal screams. I try to drown them out with music, loud in ACG headphones. Cassius, Hauschka, repetitive is best. Fast for typing lots of words, slow for nurturing creative ideas. Sometimes I get work done, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m frustrated and stuck, sometimes I’m flowing and lists are completely ticked off. Always I wonder when this is going to end, and always I dread this ever ending.
Soundtrack, Dustin O’Halloran: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izUy0EIt4lE