I was quite a messy person before I had children. On the other hand my husband was obsessively tidy, colour-coding his shirts to hang neatly in his cupboard, alphabetising his books and trying to instil more neatness and order into my haphazard home maintenance.
Then the beautiful Lucy burst into our lives, with her wild black curls, and any hint of order was abandoned forever. The hospital bag we had so carefully packed lay on our bedroom floor for seven weeks before we thought to unpack it.
I reflected on how naïve we had been seven short weeks ago, packing the serene music, massage oil, and washer to mop my brow. A giggle escaped my lips as I put them away, untouched during the unexpected trauma of labour, the unpacked bag a symbol of our sudden transition into the chaos of parenthood. The lounge became a small mountain of laundry, our kitchen bench a change table. Our girl was the centre of our world, everything else was a blur.
As she grew into a squeaky voiced angel, she started to explore her world to the fullest. Kitchen bins were emptied regularly, nappy cream used as all over body and face paint, and shoes hurtled down the stairwell. Her creativity was delightful to watch and I encouraged the messy hands. She loved to paint, which became a whole-body sensory experience when I stepped away, returning to find wonderful rainbows on her chubby face and round tummy. A drink in a cup was a delightful free flowing waterfall, thrown down dramatically for mummy to clean. She pooed in the bath with daddy, she emptied the bath water onto the bathroom floor. The remote control was placed neatly in the cold coffee cup, the keys inserted precisely down the back of the speaker.
Her golden haired, boisterous brother Alex arrived, following his great leader in her bin emptying tradition with even more passion. His chubby fingers progressed well to pulling all items out of low lying drawers and cupboards, and destroying any neatly folded washing piles in sight. The Tupperware cupboard became my babysitting service, unpacked and left abandoned on the dirty kitchen floor. I didn’t mind, I had put dinner on.
Alex became an expert at small parts delivery. Lego and Meccano were delivered efficiently to every corner of the house daily. He also pooed in the bath with daddy. Daddy was now well practiced at this event, making a Superman style exit in one giant leap. Unlike his father, colour-coding was never Alex’s strength – the black Nikko not a good match for our new white leather sofa.
A second blond brother arrived and Mt Everest now looms in our lounge, the avalanche of laundry unrelenting. Our house has become a giant refuse tip, our car a mobile restaurant, our bed an all-night hotel for transient crying visitors, and our toilet a wonderful play centre. Fill the toilet with rolls and watch them swell, pull all the paper off the roll, and dangle daddy’s toothbrush in the toilet water are games which make for hours of fun for our divine baby Leo.
The beautiful black-haired princess is at school now and weekly we remove an entire washing basket of rubbish from her room. Any scrap of paper she can find to draw or write on is seen as precious and stored away with pride. Her creativity is magical, her hoarding remarkable, and our recycling bin strains under the load. Sacred is her collection of empty hot chip packets from her favourite burger shop. Currently the count in her dresser drawer stands at eleven.
Our baby Leo has turned one and delights in chasing our chickens around the yard, desperate to pluck a feather or two, and triumphant when he does.
He crawls into the coop, “Dirt is good for babies’ immune systems,” I reassure myself.
“Too far,” I wince when I find him eating some chook poo.
He grazes happily off our kitchen floor most days, far more hygienic than a chicken coop and he replaces the need for a robot vacuum cleaner. Screams of delighted terror from his siblings erupt one day when he poos on the lounge floor. The robot vacuum has backfired.
I try to create some order, but it never happens. I chase it sometimes, like a greyhound, but the rabbit is always just ahead, stampeding on. My husband tries, but has slowly accepted the chaos. His only reprise is that his colour-coded shirts are out of reach, hence still colour-coded, a last bastion of a way of life now extinct.
My attempts to de-clutter my house and to order my brain are foiled and interrupted constantly. But I am happy, so happy, because my heart is full, full of the clutter and disorder of my three beautiful children…so excited, so busy, so destructive.
I see them laughing, exploring and developing their senses, skills, emotions, creativity and imaginations. I feel their soft breath as they nuzzle into my neck in the darkness. And my heart is full, full with a love so deep, so precious that it almost feels like a secret I keep to myself, because I cannot explain its depth to anyone. My exterior appears grumpy and overwhelmed a lot of the time, worn out like a sea-weathered chest from a shipwreck long ago, but locked away inside are three tiny pearls, sparkling and perfect...the treasure in my heart, and I am happy.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem