A friend made a very intriguing comment this morning. Our children are going away for a five-day outward bound trip, and we stood in the October playground, acorns and condensation dropping on our heads, watching them try to unpack their rucksacks before they'd even boarded the coach.
I was encouraging my friend to go out every night while her child is away, and take the chance to reconnect with her partner. She said, "But I find it really hard to go out if everything's not done, I'm not sure if I can actually do that any more".
We looked at each other, she, a highly intelligent, senior civil servant, and published author, working full time, me… in my yoga gear, and nodded. After a decade of clearing up, we have gradually been worn down until neither of us can face "dropping everything and going out for the fun of it", simply because of what will be waiting for us when we get back home.
Now… is this being adult, depressed or a drudge? Which is it? I never thought I would be happier in bed at 9.30pm with a book (sometimes earlier, sometimes actually falling asleep while reading to the children). In fact I did everything I could to carry on partying long after most of my peers had sorted out careers and regulated their hours. I'm not content with my cloistered nunnery, and would in theory rather be out at gallery openings, theatres, and dinner parties — but when those things actually come along, they are so difficult to organize (babysitters, clearing up, planning following day), and usually so expensive, that I have come to duck out of and avoid them as worse than being at home.
Neither of us has slacker men, so this is not a fifty-fifty whine. This has to do with acceptance. The reality of my life, with its tight time parameters, endless amounts of piffling detail, daily Hedda Gabler performances from both children, and dwindling resources on every level, is difficult to avoid. It is composed of little else but obstacles, challenges and puzzles to solve. They aren't interesting, I'm bored stupid by the repetition, and frequently want to scream. And do. I have to invent mind games to prevent complete mental shutdown. Reminding myself that I chose this doesn't particularly help.
Yet fighting that reality is even less worthwhile than going with it, trying to swim. And "leaving the washing up and going out" is actually a fight rather than a pleasure 99% of the time, with a nasty payback in increased workload.
My house is not spotless. My kitchen is not clean. I do not sweep behind the fridge. This is not about being a Dutch housewife, as my father used to say when mum fussed. I get my kicks in other ways, stealing time in the day, running off to yoga when I should be writing, savouring coffee in my kitchen, baking, deliberately ignoring pointless instructions from school, subverting the homework on creationism by telling my son about the Big Bang, and pointing out that Jews and Christians share the same creation myth, subverting the AQA French A level syllabus by introducing a sixteen-year-old to Candide rather than l'environnement, watching his face light up when he realizes Voltaire has just made a joke about fat women…
When I was working eighty hours a week as an academic, I would never have dreamt of writing a blog post about whether or not to go out. I'm reading this back now, thinking, "this is the most boring post in the world, I have turned into a middle-aged frump, and I call this acceptance and happiness? What is wrong with me? Fight the power, woman!"
Perhaps what I'm trying to say is that happiness has turned out — for me — to be an inwardly-directed energy, which is actually disrupted by too much external stimulation. How odd that this discovery has coincided with staying in with the European washing mountain.