I look at my eldest son and see someone sure of what they want, someone organised and on time. I look at my growing up (and the husband’s too) and think somehow this has to be nurture not nature.
In my younger son I see myself. Untidy, messy, forgetful. Non-stop chatter. Noisy head and mucky knees. At school I lost my bus pass so many times – well not lost, but hiding somewhere. Next to school books stained yellow from a leaky lemonade bottle. Under roller skates and mushed up apple.
I left home reluctantly at age 19 when the parents moved away. Wouldn’t have been my first choice but I didn’t want to move areas again. Holding down a job and keeping myself together was a full time occupation. The biggest surprise was dust. Mum being such a keen housewife I’d never encountered it before. Except in spooky houses on the television, when dust and cobwebs spread on old wooden furniture. It was a shock when things started to turn grey.
There was so much to learn. How to cook, what to eat for breakfast, budgeting my meagre earnings. I didn’t sleep my last night at home as I had no idea how to work a washing machine. The only chores I had done in my nineteen years were a bit of washing up and a spot of light ironing in front of the telly.
I once poured hot fat down the kitchen sink and blocked up all the pipes. Mum was furious. I was hopeless. I had friends who did loads, who knew how to cook and helped out at home. When I mentioned my dilemma they looked at me like I was inhuman, spoilt. Which of course I was. Spoilt, not inhuman.
An ex of mine used to lose his temper at my ineptitude. He was the youngest of six and had to fend for himself while his mother was at work. My Mum was there when I got home from school. The smell of cakes wafting through the back door. She baked homemade rolls for my pack lunch – and my three other siblings too. She made our clothes and knitted cardigans and jumpers. Were we grateful? No, we were not.
I thought my friends who had mothers who worked were so lucky. They had sophisticated shop-bought cake. Their cardigans were from Marks & Spencer. They twirled around in their chain store frocks while I almost died with jealousy.
Over the years I still got that exasperated look from friends and boyfriends, sometimes if I was lucky, a pitying smile. When I met a man who was even more spoiled and undomesticated than I, it was love. We moved into a flat in London and lay on the sofa, smoking and laughing at the world. Indulging in our own messy Utopia between white-for-a-time anaglypta walls. I had learned to cook but not how to manage time. I would spend hours in the kitchen creating high fat meals. We put on weight but still we smoked and laughed, ha-ha-ha. Lying on our sofa, watching kid’s movies and wondering where our hard earned money was going. Budgeting took years to come to terms with, I’m not completely sure we’ve got it yet. I tend to not spend anything and he’s prone to panic attacks that see him lashing out and buying something inappropriate. Hat stands, universal remote controls, new age cd’s. That sort of thing.
As I type this the youngest is running the vacuum over the downstairs and our eldest is changing his sheets. The husband and I had to teach each other how to look after ourselves and it wasn’t pretty. There was shouting and screaming. And a particularly nasty accident involving a purple rug and white work shirts in the mid-90s. We came through it and have almost grown up. I’d say we are domestically about 29 and physically late forties, early fifties.
But it isn’t going to happen to our kids. They vacuum, change beds, load dishwashers, occasionally wash up, cook simple meals. They will leave home with the skills they need.
And we will have to look at getting a cleaner.