Let me start by saying, this isn’t a discussion about the merits of being a stay at home mum, (which are many), or the unquestionable virtue in being a working mum, or anything in between. That’s a valid discussion for another time.
No, this is about a wall. A mummy made mountain of a sandstone wall. You see, after spending two wonderful years as a stay at home mum, I was feeling a bit restless. After all the finger painting, mastering the art of toddler negotiation and cleaning up all manner of messes created by all manner of bodily fluids – I needed a win in the ‘me’ column. I felt, (perhaps unfairly), that I was missing some purpose and direction for something other than my kids.
Last year we did a huge outdoor renovation. It was blood sweat and tears, and a whole heap of babysitting credits with the grandparents that could have been used, you know, living it up and enjoying ourselves. But my husband and I did it all together, (with the aid of a tradie for the deck).
It looks amazing. But you know that thing when you fix up part of your house, and suddenly see another fifty projects? The feeling you get right after the ‘ahhhhhh’ of satisfaction you quietly murmur while staring at your newly laid lawn? The bit that still looks a bit shabby off to the side that gradually turns the satisfaction of a job well done into a job that sits annoyingly unfinished?
We had that. One corner of the garden that was just a bit blah. And it was beginning to bother me. And I needed a project. After two weeks of pre-school holidays at home alone with my two precious cherubs, I needed to feel inspired. For some reason I decided that inspiration would come in the form of a brand spanking new garden loving retained by a perfectly erected sandstone wall. And that I could do it alone whilst caring for two children.
I found myself at the local landscaping centre one morning where I artfully negotiated the delivery of a palette of sandstone whilst peeling my kids off the displays and trying to retain the appearance of an experienced home renovator who means business, (which I’m not). On the whole I was pretty successful, although possibly not entirely believable, and even bargained the salesman down to a 15% discount.
Next to the hardware store for cement. Since I was on a roll, (and because it’s much faster), I bravely drove up into the tradie’s entrance hoping to project the impression that I totally knew what I was doing. And that me, my two small children and my SUV were not out of place at all. If you’ve ever been to the tradie’s entrance at a hardware store on a weekday you’ll have noticed it is generally dominated by burly men in flouro work shirts who never need to ask for directions from the staff. It’s also where they keep the bags of cement, but you have to walk up to the counter to pay for it anyway.
So I drag the kids, (who by now are starting to get a little restless with not a Peppa Pig episode in sight) up to the front of the store to prepay. They start to push each other and walk into oncoming traffic, so I use my ‘cut it out stare’. It works for a minute. Then they push each other harder and start to call each other names. So I use my cranky voice and all the tradie’s turn to look. Most give me a sympathetic eye. Then my son climbs up the timber pile and starts calling my daughter a dirty rascal, and I fear I’ve gone from superwoman worthy of sympathy to mildly annoying mother of two out of control kids in a heartbeat, and who brings their kids to Bunnings anyway? So I switch tactics and bribe them with a kid’s trolley each, which entertains them for about a minute, and a sausage sandwich at the front of the store. It keeps their mouths and hands full so they can’t annoy each other or me. (Or the other customers).
In case you ever need to know, it takes the same amount of time to walk through Bunnings as it does for a small child to eat a sausage sandwich, so by the time we get back to the cement the kids are getting antsy again. I’m all about the sisterhood but at this point I’m willing to accept help from a kindly tradesman who’s also buying cement. He offers to pick up the 20kgs bags for me and put them in my car. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to hear my kids screaming anymore, and wants to help me get out of there. Either way, I tell myself I could totally have done it myself, but I’m using my feminine wiles to get the job done and the kids home. I breathe a sigh of relief and thank him profusely, apologetically even, and take off to begin my project.
By now the kids have eaten lunch, (sausage sandwiches totally count as lunch) and are ready for quiet time. So I head down to the yard while they are in their rooms for an hour, ready for the heavy lifting. And I have to tell you it feels awesome. There’s nothing quite like lifting heavy blocks of solid sandstone to boost your self-esteem, and your sense of your own capabilities. The blocks are in place by the time quiet time is over and I’m feeling great. I can totally do this.
I make up 3 bags of cement, even employing my four year old to add water as needed while my two year old chases a butterfly, (which could keep her amused for a while). I’ve overshot a bit here, and my son decides he’s actually completely capable of doing the actual cementing with me. Not only is this potentially dangerous but he could ruin the look of the wall, so I cleverly distract him by letting him water the garden. It buys me five minutes until he decides to water his sister and all hell breaks loose. My pre-schoolers are now mud wrestling, while I have cement on my gloved hands and I have to decide whether to finish this last little bit or to break up the escalating argument. I capitulate and hose them both off. Clearly my son is bored of helping with the wall, so he asks if I can turn the sprinkler on for them. It buys me another 10 minutes and I am done.
The capping for the wall takes place the next day, a Saturday, when my husband is home. I’m thrilled about this because I rationalise that maybe he’ll take care of the kids for a couple of hours and I’ll get this project finished. I’m excited at the thought of finishing it and staring lovingly at my completed masterpiece. After about fifteen minutes he comes out to me, (I am focussed on levelling the capping perfectly at the time), and tells me he’s going up to the shops to get something for his x-box. My husband is an amazingly hands on Dad, but sometimes communication between us breaks down a little. The conversation went something like this;
“Sure, just take the kids with you.”
“They don’t want to come”
“Well, can you at least take one of them?”
“Lachie do you want to come to the shops”
“Babe, please take him with you, I just need another hour or so”
“Mum, I don’t want to.”
“He doesn’t want to.”
“Then take Lucy.”
“She doesn’t want to.”
“Fine, leave them here.”
“Well, if you’re sure it’s ok.”
I wasn’t, and it wasn’t, but that’s how I came to be building a wall using cement and a level and trying to distract two toddlers for the second day in a row. Long story short, there was yelling, there was whinging, there was crying. The kids didn’t cope well either. By the time my husband arrived home I was covered in dust and cement and yelling at the one or both of them, (I can’t remember). But I was finished. Cranky, but finished. I was too tired to sit back and admire it then, but the next day I snuck out before the kids woke up to check out my handiwork. I don’t know whether it was because of the extra effort required in getting it done while looking after kids, or if it was because I had something permanent that I would look at every day for decades to come that I myself had finished and finished well. Or because it is a testament to just how well a stay at home mum can multitask. But when I have a day where I feel like I am yelling too much or my patience is running out I go outside and stare at my new garden-bed, and remember how capable I am. It feels good.