I am standing at my kitchen sink, the stainless steel bowl laden with dirty crockery. The Weetabix is caked onto the white bowls. There’s not much hot water so I don’t hold out much hope for removing the cemented butter from the knives. I have run out of wishing-up liquid, there’s only one place these kitchen accoutrements can go and that’s into the dishwasher. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with using the dishwasher in fact, I think I’d lose my mind if I ever lost it! I’m ever so thankful that I’m not a scullery maid of 1677 whose duties included: washing and scouring all the plates’ dishes that are used in the kitchen…also the kettles, pots, pans and chamber pots’ – If Walls Could Talk, Lucy Worsely (Faber & Faber), the poor misfortunate and here I am complaining about a bit of Weetabix. But it’s not so much the caked cereal and two tea bags sitting in the plug hole that are driving me mad. It’s the realisation of something bigger – an epiphany or as I like to call it Kitchen Sink Realism.
I’m BUSY. I’m so BUSY. I’m finding it difficult to catch my breath and the fun and enjoyment that life is full of is beginning to slip through my fingers. On the face of it a tiny harmless four lettered word, but one that has insidiously weaved its way into my vocabulary and my many conversations of late. It’s a harmless word BUT then it’s not so much the actual word that annoys me it’s more the being and staying busy that does.
Once upon a time, our culture was one of achievement. However, that’s long since gone and now today’s modus operandi is OVER achievement. We have gone from a giving it 100% society to anything less than 150% and you are of no use to that same society. The general consensus is that busy people get things done; they’re the movers and the shakers, the ones you need to marry, employ, be friends with and just generally associate with. Each of us has our own unique proliferating set of demands, for me it’s balancing my work life with my home life whilst trying to squeeze in my writing: an elusive balance. Add to that my obsession with being the best mother I can to my little girl, and who is growing up at such a ferocious rate that I feel a little like a pioneer heading into an unknown prairie. Then there’s my efforts to be a good wife and home-maker, a women gets tired you know! Others out there are striving to be the best wife, husband, father, daughter, sister, brother, auntie, uncle, employee, dog or cat owner. I’m exhausted. We are all exhausted. This excessive need to be the busiest and the best is chipping away at our contentment just as a sculptor chisels away at a piece of marble; the difference is that the sculptor knows eventually the marble will run out and quits when he’s ahead. Apparently there is a reward for all this speeding through life at such a pace; but, as yet, the discovery and attainment of such remains a mystery. What what happens if you become the best? Sure the glory and actual achievement is great in the beginning, but feeding the insatiable beast of OVER achievement is a relentless game and soon you get tired and start to lose your footing; a time may come when you don’t even know what’s missing any more and you fall. Down.
Twenty years ago my mother was busy. She did not have a dishwasher. Her type of busy didn’t define her or didn’t overwhelm her, she was unperturbed by her list of duties. She didn’t seem to be caught up in the spider web of intensive mothering. Yet, she was always present my siblings and I never went without anything – love, attention, fun, nurture, food, clothing it was always there for the taking. My mother and my father for that matter seemed to take it all in their stride. We got plenty of quality time, plenty of one-to-ones but we were also left to our own devices on more than one occasion and never more than we could individually handle. The result of which meant we all grew up robust and capable adults, I think! I cannot recall hearing my mother say to another mother how busy she was or that there were not enough hours in the day. Of course, I am sure there was days when she was tired and times when all she wanted to do was put her feet up and read; sometimes she did that sometimes she didn’t. She never went crazy trying to be perfect or the best– she just was, still is. Even though there were times when the sink overflowed with milk stained glasses and bowls were stacked four high stuck with dried-in, break a finger nail muesli there was always a clean bowl in the cupboard. Then when I was about fifteen we got a dishwasher. A few days after it arrived my mother declared that she did not understand what all the fuss was about. She had a great view from the kitchen sink of my sisters, my brother and I playing in the garden, while we had a great view of her standing there watching.
I’m certainly not so naïve to think that my fairy godmother will arrive and erase my to-do list. Practically speaking things do need to get done, and I need to work, clean the house and the walk the dogs. However, from now on I think I will try a new type of busy, a more relaxed version, a looser let it all hang out list! This is going to take a little bit of practise and I’m sure there will be times when I will get it all wrong messing up along the way, but I will try. I will close some of those multi-coloured tabs in my mind and relax. The time has come for me to step back and to stare; to fill the sink up with bubbles, to miss some of the appointments, to ponder, to just be and to make sure I have a little bit of marble left.
W. H. Davies
WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.