My mother is teaching Tom how to expel phlegm. This is one of the not-so-great points of having her live with us while Dad recovers from his operation. The day before yesterday Tom came down with a cold which is keeping him off school and now with Tim away racing, my sanity is being put well and truly to the test.
My mother talks ALL THE TIME, and most of all I am struggling with the constant interruption of thought. She makes continual observations about the weather, commenting on "that dreadful wind" every time I sneeze. She repeats everything I say to the kids, usually talking over the top of me, and asks me if I'm tired at least twenty times a day. The irony is I wasn't until she started asking. I have tried giving her books, a fashion magazine, a newspaper, setting up the sewing machine, but the only things which seem to hold her interest are jigsaws and cleaning.
I can hear them (Tom, Charlotte, Ninny) in the lounge room as I write this, playing on the floor. Ninny is attempting a very large jigsaw and has spread all the little pieces of puzzle right side up over the entire lounge room floor. Up until now she has only attempted small ones with a lot of help from Tom but this puzzle is a big map of the world. There is more chance of me bumping into Brad Pitt in Coles than it being completed I think to myself. So far Mum has managed to put together about 8 pieces with writing on them and is very protective of them, getting upset with Tom for 'mucking it'. "These are all the pieces that you mustn't touch" she says drawing all the blue coloured pieces together. Tom sees an opportunity and its not long before Mum shrieks "Who put this green piece here? That's silly! You mustn't mix the colours! That's very silly! Oh dear. Oh dear."
I retreat upstairs to Tom's room, close the door and put on a very large pair of headphones, the type you see jack-hammerers wearing. But its no use, I can still hear them. Then I hear the kitchen tap running again. My mother tells me she enjoys cleaning, but it wouldn't appear that cleaning enjoys her. I am positively shocked at the amount of water she uses to continually rinse plates and cups which I then go and put through the dishwasher.
Before Mum came to stay I spent a week clearing the house of clutter before a council collection. I sold several things on Ebay, and I felt very proud to be in charge of my house and on top of the housework. I was looking forward to having an extra pair of hands to keep the house in line, keep it ship-shape.
The first thing Mum took over was the washing up and I am convinced this is how we all ended up with colds within the first week. At first it was like magic, dishes washed and dried and left waiting for me to put away on the countertop, but then by chance I saw Mum pumping hand soap into a stream of cold water and then I noticed the tea towel she was vigorously wiping with was one I'd used to mop up a spill on the floor. Its no use telling her not to dry them, she'd do it anyway and it keeps her busy, so then I just stack them into the dishwasher.
Mum has also taken over the endless job of picking the kids things up off the floor, but I suppose because she doesn't know where anything belongs she just deposits them on the nearest surface. It is not long before bench tops, book shelves, chairs, the lounge and any horizontal surface above knee height is littered with debris which mounts up slowly but surely until I can't find anything. I attempt, vainly, to put the house in order. I make a collection of things on the bottom step that I intend to take up with me only to find they've been moved again to the top of the piano. I notice uneasily that books are being returned to the bookshelf by stacking them in horizontally on top of the others, instead of in the usual manner of slotting them back in vertically. But then my mother has never been conventional.
I have been defeated on the cleaning front, my standards are dropping daily. In the past I have let my children make a mess to buy me some time even though I know I'll have more work to do later. Now I let my mother clean things for the same reason. I never realised how anal I had become about hanging out the washing. I would give the wet clothes a good shake, turn them right side in if need be, then hang them crease free, the idea being that when dry they'd be easy to fold with no need of ironing. Sometimes I'd even hang Tom's clothes together, Charlotte's, Tim's, mine, etc so I could just fold them straight into piles to go into the draws while I was relaxing watching some rubbish on telly. Mum has a different method. From what I can gather she wants things to dry fast so she kind of hangs them all around the clothes rack starting round the outside working her way in, then she runs out of room and starts layering thinner things over the top which means nothing really dries at all. She sticks at it though, moving and rearranging by the hour, dragging the clothes rack all over the place in an effort to 'catch the sun'. I am trying my very hardest not to look at the wrinkled shirts, the top hanging on a catch by its shoulder, the jumper with a knotted sleeve. Really, I tell myself again, I should be grateful for having any help at all. I just wish she could make a decent cup of tea.
Not to be printed without written permission of the writer Katie Little.