Picture Perfect

7 Jul

It’s school holidays right now where we live. For me, that means having three lovely, though somewhat boisterous and rather messy children in my care 24 hours a day. Said children are with me, often in our home for the duration of the holidays, except for those times when I am driving them from this or that friends’ house to the movies to soccer practice or to a sleep-over at Nana’s.

Cup of tea?It might sound shallow, but they kinda cramp my style. Not my ‘amazingly gorgeous, immaculately turned out, coiffed within an inch of my life’ style, rather the overall general tidiness of our home.

I don’t have one of those minimalist, clean surfaces and long white lines kind of interiors. I don’t really have any ‘interior look’ to speak of. As far as I’m aware, squished playdough in the carpet hasn’t made it to trend status yet, apparently spurned by those who see a kettle and a toaster on a bench as ‘clutter’. Call me easy, but I’m happy if the floor is clear enough to walk on without tripping, the cushions remain on the lounge-(note to children!)- and the dishes are done.

In my neverending domestic quest- the washing, the tidying, the cleaning, the vaccuuming, the cooking, the folding, yada yada yada- I’m yet to drop whatever it is that I’m holding and, inspired, leave the room, hell bent on creating a masterpiece out of sticky tape, pipe cleaners, cotton wool and old shoe boxes. Maybe it’s old age creeping up on me, but I manage to finish one task- more or less- before I start the next one. My clothes usually make it into the dirty clothes basket as opposed to dropped into a soggy puddle next to it, and unlike Hansel and Gretel, you can’t see where I’ve been by the trail of crumbs (or books) that I’ve left behind me.

My mum, an amazing mother to five now mostly grown up children, has a little picture on her kitchen wall. It says ‘Keeping house is like threading beads on a string with no knot at the end.’ And there is truth in that. It’s not comforting, to be fair, but it certainly holds true.

But before the drudgery can set in, my eyes were opened to an even sadder fate. Around the corner and down our street, there is an immaculately tidy and very handsome  house. Recently and beautifully built, it boasts a wide verandah with a table and chair set, just right for enjoying a cup of tea in the sun. The garden is a maze of colour and foilage and weeds would never dare poke their unwelcome heads in such an ordered place. The husband and wife that live there tend their garden and their home with such dedicated care. I once saw her dusting her windowsills, her external window sills. There wasn’t much to dust, believe me.

We drive past this house numerous times a day, and often in the evening as well. The wide bay windows are graciously draped with grand plush curtains, revaling richly upholstered mahogany furniture. The tasteful decor is lit by an antique lamp that casts a gentle pool of glowing light on the still life of the interior. And that’s just what it is. A still life. With everything placed just so, their house is an empty illustration for decorative purposes only.

In the year and a half we have lived here, I have never seen the old man and his wife enjoying the fruits of their labour. They don’t draw the curtains at night, becasue they don’t live in the elegant lounge room. In that curious way that old people have, it seems they are ‘saving it for a special occasion’. They choose just to close the door and save the bother of messing it all up.

I know I’m a sticky beak and a busy body and all those things, but my theory was confirmed a few months ago. It was a gloriously sunny day, and as I walked past with my kidlets, I could hear a radio tuned to AM. Ah, old people about, I thought. And I was right.

The elderly couple were pottering away in their garage, radio on, roller door flung open to catch the sun’s rays. They were well set up. There was a kitchen table with wooden chairs, a dresser with a kettle steaming away and tea cups at the ready, a slightly battered but rather comfy looking 1970’s sofa and a rocking chair. This was their real home. This was the place where they felt comfortable enough to relax.

They have worked for many long years to get where they are now. Hard work and sacrifice has enabled them to build their gracious home and appoint it with lovely things. But they don’t seem to enjoy what they have built. Perhaps it’s too grand, or not cosy enough. Perhaps they don’t feel comfortable enough with all they have amassed to be able to savour their reward.  Perhaps it’s just not suited to them after all. After years of making do and living simply, the habit has stuck, though the need to do so has evaporated.

Or maybe, they are so fiercely house-proud, it’s easier to live in the garage so nothing destroys the gorgeous look of their home. After working so hard to achieve a state of perfection, there is no joy in using the trappings that money can buy, because it will all just need to be restored to order again.

My issue is this: What if I become like the old couple? What if I turn into a screaming banshee mother who flips out about rice on the floor and towels on the beds? What if I’ve spent all this time and energy creating this ‘ideal’ home environment and nobody wants to spend any time here in case they crush a cushion? Am I too unreasonable? Am I too house-proud? Is the state of my home more important than my realationships with my kids and my friends and family? Will my family walk on egg-shells, unable to relax in the home that I’ve tried in vain to make a welcoming, restful cocoon for them?

Thankfully, I think not. The lesson of our neighbours has hit a chord with me. I can strive all I like to achieve a veneer of perfection, and then not even appreciate the good stuff when I see it. I want to look beyond the surface clutter of our home, and see what kind of culture we have created. And mostly, I am happy with what I see.

Yes, there is glitter stuck in the grout between the tiles in the bathroom. There is even a hint of mould in the shower. The walls are decorated with small, grimy handprints and crooked initials that I can’t bear to wipe away. But there is an aroma of dinner in the air. There are a few flickering candles throwing a wonky glow about the place and a fleecy rug to snuggle up on the couch after dinner. There is laughter and love and true warmth in our home. And that is the kind of interior I’m truly intent on pursuing.


One Response to “Picture Perfect”

  1. Caveat Calcei July 7, 2010 at 6:43 am #

    Oh yes – and there really never is an end to the housework. This is why every woman should blog – for half an hour you really don’t notice the mess. Particularly if you have a glass of wine or three.

    Two elderly people with a shrine of a house. Like the plastic on the furniture people, the thought is always there: “When is the time to let rip & live?”

    So there you are caught in the middle of a child tornado looking in and wishing for peace. There they are watching you and probably yearning for the noise, the warmth and the energy that you are caught up in.

    These are the immutable facts of life – the grass is always greener.

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