My life changed drastically this morning.
At 8:55 a.m., I walked my two youngest children into their first day of school (pre-K, or reception, as it is known here in England). For the first time in twelve years I am home alone, drinking a hot cup of joe, with a pile of breakfast dishes stacked in the sink and more clean dishes waiting in the dishwasher to be put away. The day stretching out ahead is all mine, just mine. I have moved from being a ‘stay at home mom’ to being a ‘housewife’ or, as is said in German (and to my mind has a nicer ring), a ‘hausfrau’.
While this shift in daytime activity may seem subtle or unremarkable to some, (people without children, or even people who have children but work out of the house fulltime), it is literally life-altering to someone who has had a toddler or baby wrapped around their thigh for the preceding decade or so.
Because I am deceptively dense for a mother of four, I didn’t anticipate this altered state. This morning, I took pictures of all four girls in their school uniforms and celebrated the big day for the twins. I thought of it as their big day, never stopping to consider the effect that their absence from the house from 9 until 3, five days each week would have on my life.
It wasn’t until I came back home from the school run, walked into the kitchen and looked at the dishwasher full of clean dishes that it slowly crept into my awareness that I was alone. The dishes alerted me to my newfound status because of this: For the past three years, since my twin daughters could stand steadily on their own, they helped me with loading and unloading the dishwasher. As I would load dirty dishes in, they would take them out and jam them, caked stubbornly with dried syrup, melted cheese, spaghetti sauce or eggs, into the Tupperware cupboard (the cupboard lowest and closest to where they happened to be standing). Upon unloading the dishwasher, as I slid the silverware into the drawer and turned my back to put plates away, they would sweetly but determinedly, grab silverware from the drawer and put clean spoons, forks and sharp knives back into the dishwasher.
Reflecting on all those years (hours) ago, I think of that ritual and l smile, but at the time—at the times that I was struggling to stay sane, home alone with four (rightfully demanding) little girls—this adorable, helpful exercise made me crazier than I already was.
As often as possible, I would pop in a favourite DVD for the twins to watch and sneak off to do the dishes. Those were dark days when the DVD player did not work, which curiously occurred frequently (too many Polly Pocket shoes wedged into the machine, I suppose). I’d have to allow the dishes to sit in the washer, while more teetered precariously in the sink, waiting until the girls went to bed to do the dirty work.
So now I sit here casually having a cup of coffee and writing this, as though I am an expert at this hausfrau business. The dishwasher is full of clean dishes with more dirty ones in the sink, but I am relaxed, no rush to get to them. I may meander into the village to get a nice roast from the butcher for dinner, and some pretty flowers for the table tonight, to celebrate the twins first day of school—maybe even leisurely window shop. The world is my oyster, I’ve got six hours a day now that are to use at my discretion and I am wallowing in that freedom.
I just hope I remember to do the dishes before school lets out...