22 August 2011

Time and Space

Grace's painted house

I've been thinking about the passing of time, and the spaces in which we live lately. Today Grace told me that when she goes into the study her 'heart beats'. I know this is because she is scared of the 'Grinch who Stole Christmas' which is stored in there amongst the DVDs.

Village by Nina

Ruby keeps saying to me that the year is nearly over. And even though it isn't, I know how she feels.

Nina asked me if we would ever move house. She hopes not because she loves our house. She (and all children) know things about their house that adults don't. They know how a dressing gown on the back of a door looks, in the night, like a monster. They know how the carpet smells, which stones look good when you put them in water, which chair to stand on to reach the light switch. They know the scary spots and the good places to hide, the nooks to curl up in and the places best avoided.

Strawberry House by Grace and Kim

Living with young children inevitably casts the passage of time into terrifyingly stark relief. Everything I have to say on the subject seems trite.

My reading, lately, has coincidentally dealt with these same themes. The Glass Room, Room  and
A Visit From the Goon Squad  all examine, in very different ways, the spaces and passage of time that shape the lives of their characters (all worth a read by the way).

Most days we just do the things that fill the days - wake, play, eat, work/school, wash, fold, sleep. I don't mean for it to sound unremittingly dull, it's just daily life. Busy with good and bad and love and frustration. And it is these days that will form the memories of childhood, good and bad, and these days that will, in part, form the adults these children of ours become. I suspect this house will be as big a part of those memories as anything else.
Aerial view - Nina

So I have been thinking, or trying to think, about this space, this house, this home, and the short time we have in it, and what I want it to be. I don't mean colour schemes and interior design, I mean what it represents for our children and the idea of a family.

Our house, in the middle of our street- Nina

I want it to be a true sanctuary, a place of safety. I want their memories to be full of colour and fun and interest. I fear that their memories will actually be of lots of nagging, dinners they didn't like, dark rooms that frightened them, parents with never enough time...
Rapunzel's staircase - Grace

Even all my doubts and fears somehow merge into a painfully indulgent self-reflection that speaks of too much navel gazing.  An intelligent and clear eyed friend refuses to participate in the 'motherangst'. When I, or others, start in, she calls a halt and tells of her taxi driver that night, born in southern Sudan, refugee camps from age 9. What have our children to complain of? 

She is right, and so, without the worry of what I fear it will be, I try to concentrate on what I hope it can be.  I find that I don't want it to be unremittingly good.  I want it to be a place that can hold them in their darkest moments, a place into which they came into awareness of all the wonder and horror of the world and yet were safe, were held, by us, by family, by love.  A place that can resound with joy and make room for silence.  A place where they learned that not every injury needs a bandaid, not every decision will be fair, not every injustice will be remedied.  A place where they learned that their minds were valuable, their ideas had merit, that they could change the course of events and that they fundamentally matter.

Perhaps what I'm grasping at is this: my children are very lucky.  It is my job to make them also feel very lucky.  To accept, without a burden of guilt, the responsibility that goes with this privilege.  And to bring those qualities of home to the lives they lead and the lives they touch.

The last word goes to Nina: " Don't stop working! Writing, reading, and thinking."

(and a note for Amelia and Suse if you read this - I think she's put in an Oxford comma)


  1. I love the way you're thinking about it.

    This morning my daughter vomited all over our bed. When I read this post I realised that I had a horrible mother guilt moment when I left her standing beside our bed, shivering but wrapped in a jacket, while I hurriedly stripped our bed to avoid too much vomit staining. I hate these moments! I'm sure she's not in any way emotionally damaged but still I felt I should have been ONLY attending to her.

    It's pertinent to where I'm at right now - trying to figure out how to not go under with the mental stress of parenting. Your post helps - ta.

  2. Oh the vomiting dilemma! I have definitely experienced that one and let me say your daughter will recover but the mattress and doona might not have, so relinquish that guilt.

  3. She has used an Oxford comma! Although it looks like an afterthought.

    I threw a tantrum on the weekend about everyone else having 'fun' weekends (ie. playing soccer all weekend) and me always getting stuck with the 'housework' weekend. And then I tied myself up in knots worrying, like you, that their memories will be filled with nagging and chores instead of laughter and walks in the neighbourhood.