Whether it’s for six weeks, six months or six years, a period of time follows the birth of a child during which you’ll be required to ‘stay home’. For some women, this is a blissful time of contented cocooning, a sojourn away from the deadlines, politics and early-morning ironing of working life. For others, it’s a state of being about as comfortable as wearing a diamanté G-string.
And there’s a third group: those who assume they’ll belong to the former group but quickly discover that they actually belong to the latter. This is my group. This is my life.
Now, I’m not saying I’d readily trade my home-bound existence for anything – after all, I share it with the funniest little toddler I know – but I am saying that this stay-home gig is far from easy and a long way from natural. For someone who’s devoted the best part of her career to the art of communication, suddenly having no-one to speak to bar a little person whose entire vocabulary begins and ends with ‘boo’ is a trifle challenging, if not downright terrifying.
I fear I’m being gradually sucked into a conversation vortex that will one day spit me out again with nothing wittier to proffer than, ‘Hey, is it yum-yums time again?’
Wait a minute Mr Postman!
The sense of isolation is all-consuming. I find myself trying to engage the postman in some casual banter but find there’s not a lot of mutual territory beyond ‘Better not be more bills again, Bob!’ (One day he’s going to fall off his bike fake-laughing at that one). I’m also on a first-name basis with everyone at my local Starbucks, my all-too-regular escape for a coffee. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before they name a breakfast bagel after me.
Indeed, the ‘stay’ part of the stay-home mum equation is the easy bit for me.
I just don’t do it. I can’t bear to stay inside all day and would rather haul my pram up hill and down dale through every sort of inclement weather than remain a prisoner inside my own four crayon-covered walls.
The ‘home’ bit is the tricky part – the bit that sees women who previously didn’t own a broom suddenly care about the state of their house with a singlemindedness worthy of Rain Man. Nowadays I scrub, sweep, polish, preen – all words I’d never even used in a sentence prior to giving birth. I know things now that I wish I didn’t: things to do with sponge varieties, fibre particles and skirting boards. I bought a steam mop for God’s sake! This obsession with domesticity is clearly a response to my need for order in the face of child-driven chaos.
There’s more of us out there…
Yes, I may well be going completely mad and no-one would know it. But at least I’m not alone. A great many women, far more domesticated than me, have found themselves trapped in the stay-home abyss, fooled by the promise of cosy little afternoon cuppas on the couch (do they even know how hard it is to get coffee out of suede?) and lazy afternoons lolling around in little more than an apron and a smug expression.
I see them pushing prams around my neighbourhood, staring into their coffees at my local café and fondling sponges in the cleaning aisle of the supermarket. I see them and I want to grab their downtrodden shoulders, wrap them up in a hug of solidarity and break into the theme from The Poseidon Adventure (‘There’s got to be a morning after…’).
Even Martha Stewart, that domestic diva of US TV fame and convicted fraud felon, recently admitted that her five months of house arrest was way harder than the five months of federal prison time she did before it .‘Staying home is hell,’ she told reporters. ‘You’re watching the clock constantly and for a formerly busy person, that’s extremely difficult.’ Amen to that, Martha.