I’m told that as the mercury starts to climb, many people experience an irresistible urge to spring clean their homes. I fear I may suffer from the reverse malady: with the first properly warm days of the season, I feel an overwhelming compulsion to disregard all things domestic. You might call it spring neglect.
I remember the day this condition first took hold: for once we have completed our morning routines and exited the house in a relatively harmonious state – largely due to Lily’s elation at being allowed to wear shorts and a T-shirt to kindergarten for the first time in months. (It seems that when you are four-and-a-half, having bare arms and legs simultaneously is pretty much the pinnacle of human existence.) The result of Lily’s unusually cooperative spirit is that the three of us set off less-late than usual on our walk to kindy; backpack strung from the pram handles, and Elijah ooing and ahhing at the digger on our street. The air is warm and fragrant, and the blue sky glistens like a lacquered bowl.
We pause to chat with our elderly neighbour who is gardening in his front yard. He tells us stories about flying foxes hanging upside-down from our gum trees. Lily giggles hysterically at his little yappy dog, Miss Molly playing “peekaboo” under the fence. We walk on. We find an empty nest; a fat, fuzzy caterpillar; an orange and black butterfly. Each is a thing to exclaim over, study and wonder about.
We finally reach the kindergarten at the end of our street, less less-late now – but it seems pointless to worry about that (or anything, really) in this weather. The miracle of that perfectly warm air and feather-soft breeze against skin is enough to dispel all concerns and anxieties. Kissing my daughter goodbye at the gate, I notice that a wattle bush seems to have exploded into bloom overnight. You really couldn’t dream up a more over-the-top emblem of spring than wattle. There is something shrieky, almost brazen, about the way it heralds the new season: thousands of tiny yellow pom-poms huddled together like a crowd of downy ducklings. And that heady, honeyed scent makes me a little giddy.
Walking back home with Elijah, I feel absurdly happy. I know it may seem a bit pathetic to complain about Adelaide’s relatively mild winters. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that winter has stuck around far too long this year. I’m tired of dripping, grubby skies smeared with clouds. I’m tired of that closeted, cotton-wool-brain feeling of being stuck inside with kids. I’m tired of round upon round of sickness: of aches and shakes and flus and fevers, of scratchy throats and endless coughing, of burning foreheads and broken nights. I’m tired of wiping gluey trails of snot from faces, hands, jackets. I’m tired of feeling tired. This beautiful, warm day seems like a symbolic end to all that – a sturdy lid slammed on winter.
In winter the mess is forever in your face: the half-curled socks slinking across bedroom floors like renegade snails; the grit of toast crumbs embedded in couches; the jumbled piles of texta drawings, bank statements and letters that need to be dealt with; the peril of matchbox cars underfoot. There’s really nothing for it but to clean, yet any parent can tell you that cleaning with small children in the house is about as effective and as painless as trimming your eyelashes with a butter knife in a dark room.
Yes, I love the (rare) settled feeling of a clean and tidy house, with everything in its place. But sometimes I wonder if I might be a little too focused in my pursuit of an unattainable goal. With small children, something has to “give”. To be honest, the days I finally get on top of the mountains of washing and clutter are usually the days I lack patience with my kids, the days when my, “not nows” make me sound like a broken record. Life is busy and messy and maybe it’s time to accept that there could well be years when the state of my house will drive me nuts. Of course there will always be occasions when I have to Get Stuff Done, and insist that the kids play on their own. But sometimes neglecting a household chore can mean nurturing a small person, and that’s a choice I want to make more often than not.
This spring morning I stand in my kitchen with the sunlight lapping the tiles at my feet and watch the shining day unfold outside. And it’s a funny mix of energy and apathy that I feel- a hum of excitement at what the day might bring, combined with a distinct lack of interest in attacking the mess around me. It’s a whole lot easier not to feel irritated by the detritus of crumbs and socks and toys in springtime. Today I can shut the door on the chaos and sit on the decking with my little boy while he “cooks” dirt and leaves in plastic saucepans and runs matchbox cars over the bricks. And later I can eat jammy pikelets with my children in a ramshackle cubby on the grass, and draw chalk giraffes on the pavement.
This spring day is for living. I’ll clean when it’s winter.