“Mum, can we play Donkey?” she asks me, with a brightly-coloured beach ball in hand. (If you’re not familiar with this game, it’s playing catch-ball. When you drop the ball, you get a “D”. And the next catch you drop, you get an “O” and so on. The person who ‘becomes’ donkey last wins.) I give her a look of indignation and roll my eyes. I look around the house. There are dirty dishes lying in the sink and hampers overflowing with laundry that needs doing. The living room is strewn with toys and I stepped on a stray Lego piece not too long ago. In my arms is the baby who is dozing off at last. ‘Her Royal Highness’ has kept me up for the better part of the night and even after my caffeine fix I feel woozy. My arms are sore from carrying her for what seems like forever.
“Moooom!” my older one says again, this time tapping at my knee. I put a finger to my lips and point to the baby. What do I tell this little girl, who of all the things in the world, wants to play ‘donkey’ right now? A part of me is beyond frustrated — I am not exactly happy with the toys that weren’t tidied up and the banana that looks impossibly mouldy because it’s been sitting on the dining table for a very long time, left there by someone who seemed to have forgotten all about it and wants to play ball. Do I show how upset I am and get the children to clean up first? Or do I nap because the baby is sleeping? Or do I leave the baby in the room and play? Decisions, decisions.
I don’t know if it is guilt for not giving my older children enough time, or if I am just plain crazy, but I abandon “Operation Cleanup” for now and forget about the nap I’ve been longing to take. I place the baby in her crib and pat her for a bit. When I am certain that she is sleeping comfortably, I walk outside, smile and say, “Ready for the game?”
The children scurry around in excitement and take their positions. We are soon at it, right there in the living room, which is not the most opportune place for playing ‘donkey’. We hit the frames on the walls, and the TV, (but not the vase, whew!) and the beach ball doesn’t really do much harm. The girls appear thrilled. In spite of myself I can’t help thinking: When was the last time I played with my children?
Life is going by fast. It seems like only yesterday my older ones were babies and I took their presence for granted. But now all I have is photos and memories of the first steps, the mashed food and the sleepy smiles. And then it hits me — this stage of life won’t last forever, either. Before I know it, they will leave their childhood far behind and I will have teenagers (scary!) to deal with. Everything that’s happening now will be just a memory.
What do I want them to remember? A permanently harried mum who always made a big deal if the house wasn’t spick and span, or if the car was left dirty? My bad moods because I was tired? Or a person they just genuinely liked and loved spending time with? The answer is a no-brainer.
What I feel right now is a distinct twinge of regret. Why didn’t I enjoy their babyhood more? Why did I treat my responsibilities as a chore and not as something to look forward to? And why is it that I’m letting their childhood slide by with the exact same attitude? Why don’t I create more happy memories? Why don’t I savour these moments more and worry about the living room a little less? Perhaps the quote ‘A clean house is the sign of a wasted life’ might have a grain of truth in it, after all.
I can’t tell you how relieved I am that they’re still around and still feign tears when they fall and I know they’re not really hurt but I cuddle them all the same. The girls chatter nonstop on the way back from school and want to tell me everything about the day and fight for my attention. I’m glad things are the way they are.