It’s 7.50am and I’m streaming 70s-80s-90s classics from YouTube to the Plasma to give myself some disco-burn and to blanket some of the noise coming from the raging Archie-Lewis-Tyson-Maki cacophony because they’re really working me over this morning.
Shika, who’s been cleaning our house on Thursdays since I started writing my book last year, is due here any minute and I’ve been running around shouting orders to my teeming progeny and cleaning like a demon for the past hour because, well, to be honest, the house is a mess and Shika shouldn’t have to see it like this.
Breakfast is done but there are pyjamas and dishes and food pieces all over the place and the school-run looms and just after glossing both toilets with disposable wipes I hurry down the hall on the way to the kitchen and notice that Archie’s room is covered in Skylander toys and Uno cards and as I’m washing my hands at the sink I say, ‘Arch, you have to get into your room and clean all the toys off the floor. It’s unbelievable…’
Archie stops, drops his shoulders, lets his mouth hang open, turns his pupils to the top of his head so that only the whites remain; basically acts like a corpse, and says, ‘Oh my God… is Shika coming today?’
‘Yes,’ I say, as Madonna’s Everybody rides in like the cavalry to rescue me from his moody blues.
‘Awww God,’ he says, shuffling in tiny steps towards his room, polio-style. “Why do we always have to clean everything just for Shika?’
‘You’re only ten, Arch. Don’t be in such a rush to be a teen,’ I say, just as three year old Maki rushes at me, bouncing up and down, squinting, saying, ‘Dad! I need to go to the toilet.’
‘Go to the toilet then,’ I say, cleaning the first tray from this morning’s bain marie. ‘You know where it is.’
‘Come!’ he says, desperately, grabbing my hand, on the verge of wetting himself. ‘Daddy! Come!’
‘God, okay. Let’s go!’ I say, rushing back down the hall, picking up a torn sock, a tissue, three tiny red things that look like the remnants of a viscous cock fight and shoving them in my pocket just as Tyson runs past us screaming, ‘I need to go to the toilet too!’
Maki takes off alongside him and they’re running neck and neck towards the ensuite to be first on the throne just as I enter the main bedroom.
‘Maki asked first Tyson,’ I yell out. ‘He goes first… or you can use to other toilet!’
Tyson slumps his shoulders and slows down and I’m amazed that he listened at all and I watch him reaching for the light switch as I gather several pairs of Reservoir Mum’s shoes off the floor but instead of turning the light on he just covers the switch with his hand, lifts his chin to the air like a scolded Linsday Lohan and says, ‘Well, I’m not letting you turn the light on then.’
‘Well,’ Maki says, out of my line of sight, already on the toilet. ‘I’m just gonna get another light.’
‘Well I just won’t let you turn that light on either,’ Tyson says, pursing his lips.
‘Yeah,’ Maki says, sing-song. ‘You really will.’
‘Nah,’ Tyson says, loudly now. ‘Nahhhh….’
‘Oh my God you two are such competitive beasts!’ I say, as I leave the main bedroom and enter Tyson and Maki’s room after catching sight of Lewi’s shoe-free, sock-free foot on the floor.
‘What are you doing?’ I ask him, getting on my hands and knees to gather three water-filled baby bottles from under the bed that Tyson and Maki were using to play ‘Mums and Dads’ with yesterday. ‘I asked you to get ready for school minutes ago.’
‘I wanna play computers tonight,’ he says, lying flat on his back, looking up at the ceiling with his hands behind his head so that I find it impossible not to fear for his future as I imagine him sauntering around a three story party house filled with hundreds of other teens, carrying a bong.
‘You swore at your Mum last night,’ I say. ‘So you know you can’t.’
‘I was good after that,’ he says, shaking his head at me like I’m a prejudice screw.
‘You can’t just do something bad, then hear your punishment, then stop doing something bad, and then expect to have your punishment revoked. Do your time and think about the consequences next time you’re about to swear at the woman who loves you most in the whole world,’ I say, as my ears tune in to a change in song. ‘Alright. It’s okay. This is Billie Jean, Lewis, by Michael Jackson.’
As I’m attempting to moonwalk out of the room to investigate the sound of toilet roll being unwound all over the floor he says, ‘I won’t think about the consequences,’ and I say, ‘Well, that’s up to you’ and he says ‘I know it’s up to me’ and I say, ‘Yeah, I know you know it it’s up to you’ and then he shrugs, and although I really want to shrug back I lose the chance thinking about what a good looking boy he is.
He has those chiselled features and long hair and an engaging smile; despite missing two front teeth, and although there’s a good chance he’ll lose his hair at some stage, like me, he’ll still have that air of cool and look like Billy Zane or Vin Diesel or Sinead O’Connor, but even as I’m thinking this I know – without doubt – that the amount of time he will spend playing computers tonight equals jack shit.
Tyson and Maki are giggling and the clock’s ticking and I still have to clean the fricken kitchen and stack the dishwasher before Shika gets here to clean the house and just as I’m pursing my lips to scream ‘You better not be unravelling the toilet paper!’ Archie appears.
He’s leaning against the wall in the hall, wearing an oversized black hoodie over his school jumper, his hands are in his pocket and the hood is hanging over his head in a way that makes it impossible to see his face.
‘Stop getting older,’ I say, trying to brush by the pre-adolescent dramatics. ‘Have you cleaned your room?’
‘What do we care if the house is messy anyway?’
‘It’s nice to have a clean house,’ I say. ‘It’s just… nice… to have…’
‘What’s the point of having a cleaner if you don’t leave her anything to clean?’
‘… a clean house… well, I know, that is kind of weird… I’m not sure why I really want to clean before the cleaner gets here…’
‘I don’t even care if my friends see our house when it’s messy.’
‘You don’t get it Arch and I don’t blame you because I used to say that very same thing to my Mum when I was a kid but it’s going to be years before you understand how much effort goes into keeping this house from becoming an unliveable snorting cesspool. I am constantly constantly cleaning just to keep our house at the level of cleanliness we both call messy. And it’s nice to have this one day where Shika comes and folds some clothes and vacuums and mops the floor so that I can get some of my own work done, you know? But I don’t feel comfortable having a cleaner, I don’t really know why… and I don’t want you guys to think that this mess isn’t ours or that we can just pass off our accumulative filth onto others… and so maybe that’s why I’m doing this weird thing – cleaning the house for the cleaner… but having a cleaner costs money as well, Arch, and handing money over to someone to do the work I should be doing is a privilege and a sacrifice… and you should think about how hard your Mum works so that we can afford to buy you toys to scatter all over the floor… and so that we can afford to pay for a floor for you to scatter toys all over… and how lucky you are that you can still be unaware of how much work is involved in having all these amazing things in our lives… so go clean your room please, because you are incredibly lucky to have been born in a part of the world where you’re not expected to be working in the mines at your age...’ I say, as I finally turn back into the main bedroom, just as Tyson and Maki run out, ‘… and this song should make picking up toys almost fun. It’s ‘I’d Do Anything For Love’, Archie, by Meatloaf.’
When I get to the ensuite my worst fears are confirmed – the toilet roll is completely unravelled and all over the floor – but as I pick up the end and start winding it back up and begin to rant my displeasure through the main bedroom and down the hall and into every corner of the house I find that I trail off from an impressive “Great. Thanks. Because I haven’t been telling toddlers to stop doing this for over ten years now and I love re-rolling the toilet paper onto to the roll…” to a less impressive “…it never rolls as tightly when it’s rolled the second time…” to a dismal “…toilet paper costs trees…” and finally, just after whispering “How about I make you guys plants some trees and see how you like it…” the door bell rings and Tyson and Maki run down the hall screaming SHIKA and the front door opens and right now they’re probably jumping around doing their usual greeting and so I breathe in and then out and lean against the ensuite wall just long enough to belt out a heartfelt “I will do anything for love… but I won’t do that” and I let the toilet roll fall to the floor and just walk away.