Wednesday, July 7, 2010

clueing in.

I have spent a disproportionate amount of time these past few weeks feeling extremely annoyed and put-upon at the ebullient antics of my boys. "Aren't I supposed to be enjoying this?" I ask myself as I mop up yet another spilled cup of milk, scrub marinara sauce from the increasingly-dingy walls for the seven-thousandth time, call out "STOP TORMENTING YOUR BROTHER" through the window as I frantically try to finish the dishes before someone gets maimed.

There are no soft-focus gold-tinged scenes in which we chuckle lovingly at each other while paging through an educational book. No cozy pitch-and-catch in the park accompanied by life lessons and adoring smiles. The most frequent expression on my five-year-old's face, in fact, is the eye-roll: which, I am learning in my psychological research, is the CLASSIC sign of contempt and a danger signal in any relationship.

It finally hit me this afternoon: might the size of the space in which we're living have something to do with my short fuse? I mean, as I was growing up, I remember long summer days spent sequestered in the downstairs "playroom", in which stupendous messes could be made without affecting even in the slightest the adult world going on peacefully above. My mother could, and did, frequently retreat into her OWN ROOM (with a door that shut!) for a NAP in the afternoon. When my parents' friends came over I remember being shooed upstairs so that they could have an adult conversation. Wow. What is an adult conversation, I wonder, as I contort myself into a pretzel shape beside the bathtub to try and work out a mediation agreement without the boys overhearing. (It's futile, of course. Anainn toddles in to toss my jewelry in the tub while I'm distracted and Xir announces that he has to "make a scat".)

But wait---what about all of those vaunted "other cultures" that have lived this way, as I've crowed countless times, "for thousands of years"? Well, I did a little looking into that this afternoon. It turns out, the cultures that live in a single-room dwelling don't actually spend all that much time there. Even the Inuit are out hunting a majority of the time. Those single-room dwellings are, primarily, a sleeping space. And it's more difficult to get annoyed with somebody when you're asleep (though I've managed it a couple of times.)

But also, in places with severe winters that could crowd an entire family into those cute little cubbies for the season, I found that most families/communities had a compound of rooms. That is, the adults went one place. The kids went another. Often the kids were put in a room with an abundance of work (grain that needed threshing, hides that needed tanning, fiber that needed spinning, etc.) and left to their own devices.

I didn't know this. I always pictured kids tagging after the adults, silently and respectfully learning all there was to know before gracefully carrying on the tradition with stoic non-eye-rolling faces. Ha. Nope, turns out, the natives weren't all that enamored of the kiddies' antics either. Shut 'em all up in a room to climb the walls while they drank the local brew and played cards, is what it sounds like.

So what can I learn from all of this? Like it or not, this is the situation, and I'm not ready to trade a high overhead for a bit more breathing room. At least not yet.

I think what I need to do is plan a lot of camping trips. Spend long days in the park. Construct a small room of twigs and brush, fill it with needlepoint, and shut my kids inside it.

Or, somehow, learn patience. I've always meant to. Now seems like the perfect time.

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