Minutiae

When the house becomes the extent of your world, however temporary it may be, it is terribly easy to narrow your focus to the minutiae of domesticity. To become obsessed with perfecting the smallest of things and in the process to quite forget what really matters in this world.

At the beginning of quarantine I was heavily focused on keeping my family alive: on stuffing us full of nutritious goodness and making sure our mental health didn’t spin out of control by creating new routines and rituals we all came to treasure, but as time has passed my good intentions have come to be accompanied not only by what I, as partner and Mother can provide emotionally, but also on fussing about the house to such a degree that I do believe I am about to send myself, and Ste and Finn, around the bend.

Yesterday I rather think I reached a fussy peak. Somebody (me) had left my happy little floral peg bag out in the rain and it had dried on the line and smelt musty. One of my cucumber plants had keeled over and died. The bird who favours the window feeder was making a mess dividing the seeds into those he likes and those he doesn’t. The chalk paint I was using was drying too fast in the sun. Finley eats olives by the handful but never covers up the bowl after he helps himself. The cushions slide off the sofa on to the floor. People who eat smelly bananas need stringing up. The wood pigeons are eating the grass seed. I can’t get one of the bamboo cane arches in the garden to stand up straight. I don’t like the frogs hopping around under the benches. No-one but me ever changes the loo roll. There is a cobweb none of us can reach on the landing. The dishwasher isn’t all it ought to be. The conservatory seems to be home to too many tiny wasp like creatures. It’s all very well saving teabags for the compost, but not if they are going to hang around the kitchen drying for hours on end. Finn’s drum set is an eyesore. And the rain makes the patio flags look ugly.

No really. The rain makes the patio flags look ugly. THIS IS THE KIND OF NONSENSE MY POOR, LONG SUFFERING FAMILY ARE CURRENTLY HAVING TO TOLERATE FROM ME.

And so it goes on, I wander about, fussing and bitching and moaning and doing what Finn describes as “drive-by cleaning”, whereby I stand up and walk to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water and along the way stack erratic magazines, wipe down the kitchen-bin, organise the stinky bananas (who in their right minds, organises bananas??), and come back carrying a tin of polish and a rag to tackle the coffee table, without said water or apparently any focus at all on what I was intending to do.

It isn’t healthy and yet I suspect that in a world that feels like it is spinning out of control, it is quite normal to try to steady our own ship. To feel it necessary to exert power over that we can inspire change in, simply in order to shut out all that we can do very little about.

Our homes then are microcosms of wider society and when society itself becomes unreachable, it strikes me, that for those of us who need to feel safe, the finnicky perfecting of all that we do have jurisdiction over is but a natural consequence of our instinctive panic.

Not to mention the sheer boredom of being confined to barracks.

For it isn’t only me fussing. Ste stands for minutes at a time simply staring at the patches of grass that will not grow. Apparently trying to turn them green by sheer force of will. Finley cannot abide “mess” on the coffee table and stands up to carry dishes into the kitchen the moment any of us put them down. He seems to have elected himself mayor of the glass cupboard and wanders off on missions in search of those glasses that have been left in places they shouldn’t be, tutting under his breath as he goes.

We are all (going) mad here. Nothing feels normal, and that is because it isn’t. But we are letting each other be. Despite the looks Ste and Finn cast to each other when I am muttering about misdemeanours against the kitchen counters (Why bother tidying up if you are going to leave the counters decorated by spills and crumbs!? Why!?), despite how dull it must seem to a sixteen year old boy to hear me worrying endlessly about the many varieties of tomatoes currently taking over the garden, and despite the fact that occasionally he is so quick to “clear the table” he sometimes carries off half cups of just the right temperature tea, yes despite it all, we are kind to each other, only occasionally whispering “for Gods sake” under our breath as we do what will apparently tip the other over the edge, if we don’t.

This then is about tolerance. And it is about coping. For none of us are used to spending this much time in each other’s company, none of used to a world that feels dangerous and angry in a way it never has before. While I am almost certainly fussier than most, it is the only way I know how to soothe the fire in my brain, and my lovely family know and understand that.

While it may be true that as I said at the beginning of this post, there are more valid things in life to focus on than the minutiae of domesticity, as I have reached the end of it, I have realised, as I so often do, that domesticity IS life, and the way we behave in the home is often a direct response to our experiences beyond it, so we have to go gently with each other as we develop coping mechanisms to navigate a way of life that doesn’t quite feel the way it used to.

We have to, as always, be kind to each other, and above all else to ourselves, even in the face of the more preposterous demonstration of our anxieties.

Now if you will excuse me I have to go back to my very busy and terrible important existence as she who has got bananas to organise and calls to make to God/The Universe/Anyone Who Will Listen, about the mess the rain is making of my patio.

Go fuss. You will feel better. I promise.


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July 3, 2020 10:32 am UTC

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  1. “We are letting each other be.” That phrase really hit me. All if us are trying, in our own way to live thru this time when normal has no meaning. Bits of eccentricities are part of daily life now. I agree that we should just let each of us get on with arranging and rearranging the flowers in the vase, lining up the knives and forks in precise rows in the drawer and reorganizing the pantry weekly.
    Your words ring so true as to what alot of us are experiencing in our lives. The good, the bad and the not so pretty. You are a brave soul to bare all of it here for us for us to feel the comradeship with you. Thank you and keep sending your words out to us. They lighten my days.

    1. You are so welcome Barbara… I love it that you have phrased it our “bits of eccentricities”. Perhaps this was the path to authenticity all along.x

  2. Yes, indeed. Very well said!

    We all are coping as best we can. Our adult son, who lives next door but spends a lot of time here because we are the only ones being “safe enough”, is being well-treated for depression and anxiety. He says it feels weird for everyone else to be experiencing the sort of anxiety he has struggled with for decades. He is coping with LOTS of reading (20+ books since this started), music, movies and video games.

    My husband is generally the least neurotic of the family but without his usual hectic schedule of putting on live music events he has chosen to fill his time remodeling our balcony in good weather and building a very intricate model when it’s raining or too hot. He has taken over our usually tidy and rather pretty guest room for this project but I’m so glad he has this to do that I don’t even care.

    I, the introverted homebody for whom this all seems rather ideal, may actually be struggling the most. Or perhaps “struggling” isn’t the word so much as “treading water”. I’m going to take myself in hand this week and get something more accomplished than just the monotonous daily chores.