Sunday, 8 June 2014

In My Face

According to Wikepedia, the notion of personal space was introduced in 1966 by anthropologist Edward T. Hall, who created the concept of proxemics. In his book, The Hidden Dimension, he describes the subjective dimensions that surround each person and the physical distances they try to keep from other people, according to subtle cultural rules.  According to him, a person's personal space (and the corresponding physical comfort zone) is highly variable and difficult to measure.  Estimates for an average Westerner, place it at about 60 cm on either side, 70 cm in front and 40 cm.  For me though, personal space is more of a psychological thing that involves being in my face.

I'd say that personal space as a concept came into Ireland around the time that cappuccinos, paninis and spray tan arrived. I don't remember it coming and I don't remember when I first realised that I wanted it. I'd say if I asked my mother, or any women rearing children in the 70's/80's if they craved 'personal space', they would say that they wouldn't have minded an attic conversion, or an extension, but that the much desired double glazed windows got priority. I wonder if women of that generation thought about 'me time', or were they just too goddamn busy minding a clatter of children, on a budget, with little help from the fathers of said offspring ?

I wonder if no one ever mentioned this notion of personal space to me in the first place, would I be aware that I wanted it?  Well, it's there now and I want it.  Funnily enough though, I wasn't aware that I craved that space until my children arrived six and a half years ago.  In the early days, as soon as they feel asleep (at the same time – woo hoo !!), I used that precious time, like the last 5 minutes on Masterchef, when the chefs run around like mad yokes to pull it all together and make everything gorgeous. I was too busy and over exhausted to really think about 'me time'.

Once you visit the labour ward, your dignity goes out the window.  It is a good indicator of what's to come.  There is no point locking the toilet door, because they will hammer it down. No part of your body, or bodily function is without scrutiny. Little people are great at pointing out all of your blemishes, ones that you thought weren't that visible – after all, their eye sight is far better than yours. We have a rule in our house – that nothing that anyone in the house, either little people or grown ups, do in the bathroom is to be discussed at school. I hope, for the most part, that the kids stick to this rule ... Having said that ... I have heard a few tales about what classmates daddies do, so you never know ….

I love taking a shower to literally wash a Bad-Hair-Day away. To wash this feeling away, it is essential to take these showers on your own.  But it always happens that when I could most do with one of these showers, that the kids are either minging dirty, or just really want to have a shower with me. I always feel guilty and give in. It's always a bad idea. They like the water cooler than I do and always have some sort of argument. But worst of all, they take it as an opportunity to have a good old look at my 40 year old body and point out all of it's faults. Leon, ever the curious boy, bent over in the shower recently and had a good look at me, asking 'How exactly do you pee Mammy ?'

Incessant and usually unanswerable questions are a key feature of my world.  My boy has a career in interrogation in the future.  That fella never knows when to stop.  I really wish that I had more of an engineering brain, because I can't keep up.  The sooner he learns to read the better, although I have a feeling that he would still prefer to grill me.  He keeps his best questions for when it's raining, you are on a three lane roundabout and you aren't sure where you are going.  Or when I am trying to pick clothes to wear.  Okay, this doesn't sound like a mammoth task, but I just want a little bit of head space.  I used to enjoy putting together outfits.  Now, it's a matter of what's closest.  

Maybe they are suddenly overcome with love, or they are going through a phase, but lately, my children are invading that precious space, big time.  In the last two months particularly, they are have been stuck to me like glue.  Last weekend, Mya gave me a whopper of a bruise when she hit me on the chin, jumping up on me.  I literally seen stars. 

If we are out for dinner somewhere, they don't want to sit beside me, they want to sit on me. It is really tricky to eat anything with two 6 year olds on your knees. If I do manage to get them to sit beside me, they want to sit so close to me that it is hard to get a fork to my mouth. Food with any kind of sauce is a disaster.  Trying not to get sauce on Mya's hair is a challenge, so best to stick to dry food. Of course, they usually prefer my food to theirs anyway, so I don't eat much anyway. Great for the waistline though.  

When I am painting my nails, the two of them stand so close to me that I can't get the right angle to do it properly, or they get nail varnish in their hair.  Of course, they would prefer to paint my nails for me, but that never ends well.  

Same when I visit friends houses, especially those who don't have small children. The pair of them, stuck to me, making it difficult to get a cuppa to my mouth. Mya, usually a chatterbox, turns into a mouse, who likes to whisper information, which I, in turn, should tell my friend. But she usually whispers so quietly, that I can't hear a word she says. A real conversation killer ! Of course, I could leave them at home, but I'm a sucker when I see two sad faces looking at me if I say I am travelling alone.  They have mastered the puppy dog eyes look.  

That's what happened last weekend. It was my cousin Yevette's 30th birthday party in Tara, Co Meath. I was really hoping to go by myself and was looking forward to a grown up catch-up with my cousins. I told the kids that they would be bored and that they really should stay at home with their Dad.  He encouraged them to come with me, reminding them that they loved parties (Let's face it - he just fancied a night on his own). In the end, I brought them along. It was a great night, but I spent my time with the pair of them stuck to my leg, pulling and tugging at me, whispering, wanting to go to the toilet, wanting to go home.  In fairness, there was a lot of unfamiliar faces there. I could feel myself getting more and more stressed.  We were the first to leave.  

I phoned the hubby in the car.  I may have been a little emotional. I probably exaggerated how bad the children's behaviour was.  I may have blamed the hubby for making me bring them along.  He said that I made the kids sound like anti Christs.  I said 'YOU weren't there, so YOU don't know how bad it was'.  I was going to remind him how stressed he was earlier that day when he brought the kids shopping with his 92 year old mother. (Lovely and all as my Mammy-in-Law is, she is a nightmare to bring shopping.  Think Mrs Doyle in Father Ted, only in the sweet aisle of a supermarket, with two 6 year olds, with eyes on sticks, as if they never seen a sweet in their lives).  I decided not to remind him about this, as I could see how this could escalate into a Who-Is-The-Most-Stressed-Parent competition.  (For the record, I would have won !!).

Maybe because I'm a working mamma, I tend to give in to the kids and sacrifice that personal space time. But I draw the line when it comes to walking my dog.  Leon regularly tells me what a terrible parent I am because I won't bring him on my early morning rambles.  But the purpose of those rambles is exercise for myself and the mutt and not for Leon to poke at the innards of dead animals stuck to the road.   

Slowly, but surely, I am reclaiming that space.  Writing this blog has helped with that.  So has painting and drawing (although Mya would prefer to help me with that too). I attempted to read the Sunday papers in bed this morning.  I was doing well.  I actually started with the news part, rather than the magazines.  I felt very mature.  Then the kids decided to join me.  First of all, with their library books, which I had to read.  Then, they carried in the paddling pool that their Nana bought them yesterday in the supermarket (see what I mean about Mrs Doyle ??).  I had to abandon the newspapers and inflate the pool, even though it is too cold to paddle today. 

I'll start a new painting later on tonight.  And a shower.  Solo.  With really hot water.  Maybe even get past page 3 of the newspaper.  I'm getting there. 

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