I am in the laundry, up to my elbows in suds, scrubbing mould from the bath toys one by one, when into my head pops the voice of Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail: “I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it , or because I haven’t been brave?”
I’m scrubbing mould from bath toys. Yes, I lead a small life. Valuable, but small.
I”m sure every Mum feels this way at times. Some days are just like that. And mostly, that’s OK.
But along comes something like Valentine’s Day. Of course, we don’t really care about Valentine’s Day, do we? By the time we’re in our 30s and 4os we’re totally over all that nonsense. We no longer sit around wondering if we’ll receive roses this year because we know we won’t. And we’re past caring. But for whatever reason, I’ve had those trashy rom-coms playing in my head this week, ever since I read Serena Faber Nelson’s Valentine’s post, which referenced Love Actually. That film is one of my favourites. Probably because in some small way I relate to nearly all the characters in it. Even the male ones. Oh, except that man-eating vampire chick who carelessly seduces her boss just because she can. Or that couple who are the body doubles in the… ahem… movies. But whenever I see that film I feel particular empathy with Karen, the character played by Emma Thompson. The first time I saw the film I didn’t even have kids, but I still felt her pain. She’s clearly a clever, kind, educated woman, (her brother, played by Hugh Grant, is the Prime Minister of Britain) but she’s been dragged down to one level above frumpy by ten years of looking after kids. And there’s a line she says that always gets to me. After she finds out her husband has given an expensive necklace to another woman she says, “You’ve made a fool out of me, and you’ve made the life I lead foolish too.” She then turns to congratulate her daughter with extravagantly feigned enthusiasm for her role playing the first lobster in the school nativity play. There’s something heartbreaking about this smart, capable woman declaring her small life to be foolish, while lavishing affection on her children.
Contrast that with Natalie, the spontaneous, sexy girl Karen’s brother (the PM) brings along to the same school Christmas pageant. She is so full of life and energy that he can’t keep his hands off her. When I first saw this film, I thought Natalie and Karen were two very different characters. And they are. But ten years and a couple of kids later, will Natalie really be so very different from Karen?
We all feel like Karen some days, but we also have a Natalie in there somewhere, waiting to be seen. If only there was a chance for her to emerge between mopping floors, getting kids to school, feeding the baby, caring for ageing parents and the bone-crushing tiredness we mums come to accept as normal.
So when my husband walks through the door at 5 o’clock this afternoon and says, “How was your day? What did you get up to?” am I going to tell him I cleaned the bathroom and scrubbed the mould off the bath toys? ‘Cause that is surely going to fill him with passion. I can see it now, “Kids, go to your room and lock the door because I must have your mother right now on the kitchen floor. All this bedroom, I mean bathroom, talk is driving me wild!”
So as much as all the hype around Valentine’s Day is a load of commercial crap, creating false expectations between lovers and disappointment for those who don’t yet have the love they’re looking for, maybe there is a message in there for parents. Somewhere inside you is the person your spouse fell in love with. Some days you’ll wonder where the hell she’s gone. And some days we have to let go a little and let her out.