Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Kerry McLean: How the women of my grandmother's generation coped, I will never know

By Kerry McLean

I can tell you, almost to the minute, my favourite time of the week. Sunday night at about 10 o'clock is when near perfection reaches my house for an hour or so. The kids are tucked up in their newly-made beds, fresh sheets all puffed up and releasing their just-laundered smell.

The eldest two have been washed and scrubbed and poured into clean pyjamas and the Tasmanian devil that is my two-year-old is fast asleep, all blonde hair and pink Babygro, looking like butter wouldn't melt. It's oh so quiet and peaceful.

If you peeked in, you'd never guess the effort it takes to get to this serene stage. In fact, I often wonder if the neighbours ever hear our weekly rows that always trundle along in the same vein every Sunday night, our own personal McLean Top 10 of Favourite Fights.

In at number three, is my nine-year-old son's: "But why do I need another bath? I washed my face on Friday." Making a return to the number two spot, it's the teenage daughter's rendition of: "Can I have sandwiches for lunch tomorrow, but I don't want chicken, ham, tuna or vegetarian!" Solve that school lunch dilemma, Jamie Oliver! And in at the top spot, at number one each week for the last eight months since she learned how to speak, it's the baby with: "Mine! Mine! Mine!" - her territorial cry for any and every object that comes into view.

All households are busy on Sunday evenings, getting ready for the week ahead, sorting work clothes, school uniforms and, if you're anything like me, trying to get your house into some sort of order that makes it look less like a candidate in need of help from Channel 4's Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners.

I work four days each week, from a Monday morning through to a Thursday evening, so on a Sunday, before my working week begins and before I take myself off to bed, I ensure that my house is spick and span, cleaned from top to bottom, because I know free time is an elusive fellow during the next four days.

There's not so much as a speck of dust hovering in the air that I won't spot and whisk away. In fact, the only messy thing in the house at the end of the day is me.

Running around, hair everywhere and with my dusting wand clenched in my hand, I could give any Ken Dodd lookalike, complete with tickle stick, a run for their money.

But, across the week, that Sunday night perfection erodes to such a degree that, should the Pope himself or the Queen come calling on a Thursday evening, I'd have to pass their tea and biscuits out to them on the front step. I'd be far too mortified to bring them into the mess.

On the days I'm working, I consider myself ahead of the game if I get time to wipe away the toothpaste stains in the sink and remember to empty the washing machine on the same day the load went in.

I can't for the life of me figure out how previous generations of women did it, women like my granny.

She had four children, she worked two jobs to keep her children fed and clothed and - whereas my husband does just as many chores around the house as I do - she was left to her own devices.

For decades she didn't have an electric Hoover, she had a pantry instead of a fridge and I'm old enough to remember her boiling up her white washing to make sure it was dazzling white.

Some of my earliest memories are of her getting up in the dark to break out the cleaning powder and the furniture polish to have everything cleaned to within an inch of its life before the rest of the family surfaced.

But despite her workload, not once do I remember her complaining. Instead, she was always smiling, always laughing, always full of gossip and mischief and, I'm delighted to say, she still is.

That's the example I try to follow. Forget stressing about the cleaning, I'll never achieve her levels of tidiness, but I'll always make sure my house, like hers, is a warm and welcoming home.

Belfast Telegraph

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