THIS ( SPLIT- LEVEL) LIFE
THE father of my two girls drops off their giant suitcases and additional paraphernalia they tried unsuccessfully to cram in. Sports gear, school blazers, artworks, CDs and last- minute clothes, collected wet from the washing machine, spill out and require three trips between his car and their rooms. I will make the return delivery after eight days.
Then the girls arrive. Sometimes I arrive home from work to find them sitting outside, having left their keys at their other home. We are pleased to see each other and they have news about their baby half- sister, school and their friends. They quickly spread their stuff all over the house and fail to put anything away. Their bathroom accumulates empty toilet paper rolls and damp towels. It is hard to balance the positive with the negative and not dissolve into incessant nagging.
My daughters are affectionately mean. ‘‘ Mum, your bum is wobbling.’’ ‘‘ Mum, what is that spot on your nose?’’ ‘‘ Mum, those trousers look too young for you.’’ Sometimes they are downright cruel. ‘‘ You are the worst mother in the world and I hate you.’’ In the odd thrilling moment they acknowledge the things they say they hate are the things they really love.
My husband arrives home from one of his regular work trips. We try to catch up in the hustle and bustle of family life. A few days later his daughter and son arrive. We are all pleased to see each other. The four children are similar ages, but the three girls dominate. My husband ensures the boy, the youngest, gets plenty of cricket, footy and Meccano.
They all get on. We sit upstairs and hear the four of them laughing downstairs. ‘‘ They are fighting again,’’ my husband says.
The house is full of activity. They paint, read, listen to music, watch DVDs, play indoor cricket and cook. We drive them to sport, to their friends’ places and to the other parents’ places to collect things they have forgotten. They have friends over.
But things change. They no longer put on shows and the eldest sometimes leaves the three younger ones and shuts herself in her room. Mealtimes are fun. Preparing food is one of our great pleasures and is is the time when I learn what is going on. There is lots of good humoured teasing, of which I often bear the ( mostly) goodnatured brunt.
The children adapt surprisingly well to dividing their time between homes and to the complex relationships within each. They know that what may be acceptable in one is not in another. I admire them. I would hate to live out of a suitcase, but the four of them, and my husband, have been doing it for years now. I told my girls that one day they may want to stay in one place and be settled, but they told me they would never choose between me and their dad.
My husband and I return suitcases to the other homes and the children leave us. For a day or two it is utter bliss: peace and quiet and not an empty toilet roll to be seen. Then, the house gets too quiet. My husband leaves for a few days of work in another part of the state. We all speak on the phone, but it is not the same. I miss the children and my husband. I want them all to come home again.
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