Paradise Lost

December 18, 2009

I suppose this would not be everyone’s definition of Paradise – and in another context, it would not even be my definition of Paradise, but in the context of someone who’s just returned to work after a two-year stint of doing nothing but managing the house…

See, there’s a lot of work in managing a house. Way more than anyone who hasn’t done it can conceive. It’s
even more if it’s the only thing you’re doing. I don’t know why (and I might well have opportunity to reconsider this statement). But one thing we can all agree on is that housework, like gas, expands to fill all the space/time/energy resources available. It expands infinitely. If you clean, it gets dirty again. If you wash, it gets used. If you cook, it gets eaten (and then requires washing). If you shop, it gets consumed. It’s never ending.

So I realized that it was simply impossible for me to keep a handle on all of that in addition to a full-time job. If I tried, I would spend all my awake-at-home hours doing nothing else. And I suspect that the kids (not to mention the other half) would not take kindly to that. But why blame others? I would not myself take kindly to it.

Enter Shaba-Aunty.

Actually, she can’t enter, because she’s been onstage all along, albeit usually not in the spotlight. I’ve already written quite a bit about how indispensable she has become; now that I’ve gone back to work, she’s more indispensable than ever. Like the elves in the shoe-maker story, she comes in when nobody is around, does all the work, and silently goes away leaving the place neat, clean, and fully functional. In addition to just cleaning the house and washing the breakfast dishes and folding nightclothes and bedclothes that have been flung all over the place in the mad rush to evacuate the house before 8 a.m., she also:
• Puts out the laundry
• Picks up the laundry and folds it up neatly in separate stacks
• Mends the kids’ clothes, which frequently have buttons and things falling off, and also often need to be tightened an inch or two; today I even left her a teddy bear who is in serious need of stitches after various operations carried out by the twins on several parts of his anatomy; in fact, he is in imminent danger of losing an arm and a lot of his intestines (stuffing)
• Irons the kids’ clothes
• Buys veggies and bread and milk and suchlike
• Cooks, when required – and does a better job of it than her sister, the cook
• Baby-sits, when required – and I really like the way she interacts with the kids, she is extremely gentle and patient, but can also remonstrate gently

Yesterday she earned herself some serious brownie points by taking the initiative of buying, apart from those items I’d requested, a bottle of some floor-cleaning potion and scrubbing the dining room floor with it. I really appreciate people who take initiative.

Without her, I really don’t know how I’d keep the household running from day to day, now that it is no longer my primary occupation.

So, in this context, Shaba-Aunty is Paradise. Now comes Part II – Lost.

Despite our best efforts at placing our two jobs and the kids’ daycare all in a 10-minute driving-radius, and despite leaving office really early (5 p.m. is really early in Bangalore; I know people who come in to office at that hour!), we still have to endure a one-and-a-half hour commute from office to home each day. Times four. Actually, for the kids, it is around an hour, sometimes a little more, while for the person picking up the kids it can exceed 90 minutes. We don’t combine our commute – Amit and I drive separate cars to office. It is criminal in a way, considering we go from the same home to the same office complex. But car-pooling wouldn’t work for several reasons. First, we alternate tennis days, so we have different schedules in the morning. Aldo, we can’t always be sure that we can leave office at the same time in the evening.

And, even if we could co-ordinate all that, for both of us to be in the car that drops the kids to school in the morning and again for both of us to be there to pick them up from daycare in the evening is sheer luxury, complete self-indulgence. The person who’s not driving would be better employed doing one of a million other things that need to be done; or even just enjoying half-an-hour of quiet time at home. True there’s much to be said for the environmental benefits of car-pooling, and even more to be said for the social benefits of quality family time spent strapped into your car enduring endless traffic jams together… but it’s clearly not the best solution for us.

Yet the one-and-a-half hour commute, which Amit has been enduring silently for the past two years, suddenly seems too much now that all four of us have to go through it every day. It’s especially hard on the kids, being forced to sit still in the car for one whole hour just when they’ve just woken up from their afternoon nap and are itching to run around and play. They get cranky, and we feel bad for them.

Clearly, the only thing to do is to move to a place closer to our workplace and daycare. So we’ve been looking around for a place to rent and seem to have found something. All going well, we will be moving in January.

Which means… no more Shaba-Aunty.

Of course, we will get someone to cook and someone to clean… but someone like Shaba-Aunty doesn’t come along every day. It could take years to find someone like that and to give them that level of responsibility. So, while we might cut our commute time in half (hopefully), I’m probably going to end up with double my current load of housework. This equation only makes sense when you realize that getting home half an hour earlier in the evening means the kids get half an hour to go to the park and play. Right now, we get home just as it gets dark and the mosquitoes come out in the hundreds, so that’s all but ruled out, which is really a pity. So if they can get some park time and make some friends in the new neighbourhood, then it’s all worthwhile.

Still, it’s going to be hard for me to manage without my Shaba-Aunty. And the kids are going to miss her and her crying baby too. And, of course, though it’s not exactly Paradise, we’ll all miss the comfort and familiarity of a crowded and friendly neighbourhood where all the conveniences are just a short walk away. And we’ll miss our friends. And our favourite home-order eateries. You have to wonder whether it really is worthwhile for the sake of a shorter commute, but it looks like we’ve decided to take the plunge and we will find out the answer to that one soon enough.

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