It took me 2 hours today to build a marble run more intricate than the Basilica, only to have Bill place a marble at the top of it, and watch it drop like a pebble into a well. It went from the very top to the very bottom without touching anything. Bill looked at me, and sighed. He’s getting used to this kind of thing. Last October I spent 3 hours icing a pussycat birthday cake for Olive, as requested, but nobody at the party could tell what it was. Not even Olive, who’d asked for it. She thought it was a ball. It’s demoralising, but I’m starting to figure out what is going on.
Before I had children, my general sense of self told me that whatever I tried my hand at, I was pretty good at it. I had high self-esteem; I trusted in my own co-ordination. One friend even used to find me annoying because I could ‘do everything’. She’d laugh if she saw me now. What I have realised lately, though, is that the things I was trying my hand at back then were the things I wanted to do – so of course I was alright at them. The thing about motherhood is that it throws you into a relentless array of things you have to do, whether or not you choose them. It wouldn’t be my first choice to try and build a lego plane without an instruction booklet; I am not skilled at installing car seats into vehicles; my chocolate chip cookies never rise; and if you ask me to a Felting and Crafts party I will start to cry openly. All these things can really up your ineptness percentages – especially when you can’t balance your score with the things you’d choose and might naturally be good at. There’s no time for those things: you’re too busy building 7-towered loop-the-loop marble runs from a picture on the box. I flounder through the days, loving my children; but with the exception of them, feeling like everything I touch turns to rubbish.
A few nights ago I called the plumber 24-hour emergency hotline because the pilot light had gone out on my furnace. I don’t even know what a pilot light is or does, but I was still having to talk about it on the phone. I’d called Frank first, to ask him what words to use when discussing a furnace – I’d even jotted down useful phrases on a notepad. By the time I’d hung up on the plumbers and they’d despatched their most skilled workers, hurrying through the night to save my family, I realised that Olive had secretly turned the dial down on the thermostat. I turned it back up and the furnace switched on. Another sheepish phonecall, another moment where I look at my feet and mumble something about being slightly out of my element.
Then yesterday at Bill’s daycare, I very efficiently drew his name onto his snowboots, having spotted another, smaller pair next to them in the boot line-up by the door. I went and found a permanent marker, then wrote ‘BILL’ proudly, right up the outsides of them. Later I had a phonecall from the pre-school to tell me I’d taken the wrong boots home: the ones with ‘Bill’ all over them were still there. That was embarrassing in itself; but then I checked the ones Bill had come home in. They were his size. I was puzzled for only a moment before I had one of those awful, flooding moments where you realise what you’ve done. I had to call the pre-school back and do more mumbling, in the style of a 10 year old in the headmistress’ office. I had to explain that I had got a bit muddled, and that was why I had accidentally written my son’s name all over another child’s boots.
It’s uncanny, this new talent I have for messing things up so spectacularly. I bet there’s no-one else out there bodging it up with such consistency. I might have to start being competitive about it. Nobody does Rubbishfinger better than me! See, that’s a better spin on it. My self-esteem is recovering by the second.