In the quiet of the morning, sometimes I wonder at all the young eyes staring at me. Their expectant gaze is matched by a padding of little feet – those of the puppy loping down the stairs, of the toddler, the five-year-old and the seven-year-old. There is a sweet sliver in this glaring early hour in which the eyes all look at me in tandem. They wait, suspended in time.
Usually, I am in the kitchen putting coffee on and I lean back to observe the stairwell: there they are, the eyes. Four pairs, including the puppy’s green offerings, are studying me, this woman who cuddles them and feeds them in that order, every morning, without fail. The rest of the day is frenetic, almost frantic. There is a race to dress them, feed them again (and again), play with them, take them somewhere and mostly, referee them as they live deep in the trenches of sibling rivalry, flinging mud at each other in a never-ending bid to win. The prize, of course, always changes and they are never even sure what it was in the first place. Each of them just wants to win.
The slice of the day afforded to these wondering eyes and soft feet is so short (the fighting kicks in soon enough) but I think about it afterwards. The puppy sets me off. He takes the staring and commits to it fully, from the moment I wake to when I curl into bed to seek refuge in sleep. He tails me incessantly and there is no place too lowly for him. The three-year-old is always in tow, both in tacit agreement that this woman should be followed everywhere at all costs. To the shower. To the toilet. Upstairs when I put away laundry, downstairs when I get more laundry to put away. Up again, down again. To the garden when I am putting rubbish out. Back in again, to the kitchen. To the front door when I open it. Back up to the toilet. All day long.
The eyes are relentless but not unwelcome. They are so innocent; they love me. They need to be with me, no matter how menial the task on display. It must be observed. It must be witnessed. There might, too, be something in it for them. For the puppy, well, there might be a tidbit of real human fare or a tickle behind the ear. For the three-year-old, anything could happen but what he lives for mostly is that I will down the dreary tools of domesticity and play a game of headless Lego minifigures with him. I try to avoid this mystifying game because I don’t like it but a few times a day a thought will slap me awake: do I like trudging up and down stairs to put laundry away or constantly sweeping the kitchen floor more than playing with my small son?
At this point, a tiny but ever-present part of me screams inside: ‘No, I don’t like ANY of it!’ but then the urge to bolt is always superceded by love. Alright, if I’m being honest – guilt too. I drop the unpaired socks in a basket where they will stay, sink to the floor and make my decapitated Ninja fly through the air to the delight of my baby. ‘Love you too Mama,’ he says, without any declaration from me. The older two look on scornfully and declare, ‘That’s not even a real game,’ and soon the youngest turns away from me.
I go back to the kitchen and empty the dishwasher, the puppy with his grassy eyes following me devotedly across the tiles, just in case.