Helping?

Once upon a place – a long time ago:

Once upon a place, a long time ago, there were three little girls…

I have a memory, very clear, I am around three years old, must be because the memory is in a house called “Sunnyside” and my family moved from there some time after my third birthday. This is me (holding a golf club? my parents liked golf) and on the rug are my big sister and my baby sister. (I think this is at Sunnyside, but this is not a memory, just a snapshot from the box.)

I have quite a lot of early memories of Sunnyside, mostly involving my sisters, or cousins, or the dog (called Pickles) and as she was killed in the road when I was two, there are earlier memories than the one I am taking a wee while to get around to telling. Here it is:

I am in the Sunnyside kitchen, I am sitting on the bench with my feet in the sink. I have a ‘soap-saver’ in my hand – no squeezy bottles of Fairy around then. The soap saver is a sort of wire mesh box about three inches by two by one into which the ends of soap get put for dishwashing. I am having a great time. In my memory I know exactly where I am and what I am doing.

I AM DOING THE DISHES, I AM HELPING MY MOTHER,
SHE NEEDS ME.

Years later after my own motherhood, HA HA HA, Really? Where is my mum? Where are the sisters? What did Mum really need? Other knowledge suggests other scenarios.

Scenario A: Baby needs fed/changed and Mammy’s other little helper (BIG Sister) is running about fetching and carrying. I have been got out of the way

Scenario B: Big S just took my toy, I smacked her, she cried/told, I was got out of the way

Scenario C: I just poked baby, … I was plonked where I could not get down… no-one actually knows I found the soapsaver

Scenario D: Toddler (me) had a temper tantrum about any or all of the above, my mammy knows splashing water about calms me down, I am put on the bench…

Best Scenario: what a great mammy I had, at least some of the time, with three children born in less than 4 years, managed to deal with chaos by letting at least one of them think she was a great wee helper.

There are words for this, I think it is a projective identification, from one, the actual helper, and an introjection from the other, who remembers helping, rather than being helped.

Second (in this house) version of the green kitchen, third in memory.

I am putting these words in to the post because there is a sequel to this story, and over and over again I am caught amazed, awed and astonished at how unconscious works. It is wonderful. In the few years after moving here, to this Edinburgh flat, there were a number of stressors around, like new job, Darby and Joan parents in and out of hospitals like those figurines on a weather clock, sons dropping out of college, and … the kitchen…  in an otherwise nicely decorated new home.

The year after my parents died I decided that even if I could live with all the rest of the previous occupant’s taste, I would get the kitchen re-painted. Some weeks later after the usual monumental sort through the ‘shade cards’, and holding little tiny squares up against large expanses of wall, and wondering about the tiles and the curtains and colours already there somewhere, and the recommendations from friends of friends about ‘good painters, cheap painters, quick working painters’ … eventually found exactly the ‘woodland pearl’ for the woodwork and ‘apple-white’ for the walls, and engaged a painter. [Twenty years ago these were new names for  ‘in’ colours, never again to be called pale green.] Very up-to-date me, I went off to work leaving the chosen painter in charge, who had prepared all surfaces the previous day, and he said it would be done by the time I got home.

So I came home, eagerly, key in the door, walk down the hall, AND STEPPED IN TO MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN. Completely out of my conscious knowledge, I had recreated the exact same colours from the past and went straight in to flashback. Yes of course I sat down and cried, but I was also very very happy. Some things are not forgotten – when the whole place got re-decorated a few years ago, I kept the colour scheme. She had good taste too, she still helps me.

Flashback Time – not always traumatic or stressful – posted in response to Sidey’s weekend theme: Once upon a Place, a Long Time ago.

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