There was however one story that I must have read because I remember it to this day – the sorry tale of Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a mischievous king who had to roll a huge rock up a hill, only to watch it roll back down again when he had nearly reached the top. He was condemned to do this for all eternity, as punishment for tricking the gods. Over the years, thinkers and writers have interpreted this myth in many ways: perhaps it refers to the interminable pattern of the sun rising and setting each day? Perhaps it refers to people who strive for wealth, but fail time and again to find happiness in their possessions? Any task that is repetitive, unfulfilling and without real purpose may be called Sisyphean.
But it is only now, 20+ years after my own Greek (Classics O level) tragedy, that I finally see the relevance of a Greek myth. “EUREKA!” to quote Archimedes. The story of Sisyphus is surely about housework. Housework is as Sisyphean as an activity can be. Parents tidy up, and children follow them around making a mess again. We put away the trains, and out come the cars. We tidy up the pens, and out come the paints. We clean up after breakfast, and then it’s lunchtime. We sort out the clean clothes, and the kids get grubby. Again. And where do all the bits come from? The little rubber things, scraps of paper, and miscellaneous toy parts that have been detached from their original playthings and scuff about the carpet and under the furniture making the house look like a junkyard. It’s a fact of life that every time you clean up a family home, more mess appears. Quickly.
Housework is unavoidable, repetitive and unfulfilling. It’s something we parents have to do day in day out, to make our homes safe and comfortable places to play, eat and sleep. But, given the Sisyphean nature of housework, no wonder it’s the part of parenting that most people find the hardest. No wonder that, although they’re probably great parents, so many people score a U in housework. That’s U for Untidy, Unkempt, and Unbelievably chaotic!