Last night Belle and I watched Wife Swap USA.
Yes, I know it’s mostly staged and it’s all rubbish, but I don’t care. I love it. So there. I particularly love the last five minutes when they go back to their own families and, despite having spent the swap coming out with lines like “I’d rather be DEAD than spend another day with that DEVIL WOMAN!”, they take home lots of Valuable Lessons, and all become balanced, loving families, living happily ever after. And no, I don’t even love that part in an ironic way, I just like to think it’s true.
I particularly like watching Wife Swap with Belle, as she gives me an interesting perspective on my own parenting, and sometimes I can see she has been made to think about some aspect of her own behaviour. There’s nothing like having your annoying habits caricatured on TV to make you cringe at just how annoying they really are. They always pick families of opposite ends of a scale (obviously) and I like Belle to tell me where she thinks I fall – am I more like the mom who built a skateboard ramp in her garden and has not one but two cheap fridge freezers full of burgers and chips, or the one who makes her kids drink vegetable water and write essays?
It reminds me a bit of when I was a child and my mum would pick out strangers in the street and ask us whether or not they were fatter than her. (“She still does that to me,” says Bee, reading over my shoulder. “You’re obviously going to say yes aren’t you?”)
Last night’s seemed to have a profound effect on Belle. In one of the families there was an only child – a girl of ten – who did remind me a lot of Belle. She was sometimes sweet, but other times rude and outspoken, refusing to do as she was told and answering back a lot. I could see that Belle recognised herself, and that this was making her feel a tad uncomfortable.
When the programme had finished, she went off to her room for ten minutes and came back with a schedule she had designed for herself. “These are my chores Mummy. Monday – wash and hoover…”
“Is that washing yourself?” I asked.
“No silly, washing the sideboards.”
“Tuesdays – wash and hoover, Wednesdays wash and hoover, Thursdays – wash and hoover, Fridays – wash. I wanted a day off the hoovering.”
“Well that’s lovely,” I enthused, “but I’m not sure we really need to worry about hoovering every day.”
She gave me a dubious, pitying look. “I think we do Mummy, we’re really not very clean.”
I’m thinking of applying to go on the show. As far as I can see it would be a win-win situation – they’d inevitably pair me with some clean freak who washed her kids regularly and spent Sundays cooking wholesome meals in batches for the freezer, so I’d get a couple of weeks away with a nice tidy family and come home to a clean house. Genius. And in the meantime I’m going to have very clean sideboards.