February 10, 2012 by Isa
By Isa Junkkari
If you are familiar with her blog, you’ll know that Helena is not the kind of depressed stay-at-home-mom lounging around in sweats and greasy hair that I am. Her body seems to have no trace of having carried and borne children, her hair is long and lustrous, and the insides of her house could be straight from an interior design magazine, in all its black-and-white-only luster. Not only is the entire house dressed in black and white, so is every child, and so is Helena. Even the dish rag is black, set off against an all-white kitchen. The food she has cooked for lunch today is black-and-white, too: Dark reindeer meat in a white creamy soup.
She really is perfect. I certainly want to hate her. But I can’t, because she is utterly lovely and charming, and my interview isn’t as much an interview as an Isa-asking-for-advice, an Isa-sucking-up-every-word-she-is-saying. She is like a wise tribal woman everybody goes to for healing, woman in her essence, Mother Eve. And when I drive home later, there is nothing I want more than to have a slice of her world.
I start by asking the obvious (and somewhat rude) questions:
Are you done having children?
- These are enough, for now. One at a time.
(Note, by the time this interview gets published, Helena is expecting her 6th child).
Are your pregnancies easy?
- Yes. And my belly is like a small ball.
The interview is hard to listen to, there are constant interruptions by children. Screeches, quiet piano music streaming from the MAC. In the background, baby giggles. Where are my shoes? one asks. Have you finished your home work? She asks. Oh-oh, now the cornflakes fell into your brother’s shirt!
Your home is very organized.
- Thanks to my husband. He builds furniture. He built me this new storage unit last spring for the dining room, which helps.
Not only is she perfect, she also appears to have the perfect husband.
Tell me about your company AVA Room.
- We work together. We used to store everything at our house. Can you imagine! Now that the business has become bigger, we have a storage space in Petikko. We do the work together in the company. I am the opinion leader, I do websites, etc, and my husband designs; but I’ll still says yes or no – It’s hard to say what our roles or titles are. It’s more like a conversation.
How did you come up with your business idea?
- It was a need-based. We needed a functional bunk bed. Like the couch my husband built (she points to the couch, a longer than normal chaise-like structure that accommodates the whole family and is, no surprises here, black and white).
Tell me about your everyday life:
- We get up, Tommi and I get the kids ready for school. Our dream is that when Tommi doesn’t have to go to Metso (his day job), we’ll sit and drink a coffee. We do avoin päiväkoti, playgroup, on Fridays. After school, there is home work, some hobbies (gymnastic lessons are on Thursdays). I will start my studies, Sociology, at the open university, in autumn. On Wednesdays… that’s my Wednesday. That’s enough. One Wednesday a week, my Wednesday. I wanted to study cultural anthropology, but there were no deeper-going studies available. But I have no hurry. I have a slow life. Life has taught that: I have no hurry. I have a long life still.
The kids sometimes go to Petikko with us. They love it, they can jump from one bed to the other.
Your kids seem very well-behaved.
- Yeah. I think they like to be there. But it’s been a nice summer, really nice. The children go into the forest, I think they are there right now (and indeed, out of the five children, four seem to have vanished into the nearby woods.) This (a district close to the Nuuksio national park) is a paradise for kids. With kids, this is a paradise, perfect for them. If you are a couple without kids, then maybe Helsinki is nice…
Do they ever fight?
- Yes they fight. But I think, not that much at this time. Maybe the ages are pretty good. Werner has been very easy for the last one and a half years. Now it seems like he shows some anger. It’s good, now [that the baby is older], he has the chance to show his feelings a bit more.
Did you breastfeed all of your children?
- Yes. Benjamin for 14 months, the second oldest stopped a bit before he was 1 year old, the others I breastfed for 1 year and 7 months. Now Loviisa is 1 year and 5 months. It takes a few months to stop breastfeeding for me, I can’t do it from one night to the next. I’m not saying other can’t do it, just that I can’t. Loviisa has slept now for one week without breast. And I am still so tired anyway. I thought it would be a huge difference with my first child, from when you breastfeed to when you don’t, but it was never a big difference in terms of tiredness. Hearing this, some [people] could easily assume that I must have gone crazy, because I haven’t slept in the last 7 years. But I haven’t. Maybe it’s the hormones.
(One of the kids wants something. She talks authoritatively, but sweetly. The shoes are in the drawer. Help your brother put on his.)
Tell me about your blog.
- I enjoy it. Sometimes I ask myself, why am I doing this? WHY am I doing this? And then I continue. It would be a nice question to ask. Why do people blog? Because I don’t have the answer. Maybe it’s like a diary. It’s the everyday things. I haven’t developed any photos in three years, because they are all on my blog. (And then to Loviisa, oh you little stinky, we have to change your diaper… ).
Do you have a background in photography?
- My dad photographed a lot when I was a child. He has stopped now that it’s digital. You have no motivation, you just shoot and choose.
Are your parents creative people like you and your husband?
- My dad works in the business world, but he likes to cook and craft. My mom has been at home with the kids for 25 years. Now she is thinking about what she would like to do. She is only 50, she has time to do whatever she wants to.
- If it’s your choice, if you have chosen that, you don’t have to. You have those two sides: what is my choice. Of course you’ll miss something. I have been home for ten years, and it’s been so fast. It goes really fast. Sometimes I wonder when some people tell me that they have been at home with their child for one year, and it feels so long for them. Because my ten years have gone by so fast. But maybe once you’ve been home for four or five years, it goes faster. I have my Wednesday, and that’s enough for me. I am happy here, all day. (To the baby: oh you smell so bad. And then she kisses her nose.)
What’s the best moment in your life?
- Oh what a difficult question. What should I say. Life is now. Before, I thought that whenever something happens. Now I know that the best moment is now. You are living the best moment in your life, every day, every year. I hope I will feel that way when I am 60.
- Our neighbors built a house, they have two kids. And they were sad that they were building it now that their kids were older (they are over 20), when they are not in the parents’ lives any more. They said, now it feels like we are building an empty house, because we don’t have those kids [with us] any more.
- When I am 50, no more children then, hopefully, you never know! I would like to feel that I have lived a full life, a woman’s full life, that nothing is missing. I’d like to feel that way. My children are my happiness. Of course, they fill my days, and my weeks, and my life. They do it without asking.
Has motherhood changed you?
- Motherhood has changed me. When my first child was one week old, I realized I was looking at the world with different eyes. The world was so different from how it had been just one week earlier, when I was still pregnant. I realized how much my parents loved me and took care of me. I had done so much in one week, so much work in one week, and they did it for 18 years.
Both Helena and her husband come from large families. I ask her if she gets a lot of visitors because of that and if it stresses her out (as it would me).
- We have visitors quite often. Tommis sister with her husband will come soon. It stresses me only a little bit. Not much, but a little.
You seem like a calm person.
- Maybe I have become patient, I wasn’t that patient of a person before. Life has taught me. (Smiles serenely.)
- My husband bought a little tub for the shower today. Tomorrow we will start renovating and we won’t be able to use the shower. We have this co-op laundry room, I haven’t used it before, but I have to now. We won’t have a shower.
You seem very relaxed, is all I can say, stunned by the calmness of a mother of five who faces living without a shower, and without a laundry room, for the next few months.
Do you ever yell at your children? Do you get loud?
- Yes, of course. Sometimes. Yesterday I did. Today I haven’t. But of course, yes I do. I am not an angel, just a normal woman. With all those feelings. But as she says this, a ray of sunshine falls conveniently into the kitchen, where she is patiently cleaning up the mess little Loviisa left when she dropped her mother’s coffee cup. She smiles, just as the ray of light illuminates her face and eyes, making her look very angelic, indeed.
What do you want for your children when you think of their futures?
- Happiness. I have been able to choose the lifestyle that I have wanted to. All my sisters (we are four adult girls) have all chosen very different things. I have this kind of life here, my other sister is a vet, one studies business economics in Joensuu, and Julia who came from the US today, is studying Russian. The best thing about my parents is that they let everyone choose their way of life. If you think it’s right for you, then go for it! It’s interesting, that everybody is doing such a different thing. It’s the best thing about my family, and I hope I can give the same to my children. I of course will give them guidance. But I hope they can find the way on which they can be happy.
Are there many big families with whom you associate? Aren’t they quite rare in Finland?
- Just recently neighbors of our’s, they have four kids, moved away to Nurmijärvi. They have been dreaming the old Finnish dream of Punainen tupa and Perunamaa – A Red House with a Garden. Personally, I don’t see myself in Nurmijärvi. But maybe one day we have to move and get a bigger house. But not yet.
- Here in Niipperi we do have big families. It’s pretty normal. Also families with five and six kids. In the playgroup to which we go on Fridays, there are many people with four children. I think it’s not that extraordinary. Times have changed. In the 80s, families had 1.7 children. In the 70s, I don’t know, there weren’t that many big families then, I think.
- Two weeks ago we were in Turku, there was family reunion. We were the biggest family there! And we are the younger generation! It is funny.
Her daughter Anselika presents me with one of her drawings, a tree with autumn leaves and a squirrel.
- I like Montessori schools. Most of my children go to a Montessori school. I like the way they listen to the child. When a child is ready to learn to read, then they start the ABCs. They start with those, my children have learned as four-year olds, because it was the right time to teach them those. If you give it at the right time to the child, then it’s easier.
The phone rings and Helena goes to answer it. When Helena comes back, she explains:
- Grandma called. Grandma is 91. She calls me 30 times a day. She has a facebook profile, and she is very active on it, and I help her. But now it wasn’t the facebook profile she was calling about. This morning her heart was pumping really fast.
- She has said many times, because she was an only child, she had a brother that died of tuberculosis when she was 9 years old: how is it possible that I have this big family? Because I was so alone when I was a child, and when I was an adult, and now I have this big family! She likes it very much. She has said many times, I was so alone, always, and now I have this big family! They live in Nöykkiö, her and my father, very close to each other.
The 91-year old grandmother calling her grandchild 30 times a day because she needs help with her facebook profile. That strikes me as wonderfully awesome.
How come your family is so close?
- Maybe it’s because of the grandmother. The big family in itself is not the answer to why we are close. What makes the family close? Is it the time we spend together? I was thinking about that question with a friend. She is having her fourth in 2 weeks. She said she hopes that her children will be close. But what is the answer? I don’t have it, I don’t think anybody has the answer. Maybe it’s the time that you spend together. What is the time we have spent together? I hope my children will be close.
- In a family like this, you need two adults. Two adults, and both must be committed. Truly committed. Deeply rooted in and dedicated to the family. It takes a lot, so it has to be a big part of life. So it has to be your one common dream. You have to think: this is my thing. This is our thing.
- Maybe that is the secret behind a close family: commitment.
- It’s so sad when you do all this work, and then you are 50 and you realize your family isn’t close.. I mean, of course my children can choose and say, I want to live alone, of course they can do that, but it would be so sad if they thought that our family is not close, because I think my family, my friends also, are a big part of my life. My sister has two sons, and last Saturday they [my sister and her husband] had a wedding, so the kids were here all Saturday. And it’s so easy when you have a sister, siblings, when you need help. Last year I was at Habitare (the Finnish interior decorating and design fair) and Tommi’s sister Elina lived here for one week, took time off, and was with the kids. Loviisa was at Habitare with us, and she took her naps in the cradle we were showcasing there.
- So yes. Utter commitment. Both of you. Maybe that’s the answer. I think this big family wouldn’t work if this was only my plan. That wouldn’t be nice, either.
Yeah, like when your husband says, goodbye sweety, I’m going to hang out with my buddies now. You handle the kids.
- Yeah exactly. That could easily happen. You have to be in the same boat.
- Of course I have asked myself all these questions. I have been here, at home, and I have time to think about these questions. What do I think about life? And of course that brings more questions, and then more answers again.
- Maybe that’s what my children have taught me. As a stay-at home mother of many children, you have to stop every once in a while and then you have to be with yourself. If you work at home, you have time to be with yourself, you see yourself, I am what I am, I am this kind of a person. So maybe you learn to know yourself a bit better than if you are working somewhere else. Maybe that’s the reason why I think working at home is not that boring. There is always something. You can be creative, you can do things you can’t do if you are working for a company. Of course it’s different when it’s your own company. Then you work for yourself, with your family.
- You have to find the best way for you. I always say, if someone asks me for advice, I say that this is how I feel, how I do this. This is my way. I stop breastfeeding and it takes me two months. Why can’t you stop today? some people ask me. Well, for me it takes two months, is my answer.
- What’s interesting when you have five kids, is that they are all so different. I and my sisters are different from each other. People are so different. Maybe it is easier for the kids to grow they way they want in big families. You don’t have to say to one kid: I want you to be a doctor, and I want grandchildren. If you have five kids, they can choose the way of life they want to.
And suddenly it hits me that her black-and-white home and wardrobe are the perfect backdrop to showcase the bunch that are her children, each one running around her home with a blond head of hair, a wide smile, and a colorful bouquet of personalities.
4 comments on “Modern-day Austen”
Leave a Reply