This is my house.
I have grappled with this reality for almost a year now. My first year of single motherhood and my first year of raising two girls—one an infant, the other a toddler. I don’t enjoy the mess. I can be comfortable with a couple of items out of place, but for the most part, I’d like my house to be in a state of order. My parents raised me in an always clean house, and my sister and I had chores to help instill that ideal. They still keep a very orderly home, which is thoroughly cleaned by the end of each night. They are in the back of my head when I walk around my house. How can you stand it like this?
While on maternity leave last summer, a friend came over with dinner, a nice gesture meant to help with the burden of nightly meal preparation. Our kids were friends from daycare, and she was also expecting her second daughter. I spent the night before getting done what I could and felt really good about the progress I had made. All dirty dishes were in the sink. The floors were swept. Counters were wiped. I only got six hours of broken-up sleep, but my house was presentable. I thought it went really well. At daycare drop-off the next day, she said, “I thought I was prepared to have two girls, but coming to your house was a wake-up call.”
It was a wake-up call for me as well. Or, at least for my anxiety and discomfort in inviting friends over. My go-to response for an invitation to get together became, “How about the park? I’ll meet you there,” knowing if they came to pick us up, there was a chance they’d come inside. It took a week of positive self-talk and nightly cleaning routines before I mustered the courage to invite my best friend over. My best friend. The very one who had been by my side through each scary, uncomfortable, and heart-breaking moment of the last year. Still, when I finally did have her over, I found myself making an excuse or explaining away each small item that was out of place and wondering if there were smells that I couldn’t smell. Looking back, that should have been my wake-up call.
When it comes to the state of my house, I fight myself and the “theys” all the time, regardless of the circumstances. What would they say about that laundry? That dirty diaper left on the nightstand? The wet dog smell? My free moments are spent fighting these never-ending battles. I’ve spent a year now perfecting the art of multitasking. I have vacuumed while bottle-feeding the baby and playing the lead role of Elsa in my toddler’s game of Frozen. I swear I work harder on the weekend than I do at my job during the week. I don’t sit down until 9:00 every night and am up at 5:30 the next morning ready to start the routine again. I find myself thinking about what I need to get done while I read and play with my kids.
It’s been a year. And I am done wasting my thoughts on “they” because when I look at our house, this is what I see. I see the diaper that my oldest helped me change and we quickly forgot about as we got in a tickle fight. I see the laundry I didn’t do this week because the sun was finally shining, which meant nightly stroller-versus-bike races around the neighborhood. I see my Rottweiler, who happily plays dress-up and participates in running races around the yard. Yes, I smell her too. But she provides a sense of security and is a sister-like companion to my girls. I see the decorating my daughter did with the felt and remember vividly the reasons behind each carefully placed piece. I see the applesauce splatters my youngest made. She’s learning to eat with a spoon at twelve months. It still amazes me how smart she is.
I see our life. And that is much more important than vacuumed floors.