Messes make my throat close up. And glitter? JUST KILL ME NOW.
I only give our children water to drink because cleaning up spilled juice makes me feel homicidal. It doesn’t just make a puddle on the floor, you know. It sprays and hits the legs of furniture. I know this because I’m the kind of mom who gets on her hands and knees and hunts that shit down until I’ve cleaned every last bit of it up.
“You should just relax!” well-meaning friends and family say. That sounds nice, relaxing. I’d like to relax. I try to relax. I experiment with being chill, copying what relaxed people do—things like handing out juice like it’s not killing me on the inside to do so. When it inevitably spills, I calmly ask the child to clean it up. I remain calm because I’m not neurotic anymore, you see. I’ve decided to be relaxed.
I hand the child a paper towel and consciously look away from the haphazardly wiped up mess and force myself to smile, because that’s another thing that relaxed people do. They smile amidst chaos and filth. They do not grit their teeth and act like the apocalypse is coming when multiple people track grape juice through the house. Relaxed people make it look easy, but that is a lie. Being relaxed is hard work.
And then my child taps me on the shoulder and asks, “Where’s my real mommy?”
This experiment is followed by me lying awake in bed that night envisioning a trail of ants finding their way to the juice that didn’t get wiped up, and I get out of bed and end up scrubbing the kitchen floor at 2 a.m. because that’s what uptight mothers do. They clean in the middle of the fucking night because they literally cannot rest until whatever is bothering them is taken care of.
Fingerprints on the windows, toothpaste spatter on the mirror, crumbs on the floor—all of it makes me crazy. I’ve got cleaning products like whoa and Clorox wipes in every bathroom, because nothing sends me over the edge like urine that didn’t quite make it into the toilet. My quirks are problematic, given that I’m a mother of three kids under the age of 7. I’m either raising the future leaders of Obsessive-Compulsive Anonymous, or I’m grooming them for years of therapy sessions, possibly both.
My neurosis was at full-strength for several years, until I became vastly outnumbered by children. Children who were producing snot and poop and puddles all around me at an alarming rate. Children who wouldn’t allow me to select their outfits for them and who insisted on wearing Darth Vader costumes to the grocery store. Children who thought it was funny to crush Cheerios into smithereens and blow the dust at people.
Children do not care about neuroses. Children care about snack time and imaginary friends named “Banana.”
By child number three, the fucks were simply beat out of me. I did not give up easily, mind you. It was a valiant fight on my part to keep the fingernails clean and clipped and the floors spic-and-span. I damn near ran myself into the ground trying to keep up with it all, until one day when the baby was screaming and the toilet overflowed and the older ones had a food fight, all at the same time. The messes were flying at me too fast. There was too much to address at once. My last fuck took flight and left me. Poof. Gone.
I was simply out of fucks.
I’d like to say that it’s been freeing to care a little less about messes. I’d like to tell you that I feel good about the fact that my sinks and tubs have semi-permanent rings around them, and I’m not sure when our toilets were last cleaned properly, but the truth is, I just feel tired.
What I can say is that when tiredness overtakes an uptight mother and forces her to be a little less neurotic, she has no choice but to lie down. And when she finally does lie down, her children crowd around, stroking her face, playing with her hair, running toy cars over her arms and legs, poking in her ears, and whispering, “Does Mommy have a belly button?”
And it is magical and freeing and awesome…until someone gets a bloody nose.
Maybe my children will look back fondly on their childhood and wonder how their mother always kept the house so tidy, or maybe they’ll just remember that I always freaked out when they made a mess in the bathroom. Either way, they’ll know they were loved—maybe imperfectly but always with everything I’ve got.
Because if nothing else, neurotic parents give life everything they’ve got.