I would generally describe myself as “fairly put-together.” I have plenty of time to get things done, so I’m not looking for a medal or anything. But even though I try to temper my need for things to be just so and acknowledge the realities of day-to-day life with children, it took only one short visit to a child-free household to trigger my self-loathing.
Last month, our family took an overnight trip to the mountains. After a day of skiing, we stayed with friends — a lovely couple with no children. It took me all of three seconds in their home to become self-conscious. Everything had a place, and everything was in its place. The house was still; we were not. Their conversations were calm and soft-spoken; ours were so not. The inside of the refrigerator was a beacon of hope — a clean, crisp mecca where unwilted food stood with honor, awaiting its destiny of becoming a healthy, well-balanced hot meal to be consumed with dignity and in the midst of articulate conversation. No ketchup. No complaining.
That evening I felt fortunate that our kids were (non-medically) sedated due to exhaustion from a long day on the slopes. (Traveling with preteens can be unpredictable at best, often featuring sudden appearances of the unruly twin of Satan.) But after a turbulent early-morning start, the odds were in our favor. We had an unusually pleasant dining experience with no major incident, and a quiet night back at the house watching reruns of The Office. Everyone was happy! Winning! As we all snuggled on the unstained sofa at just 8:30 p.m., I silently considered how our house would have looked and sounded on a typical weekday evening.
On the way home, my mind was consumed with glorious visions of all things clean! Must sanitize fridge — but wait! I should detail my car first.
Next up, get rid of everything we own. Should I include the kids in that deal?! Hmm…let’s consider all sides here. Easy street, right?
When we pulled into our driveway, I became keenly aware of all that was askew. I noted the Christmas garland that adorns our house as February comes to a close. The broken decorative plate masking the ice melt bag next to the front door. One might think we were part of a Christmas drug bust, swept away to our new life in witness protection.
Inside, dishes piled in the sink. Forgotten rotting laundry never switched over. Both a red glitter Christmas tree and a Valentine’s heart in peripheral view. At least I maintain a consistent look for every holiday, right?
I immediately whipped up a to-do list for the family to fall in line and spend one of the last days of vacation creating new law and order in the family barracks.
And then I heard it. I heard myself barking orders instead of having the kids run off and play. I felt the family dynamic shift. I could hear the faint whisper of Annie’s “It’s the Hard Knock Life” cueing up.
I stepped back. I remembered spending the last few years trying to unravel my tightly wound need to have everything just so. This perceived lack of togetherness was my personal objective. I also sensed a universal lack of morale from my entire family infantry.
And so I released them from their duties and decided to take a step back and reassess the situation.
Although I take great pleasure in put-togetherness, in silence, and in order, I’ve worked hard not to impose that on everyone around me. My kids are just that: kids. We are a family, and we run more smoothly without the pressure to be perfect. I’ve worked hard to fight that impulse for perfection (I still have work to do). I need to refocus on the gifts that the noise, life, and chaos have to offer, and let the other stuff go — just a little bit more.
For now, I try to find moments in each day to simply savor the solitude. I’m fortunate to have such time to myself.
When my family isn’t with me, I relish the silence. I pick up the house and appreciate what little I do have control over, even for a short while. When I scan the house and yard and see chaos, it means that I’ve given myself permission to go out and experience life outside of being a mother and a maid.
Did I spend a good part of that day whipping things back into order? Yes! My car is free of food bits, random clothes, and miscellaneous papers. My fridge is free of moldy leftovers. And I have the inspiration of our childless friends to thank for that!
Still, the bedrooms are a mess, and the laundry is yet to be folded. The Christmas garland will have to wait till another day, or week. Someday, the kids will move on, and I will surely miss the mess, the sounds, and the chaos. In the meantime, I’ll continue to strive for a messier-than-I-prefer balance between both worlds.
But most importantly, does anyone have a red glitter shamrock I can borrow? St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner (you should get it back by September).