Before I started a family, I never cared if there was a mess in the kitchen. In fact, I wouldn’t have noticed if the sink was overflowing for a few days. But after getting married and having a baby, I suddenly felt the urge to clean today’s mess up today, no matter what, or I would get anxious.
So every night I started to push myself away from the table prematurely, just as shit was starting to get a little out of hand with after-dinner meltdowns and hyperactivity.
I would lose myself in rinsing plates and stacking them in the dishwasher. Sometimes I would stand in front of the kitchen sink and let the water fall over my hands and just stare out the window.
It was my way of tuning out for a bit after taking care of the kids all day, then making dinner. There were nights when my ex-husband would stand next to me and offer to clean up the kitchen for me, but I dismissed him, instructing him to “just play with the kids.”
What I was really telling him was to keep the kids out of my way so I could lose myself in my thoughts and some ivory liquid. It was the closest I came to getting a manicure — let alone some peace and quiet — and I almost started to look forward to cleaning the nightly dishes.
I would start with the big jobs first, scouring pans, then scraping pots. Soon I could feel the weight of the day lift a little as I loaded the dishwasher and wiped down the counters and stove.
But before I knew, it would be bedtime. And while I was thankful for this some days (okay, most days), I also realized that I had missed out on family time — for a sink full of dishes.
Of course, it was nice for my kids to have the undivided attention from their father for a while, but I started to feel I was putting too much weight on my shoulders by needing to have all the things in order all the time. Maybe it would be okay if I sat alongside my kids and just relaxed or if I joined in the play. Maybe I could let the dishes wait, knowing they would get taken care of eventually. Maybe I could loosen the grip on my after-dinner rituals and stop tending to the mess right away.
It’s definitely nice to start the morning without last night’s chores stalking me, but doing the dishes right away isn’t strong enough currency to keep me from my family after dinner any longer. I can take care of the mess when my kids are asleep so I can linger while soaking my hands in the dishwater and staring out the window even longer. Or I can get my kids involved in the clean-up process, and we can enjoy each other’s company while finishing a chore. Or better yet, I can leave it until the next morning, combine them with the breakfast dishes and kill two birds with one stone.
Because in the end, what we keep in our memories is what matters. My family certainly is never going to say, “Well, Mom always cleaned up the kitchen right after dinner, and we loved her for it.”
They are going to remember me sitting at the table a bit longer and the fact I wanted to spend time with them instead, even if things did get wild and chaotic.