Mamas, Don't Clean Your House Before Playdates

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 

When she asked if I wanted to come over for a playdate, I was stoked. Not only are her kids the same age as mine, but she seemed cool. And mom friends are hard to find once you are past the baby stage. Hell, let’s all take a shot of honesty and admit that mom friends are hard to find when you’re in the baby stage too.

A few hours before the playdate, she messaged. “Fair warning,” she said, “I didn’t clean.”

“I don’t care,” I typed back. I figured I knew what this meant: the kids hadn’t picked up their toys. Because when someone says their house isn’t clean, they usually mean one of three things: (1) their kids have not picked up their toys, (2) their throw rugs are not perfectly aligned, or (3) their couch cushions have migrated off the couch, because children or dogs.

I pulled up at about the same time she did. All the kids began inexplicably playing in a rather overgrown, weedy yard carved with child-trod paths. My heart felt a little warm. OMG, her yard looks like my yard, I thought. And she is not apologizing. She is not telling me she’s sorry. Her yard is like mine and she is acting like this is situation normal and I think there is a toy peeking out from under that bush.

Then she let me in the house. And after a few minutes, I wanted to curl up on the back-cushion-less couch and weep from sheer gratitude. From relief. From a deep-down sense of normal. Because not only was this woman cool, she had let me into her real life — no apologies. And that life looked like mine. It looked like the same imperfect, messy, I’m-rearing-children-and-animals-and-holding-it-all-togetherness I live in every day. The side I try to hide. The side the whole world tells me to hide, because it’s messy and not picture perfect. The side no one’s supposed to see.

She let me behind the curtain. And backstage looked a lot like my house.

The couch was missing cushions, probably because some child had stolen them. Art was everywhere, and the coffee table was dusty. Probably because she hadn’t had time to dust since the last time she procreated, and on the list of things she had to do in this world, dusting was somewhere below “feed the children” and “make it through the day without losing my mind, all while keeping everyone in clean underwear.” She gestured at a pile of clothes in the corner of the dining room. “That’s Mount Laundry,” she said.

“I folded one earlier today,” I said.

Her sink was full of dishes, and I caught sight of an ant darting behind the faucet. She made us what I’m pretty sure was French press coffee — I was busy stopping my boys from chasing her daughter’s cat — but she had to wash two mugs first. We joked that if the mugs weren’t perfectly clean, it would be just like home. We didn’t have to use grapefruit spoons to stir our coffee, but as we sat out back, shoes off, ceding the house to the screaming, running, climbing children who were demanding to go into the attic, then popping out occasionally to jump on the trampoline, I though: YES.

Yes. This is how it’s meant to be. This is the truth. She didn’t put on a show. We giggled about her dishes. We belly-laughed at her auxiliary trash can (which is when you put a trash bag next to your full trash can). Then we folded clothes while I told her the birth story of my first son. There was a sisterhood in this, in the reality of this motherhood, that I’d never seen in any other house, save the ones of my lifelong besties.

She was saying, with every gesture: it’s okay. You’re okay. Your house is okay. You don’t have to be perfect for me, and you don’t have to be perfect for the world. That’s what we believe, you know, when we scrub the baseboards before we let the other mothers of small children cross our threshold. And they come in, and they think, Damn, I can’t have her over until my house is clean. I can’t have her over until it’s perfect.

It’s a vicious cycle. And I’m stopping it now.

When you come over, expect that I will have kicked the clutter off major walkways. I will have showed the bathroom the business end of some spray bleach. Beyond that, this is me. This is how I live. This is my reality, my life. Who is anyone to judge?

Maybe you’ll look around. Maybe you’ll see something you’ll recognize. Maybe we’ll laugh about it. And then we can fold some laundry while you tell me a story, or complain about having a four-year-old. It will be the truth. And life will be better for it.

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