Once upon a time, my house sparkled. Mopping the floors was my favorite task: Clean your house and get an aerobic workout at the same time! I arranged the cans in the pantry in tidy rows. I organized the spices alphabetically on the rack. I told myself that if my husband’s worst habit was dropping his towel on the floor, I was a lucky woman. I placed a fresh towel on the rack for him with a smile.
Then we had kids, three of them, which meant our household now had four people flinging towels with abandon and exactly one person invested in picking them up—me. And I didn’t smile about it.
And then there were the toys. Tiny, sharp toys that hurt when you stepped on them in the dark and big toys to trip over in the hallway of our then tiny house. Stuffed animals and doll clothes collecting dust. Crayons and stickers and crumpled construction paper. Tiny bouncy balls that left marks on the ceiling. Greasy handprints all over the glass.
School spurred new messes. Books and pencils and papers and markers scattered across the kitchen table. Cardboard boxes reconstructed as leprechaun traps. Closets torn apart to make costumes: Claude Monet, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, the Big Bad Wolf, Lady Gaga. Wet footprints dotting the hardwood after we moved to a house with a pool. Wet towels molding on the patio. Barbies and Nerf gun pellets strewn inside and out.
And the laundry! Tae Kwon Do clothing, gymnastic leotards, basketball and soccer uniforms every week. Don’t forget to wash the shin guards! Grass and mud on the knees of every pair of pants. Grass and mud ground into every pair of socks. Yogurt and chocolate and ketchup spilled on everything. There was not enough bleach.
We moved again, to a city where it rains. Muddy shoes and dripping umbrellas. More homework, more papers and books, plus calculators and protractors and computers. Makeup, blow dryers, and flat irons crowding the bathroom counter. Hair spray gunk-ing up the bathroom floor. Dirty dishes collecting in the bedrooms, and pizza boxes piling in the basement. The odor of sweat and the stench of Axe Body Spray. Nail polish spilled on the carpet. Tiny black rubber balls all over my white kitchen floor—turf balls that come out of their cleats, because it’s too wet here to play soccer on grass.
Other families’ houses seem so clean and organized. How do they do it? I don’t understand. Yes, my kids help and my husband helps, but the pace of our lives is relentless. The mess seems to crash over us, wave after wave—work, school, emails, texts, homework, and soccer tournaments and birthday parties and appointments and people to visit at the hospital. Most days I barely keep my head above water.
I hate the mess. I hate it, but I know what’s coming. My older two start high school next fall and my youngest heads to eighth grade. I’m bracing myself for the mess that comes with them organizing community service projects. I’m waiting for the mounds of dirty laundry after the class trip to Washington, D.C. I’m getting ready for SAT prep books, broken pencils, and crumpled college application essay drafts tossed onto the dining room floor.
Before I know it, I’ll be taping up packing boxes and tidying up empty rooms. One day, sooner than I expect, I’ll wake up and find a sparkling clean house, except for one towel on the floor. At least I can count on my husband to make the place look lived in, even after all the mess is gone.