If you were to drop by my apartment tomorrow afternoon, completely unannounced, I would be annoyed. Mostly because I like some sort of notice that someone is dropping in, even if it’s all of 20 minutes’ worth of notice. I hate surprises. But hassle aside, I would also be a little embarrassed. Embarrassed by the clutter.
If Breanna is having a good day then the dishes will be washed but I never dry them and put them away immediately unless I have no choice because the rack is full. If Breanna is having one of those “hi, I’ve been teething for three god damn months and I’m a little bloody well ticked off about it” days, the dishes may be sitting on the counter. Regardless of how great or horrible the day is, there’s a 99% chance you will step on or trip over some form of toy in the living room because Hayley’s favorite way to play with her toys is to spread them out all over the floor; in fact you’ll be lucky to even make it to the living room since she may have also left her ridearound car directly in front of the main door. After you’ve fallen to the ground, a victim of a Little People school bus or perhaps the Sesame Street play set, some of the laundry from the bedroom may slink out and attack you while you’re down. I feel like my life is a constant cycle of dishes and laundry, and yet I can never conquer it because there’s always more.
I should mention I’m not dirty. You won’t come in and find moldy food rotting on a plate from two weeks ago, bugs crawling on the counter, and ten inches of filth. But I hate to dust and with two kids and a lack of organization, I feel like I’m always fighting a losing battle. It doesn’t help that there are two adults who have somewhat packrat tendencies, a child who claims every single toy and stuffed animal is her “favorite”, and a baby who doesn’t mess much up but is unfortunately too small to be of any help.
It can make me crazy sometimes because I remember that it was so different pre-children. It was never Martha Stewart perfection, it didn’t look like a real estate showing. But it was tidy and somewhat more organized and Toys R Us hadn’t exploded in the living room.
But then I think back on my own childhood.
My father worked and my mother stayed home. She wasn’t a super early riser but throughout the course of her day she would get the dishes washed (and dried and put away so right there she was one up on my track record), take care of laundry, vacuum, make meals for everyone, pack lunches for my dad, and try to tidy up as much as she could. Pretty much the way I do now. She was often fighting a losing battle herself. If she had notice that someone was coming, she would have the kitchen, living room, and bathroom presentable. If there was laundry that needed to be finished up, I bet it went into a laundry basket and shoved into the bedroom (that’s what I do and I’m sure it must be a genetic habit). The door to my room and my sister’s room would just be shut because they were forever nuclear warfare sites of papers and books and toys. I bet that if someone had just dropped by because they were in the neighborhood that she would have had the same reaction of mild panic and “casual” glances over her shoulder to see how bad it might be.
There were several reasons that our home was messy. My parents collected a lot of things (books, cookbooks, knick knacks, etc) and – surprise, surprise! – they were packrats on some level. But more than that, my mother was a mother first and a homemaker second. Sure, she could have spent all day trailing behind us and picking stuff up, obsessing about whether every stray piece of Barbie footwear had been put away in the proper spot, scrubbing floors on her hands and knees, and greeting my father with a newspaper and a June Cleaver smile at the end of the day. Why didn’t she? Because she was too busy.
She was busy feeding her two kids. She was busy playing with those Barbie shoes, helping us in our imagination games. She was busy taking us to the park to play or to the KMart across the street to buy us some little treat. She was busy taking us to play with all the other kids on our street. She was busy baking cookies and reading us books and watching Sesame Street with us and and and. There’s always something cheap there a kid can discover and cherish.
Our house was no museum of perfection. It was cluttered and messy. Never dirty and horrible, but cluttered and messy nonetheless. And as a parent myself, I now know how frustrating it must have been to finally get the living room picked up, go to transfer the wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, and then come back to find all my Hot Wheels all over the living room floor. Yet, she didn’t pull a Joan Crawford on me, throwing wire hangers at me while I scrubbed the tub with half a can of Comet. She sighed (maybe sometimes she got a little mad, I know I do now too), and let me play and perhaps she muttered under her breath about tossing the entire collection of bloody cars into the trash can, but at the end of the day, the cars got put away again and I would go to bed and her living room would be organized for the next ten or twelve hours once again. When I went to visit them on Sunday, the house was different because there are no kids to mess it up anymore and it was much more orderly so I know it wasn’t her; it was us.
My mother was too busy being a mother to make her home look like a Mr. Clean commercial. And when I look back, I don’t think “jeez, what a mess!” I look back and I remember making eight trillion different crafts with her, I remember decorating gingerbread cookies with her, I remember begging her to read “Green Eggs and Ham” just one more time even though I knew it by heart, I remember her giving me carrots and raisins for a snack because I saw it on Mr. Dressup, I remember playing. I remember good times and fun and love. If my childhood had been an unhappy one, I highly doubt that I would think back fondly and think, “gosh the hand towels were folded so perfectly and the tiles just gleamed.” I would probably think back and wonder why my Mommy didn’t play with me more often.
Some days I want to implode because of the apartment. Right now I’m in a heavy purge mode and I just want to toss everything in the garbage or dump it on the front steps of the Salvation Army. I want to go to the dollar store and buy plastic bins and baskets and containers to try to organize toys by type and then toss anything that doesn’t fit into any kind of set because I know very well that Hayley has far too many toys and despite her sentimentality, she doesn’t play with that many of them. I desperately want to organize and clean and shine.
More than that though, I want to be my mom. When I die some day I don’t want Hayley and Breanna to stand in the cemetery and say, “she sure cleaned well.” I want them to remember that Mom was crazy and silly and had an imagination that rivaled theirs and that she read to them and played with them and that although she had to wash the dishes every day she never once said she couldn’t play games because she had to dust the china cabinet.
I just want to play right now. Some day there will be time for dusting again.