I would generalize myself as “fairly put together.” I have plenty of leeway 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 the day-to-day life with children, it took only one short visit to a child-free household to trigger self-judgement and loathing to the forefront of my mind. Ga!
This February vacation 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 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. 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 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 of exercising in the sun. (Traveling with preteens can be unpredictable at best– featuring sudden appearances of the unruly twin of Satan.) 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 their home watching reruns of The Office. Everyone was happy! WINNING!
As we all snuggled on the unstained sofa at just 8:30 pm, 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?!)…hmmmmm, 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!
Dishes piled in the sink, forgotten rotting laundry never switched over. A red glitter Christmas tree and Valentine’s heart in same peripheral view– at least I maintain a consistent look for every holiday, right?
I immediately whip up a to-do list for the family to fall in line and spend one of the last days of vacation creating new Law & Order in the family barracks.
And then I hear it. I hear myself barking orders instead of having the kids run off and play. I feel the family dynamic shift. I can hear the faint whisper of ‘It’s A Hard Knock Life’ soundtrack cueing up.
I step back. I remember 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 sense a universal lack of morale from my entire family infantry.
I release them from their duties. I must remember:
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 (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 savor the solitude. I’m fortunate to have such time to myself.
When the family isn’t with me, I relish the SILENCE. I pick up the house and appreciate what little I do I 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. I have the inspiration of our friends to thank for that! And it felt sooooo good!
Still– the bedrooms are a mess, and the laundry is yet to be folded. The Christmas garland will have to wait 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.
Do you struggle with finding the parental balance? Who am I kidding, that’s a silly question! Forget about the balance! What do you do to piddle away your kidless time?