There was a time when you could have eaten off my floors. They were THAT clean! Now.. they HAD to be that clean for awhile because my son.. well… he would eat anything he found . So what started out as necessity became an obsession for me. For an hour after every meal, I would clean my kitchen area. Wash the table, wash the chairs, wash the dishes, wash the sinks, sweep the floors, and then mop them. Where were my kids you ask? I would put in an educational VHS and speed clean.
What began in the kitchen, quickly spread to the rest of the rooms. It got to the point where we couldn’t leave the house unless all the toys were put away. Every game had to be put away with ALL the pieces listed on the box. Every toy had a place on a shelf. Every item in the doll house was accounted for. Our walk might have been postponed for an hour while we cleaned up, because I needed it to be meticulous. And cleaning with young children is not an easy task. While one of my children would be helping me pick up, the other child would be pulling things off the shelves. It was sometimes exhausting.. but I was determined.
Then every night after my family went to bed? I would organize what small hands hastily put away. I would straighten, dust and sweep. Then reorganize and move things around. In my mind, if your house was perfect than the rest of the world would see it.. and well? They would think you were the perfect family.
Yup.. you guessed it.. I was very insecure. Why was I so insecure you ask? Well to be honest, being a parent to toddlers and infants is stressful. And I was stressed. I didn’t show my stress to the rest of the world but it was there. I was a mother to a very strong willed daughter and a cranky infant son. I was the mother with the crying infant in her arms and the screaming, kicking toddler in aisle 7 at the grocery store. I was the mother of the independent minded 4 year old that got kicked out of your child’s preschool ballet class. I was the mother who pulled into the rest area (10 miles from home) to calm down her infant. I was the mother who took the nursery teacher job at church because her son wouldn’t stay with anyone else. We WERE the family that asked for To-Go boxes.. before our food arrived at our table. Always I tried to smile. Always I looked for the good in every situation.. And then I cleaned and polished my house until it would shine.
Now I don’t want you to think that we never made messes. I have always believed that kids learn the best and the most completely when a mess is involved. We would do large scale painting projects. Sheets of paper spread on the floor, painting feet for footprints, mixing colors and constant laughter. My daughter loved to do experiments. One day I went to put a bottle of conditioner back in its place only to realize it was empty. A brand new bottle of expensive curly hair conditioner .. empty.. after one bath. When I questioned my daughter, she explained that she was pretending she was a mad scientist and had to test the perfect combination of shampoo, conditioner and bath paint .. to save the world (naturally). So, after I mentally remind myself to check the contents of the shampoo bottle (which had found its way home), I explained that her curly hair products were expensive and that I would have to buy special (and cheap) mad scientist supplies for her experiments. I ALWAYS wanted my kids to be creative. Through creativity comes problem solving skills.. and I have always wanted the best for my kids. But when they had lost interest in their messes? They would help me clean up.. and I would polish it clean when they went to bed.
Then.. (there always seems to be a “then”).. Then the daycare I had, went full time. Instead of a couple days a week, I had extra kids in my house 5 days a week, often 12 hours a day. At the end of a 12 hour work day, followed by 5 hours of parenting and errands? You guessed it. I was too tired to do after hours organizing and polishing. So those chores got moved to the weekend. Yet, I would still spend energy during the day to make sure every piece of every toy was returned to its place before we went on to the next activity. Until one crazy day.. On this particular crazy day (perhaps a full moon), when the kids were climbing the walls, I realized that we had been trying to clean up for 45 minutes. Frustrated, I shooed the kids out the door. We left behind a few stray toys on the floor (GASP) and went outside to run off our extra energy. The rest of the day was the same way, we hurried through cleaning to get to the next activity.. ALWAYS leaving behind a few things. When every child had been picked up that night, I realized something. The kids had all been pretty successful in their day.. considering the high energy level. AND.. at the end of the day.. I still picked up the same number of stray toys that I would have if I had enforced immaculate cleaning all day.
Slowly over the next year, I learned to let go of the need to keep my house highly organized. It was still clean.. but if you looked under my sofa you would definitely find stray blocks. I replaced the baby to the dollhouse family a number of times, over the years, because they “ran away”. And.. it’s true.. the Hungry Hungry Hippo game is down to 20 marbles.. shocking isn’t it?
Slowly over those same years, I also discovered something else. When I sat WITH my kids, while they watched their educational television .. instead of using that time to sterilize my kitchen.. they learned so much more. We would laugh at bad jokes, come up with plans for good experiments, sing catchy (and sometimes annoying) songs together and then laugh some more. Most importantly, I got to know my children so much better when I relaxed into my surroundings.. and accepted the chaos that comes with raising my kids.
A couple times a year, I still do deep cleaning. When my kids spill juice on the floor, I decide its a good time to thoroughly scrub the floor. Once a week, I sweep every surface in my house. And every night I make sure the sink is free of dirty dishes. In fact everything in my house is cleaned weekly, even bed sheets. But rarely will you walk into my house and see it completely clean… unless you are there for a party. Because it no longer matters to me. Years ago, I would greet people at the door with, “Excuse my mess.. kids you know,” when I had secretly madly scrambled to make sure nothing was out of place. Now, I tell people.. “My house was spotless last week.. sorry you missed it.”
If you stop by my house today, you will see cups on my counter and art supplies on my table. There are freshly scrubbed eggs drying on a towel by the sink. The shoes are not neatly lined up on the rug. And PLEASE do not eat anything you drop on the floor. But my house is always filled with laughter, good food, confident children.. and if you like to paint, we may do that later. Or we may leave our house exactly like this, and run off on an adventure today. Sledding or walks in the snow are always fun. Trying to freeze bubbles and throw boiling water into the freezing wind. In the warmer months, our family is always off outdoors, perhaps camping or kayaking. And anyone is welcome at one of our son’s super campfires. Hours of staring at the flickering flames, doing nothing but roasting good food, talking, and laughing. If you are lucky, we will start recounting all the crazy things our kids put us through. To me knowing my kids, and spending time with them, is more important than the arsenal of empty cups you can find on my counter.
So… if you would like to complain about my house.. or EVEN just give me advice on how to keep it clean? Be my guest and call my house phone. You will probably get the answering machine though. Because my family and I? We will most likely be off on an adventure. But PLEASE.. just leave us a message.