This is our front "porch" on an average day,
by way of illustration.
Lou had a friend over to play last year. It was the first play date he'd had in a while. We'd been struggling for some time to lure a friend or two to our house, which is off the beaten trail, from a new construction/ development/cul de sac point of view. So when his classmate took the bait, I went a little crazy. I put housewife pedal to metal. I cleaned all morning. I baked muffins. I vacuumed out cobwebby corners. I swabbed the toilets, fluffed the pillows. I was feeling very Maria Shriver, superior in my parenting and housekeeping, and yet sort of funky and cool, like Anne Lamott. And five minutes after this boy arrives, he looks up at me and says, very matter-of-factly, "Your house is messy." And I want to tell you, he really leaned on the word messy, hissing out those S's so that my chakras quivered.
By way of response I could have said, "Yes, honey, would you like a fresh-baked muffin?" or "That's not a nice a thing to say." But instead I immediately internalized the hell out of his casual observation, and I sat this four year old boy down and asked him to spell it out for me. "What do you mean? What exactly looks messy to you?" and he said, "Well the floor is curvy and I don't know, its just all yucky."
His comment was like an arrow, shot true from his bow, straight through my Achilles heel. I'd long suspected that my milieu was "yucky" and now this tiny arbiter had confirmed it. I sent him away to play with some broken toys while I limped from the couch.
I went about my duties as best I could while bleeding from the liver. I puttered in circles, muttering to myself what I wanted to say to him, all the explanations and rationalizations. I wanted to call him back and over a muffin and glass of milk tell him that lately I've really been struggling with housekeeping. I wanted to prove to him that I used to be tidy.
When I lived alone and it was just me and my cereal bowl moving back and forth from the table to the drying rack, I was a very organized and clean person. I bathed every day before work. I made my bed. I exercised and had good clothes. I was a very good girl when I wasn't fucking the neighborhood Frenchman and snorting cocaine. I had all my toiletries in little baskets. I vacuumed under the bed.
Don't you see, my little pre-school friend, life moves so quickly. One day you're single and looking for love and the next a couple of toddlers drop from your loins and very quickly its hard to keep up with it all. Things went crusty without notice. I owned a house, then two rental properties, two cars, a "creative" husband, two kids, four tons of laundry and a dying creative life and my attitude went limp with the potted plants. I simply could not keep up.
I imagined he'd nod his understanding from under a milk mustache. You see, we bought this house cheap, so we could get our kids into the nice public school system, and you know, you should have seen it when we bought it. I peeled wallpaper off every room in this house. Lily at the age of 3, helped, spraying it wet with a squirter while I scored and scraped. We replaced every door, painted every wall, put in those skylights that are right now illuminating your disgusted countenance. We sanded the floors, painted the cabinets, tiled the kitchen, built that wall right there. We installed that cabinetry, put up all that drywall, put in those can lights. I built those cubbies, that are right now housing your blinking sneakers, and stained the wood myself in the garage. I reupholstered that very chair on which you sit. We did that ourselves, and yes the floor is a little off -- more milk?--but we didn't know that the tile adhesive we used wasn't the right kind. We just didn't know.
That swimming pool out there was filled with black water and about 5 billion tadpoles when we moved in. I scooped the carcasses out myself after committing frog-icide on a massive scale. And you know what, my little pal in Superman briefs, we've never hired anyone to do any of it. We've done all these things with kids, and jobs, through depression and illness, while close to broke, in good times and bad. We've spent our weekends retrieving appliances from craigslist hicks in distant zip codes. I think when you view our home through that lens, my little visitor with mitten clips, you'll see we've made something quite beautiful here, though its a bit rough, I'll grant you, and the details may yet require a little finesse.
Furthermore --and you might want to put Nemo down for this bit -- people expect too much of themselves. Happiness, cleanliness, right-angles - its all a bit much. Its a lot to ask of human beings, who I believe, secretly want to hurl their feces at their glass enclosure like the rest of their primate brethren. I'm not saying we don't enjoy order, we do. Its just that people strive for it with such manic intent, I think they're missing the big picture. I mean, what's more important here, that my house is clean for our twice annual play date or that its filled with love the rest of the year?
A few hours pass and its time for me to take my tiny critic home to his super clean four bedroom, two-and-a-half bath, center hall colonial, built last year with walk-in closets for everyone. So the three of us pile into the van that I'd vacuumed at the car wash the day before.
We're backing down the driveway and the kid pipes up from the back seat, "This car is junky, why don't you get a new one?"