Every parent knows that silence in small children is not necessarily golden. In households with young children, too much quiet is an instant alert to go investigate immediately.
The briefest lull once prompted me to scrutinize my very young son’s whereabouts only to find my toddler, and an entire doorframe, covered in black permanent marker. Never one to learn a lesson, I would later make a similar mistake in momentarily taking my eyes off our very young daughter, only to turn and find that she had quietly – and quite happily – coated both herself and a good portion of our porch in bright blue sunscreen. While at the time neither trick seemed particularly humorous, in the end everything and everyone cleaned up nicely. We laugh about those antics today.
When raising a family one source of continual contention for myself and most women I know is the simultaneous care and keeping of both a house and a growing family. There are some that are very good at just relaxing their standards. Not to “Hoarders as seen on TV” levels. There homes are often characterized as “comfortable” or “lived in.” This is actually a wonderful goal and one that is probably most often enjoyed by both family members and guests. Frankly, anything too clean and perfect staged tends to make visitors nervous.
While I am a card carrying member – and martyr – to the “make memories” and “these are the good old days” school of parenting and life, I admit that I have struggled with “good enough” for years. I have been chided and counseled by more than one well meaning friend “we come to see you, not your house.” I was more than once pointed to a copy of that well worn ditty about how the cobwebs and sweeping could wait because “babies don’t keep.” Still, I have always held myself to a (never attainable mind you) standard that our home should be spotless even WHILE we were raising children.
I am a person who will wander around in a ponytail and yoga pants without a care in the world, but I am admittedly vain about our home. I’ve always suffered from high self esteem and felt quite satisfied with myself even when I bore absolutely no resemblance to the models in the pages of fashion magazines.
Curiously, I do not extend that same grace to my surroundings. I have spent years poring over catalogs and carefully staged pages of home décor magazines and even knowing of the smoke and mirrors behind the scenes, I buy into the lure of flawlessness hook, line and sinker.
I have tried, over the years, to teach myself a lesson. When I find myself sighing dramatically over the coat on the chair, or the pile of shoes by the door, I think of the families who are missing a member – who would give anything to see that errant shoe or sock or any reminder of life in progress within their walls. It helps, for a while. Then I return to my almost pathological urge to make our home look “perfect.”
I clean in the morning when the bulk of the family is away. I admit that I sometimes walk through an empty (save for me), eerily silent house. On good days, I marvel at the sparkle and the shine. I thrill to clear countertops and the gleam of the wood floor, and that the shoes are neatly stacked “where they belong.” Then, about 2:30 I bring home two of the three people that make our “house” a “home” and all that perfection is lost in a landslide of book bags, school papers and after school snacks.
When I’m being smart, I smile. When I’m being cranky and all too human, I get snarly. I have been heard to demand on more than one occasion “why can’t this house STAY CLEAN?!” Then, one horrible day, it does. The children, growing now, are away from home much longer. They have after school activities and invitations with friends. On these days I clean and it stays clean. There are no crumbs in the kitchen. No coats on chairs. No throw pillows out of place. No shoes by the door. This is short term now but a taste, perhaps, of things to come. I’m not sure what to make of it. I don’t like this so much after all. I torture myself in small increments.
Within hours they come back. What of later? When I’m old will I rent children to come over and leave shoes by my door and drop wet towels on the floor? Perfection, I now see, IS overrated. One day you look around and it is clean and it is quiet – and the silence is no longer dangerous. It is deafening.