Earlier this afternoon, as that magical silence known as Both Kids Napping at the Same Time fell over the house, I stood shock-still in the middle of my living room, wondering what I should do next. I thought about my three-foot-long to-do list and took a long look around me at the debris left over from Hurricane Children. I stood a little while longer, then turned on my heel and made a run for our bed. I pulled those cool sheets over my head like I was trying to block out the noise of all the responsibilities hollering at me to pay attention to them. I just didn’t want to deal with them. I couldn’t face the laundry baskets full of folded clothes that needed to be put away. Didn’t really want to investigate if that vague smell of pee I noticed in the family room was of child or animal origin. And I was cowed by the balls of dog hair that were starting to drift across our hardwood floors like tumbleweeds in an old western movie. If I were a child, I’d have thrown myself on the floor, given it my best tantrum and screamed “I don’t wanna! I don’t WWWWAAAANNNAA!” But I’m not two. I’m a grown woman. So I crawled into bed instead.
Anybody in my immediate family would tell you that I’m not exactly an organized person by nature. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a tidy home. I like to think I live in a clean house (don’t worry–the pee smell was because the cat had just used the litter box). But it ain’t easy. I’m someone who has to make a concerted effort to put her shoes back in the closet at the end of a day. I’d happily let the mail pile up if I could just so I didn’t have to sort the bills from the junk mail. Earlier this week, I had to give myself a motivational speech just to empty the dishwasher (“C’mon, Leah, you can do it! Just think how of good you’ll feel after it’s all finished!”). I can be neat, and usually our house is on the tidy side, but the consistency of staying neat is a daily–hourly–struggle for me.
I’ve been doing pretty well with it, though. I’ve gotten into a rhythm of routine. I know to program the washing machine to start a load of clothes the next morning so I can pop them right into the dryer when I wake up. I see the necessity of washing the dishes after every daytime meal so we’re not faced with a sink full of yuck after dinner. I do a clean-up sweep of the house during afternoon naps and again, with David’s help, after the kids are in bed at night to make sure the house stays tidy. Sounds pretty easy, right? But the thing is, every single hour of my day has to stay assigned like that in order for me to stay on top of it, and that’s working around breastfeeding every two hours, mealtimes, snacktimes, potty breaks for Daughter the Elder and diaper changes for Daughter the Younger. But I can do it. If the girls and I stayed inside all day and no one ever pooped her pants, an organized life would be cake.
But when you throw into the mix shopping trips, playdates, My Gym, music class, exploding diapers, unexpected bathroom breaks (ever have exactly one hour to get to the grocery store and back before your baby needs nursed and your toddler needs lunch, and as you’re walking out the door hear, “Mommy, I have to poop.”? Yeah, like that), a sick dog who messed himself and needs a bath, thank-you notes that need to be written for baptism gifts, etc., you miss a step (okay, more like 10) in the routine. It’s gotten so I rarely check my email or make a phone call anymore because I haven’t the time to spare. If I miss one single step in the routine, it seems like I’m instantly surrounded by piles of toys, hampers full of dirty laundry and mail and newspapers piled up on the dining room table. I feel like one of those meteorologists on The Weather Channel during a tropical storm–you know, the ones who’ll walk into the wind to show how strong it is (gotta love the dear fools, don’t you? I’ve always wondered how much they’re paid for stunts like that), but not really get anywhere. It’s like I’m constantly, constantly tidying up the same spot, vacuuming the same carpet, just to do it all over again in the blink of a tired eye.
Anyone reading this who works full-time while raising a family probably wants to bop me over the head at this point (eh, who am I kidding? This blog has, like, two readers. Hi, Mom!). And it’s true: I will not even begin to assume what the struggles are of a parent who juggles work and family. For those of us battling it out solely on the homefront, there’s a certain bit of shame that comes along with these feelings of being overwhelmed simply because this is all we do. My friend Molly said to me once that she often wonders, I’m a stay-at-home mom. So why am I stressed out all the time? But as another friend, Susannah, put it one time, it’s because staying at home pretty much means that you’re always doing some form of cleaning up. David does a ton of stuff around this house when he’s home. He’s our chief executive officer of bathroom cleaning, and with yardwork and all the laundry and dishes (we certainly have a lot of both, for some reason), it’s not like he’s sitting there on his cute rear end while I’m scrubbing the floor around his feet. But I’m the one “at home,” so of course most of the responsibilities fall to me. And just like how, on some days during my paycheck-earning life, I’d rather surf gofugyourself.com (oh, how I love pop culture and all it’s zaniness!) during a break rather than edit a paper, some days when I can catch a 20-minute break I’d rather zone out with a cup of coffee and the latest stupid vampire book (seriously. I started reading the Sookie Stackhouse series because that’s all the depth my literature-deprived brain can handle, and it’s sucked me in. Hahahaha. Get it?! Sucked in?) than fold yet another pile of underwear and socks. Even if that means that I’ll be folding it at 9:30 that night instead of finding out with what creature Sookie’s flirting this time.
Oh, my. It’s like life is a car in “drive,” and I’m hanging onto the door handle from the outside, just trying to keep up and not get run over (that actually happened to me once, when I was 16. The car ended up hitting the basketball hoop in our driveway. Left a giant dent in the rear bumper that I avoided telling my dad about for years.) And right now, as one daughter wakes and another starts to fuss for her boob juice, I’ll sign off, full-well knowing that I’m nowhere near closer to getting control of my house, or for that matter, my life. Besides, I’m starting to get attached to the dog hair tumbleweeds. I don’t think they’d fit into the vacuum cleaner anymore, anyway.