Saturday, March 3, 2012

On Housework

My friend posted this sign on Pinterest. I could have used this when my kids were toddlers and I couldn’t keep my house clean to save my life. OK – who am I kidding? There are times when I could STILL use it!

But it reminds me of a lovely lady who gave me some perspective on housekeeping when she dropped in, unannounced. Our second child was just days old and she - a neighborhood acquaintance - wanted to congratulate us and meet our new addition. She could see the panic on my face as I reluctantly let her in. Our first-born was three at the time, and his toys were everywhere. Any and all flat surfaces were strewn with laundry, paperwork, you-name-it. The kitchen was a disaster. We just hadn’t had the energy to deal with it since the arrival of the new little one.

I stammered weak apologies for the condition of the house. She looked me with sincere kindness and said, “You don’t need to apologize. It’s hard to do it all, especially at a time like this".  And she proceeded to tell me a story about her mother, who had 5 kids. It was all she could do to keep up with them. If company came over unexpectedly, there were times when she’d stuff laundry in the oven and close the door to hide it. It was the best she could do. "Do you have laundry in the oven?" she asked me.
To this day, that was one of the best things anyone has ever said to me. I have gone back to that conversation countless times since then. More than once, it has helped me to stop, take a deep breath and realize that it’s not the end of the world if the house doesn’t sparkle from top to bottom. Sometimes, good enough is just good enough.

And truthfully, sometimes I like what I see when I look around: a half-finished Lego project (“I’ll finish it later, Mom”), a board game they were playing together that was abandoned when the next funnest thing came up, a stack of schoolwork with “100%” written across the tops that I have promised to hang up on display one of these days, wrestling action figures resting in between rounds, the latest collection of rocks (“See the fossils inside?”) they found in the yard. These really are memories in the making, and I’ll take these over a clean house anyday.

I’ve referred to this poem before, but here it is again, because it really says it all:

Mother, O' Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth.
Hang out the washing, make up the bed,
Sew on a button and butter the bread.

Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She's up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I've grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue,
Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due,
Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek - peekaboo.

The shopping's not done and there's nothing for stew,
And out in the yard there's a hullabaloo.
But I'm playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren't his eyes the most wonderful hue?
Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.

The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I've learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep.

~ Ruth Hulbert Hamilton

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