It happened again.
Scott and the girls were all out of the house , so momma did what momma does best-- put on some loud music, jumped into crazy-cleaning-Ninja-lady-mode and got down to work.
I folded blankets, lined up shoes, wiped countertops, vacuumed the mudroom, swept the floors, put toys away, threw toys away (shhh, don't tell anyone, it's part of the undercover Ninja bit), stuffed coats in closets and socks in drawers, and anything else I could see to do in the short time I had. That place (the downstairs, anyways) was spic and span by the time everyone came home.
"Wow, mom, the house looks so nice and clean!" Ava and Ella side, with big shiny eyes, like they were surprised that our house looked like that.
Ahhh, proud mom moment.
You know the feeling, don't you?
Everything was nice and shiny. It felt orderly and tidy. I found myself actually thinking clearly for a few moments, and knowing just where each item was as I pulled out napkins, plates and forks for the Italian take-out dinner they had brought home (the only thing better than a clean house is take-out in a clean house!). We enjoyed our dinner and Scott and I even found ourselves relishing a few quiet moments to read the paper and watch TV after the kids were in bed because the house was already picked up.
You all know where this is going, don't you?
Fast forward to Monday morning when everyone is barreling out the door for school. Folders, socks, sneakers, violins, lunch boxes, hair ribbons and pencils fly through the kitchen like confetti on New Years Eve. Apparently, in the 36 hours that had commenced since our nice tidy dinner, a small wind gust had whipped through the kitchen and living room, which now looked more like the aftermath of a large garage sale than an orderly home.
All of my work, completely undone. Surfaces recovered, coats evidently grew legs and walked back onto the floor, school papers flew from folders and onto the kitchen table. There was a colorful menagerie of socks, hangers, tights, and headbands everywhere the eye could see.
When I opened the refrigerator after everyone left for the morning (which I had neatly organized just a few weeks ago) to put all of the breakfast and lunch makings away, I realized that over the last few weeks, despite my instructions to everyone about where the ketchup was to be stored and how the "yogurts should go in that little container I had purchased from Home Goods", the insides of the fridge were were a disheveled heap of produce and condiments, mixed together like some abstract art installation.
Why? Why do I bother? I thought. Doesn't anyone in this house know where anything belongs?!
My heart quickly moved from graceful to grumpy. It was in that moment that I realized how undone I can become internally when things start to come undone externally.
In the life of a mom we can tend to exert a lot of effort on things that inevitably become undone: a clean kitchen, the blankets we fold so nicely and drape over the couch, the bathrooms we clean out of love, with secret hopes that someone else would follow suit (or at least put their toothbrush away!). There's the laundry, and the clean windows, the vacuumed car, the basement stairs...we all know the list is endless.
On many days, I tighten up my proverbial laces and keep running through the tasks repeatedly. I get it. I have young children and young children require lots, and lots, and LOTS of extra guiding, teaching and training. I gracefully re-tell them all where the containers go, and their coats, and toys, and all the other trinkets around the house.
I take deep breaths and practice gratitude for all of the stuff and my beautiful kids. I remind myself that these "messes" are all reminders of an abundantly full life. I thank God for the groceries, and the dishes and His presence in my life, guiding me when I don't have the type of structured plans I'd like to have in place to do this job called "mom".
But some days, all of the undone, it starts to tug on my spirit like the loose thread on a sweater. Slowly, one tug at a time, my emotions start unwinding on the inside. One mess at a time that string unwinds, and unwinds, and unwinds until my heart doesn't resemble that peaceful, gracious, heart anymore--it's a mess of thread that leaves me graceless and impatient, in a tattered heap on the floor.
I'm working on not letting that string come undone so often. On letting go of my expectations, and perhaps even my perceived sense of control over the house management stuff.
In the brilliant book Triggers, co-written by Wendy Speake and Amber Lia, the authors (both moms) brilliantly outline 31 different "triggers" that tend to trip us up as moms. Everything from backtalk and sibling rivalry, to lack of personal space and, yes, messy homes.
This excerpt from "Triggers" goes straight to the heart of what so many of us feel and experience on a daily basis:
"Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest."
Some of you married farmers. Most of us did not. Still, the imagery here is full of application for every mother in every messy home: You want a fruitful family? Then you're going to have a messy house! You want your little people and their friends and neighborhood kids dropping by? You want to host home group with your church friends? You want children who have the freedom to finger paint at an easel and play in backyard dirt? Then you're going to have to deal with muddy shoes, sticky fingerprints and careless spills.
You can wrap your mind around that concept, can't you? And yet, there reality feels overwhelming in your day-in and day-out lives as dishes and laundry pile up...You set a plan in place, how you're going to get it all done after you tuck your children in bed for the night. All eleven loads of laundry are piled in a wrinkled mound upon your bed, and you have vowed to get every last piece of it folded and put away before you hit the sack! Except the youngest keeps coming out crying about "scary thoughts," and the oldest has leg cramps, and your husband texts asking you to send him the phone number scribbled on a scrap of paper three weeks ago that he's sure is on the back, right-hand corner of his desk. So you snap!
Oh my goodness. Am I the only one shouting amen to that?!
Yes, yes, yes! The desire to create a bountiful, playful, creative home. The hope that my children would be free to express their creative and artistic interests. The anticipation of fun, laughter and camaraderie in every nook and cranny of the house. And, the plan. Oh, the plan. I always have a plan for how I'm going to get it all done, pull it all back together and how the "messy" things we like to do won't be so messy if I'm super organized about it all, right?
But alas, as Wendy so aptly reminds us, thats not how it usually goes.
She finishes the chapter with a quote that I have written on a fluorescent orange index card and posted on the bulletin board in my office, right under a favorite family picture-- a picture that reminds me of the joy of family life. The quote says, "Embrace the harvest in your home, and thank God for the strong little creatures who are with you in the field everyday. It's all perspective!"
Here's to refining our perspective. Here's to letting go of our ideals of what we thought life would like while we are raising little ones, and embrace the reality of what it really is. It is in this gracefully living together, even in messy homes, that we will begin to really demonstrate to our children what real abundance, blessing and love look like. I certainly don't want my kids to remember me as a nag, or with that "look" on my face. I want them to remember the joy and the laughter that were present in our home-- I kind of think that's what God wants for our family too.
Now, excuse me while I go reorganize the refrigerator (;